The Billboard Book of Number One Rhythm & Blues Hits
The Billboard charts have a currency acknowledged around the world. The Billboard Book of Number One Rhythm & Blues Hits, written by Adam White and Fred Bronson, pays tribute to many of those who helped to create a quarter-century of unimpeachable music: singers, songwriters, musicians, producers and more – even some of the record executives whose hustle delivered the hits and sent them to the soul summit.
Writers: Aretha Franklin, Ted White
Producer: Jerry Wexler
No. 1, June 15, 1968 (3 weeks)
Lady Soul was wowing Europe when "Think" was released at the beginning of May 1968.
She hit Paris like a hurricane ("C'est la nouvelle reine du blues," declared one critic) and recorded a live album at the city's Olympia Theatre on the evening of May 7. Five days later, she lifted the roof of London's Hammersmith Odeon with an equally dynamic show. "The near-hysteria at the last concert at Hammersmith," noted a Blues & Soul review, "rivalled, if not surpassed, the reaction to the last concerts here by Otis Redding and the more recent Sam & Dave/Arthur Conley review."
In the recording studio, Aretha had some of the best musicians available; on the road, that wasn't always the case. "When Aretha started and the politics were controlled by her husband [Ted White] at the time," observes Jerry Wexler, "her husband had control of a band led by some friend of his, a bebop trumpet player from Detroit. I don't know what the hell they were — second-rate jazzmen — but they were horrible."
Arranger Arif Mradin remembers that bandleader, too. "He would forget the charts, and things like that," he says. Nevertheless, Wexler acknowledges that Ted White never tried to get those musicians into the studio with Aretha. "They only played behind her on her gigs," he says, "and I was never interfered with. I was able to use all the best players."
Aretha's husband's influence extended beyond the choice of touring musicians — he shared the songwriting credits on "Think," just as he did on her previous Number One, "(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone," and on "Dr. Feelgood (Love Is A Serious Business)," a transcendental track from her first Atlantic Records album.
"Think" was recorded in New York at the Atlantic studios on April 15, 1968. Aretha played piano — if "played" is a sufficient description — with support from Spooner Oldham (organ), Roger Hawkins (drums), Tommy Cogbill and Jimmy Johnson (guitar), and Jerry Jemmott (bass).
The horn players, like the rhythm section, were imported from Memphis: Wayne Jackson (trumpet), Andrew Love and Charles Chalmers (tenor sax), and Floyd Newman and Willie Bridges (baritone sax). The background vocalists, of course, were the Sweet Inspirations. Jerry Wexler recalls one highlight from the session — how bassman Cogbill spiced up the instrumentation with some guitar overdubs, which kick in as the song changes key. "After we finished [the track], Tommy said, 'There's a little obligato I can do, a guitar obligato — listen to this.' I said, 'That's great, go ahead and do it.' Now, you listen to it carefully and if it isn't what I'm telling you, it's a damned close cousin: it's 'Dixie'."
Twelve years later, "Think" made a surprise comeback by way of Hollywood. In John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd's The Blues Brothers, Aretha appeared as a soul food restaurant owner, advising her screen husband against rejoining Jake and Elwood Blues in their band ("you'd better think"). She sang a version of the song that almost matched the drive and passion of the original — and was infinitely more entertaining than the automobile mayhem of the movie's climax.