Reportedly, it was at a show in 1965 when a master of ceremonies gave Aretha Franklin a tiara and dubbed her "the queen of soul.” Ironically, Franklin hadn’t yet enjoyed the success to support that title. From 1960 to 1966, she had languished on Columbia Records, a label that saw her more in the mold of a Billie Holiday jazz stylist than who she truly was. When she moved over to Atlantic in 1967, she became Queen indeed with a string of chart toppers like “Respect,” “Natural Woman,” and “Chain of Fools,” confirming her place as R&B royalty. But by 1979, popular tastes and styles had changed. Franklin’s reign seemed to be in music’s rearview mirror. After years of critical and commercial failures, Aretha and Atlantic parted ways.
Even more ironically, former Columbia president Clive Davis—who had helmed the company after Franklin’s departure—was the man to have a new vision for the soul icon. He signed her to his Arista Records in 1980, where she remained for 23 years. There, her tenure produced a string of popular albums and singles that weren’t Soul of the Old School, but rather urban dance music very much of the era. As Davis treated Aretha like gold at Arista, her recordings benefited from some of the finest producers, songwriters, and collaborators in the business. When this Queen held court, she was surrounded by a Who’s Who of her peers and contemporaries.
With few exceptions, the Arista singles collected on the new “Best Of” anthology, Knew You Were Waiting, tend to be soft, slower paced ballads. This is the case with the opening track, 1980's “United Together,” which was written and produced by Chuck Jackson. It features Aretha’s favorite backup singers, The original Sweet Inspirations (Cissy Houston, Myrna Smith, Sylvia Shenwell and Estelle Brown). “Love All The Hurt Away,” written by Sam Dees and produced by the late, legendary Arif Mardin, is the collection’s first duet, as Aretha shares jazz vocal phrasings with George Benson. Aretha kept up with current trends when Luther Vandross produced the very disco-flavored “Jump To It,” a dance formula repeated soon after in “Get It Right.”
1985 was a banner year for Aretha with hits like “Who's Zoomin' Who?” and the now evergreen “Freeway of Love.” The latter was distinguished by tenor sax from Clarence Clemons, Randy Jackson on bass, and members of Santana’s percussion section. Equally impressive was the most rocking of Aretha’s ‘80s hits, “Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves,” produced by Dave Stewart and showcasing a powerhouse duet with The Eurithmics’ Annie Lennox.