Sleepless Nights, “Please Mr. Postman” and Songs About Aretha

Tuesday, 21st August, 9.30am

Well, as I sit down to start blogging for the first time in a couple of weeks, I feel a little nauseous – No, not at the thought of blogging, but because half and hour ago I had to leap out of bed and get ready to face the day at breakneck speed. The reason for this haste? – I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of the postman!

This sounds ridiculous I know, but since giving up work last year I’ve been able to have a more laissez-faire attitude to becoming suited and booted by 8am every morning. Problem is, once you log on for the day, the hours and minutes can whizz by and I sometimes find myself still in pyjamas when the doorbell rings, knowing full well it will be our smiling postman, with some parcel or other I have to sign for. I probably imagine it, but he makes me feel like a tardy teen who has been festering under the duvet, as opposed to a busy bee who has already put on a washing, tidied the kitchen, paid a few bills and checked the various email accounts. To compensate I end up gibbering, telling him about everything that is going on in my life, but a nice little exchange all the same. My friend the postman is the only person other than my family (and the blogging fraternity who very kindly take the time to read my posts) who knows of the journey I have been on over the last year, since deciding the world of the paperless office was not for me.

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As this blog always features a song or two, this would therefore seem like the perfect time to squeeze in something I have long wanted to include, Please Mr. Postman. Now this is a song I am very familiar with as one of my favourite duos, the Carpenters, got to No. 2 in the UK Singles Chart in 1975 with their version. It started out however as the debut single for the Marvelettes and in late 1961 became the first Motown song to reach the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The Beatles started performing it as part of their live set at the Cavern Club in 1962 and also included it on one of their first albums. Here is a great clip from those days, the boys dressed in their very smart suits complete with snake hips and mop top haircuts. They would have had no idea back then of what was yet to come.

Last time the Beatles cropped up around these parts was when I did a compare and contrast (link here) between their version of Ticket to Ride and the slower paced one, yet again, by the Carpenters. Seems like a good time to offer up both versions of Mr Postman then (although I won’t inflict the Carpenter’s official Disney-themed video clip on you). Which one do you prefer, or would it be the original by the Marvelettes that floats your boat?

Please Mr. Postman by the Carpenters:

But I digress and have yet to explain my morning nausea caused by leaping out of bed at such speed. I woke up last night at 3.30am, which is fairly normal for me, but I usually get back to sleep at some point and get a few extra hours in before the 7 o’clock alarm goes off. Last night however I didn’t, as I had committed the cardinal sin of surfing the net on my phone before going to sleep as I still hadn’t worked out the angle I was going to take when I eventually get round to writing my Aretha Franklin tribute. Not so long ago, after “experiencing” the song I Say A Little Prayer at great volume on the car radio, I wrote another compare and contrast post (link here). The Aretha version of course won hands down, but other than that I’m finding it difficult to find a personal connection to her music. I can see how she came along at just the right time, when America was going through a period of massive change, but having been born about 20 years later in rural Scotland, other than appreciating that great voice and the passion with which she sang, nothing much else for me to write about.

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Aretha Franklin 1942- 2018

So, the last thing I did last night before switching off my phone was to visit some of the other blogs in my little circle to remind myself what they had written about Aretha. Last week, even before it was announced she had passed away, CC over at Charity Chic Music had posted something very fitting and then Rol dedicated the whole weekend on his My Top Ten blog to the lady and her music. Both of these dedicated daily bloggers chose to include the song Aretha by Rumer and that was the cause of last night’s sleeplessness – After listening to it twice before turning the lights out, it was the first thing to enter my head when I woke up at 3.30am and subsequently formed an earworm for the rest of the night however hard I tried to get back to sleep. As earworms go it’s a very pleasing one, and quite a soporific one you would have thought, Rumer having a voice not that dissimilar to the late great Karen Carpenter. But no, last night it just didn’t work out that way at all.

Aretha by Rumer:

Typically though, once Mr WIAA said goodbye and headed off to work, I slipped into a deep, deep earworm-free sleep, waking up far too late, thus the mad panic to get up and dressed before the postman’s inevitable ring of the doorbell. I made it, just, and so avoided that feeling of guilt at not being up and at it yet. Despite often talking gibberish of a morning, I decided that to recount the tale of the “Rumer earworm” was taking casual conversation a tad too far, so on this occasion resisted – Lucky chap!

As for the tribute song, I may not have had a personal connection to Aretha and her music, but the narrator in this song certainly does – All about a girl who goes to school listening to Aretha Franklin on her headphones. Like the fate of so many others, she’s having trouble there, and as her mother seems to be suffering from depression, she doesn’t have anyone to turn to. Fortunately Aretha comes to life in her imagination, encouraging her to stand up for herself and strike out on her own. The songwriter was asked why she chose Aretha Franklin: “She’s the Queen of Soul. If you’re going to write about somebody who embodies the spirit of music itself you go to the top of the list – and there she is. Her voice is probably the closest you get to God. There’s an incredible amount of passion and heartbreak in her voice as she’s lost a lot of family members. She’s just got something in her voice that puts her at the top of the tree and there’s no negotiation.” And on that note, I think I’ve just written my tribute post.

Until next time, RIP Aretha Franklin.

Aretha Lyrics
(Song by Steve Brown/Sarah Joyce)

I got Aretha in the morning
High on my headphones and walking to school
I got the blues in springtime ’cause I know that I’ll never have the right shoes

Mamma she’d notice but she’s always crying
I got no one to confide in, Aretha nobody but you
Momma she’d notice but she’s always fighting
Something in her mind and it sounds like breaking glass

I tell Aretha in the morning
High on my headphones and walking to school
I got the blues in springtime ’cause I know that I’ll never have the right shoes

You got the words, baby you got the words
You got the words, baby you got the words

“Oh Aretha
Aretha, I don’t want to go to school
‘Cause they just don’t understand me and I think the place is cruel”

“Child singer, raise your voice
Stand up on your own, go out there and strike out”

I tell Aretha in the morning
High on my headphones and walking to school
I got the blues in springtime ’cause I know that I’ll never have the right shoes
But I got the words

Dionne, Aretha and “I Say A Little Prayer”

Now that I no longer have to commute to work every day, I seem to be missing out on those wonderful moments when a great song comes on the car radio, and you just have to turn up the volume to full blast.

I did however experience such a thing earlier this week on my way to the supermarket and needless to say it stuck with me for a good few days. The song was this one, I Say a Little Prayer, written by my favourite songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Inevitably the first person to record it back in 1967 was Dionne Warwick, as she was very much Burt’s “go-to” girl when he needed a chanteuse for his great material. What I hadn’t realised until now was that Hal David’s lyrics were meant to convey a woman’s concern for her man, who was serving in the Vietnam War (makes total sense now considering the timing). I have always loved those first few lines where the words wake up and makeup are used to such great effect. The rhyme just works so perfectly and for us girls, anything that happens before the morning ritual of putting on the makeup is early indeed, so doubly emphasizes the urgency of the prayer.

The moment I wake up
Before I put on my makeup
I say a little prayer for you

Although Burt’s recordings with Dionne usually took no more than three takes, I Say a Little Prayer took ten takes and he still disliked the completed track, feeling it rushed. He was nothing if not a perfectionist that Burt Bacharach.

But the version I heard in the car the other day wasn’t by Dionne but instead by the person who had a big hit with it in the UK. Aretha Franklin was in the process of recording her 1968 album entitled “Aretha Now” when her backing vocalists, The Sweet Inspirations, started singing the song just for fun. It suddenly became apparent that I Say a Little Prayer could be a worthy inclusion on the new album which is exactly what happened. The song ended up being released in July 1968 as the B-side to the single The House that Jack Built, but after accruing its own airplay reached No. 10 on the Billboard Chart and No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart.

And here is where the music producers seem to get it horribly wrong at times – It had taken much persuasion for Burt to release the original recording by Dionne Warwick, but with Theme from Valley of the Dolls on the B-side, it became one of the most successful double-sided releases of all time. Aretha’s version was never expected to make any sort of mark in its own right, but in subsequent decades it has been ranked right at the top of lists relating to the “Greatest 150 Singles of All Time”. How bizarre and makes you wonder what other delights have slipped through the net and never been given the air time they indubitably deserved. Then again, is that not the case for every art form? How many great writers and artists (and I include Mr WIAA and some of my blogging buddies in those categories) slip through the net, not seeming to catch that lucky break needed to get to the important next level, where actual money changes hands for exceptional work done.

But before I go, it should also be mentioned that I Say a Little Prayer is one of several Bacharach and David songs to feature prominently in the 1997 rom-com/chick-flick My Best Friend’s Wedding. There was a reggae-style cover by Diana King and a version sung by the film’s cast. Diana’s cover was released as a single which brought the song back to the Top 40 almost thirty years after Dionne Warwick’s original.

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I Say A Little Prayer by Diana King:

So, “What’s It All About?” – Having included all three very different versions in this post, they are ripe for a compare and contrast. Dionne’s does indeed sound a bit too rushed and not typical of Burt Bacharach’s usual orchestral pop style. Diana’s reggae version certainly creates a very different sound where the lyrics are sung Jamaican-style (before mi put on mi makeup). Aretha however, being the Queen of Soul an’ all that, nails it for me and it’s probably why the car radio had to be turned up to such a volume earlier in the week. Some songs, despite having a very low key start in life, end up becoming the most memorable and that’s why I live in hope that some of my wonderful artsy friends also eventually catch that lucky break which leads to their work being reclassified from being ordinary, to being extra-ordinary.

Until next time….

I Say A Little Prayer Lyrics

(Song by Burt Bacharach/Hal David)

The moment I wake up
Before I put on my makeup
I say a little prayer for you
While combing my hair, now
And wondering what dress to wear, now
I say a little prayer for you

Forever, forever, you’ll stay in my heart
And I will love you
Forever, and ever we never will part
Oh, how I’ll love you
Together, together, that’s how it must be
To live without you
Would only be heartbreak for me

I run for the bus, dear
While riding I think of us, dear
I say a little prayer for you
At work I just take time
And all through my coffee break-time
I say a little prayer for you

Forever, forever, you’ll stay in my heart
And I will love you
Forever, and ever we never will part
Oh, how I’ll love you
Together, together, that’s how it must be
To live without you
Would only mean heartbreak for me

I say a little prayer for you
I say a little prayer for you

Forever, forever, you’ll stay in my heart
And I will love you
Forever, and ever we never will part
Oh, how I’ll love you
Together, together, that’s how it must be
To live without you
Would only mean heartbreak for me

My darling, believe me
For me there is no one, but you
Please love me, too
I’m in love with you
Answer my prayer
Say you love me, too
Why don’t you answer my prayer?
You know, every day I say a little prayer
I said, I say, I say a little prayer