By 1981, Aretha Franklin was finding her musical footing again. The 70’s had started strong for Aretha, producing some of the most significant work of her career, but they ended dismally. After departing Atlantic Records for Clive Davis’ Arista Records at the turn of the decade, Aretha opted for a much-needed change. Her first turn with Arista, 1980’s Aretha was fresh, but not enough to reinstate her. It was progress enough for her to retain a few of those key players for her second Arista turn, 1981’s Love All The Hurt Away.
1980’s Aretha put significant distance between 1979’s lackluster, disco-influenced La Diva, but Love All The Hurt Away made a more conscious effort to contemporize Aretha’s sound. That was the goal of signing with Clive Davis after all: Continuing to find hits. He’d already had success revitalizing Dionne Warwick’s career. Aretha hoped she could achieve a similar, or even bigger resurgence. And while it didn’t arrive entirely with Love All The Hurt Away, she began moving the needle back towards prominence.
Love All The Hurt Away wasn’t a chart smash (it peaked at number 36 on the Billboard 200 and number 4 on the R&B chart), but it got Aretha back to the winner’s circle. Her explosive cover of Sam & Dave’s “Hold On I’m Comin’” earned a Grammy Award in 1982, her first win since 1975. It also served as momentum for what was to come.
After Chuck Jackson (of Natalie Cole fame) and her old collaborator Arif Mardin split production duties on 1980’s Aretha, Arif was reenlisted and dubbed Love All The Hurt Away’s sole producer. Aretha also co-produced three of the album’s ten cuts. The album forged together soul, pop, funk, and jazz fusion on an array of original compositions and covers that focus thematically on shades of love, perseverance, and empowerment.
Aretha continued her work here with a number of session musicians who came into the mix during 1980’s Aretha sessions. Among them, a budding David Foster once again contributed keyboards to a few tracks, and Toto members David Paich, Steve Lukather, and Jeff Porcaro all returned and made larger contributions. Bassist Marcus Miller can also be heard on a few tracks, a precursor to the extensive work he was about to do with Aretha on her following two albums with Luther Vandross. On the background vocals, Aretha continued her reunion with Cissy Houston and The Sweet Inspirations on about half the album. The legendary Darlene Love also joined the Sweet Inspirations on those tracks.
Love All The Hurt Away was named after it’s opening cut, which was also Aretha’s first major duet. She paired up with George Benson for a smooth and sensuous record which was recorded “round about midnight… (full of) atmosphere. The lights were down low, and we just kind of got into a groove and had a good time,” Aretha described to Mark Bego. It’s a grown-and-sexy record describing a union that comes with baggage, and a heavy dose of love and cognizance to heal past traumas. Aretha always kept it fun when she performed the song. Since George was rarely with her for live performances, she playfully flexed her range and imitation skills by doing George’s part.
Aretha was still in fantastic voice on Love All The Hurt Away, and two of the album’s covers highlight her vocal strength. Her emphatic and spastic cover of Sam and Dave’s “Hold On I’m Comin” is a supercharged vocal tour de force. It surges to life with a brash brass section, which yields to the plucking of Marcus Miller on the bass. After almost a minute-long introduction, the piano kicks in and Aretha lets out an extended run on a “yeah.”
The arrangement crafted by Arif breaks this classic record even further open time-wise to allow Aretha room to lay down the verses as she pleases, with minimal restriction. It gives Aretha freedom like a gospel record does, where a phrase can be extended into as many bars as the Lord sees fit. Everything tightens up for the chorus, where Aretha issues jaw-dropping wailing orders to “hold on!” She’s exuberant, full of grit and soul. She sounds hungry for that next hit. But she’s playful too, laying down a bewildering spoken word part that may even classify as early rap. In a cool voice recites pieces of Mother Goose rhymes Little Jack Horner and The Queen of Hearts, and then jumps right back into wailing away.
She also seizes Diana Ross’ 1980 hit “It’s My Turn.” According to David Ritz’s Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin, when her collaborators resisted her desire to cover Diana’s recent hit, she brushed off their concerns and said “I don’t care… it’s my turn.” It wasn’t an exaggeration. In her autobiography Aretha: From These Roots she echoed that same sentiment and frankly, she was right. Her cover of “It’s My Turn” is among the best things Aretha did in the 80’s. Anchored by Aretha at the piano, it elicits one of the most emotive performances from Aretha during this period. She dials back the tempo and draws out the intro while at the piano, flourishing her vocal with her own background arrangement performed by the best of the best: Cissy Houston’s Sweet Inspirations, Darlene Love, and Margaret Branch, who’d been backing Aretha up since 1970.
A spirited cover of The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” boasts a staggering six background singers, it also features a choir directed by Aretha’s old friend and mentor the Reverend James Cleveland. In fact, three members of the Southern California Community Choir who backed Aretha up on 1972’s magnanimous Amazing Grace are part of this choir: Alonzo Athens/Atkins, Betty Hollins, and Esther McIssac.
“Truth And Honesty,” which would classify as yacht-rock by today’s standards, is another standout cut. It’s warm and embracing, with vibrant bouncing guitar from Toto’s Steve Lukather and bass from Marcus Miller. Once again, Aretha drives the show from the acoustic piano. It follows a similar theme to the album’s title track: the song calls for open and honest communication in a relationship, optimistic that truth and honesty can repair a fracturing relationship.
She serves up some electric funk on “Living In The Streets”, which sounds like zipping through the nighttime neon streets of 1980’s New York City and reassesses herself and relationship on “There’s A Star For Everyone.” Aretha is modestly boastful on “Whole Lot Of Me” and adoring on “Kind Of Man,” the two songs she wrote.
On the album’s big ballad “Search On,” Aretha plays the encouraging and reassuring friend. Written by Rod Temperton, it feels like an arm extending outwards towards the horizon of possibility for the heartbroken and love-jaded. “You’ve been hurt by love, and it’s changed the way you feel,” she observes, before motivationally urging “search on for love, and try not to let the search get you down, someday you’ll find it.”
It’s impossible to shine a light on this album without acknowledging the album cover. Conceptualized by Aretha, the photo serves up a heavy dose of old Hollywood glamour and elegance, with Aretha perched atop a caravan of luggage. One bag even reads “The Blues Brothers Chicago-LA, 1979-80” in a nod to her recent Hollywood debut in 1980’s The Blues Brothers. Legendary photographer George Hurrell shot “many of the legendary ladies of the screen, in what was called ‘Hollywood’s Golden Era,’ Aretha explained to biographer Mark Bego in Aretha Franklin: The Queen Of Soul, “and naturally he had to photograph moi!” she laughed. Indeed, Hurrell is credited with setting the standard for the Hollywood glamour portrait. It stands as one of her most gorgeous album covers ever.
In 2012, Big Break Records reissued Love All The Hurt Away on CD with 3 bonus mixes that were previously unavailable on CD.
Listen to Love All The Hurt Away:
“Back On Track.” Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin, by David Ritz, Little, Brown, 2014, pp. 331–333.
“Aretha Jumps To It.” Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul, by Mark Bego, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2012, pp. 197–199.
“‘You’ve Got To Hold On.’” Aretha: From These Roots, by Aretha Franklin and David Ritz, Villard, 1999, pp. 191–191.