Walk Softly

Van McCoy became something of a recurring figure in Aretha’s recording career. He wrote “Sweet Bitter Love”, a tune Aretha would carry with her from her earliest recordings, through each of the major labels in her career. Then he’d produce her ill-fated La Diva in 1979, which he didn’t even live to see released. In between, Aretha would touch on his material from time to time, including on 1975’s You, where Aretha took on a tune Van wrote called “Walk Softly”. 

“Walk Softly” is a slow-paced, understated ballad. Aretha sings it beautifully, assisted by a standard crew of background singers. Driven mainly by guitar and electric piano, it moves along easily. The beauty of the music can distract from the fragility Aretha begs for in the lyrics. There’s a touch of vocal doubling along the way as well, and while there are some powerful moments, Aretha restrains herself from unleashing a vocal show out on this one. 

There is very little written on the studio time during the years of Aretha’s last few Atlantic LPs. You was the final Aretha LP produced by Jerry Wexler. The once-A-team of Jerry Wexler, Arif Mardin, and Tom Dowd had already disbanded, though Arif would pop back up in the 80’s and 90’s assisting other Aretha recordings. 

Listen to “Walk Softly”

One comment

  1. “Now that I’ve cried my love to sleep, don’t wake it up.” What a lyric, and what a voice! I used to play this all the time on the way to work thinking of a certain someone. It seems to me Aretha’s voice hit its “sweet spot” around 73 until about ‘80, taking on a pure, crystalline, and mellifluous timbre that was perfectly suited for soft ballads like these. Her voice was also at its highest and most agile at the time so she often took songs to their emotional zenith, whether belting into the stratosphere or crooning with gentle, nuanced phrasing; I reckon this song exemplifies the latter, but whichever way she approached a song, it was brilliant… and magical! Her last few releases on Atlantic don’t get enough love. Maybe the material wasn’t earth-shattering, but her vocals certainly were.

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