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I Say a Little Prayer

"I Say a Little Prayer" is a song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for Dionne Warwick, originally peaking at number four on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart in December 1967. On the R&B Singles chart it peaked at number eight.

Dionne Warwick original

Intended by lyricist Hal David to convey a woman's concern for her man who's serving in the Vietnam War, "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 and it was Scepter Records owner Florence Greenberg rather than Bacharach who wanted "I Say a Little Prayer" added to that album. When disc jockeys from the United States began playing the album track in October 1967, significant air play led Scepter Records to release the track as a single backed with newly recorded track "(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls".

The brisk sound of "I Say a Little Prayer" which Bacharach disliked proved to be a million-selling hit for Warwick as "I Say a Little Prayer" reached #4 that December on the Billboard Hot 100, #8 on the Billboard R & B Chart, #4 on the Canadian Charts and #3 on the Record World Top 100 Chart. "(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls", the B-side would become another hit for Warwick reaching #2 in February 1968 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Record World Chart: Warwick's "I Say a Little Prayer" single would receive gold certification from the RIAA for sales of a million units in January 1968.

"I Say a Little Prayer" b/w "(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls", became one of the most successful double-sided hits of the Rock era. Like several Bacharach compositions, both sides contain passages written in unusual time signatures. The verses of "Prayer" are constructed of two successive measures of 4/4, a measure of 10/4 (using 4/4 + 2/4 + 4/4), and two final measures of 4/4. The chorus is in 11/4 (using 4/4 + 3/4 + 4/4), played by session drummer Gary Chester.

Aretha Franklin version



"I Say a Little Prayer" also returned to the Pop & R&B Top Ten in the fall of 1968 via a recording by Aretha Franklin taken from her 1968 album Aretha Now. Franklin and background vocalists The Sweet Inspirations were singing the song for fun while rehearsing the songs intended for the album when the viability of their recording "I Say a Little Prayer" became apparent, significantly re-invented from the format of the Dionne Warwick original via the prominence of Clayton Ivey's piano work. Similar to the history of Warwick's double-sided hit, the Aretha Franklin version was intended for the B-side of the July 1968 single release "The House That Jack Built" but began to accrue its own airplay that August. In October 1968 "I Say a Little Prayer" reached number ten on the Hot 100 and number three on the R&B singles chart. The same month the single was certified Gold by the RIAA. "Prayer" became Franklin's ninth and last consecutive Hot 100 top 10 hit on the Atlantic label. Franklin's "Prayer" has a special significance in her UK career, as with its September 1968 No. 4 peak it became Franklin's biggest UK hit; subsequently Franklin has surpassed that track's UK peak only with her No. 1 collaboration with George Michael, "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)".

In February 1987, UK music weekly New Musical Express published its critics' top 150 singles of all time, with Franklin's "I Say a Little Prayer" ranked at No. 1, followed by Al Green's "Tired of Being Alone" and Warwick's "Walk On By". (Franklin's "I Say a Little Prayer" did not appear in the magazine's in-house critics' top 100 singles poll conducted in November 2002.) In Australia, "I Say a Little Prayer" and "The House That Jack Built" were assigned a joint chart ranking which saw the double-A-side hit reach No. 10 in November 1968. "I Say a Little Prayer" also gave Franklin a European hit with chartings in France (#12), Germany (#29) and the Netherlands (#4).

Charts

Weekly charts

;Dionne Warwick

Year-end charts

;Aretha Franklin

Diana King version

In 1997 Diana King released a reggae-style cover of "I Say a Little Prayer". It was also featured prominently in the comedy My Best Friend's Wedding and the Love to Infinity dance remix popularized the song on radio. King's single reached No. 1 in Hungary, No. 6 in Australia, No. 12 in Norway and No. 17 in the UK.

Critical reception

Larry Flick from Billboard described the song as a "instantly appealing interpretation" and commented further that the song "takes on a saucy and aggressive tone - thanks to the kinetic chemistry between King and producer Andy Marvel, whose beat-smart arrangement gives the kids on the street a reason to pump up the volume." He complimented British remixers Love To Infinity for doing "a fine job of refashioning the single into a frothy dance ditty, wrapping King's performance in shiny synths and lively beats." The Daily Vault wrote that "the Aretha Franklin remake of "I Say a Little Prayer" is, daresay, better than the original in some respects. King's please-get-lost vocals make for a solid background and power vocals." Music & Media noted it as "a '90s version of a '60s standard" and a "reggaefied take on the much covered Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune"."

Charts

Weekly charts

Other recordings



Warwick's "I Say a Little Prayer" did not appear on the Billboard Easy Listening chart although two instrumental versions of the song were Easy Listening chart items in 1968: the first by Sérgio Mendes at No. 21 in the spring of 1968 while that fall Julius Wechter and the Baja Marimba Band took "I Say a Little Prayer" to No. 10 Easy Listening.

The 1971 album Anne Murray / Glen Campbell features a medley of "I Say a Little Prayer" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix"; the songs are sung in counterpoint to each other, with Murray vocalizing on "I Say a Little Prayer" while Campbell reprises his "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" hit. The track was a minor C&W hit at No. 40 and reached No. 81 on the Billboard Hot 100. The concept had previously been used on a 1968 single release by Big Dee Irwin and Mamie Galore and was subsequently reworked when Dionne Warwick herself sang "I Say a Little Prayer" while Isaac Hayes sang "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" on their joint live album A Man and a Woman (1977).

The song is also a popular soundtrack item: in the 1969 comedy The April Fools, for which Warwick sang the title song, "I Say a Little Prayer" is performed at a swanky house party in a live performance by singer Susan Barrett. The song was reused in the 2010 revival of Promises, Promises. In 2011, the song was also included in the Broadway Musical "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of The Desert"

"I Say a Little Prayer" is one of several Bacharach/David songs featured prominently in the comedy My Best Friend's Wedding in 1997, which featured both a reggae-style cover by Diana King and a version sung by the film's cast. King's version was released as a single and brought the song back to the Top 40 almost thirty years after Dionne Warwick's original, albeit with a No. 38 peak; King's single also reached No. 1 in Hungary, No. 34 in France, and No. 6 in Australia, where the film's soundtrack was a No. 1 album. Cassie Henderson, 14, sung this song for Soul Week on The X-Factor NZ Season 1 Episode 16. A parody of the song with altered lyrics was featured in the 2006 comedy film Date Movie making fun of its use in My Best Friend's Wedding.

  • Martha and the Vandellas on their 1968 album Ridin' High.
  • Woody Herman on his 1969 album Light My Fire.
  • Anita Kerr Singers on their 1969 Dot label album, Reflect on the Hits of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
  • Rahsaan Roland Kirk on his 1969 album Volunteered Slavery.
  • Al Green on his 1978 album Truth n' Time (reissued on The Right Stuff Records label), as well as on The Very Best of Al Green (Music Club label) in 2001.
  • In Mexico, the song was covered in 1978 by Enrique Guzmán. The version is called "Una pequeña oración".
  • In 1978, Spanish singer Paloma San Basilio performed this song for her live album Paloma San Basilio en directo.
  • UK dance act Bomb the Bass (featuring Maureen) in 1988 which peaked at #10 in the UK Singles Chart.
  • Mary Black on her 1989 album No Frontiers.
  • British Britpop band Gene recorded a live cover at Glastonbury, which was released on their compilation album To See the Lights.
  • Jackie Leven on his 1994 album The Mystery of Love Is Greater Than the Mystery of Death.
  • Japanese band Ground Zero covered the Rahsaan Roland Kirk cover version of this song on their 1997 album Plays Standards.
  • Jane McDonald on her 2001 album Love at the Movies.
  • Karine Costa in 2002: a No. 16 hit in France which also charted on the Swiss charts at #82; this version was used in a television advertising campaign for the Crédit mutuel.
  • The BossHoss in 2006: a minor German hit (#79). In 2012, the group re-recorded this song as a collaboration with Ivy Quainoo, the first winner of The Voice of Germany.
  • Trijntje Oosterhuis on her 2006 album The Look of Love.
  • This song was covered and used in the television show Glee. It was sung by Dianna Agron, Naya Rivera and Heather Morris as their characters Quinn Fabray, Santana Lopez and Brittany Pierce as their audition song to join the school's glee club. "I Say a Little Prayer" charted in the UK Singles Chart at 125.
  • Canadian electronic music duo Zeds Dead sampled this song for their track titled "Coffee Break" in 2011.
  • Calypso Rose released a version of the song on her 2012 album The Queen of Trinidad.
  • Dami Im released a version on her 2018 album, I Hear a Song.
  • Australian band Human Nature covered the song on their 2018 album Romance of the Jukebox. This version also featured Dami Im.
  • Paul Poulton released a version on his 2018 album, Heaven.