“It became the ‘respect’ women expected from men and men expected from women,” Aretha Franklin has said of her most famous song, Respect. “[It is] the inherent right of all human beings.” One of the greatest ever demands for racial and gender equality, Respect started out as a very different creature, yet has become known throughout the world for its urgent call for societal change.
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Otis Redding’s version: “Then we quit. Go home and relax and sleep”
The “King Of Soul”, Otis Redding, who wrote and recorded the first version of Respect, knew what it was to work hard and come home exhausted. By the age of 15, he had left school to earn money and help support his family; he worked as a well digger, a gas-station attendant and, occasionally, as a musician. Redding had a strong work ethic and, even after becoming an established recording artist, tended to describe songwriting in disciplined, hours-worked terms rather than through creative inspiration.
“We all get up and down to the studios at 12, midday, and work through until nine in the evening,” he said in 1966. “All the songwriting is done in the studio. We don’t get it prepared outside beforehand, no. Then we quit. Go home and relax and sleep. Everybody has a good think about the things they’ve been doing and then comes back the next day at 12 – always at 12 – fresh and with a lot of new ideas. That’s it.”
However, the composition of Respect was unusual, less clear-cut than the standard clocking-in approach that resulted in many of the best Otis Redding songs. The true kernel of the tune remains mysterious – while Redding’s name is listed on the label, it’s likely that a very early idea for Respect came via Speedo Sims, leader of a group named The Singing Demons. Sims, in turn, had reputedly picked it up from an unnamed session guitarist. What is known is that Redding completely reshaped these nascent ideas, sped up the tempo, wrote new lyrics and turned the song into a plea for his partner to respect him after a hard day’s graft. He released Respect as a single in the summer of 1965 and included it on his third album, Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul.