Track of the Day: 'Border Song (Holy Moses)' by Aretha Franklin

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Some of the greatest covers are the ones that totally efface and replace the original. How many artists can do that once? Aretha Franklin has done it over and over—most notably with “Respect,” which at this point is so tied to her that many people forget Otis Redding wrote and recorded it, as a rather less gender-progressive song.

I heard her recording of “Border Song” on the radio and only realized years later it was by Elton John; I only listened to his rendition as I wrote this. Don’t bother: All you need is this version, which takes the ersatz gospel of the original and alchemizes it into the real thing. The main attraction is Aretha’s vocals, but the backing musicians bring it all together—Billy Preston’s organ, Chuck Rainey’s bass, Cornell Dupree’s chorus-drenched guitar solo, but especially the piano playing, which perfects the recording. Who’s that? Just a little-known studio musician named Aretha Franklin.

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