Aretha Franklin's 10 greatest songs ever, ranked

30 March 2021, 16:43

Aretha Franklin singing in 1980
Aretha Franklin singing in 1980. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Aretha Franklin was without doubt one of the greatest soul singers of all time.

In fact, there's a reason why she was called the Queen of Soul.

With record sales of over 70 million and over 40 albums, it's pretty difficult picking just a handful of her very best songs. But here are the greatest and most iconic Aretha classics to make you dance, think and get moved by.

  1. Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)

    Aretha Franklin - Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do) (Official Audio)

    Originally recorded by Stevie Wonder in 1967, his version remained unreleased until 10 years later.

    However, Aretha scored the first hit with it in 1973. It also featured Donny Hathaway on electric piano.

  2. Freeway of Love

    Aretha Franklin - Freeway Of Love (Official Music Video)

    This track sent Aretha back into the US top five in 1985, and also earned her a Grammy Award.

    Read more: 5 of Aretha Franklin's greatest live performances, from 'Nessun Dorma' to 'Natural Woman'

    Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons and disco singer Sylvester also appear on the record.

  3. Who's Zoomin' Who?

    Aretha Franklin - "Who's Zoomin Who" (Live)

    No, this wasn't Aretha singing about the difficulties of video meetings, but was rather a synthpop track that gave Aretha another hit in 1985.

    Read more: Aretha Franklin facts - Queen of Soul's age, husbands, children and vocal range explained

    Co-writer Narada Michael Walden told Songfacts about where the title of the song came from, with Aretha telling him over the phone about what she does for fun.

    "She said, 'Oh, I go out to night clubs. Maybe I see someone in the corner who looks kind of cool. He looks at me, I look at him, and it's like who's zooming who. But as soon as he thinks he's got me, the fish jumps off the hook."

  4. Chain of Fools

    Aretha Franklin - Chain Of Fools Live (1968)

    Released in 1967, this song gave Aretha a number two hit in the US.

    Asked by producer Jerry Wexler to create songs for Otis Redding, songwriter Don Covay recorded a demo of this song, which he had written in his youth while singing gospel with his brothers and sisters.

    Read more: When Aretha Franklin and Mariah Carey sang a duet of 'Chain of Fools' and blew the roof

    After hearing the demo, Wexler gave the song to Aretha rather than Redding.

  5. Amazing Grace

    Aretha Franklin - Amazing Grace (Official Audio)

    Aretha recorded a version of the Christian hymn 'Amazing Grace' for her live album of the same name in 1972, with Reverend James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir joining her.

    The fantastic gospel album later became an acclaimed 2018 documentary about the making of the record.

  6. Think

    Aretha Franklin - Think (feat. The Blues Brothers) - 1080p Full HD

    This feminist anthem was written by Aretha and then husband Ted White, and was a US top 10 hit in 1968.

    Read more: When Aretha Franklin had to sing ‘Nessun Dorma’ after Pavarotti fell sick at the Grammys, and it was astonishing

    Aretha later recorded a longer version for the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers, and a third version for her 1989 album Through the Storm.

  7. (You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman

    Aretha Franklin - (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman

    Written by Carole King, Gerry Goffin and Jerry Wexler, it became one of Aretha's signature songs in 1967.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Natural Woman' by Aretha Franklin

    In 2015, Aretha performed the song in tribute to Carole King, after the singer-songwriter was celebrated at the Kennedy Center Honours.

  8. I Say a Little Prayer

    Aretha Franklin - I Say A Little Prayer: her very best performance!

    Perhaps Aretha's most famous song, it was actually first recorded by Dionne Warwick a year before.

    Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David to convey a woman's concern for her lover who's serving in the Vietnam War, Aretha only ended up recording it after singing it for fun one day in the studio with backing singers The Sweet Inspirations.

  9. I Knew You Were Waiting for Me (with George Michael)

    George Michael, Aretha Franklin - I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) (Official Video)

    This Grammy Award-winning duet was a number one smash around the world for Aretha and George Michael in 1987, and was co-written by Simon Climie of Climie Fisher fame.

    Read more: Why George Michael and Aretha Franklin's spectacular duet of 'I Knew You Were Waiting' is even better 34 years on

    It had been one of George's ambitions to perform with Aretha, and producer Clive Davis put to two in touch. It was originally intended as a solo song for Tina Turner.

  10. Respect

    Aretha Franklin - Respect (Official Audio)

    Otis Redding wrote and first recorded this soul anthem in 1965. However, two years later, Aretha recorded the definitive version.

    The music in both versions is significantly different, and the stories told by the two singers have a completely different tone. Redding's version is a plea from a desperate man, hoping to give his woman anything she wants, even if she hurts him, so long as she gives him respect when he gets home.

    However, Franklin's version is a powerful declaration from a confident woman, who never does her man wrong, and demands his "respect. Her version also added the "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" chorus and the "Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me..." backing.