Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dionne Warwick

Some years ago in the mid 90's I found myself following an internal bleeding incident on a busy hospital ward in a Dublin hospital.

All human life seemed to be on that ward but with the constant noise and unending interventions from staff and patients alike I sometimes wished for a little less of that life. Then after several days of stoical endurance, I was unexpectedly transferred to a private room.

Luxuriating in my new found peace, I turned on the hospital radio to hear that a Dionne Warwick special was about to start. And for the next hour as one marvellous Bacharach/David song followed another I felt as if in Heaven.

Dionne Warwick seemed to me to embody true class and sophisticated elegance. Due to her unusual vocal abilities and musical training she was the ideal vehicle to do justice to the intricate and complex demands posed by so many wonderful Bacharach melodies. And Burt Bacharach not only wrote these songs (with Hal David as lyricist) but also produced her recordings with a perfectionist zeal.

It was therefore somewhat ironical that though Dionne Warwick was especially suited to his requirements that it often seemed as if she was being mainly used as a demo singer with so many of her recorded songs proving major hits for other artists.

What she thought would be her first single "Make It Easy on Yourself" was given to Jerry Butler instead and then later became a No. 1 hit for The Walker Brothers in the UK.
Then another of her early recordings "Anyone who Had a Heart" was to become a massive hit for Cilla Black. And this pattern was to continue through the decade with Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin, Sandie Shaw, Cilla Black (with Alfie) Herb Alpert and Carpenters among those enjoying big hits with songs that Dionne Warwick had also recorded.

Thankfully, perhaps her best - and Bacharach/David's best - song "Walk on By" did not suffer this fate becoming a major international hit. Among her other big successes of the 60' were "Do you Know the Way to San Jose", "I Say a Little Prayer", "Valley of the Dolls" (not however written by Bacharach/David) and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again".

However by the early 70's the partnership with Bacharach/David had run its course. Though she had have her first US no. 1 on parting through "Then Came You" (with the Spinners), she enjoyed little further success till another big hit in '79 with "I Know I'll Never Love This Way Again". A fruitful collaboration with the Bee Gees then led to huge international success with "Heartbreaker" . And then as Dionne and Friends (i.e. Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and Elton John) she was to have another US no. 1 with "That's What Friends Are For".

Just last night she appeared on the "Late Late Show" in Ireland and though now touching 70, still gracious, classy and elegant. As befitted the occasion with St. Valentine's Day approaching, she performed live "What the World Needs Now is Love". With only an unobtrusive backing piano for accompaniment her performance was just exquisite!

Best Recording

I would definitely say "Walk on By. If one wants to know how superb early 60's pop could truly be, I would suggest just listening to this song.

Favourite Recording

I have always loved "That's What Friends are For". Often, these types of collaborations don't come off, but on this occasion the four involved do dovetail together seamlessly (ably abetted by Stevie Wonder's harmonica playing).