The burden of being a legend is that everyone remembers what you did more that what you’re doing. After a few lackluster albums in the ’70s and early ’80s, Aretha Franklin was becoming something to put on the shelf and admire – not for her ongoing hits but ones made in the ’60s.
Being the diva she was, some in the industry still recognized her hit making potential. One of those people was Narada Michael Walden. It takes a village to raise a queen. He along with a small army of other producers, session musicians and guest performers brought Aretha into the forefront of ’80s pop with Who’s Zooming Who in 1985.
That album established Aretha in the present tense in a big way. With the momentum behind her, she would set off on answering that album with an even bigger one – her third self titled production in her long career. Aretha more than simply re-established her as a force in pop and R&B. It proved that she was back and that Who’s Zooming Who was no fluke. Aretha was more ambitious also, giving contemporary audiences a taste of the blues inspired rock the Rolling Stones made popular with an excellent cover of the Stone’s “Jumping Jack Flash”. Even its cover was ambitious, being the last major project of Andy Warhol before his death.
The hits just kept coming. “Jimmy Lee” captured the exuberance of youthful puppy love with a bouncy 1960s era pop song (Aretha was a child once?). One of many guest appearances matched an unlikely George Michael with his diva inspiration on “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)”. The songs flowed together well and were a refinement of what Walden started on Who’s Zooming Who.
In fact the only place the album sounded dated and forced was in Aretha’s unfortunate attempt at hip hop with “Rock-A-Lott”. The duet with Larry Graham near the album’s closing “If You Need My Love Tonight” saved the second side with classic soul.
The popularity of Aretha allowed the diva the latitude to pursue other projects that were dear to her heart like the gospel of One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism the following year. Of course in the world of pop music, legends are expected to put out and Aretha’s career was now firmly in the present day, although her influence on the charts would slowly diminish through the ’90s.