When you have as much rhythm and soul as Alicia Keys, what an honor and tribute it is, to follow the Queen, the First Lady, Aretha Franklin, forever known as the Queen of Soul!
“I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” is a 1967 single released by American soul singer Aretha Franklin. Released on Atlantic Records, as the first big hit of her career, it became a defining song for Franklin, peaking at number one on the rhythm and blues charts and number nine on the pop charts. The B-side was “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”. Before this Franklin had placed only two Top 40 singles on the pop chart during her modest tenure with Columbia Records.
Aretha Franklin had made nine albums while under contract to Columbia Records but had remained commercially unsuccessful. When Columbia Records let Franklin’s contract lapse in 1966, Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler quickly signed her, taking her in January 1967 to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, along with recording engineer Tom Dowd and Franklin’s then-husband Ted White. Wexler had arranged for Chips Moman and Tommy Cogbill from Stax to join the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section at Rick Hall’s FAME Studios.
Musicians on the record included Melvin Lastie on trumpet, King Curtis and Charles Chalmers on tenor saxophone, Willie Bridges on baritone saxophone, Spooner Oldham on Wurlitzer electric piano, Chips Moman and Jimmy Johnson on guitar, Tommy Cogbill on bass guitar, and Roger Hawkins on drums.
The first song they worked on was one that Franklin had brought with her, written by Ronnie Shannon.
After signing Franklin, Wexler requested her to record a blues song. Franklin later says of her Atlantic tenure that “they just told me to sit on the piano and sing”. From the very first chord that Aretha played on the piano, it was clear to everyone that it was a magic moment. It was at that point that Spooner Oldham, who had been hired to play piano, stepped aside to play the electric piano. Within minutes of Franklin’s recording, Wexler knew he had a hit.
The FAME session was later disrupted by a fight between Ted White and trumpeter Melvin Lastie after Lastie was seen flirting with Franklin, leaving the B-side, “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” unfinished. Wexler recorded more songs with Franklin in Atlantic’s New York City studio, with some members of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section flown in to complete “Do Right Woman” and a number of other tracks (including “Respect”).
“I Never Loved a Man” rose to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became Franklin’s first #1 hit on the R&B charts. It was also the title of Franklin’s first Atlantic LP. Franklin would soon become a superstar after the release of this song. The song has since been called a pivotal moment in rock and roll. It ranked #189 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The creation of the song is related in the 2005 BBC Two documentary series Soul Deep, including interviews with the original personnel including Franklin, Shannon (demonstrating the central riff on electric piano), and Wexler.
Swedish pop group Roxette included the song in their MTV Unplugged show, in 1993. The song was later covered by Aerosmith as “Never Loved a Girl” on 2004’s Honkin’ on Bobo a collection of old blues and R&B songs. The song has also been performed on American Idol by contestants Sabrina Sloan in season 6 and Alexis Grace in season 8. Both performances received much acclaim. Grammy Award winners Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, Spencer Wiggins and Jennifer Hudson have also covered the song.
There are a number of renditions of this song on YouTube including Franklin performing it on the Lady Soul special from 1968. A live recording featured on the album “Aretha in Paris” (1968).
The song was sung by Maria Doyle in the 1991 Alan Parker film The Commitments, and appeared on the film’s soundtrack album. It also featured in the 1995 movie Major Payne, and the 2007 movie This Christmas, starring Loretta Devine.
Garth Brooks recorded the song for the 2013 “Blue-Eyed Soul” album in the Blame It All on My Roots: Five Decades of Influences compilation.