When Curtis Mayfield and Aretha Franklin reunited to record 1978’s Almighty Fire, there was a hope that it would continue the magic they made on 1976’s Sparkle, which pulled Aretha out of a years-long slump. Unfortunately lightning didn’t strike twice, commercially or critically. As a result, Almighty Fire remains one of five Aretha LPs from Atlantic Records that has never been remastered or reissued. Only the title track has been brought into the digital age.
The album yielded just two singles. The first was the funky, futuristic title track. The second and final release was “More Than Just A Joy,” a smooth and sensual love song. It’s not unlikely that Aretha drew some inspiration from her love life while cutting this record. She was in the midst of falling for actor Glynn Turman, whom she married just two days before Almighty Fire was released in April 1978. At moments, the overall feel of the song is reminiscent of Aretha & Curtis’ 1976 hit “Something He Can Feel.” At times the bassline meanders in a fashion similar to “Something.” Sadly, this record failed to match the former’s intensity.
The fact that “More Than Just A Joy” was chosen as a single is perplexing, because it’s missing the thing that makes for a surefire hit: a chorus. The song instead has three distinct verses, and one last bit of lyrics that isn’t quite a verse but isn’t concise enough to be considered an outro. For contrast, “Something” didn’t just have a chorus. It also had a pre-chorus.
It’s not a bad song, per-say. It even defies one of the main criticisms of the album. It’s been said that Aretha sounded uninspired on Almighty Fire. “More Than Just A Joy” serves as a strong counterpoint to that argument. Aretha gives an impassioned performance while demonstrating her masterful vocal control. At times, she’s smooth and subdued. At other, sometimes unexpected moments, she unleashes vocal runs that display the unparalleled power and intensity of her singular instrument. Most notably, after the third verse when she sings, “let me stretch on out right here, and do what I love to do,” she unleashes one of her most intense vocal displays.
Sadly, Aretha’s passion couldn’t make the song stick. “More Than Just A Joy” failed to make a significant dent commercially, peaking at #50 on the R&B charts. It was her lowest charting R&B single up to that point (including her Columbia years), though that record would be bested the following year with one of La Diva’s singles. This truly represented the commercial plummet for Aretha, seeing that even previous commercial failures With Everything I Feel In Me, You, and Sweet Passion all notched their two singles in the chart’s top 20.
There is at least one performance of “More Than Just A Joy” that exists. Aretha performed it in January 1978 while hosting an episode of the NBC series Midnight Special. The footage is not currently available online.
Listen to Aretha “stretch out” on “More Than Just A Joy”:
Producer J. Dilla built a beat around “More Than Just A Joy,” that circulated on a 2005 beat tape from 2005.