Chain Of Fools (1967)
“Chain Of Fools,” especially in its unedited LP version, is flawless. It is a song that consecrates, illuminates and mitigates the singer’s love and passion. On display in brilliant plumage are her pain, her lack of willpower, her transcendence and the lowness of the mate who has betrayed her.
Aretha Franklin has so many powerhouse songs it is hard to settle on the premier work. SongMango moves the other chief claimant aside – “Respect” – not because it isn’t as fine as pie and ice cream, but because Aretha’s version is fiercely challenged by Otis Redding’s many renditions both live and in the studio. “Chain Of Fools” has never been performed by anyone else with such vigorous audacity, and while “Respect” shouts and cajoles, “Chain” full out rocks and rolls. It will be a foolish artist who attempts to scale the same heights in the future.
The unedited long version of “Chain Of Fools”
The short, or radio, version
“Chain Of Fools” was composed by South Carolinian Don Covay who was, early in his career, Little Richard’s chauffeur and opening act. Covay also had the distinct honor of having Jimi Hendrix play on his group’s (The Goodtimers) first bona fide hit, “Mercy Mercy.” Additionally, he composed a song for Chubby Checker, “Pony Time,” which became a #1 hit on Hot 100 and R&B charts alike in 1961.
The opening tremolo licks are played by virtuoso funk ax-man Joe South on an electric sitar; he is best known for his 1970 Grammy-winning “Games People Play.” South’s restrained, sinewy lines that banter with Aretha’s 425-horsepower vocals, while remaining discreet, are examples of the more historical Rock-N-Roll approach that pre-dates the soaring, star-driven guitar solos of the later phase of the genre that we have come to call Rock. The song would not be the masterwork it is without South on board.
At first listen, “Chain Of Fools” is an old sad story once more retold. The singer is being cheated on, and the cheating has gone on for “five long years.” Moreover, her significant other is not just cheating with one woman, but with a whole series of partners, making the singer “just a link” in his chain.
Aretha on the cover of Time Magazine June 28, 1968,
the year following “Chain Of Fools”
In spite of her lover’s shady charms, when “Chain Of Fools” swings into its bridge, the fever of the singer’s passion rises to a heat of equatorial proportions. It is carried on the wings of a brilliant, unexpected tempo change that succinctly sums up all that Motown music ever wanted to be, although this Atlantic Records production churns out something grittier and more tangible than almost anything Motown ever manufactured.
During the bridge, reinforcements are called in. Her daddy and family doctor can be imagined dampening her sweating brow with cold compresses, a harkening back to the swelter of rural Southern churches in the steam of August.
You tell me to leave you alone
My father said, “Come on home”
My doctor said, “Take it easy”
Oh but your lovin’ is much too strong
I’m added to your
Chain chain chain
Chain of fools
Although there is resignation – the sort of pathos-laden kind that comes with romantic sexual obsession – the singer momentarily vows to get free:
One of these mornings
The chain is gonna break
But up until the day
I’m gonna take all I can take, oh hey
Chain, chain, chain
Chain of fools
Indeed this is a song about sex, passion, weakness and strength stitched around a pillow of love. The bouncy but burning bass and backbeat drumming punctuate the points being made perfectly. Break the chains? No one really ever does. But, if you’re the Queen of Soul herself, you sure can sing about it as you try.
- “Chain Of Fools” guitarist Joe South also played guitar on Bob Dylan’s mournful, moody masterpiece album, Blonde On Blonde.
- South penned many songs, the most incongruous being the Country-schmaltz monster hit for Lynn Anderson, “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden.” He also wrote Deep Purple’s smash, “Hush.”