You’ve likely heard it countless times and danced to it at many events over the years. The song is “Respect,” and the version you perhaps know best as sung by the legendary Aretha Franklin. But have you ever stopped to think about its meaning? What is the Aretha Franklin song “Respect” all about?
Originally performed by Otis Redding
Did you know that the song was originally written and recorded by Otis Redding? It was released in 1965 as a track on his third album.
Two years later, Aretha Franklin recorded the song. It was never intended for a woman singer, which might shock some readers. Her version is quite different than Redding’s as it doesn’t include the spelling of R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and there are no background singers in his original tune either.
If you listen to the two tracks, you’ll quickly see that they have different messages. Redding is pleading in the lyrics to a woman, while Franklin is saying as an African-American woman, show me some respect.
Aretha Franklin’s version would go on to be a message that fits with demands for civil rights and female empowerment in the 1970s. Since then, it has been covered several times, from Dianna Ross to Kelly Clarkson to Jennifer Hudson.
It arguably became a bigger hit than Redding’s original. And its musical message today transcends race, gender, and age. Everyone deserves respect.
Lyrics of Aretha Franklin’s song ‘Respect’
The “Queen of Soul,” as Franklin was known, recorded the song with her sisters Carolyn and Erma as backup singers. Franklin was only 24 years old at the time. They made changes to the Otis Redding version, as explained earlier, including flipping pronouns.
For example, Reddings wrote, “What you want, honey, you got it.” That implies the man gave her everything she needed through this job. However, Franklin changed it to “What you want, baby, I got it” to show women, too, hold power in the relationship, not only the man.
They also added the “sock it to me” lyric. As Franklin told NPR in an interview, “sock it to me” was a word often used back then. It wasn’t a sexually charged statement.
And so the song was released and became an anthem for female solidarity. It also called out to activists who were literally being beaten as they championed civil rights. It offered an opportunity to speak up about making changes and providing equal opportunities across gender and race. It called out the need to ask questions about differences in treatment in the African-American community. It brought awareness.
Another added lyric is “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, take care, TCB,” which wasn’t in the original version. Spelling out the word somehow gave it more significance. And what about TCB?
It was a slang word often used at the time of Aretha Franklin’s recording of the song. TCB stands for taking care of business. In other words, stop goofing off and get your business done.
Beyond the lyrics, the Queen’s voice was emotionally charged and full of angst, passion for respect, and power. The beautiful melody, appealing lyrics, and amazing voice combined for a song appealing to many. It continues to be one of the best feminist anthems out there.
Accolades for Aretha Franklin’s version of ‘Respect’
The song has been a hit in more ways than one. It continues to delight listeners and also has won awards. In 1968, the song won Franklin two Grammy awards (Best R&B Solo Vocal Performance and Best R&B Recording). She was the first recipient of the solo vocal performance award.
Flash forward two decades, and her track entered the Grammy Hall of Fame. The year was 1987.
Also, the Recording Industry of America put her version of “Respect” on the “Songs of the Century” list. It is also in the National Recording Registry, entered by the Library of Congress.
In 2021, Jennifer Hudson starred in the film “Respect,” based on Franklin’s life. While the Queen of Soul is sadly no longer with us, her spirit lives on as she appeals to what we all want in our hearts: R-E-S-P-E-C-T
11 thoughts on “What is the Aretha Franklin song ‘Respect’ all about?”
Great post!!!! She will forever be top Diva🙌🏽
Yes! Thanks for all of your reads and comments here ~ So awesome :D
You’re welcome! Great posts!!
So nice xx
Love this post Christy! One of the all-time great singers, and song.
Thank you! It’s such a classic!
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Thank you for looking into the issue!
This was fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
That’s so wonderful to hear, Rae. I sometimes wonder if the topics appeal to readers so it’s great to have the feedback. Enjoy your weekend ahead!