DAVID NATHAN'S DIARY - September 23, 2021: ARETHA - A Closer Look (Pt 5): Brand New Me (Alternate Take 6)

Aretha Franklin in 1972
Photo Credit
Leni Sinclair/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Aretha Franklin is in an upbeat mode. Other than an October 9th entry in the Atlantic session logs for what’s identified as an ‘unissued’ version of “The Border Song (Holy Moses),” November 2, 1970 is her first time back in the recording studios since August. 

The year has been one of change for her following the upheaval of 1969 when her marriage to Ted White is over and she’s dealing with the inevitable stress of two full years of non-stop activity starting in February 1967 when she finishes recording for what will be her first of many gold albums for Atlantic Records…

1970 is a milestone year by the time Aretha sits down at the piano in Atlantic’s New York studios that November day; she’s with her new companion, Ken Cunningham and has given birth to her fourth son, Kecalf.  She’s had two No. 1 US R&B/Top 10 pop hits, “Call Me” and “Don’t Play That Song,” both gold records and the title track from her latest LP, “Spirit In The Dark” has done well.  Her second-ever visit to Europe in July has been triumphant, with live shows in France and Britain, where she’s done a couple of key television performances including “Top Of The Pops.” 

Aretha’s looking good, feeling good…and as she sits down at the piano November 2nd, she’s surrounded by familiar faces: producer Jerry Wexler is overseeing the session, arranger/conductor Arif Mardin is on hand, a basic rhythm section consisting of Hugh McCracken on guitar, Eric Gale on electric bass, Al Jackson on drums along with The Sweet Inspirations and labelmate Donny Hathaway on organ.

Given Aretha’s personal and career ‘turn around’ from the challenges of 1969, what more perfect song to kick off her last recording session of 1970 than a pep-in-the-step, back-in-stride rendition of “A Brand New Me,” penned by Kenny Gamble and Jerry Butler along with ‘Theresa Bell’ who is misidentified for years as famed Philly producer/songwriter Thom Bell – and is in fact, Leon Huff, who has been Gamble’s musical partner for a few years! 

Soul man Butler had included the song on his best-selling 1969 Mercury Records’ LP “Ice On Ice,” produced by Gamble & Huff and it had made a brief US Hot 100 pop chart appearance when released as the ‘B’ side to the single, “What’s The Use Of Breaking Up” in August ’69.

Britain’s Dusty Springfield, recording in Philadelphia the following month with Gamble, Huff & Thom Bell for what would be her second Atlantic album, “From Dusty With Love” cut what would be the biggest charted hit with “A Brand New Me” when it was released in December 1969, reaching No. 24 on the US pop charts.

As inventive as ever, Aretha brings a spirited and joyful approach to “Brand New Me,” one senses because it truly reflects how she feels – optimistic, in love and enjoying life.  In all, there are six takes indicated on a tape box discovered in vault research I did for Rhino and the first two are marked as “Just Because Of You,” with a couple of false starts, comments from both Aretha and producer Wexler and then, a final rundown with a some jazzy keyboard virtuosity from Aretha that showcases her innate artistry as a musician.

Producer Wexler says ‘ok’ and the Aretha-with-rhythm-section take sounds like the basis for what will be the final recording, with maestro Mardin adding strings, horns and the sweet Sweet Inspirations.  The recording makes its appearance in all its glory in April 1971 as the ‘B’ side to Aretha’s makeover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and spends eight weeks on the R&B charts itself due to radio airplay.

Featured on Aretha’s February 1972 gold LP, “Young, Gifted & Black,” it’s a part of her live repertoire from summer 1971 performances at The Olympia Theatre in Paris and The Montreux Jazz Festival and a little known recorded 1973 spot on George Wein’s ‘Newport In New York’ in June 1973, captured on a Buddah Records’ LP.

Whatever energy Aretha brought to the song whenever she performed it is truly in evidence on the clip from June 12, 1971 in Switzerland,, truly, a magnificent workout which had its genesis that November day in 1970, now available on the ARETHA box set...

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