Aretha Franklin: “Money Won’t Change You”
Day Two in Vegas, and today’s reselection is another in my loosely based Vegas theme this week: “Money Won’t Change You,” by Aretha Franklin, from her landmark 1968 LP, Lady Soul. It’s actually a cover of a James Brown song, but I’m not saving it for a Cover Friday because a majority of Aretha’s songs were covers — her strengths were in her interpretations, not her songwriting. So I don’t want to just relegate her to being a “cover artist,” because she’s so much more important than that. I don’t think I need to explain why, really — everyone should know that Aretha is one of the greatest singers in all of popular music. If for some reason you don’t, just go listen to her stuff from the late ’60s; it’s all the explanation you’ll ever need.
So today’s song choice: after a day of both good and bad luck here in Vegas yesterday, “Money Won’t Change You” seems like a good motto to keep in mind. The general concept makes you feel better if you don’t do well, and keeps you grounded if you do. The song actually doesn’t have all that much to do with money, really, being more about the futility of wanting someone to change, but I’m ignoring that for today’s purposes.
Aretha’s version of the song outdoes James Brown’s original, by the way. For Brown, it was a so-so song from his stockpile of classics (relatively speaking, of course); but Aretha takes it and whips it into shape and turns it into a piledriving statement of defiance — “you can treat me like dirt, but time will get you in the end.” If “Money Won’t Change You” had been released as a single, it would have been as big as “Respect,” “Chain of Fools,” and the like; as it is, it’s one of Franklin’s many great album tracks just lying in wait for the unassuming listener to happen upon and be blown away by the depth of her talent.