One of the most-overlooked cuts in Aretha’s discography is 1992’s “If I Lose” from the soundtrack to White Men Can’t Jump. The song is a gem of nostalgia in a sea of trendy outputs. Up to that point much of Aretha’s recent musical output was very contemporary, to say the least. Her time at Arista largely revolved around Aretha hitching her wagon to the trending styles and Aretha-izing them, in hopes of landing another hit. Aretha was always driven to notch a hit record.
That changed for a moment with “If I Lose”. The song is like a time machine back to Aretha’s days at Columbia Records in the early 1960’s. The arrangement wouldn’t sound at all out of place with much of that material: jazzy piano, subtle percussion, encompassing strings, a sax solo While the arrangement is very 60’s Columbia, the voice that leads the charge is richer, raspier, and dripping with more experience than ever before. It’s truly a must-hear gem amongst Aretha’s catalog.
The funniest part? The A&R on the soundtrack Mitchell Leib didn’t want the song. It was only incorporated to satisfy White Men Can’t Jump’s director, Ron Shelton, and musical director Bennie Wallace. “If I Lose” lands at a crucial moment in the film, and Shelton wanted something “traditional” to score the moment. Leib told Shelton, “and you’re making a picture that’s going to have a young audience. They’re not going to appreciate the music.” And yet, the song made such an impact that it became the subject of a piece in Entertainment Weekly. As they put it, “despite what you hear, this Queen is not dead.”
Listen to Aretha return to jazz on “If I Lose”: