Aretha Franklin: THE QUEEN OF SOUL (2014). Four CD's, 87 songs, lots of rarities and outtakes, budget price, no liner notes or musicians' credits.
Aretha sort of snuck up on me a few years back. I knew she was great, but I didn't know she was freakin' GREAT. If you're in the same state of woeful ignorance that I was, you need to educate yourself. And this amazing best-of will do the job. Aretha's had lots of other best-of's. But they don't have what you'll get here.
I'd heard most of Aretha's old hits and loved some of them -- "Until You Come Back to Me" and "Daydreaming" were two of my faves in the early '70s. But I sort of took her for granted. Sure, I said, everybody knows Aretha's great....
Then KPLU's "All Blues" played "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You." It was one of the first things I heard on that show. I'd never heard it before. And I was absolutely KNOCKED OUT. Had to hear it again, had to have it to put on the CD player at work or scream along with in the car.
Since then, I've heard lots of other new-to-me Aretha greats thanks to "All Blues" -- "Dr. Feelgood," "Try Matty's," "The Night Life," "The House That Jack Built," "Good to Me as I Am to You," "You're Taking Up Another Man's Place," and more. They're all here. They're pure gold. You'll love 'em. And you'll be floored by how this amazing woman throws everything she's got into these unforgettable songs.
What was I thinking? Were my ears plugged back in 1971 when "Spanish Harlem" came on the radio? Why did it take me years to get hooked by -- or even notice -- "Rock Steady"?
Set yourself straight. This package is available cheap -- it's the old QUEEN OF SOUL: THE ATLANTIC RECORDINGS box set without a historical booklet or a pretty box, the songs are remastered again, and it'll be worth the five hours it's gonna take you to hear all of it. And you'll pick out your own life-changing favorites, trust me. Five stars.
(NOTE: The live version of "Night Life" included here doesn't beat the studio original, but it's still nice in its sorta laid-back way. And then there's "Oh Me Oh My I'm a Fool for You Baby," and "Since You've Been Gone," and "So Swell When You're Well," and ALL the early hits and....)
Steely Dan: THE VERY BEST OF (2009). Two CD's, 33 songs, hilarious liner notes by Neil McCormick, no musicians' credits.
There have been several Steely Dan best-of's, all incomplete in one way or another. This one they seem to have assembled almost exactly right. Everything I want to hear by the Dan is here, except for "Barrytown" and the gorgeous title song from GAUCHO. You get huge chunks of their albums -- five out of seven songs from AJA, four out of seven from GAUCHO -- and I could live without three of those. I like very much the non-overplayed stuff included: "Don't Take Me Alive," "Bodhisattva," "Pretzel Logic," "Third World Man," "Dirty Work," "Any Major Dude Will Tell You," etc. "My Old School" never wears out. "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" has been growing on me the past couple years -- I hated it back in the day.
Neil McCormick treats the Dan-ites as musical aliens from another planet, who gave up when they thought their message to Earth didn't get through. Only major lapse: McCormick mentions that some of the greatest studio musicians in New York and LA played on these songs, and he names a couple -- but the CD booklet doesn't tell you who the rest of them were. Another page for musicians' credits wouldn't have hurt anyone -- especially for music this complex. For the selection of great music included: 4-1/2 stars.