Saturday, December 14, 2013

Song for a Saturday: Aretha Franklin's "Say A Little Prayer" (1968)

If you asked me in my twenties to name my three favorite superstar lady singers I would have said, Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield and this lady:

Dionne Warwick is usually associated with ""I Say a Little Prayer" because of her long association with Burt Bacharach and Hal David.   But the First Lady of Soul did quite a job with this song herself. Interestingly it was not originally seen as a potential hit tune.

Here's some of the back-story on this great tune, courtesy of Wikipedia:  "Intended by lyricist Hal David to convey a woman's concern for her beau who's serving in Vietnam, "I Say a Little Prayer" was recorded by Dionne Warwick in a 9 April 1966 session. Although Bacharach's recordings with Warwick typically took no more than three takes (often only taking one), Bacharach did ten takes on "I Say a Little Prayer" and still disliked the completed track feeling it rushed. The track went unreleased until September 1967 when it was introduced on the album The Windows of the World which largely consisted of older material; it was Scepter Records owner Florence Greenberg rather than Bacharach who wanted "I Say a Little Prayer" added to that album." 

Aretha's version came out a year later. It also hit the top ten on the US Rhythm and  Blues charts. This is a terrific video that does justice to her beauty and talents.  Which version is better? I'd just as soon listen and not judge.  


  1. Takes me back to Decembers and Christmases long past Doug. To times when all the colours were red and green, when there was mistletoe over the doorways and holly around the mirrors. Christmases that still held a thrall for me then with their overabundance of food, drink and bonhomie.
    Fir tree needles in the carpet, twinkling coloured lights, the darkness and the coldness driven out by a marvelous moving feast that lasted two days, the Salvation Army band in the city centre, family get togethers and the only time of the year that my mom and dad touched any alcohol, always in modest amounts, never to excess.
    In the middle of all that the sounds of your trinity of divas Doug... Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield and Aretha Franklin at the disco...innocent times which for me at least are long gone now.
    This music is associated in my mind with Christmases and youthfulness, in the past the likes of Aretha Franklin provided the soundtrack to seasonal celebrations which now with hindsight seem like hybrids where the original values of the Solstice and Christmas had not been completely eclipsed by comsumerism in the way it now seems to be. That may just be me getting old, but I really can't fathom any meaning anymore in the spend fest that starts in the supermarkets and mega stores around the beginning of November as soon as the Halloween orgy of spending is over. Thanks for posting this reminder that I wasn't always a miserable old grinch. Cheers Doug, compliments of the season!

    1. Thanks for sharing those great memories, AA. I remember my mom used to put out all the holly and mistletoe and make long strings of our mailed-in Christmas cards, joined together by ribbons. She also wrapped paper cups to make them look like golden bells that hung around our dining room.

      I was lucky (or unlucky) to spend my early Christmas in spots where it didn't snow--my parents used artificial white "frost" from a spray-can on the glass backdoor and the front room windows. My mom had a talent for creating things and she went all out in those times.

      Completing the picture, I helped her and dad put up a large, artificial and very white Yuletide tree. It came with one of those little revolving color spotlights you put on the floor and pointed up at the tree so people driving or walking by the house could see the tree change colors from red to green and gold from our front window. My dad would string the lights outside the house along the rain gutters. He worked late most nights as a retail furniture and appliance salesman, and I would listen to Andy Williams Christmas albums with my mom or just rock and soul tunes like this by Aretha on the console radio/photograph waiting for him to get home in the mid-evenings. Both my parents worked in the retail field (my mom part-time).

      One of my favorite memories was there not being any school for a couple weeks. So around December at this time, after the Christmas school assembly (usually ending with everyone singing carols in the cafeteria and a few lucky kids getting parts in some abbreviated version of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol") we were on our own to play football with my fellows in the daytime, then and eat too many nuts and candy at night-time and hang about on the short nights watching the television specials and such.

      There were also a neighborhood New Year party among the adults which my parents would host in turn. My dad and mom would drink a bit more, as yours did. I only remember one jolly season casualty, when our next door neighbor, Mr. O'Leary, refused help from my dad to get back to his home after imbibing too much wine or champagne--saying he had been in France with an Army unit--one hopes with the Allied forces, but I never asked---during the war and could hold his drink better than any man at any festivity

      True to form, Mr. O'Leary fell flat on his face a few steps from our front walkway, gashing his head, and leading to much consternation from his oldest daughter and wife that my dad should have been more insistent on helping his neighbor or called for stretcher bearers. A visit to the hospital followed for the "pater familias" across the way showed he was fine luckily. Any animosity between the families blew over quickly after Joe's bandages and his hangover went away.

      There rampant consumerism seems to have always been a part of Christmas in California for me, although now it has evolved to the point where, as you say, the meaning of the holiday season has all but been wiped out in this orgy of come-on consumerism. Hours for retail people like my dad and mom (and later myself) are longer and people are less able to have time to relax and enjoy a drink or a cigar or go downtown to watch a tree-lighting in the park or here a band play. The American Thanksgiving Day--once a sacred yet all-inclusive and mostly secular joining of family--is evolving away to being just another shopping day, another small sped bump on the road to making the Wal-Marts and the Target stores bigger than General Motors, only with workers all non-union and underpaid.

      Memories of my youth I know might seem to make things back then rosier, AA, but I think the emphasis on buying over observing and family and neighborhood gatherings are even more pronounced as you point out. If we are a bit more grinch-y these days it is because we remember too well I think. Thanks again AA for sharing those memories.

  2. Not heard this in ages, always did like this song. Christmas Eve already, wishing you a very Merry Christmas and happy New Year, may Santa be good to you this year :-)