Dueling Divas: Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick Sing Two Classic Versions of ‘I Say a Little Prayer’

Dionne War­wick:

Aretha Franklin and Dionne War­wick are two of the high­est chart­ing women in music his­to­ry. Between them, they’ve made 129 appear­ances in the Bill­board Hot 100. Two of those were with the same song: the 1966 Burt Bacharach and Hal David com­po­si­tion, “I Say a Lit­tle Prayer.”

The song was writ­ten espe­cial­ly for War­wick. David’s lyrics are about a wom­an’s dai­ly thoughts of her man, who is away in Viet­nam. Bacharach arranged and pro­duced the orig­i­nal record­ing in April of 1966, but was unhap­py with the result. “I thought I blew it,” he told the Los Ange­les Times in 1998. “The tem­po seemed too fast. I nev­er want­ed the record to come out. So what hap­pens? They put out the record and it was a huge hit. I was wrong.” The song was released over Bacharach’s objec­tions in Octo­ber, 1967 and rose to num­ber 4 on the Bill­board Hot 100 and num­ber 8 on the Bill­board R & B charts.

Aretha Franklin:

A few months after War­wick­’s sin­gle came out, Aretha Franklin and The Sweet Inspi­ra­tions were singing “I Say a Lit­tle Prayer” for fun dur­ing a break in record­ing ses­sions for Aretha Now. Pro­duc­er Jer­ry Wexler liked what he heard, and decid­ed to record the song. With Franklin on piano and the Mus­cle Shoals Rhythm Sec­tion behind her, it was record­ed in one take. Franklin’s ver­sion has more of a gospel and rhythm & blues feel, with a flu­id call-and-response inter­play between the lead and back­up singers.

Released in July of 1968, the sin­gle was less of a crossover hit than War­wick­’s ver­sion — it peaked at num­ber 10 on the Hot 100 chart — but rose all the way to num­ber 3 on the R & B chart. Over­shad­owed at first, Franklin’s record­ing has grown in stature over the years. Even Bacharach likes it bet­ter than the one he made with War­wick. As he told Mitch Albom ear­li­er this year, “Aretha just made a far bet­ter record.”

You can lis­ten above, as War­wick per­forms “I Say a Lit­tle Prayer” in an uniden­ti­fied tele­vi­sion broad­cast and Franklin sings it with the Sweet­hearts of Soul on the August 31, 1970 Cliff Richard Show. Tell us: Which ver­sion do you think is bet­ter?

Relat­ed con­tent:

Aretha Franklin Per­forms ‘Respect’ Live in the South of France, 1970

The Queen of Soul Con­quers Europe: Aretha Franklin in Ams­ter­dam, 1968

by | Permalink | Comments (22) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (22)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • John Conolley says:

    It’s a tough call. The back­up group gives Aretha’s ver­sion a lot of inter­est, and nobody can deny the pow­er of her voice. On the oth­er hand I like the smooth, easy way Dionne sings. She reminds me of Rose­mary Clooney, in that she only sings the notes on the chart. She does­n’t orna­ment. I like that.

  • Rupert Fuller says:

    Dionne song with grace and beau­ty. Aretha turned the song inside out to find the hid­den pow­er and deep emo­tion hid­den inside those sim­ple lyrics. In my opin­ion god blessed us with both these singers and that song!

  • Anonymous says:

    Love the Dionne War­wick ver­sion. The tem­po that Bacharach wor­ried about dri­ves the melody into your sub­con­scious before you can erect a wall to resist it. You wind up lov­ing the song on first hear­ing, which is not some­thing that hap­pens to often with a pop melody of such com­plex­i­ty. Aretha’s ver­sion is just fine for what it is, but you already know what it’s going to sound like before you lis­ten: It’s an Aretha Franklin song, and she does her won­der­ful soul­ful schtick. It’s the old gospel road. But there’s noth­ing old about Dionne War­wick­’s ver­sion. It takes off like a Mer­cury rock­et, a bright, inno­v­a­tive pas­tel present from the opti­mistic heart of the 60s.

  • Tammy says:

    Dionne War­wick diverse vocal abilty hands down with Burt Bacharach’s har­mon­ic com­po­si­tion­al arrange­ments.

  • laura says:

    no con­test — Dionne all the way!

  • Axlexander says:

    Dionne War­wick sung it beau­ti­ful­ly, wist­ful, gen­tle with long­ing in her voice.
    When Aretha cov­ered the song, it became pas­sion­ate, intense, and vivid. Aretha used the beau­ty and pow­er in her voice to make the song reach out and touch the lis­ten­er.

    I Thank Burt and Hal for bring­ing Dionne’ s artistry to the pub­lic and I thank God for Aretha.
    I love them both!

  • Elizabeth says:

    No dis-RESPECT to Dionne War­wick, she is amaz­ing, but I adore the Aretha ver­sion. I love the back and forth with the back­up singers, who become the lead singers for the cho­rus and back to Aretha for the lead — so gor­geous, cre­ative, I can lis­ten to it time and time again.

  • Dave says:

    Easy, hands down, no con­test Dionne all the way. Aretha has a great voice but she is a yeller not a singer.

  • M.R. says:

    I like the one from Dionne the most. I’m 21 and I like a lot of the good old music. Dion­ne’s ver­sion is by far the best in my opin­ion.

  • Mimmi says:

    Easy: always Aretha.
    Dionne does­n’t get any emo­tion. Just a lala-Song. She seems be very hap­py as the per­for­mance is over. Quit destressed.

  • qveen post says:

    Queen aretha franklin can out sing every­one

  • Bcc. says:

    Dion­ne’s ver­sion is mel­low, roman­tic, opti­mistic, and light­heart­ed. Aretha’s ver­sion is scream­ing, bois­ter­ous, beg­ging, demand­ing. As a Man, I am more attract­ed to Dion­ne’s ver­sion.

  • Tony Haine says:

    The sparse arrange­ment on Aretha Franklin’s ver­sion is just superb and the inter­ac­tion with the back­ing singers is mag­i­cal. It sounds like what it is — a live, pas­sion­ate, one take per­for­mance. Dion­ne’s ver­sion is classy, pol­ished and relaxed and has all the hall­marks of Bacharach’s striv­ing for per­fec­tion that some­times robs his music of emo­tion.

    For me, and for many oth­ers in the UK, Aretha’s ver­sion is the only one, hav­ing been a huge hit for her over here.

  • Fred says:

    I am a huge Dionne fan and have lis­tened to just about every­thing she ever record­ed from the last cen­tu­ry.
    I also lis­tened to most of Aretha’s out­put in that time peri­od.
    Dionne hands down is smoother and more melod­ic vocal­ist. The nuances of her voice are intri­cate and she can han­dle pret­ty much any­thing her pro­duc­ers throw at her, includ­ing the sped up ver­sion of I Say a Lit­tle Prayer.
    Although I enjoy Aretha’s remake very much. Its very dif­fer­ent . So in the end Dion­ne’s ver­sion earns a sol­id A and Aretha a B+.

  • Fred says:

    Aretha and Dionne are the top two female solo vocal­ists of the last cen­tu­ry. Com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent vocal­ists and songs despite some over­lap. Aretha remade some of Dion­ne’s clas­sics with mixed results, Say A Lit­tle Prayer was Aretha’s best Dionne song. Her ver­sion of Walk on By and some oth­ers weren’t very good.
    Although Aretha had more hits than Dionne , I enjoy Dion­ne’s out­put more. Both were very pro­lif­ic, but Dionne was more con­sis­tent. I can lis­ten to Dionne 24 hours a day, yes she is THAT good. Aretha only in small dos­es.

  • Fred says:

    Rolling Stone just ranked Aretha as the best vocal­ist of all time. I would agree Aretha is one of the best. But Dion­ne’s vocals while not as pow­er­ful are more melod­ic and smoother. Total­ly dif­fer­ent styles. Not easy to com­pare.

  • Jen says:

    Wow… seri­ous­ly? Aretha is a “yeller” and not a “singer?” Please! Clear­ly, some peo­ple can LISTEN but they can’t HEAR! That’s called SOUL and she’s SINGING every note. I love both ver­sions and always lis­ten to both. I don’t think one is “bet­ter” than the oth­er, because both ladies have their own dis­tinc­tive styles. Dion­ne’s has more of a pop feel, while The Queen’s ver­sion is infused with soul. No com­par­i­son!

  • Bill says:

    Grew up in the 60’s as an ear­ly teens boy lis­ten­ing to those two ladies… Love them both
    Two dis­tinc­tive styles… Shouldn’t,t be compared.….I’m in my six­ties now.…still love lis­ten­ing to that era of great singers and musi­cians.

  • G says:

    while Dion­ne’s ver­sion is sweet and dain­ty, me as a man loves when a woman sings to me from her heart! Dionne ver­sion is like a nice walk in the park while Aretha’s is like a roller coast­er ride that pulls you every which way emo­tion­al­ly! She can empro­vise so many dif­fer­ent lyrics with her singing and tone and that inter­ac­tion with the back­up singers is so unique­ly done it seems impro­vised and not writ­ten. Both ver­sions are fine­ly done but Aretha went from the bot­tom and blew the top com­plete­ly OFF!!! Those say­ing Aretha is a yeller and not a singer—dont know Aretha! She has range in all phas­es of vocals. Bot­tom line is she CAN SING as well as she can get the par­ty start­ed.

  • Johnny says:

    I feel that Bacharach knew Dionne made a more musi­cal state­ment with her ver­sion. Every note of the orig­i­nal melody is pro­ject­ed with good into­na­tion and smooth phras­ing. And say­ing that he favored Aretha’s ver­sion — that it was “far bet­ter” — prob­a­bly means that he was flat­tered that Aretha chose to record it, and that it was “cool” and gave him extra “street cred” to have it released by Aretha. I think he was being a lit­tle sil­ly when he made that remark.

  • Pablo says:

    Hon­es­ta­mente la ver­sión de Dionne es clara­mente supe­ri­or porque ella tiene una voz bel­lísi­ma con más mat­ices y reg­istro que la de Aretha que, por cier­to, opino está sobreval­o­ra­da.

  • Ronald Higgins E Higgins says:

    Love both ver­sions. Dionnes ver­sion is more pop,while Arethas is more soul.I would give Aretha the slight edge but again they are both great by two great artist.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.