Wow In Music – I Say A Little Prayer (x2)
Editor | On 16, Jan 2019
This month saw the sad passing of singer, Aretha Franklin, a woman who was blessed with arguably the greatest singing voice in the history of recorded music — and with it, the superhuman ability to make songs better than they were originally conceived.
“I Say a Little Prayer,” written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, is one of those songs.
Originally recorded by Dionne Warwick and released in the fall of 1967, “I Say a Little Prayer” was a hit for Warwick, reaching No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and remaining on the charts for 13 weeks.
But Aretha Franklin, who released her own version of the song in the summer of 1968, completely transformed it:
The arrangement allows Franklin to show off her one-of-a-kind voice, transforming the song into something that climbs, yearns, and builds. It’s as if somewhere in her soul, she truly believes the person she’s singing to is the only one for her.
In a candid 2010 interview with NPR, David and Bacharach both laughed trying to describe how good Franklin’s version was. “It’s a better record than the record we made,” Bacharach told Fresh Air host Terry Gross. “Mmhmm. We did, yeah. And we did a great record, but she topped it,” David added.
When Gross prodded them a little more, they told her to listen to it, that you can just hear it in the effortless way Franklin sings and how the arrangement is crafted to enhance that. That Franklin sings the song as if it were a dress designed just for her.
“It’s just more natural,” Bacharach said. “We were talking about our changes and time changes on the chorus of ‘forever and forever, you stay in my heart, and I will’ — you know, that’s going (Principle 37, Relative Change) 4-4, 3-4, 4-4, 3-4. Then regard the way it was treated by Aretha, because Aretha just makes it seamless, the transition going from one change to another change. You never notice it.”
We hear more Principle 37 in the way Aretha let’s her backing singers finish off verse lines. Leaving her to drop a fraction of a beat (Principle 16) on her return, or extend a note longer than you expect (Principle 20), or double a call-and-response (Principle 5). To say the performance offers a masterclass in is something of an understatement.
Perhaps the irony is that “I Say a Little Prayer” was actually a bigger hit for Warwick, even though its creators believe Franklin made the better song. (Franklin’s version peaked at a not-too-shabby No. 10.) Warwick, as is her style, is smoother and doesn’t feature the ‘in the pocket’, angularity of Franklin’s version. On the other hand, the time signature in Warwick’s version is even more intricate, featuring two measures of 4/4, one measure of 10/4, and two measures of 4/4 for verses, and 11/4 for its chorus.
Both versions are a music fan’s delight. The odd time signature is probably a big part of what makes us want to come back and listen again, but mainly because they’re done so seamlessly, you can listen a hundred times and still not be able to quite work out what’s happening, and why, the moment the song has finished, you want to go back and play it again.
Rest In Peace, Lady Ree, Rest In Peace.