Aretha Franklin

(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman

Song Review by

Though the ubiquitous Aretha Franklin version is the best-known -- spurred on by its prominent place on oldies radio, television advertisements, and soundtracks, like the one to the baby-boomer film The Big Chill -- Carole King's own version of her song "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" is arguably more interesting and rewarding. Clearly the Queen of Soul has full command over the song as usual, but perhaps this is the point; King's Tapestry (1971) recording is a vulnerable little performance -- intimate, with just piano, a little bass, and some well-placed backing vocals for accompaniment. The Franklin single -- from Lady Soul (1968) -- is certainly tasteful and affecting, though it is a bit bombastic. Oddly, the version by the white woman from Brooklyn may possibly have more "soul" than the church-trained Queen's hit recording. Of course, this depends on your definition of the word "soul." For example, some people believe that John Lennon had more soul than Mick Jagger ever will, though clearly Jagger is a better soul singer than Lennon was. (Heck, even Paul McCartney is, and Lennon would have probably been the first to agree.) Now, no one begrudges Franklin her throne as supreme soul sister number one. Her version is a living, breathing, classic piece of pop-soul. Like many of her mid- to late-'60s recordings, it is based around a gospel piano part. Jerry Wexler (who also gets a writing credit) allows Franklin's gospel approach to lead the track, but assures its pop success with some pizzicato strings and warm brass accents. Franklin sings it perfectly, with a lovely sense of the building arrangement, and the Sweet Inspirations provide stellar backing vocals. But the arrangement gets a bit intrusive, especially near the end when the brass, in particular, nearly steps in the way of Franklin's ad-libs. However, the immortal recording is near-perfect, even if a bit safe by Franklin standards; the singer does not let it loose until well after the song's bridge, and then, not even really until the final line as the song fades out. In fact, she sings the song fairly straight, more or less on the beat most of the time. King, though, strips the song -- which she wrote with her partner and husband, Gerry Goffin -- bare, down to her own limited vocals and piano. She also slows it down to a tempo worthy of Ray Charles, giving it an even more pronounced gospel feel. King's austere recording is the definition of intimacy; as listeners, we feel like we are in a room with her late at night for a spontaneous and sensitive reading of the song. The production is minimal, with very little if any studio reverb or compression on her vocals. The dynamics feel like a live performance. King's voice is the thing here, to be sure. It is a fragile instrument, expressive in its own fashion, wholly separate from that of Franklin, and in no way does she try to compare or compete with that latter well-known performance. Arguably, though, this version is necessarily conscious of Franklin's recording, and is therefore colored by that context and judged in light of it; the performance's effectiveness comes in part from its more studied, unhurried pace, viewed thusly as a reaction -- intended or not -- to Franklin's recording. King's phrasing is behind the beat for nearly the entire recording, lingering at the chorus, where she sings at the top of her range: "'Cause you make me feel/You make me feel/You make me feel like a natural woman," her voice vulnerably hoarse. She drags out the "you" on each line, an aching phrase that gives the song a palpable sense of melancholy. There is, as Stevie Wonder would later sing, a joy inside her tears. King makes the song truly sound like her own, uncovering another layer of emotion. We do get the message from both recordings -- that the narrator is a strong woman, a woman strong enough to admit her human weaknesses and need for support. And that's just it: Ironically, the song is not so much about being a woman as much is it is about being human: "When my soul was in the lost and found/You came along to claim it/And didn't know just what was wrong with me/Oh till your kiss helped me name it/Now I'm no longer doubtful/Of what I'm living for/'Cause if I make you happy I don't need to do more." Discussing the album Tapestry in a 1989 interview for The Gavin Report, King noted, "I always preferred being a songwriter. So Tapestry was the album in which it came together. Tapestry was really a collection of songs that I was doing demos of." This unadorned quality clearly affected many listeners, as the album went on to sell over 13 million copies. King the writer was becoming King the performer, seemingly baring her soul in the process. But lest we are tempted to confuse the singer with the songwriter, King reminds us that Goffin wrote many of the songs' lyrics. "Gerry writes amazingly from a woman's point of view," she said. "I didn't feel the weight of responsibility (for representing women of the era in general) even though I wrote a lot of those lyrics too. I just didn't think about it." Yet some have viewed "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" in just such a context. Commenting in his seminal 1986 examination of '60s soul music, Sweet Soul Music, Peter Guralnick said that the song contained a "typically submissive '60s-style 'female' lyric," though one that, in Franklin's hands, could "become an anthem of emerging consciousness."

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Lady Soul 1968 Atlantic & Atco Remasters / Atlantic / WEA 2:49
Aretha's Gold 1969 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 2:44
No Image 1973
Various Artists
Warner Bros.
No Image 1974
Various Artists
Adam VIII
No Image 1974
Original Soundtrack
Arista 2:37
No Image 1976 Atlantic
The Big Chill [Original Soundtrack] 1983
Original Soundtrack
Motown 2:41
The Best of Aretha Franklin 1984 Rhino / Atlantic 0:00
30 Greatest Hits 1985 Atlantic 2:37
Classic Rock: 1967 - The Beat Goes On 1988
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 2:44
Atlantic Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 [Box] 1991
Various Artists
Atlantic 2:40
Best Love Songs, Vol. 3 1992
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 2:39
Queen of Soul: The Atlantic Recordings 1992 Rhino 2:44
No Image 1993
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 2:39
The Very Best of Aretha Franklin, Vol. 1 1994 Rhino 2:44
Superstars Best Love Songs, Vol. 3-4 1994
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 2:39
Lady Soul/Aretha Now 1995 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 2:43
Soul Classics: Quiet Storm -- The 60's 1995
Various Artists
Rebound Records 2:45
Slow Jams: The '60s, Vol. 3 1995
Various Artists
The Right Stuff / Capitol 2:43
Eighteen Soulful Ballads 1996
Various Artists
Rhino / Essex 2:41
Heart Beats: Soul Serenade - Intimate R&B 1997
Various Artists
Rhino 2:44
Love Songs [Rhino] 1997 Atlantic & Atco Remasters / Rhino 0:00
Smooth Grooves: The '60s, Vol. 2: Mid-'60s 1997
Various Artists
Rhino 2:48
No Image 1997
Various Artists
Telstar TV Records 2:45
MVP Classic Soul, Vol. 2 1998
Various Artists
MVP Records 2:42
Heart Beats: Love Scene - Romantic Movie Music 1999
Various Artists
Rhino 2:43
Chicken Soup for the Women's Soul 1999
Various Artists
Rhino 2:46
Best of the Best: Divas of Soul, Vol. 1 1999
Various Artists
Primary Colors 2:43
Solid Gold Soul: Deep Soul 2000
Various Artists
Rhino 2:47
Free Soul: The Classics of Aretha Franklin 2000 Warner Elektra Atlantic Corp. 2:42
Dancing Queens [Medalist] 2001
Various Artists
Medalist Entertainment 2:44
The Songmaker's Collection: Music from the Brill Building 2001
Various Artists
Q Records 2:45
Soul Classics Quiet Storm [Box] 2001
Various Artists
Rebound Records 2:45
Best of Aretha Franklin [BMG International] 2002 Global TV 2:46
Respect: The Very Best of Aretha Franklin [Warner] 2002 Warner Elektra Atlantic Corp. / Warner Music 0:00
Aretha and Otis 2002 Warner Bros. / WEA International 2:42
What the World Needs Now Is...: The Ultimate Love Collection 2002
Various Artists
Warner Music 2:43
Rhythm, Love and Soul: The Sexiest Songs of R&B [WQED] 2003
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution / Shout! Factory 2:43
New Woman 2003 2003
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:45
The Incredible Soul Collection 2003
Various Artists
Rhino 2:45
The Best of Aretha Franklin [Paradiso] 2003 Paradiso 5:07
The Essentials 2005 Warner Music 2:46
Chronicles: Music Inspired by the Big Chill [Box Set] 2006
Various Artists
Hip-O 2:43
No 1 Mum 2006
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 2:45
Queen of Soul: The Best of Aretha Franklin 2007 WEA 2:45
Soul Queen 2007 Atlantic / Rhino 2:47
Only in America: Atlantic Soul Classics 2009
Various Artists
Atlantic / Rhino / Rhino Atlantic 2:47
Rhino Classic Albums Collection [f.y.e. Exclusive] 2009 Rhino 2:44
101 Soul Anthems 2011
Various Artists
EMI / EMI Music Distribution / Source Interlink / Virgin 2:44
Smooth Soul [Time Life] 2012
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 2:43
Atlantic Soul Legends : 20 Original Albums From the Iconic Atlantic Label 2012
Various Artists
Rhino / Warner Bros. 2:45
The Queen of Soul [Rhino 2014] 2014 Atlantic / Rhino 2:46
Love Songs: The Collection 2015
Various Artists
Rhino / Warner Music 2:45
The Atlantic Albums Collection 2015 Atlantic / Rhino 3:35
The Queen of Soul [Rhino 2018] 2018 Atlantic / Rhino
(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman Rhino Atlantic
Absolute Unforgettable Classics, Vol. 2
Various Artists
Eva
Greatest Movie Songs
Various Artists
Warner Bros. 2:47
Mum: The Collection
Various Artists
Rhino 2:42
Romancing the '60s: My Special Angel
Various Artists
StarVista 2:43
Soul of the '60s
Various Artists
Time Life 2:43
The Greatest Hits '93, Vol. 4
Various Artists
Magnum
Top Hits/Ballads & Love Songs 60's & 70's
Various Artists
Warner Bros. / Warner Music 2:47