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POP BEAT

July 19, 1986|ROBERT HILBURN

CABLE MUSIC: Cable-TV music specials are usually disappointing because they can't compete with the intensity and spontaneity of live concerts. That's why they are generally most effective when they bring together performers in a one-time setting that you can't see anywhere else.

In that tradition, Home Box Office's "Sisters In the Name of Love" features Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle and Dionne Warwick together for the first time on stage. The special--which will next be shown at 11 p.m. Sunday--presents the singers together, in solos and in a round-table talk designed to present the human side of the women. While some musical moments work well, there's a rushed, artificial feel to the show that leaves the whole thing appearing too calculated.

Far more essential is Showtime's "Aretha!" Though one of the most gifted and influential pop and soul singers of her generation, Franklin has tended to be distant at times on stage, but she seems comfortable--alternately playful and soulful--in the special which features recent hits like "Freeway of Love," the '60s classics like "Respect" and an early R&B gem, "It Won't Be Long" (from her pre-Atlantic Records days). Best of all is a closing gospel sequence, where Franklin dons a choir robe and is joined by a 65-voice Baptist choir. The highlights give the show--which next airs at 3 p.m. Wednesday--a memorable, revealing edge.

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