LA DIVA (Billboard #146 Albums Chart and #25 R&B Albums Chart) has been frequently maligned by the critics and and even more sadly, was her least commercially successful release on Atlantic Records. In a major cover story, Interview Magazine noted, in the discograpy following Aretha's interview, that 1979's LA DIVA was the "nadir" of her entire career. It may not be Aretha's finest hour but she has never been in better voice. Her instrument was at its absolute glorious peak during that 4yr period from 1975-79. For Arethaphiles, that alone, is cause for celebration, but there's a lot more going on here than just the VOICE. In full disclosure I must confess that I played certain tracks from this album almost daily, for several years and that I adore the front cover photo. You may be too young to remember, but when this album was released the the word "diva" was very rarely used in everyday speech, nothing like it is today. As always Aretha was setting the stage for things to come.
Van McCoy's syrupy strings and the Ray Coniff Singers type back-up vocal arangements nearly overwhelm the two torch songs, "What If I Should Ever Need You" and McCoy's own "You Brought Me Back to Life"; yet the melodies and lyrics are touching, and Aretha's vocals convey such a heartbroken though restrained mania that both tracks end up being unforgettable. I'd love to hear her sing these songs w/ only piano acccompaniment.
Her son Clarence joins her on his own compostion, the lovely aching ballad, "You Were Made for Me." It's about as close to a Marvin Gaye (think a teen-aged Marivn)/Re duet that were ever gonna get.
It was the disco era and on her final Atlantic effort Lady Soul took the full plunge. Her self-penned "Ladies Only" (#33 Billboard R&B Singles Chart), released the same week as the much more successful dance song, with a similar title, Kool and the Gang's "Ladies Night, was the lp's first single. While well sung, it's corny and lacking in her trademark Re-funk. She also wrote "Only Star" which is pure Devine Diva Drag-Queen Disco, completely irresistable. Though not a huge disco fan I'll take Re's few attempts over the typical Donna Summer fair any day. The album's worst song, another disco entry, "The Feeling", (a rip-off of the Melba Moore dance hit "This Is It") frantically goes nowhere with Re's vocals buried way too deep in the mix.
Though this album is remembered as her failed attempt at disco, most fans don't realize that Re also tackled some rocking R&B numbers with a vengeance: the Emotions "Reasons Why", Zulema's "Half a Love" and what maybe the album's most inspired 5 minutes and 20 seconds, Lalome Washburn's "It's Gonna a Get a Bit Better". On that track Aretha sings, screams, shrieks, moans and hollers the same line over and over-about a million times, on top of a throbbing bass, but... never repeats the same phrasing once. Gospel fervor marries funk ballet.
Finally in response to Natalie Cole's pushing her off the sales charts by employing Aretha's own style, her Majesty delivers the self-penned, "Honey I Need Your Love", a recording that is absolutely perfect in every way. It should have been the first single even if it wasn't a disco song. She shows Natalie how to rock, shout and swing it right on this one (just as she had equisitely demonstrated to Natalie, on a previous lp's title song, "You", how one should nail a soul ballad.) Don't mess with the Queen. "Honey I Need Your Love" is essential for any Aretha career anthology, yet it has criminally never been available on any Aretha cd, ever. Call the Cops! There are over a 100 cds out there with the same 50 Aretha hits but there's never been a single one with any of the magical cuts from the following albums: LA DIVA, YOU, SWEET PASSION, WITH EVERYTHING I FEEL IN ME or ALMIGHTY FIRE! These dismissed, overlooked and forgotten albums represent the era when The Queen's voice was at it's most volcanically flawless, powerful, sweet and high!
ATTN RHINO: GET ON THE STICK!