By Richie Unterberger

Most pop-rock albums of the early 1960s were not conceived of as long-playing recordings, instead throwing on a hit or two with a bunch of quickly recorded filler. But while several of the songs on Presenting Dionne Warwick did show up on her early singles, her debut LP was anything but a padded affair. In addition to featuring her first hit single, "Don't Make Me Over," it contained no less than eight other compositions by the hallowed songwriting team that would supply most of her 1960s chart 45s, Burt Bacharach and Hal David. And though "Don't Make Me Over" would be the only high-charting entry in the Billboard singles charts, a couple of the other songs would become hits in the hands of other artists, though Warwick's interpretations remain first-class.

    Like so many 1960s soul artists, Warwick started as a gospel singer (then known as Dionne Warrick), forming the Gospelaires with her sister Dee Dee (who would herself make some fine soul-pop records in the 1960s and 1970s) and Cissy Houston (who'd make her own share of fine records both as a member of the Sweet Inspirations and as a solo vocalist). By the early '60s, the three were often singing backup vocals on New York sessions. At a mid-1961 date at which the Drifters cut "Mexican Divorce," co-written by Bacharach with Bob Hilliard, Warwick caught Bacharach's attention. Shortly afterward, she auditioned for Bacharach and David in their office.

    "After two or three songs," remembered David in his book What the World Needs Now and Other Love Lyrics, "Burt and I were impressed. We told her that the next time we wrote a song that was right for her we would ask her to make the 'demo.'" Added Bacharach in Joe Smith's Off the Record: An Oral History of Popular Music, "She contacted us a little later on about maybe coming in and doing some demos for us. We said OK, we did the work, and the demos sounded great. We played them for Florence Greenberg at Scepter Records, and she said, 'Why don't you produce her.'"

    Some confusion exists over which of her demos was the one that lifted her from the world of session work to a career as a featured recording artist. It's been variously reported that Bacharach and David played versions of Dionne doing "It's Love That Really Counts" (released on a 1962 single by the Shirelles), "Make It Easy on Yourself" (a 1962 hit for Jerry Butler), or "Don't Make Me Over" to Florence Greenberg. Whatever the song was, it was agreed that Greenberg hated it. "When we brought the record into Florence's office and she heard it, she cried, and not because she loved the record," Bacharach told Joe Smith in Off the Record. "Florence cried because of how much she didn't like it. The record we're talking about, by the way, was 'Don't Make Me Over.'" Another version of the story is that the song Greenberg hated was actually "It's Love That Really Counts" or "Make It Easy on Yourself," but that she was impressed enough with Warwick's vocals to give Bacharach-David the go-ahead to do a record with her, which would jibe with Bacharach's recollection of Greenberg asking them to produce Dionne after hearing some demos.

    Whatever the case, it was "Don't Make Me Over" that Warwick would release as her debut single, the title phrase coming from the singer herself. "I felt Burt and Hal had given my songs away and they felt they hadn't and that maybe I was being a bit unreasonable," she told Discoveries. "Well, one word led to another...and finally I said, 'Don't make me over, man!' and I walked out. About a week later I walked back in. The mad was gone—and they had written 'Don't Make Me Over.'" And when her name was misprinted on the label of the 45, Dionne Warrick became Dionne Warwick.

    The single reached #21 in the charts in early 1963, changing Florence Greenberg's initial low estimation of the tune considerably. "Needless to say, we were all highly taken aback by Florence's reaction," Bacharach commented in Off the Record. "Eventually, Florence came around. Not because she finally realized how much she liked the record. Not at all. Florence started loving it because she watched it go up the charts." "Don't Make Me Over"—not only the first, but the most fiery of the many Bacharach-David songs Warwick would make into hits—had to overcome not only Greenberg's initial resistance, but also its initial placement on the B-side of her debut single, on which Bacharach-David's "I Smiled Yesterday" was the A-side.

    The success of the single paved the way for the release of her debut LP, Presenting Dionne Warwick, in 1963. Far from being a hastily written and recorded cash-in, it seems evident that Warwick, Bacharach, and David were investing nearly as much care in the composing and orchestral soul-pop production of her LP tracks as they were for her singles. As famous and iconic a '60s songwriting team as they were to become, Bacharach-David had in fact only just started to score regular hits by 1963, and perhaps viewed their budding partnership with Warwick as an opportunity to fully test their wings in the studio. Certainly several of the tracks on the LP besides "Don't Make Me Over" could have been singles under their own steam—and some were, for both Warwick and others.

    To start with, there were those songs she'd demoed in 1962, "It's Love That Really Counts" (which made a mere #102 for the Shirelles) and "Make It Easy on Yourself" (which, in addition to reaching #20 for Jerry Butler, would go all the way to #1 for the Walker Brothers in the UK in 1965, as well as getting to #16 in the US). "The Love of a Boy" would make #44 for Timi Yuro as a 1962 single, though Warwick's reading was more gracefully understated. "I Cry Alone," more than almost any other song of the time by Warwick or anyone else, sounds like a hit, but wasn't even released as an A-side.

    Also sounding like a classic Bacharach-David-Warwick hit was the brooding "This Empty Place," which nonetheless made only #84 when issued as the follow-up to "Don't Make Me Over." The song's quality was recognized, however, by British Invasion group the Searchers, who did it as an LP track; fellow British Invasion star Cilla Black, who also put it on a mid-'60s LP; and, all the way down in New Zealand, by Larry's Rebels, who did a superb British Invasion-styled version around the same time. "Make the Music Play," whose arrangement perhaps showed a lingering influence from the buoyant sounds of the Drifters, was chosen as Dionne's third single, but also fared disappointingly, peaking at #81.

    By far the most famous of the non-hits on Presenting Dionne Warwick, however, was the original version of "Wishin' & Hopin'." Another of several hits-that-never-were (for Warwick, anyway) on the LP, it was picked up the following year in Britain by the Merseybeats, who took it to the UK Top Twenty in the summer of 1964. Far more famous in the US, however, is Dusty Springfield's excellent cover, which made the Stateside Top Ten the same time (though, interestingly, it was not issued as a single in her native Britain). Explained Hal David in What the World Needs Now, "Because Dusty is a Dionne Warwick fan, she heard Dionne's record and liked it enough to record it herself. A New York disc jockey named Jack Lacey liked this particular band in Dusty's [debut] album. He programmed it each day. The demand he created was sufficient to get the record company to give 'Wishin' and Hopin'' top priority exploitation."

    Elaborated David in a quote found in Paul Howes's The Complete Dusty Springfield, "We worked on the company to release it as a single, which they did. I'm pleased I was proved right...I didn't know she'd recorded it...I couldn't believe how good it sounded. If you listen to both records you will find an amazing similarity. This is a compliment to Dionne as a singer and to Burt as an arranger. The song became a tremendous hit. This would have never have happened if Dionne Warwick hadn't recorded it first." The same book records Springfield as noting, "It did very was a different treatment to the way she did it. She had a much lighter voice, a gossamer-like voice."

    Back in 1963, however, it would have been of little consolation to Warwick to learn that the song would be covered for British and American hits, struggling as she was to come up with a follow-up to "Don't Make Me Over." That follow-up would come with her smash "Anyone Who Had a Heart," which also became the title track of her next album, also reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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