Otis Redding wrote this and originally recorded it in 1965, with his version hitting #35 in the US. Redding said of the song shortly before his death in 1967: "That's one of my favorite songs because it has a better groove than any of my records. It says something, too: 'What you want, baby, you got it; what you need, baby, you got it; all I'm asking for is a little respect when I come home.' The song lines are great. The band track is beautiful. It took me a whole day to write it and about twenty minutes to arrange it. We cut it once and that was it. Everybody wants respect, you know."
Redding's version consisted of only verses - no chorus or bridge. Aretha appropriated King Curtis' sax solo from Sam & Dave's "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby," which he recorded the previous night for Stax Records, and used that for the bridge.
Franklin's cover is by far the best-known version, but this was an important song for Otis Redding. It was just his second Top 40 hit, following "I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)
," and it helped establish Redding on mainstream radio. Otis also performed the song at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967; this was a defining performance for the singer, who died in a plane crash six months later.
It was Aretha's idea to cover this song. She came up with the arrangement, added the "sock it to me" lines, and played piano on the track. Her sister Carolyn, who sang backup on the album, also helped work up the song.
Aretha recorded this in New York City with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, a group of four studio musicians who also played sessions in Nashville and Muscle Shoals, Alabama before starting their own Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. This was one of their first, and most famous recordings. They went on to work with Wilson Pickett, Paul Simon, Bob Seger and The Staple Singers.
Jerry Wexler produced this. He played a big role in unleashing Aretha's talent. Wexler said in his autobiography, Rhythm and the Blues: A Life in American Music: "The fervor in Aretha's voice demanded that respect; and more respect also involved sexual attention of the highest order. What else would 'sock it to me' mean?"
Tom Dowd was the engineer for this session. He worked for Atlantic Records, who had an arrangement with Stax, which is where Otis Redding recorded. Dowd worked with Redding, which led to Aretha's cover. In the documentary Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music, Dowd talked about working with Franklin on this song: "I walked out into the studio and said, 'What's the next song?' Aretha starts singing it to me, I said, 'I know that song, I made it with Otis Redding like three years ago.' The first time I recorded 'Respect,' was on the Otis Blue album, and she picked up on it. She and Carolyn were the ones who conceived of it coming from the woman's point of view instead of the man's point of view, and when it came to the middle, Carolyn said, 'Take care, TCB.' Aretha jumped on it and that was how we did 'Respect.'"
In the line, "Take care, TCB" (often misheard as "TCP"), "TCB" means "Taking Care of Business." Elvis Presley appropriated the phrase a few years later, using it on jewelry and calling his band "The TCB Band."
Aretha's line, "Sock it to me," became a catch phrase on the TV show Laugh In in the '70s. The line was also used in the song "Come On Sock It To Me" by the soul singer Syl Johnson, also in 1967.
This line is often heard as a sexual reference, but Aretha denies this. "There was nothing sexual about that," she told Rolling Stone in 2014.
Franklin had just signed with Atlantic Records, and when her single "I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)
" became a hit, Atlantic quickly arranged the sessions that produced "Respect" so she could put out an album to accompany the single. Aretha went on to release her biggest hits with Atlantic and earn the title "Queen of Soul."
Before Aretha broke through and became the Queen of Soul, Etta James was the more popular singer. After "Respect" was released, James tried to resurrect her career by releasing her own cover of an Otis Redding song. She did a version of Redding's "Security," but it got little attention.
The "ree, ree, ree, ree..." refrain is a nod to Franklin's nickname, Ree (as in A-Ree-tha).
This has been used in many movies, including Platoon
, Forrest Gump
, Mystic Pizza
, and Back To School
. Maureen McGovern, who hit #1 with "The Morning After
," played the part of a nun who sang this in the movie Airplane!
This was Aretha's first song to chart in the UK, where it made #10.
Many believe that Aretha was drawing on her own tumultuous marriage at the time for inspiration. Jerry Wexler commented: "If she didn't live it, she couldn't give it... But, Aretha would never play the part of the scorned woman. Her middle name was Respect." (Quotes from Rolling Stone magazine's Top 500 Songs)
When asked why the song is so successful, Aretha explained, "Everyone wants to be respected."
In the second verse, Franklin proclaims to her man that she is about to give him all her money, and that all she's asking is for him to give her "her propers," when he gets home. This term would evolve into "props," commonly used in hip-hop in the context of proper respect.
In 1989 the American R&B vocalist Adeva had a #17 hit in the UK with her house version of this song. It was her debut hit and coincidentally her next two releases also peaked at #17. She never achieved a higher chart placing.
A Long Island group called The Vagrants released their version of this song shortly before Franklin's came out. The Vagrants recording tanked, and the group soon called it quits, but their bass player Felix Pappalardi and guitarist Leslie West went on to form Mountain, who played at Woodstock and had an enduring hit with "Mississippi Queen
Aretha Franklin sings this song in the movie Blues Brothers 2000
. She also appeared in the original Blues Brothers
movie, performing "Think
Sax player Charlie Chalmers played in the horn section alongside King Curtis and Willie Bridges. Chalmers intended to take on the famous solo until Curtis started wailing away. He explained to Cleveland's The Plain Dealer in 2011: "When the horn solo came up, which I was ready to play because I'd been playing it on the other takes, Curtis jumped in there and took that solo, man. He was so good. Even though he pushed me out of the way... it was the right thing to do."
In the '80s, KFC turned this into "R.O.A.S.T.E.D." to promote their new roasted chicken.
After Redding heard Aretha's rendition for the first time, he told Jerry Wexler: "This girl has taken that song from me. Ain't no longer my song. From now on, it belongs to her."