Aretha Franklin (Great American Things, July 18, 2009) was already a star before she released “Respect.” But this went all the way to number one on the Billboard chart for two weeks, and became her signature song. When she spelled out R-E-S-P-E-C-T, she took this song into the pantheon of great R&B recordings.
The song earned Aretha two Grammy Awards in 1968 (Best Rhythm & Blues Recording, Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Vocal Recording, Female), and it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame (yes, songs are inducted) in 1998. It was selected as number 5 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and was listed among the Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry of America.
There’s a line in “Respect” that always used to puzzle me. The great Aretha sings, “I’m about to give you all of my money, and all I’m asking in return honey, is to give me my propers when you get home.” First of all, I didn’t know what “propers” meant. But it felt wrong for a woman to say she’s giving a man all her money.
That was before I found out that Otis Redding wrote the song, and the lyrics were gender reversed for Aretha. So it makes sense for a man to say, “Hey little girl, you’re sweeter than honey. And I’m about to give you all of my money, all I’m asking is a little respect when I come home.” Ah, okay. Now it makes sense.
First the Aretha take, then Otis Redding’s original version: