Before Jump To It was released in 1982, Aretha Franklin’s career was going through something of a lean spell. It had been six years since Aretha’s last top forty single Something He Can Feel and six years since her 1976 album Sparkle had been certified gold. Since then, Aretha had released five further albums, which had failed to replicate the success of Sparkle. However, Aretha’s fortunes would start to change when Aretha signed to Clive Davis’ Arista label. Her first album for her new label was 1981s Love All the Way, which reached number thirty-six in the US Billboard 200 and number four in the US R&B Charts. Although successful, it didn’t match the success of Aretha’s previous albums. What was needed was a hungry, up and coming producer who could give Aretha a more contemporary sound. Clive Davis found a man who fitted the bill perfectly, Luther Vandross. This would prove a masterstroke. He would prove key to the critically acclaimed, commercially successful and contemporary sound of Jump To It. Not only would he co-produce the album with Aretha, but wrote two tracks and cowrote two others. One of these tracks was Jump To It which Luther cowrote with Marcus Miller. It gave Aretha her first number one single in the US R&B Charts in five years, while Jump To would give Aretha her first gold disc in six years. Jump To It which will be rereleased by BBR Records on 25th June 2012, was the start of an Indian Summer for Aretha’s career. After I’ve told you about the background to Jump To It, I’ll tell you about the music on the album

For the last few years, one thing Aretha Franklin really wanted was a comeback album. For the last few years, her albums hadn’t been selling in the same numbers as before. Now signed to Arista Records, Clive Davis was able to make that happen. To do that Clive Davis hired Luther Vandross. Back then, Luther was a successful artist, but an aspiring songwriter and producer. With Luther hired to write produce and write songs for what was Aretha’s twenty-eighth album what was needed were contemporary sounding songs that would give Aretha a much need hit.  

Luther came up with the goods, writing Love Me Right and This Is For Real, while he cowrote two tracks with Marcus Miller. These were (It’s Just) Your Love and Jump To It, which would give Aretha the hit single she so dearly wanted and needed to rejuvenate her career. Together with tracks from Sam Dees, Smokey Robinson and I Wanna Make It Up To You which Aretha penned herself, the album was ready to be recorded.

Recording of what would become Jump To It took place at three studios, Los Angeles’ Record Plant, New York’s Media Sound and United Sound in Detroit. For the recording sessions, an all-star band had been recruited. This included guitarist Doc Powell, bassist Marcus Miller, keyboard player Nat Adderley Jr., pianist George Duke, percussionist Paulinho Da Costa and drummer Buddy Williams. The lineup of backing vocalists were just as impressive. Luther Vandross recruited Fonzi Thornton and Norma Jean Wright with whom Luther had sung backing vocals on Chic’s album. Aretha recruited Cissy Houston and Erma Franklin to contribute backing vocals. During the recording sessions, it became obvious that this was quite different to what people expected of an Aretha Franklin album. It appeared her music had been given a makeover, making it more likely to interest new, younger listeners. Would Jump To It prove popular not just Aretha’s old fans, but new fans too, rejuvenating her career in the process?

June 1982 saw the release of the first single from Jump To It. The title-track Jump To It which Luther and Marcus Miller cowrote was chosen. It gave Aretha the hit single she so desired, reaching number twenty-four in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts. This augured well for the release of Jump To It in August 1982. On its release the album became Aretha’s most successful album since 1976s Sparkle, reaching number twenty-three in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts, giving Aretha the sixth gold disc of her career. Love Me Right was then released as a single in November 1982, reaching number twenty-two in the US R&B Charts. This Is For Real was the third and last single released from Jump To It in March 1983, reaching just number sixty-three in the US R&B Charts. However, Jump To It had had the desired effect, with Luther giving Aretha a more contemporary sound, and the much desired hit single and album. However, just how different is Jump To It from Aretha’s previous albums?

Opening Jump To It is the title-track and number one US R&B single Jump To It. Aretha’s vocal is preceded by backing vocalists who almost act as cheerleaders, encouraging Aretha and the band to “Jump To It.” The band rise to the challenge, fusing funk and soul, while Aretha’s half-spoken vocal is sassy, almost sultry. Quickly, you can hear Luther Vandross’ influence all over the track. After some neat interplay between Aretha and the backing vocalists, she rolls back the years. Her vocal is sassy, emotive and sometimes jazzy vamp. Bursts of tight backing vocalists, the rhythm section and keyboards provide the perfect backdrop. Later, Aretha scats, feeding off the energy of the backing vocalists, who play a huge part in the success of the track. Not only is the track the best on Jump To It, but the best single Aretha released in many years.

Love Me Right is another of the three singles released from Jump To It. Written by Luther Vandross, it’s a track that allows Aretha to prove that she’s lost none of her vocal prowess. Opening with backing vocalists and Marcus Miller’s funky bass accompanying Aretha’s breathy vocal, the track has many subtleties and surprises in store. Flourishes of harp and lush strings set the scene for Aretha’s heartfelt, impassioned vocal. Backing vocalists drift in and out, while the rhythm section provide the arrangement’s pulsating heartbeat. Later, Aretha’s vocal is one part power, to one part passion, while the strings and harp reflect the emotion and heartache in Aretha’s vocal.

For many years, Sam Dees has been one of my favorite songwriters and is also a hugely underrated singer. Sam wrote If She Don’t Want Your Lovin’ a track that meanders beautifully into life. Just backing vocalists, rasping horns and the rhythm section combine. Marcus Miller’s bass is slow and funky, while horns signal the arrival of Aretha’s thoughtful vocal. Lush strings sweep in, while the piano, strings and horns are augmented by backing vocalists including Cissy Houston. This seems to encourage Aretha to greater heights, her vocal even more full of impassioned and heartfelt. The interplay between Aretha and her backing vocalists is key to the track, with the blazing horns and quivering strings arranged by Nat Adderley Jr. adding the finishing touch to a beautiful, moving song, which is one of the highlights of the album.

The second of the Luther Vandross penned tracks is This Is For Real, which features a husky vocal from Aretha that veers between gentle and powerful. Unlike the other arrangements, this is much more understated. It allowing Aretha’s vocal to take centre-stage, where it deserves to be, given its quality. While the rhythm section, percussion, horns and George Duke’s piano are played subtly, the strings cascade elegantly. They spread their beauty across the arrangement, augmented by George Young’s soprano saxophone solo. What truly makes this track, is one of Aretha’s best vocals on Jump To It. It’s heartfelt, sincere and very beautiful.

Jump To It wasn’t the only track Marcus Miller and Luther Vandross cowrote, they also cowrote (It’s Just) Your Love. It has a lovely smooth sound and features a vocal from Aretha that one minute is restrained, before briefly soaring emotively. Backing vocalists almost whisper in Aretha’s ear as she delivers, her smooth, sultry vocal. It fuses perfectly with an arrangement that flows along. The rhythm section provide a gently pulsating beat, while flourishes of harp, lush strings and a jazz-tinged piano solo from Nat Adderley Jr. are key to the sound and success of the track. This track also show how versatile a vocalist Aretha really is. 

I Wanna Make It Up To You was the only track that Aretha wrote on Jump To It. The unmistakable sound of Marcus Miller’s bass is accompanied by finger clicks, before flourishes of strings and backing vocalists give way to Aretha. Immediately, you’re spellbound by the beauty and quality of backing vocalists and Aretha’s vocal. Both are heartfelt and impassioned, set against an arrangement that’s subtle and full of sadness. Keyboards, quivering strings and a rhythm section that reflects the drama and emotion in Aretha and Levi Stubbs who share the vocal. These two legends are at the heart of the tracks success and soulfulness, along with the backing vocalists and backing vocals that include the rest of The Four Tops and Erma Franklin.

It’s Your Thing was written by The Isley Brothers and is a track where disco strings, funky rhythm section and gospel-tinged backing vocalists unite. Aretha’s vocal is sassy, while swathes of strings, blazing horns and the rhythm section arrive in dramatic waves. A sizzling, scorching guitar solo from Steve Love adds to the drama, while Marcus Miller’s bass playing is funk personified. Although this results in a quite different sounding track, it’s quite irresistible and laden with drama.

Closing Jump To It, is Just My Daydream, penned by another of soul music’s legends, Smokey Robinson, who wrote the song especially for Aretha. She certainly doesn’t disappoint with her delivery. It’s clear, tinged with emotion and feeling. Aretha is accompanied by backing vocalists, who include Cissy Houston and Darlene Love. Their contributions are huge and just as emotive as Aretha’s. Meanwhile, the arrangement just meanders beautifully along, gradually revealing its beauty and charm. Nat Adderley Jr. plays piano, as strings shimmer and quiver, horns gently rasp, while jazzy guitars and a sprinkling of percussion add to the song’s beauty and charms. With a songs as good as this, it proves the perfect way to close Jump To It, the comeback album from the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

After a lean spell, Jump To It saw Aretha Franklin’s career revitalized. This was just the start of an Indian Summer for her career. With Luther Vandross co-producing Jump To It, her music had been given a makeover, resulting in a much more contemporary sound that appealed to new and old fans alike. Not only did Jump To contain a number one US R&B single, but reached number one in the US R&B Charts and was certified gold. This was her first gold album since 1976s Sparkle. The Luther Vandross and Aretha Franklin would prove fruitful, with the followup album Get It Right also containing a number one US R&B single. However, what made Jump To It such a success was a combination of great songs, including tracks penned by Sam Dees, Smokey Robinson, Aretha, Luther, plus the the two tracks he cowrote with Marcus Miller. He was just one of the hugely talented musicians that played on Jump To It. Among the others were Nat Adderley Jr., Paulinho Da Cost and George Duke, plus some peerless backing vocals from the likes of Cissy Houston, Erma Franklin, Fonzi Thornton and Norma Jean Wright. Of course the final part in Jump To It’s success was Luther Vandross’ production skills. Together, Luther and Aretha formed a formidable and successful partnership, that although only lasted two albums, resulted in two of the best albums of Aretha’s later career Jump To It and Get It Right . Not only that, but Jump To It which will be rereleased by BBR Records on 25th June 2012 was the start of what was an Indian Summer for Aretha Franklin’s career, that lasted four years. Standout Tracks: Jump To It, If She Don’t Want Your Lovin’, This Is For Real and I Wanna Make It Up To You.


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