When it came to covering a song, Aretha had ZERO shame in putting her stamp on a hit, even if it was a recent hit. In her golden era she upstaged original recordings of “I Say A Little Prayer” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, and of course, “Respect” by putting her own spin on them. She did it again in the 80’s with Diana Ross’ “It’s My Turn”. Despite a mutual respect, it’s one of the very few instances of crossover between the two divas, and the only instance that Aretha covered ever Diana’s solo material in the studio; up to that point she’d only recorded material by The Supremes.
Aretha brought the song to the studio while sessions for 1981’s Love All The Hurt Away were underway. It was less than a year after Diana reached the top 10 with the song, from the film ‘It’s My Turn.’ She received natural pushback from her team because of how recently Diana released the song. “I don’t care… it’s my turn” was Aretha’s response.
Aretha wasn’t coy about this scenario when she recounted the experience, either. In her autobiography Aretha: From These Roots she called “It’s My Turn” “one of my favorites” as well as “a favorite of my son Clarence” and in no uncertain terms stated that “Diana Ross had done it earlier but, as the song says, it was my turn”. And it’s not a far stretch to imagine that Aretha wanted her turn back at the top of the charts, a place Diana had been comfortably resting for the last few years. Aretha hadn’t had a proper hit since the mid-late 1970’s.
It goes without saying that Aretha’s take on “It’s My Turn” vocally blows Diana’s out of the water. It’s not even fair to put Aretha’s voice against Diana’s. And of course, Aretha applies another magical background vocal arrangement that further distinguishes her version. Her arrangement highlights Aretha’s impeccable ear for hearing the potential in something already great. The tempo and Aretha accompaniment are the key components to Aretha demolishing the cut. Aretha slows things down from Diana, giving her room to draw things out vocally and showcase what she had on Diana: vocal conviction. And as it’s well known, Aretha’s performances always reach higher heights when she’s driving things at the piano. Though Aretha’s turn with the song was short, she did reach #29 on the Billboard R&B chart with it. But to hear her sing it, anyone would fully believe it was time for Aretha to assume her regal position at number one.
Not a mainstay in the live repertoire, “It’s My Turn” made occasional appearances in Aretha’s setlist over the years. She included the song during 1985’s taped Live At Park West, even changing one line’s “me” to instead sing “this time’s just for Ree.” There are also a few shows I’ve been fortunate enough to hear from the 80’s where Aretha included “It’s My Turn.” Then 2003, she resurrected “It’s My Turn” at the request of Clive Davis during his legendary pre-Grammy party in New York City. Video of that performance is long lost, but the audio recently resurfaced here (thanks Barbara!). In 2017, at one of her final performances, she brought “It’s My Turn” back into the mix.
Listen to Aretha take her turn:
Ritz, David. Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin. Back on Track p 332
Franklin, Aretha & Ritz, David. Aretha: From These Roots “You’ve Got To Hold On” p191
One thing I love about the Queen is her unapologetic nature. Whatever way it manifested, whether a risky wardrobe choice or covering others’ material, she’d all but dare someone to say something, perhaps simply because she sat so comfortably in her own skin or because she was so deeply in tune with her own creative vision that she didn’t care if anyone else saw it, she was gonna make them a believer once she opened her mouth. This is one of my favorite cuts from “Love All The Hurt Away,” and as you said, she certainly sang it with conviction, it’s not so much of a statement as it is a proclamation, and we can’t help but believe her. I am so grateful for this blog, and your encyclopedic musical knowledge, Andrew. This merits publication as a book or calendar in its own right, and I just want you to be aware that what you’re doing is meaningful, impactful, and appreciated.
LikeLiked by 1 person