The essential Aretha Franklin playlist
David Redfern/Redferns

The essential Aretha Franklin playlist

With the well-earned nickname "Queen of Soul," there are few voices more iconic than Aretha Franklin's. From the 1950s until her death in August 2018, Franklin's soaring vocals have had a towering influence on American soul and pop music that is still heard today. 

Looking to build the essential Aretha playlist? These 20 songs are a must. 

 
1 of 20

"Respect"

"Respect"
Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Arguably the most iconic song associated with the Queen of Soul, "Respect" is a timeless anthem that is beloved by multiple generations who weren't even born when it was released. It's also the title of a new Aretha Franklin biopic starring Jennifer Hudson. 

 
2 of 20

"(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman"

"(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman"
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Written by Carole King and made legendary by Aretha Franklin, "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman" is a remarkable showcase of the vocals that make her a legend. 

 
3 of 20

"Think"

"Think"
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Released in 1968, "Think" is Aretha Franklin at her sassiest. It also soundtracks that iconic scene in the 1980 film "The Blues Brothers," with Franklin starring as a waitress reminding her husband to think about what he's got at home before running off with Elwood and Jake. 

 
4 of 20

"A Rose Is Still A Rose"

"A Rose Is Still A Rose"
Lester Cohen/Getty Images

Aretha Franklin proved she still had one of the most powerful voices in the world of soul with "A Rose Is Still A Rose" in 1998. Produced by Lauryn Hill, the song was a top-ten hit on the R&B charts. 

 
5 of 20

"Amazing Grace"

"Amazing Grace"
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

There is something achingly beautiful about Franklin's interpretation of the classic hymn "Amazing Grace," the title track of her acclaimed 1968 live album recorded alongside the Southern California Community Choir. 

 
6 of 20

"Freeway of Love"

"Freeway of Love"
Jerry Wachter/IMAGES/Getty Images

Appearing on her thirtieth full-length album, released in 1985, the fun-loving "Freeway of Love" was an all-genre hit for Franklin. The song's iconic pink Cadillac inspired a procession of 100 pink Cadillacs at Franklin's funeral in 2018. 

 
7 of 20

"Spanish Harlem"

"Spanish Harlem"
Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Originally recorded by Ben E. King, "Spanish Harlem" was a hit for Aretha Franklin in 1971, selling more than a million copies. 

 
8 of 20

"I Say A Little Prayer"

"I Say A Little Prayer"
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Written originally for Dionne Warwick by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Aretha Franklin released her legendary take on the song in 1968. 

 
9 of 20

"Chain of Fools"

"Chain of Fools"
GAB Archive/Redferns

Intended for Otis Redding, "Chain of Fools" was an immediate hit for Aretha Franklin after its release in 1967. Arguably one of the best recordings of the song appears on Franklin's 1968 album "Aretha in Paris." 

 
10 of 20

"Mary, Don't You Weep"

"Mary, Don't You Weep"
Bill Marino/Sygma via Getty Images

Aretha Franklin's roots in the gospel choir lend a strong authenticity to her interpretation of classic spiritual "Mary Don't You Weep." Included on her hymn-packed live album "Amazing Grace," the stirring version of the song was recorded at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. 

 
11 of 20

"I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You"

"I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You"
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The title track of Franklin's tenth full-length album, released in 1967, is a stunning showcase of Franklin's emotive vocals. It was the first major hit of her decades-long career and introduced the world to one of its most powerful new voices. 

 
12 of 20

Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves

Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves
Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

A collaboration between franklin and pop duo Eurythmics, "Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves" was a powerful statement for independent women upon its release in 1985. It was an immediate hit on the dance charts and remains an anthem for strong women everywhere. 

 
13 of 20

"Rock Steady"

"Rock Steady"
Anthony Barboza/Getty Images

An unexpected hit for Franklin in 1971 featuring Donny Hathaway on backup vocals and piano, "Rock Steady" remains a favorite among devoted Aretha Franklin fans and people who love R&B. 

 
14 of 20

"The Thrill Is Gone"

"The Thrill Is Gone"
Ron Howard/Redferns

Aretha Franklin's version of "The Thrill Is Gone," made famous by blues legend B.B. King in 1970, is one of those covers that somehow manages to be just as compelling as the original. 

 
15 of 20

"Spirit In The Dark"

"Spirit In The Dark"
David Redfern/Redferns

The title track of her 1970 album, "Spirit In The Dark" was written by Aretha Franklin. The fun, upbeat anthem which features Franklin encouraging the listener to dance notched her a top-ten hit.

 
16 of 20

"You're All I Need to Get By"

"You're All I Need to Get By"
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Yet another cover in Franklin's extensive catalog, "You're All I Need To Get By" was originally a duet performed by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Franklin took on the whole song on her own in 1971, scoring a #3 hit on the Hot Soul Songs chart. 

 
17 of 20

"Angel"

"Angel"
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Co-written by Aretha Franklin's sister Carolyn, "Angel" was a massive success for Franklin, selling nearly a million copies. 

 
18 of 20

"Young, Gifted, and Black"

"Young, Gifted, and Black"
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Offering her take on the classic Nina Simone song, Aretha Franklin released "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black" in 1972, adapting its title for her album. 

 
19 of 20

"(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone"

"(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone"
RB/Redferns

A minor hit for Franklin in 1968, her version of "Since You've Been Gone" on "Aretha In Paris" is an absolute must for any Aretha playlist. 

 
20 of 20

"Good to Me As I Am to You"

"Good to Me As I Am to You"
David Redfern/Redferns

Appearing on her legendary album "Lady Soul," "Good to Me As I Am to You" is a seriously empowering ballad. "Starting today, tomorrow, and forevermore, if you can't find it in your heart to do for me," she sings. "Then, baby, just don't darken my front door." Amen! 

Amy McCarthy is a Texas-based journalist. Follow her on twitter at @aemccarthy

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