The wail Aretha Franklin unleashes at the opening of Sparkle’s “I Get High” is soul shaking enough on its own. Then she upstages herself by doubling the vocal with an even more intense run. The strength of Aretha’s 1976 voice is unquestionable.
On 1976’s Sparkle, Curtis Mayfield did was not even he could do again in 1978- he briefly pulled Aretha out of the slump she’d been in since 1974. Songs like “I Get High” allow Aretha to emanate her unmistakable soulfulness in ways that the material of her last few albums struggled to properly achieve.
Funny enough, Curtis had interesting memories (or lack thereof) while discussing the song with Arrested Development in the June 1993 issue of Musician. “I can’t remember when I wrote it!” he conceded with a laugh. He went on to say “I must have had just a basic idea and Aretha must have picked up from the other end. What sells is that it’s so spiritual and gospel. I can’t make out the basic lyric or how it makes sense! But it really doesn’t matter because she carries on in such a gospel manner, it’s like a hymn! You kind of get lost in the music.”
It’s all about the music. Sparkle the film tells the story of 3 sisters with big dreams of making it in music. The oldest, Sister, gets caught up in the dark side of glitz and glamor. “I Get High” is told from Sister’s perspective, who finds herself struggling with addiction during the film. Fans have cited the cut as one of most Aretha’s underrated. The power and conviction with which she delivers the woozy verses is spine-tingling. And though the words “I Get High” never appear in the song, the chorus of “Sister gets… yeah she do… Sister gets… sure so”, accentuated with ascending runs make it crystal clear what’s happening with Sister, even to one who hasn’t seen the film.
The smoldering cut has found more life in hip hop, most notably sampled on Talib Kweli & Mos Def’s “Joy” in 2002. The song was produced by Ayatollah, who also produced Mos Def’s classic Aretha sampling “Ms. Fat Booty” in 1999.
Listen to Aretha pop off on “I Get High”