By Richie Unterberger

It wasn't rare for soul stars of the 1960s to put out LPs that had little or nothing to do with soul, and lots to do with supper-club jazz, Broadway, and pop. Motown was especially notorious for this, issuing albums such as the Supremes' The Supremes at the Copa and The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart, the Temptations' In a Mellow Mood, the Four Tops' On Broadway, and Marvin Gaye's A Tribute to the Great Nat King Cole. Though Motown's taken most of the flak for this mini-genre, this tradition in fact predated the label's status as the most successful American independent record company, as evidenced by earlier non-Motown efforts like Sam Cooke at the Copa and Jackie Wilson at the Copa. Cynical historians have castigated these as attempts by the labels and performers to achieve legitimacy with white audiences by proving they were versatile enough to handle mainstream pop music as well as downhome soul. The performers themselves sometimes pointed out that they had genuine  love for this sort of music, even if it wasn't exactly what they were known for. Most likely there is some truth to both viewpoints.

    To this list we can add Dionne Warwick's 1967 LP On Stage and in the Movies, recorded—like all of the albums in the preceding paragraph—at a time when she'd already crossed over to audiences of all colors with pop-soul hits, and could have hardly been a hotter commercial property. It's worth pointing out, however, that several previous Warwick albums were sprinkled with songs that did not come from the pop-rock, R&B, or even gospel tradition. Way back in 1964 on her third album, she'd covered "People," a #5 hit for Barbara Streisand that had originally been heard in the Broadway smash Funny Girl. From that point onward, her albums would include at least a couple songs from the non-rock/show tune side of things. On 1965's The Sensitive Sound of Dionne Warwick, she'd cut "Who Can I Turn To," which had been part of Anthony Newley's Broadway musical The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd, and the pop standard "Unchained Melody." The same year, Here I Am included "Once in a Lifetime," which had been popularized by the early-'60s musical comedy Stop the World, I Want to Get Off, and "I Love You Porgy," from the even more popular musical Porgy and Bess.

    On 1966's Dionne Warwick Live at Paris, she spread her wings yet further into show-biz territory, combining the Burt Bacharach-Hal David songs for which she was most famous with numbers such as Cole Porter's "I Love Paris," "C'est Si Bon" (which had been a big hit for Eartha Kitt in 1953), and "La Vie En Rose" (one of the most popular songs identified with the Parisian singer Edith Piaf). While early 1967's Here Where There Is Love marked a return to her usual Bacharach-David-dominated pop-soul program, it also included  Lionel Bart's "As Long As He Needs Me" from the massively popular musical Oliver!, as well as the pop standard "I Wish You Love," recorded in 1964 by Marlene Dietrich (on whose Paris show Dionne had guested in one of her first high-profile performances in late 1963) among others. So Warwick had actually already released about an album's worth of this sort of material prior to On Stage and in the Movies.

    On Stage and in the Movies itself, however, was an album of nothing but this kind of material. There wasn't a single Bacharach-David song in sight, although the pair were credited as producers, as they were on most of her early releases. You could still hear some of the characteristic touches of Bacharach-David-produced Warwick records, such as gospel-tinged female backup vocals, Latin-influenced beats and horns, and orchestral swells of piano and percussion. On tracks like the swinging, scampering "He Loves Me," however, you'd be hard-pressed to identify any such traits whatsoever.

    It might not have been what anyone expected of Warwick, or Bacharach-David. But Dionne certainly embraced the style full-on, selecting eleven tunes from some of the most renowned stage and screen composers. George and Ira Gershwin were represented by the standard "Summertime," recorded by innumerable artists (including rockers like the Zombies and Big Brother & the Holding Company), though Dionne's reading, in keeping with the tone of the entire album, is far from rock-oriented. Irving Berlin's "Anything You Can Do," on which Warwick duets with uncredited fellow Scepter Records soul singer Chuck Jackson, came from the mid-1940s musical Annie Get Your Gun. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein were especially heavily represented, Warwick's covers including the pair's "My Favorite Things," from The Sound of Music; "You'll Never Walk Alone," from Carousel; and "Something Wonderful," from The King and I.

    As for the other songs' sources, "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" had been used in the early-'50s musical Kismet, though its melody was based on Alexander Borodin's String Quartet in D. "One Hand, One Heart (With These Hands)" was co-written by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, and part of West Side Story. "The Way You Look Tonight," penned by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, had been used way back in 1936 for the film Swing Time, winning an Oscar in the Best Song category. Frank Loesser's "I Believe in You" was familiar from the then-relatively-recent Broadway musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and "He Loves Me" from the early-'60s musical She Loves Me, the title and lyrics changed as appropriate for a woman-sung performance. Ira Gershwin made another appearance in the songwriting credits with "My Ship," co-written with Kurt Weill for Lady in the Dark.

    It's not well remembered, as a side note, that Warwick was entertaining some ambitions herself around this time to cross over into acting and movies. As she disclosed to Melody Maker in June 1968, "I shall be pretty busy this summer making my first film. It's a period piece about slavery in the Deep South. And the working title is The Slave. I play the part of a mistress. I'm not ill-treated at all. But I'm glad in a way to be in a film of this type. It will show many people just how conditions were—and are even today. Not that I take an active part in any Civil Rights demonstrations. That's just not my nature. I am first and foremost a singer. But that doesn't mean I don't feel strongly about the conditions of the American Negro. Of course, I do."

    Continued Warwick, "It's being shot on Louisiana, and the stars are Stephen Boyd and Ossie Davis. Acting will be a real challenge—a new experience. But I have had some dramatic experience. In a way, any performer must be an actor. It's just a graduation from one medium to another." The movie did come out in 1969, under the title Slaves, but made little impact, and did not initiate a significant screen career for the singer.

    Nor, in fact, did On Stage and in the Movies spark a career of note for Warwick as a show tune diva, though the album did claw up to #169 in the pop charts (and, rather surprisingly, make #11 in the R&B listings). Dionne would return to accenting Bacharach-David-penned pop-soul on her next LP, The Windows of the World. On Stage and in the Movies would not be her last full-length leap into non-soul-rock-related music, however. Later in the 1960s, she would release an entire album of gospel material, The Magic of Believing, also reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 unless otherwise specified.