Re: Aretha's "Respect" (multiple responses)

Fri, 3 Oct 1997 05:21:17 -0400


From: Sandra Hollin Flowers <flowers_s@Mercer.EDU>
Subject: Re: Aretha's "Respect"

I haven't been keeping up with this thread, so excuse me if someone's
already posted this perspective.

I don't know what radio interview Jane's referring to, but the problem I
have with her interpretation below is that "Respect" was written by a
man--Otis Redding, who also recorded it years before Aretha did. Given
that Redding was from the South (born here in Macon in 1941), the lyrics
are surely as much about a black man's demand for respect at home--not
getting any in the world--as they admittedly are about sex.

The respect-me-here-if-nowhere-else theme is quite common in African
American culture. However, at the time Redding wrote "Respect," it was
premature to record a song with such an overtly political message.
Wrapping it in the guise of sexual satisfaction is analogous to the ways
in which slave spirituals conveyed more than their lyrics suggested to the
casual listener.

Not trying to be irreverent with that analogy, but do remember that a)
spirituals, blues, gospel, and soul music are deeply intertwined art
forms; and b) black people have always had to find ways of communicating
personal messages in the presence of other listeners. When you add to
those realities commercialism and remember that Otis Redding was among the
early successful "cross-over" musicians -- long before the concept became
popularized or before there was MTV to make it sell -- the political
undertones of "Respect" can't be ignored.

No, this is not "the" interpretation of the song. Just a reading from the
perspective of an insider. And again, excuse me if this has already been
said or if the discussion is about Aretha's interpretation of the song
independently of Redding's intentions.

Sandra Flowers

Sandra Hollin Flowers
Associate Professor of English Voice: (912) 752-2813
Mercer University Fax: (912) 757-4956
Macon, GA 31207


Subject: Re: Aretha's "Respect"

> This is the story of a particular woman demanding sexual satisfaction
> from her man.

Not bad, BUT it was written and originally recorded by a man, Otis
Redding, in 1965. The Queen's version was released in 1967. Both
predate the rise of feminism, particularly among black women.
Although Aretha's version surely "intends" what you have explicated,
Otis was more likely voicing the black male's age-old concern for
respect from his woman, best rendered through sexual submission.

Bill Hoover


From: Mark Bunster <>
Subject: Re: Aretha's "Respect"

Don't forget that the song was written by a MAN--Otis Redding--, not a
woman. The "propers" are the respects paid to a man for coming home
after working all day to support the family. (I'm not saying I support
this perspective, that's just what it is.)

Remember that Otis liked to portray himself as "Mr. Pitiful"--and I
think this line plays on that perception. As someone who doesn't get
much respect in life, all he wants is his props when he comes home to
his sanctuary.

Just my $.02. I know Aretha changed a word here and there, and really
made the song her own, but the words were written from the male's


Mark Bunster *The greatest thing * you'll ever learn
Survey Research Lab *is just to love
VA. Commonwealth U. *and be loved in return.
Richmond, VA 23284 * --Nat Cole (vocal)
or try


Subject: Re: Aretha's "Respect"

I think Jane Leskus's reading of the "different light on the meaning
of "Respect'" is right on the money. Pretty typical for a r&b-type
cover, language referring either covertly or in street talk to sex.
But I think that part of the significance of the song is that it held
both meanings --one, grounded in sex (especially when sung by Otis
Redding) about "getting it" when I get home, might be seen as
reinforcing traditional gender stereotypes; but the other (when sung
by Aretha) conveying something more than "just" this, containing a
kernel of liberation, or "respect me" --especially if, sung through
her voice, it's the woman who gets home and wants her "propers." Kind
of a double meaning. Interesting stuff, and fairly representative for
the emergent struggles of the time.

Ted Morgan

Department of Political Science
Maginnes Hall #9
Lehigh University
Bethlehem, PA 18015
phone: (610) 758-3345
fax: (610) 758-6554