Obit: Doris Day (1922-2019)

Every year is regarded by pop culture fans as a “celebrity deathyard” year. 2019 is no different with the passings of directors Stanley Donen, Larry Cohen, and John Singleton, Ingmar Bergman muse Bibi Andersson, Creature of the Black Lagoon actress Julie Adams, legendary British thespian Albert Finney, veteran character actors Morgan Woodward and Richard Erdman, and Richard Bucket AKA Clive Swift, to name a few. Doris Day, who died May 13th at the ripe old age of 97, is the newest saint to march on.

In one section of her fascinating book on the Hollywood Studio System, The Star Machine, Janine Basinger writes about two blonde singer-actresses on whom the studio took big gambles: Rosemary Clooney and Doris Day. On paper, both should have risen to meteoric movie stardom. But Clooney’s frigid, stiff screen presence didn’t endear her to a mass audience.

Day, on the other hand, possessed the It factor right away in her debut film, Romance on the High Seas, where she portrayed a plebeian band singer hired to masquerade as a socialite on a cruise. Despite her total inexperience and deep insecurity as an actor, veteran filmmaker Michael Curtiz intentionally provided minimal direction, wisely sensing that her natural vivacity and charisma was perfect for the role. He was right, and even today it remains one of her most endearing performances and established her as one of the top box office stars for the rest of her career. Her earnest and charming rendition of the sweet ballad “It’s Magic” (vastly superior to the hokey “Que Sera Sera”) kickstarted her solo recording career.

Although the majority of her films throughout 1957 were musical-comedies, she was occasionally cast against type. The most striking example in her early career was Storm Warning, a gritty crime expose reminiscent of the gangster movies Warner Bros. made in the 30s about a small town ruled by the KKK (interestingly, the movie never delves in white supremacy, instead focusing on corruption). Day is poignantly naturalistic as a battered wife of a Klansman, who…SPOILER, is murdered at the end!

Perhaps the best performance in her early career is in the underrated musical biopic I’ll See You in My Dreams. Day finds the right balance between presenting Grace Kahn, wife of songwriter Gus Kahn, as a well-meaning woman who believes in her husband’s talent with all her soul which leads her to become an overbearing manager.

In spite of her varied career, Day is cemented in the minds of many as a sunny, plucky wholesome girl next door. This perception also led cultural critics to single her out as the face of sterile midcentury repression amongst a turbulent, transformative sociopolitical era. The backlash at the time is understandable considering that the nonconfrontational air of her films is starkly different from theatrically adapted melodramas starring method actors. In the 1960s, the disparity between movies made by the old-guard studio moguls and rebellious, transgressive films from a newer crop of artists in the US and worldwide reached its zenith, in the process rendering Day and her work as “square.” Day rejected the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, which became 1967s top grosser and helped make “New Hollywood Cinema” popular and lucrative.

Looking at her films fifty years later, most are undoubtedly old-fashioned, but with the exception of a few cringeworthy cornball duds such as Lucky Me or the tepid musical drama Young at Heart, they remain infectiously entertaining in large part due to Day’s unpretentious optimistic can-do charm.

The first film to give Day critical acclaim was Love Me or Leave Me, a dramatic musical biopic based on the life of 20s singer Ruth Etting and her stormy marriage to gangster Marty Snyder who bankrolled her career. She is effective at frankly conveying Etting as a highly ambitious woman willing to do anything to get to the top (Etting reportedly found Day’s performance too hard bitten). Day falters somewhat in the third act when required to be histrionic and gets outacted by James Cagney, an experienced hand at scenery chewing rage.

She’s even better in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, where the master of suspense drew a beautifully realized performance as a mother whose family is unwittingly foiled in an assassination plot while on holiday in Morocco. (Other distressed women films, Julie and Midnight Lace, veer towards camp).

She survived the decline of movie musicals in the late 50s with a series of romantic comedies, the first being Teacher’s Pet a gentle comedy, where Day is charming as the idealistic journalist who mellows cynical reporter Clark Gable. The following films have a more manic bent, including a trio of battle-of-the-sexes comedies in which she is cheekily deceived by Rock Hudson. She received her sole Oscar nomination for Pillow Talk, probably in large part due to her hilarious sobbing montage.

While lacking the sophistication of the aforementioned films, other vehicles such as Move Over Darling and The Glass Bottom Boat are fun in a very 60s madcap way. In the former Day attacks the role of a wife who returns from a shipwreck the same day her husband remarries with zany gusto and is aided by equally vivacious co-stars. In the latter, Day is a good sport as she is continually harassed by several oddballs who think she is a Russian spy in Frank Tashlin’s cartoony camp fest.

Part of Day’s enduring legacy was her constant resolution in the face of adversity. A major blow came early in her life when a car accident prevented her from pursuing her dance career. She instead learned singing and became a popular vocalist with several Big Bands throughout the 1940s. Her third husband, Marty Melcher gambled all her money and committed her to a sitcom without her consent. Nevertheless, she dutifully did the soul-crushingly awful show for five years and recouped enough money to retire and live on her own terms for the rest of her life, converting her estate to an animal shelter.

Heather’s top 10 Anime of 2018

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Hey guys, 2018 was the year we decided to invest in some great anime streaming services (thank you VRV). I figured it was time to give my personal top 10 picks of the year. Also this might be the time to announce that in 2019 I am planning on launching an anime Podcast based off of my panel at Connecticon 2018, “Anime That Changed the Game.” Stay tuned for more details. Now for this list it’s just my personal picks of the year, they’re not necessarily worthy of critical acclaim or what I would classify as game changing- though I will specify if they are since a couple of them would make the cut. For a series to qualify it had to premiere in 2018; sequels and new seasons of continuing series do not count and we’re counting this by Japanese release date, not American air date. Also I haven’t seen every single series that came out so if it looks like I missed a pretty cool one, feel free to leave a comment with your recommendation. Alright so here we go!

10. Hataraku Saibou (Cells at Work!)

            Summer 2018

            Episodes: 13, 23 minutes per episode

            Genres: Comedy, Shounen

            Full disclosure, I haven’t had the chance to finish this series yet which is why I have to put it at number 10. Purists may cringe but I actually stopped because I wanted to wait for the dub to finish before watching this one. The premise is pretty neat; it’s a depiction of the inner workings of the human body starring a red and white blood cell. Viruses are appropriately depicted as these creepy alien invaders and platelets look like kindergartners, so cute. If you remember that movie Osmosis Jones from the 90s, it’s like that but more anime if that makes sense. Clever and comedic. I’m looking forward to getting the chance to finish this one.

9. Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san (Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles)

            Winter 2018

            Episodes: 12, 22 minutes per episode

            Genres: Comedy, Slice of Life

            This is a total guilty pleasure pick. Koizumi-san is a sub-genre of anime referred to as “cute girls doing cute things.” Typically these aren’t valued for their depth or character development. The plot is incredibly simple. Ms. Koizumi’s favorite food is ramen and each episode depicts another of her favorite ramen joints. Oh and one of her classmates seems to have a thing for her and follows her to said ramen places and then more cute girls start eating ramen. Yeah it sounds dumb, so why did it make the list? The sequences with broken English and German are hilarious. I give voice actress Ayana Taketatsu props, she really made the character fun. Also found out there’s a lot of ramen in Hawaii so more incentive to go, haha.

8. Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san (Teasing Master Takagi-san)

            Winter 2018

            Episodes: 12, 23 minutes per episode

            Genres: Romance, Comedy, School, Slice of Life, Shounen

            Most of the time anime is known for being weird, but sometimes a series comes along that’s just super wholesome and a gem of the slice of life genre. Which gave us Takagi-san, about two school kids Takagi and Nishikata and their constant trying to one up each other with a better prank. With Takagi being the master of this and always 5 steps ahead of Nishikata. Cute, simple, a feel good show reminiscent of childhood memories. 

7.  Tensei Shitara Slime Datta Ken (That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime)

            Fall 2018

            Episodes: 24, 23 minutes per episode

            Genres: Fantasy, Shounen

            Back to what you usually think of when someone says anime, a fantasy adventure that takes place in a world outside of our own. The set up for this one is a little dark for such a light hearted series.  37-year-old human Satoru Mikami is killed on his way to work one day and in his dying breath hopes to be reincarnated as “someone cool, like a wizard or great sage.” Next thing he knows he wakes up in a RPG like world as a slime monster, an incredibly overpowered one at that. And so begins the adventures of Rinmaru Tempest. This series has not yet finished and will continue in 2019.

6.  Ninja Batman

            June 2018

            Feature Film: 1 hr 25 minutes

            Genres: Action, Martial Arts, Samurai

            So the anime community on the whole has found Hollywood adaptations of anime to be underwhelming to say it nicely. We won’t even mention that “thing” Netflix barfed out and tried to label as “Death Note,” we’ll see about Alita in the coming months… So Ninja Batman is interesting because this reverses that concept with an American property getting the anime treatment. It delivers in the way that a Jim Dandy sundae delivers everything you could possibly want on your ice cream and as many calories as it takes to break your suggested daily allotment. It’s got Batman working with a ninja clan that worships a legendary Bat-Shogun who is said to come from another world and save feudal Japan. Batman becomes said shogun, oh and there’s a giant mecha fight. It’s fanfiction quality, and you can tell the team behind it just had a whole lot of fun working on this project.

5. Hinamatsuri (Hina Festival)

            Spring 2018

            Episodes: 12, 23 minutes per episode

            Genres: Comedy, Supernatural, Sci-Fi, Slice of Life, Seinen

            This show caught me off guard. The trailer did a good job of peaking your interest but then the actual show was just so earnest and fun with a very anime premise. One night, a strange object falls on the head of Nitta, a member of the yakuza. Inside the box is a strange young girl named Hina. She has tremendous supernatural powers, and Nitta finds himself reluctantly taking her in. So Nitta ends up becoming a father figure for Hina and heartwarming comedy ensues. It’s a show that hits a bunch of high notes especially in terms of character development and character relationships. Highly recommended.

4. Gaikotsu Shotenin Honda-san (Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san)

            Fall 2018

            Episodes: 12, 11 minutes per episode

            Genres: Slice of Life, Comedy

            A delightful series from the Fall season which no one saw coming. Based on a manga based on the author’s actual life when he worked as a clerk at a bookstore, the skeletons are avatars for the author and all of his co-workers. The show follows their day to day activities working in a Japanese bookstore, hilarity ensues. The show is also clever and brings up some interesting aspects of Japanese culture- such as the difference between how there is a difference in Japan between Gay Romance Books and Boy Love. While these sound like the same genre, they are not. Think of a high budget Biopic versus a Lifetime movie- this is the level of difference between those two genres. Also another great sampling of some hilarious Engrish scenes.

3. Poputepipikku (Pop Team Epic)

            Winter 2018

            Episodes: 12, 12 minutes per episode (with a rebroadcast of each with different voice actors)

            Genres: Comedy, Parody, Dementia

            The best way to describe this is “internet memes” the anime. This was also one of my featured series for Anime That Changed the Game. Adapted from a 4-koma or 4-panel manga, think Sunday morning comic strips- it follows the exploits of Popuko and Pipimin through different sketch comedy pieces. With pop culture references from video games, other anime and even a parody of Earth Wind and Fire’s Let’s Groove Tonight; it’s a series that’s a whole lot of fun.

2. Mahou Shoujo Ore (Magical Girl Man)

            Spring 2018

            Episodes: 12, 23 minutes per episode

            Genres: Comedy, Fantasy, Magic

            I’m surprised this series wasn’t received as well by the anime community on the whole only scoring a 6.7 on My Anime List. Admittedly it did take about 3 episodes to really get the whole set up going, but once it did it so delivered. The series is also very LBGT friendly like in a progressive way that doesn’t feel like pandering. Okay so you’ve got you protagonist who has a crush on a guy, well the guy likes her in her man form but doesn’t realize it’s the same person, then the protagonist’s best friend is hard core crushing on her and doesn’t care if she’s a girl or in Ore form. Hooray for love triangle equality. Simultaneously displaying and deconstructing some of the biggest anime tropes, a commentary on the idol industry as a whole- it just feels like a giant love letter written to those anime fans who are approaching their 30s and older. It will leave you wondering what Mahiro’s song was all about with lyrics including, “I don’t really like carrots, but I like them better then cellophane tape.” The world may never know…

1. Miira no Kaikata (How to Keep a Mummy)

            Winter 2018

            Episodes: 12, 24 minutes per episode

            Genres: Comedy, Slice of Life, Supernatural             We made it to my favorite series of the year. Oh my god I can’t get over how cute this show is. Another one with a very simple set up, our protagonist’s father is an archaeologist and sends a mummy home for him to take care of. But since this is anime the mummy is pint sized and absolutely adorable. Oh and he barks. Like a puppy. SQUEEEEE. The series is cute in a feel good way and features some other adorable critters such as a baby ogre, a dragon and a baku. Baku is a Japanese dream eater for those who have never heard of them. My only complaint is the show gets really dark in the end of the second to last episode just to give a cliffhanger that gets resolved in the first 2 minutes of the finale and then it’s back to being cute. It was just an odd curve ball to throw in there at the last minute. Granted there were some hints at darker things having happened in the human character’s pasts but it feels more forced than a plot twist. Otherwise it’s a fun show, the characters are likable and you just feel happy when you watch it. It’s a good escape from the daily grind.

Take 5/Obit: Nancy Wilson (1937-2018)

Andy Williams’ prescient introduction of Nancy Wilson stated “To make a common name like Wilson stand out… you have to have an uncommon talent like Miss Nancy Wilson.” When googling “Nancy Wilson” many of the results include Nancy Wilson, one of the duo from the rock group Heart or the similar sounding Mary Wilson, the least controversial Supremes.

Wilson, who recently died from a long illness was born in Chillicothe, Ohio in 1937 (like Judy Garland’s spunky heroine in The Harvey Girls), to an iron-worker father and a domestic servant mother. After winning a local TV talent show at 15, she worked at many nightclubs in addition to her regular appearance on a local TV show Skyline Melodies. In the next few years, Wilson caught the attention of saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, who encouraged her to move to New York.

In 1960, she signed with Capitol Records, making her debut album Something Wonderful. It was a solid first effort featuring her signature song “Guess Who I Saw Today.” Her next album, a collaboration with Adderley, she grew in range and it might be her best recorded work, featuring another famous tune “Save Your Love for Me.” Throughout the 60s, she made recordings that were in a pop-jazz style, veering more into R&B/soul by the end of the decade throughout the mid-1970s. It is her work in the latter era that I think has her most underrated, consistently good material. “But Beautiful,” which features earthy, minimalist renditions of classic jazz standards and “Kaleidoscope,” which has slick and slightly funky orchestral arrangements that accentuate Wilson’s sultry vocals.

As was the norm for artists signed to a major record label in the mid-century, Wilson constantly churned out album after album, most of which contained a few gems, but a lot of filler. It would be fair to say that most of Wilson’s albums don’t fully capture her vitality, which is readily apparent in all of her live performances.

In the 1980s and early 1990s Wilson’s albums were the equivalent of heirloom strawberries topped with cool whip. In her middle age, Wilson was at the zenith of her vocal prowess. Her rich velvety tones were enriched like fruit soaked in rum, her phrasing and vocal range got only stronger, and her ability to go from whisper to a roar in a split second dramatically increased. The dated electronica arrangements (which thankfully died with the 80s), on the other hand, often sound like rejected Sonic the Hedgehog scores.

Wilson’s greatest asset as a singer was her unique ability to internalize every lyric of a song and turn it into a personal narrative (hence the term “song stylist”). This proved especially useful for cumbersome and corny songs such as “You Can Have Him” and “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” (which have tripped up vocal greats like Ella and Nina Simone).

Although she resisted the term “jazz singer” (not only because it’s box office anathema, but because she crossed over into virtually every genre), Wilson returned to straight ahead jazz for her final records, winning two of her three Grammys for her final two albums, RSVP and Turned to Blue. She lost a little bit of the projection from her prime, but her feeling and phrasing remained impeccable to the end.

Unlike most singers who take 20 years to retire, Wilson actually retired when she said she would (save for a couple of guest tracks). Her ability to quit while she was ahead further proved her class and good sense.

Here are 5 tracks that show the mastery of Miss Nancy Wilson.

The Masquerade is Over

This early track demonstrates how sophisticated and confident Wilson from the beginning as well as giving insight into her storytelling skills.

Ode to Billie Joe

Wilson’s more personable approach magnifies the cruelty and tragedy of Bobbie Gentry’s haunting ballad.

Guess Who I Saw Today/Teach Me Tonight

In the first of the double bill, Wilson projects a calculating sweetness that belies a simmering rage, while on the second Wilson swings out with a classy sauciness.

Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight

Wilson’s rawness and the soulful arrangement elevate this 70s standard.

How Glad I Am

This 1987 live performance of one of her most famous songs demonstrates Wilson’s exuberance for her craft.

Review: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

A Night at the Cinema- A Bohemian Rhapsody review

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

So right off the bat I just gotta say, this whole movie is very reminiscent of that VH1 Behind the Music series they used to do, but on a larger budget. Also this review is coming a bit later because I had to see it twice to really break it down. By the way if you haven’t seen it yet and you’re a fan of Queen, just go see it because there’s no real point in putting up a spoiler warning. I’m going to talk about the whole film.

There are a couple of things I have to get right out of the way: how the film handled its PG-13 rating and its portrayal of Freddie Mercury’s sexuality. I am one of the few in camp that think you can make an adult movie with a PG-13, and after seeing the end result I stand by this statement. I also would like to applaud the MPAA for not slapping films with an automatic R just for showing a same sex couple share a kiss; they’ve finally arrived to 2018. While the film doesn’t cover up that Freddie Mercury certainly didn’t live a PG-13 life, it doesn’t feel the need to show all the sex or the drugs. 

As for Freddie’s sexuality, if there’s one scene that really captures the film’s stance it’s where the band is being interviewed and Freddie is clearly on drugs and all the reporters want to know about is his sexuality when in reality the focus should have been on his struggle with the celebrity lifestyle. Some other reviewers have deemed the film “a conservative’s campaign ad against the homosexual agenda.” Politics aside I honestly have no idea what film they were watching. The film doesn’t demonize being gay or even try to point the finger and say he contracted AIDS because he was gay. It takes an almost aseptic approach towards celebrity in general; the constant drugs and the parties and having someone around who isn’t really invested in your well-being is just the perfect destructive combination that has claimed the lives of more than just Mercury.

This is probably a good point to talk about the portrayal of Paul Prenter. For the sake of the film he is the villain and a damn good one.His undermining leads to both the separation of Queen and his drug pushing and enabling guides Freddie Mercury down a destructive path to almost no point of return. In reality Paul Prenter’s relationship with the band played out differently; in the film Mercury fires him for not informing him of Live-Aid,which made for a great cinematic moment. Prenter was believed to have been sexually involved with Freddie Mercury and did threaten him with blackmail as shown in the film but a lot of the rest seems to have been embellished for the sake of the film. Do I think he falls back on an old Hollywood stereotype that depicts Gay men in a bad light? No and I think the film actively tries to avoid that as well. He’s more of a representation of “the wrong crowd” that all kids are told not to hang out with because they’ll get into trouble. In this instance the trouble is cocaine, pill popping with a side of binge drinking.      

So now that we’ve got the hardest parts out of the way let’stalk about the rest of the film. Performance wise I’m very glad that Rami Malek was cast as Freddie versus Sacha Baron Cohen. Not that it wouldn’t have been interesting to see the man who gave us Borat put his spin on Freddie. Evidently Cohen had signed on in 2010 to play the lead role but departed in 2013 due to creative differences with the band as they could not agree on what sort of a film they wanted to make. Cohen wanted to focus on the wilder part of Mercury’s lifestyle and the band really wanted a film about the band and its music. The band also stated in an interview that for the portrayal of Freddie to feel real, the audience had to believe the performer is Freddie and that Cohen’s own sense of theatricality would greatly clash and take away that suspension of disbelief. Malek is really able to sell the character and most critics have agreed no one could have done it better. The fact that the music wasn’t dubbed over and it was actually Queen was something I was unsure of, but really no one can top Mercury’s vocals so another good decision on the part of the filmmakers.

As for the rest of the band, my god if they don’t get hair and makeup awards for transforming those actors into lookalikes of Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon I’m going to throw by popcorn at the TV this awards season. Also fun fact, Joseph Mazzello who played John Deacon, was the little kid in the original Jurassic Park.

We of course have to talk about the portrayal of the two major loves of Mercury’s life, Mary Austin and Jim Hutton. Mercury said in a 1985 interview. “The only friend I’ve got is Mary, and I don’t want anybody else. To me, she was my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage. We believe in each other, that’s enough for me.” He loved her and she was always his best friend which comes across so strongly in the film. The scene where Freddie says he might be bisexual and she says no Freddie you’re gay, according to interviews is more or less how that conversation went down in real life. The film hooks them up in this sort of a meet cute moment when in reality it was Brian May who introduced them. It also omits the aftermath of their separation where she had asked him to have a child with her and he refused (but said he wouldn’t mind getting another cat). But there’s only so much ground one can cover in a 2 hour and 14 minute run time. Had the film tried to cast all the other women that Mercury had dated there just would have been far too many characters and the focus would have pulled away from the band and just been more focused on his sexuality so again, I think it was a conscious effort to show the film for the artist and the legacy he wanted to be known for.

As for Jim Hutton, the film really doesn’t have a whole lot of him in it but given the private nature of the couple’s relationship it makes some sense. He’s also a nice counter to the portrayal Paul Prenter, as another gay man who isn’t into the drug or party scene and there’s a sense of respect between he and Mercury. Did the scene with Freddie Mercury’s parents meeting him and being all accepting of their relationship happen in real life? I couldn’t say, but I know that their religious background was not accepting of homosexual relationships and that was a big part of why Mercury was closeted for so long, there just isn’t an interview with them to state if this scene has any basis in reality. For the film though it is a nice moment and creates this nice book end because it’s just before Live Aid he makes his father proud because he performs for the benefit of other people.

So all in all it’s a solid film that really shows some of the band’s most important moments. While some liberties are taken, it doesn’t try to really judge Freddie Mercury for the lifestyle he lead or even use him as a cautionary tale. It’s more about the friendship of the band, how they were like a family and how at the end of the day it’s your real friends that you can always count on.

Take 5/Obit Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)

Courtesy of Boing Boing

Aretha Franklin’s musical legacy is a testament to the importance of having the right collaborators at the right time. Aided the cheerleading of her doting father Rev. C.L. Franklin and her impressive gospel recordings, Franklin’s talent was recognized at an early age by the industry. She was signed by Columbia Records, for whom she recorded 9 albums over 6 years. However, the material given to her – a clunky hodge podge of easy listening, pop, and jazz – stifled her larger-than-life soulful talent. Listening to these early songs, it is clear that Columbia didn’t know what to do with her.

The Aretha Franklin that we all love and revere emerged in 1967 when she traveled to Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Under the guidance of genius producer Rick Hall, she gave to the world the album I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You). In addition to the title track, her inaugural album contained “RESPECT” and “Dr. Feelgood,” which remain iconic numbers in her repertoire.

This and the other recordings she made with Atlantic records remain as fresh and vibrant today as when they were originally produced. Even in an era (1967-1975) that was a Renaissance for virtuosic American vocalists, Ms. Franklin had that something extra that made her stand out from the pack. Listen to Ms. Franklin’s version of “The House That Jack Built” vs the originator Thelma Jones. Jones gives a spirited performance, but Franklin’s soulfulness better savors the rueful lyrics and her head and chest phrasings have more zing as she belts out the high notes. Consider a side by side of “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man:” Etta James’ feisty, assertive version is edged by Franklin’s quietly poignant cover which makes the song more personable.

Courtesy of E! News

Aretha Franklin’s status as The Queen is complicated at best. In its prime Ms. Franklin’s voice combined a euphoric blend of heavenly and earthly tones that conveyed volcanic strength with a naked, raw, gut wrenching world weariness. While many of her peers such as Nancy Wilson, Etta James, and Tina Turner maintained and expanded their gift, Ms. Franklin squandered hers. Quite honestly, for most of her career, she has coasted on her decade of sublimity. Like many of the most supremely talented artists with natural ability, Ms. Franklin’s hedonism (smoking and fatty eating) and lack of discipline eventually diminished her umami of her voice, though glimmers of it tauntingly remained. Despite performing at 10% of her capacity, Ms. Franklin demanded to be treated (and called) as The Queen of Soul unconditionally.

For the last 30 years, Ms. Franklin gave the impression that performing was a chore and that she was doing audiences a favor with her presence. (In several of her live concerts in the 80s, Franklin stops short of rolling her eyes). Nevertheless, Franklin never left the spotlight, touring constantly and releasing several albums. Even if those records, produced by the white bread Arista, were nowhere near the quality of her Atlantic discography, there is something to be said for her willingness to continually produce new music, as opposed to just settling for nostalgia tours like so many musicians do for most of their careers. All this goes to show the strong survivor she was in her own rough way.

Courtesy of Vox

It is astonishing the many obstacles she overcame; pregnancy at 13, not finishing high school, abusive relationships, enduring the brutal murder of her father and the deaths of her sisters to debilitating cancers. It’s a shame that Ms. Franklin wasn’t able to let go of her feeling of lack, which led her to compete, rather than collaborate. This wasn’t restricted to her colleagues such as Whitney Houston and Mavis Staples (where she had the studio engineers virtually render her duet partner a background singer in post). She also undermined her own sisters professionally. The most egregious incident happened when Ms. Franklin was at the zenith of her career; when she found out that Carolyn was recording the soundtrack to the musical Sparkle, she used her clout to commandeer the project for herself. The brutal truth of the matter is that Sparkle wouldn’t be a monumental album in the hands of Carolyn, a good, but not spectacular vocalist. Sparkle marked the last stellar album for Aretha Franklin; a bittersweet last hurrah indeed.

I cannot share the enthusiasm that Carole King, Barack Obama, and social media felt when she sang Natural Woman at the Kennedy Center in 2015. Perhaps people responded to the fact that for the first time in a long while, she didn’t seem contemptuous of her public. Despite her gameness, her voice was drained and trailing. Thankfully we can always revisit the recordings when Ms. Franklin had the magic. For those precious songs, I will always love and cherish her.

Paring down a top 5 is super hard, but here I go.

I Say a Little Prayer For You

Although Dionne Warwick put Burt Bacharach’s songs on the map, Ms. Franklin’s cover elevates this sweet, catchy ditty to sublime bliss. This version is the tops.

Bridge Over Troubled Water

Ms. Franklin’s gentle piano playing alongside her powerhouse gospel vocals, on-point harmonies from the backup queens, and a fiery organist make for a stirring, sumptuous rendition of this Simon and Garfunkel song.

Call Me

In addition to fierce singing by Ms. Franklin and her backup goddesses, Call Me also demonstrates Ms. Franklin’s songwriting talent. There are so many good live versions of this song, but this one edges them out because of the way she goes to a hushed lullaby to a spirited riff at the end.

Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)

Ms. Franklin’s heavy piano pounding and uninhibited belting make for one of the best renditions of anger and heartbreak ever captured. The background singers are pretty, but pretty useless. Never mind, Ms. Franklin more than carries the song.

(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman

The slower tempo of this version gives Ms. Franklin more opportunity to wax the gorgeous Carole King lyrics, and when she belts “makes me feel so aliveeeeee,” honey, she soars through the speakers. And the way she slides those chest notes at the end is magical.

Very, very close 2nds: Angel, A Deeper Love (a guilty pleasure), Ain’t No Way, See Saw, You’re All I Need to Get By, I’m In Love, Spanish Harlem, and Brand New Me. Also check out an overlooked acid soul Mr. Spain.