Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote this song and also produced it. They first heard Dionne Warwick singing backup for The Drifters, which is when they realized she had the perfect voice for their songs. Bacharach and David had a string of hits with Warwick, including "Walk On By
" and "Do You Know the Way to San José
The song's writers were never happy with the tempo of this song, and thought it would flop. Burt Bacharach said in Record Collector magazine: "I never thought I made the right record on that. I think I made the tempo a little too fast, a little bit too nervous with Dionne. I didn't want the record to come out but got overridden. I'm glad that I got overridden."
In this joyful song of devotion, the singer doesn't just think about her man, she prays for him, starting from when she wakes up in the morning and continuing through her workday. She sounds a little co-dependent ("To live without you would only be heartbreak for me"), and there's even a chance that this is an unrequited love ("Why don't you answer my prayer?"). Nonetheless, most ears hear it as an expression of true love, which makes it a favorite at weddings. The song also resonated with wives and girlfriends whose men were fighting in the Vietnam War.
Aretha Franklin recorded this song less than a year after Warwick's version was released. In the UK, Aretha's recording was the big hit, making #4 (her highest-charting UK single after "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)," which hit #1). In the US, Aretha's version - produced by Atlantic Records head Jerry Wexler - was first released as the B-side of "The House That Jack Built," but quickly flipped when it was apparent that "Prayer" was the hit. Her cover went to #10 in the US.
The thread connecting these two versions of the song is the backup singers, the Sweet Inspirations. After performing on the original, the singers found themselves working with Aretha Franklin, who started singing it with them during sessions for her Aretha Now album. She came up with an original arrangement, and when Wexler heard it, he insisted on recording the song. Burt Bacharach has said that he likes Aretha's version the best, describing it as "much better than the cut I did with Dionne."
Something a little bit different - the song's title is in the verse, rather than the chorus.
Jerro - New Alexandria, PA
The female vocals are a crucial component to this song. They were performed by a group called The Sweet Inspirations, which were comprised at the time of Cissy Houston, Estelle Brown, Myrna Smith and Sylvia Shemwell (Houston is Warwick's aunt, and Whitney Houston's mother). Their contribution gave the song a powerful gospel sound and made the chorus pop.
The Sweet Inspirations were in on this song at the same time as Warwick - they practiced it with her during rehearsals at Burt Bacharach's house. It was a very relaxed atmosphere where they were able to hone the song before entering the studio.
This song has made four trips to the US Hot 100, first by Warwick and Franklin, then by Glen Campbell and Anne Murray, whose medley of the song with "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" made #81 in 1971 (Dee Irwin & Mamie Galore also recorded this medley in 1968).
In 1997, the song was introduced to a new generation when Diana King did a cover for the 1997 Julia Roberts movie My Best Friend's Wedding. This version went to #38.
Another popular recording is by Sergio Mendes, whose piano-driven instrumental made #106 in 1968.
In a 1997 interview with Switch
, Hal David explained that he would take a long, careful look at the work before fitting his words to Bacharach's melodies. He added that sometimes the placement of the title was not so obvious with Bacharach's music. For instance, the chorus section in 'I Say a Little Prayer,' that's ordinarily where the title would fall, but it seemed to me that the title should come in the less obvious place in the middle of the verse after 'The moment I wake up, before I put on my make-up.'" (This interview is available at Rock's Backpages
The B-side of the single was "Theme From Valley Of The Dolls," which Warwick recorded for the movie of the same name.
Irish singer Mary Black has recorded two versions of this song. A studio cut is on her 1989 album No Frontiers
, and a live version is on her 2001 CD, Best Of Mary Black volume 2
Martemus - Austin, TX