Contrasting Aretha's Franklin's "Respect" with the original Otis Redding recording of the song may help us better understand Franklin's power.
Redding's version has a march-like quality. The drums set a very steady and heavy beat that is broken only by intermittent horns. Redding makes minimal use of backup singers, relying primarily on the horns to break up his vocals.
Franklin's version is more complex from the start. She still uses horns, but only to create a backdrop for a simple but distinctive guitar riff. And once the vocals start, a piano and back-up vocals, rather than horns, frame the melody. As the song moves into its famous chorus, the backup vocals become even more involved, more central—more than just back-up vocals.
The new break, filled by the sax solo, adds an additional layer to the Franklin version. But it is the dynamic interaction between Aretha and her back-up singers—her sisters Carolyn and Erma—that really separates the original from the cover. And according to most accounts, the vocals were arranged completely by Aretha and Carolyn Franklin, including both the edgy "sock it to me" and the music-stopping spell-out—"R-E-S-P-E-C-T."
Producer Jerry Wexler credits Aretha with the brilliant new arrangement of "Respect." "She walked in with this," he says. "I had no notion. I didn't know what she had in mind. Aretha was terrific at setting up a song the way she wanted it to go. Many of the songs she would bring in—basically the cake was in the oven; all you had to do was bake it…When they came in singing 'Respect,' they had the whole template. They had everything" (Matt Dobkin, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You: Aretha Franklin, Respect, and the Making of a Soul Masterpiece, 166).