A year after Dionne Warwick released ‘I Say A Little Prayer’, Aretha Franklin’s version of the Burt Bacharach-penned song appeared on her 1968 Aretha Now album and became her biggest selling single in the UK as solo artist – NME magazine liked it so much that in 1987 it topped their critics’ list of the 150 best singles of all time.
Bass duties for most of the Aretha Franklin recordings were handled by veteran session bassist Jerry Jemmott and Tommy Cogbill, who started his career as a guitarist but made his most important recorded cuts on bass. Although both players appeared on Aretha Now, the sparse, no-frills playing gives it away as the handiwork of Jerry – Mr. Cogbill’s lines tended to be busier (check out his work on Wilson Pickett’s ‘Funky Broadway’ and Dusty Springfield’s ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’).
The bass line for ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ starts with a straightforward approach – a simple rhythmic pattern following the root notes of each chord. Jerry Jemmott shows huge amounts of restraint in not playing a single extra note until the very last bar of the verse where he uses a C# major arpeggio to create movement into the next section of the song.
The chorus features several meter changes, but don’t panic – these feel completely natural because the song is so well written. Everything in the arrangement serves the vocal melody, meaning that the 3/4 bars (some like to think of the ‘bigger picture’ and see each line of the chorus as one bar of 11/4) never feel forced, which is one of the common stumbling blocks of odd meter writing.
Jerry neatly matches the piano’s descending scale line to end the chorus – experiment with different positions for playing this line, as it needs a position shift at some point for you to be in the right area of the neck for the other sections of the song.
There’s a play-along video for ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ here: