I got my love of Dionne Warwick from my mom. She mentioned it to me one day. When you're a kid, all of those soul/R&B artists from the 60s kind of blend together, but when she mentioned it, I was like "yeah--hey, good thinking." It's hard to explain but I can hear my mother in Dionne Warwick. The sweet and flirty and not-too-powerful vocal performance is very evocative of the style my mom wanted to present. I think her big jam was "Walk on By," which is also on-the-nose, but I love, love, LOVE "Say a Little Prayer."
This song was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David and I guess Bacharach actually discovered Dionne Warwick. These shadowy songwriters (of which Bacharach and David were among the most well-known) creep me out. "Say a Little Prayer" is written from a woman's perspective but Bacharach and David just churned it out. Also the precision and success with which this class of songwriter cranked out the hits creeps me out. It's like instead of writing something from the heart, they used their powers of manipulation and knowledge of what people respond to to trick me into feeling things.
Even knowing all of this, I just love this song so much. It is so sweet, lyrically and in terms of the performance. I picture sweet little Dionne in her powder blue (or pale, but not-butter yellow) 60s skirt suit, maybe even with a pillbox hat, riding the bus on her way to work, gazing out the window, thinking about her new boyfriend. Similarly at work, during her coffee break-time. I've always pictured this, even before Mad Men, though Mad Men helped with this image. I've also felt this--in the midst of a new love--carrying around this light and happy feeling with you as you go about your routine. It rings true and is again, very sweet.
I do not like the Aretha Franklin version. I guess it was more successful, but all that sweetness I blather on about above is gone. I read that part of the reason Aretha's version was better receives is because of the arrangement, but that's irrelevant to me. This song is all about the vocal performance and Aretha's powerful voice is just not suited to it! Spotify certainly favors the Aretha version, which is a persistent source of frustration for me. Here's where I admit that while I admire the power of her voice and her accomplishments, I do not like listening to Aretha Franklin. Her songs don't move me. Well, maybe "Think."
In the beforetimes when I was having a substantially bad day, I would insist that Pete and I grab dinner at the Benihana in Bethesda and we would get sloppy on wine while sharing a table with strangers (jeez). On one such night a couple of years ago, we passed the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club and who was on the marquee but Dionne Warwick? I have never seen her and wonder whether a show in which she's playing at a fairly small venue in the year of our lord 2018 is really the best way to experience Dionne? I think somewhere in my brain I thought she'd gone crazy at some point. I guess I took her involvement in the Psychic Friends Network in the 90s to be the beginning of a long decline for her, but I guess she's been on Masked Singer and has also performed at a number of benefits for progressive causes, so she seems to be doing well. Very happy to hear that.