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In January 1967, choosing not to renew her Columbia contract after six years with the company, Franklin signed to Atlantic Records. That month, Aretha traveled to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record at FAME Studios to record the song, “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” in front of the musicians of the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. The song was later issued that February and shot up to number-one on the R&B chart, while also peaking at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100, giving Aretha her first top ten pop single. The song’s b-side, “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”, reached the R&B top 40, peaking at number 37. In April, Atlantic issued her frenetic version of Otis Redding’s “Respect”, which shot to number-one on both the R&B and pop charts and later became her signature song and was later hailed as a civil rights and feminist anthem.
Aretha’s debut Atlantic album, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, also became commercially successful, later going gold. Aretha scored two more top ten singles in 1967 including “Baby I Love You” and “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman”. Franklin’s rapport with producer Jerry Wexler helped in the creation of the majority of Aretha’s peak recordings with Atlantic. In 1968, she issued the top-selling albums, Lady Soul and Aretha Now, which included some of Franklin’s most popular hit singles including “Chain of Fools”, “Ain’t No Way”, “Think” and “I Say a Little Prayer”. In February 1968, Franklin earned the first two of her Grammys including the debut category for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. On February 16, 1968, Aretha was honored with a day in her honor and was greeted by longtime friend Martin Luther King, Jr. who gave her the SCLC Drum Beat Award for Musicians just two months prior to his death. In June 1968, she appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
“Respect” was a huge hit for Franklin, it became a signature song for her.
Franklin’s success expanded during the early 1970s in which she recorded top ten singles such as “Spanish Harlem”, “Rock Steady” and “Day Dreaming” as well as the acclaimed albums, Spirit in the Dark, Young, Gifted & Black and her gospel album, Amazing Grace, which sold over two million copies. In 1971, Franklin became the first R&B performer to headline Fillmore West, later recording the live album, Aretha Live at Fillmore West. Franklin’s career began experiencing issues while recording the album, Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky), which featured production from Quincy Jones. Despite the success of the single, “Angel”, the album bombed upon its release in 1973. Franklin continued having R&B success with songs such as “Until You Come Back to Me” and “I’m in Love” but by 1975, her albums and songs were failing to become a success. After Jerry Wexler left Atlantic for Warner Bros. Records in 1976, Franklin worked on the soundtrack to the film, “Sparkle”, with Curtis Mayfield. The album yielded Aretha’s final top 40 hit of the decade, “Something He Can Feel”, which also peaked at number-one on the R&B chart. Franklin’s follow-up albums for Atlantic including Sweet Passion, Almighty Fire and La Diva bombed on the charts and in 1979, Franklin opted to leave the company.