By Richie Unterberger

More than any other singer of the 1960s, Dionne Warwick bridged the audiences between pop, soul, and what might be called the "adult" listening market. Her 1964 Top Ten pop hits "Anyone Who Had a Heart" and "Walk On By" had done as well in the adult pop listening charts as in the other categories. Whether as a conscious nod in the direction of this growing listenership, or simply as a natural consequence of the way her music was evolving, her fourth album boasted a more adult-oriented sound than her previous work. The material did not prove as popular as much of that previous work, however, containing no high-charting singles. Still, it did afford both Warwick and her producers (and frequent songwriters), Burt Bacharach and Hal David, the opportunity to continue to solidify their partnership in the studio.

    In a business where it's almost routine for producers to squeeze artists for all their worth in a short period of time before finding another horse to ride, the association between Warwick and Bacharach-David was remarkably lengthy and close. Over the years, all parties have been fervent in their high praise for each other's abilities, even though their business partnerships would be troubled by some rocky rifts. "There was nothing that Burt could write musically, or I could write lyrically, that she couldn't do," exclaimed David in Performing Arts. Elaborated Bacharach to Morgan Neville in A&E's Biography, "The more that Hal and I wrote with Dionne, the more we could see what she could do. She can go that high, and she can sing that low. She is that flexible. She can sing that strong and that loud, and be so delicate and soft, too...The more that I was exposed to that musically, the more risks, the more chances, I could take."

    It might be a measure of Bacharach-David's commitment to the singer that they stuck with Dionne through a somewhat tough year for her saleswise. Though she'd landed two Top Ten hits and a few smaller ones in 1964, Warwick wouldn't so much dent the Top Forty in 1965. Nor was The Sensitive Sound of Dionne Warwick as stuffed with relatively buried treasure, in the form of LP-only tracks or flop singles, as her previous albums had been. At least Bacharach and David continued to play a heavy hand in the material, penning seven of the eleven tracks. The album did chart, too, though its modest #107 placing was not as impressive as the #68 peak of its predecessor, Make Way for Dionne Warwick.

    The Sensitive Sound of Dionne Warwick did have a couple charting singles, though they were such small hits that they don't even show up on typical Warwick greatest hits collections. Unusually, neither of these were Bacharach-David compositions—a most odd development, considering that not a single one of her pre-1965 singles to make the Billboard charts had come from the pens of other writers. The slightly more successful of these, the melodramatic "Who Can I Turn To," had been part of Anthony Newley's Broadway show The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd. Co-written by Newley and Leslie Bricusse, it had recently been a Top Forty hit for Tony Bennett—the second-to-last Top Forty hit, in fact, that Bennett would land in his lengthy career.

    While it's tempting to view it as a concession to the adult pop crowd, in fact Warwick's version did better in the R&B charts (where it made #36) than it did in the pop listings (where it reached #62). Nor was Dionne the only pop-rock star to record the tune in the 1960s, with Dusty Springfield—who, of course, had covered some Bacharach-David tunes first released by Warwick, including "Wishin' & Hopin'" and "Anyone Who Had a Heart"—putting it on a 1966 album. It should also be emphasized that this sort of material was not an aberration for Dionne, as she'd covered Barbra Streisand's "People" on her previous LP, and would include another Newley-Bricusse number, "Once in a Lifetime," on her next long-player.

    Those who dug the gospel-soul roots of Warwick's sound were no doubt far more pleased with the other charting single from The Sensitive Sound of Dionne Warwick, "You Can Have Him." A #12 hit in 1961 for Roy Hamilton as "You Can Have Her," Warwick made the appropriate gender adjustment and took the helm for an admirably uptempo, fiery rendition that rocked harder not just than anything else on the album, but than just about anything else she was recording in the mid-1960s. That didn't help it get higher than #75 in the charts, however. Cut in London, the song, oddly, is one of Warwick's least favorite of her own recordings, to the point where she refused to perform it in concert.

    The two other covers on The Sensitive Sound of Dionne Warwick were, unlike "You Can Have Him" (and like "Who Can I Turn To"), indicative of an attempt to expand into all-around adult appeal. "Unchained Melody" (with its odd loud percussive clanks) had, of course, been around as a pop standard for a good decade since Les Baxter, Al Hibbler, and the aforementioned Roy Hamilton all scored Top Ten hits with the song in 1955. Warwick wasn't the only mid-'60s soul star to take a crack at it, the Righteous Brothers pushing it to #4 in the hit parade just a few months later. The other non-Bacharach-David song, "Where Can I Go Without You," had been recorded by its co-author, Peggy Lee, in the 1950s.

    That did leave seven Bacharach-David compositions that, while not well known to anyone but serious fans of Warwick and/or the songwriting team, do yield their share of listening pleasure. The arching "How Many Days of Sadness" has some of Warwick's highest winding vocals. "Is There Another Way to Love You," issued as the B-side of "You Can Have Him," is a yet more dramatic example of the vocal gymnastics needed to execute Bacharach-David's increasingly complicated, corkscrewing melodies. "What occurred during that time was that our relationship was growing," Warwick told David Nathan for the liner notes of the 1995 compilation From the Vaults, "and we took more and more chances as we grew musically. Believe me, the songs were hard to sing and you almost had to be music major to sing 'em!"

    Also used on a B-side (for "Who Can I Turn To") was "Don't Say I Didn't You Tell So," with a rhythm highly reminiscent of the one heard on her earlier smash "Walk On By," and muted-trumpet sounds produced by Dionne herself. In fact, some radio stations gave this side more airplay than "Who Can I Turn To," and perhaps it would have been a wiser decision to plug it as the A-side, given it was more consistent with the sound Warwick had popularized on her previous singles. "Only the Strong, Only the Brave" punctuated the sort of gentle verses Warwick fans expected with sudden explosions into stirring, almost stormy declarations. "Forever My Love," one of the lushest arrangements on an album that generally saw Bacharach-David's settings for Dionne's ballads getting slicker, was originally recorded by Jane Morgan. "Wives & Lovers" had aleady been a hit for Jack Jones back in late 1963, though its sly lounge-lizard lyrics seem awkward as sung by a woman rather than a man. Closing the record was "That's Not the Answer," whose twangy guitar and girl-groupish backup vocals were slight throwbacks to the kind of tunes Warwick often cut at the outset of her career, but was now starting to outgrow.

    Warwick would not have her next big smash until 1966's "Message to Michael," though she did return to the Top Forty earlier that year with "Are You There (With Another Girl)?" That song is included on her fifth album (also reissued by Collectors' Choice Music), Here I Am, full of numerous other comparatively neglected Bacharach-David songs the composers continued to churn out for Dionne. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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