By Richie Unterberger

By late 1964, both Dionne Warwick and her producers/principal songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David were among the most white-hot commodities in the music business. And though Bacharach and David would continue to write for an assortment of artists throughout the 1960s, by this time it was clear that Warwick was their singer of first choice. It was also clear that they were coming up with so many songs for Warwick that not all of them could fit on singles. Her third album, Make Way for Dionne Warwick, was like her previous LPs dominated by Bacharach-David compositions, and—in large part because of their presence—well above the standard for soul-pop albums of the era. Three of the songs were big hits for Dionne, but several of the others could have been had they been pushed as singles. One in particular would be a huge hit six years later, but not for Warwick.

    Certainly her most successful track on the LP was "Walk On By," which even upon its release was anointed as an instant standard. It both gave the singer her second Top Ten hit and eased her slightly away from her more R&B-oriented early recordings toward a more mainstream, adult pop audience, a journey she'd continue throughout the rest of the '60s. Ironically, the song—like Warwick's first hit, "Don't Make Me Over"—was originally earmarked as the B-side (to "Any Old Time of Day," which appears on her second album, Anyone Who Had a Heart) of the single on which it appeared. Famed New York disc jockey Murray the K, however, was instrumental in flipping those designations after he played both songs and asked listeners to pick their preference, resulting in a landslide for "Walk On By."

    "I didn't know that it was innovative when we did it, till people started telling me it was really innovative," claimed Bacharach in an interview with Paul Zollo in Songwriters on Songwriting. "But I knew it was special. It was a great recording date. I think I came in with 101 temperature and did 'Walk On By' and 'Anyone Had a Heart' and walked out with some heavy-duty gold." So often has "Walk on By" been subsequently recorded that it would be impossible to accurately calculate the number of cover versions, including renditions by the Beach Boys, the Four Seasons, Aretha Franklin, Isaac Hayes, and Smokey Robinson & the Miracles. Warwick's, however, remains the one by far the most firmly implanted in most listeners' minds, even if Hayes did manage to sneak his eccentric take on the tune up to #30 in 1969.

    The mild bossa nova feel of "Walk on By" was amplified for its follow-up, "You'll Never Get to Heaven," which though no "Walk on By" was a solid enough hit, getting up to #34 later in 1964. New York session musician Artie Butler, incidentally, told Ken Emerson in Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era that the bossa nova feel of this and other Warwick recordings owed much to Gary Chester, who played drums with a stick in his right hand and a brush in his left. It was no accident that jazz tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, who was crucial in popularizing bossa nova in the Northern Hemisphere, would devote an entire album to Bacharach-David numbers (What the World Needs Now: Stan Getz Plays Bacharach and David) later in the '60s. "You'll Never Get to Heaven" itself was revived for a bigger hit almost a decade later by the Stylistics, who took it to #23 in 1973.

    Back in 1964, however, Warwick herself pulled off the feat of making a bigger record out of a Bacharach-David tune that had originally charted for someone else. "Reach Out for Me" had made a mere #75 in 1963 for Lou Johnson, who himself worked often with Bacharach-David for a while. Warwick's revival of the song brought a lighter touch to the number, hauling it all the way to #20 in late 1964. For that matter, Make Way for Dionne Warwick included another first-rate Bacharach-David composition, "The Last One to Be Loved," that Johnson recorded around the same time, though Johnson's version was relegated to a late-'64 B-side—of "Message to Martha," which, retooled by Warwick as "Message to Michael," would give her a 1966 Top Ten hit.

    There were yet two other Bacharach-David songs on Make Way for Dionne Warwick that were also chart hits for other artists—one not so well known, one extremely well known. "A House Is Not a Home," recorded by Brook Benton as the theme to an obscure movie of the same name starring Shelley Winters and (in her film debut) Raquel Welch, made just #75 in mid-1964. Released as yet another single off the LP by Warwick, her version actually didn't fare much better, peaking at #71—yet it's her version, placed on the album as its leadoff track, that's by far the more familiar.

    Here too is the original version of "They Long to Be Close to You," which Warwick has recalled as the original demo of the song. Though it was also used as a 1965 B-side, it was largely undiscovered by the public until it became the Carpenters' first hit in 1970, soaring all the way to #1. "I'm very grateful to Richard Carpenter making that record the way that they heard it," opined Bacharach in Songwriters on Songwriting. "Because the way that I heard it was very different and not very good. I made the first few records of it with the wrong groove, wrong feel. Richard came in and nailed it." Filling out the album—though by no means filler—was Bacharach-David's "Land of Make Believe," which had been considered as an A-side, but relegated to album-only status, so strong were the songs from which Dionne and her songwriter/producers had to choose.

    As strong as the best half or so of Make Way for Dionne Warwick was, though, in one way it also reflected the somewhat exploitative standards brought to the packaging of pop-rock LPs of the era. For two of the songs on side two ("Wishin' and Hopin'" and "I Smiled Yesterday") had already appeared on her first album, 1963's Presenting Dionne Warwick, while the other two clearly appeared to be leftover filler closer to the girl group sound than the adult pop into which the singer was moving.

    At least "Wishin' and Hopin'," however, was a first-rate song, though it's far better known as sung by Dusty Springfield, who had an American Top Ten single with it in 1964 (with the Merseybeats taking it into the British Top Twenty at the same time). With its unusual stuttering passage in which the song almost comes to a halt, "I Smiled Yesterday" was an admirable early Bacharach-David effort as well, and initially issued as the A-side of Warwick's first single, though it was the B-side, "Don't Make Me Over," that became the hit. The track for "Get Rid of Him" was actually done in 1962 with the Shirelles on background vocals; Dionne was well acquainted with the group, having sung some live gigs with them when one of their singers, Shirley Alston, was pregnant. "Make the Night a Little Longer," in fact—written by Brill Building greats Carole King and Gerry Goffin—was also recorded by the Shirelles themselves, who put it on a 1962 LP. Filling out the program was a cover of "People," the show tune (from Funny Girl) that Barbra Streisand had scored a #5 hit with earlier in 1964.

    Though Warwick would cool off a little commercially in 1965, her artistic bond with Bacharach-David would continue to be as tight as ever. The evidence is on her first album of that year, The Sensitive Sound of Dionne Warwick, also reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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