By Richie Unterberger

After an initial flush of hits that had made Dionne Warwick one of the hottest artists of 1964, she cooled off quite a bit in the following year, with none of her releases reaching the Top Forty. But the production team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who were also responsible for writing the lion's share of her material, stuck with her. All but three of the songs on the Warwick LP that appeared in late 1965, Here I Am, were Bacharach-David compositions. While none of them were smashes on the order of "Walk On By" and "Anyone Who Had a Heart," three of them were moderate hits. In common with her other early albums for the Scepter label, several of the others were first-rate Bacharach-David songs and Warwick vocal performances that remain primarily known only to fans of Warwick or the songwriters.

    "We had a flexible and equal relationship from the off," commented Warwick to Lois Wilson in Record Collector about her remarkably strong and lengthy collaboration with Bacharach-David. "If a particular word didn't fit a note then I'd change it. I was left to interpret their songs my way. No one demoed them beforehand. They were written specifically for me. [Hal David] is a beautiful lyricist. He writes to the heart, not at it. He's a genius. I was very proud to be a part of what would later be known by the music industry as the 'triangle marriage.'"

    As was customary for albums by pop-rock stars of the mid-1960s, several of the songs on Here I Am had already come out as singles, starting with the title track, which peaked at a mere #65 in mid-1965. Demure even by the standards of Bacharach-David-penned Warwick ballads, it was in keeping with the team's drift toward lush adult pop, though it does pep up with their trademark near-bossa-nova rhythms after a while. It might well have reached more listeners as a part of the soundtrack album to What's New Pussycat?, which went to #14 in the LP charts. The far more assertive, uptempo "Looking with My Eyes" was no more of a success later in 1965, reaching only #64, and perhaps had a few too many melodic twists and turns to be a big AM radio hit. For those who savor Bacharach-David's risky sophistication, however, it's an obscure nugget, particularly in those passages where it suddenly changes gears to a stuttering, melancholy jazzy piano lick wholly unrelated to other parts of the song.

    The Bacharach-David number that returned Warwick to the Top Forty (though only just) shortly after its release in late 1965, however, was "Are You There (With Another Girl)." Noted as one of the more vengeful items in the Warwick-Bacharach-David catalog, it reached #39 in early 1966 and marked a welcome return to some of the R&B flourishes that the singer and songwriters had deftly incorporated into their earlier work. "Yeah, we had a lot of fun doing that song, especially the 'oom pah pah pity the girl' bit," Warwick recalled in the liner notes to The Look of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection. "My cousin Myrna did that part. Burt wanted her to sound like a whistle. It's just one of those good songs."
    Like Warwick's previous albums, the record contained several Bacharach-David songs that, with the benefit of hindsight, seem about as appropriate choices for singles as the ones that came out on 45s. "In Between the Heartaches" in particular sounds like a hit-worthy lost gem, with some of Warwick's most affecting high vocals and an ultra-dramatic arching orchestrated arrangement, particularly at the points where she's joined by angelic backup singers and drums boom for emphasis. Jazz artists Stan Getz and Richard "Groove" Holmes covered the song in the 1960s, as did easy listening group the Anita Kerr Singers, though it took veteran soul singers Phyllis Hyman and Ronald Isley to put the song back into the public eye somewhat via vocal renditions in the early 2000s. "If I Ever Make You Cry" was another ballad whose unpredictably zigzagging melody, as pleasing as it was, perhaps disqualified it from candidacy for 45 status, though both Warwick and Bacharach have cited both tunes as among their favorite non-hit collaborations of the era.

    The more conventional and accessible "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" was, more than anything else on the album, typical of the lightly swinging bossa nova rhythms often heard on Warwick's mid-to-late-'60s recordings. The song had actually been recorded slightly earlier by Bacharach himself, who released it on a single in May 1965 (with female vocalists handling the singing). As a testament to its listener-friendliness, Latin jazz-influenced easy listening stars Herb Alpert and Sergio Mendes both recorded cover versions shortly afterward. "The biggest influence in pop music for me could have been the Brazilian people," commented Bacharach about the bossa nova flavor of songs such as these in the liner notes to The Look of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection. "They were wonderful. When I was conducting for [Marlene] Dietrich years and years ago, I was listening to people like Jobim and Milton Nascimento. I always loved hearing Brazilian music."
    Of the other trio of Bacharach-David songs, "Window Wishing" resembles some of the slicker Warwick hits to follow in the next few years, while "How Can I Hurt You?" uses the mock-circus rhythms with which the pair sometimes punctuated their compositions. Those circus rhythms are so pronounced on "Long Day, Short Night," the tempo so frantic, and the backup vocals so much closer to the style of 1962-63 Shirelles than 1965 Dionne Warwick, that one's tempted to wonder if this might have been recorded earlier than the rest of the LP.

    Warwick had never stuck exclusively to Bacharach-David compositions on her albums, and the three songs from outside sources on Here I Am were indicative of her occasional taste for both Broadway and gospel. Written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, "Once in a Lifetime" had been popularized by the early-'60s musical comedy Stop the World, I Want to Get Off, and in fact Dionne had covered another song by the same composers ("Who Can I Turn To") on her previous album, The Sensitive Sound of Dionne Warwick. "I Love You Porgy," of course, came from the even more popular musical Porgy and Bess. With "This Little Light," however, Warwick flashed back to her gospel roots, playing piano on the track as well.

    Though Here I Am contained no big hit singles, it did pretty well on the album charts, reaching #45 in the pop listings and going all the way to #3 in the R&B ones. While Warwick, Bacharach, and David would continue to collaborate in the studio for years to come, Dionne was also making quite a mark as a live performer, presenting popular Bacharach-David songs and some outside material that didn't find a home on her studio releases. That side of her work was documented in the 1966 album Dionne Warwick in Paris, also reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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