Single Stories: Aretha Franklin, “I Say A Little Prayer”

Tuesday, September 4, 2018
Aretha Franklin, ARETHA NOW

50 years ago this week, Aretha Franklin made her debut on the Billboard R&B Singles chart with a Burt Bacharach & Hal David composition that Bacharach himself didn’t exactly love when Dionne Warwick recorded it.

That’s not to say that Bacharach hated “I Say A Little Prayer” completely, mind you. He just felt that the recording of the song by Warwick was rushed. In all likelihood, it was really more to do with the fact that Warwick, who could usually knock out a new Bacharach / David song out of the park after only a couple of takes, was on her tenth take of the song and still hadn’t delivered one that Bacharach truly loved. At the very least, that’s almost certainly why the song sat in the unreleased pile for over a year before finally seeing release, and even then it was only released because Florence Greenberg, the owner of Scepter Records, requested for it to be included on Warwick’s then-new album, THE WINDOWS OF THE WORLD.

Thankfully, Greenberg’s instincts were spot-on: the song was a million-seller, hitting #4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Funnily enough, Aretha Franklin hadn’t even intended to record “I Say A Little Prayer” when she entered the studio to lay down tracks for her 1968 album ARETHA NOW. She was just singing the song for the heck of it while they were working their way through the songs that she and her background vocalists for the LP, The Sweet Inspirations, were planning to record. As it happened, however, they sang it so darned well that it was hard for anyone to deny that it was something that needed to be captured for posterity.

It was another winner: the song became Aretha’s ninth consecutive top-10 hit for Atlantic Records.

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