I really got serious about listening to the music of Aretha Franklin during the time of transition. The cute young negress who demanded respect in the ’60s and sparkled in the ’70s was re-inventing herself yet again. Other R&B artists were doing the same thing, especially those who embraced disco or were discovering electronics. Aretha was no different, although she was never considered a disco diva, she would find her groove at the beginning of the ‘80s thanks to large part to Marcus Miller and Luther Vandross. Vandross in particular would write most of her best material in the first few years of the decade.
1982’s Jump To It established her as a modern R&B force to be reckoned with. The follow up Get It Right refined the formula and was the first modern Aretha Franklin recording I owned. Ok, maybe not owned-more like copied a cassette from my brother.
Before Get it Right, I considered Aretha Franklin a relic of classic soul, the kind of songstress who’s early recordings would have labels proudly proclaiming “recorded in symphonic stereo”. That old image would gradually wear away as she transitioned from the maker of ballads and reinterpretations of other people’s music into the modern pop machine she would become through the ‘80s.
Get It Right goes a long way towards that transition. Much of that credit goes to Luther Vandross, whose tight bouncy arrangements mirror his own. In many ways it’s as if Luther swapped out his vocals for Aretha’s because he wrote nearly all the songs. Not that he wasn’t heard. In addition to producing and writing, he performed backup on a number of songs. While Aretha is well known for her singing, she is also an accomplished piano player and arranger in her own right and used those skills in the making of Get It Right.
One of the things I love most about R&B music from this period was the lush string sections. You can hear them throughout this album. As a transitional recording (one made when R&B was moving to synthesizers), it still has the depth that comes with traditional instruments. The ballads in particular is where the classic production values shine through the most.
Surprisingly much of the album leans towards soft and mid-tempo ballads. The title song features the most aggressive use of synthesizers and electronic percussion of any track by Aretha recorded up to that time. The rest of the album mixes electronic and traditional instruments seamlessly as in the very Luther Vandross-like “When You Love Me Like That”.
Get It Right has a long list of session musicians attached to it’s production, starting a trend that would carry through her through the next two (chart topping) albums. Gradually Aretha’s sound would lean towards the ubiquitous electronic productions common in the ’80 to become full blown pop music (she was still resigned to urban radio at this time). Get It Right would be the last of Aretha’s albums that would be played only on urban radio stations for a while as she reinvented herself and became a resurgent pop superstar through the ‘80s.