There are times … oh yeah, there are times … when the music of Aretha Franklin just comes back and fills the head … with joy, with sorrow, with pain, but always with feeling.
This song was written by the legendary songwriting team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King. They were a married couple who helped shape the Brill Building sound, named for the famous building in New York City where many hits from the ’60 were written and recorded. Ode Records owner Lou Adler, who worked closely with King and Goffin, said:
“Gerry Goffin is one of the best lyricists in the last 50 years. He’s a storyteller, and his lyrics are emotional. ‘Natural Woman,’ ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.’ These are perfect examples of situations, very romantic, almost a moral statement. Coming out of the 1950s, with the type of bubble gum music, and then in 1961, Gerry is writing about a girl who just might let a guy sleep with her and she wants to know, ‘is it just tonight or will you still love me tomorrow?’ Goffin could write a female lyric. If he could write the words to ‘Natural Woman,’ that’s a woman speaking. Gerry put those words into Carole’s mouth. He was a chemist before he was a full time lyricist. He’s very intelligent and obviously emotional.”
Regarding the origins of the song, Adler added:
“Last year (2007) I spoke to Jerry Wexler at his home in Florida, and he told me the story that Gerry was coming out of a building in New York, (Goffin now remembers it as an Oyster House), and Jerry Wexler is passing in a car, and yells out, ‘Why don’t you write a song called ‘Natural Woman’?’ They felt the title was so distinct and so important to the song that they gave him a piece of it. So, when I spoke to Jerry recently to call him on his 90th birthday, he said, ‘Isn’t it amazing what those kids gave me? The checks keep coming in and I’m really happy about it.’ Knowing how much he added to the song, not really as a third writer but the title and the inspiration of what was to be, a great song.”
Carole King recorded her own version of this song on her 1971 Tapestry album.
When Aretha Franklin performed this song in tribute to Carole King at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors, she brought the house down, wowing King and the many luminaries present, including Barack and Michelle Obama. The crowd rose to its feet when Franklin shed her fur coat to belt out the end of the song. And by the way, that was Carole King throwing kisses from the audience in the Kennedy Center.
I have chosen both the clip from the Kennedy Center and the official video, for both touch my heart in a way that few do. Aretha Franklin … one of the greats of her time. The sound quality isn’t as good on the Kennedy Center clip, but the emotional value is … oh man. Watch then-President Obama wipe a tear from his eye and tell me that didn’t move you.
This one made it to #8 in the U.S. and #11 in Canada, but only #79 in the UK.