[EDITORIAL NOTE: At one time, I regularly posted music on this blog. I was informed that I was in danger of having this turn into a music blog, instead of one broadly focusing on pop culture. Having lately browsed through my massive record collection and recognized that I have a lot of rare and obscure works, I will reapply myself to the music, since I think I have something unique to offer in that area. Let me know what you think.]
Dionne Warwick occupies an odd space in pop music. On paper, you’d expect her to sing R&B or gospel. Her father Mancel was at one time a gospel record promoter for Chess Records. Her mother Lee was in the gospel group the Drinkard Singers, along with her sister Emily (later known as “Cissy”), who was later mother to Whitney Houston.
Dionne and her sister Dee Dee, along with aunt Cissy, started their own gospel group, The Gospelaires (later to become known as the Sweet Inspirations). The group provided backup vocals for artists like the Drifters, Ben E. King and Solomon Burke.
So far, so good.
Burt Bacharach discovered Warwick during a recording session for the Drifters. Working with lyricist Hall David, the team helped Warwick garner thirty hit singles, and close to twenty best-selling albums, during a ten-year period.
But their classics – songs like “Do You Know the Way to San José,” “Message to Michael,” “This Girl’s In Love With You,” and “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” – aren’t R&B. There is a good bit of sophisticated soul, that style known as “supper-club soul.” Bacharach used unusual chords and rhythms, so it’s not your usual middle-of-the-road pop either.
Of course, this is also typical of much of the Brill Building period work of such songwriting teams as Lieber/Stoller, Goffin/King and Mann/Weil.
After the Bacharach/David partnership split up in the early Seventies, Warwick sang mostly adult contemporary, with a bit of R&B thrown in. She had a massive hit in 1985 with the gooey “That’s What Friends Are For,” a song recorded as an AIDS benefit effort. Since then, she’s most famous for her appearances in infomercials for the Psychic Friends Network.
This is an eclectic bio, to say the least.
In late 1963, Warwick made a huge splash at the Olympia Theater in Paris. This was after her debut single “Don’t Make Me Over,” but before her bigger hits arrived. The French press gave her the nickname “The Black Pearl.”
She appeared again at the Olympia in January of 1966 and this time her performance was recorded for release. She performed her big hit “Walk on By” and previewed “Message to Michael,” which was released a few months later. On the record, she also sings both sides of a single that had some minor success in 1964: “You’ll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart),”backed by “A House Is Not a Home.” But she sings those songs in French.
I will confess, I do not believe these portions of the album Dionne Warwick in Paris to be a legitimate live recording. It was common practice in the Sixties to dub audience noise over a studio recording to create the illusion of a concert.
The album’s entry on Wikipedia claims these are “essentially phonetically-read versions over the same studio tracks of the original singles,” but no documentation is provided. It does sound like this is true, when you compare these two songs to the others on the record, but they’re wonderful performances anyway.
Dionne Warwick – You’ll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart) — BUY Dionne Warwick – A House Is Not a Home — BUY