Aretha Franklin’s ‘Almighty Fire’ Remembered 35 Years Later
Aretha Franklin had collected 10 Grammys, scored seven No. 1 albums and was crowned ‘The Queen of Soul’ before she released the ‘Almighty Fire’ LP on April 13, 1978. Today marks the 35th anniversary of the power singer’s 25th album.
When Franklin introduced ‘Almighty Fire’ to the world, she was 36 -- barely at middle age -- but was also 22 years deep in her career. And like many artists who have stuck around for the long haul, she was in a temporary "hits drought." At the time, people were favoring disco and ‘Almighty Fire,’ produced by Curtis Mayfield, was rooted in soul roots and not jumpy rhythms.
The album peaked at No. 63 on the U.S. charts, No. 12 on the R&B charts and sold 100,000 copies. Her singles were barely heard on the radio. The songs ‘Almighty Fire (Woman of the Future)’ peaked at No. 103 on the pop charts and ‘More Than Just a Joy’ peaked at No. 51 on the U.S. R&B charts. She blamed a lack of poor marketing from her record label, Atlantic Records for the album's lack of commercial success.
“Musically and artistically both 'Sweet Passion' and 'Almighty Fire' were fine with me. But unfortunately, I'd have to say that there wasn't enough promotion or proper marketing on them. That's what I think was the basic problem,” Franklin told David Nathan for Blues & Soul Magazine in September 1978.
That year, Atlantic seemed more focused on legendary rock group the Rolling Stones, whose single, ‘Miss You,’ went No. 1. Also, Atlantic's disco group Chic had released ‘Le Freak’ -- the label’s best-selling single ever.
“Yes, I registered my disappointment with the company but there isn't much you can do about it -- except hope it doesn't happen again," Franklin said. "The thing is that if people don't hear your records on the radio they are not going to know about them.”
‘Almighty Fire’ was the last of three albums she worked on with Curtis Mayfield ,who produced the No. 1 soundtrack ‘Super Fly’ in 1972. She spoke about feeling natural chemistry with Mayfield while recording with him.
“Curtis is great once we get inside the studio," the songstress explained. "It's all the preparation; it's all the things that go on before we get to that point. We're very compatible once he and I are in there. What happens is he'll send me material to review and I'll send him things I like too. I'm happy with 'Almighty Fire' although the material is kinda six of one and a half dozen of the other.
"I thought some of it was better than the material on the 'Sparkle' album although that had much more of a concept to it.”
Listening to ‘Almighty Fire’ 35 years later, one would consider it slept-on. The album’s sound relies on the funk brought forth from the strings of the lead guitarist Mayfield, bass, drums, congas and keyboards.
On the album’s title single, ‘Almighty Fire (Woman of the Future),’ Franklin uses her unmatched rips and runs to proclaim a new era in female identity. “Woman of the future / 2001, we’re coming / 2002, we’re coming / Woman of the future,” she sings.
On her song ‘More Than Just a Joy,’ her genuine emotions make you want to be in love, if you’re not. “I’ve had so many, to find out I really haven’t had any / Your sincerity baby makes me true.”
For an artist who has sold over 75 million albums worldwide, ‘Almighty Fire’ could have boosted that number up a few notches if it was pushed by her label. But numbers don’t always matter. On this project, like her others, Franklin proves that when her voice touches the mic, she indeed burns down the house. In the long run, that’s what counts.
Watch Aretha Franklin Perform ‘Almighty Fire (Woman of the Future)’