Part One in Issue 146 covered Burt Bacharach’s early years, writing hits for artists like Jerry Butler, Gene McDaniels, Gene Pitney, and…the Five Blobs. The series continues here.
The work of Burt Bacharach and his lyricist partner Hal David is arguably best represented by their work with Dionne Warwick. In Warwick, they had a singer who could convincingly deliver David’s lyrics, while also handling the complex melodies Bacharach would deliver. It got to the point where they would write their most sophisticated tunes for Warwick.
Marie Dionne Warrick was born in 1940, coming from a musical family. Her mother’s family were members of the Drinkard Singers, a gospel group, and Warrick sang as part of the Gospelaires (which also included her aunt Cissy Houston). This led to background vocal work in recording studios in New York. At a session for The Drifters’ single “Mexican Divorce,” her voice was noticed by Bacharach. He and Hal David hired her to record demos of tunes they were composing, in order to pitch them to the record labels. One demo in particular was for a tune intended for The Shirelles, “It’s Love That Really Counts.” When Florence Greenberg, the president of Scepter Records, heard the demo, she insisted Warrick be signed to the label. A deal was worked out with Warrick joining Bacharach and David’s production company, which in turn was signed to Scepter.
Her first single, “Don’t Make Me Over,” supposedly came about after a small disagreement with Bacharach and David in the studio. They took that phrase and turned it into her first single. When Scepter printed the labels for the single, they mistakenly spelled her surname as Warwick. The name stuck, and she used the spelling professionally from that point forward.
“Anyone Who Had a Heart” was Warwick’s first Top 10 single and an international million seller.
The classic “Walk on By” followed in 1964. This is perhaps her signature tune with the Bacharach/David team. This one also made it into the Top 10, and gained further notoriety when Isaac Hayes took an edit of his own lengthy version up the charts five years later.
Here’s a song about suspicion, with a stop/start arrangement that adds the appropriate tension. This one did not chart highly for Warwick but is nonetheless an interesting tune.
“Do You Know the Way To San Jose” is a tale of a San Jose native who heads to Los Angeles, and having failed to make it big, is plotting her return home. Warwick never liked this song, yet she won her first Grammy with this record, and it was another international smash.
The stage musical Promises, Promises was based on an adaptation of the Billy Wilder film The Apartment, which starred Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. Bacharach and David wrote the music for the production. While this resulted in some fine music, the perfectionist Bacharach was long frustrated by the results of the music being performed live every night, and never being played the same way twice.
Another tune used in Promises became a hit single for Warwick: “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again.” Interesting piece of trivia – the phrase “You get enough germs to catch pneumonia” from the tune was an amusing little tweak by Hal David to Bacharach, who had fallen ill with pneumonia while writing music for the production.
One of Warwick’s best-known performances was yet another tune used in the production, “I Say A Little Prayer.” The beat on this track is infectious, which helped it climb to Number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.
A quieter track by Warwick, this next one was not the typical romantic song, but a lament about the US involvement in the Vietnam War. This was not a big hit for Warwick. Hal David, however, had two sons approaching draft age, and it weighed on his mind when he wrote these lyrics.
Aside from Dionne Warwick’s success during this era, there were contemporaries of hers that recorded plenty of other great Bacharach/David tunes. We will examine a handful of those in the next installment.
Header image of Dionne Warwick courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Allan Warren.