Maybe it’s a stretch to refer to this as a crap-album – since it was very well received at the time, considered a “comeback” of sorts. Then again, if you really love Aretha Franklin (as you absolutely should) then maybe it’s not going far enough to call this a crap-album; utter stinky garbage really, a desperate, cloying attempt to hook into the mid-80s pop song market and reinvent a legend.
Hey, it had worked for Tina Turner…
I guess I didn’t know much about Aretha at all when I saw her in The Blues Brothers movie – and then saw her in it again. And again. But I knew something of her legend-status and then on the back of that the hits started to make themselves known. But also around that same time this album was released and it was impossible to avoid the big, big songs – like opening track and one of the lead singles, Freeway of Love. You don’t need to avoid it by the way. Banger!
But later on the album, the squealy, processed, hideous guitars of Push for example (thanks again, Carlos Santana!) it becomes harder to argue the point that there’s any real magic.
But of course there is – a Van McCoy song will always be fine in my book and Sweet Bitter Love is the best ballad vocal performance on here – far better than single, Another Night which I reckon is pretty fucking dreadful eh.
But I do love this album – because it was my proper intro to Aretha as an album-artist. Obviously I care deeply and almost only about the music she made between 1967-1972 (about a dozen albums, almost all of them utterly essential; not sure anyone ever bettered that run). But I can’t lie – Who’s Zoomin’ Who entered my world first.
And it has moments. Really great moments. And also the really weird and rather stupid ones – like the fucking title track – that remind you both of the era and the continual battle that the stars of the 60s and early 70s had trying to re-brand and seem hip in the 1980s.
This was Aretha’s best-seller since 1972 which really only points to the almost entire lack of steam between 1973 and 1985 – and wouldn’t you need a bit of a break too if you’d released I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You, Aretha Arrives, Lady Soul, Aretha Now, Soul ’69, Soft And Beautiful, This Girl’s In Love With You, Spirit In The Dark, Young, Gifted and Black, at least one greatest hits record (make that at least two) and the killer-af live albums Aretha In Paris, Live at Fillmore West and Amazing Grace all between 1967 and 1972. Cup of tea and a lie down I say, take the rest of your life off. You did it. You made some of the greatest music there’ll ever be.
So, what followed was some of the most mediocre music that never needed to happen.
And the good half of Who’s Zoomin’ which includes many hints that she really was chasing after Tina Turner on the comeback trail (Another Night is arguably proof enough) and that producer Narada Michael Walden wasn’t at all bothered about lifting ideas from Prince (Until You Say You Love Me) or the Philly soul of a decade or so earlier (Integrity).
Need further proof that this was just a little bit in Tina Turner’s shadow? Guess who the Eurythmics first tapped for the mega-hit duet, Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves that appears here and also on the band’s own album – riding along as it does on a sublime Nathan East bassline. Yep, Ms. Turner was unavailable so Ms. Franklin was second number on the speed dial that day.
I love these anomaly albums – you might have heard this without knowing about her earlier work and you could just maybe never connect the dots. You might have known the best music she made – which is some of the best music anyone has made – and then wondered what the fuck this was. But there were big radio singles at the time when big radio singles mattered most. So Who’s Zoomin’ Who was a thing. Stupid title and all.
And what did that even mean? Well, it either meant who was scoping out who. Or maybe you thought it meant who was fucking who? I would have said she was zoomin’ her audience. Big time.
But in April of 2020 Who’s Zoomin’ Who means something different altogether now doesn’t it. And artists are already lining up to zoom and be zoomed…
Shit That’s Good! Crap Albums I Love is an occasional series here at Off The Tracks