Founded in 1947 by Ahmet Ertegun, an immigrant from Turkey, Atlantic Records, like Motown and Stax Records, earned a reputation as one of the most important recording labels specializing in jazz, rhythm and blues, and soul recordings by African American musicians.
Ertegun in 1953 recruited music reporter Jerry Wexler, the man who coined the term “rhythm and blues” to replace “race music”, as vice-president. Ertegun and Wexler realized many rhythm and blues recordings were being covered by white musicians, often with greater success. Black musicians on the Atlantic label such as Joe Turner’s release, Shake, Rattle and Roll, while #1 on the Rhythm and Blues charts. only made it to #22 on the Pop charts. Meanwhile the same version by the white performers, Bill Haley and the Comets, reached #7 on the Pop charts.
Billboard magazine, in this Tenth Anniversary feature of Atlantic Records observed that its “fresh sound”, and quality of recordings was a great advance on what was the standard for rhythm and blues recordings at the time.
One of the artists who became famous on the Atlantic label was Aretha Franklin. She began at Atlantic in 1967. Originally a Gospel singer, Jerry Wexler encouraged Aretha to return to her musical roots to build a career.
The one song she is most noted for is Respect. Originally written and released by Otis Redding in 1965, Wexler thought this song had the potential to be a crossover hit to reach a white audience. Aretha Franklin’s re-imagination of the song maintained most of the original lyrics:
Find out what it means to me
Sock it to me, sock it to me, etc.
The above lyrics, not on Redding’s version, made the difference, as Aretha’s version became an anthem for both the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements. She altered the lyrics to represent herself, a strong woman demanding respect from her male significant other.
This version not only reached number one on all of the national Billboard charts, but also became an international hit, as well. Respect is part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list.
Below is a video of Respect: