The first voice you’ll hear on My Music: Burt Bacharach’s Best, now airing on PBS stations nationwide, is that of The Maestro himself. “What’s it all about, Alfie?,” he sings in his familiar, quavering tone, finding the fragility in the Hal David lyric that he calls his favorite. Then comes “What the World Needs Now is Love,” sung by its composer with an assist from that International Man of Mystery, Austin Powers (Mike Myers). It’s appropriate that the solo Bacharach introduces this first-ever collection of complete archival performances drawn from the heyday of his still-thriving career. He’s soon joined by a “Who’s Who” of popular music including Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield, The Carpenters, The 5th Dimension, Tom Jones, Christopher Cross and Chuck Jackson. Hosted by Robert Wagner, the program is a fascinating, and long-overdue, video jukebox tribute to the songwriter. As is customary for such broadcasts, it’s available to supporters of PBS as a DVD with additional footage, but the team at TJL Productions has sweetened the deal. Burt Bacharach’s Best is available along with Dionne Warwick Sings Burt Bacharach, a new, 25-track CD culled from some of the duo’s best – and not just the oft-anthologized hits. This disc presents, for the first time anywhere, one of the three “reunion” recordings made by Bacharach and Warwick in 1974, “And Then You Know What He Did.” Like the special itself, it’s been worth the wait.
Bacharach’s music has always been most closely associated with female singers, and the composer was lucky enough to have provided material for the crème de la crème. My Music: Burt Bacharach’s Best, which draws entirely on rare, vintage footage from numerous television specials as well as programs such as The Ed Sullivan Show and The Merv Griffin Show, turns over a number of slots to Bacharach’s most frequent muse, Dionne Warwick. A lithe, cool Dionne participates in a production number dedicated to “Walk On By,” joining with its undulating dancers for one memorable sequence. Her subtlety, grace and control come across on “Alfie” and “This Girl’s In Love with You,” and she also joins Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight for the show-closing “That’s What Friends Are For.” But Dionne’s most tantalizing appearance on My Music is via footage of a recording session in which she and Hal David join Bacharach at the piano to rehearse “I Say a Little Prayer.” The excerpts here of the color film are fascinating, and leave the audience wanting more of this “insider” peek. (In modern interview footage seen on the broadcast, Warwick touchingly reflects on the resonance of “I Say a Little Prayer” to Vietnam-era vets and their families.)
Dionne is in good company with the divine Dusty Springfield. Dusty wanders through giant a set of giant photographs of herself (and her ever-evolving hairstyles!) as she sings “The Look of Love,” but even better is the intense rendition of “A House is Not a Home” she performs with Bacharach accompanying on piano. Though famously critical of her own work, Springfield reportedly was “quite proud of” this performance from 1970’s Another Evening with Burt Bacharach…and with good reason. The song builds to an emotional crescendo with both Springfield and Bacharach giving their all. Marilyn McCoo is seen in a clip leading the original 5th Dimension on the melancholy “One Less Bell to Answer,” offering soulful new vocals over the familiar backing track, and Jackie DeShannon is enthralling in stark black-and-white on “What the World Needs Now is Love.” Both McCoo and DeShannon can also be seen on the broadcast’s pledge breaks sharing their modern-day impressions of Bacharach and music.
Of course, the most famous male interpreters of the Bacharach oeuvre don’t get the short shrift. Tom Jones playfully gyrates his way through “What’s New Pussycat,” and Chuck Jackson lathers on the soul for Bacharach and Bob Hilliard’s “Any Day Now,” joined by the composer. (It should be noted that some of these television performances are lip-synched to the original recordings, as was standard practice of the era, but a great many from Dionne, Dusty, Jackie, et. al. are unique, and quite wonderful.) In one memorable clip, B.J. Thomas tries to prove that “nothin’s worryin’ me” as more than mere “Raindrops Keep Falling on [His] Head.” B.J. is surrounded by dancers with umbrellas as he sings through a rainstorm created on the stage of The Ed Sullivan Show! He offers warm words for Bacharach in a new segment. Herb Alpert’s seminal and heartfelt “This Guy’s in Love with You,” Bacharach and David’s first No. 1 Pop song as well as the first for Alpert’s A&M label, is much more subdued. Christopher Cross performs his Academy Award-winning “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” live with its co-writers Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager joining him and clearly having a good time.
After the jump: what’s on Dionne Warwick Sings Burt Bacharach? We have a full track listing and much more!
As little, if any, of its material is commercially available elsewhere, My Music: Burt Bacharach’s Best is an indispensable and undeniably vivid evocation of what made Bacharach’s music so distinctive. And 25 more examples can be found on the accompanying CD Dionne Warwick Sings Burt Bacharach. Over the course of roughly 70 seventy single sides and over ten albums at Florence Greenberg’s Scepter Records, the “triangle marriage” of Warwick, Bacharach and David was the rare such collaboration that worked. As co-producers and co-writers, Bacharach and David honed a new style of sophisticated, adult pop and found their perfect interpreter in Warwick. As the composer writes in his new memoir Anyone Who Had a Heart, “Dionne could sing that high and she could sing that low. She could sing that strong and she could sing that loud, yet she could also be soft and delicate. As our musical relationship evolved, I began to see her potential and realized I could take more risks and chances. To me, her voice had all the delicacy and mystery of sailing ships in bottles.”
That profoundly dynamic, versatile voice is on display on each of this compilation’s songs. The disc draws on heartbroken ballads (“I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself,” “Make It Easy on Yourself,” “A House is Not a Home”) uptempo R&B nuggets (“Another Night”) and dramatic showstoppers (“Let Me Go to Him,” “Who is Gonna Love Me”) alike. What sets this apart from countless other Warwick compilations, though, is the presence of comparatively rare tracks. It eschews “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” and “I Say a Little Prayer,” but finds room for the sublime, all-too-unknown likes of “The Green Grass Starts to Grow” and “Loneliness Remembers What Happiness Forgets,” two 1970 singles. There are a number of songs more closely associated with other artists but also recorded by Warwick, such as “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” (B.J. Thomas), “Only Love Can Break a Heart” (Gene Pitney) and “Wives and Lovers” (Jack Jones). Two more tracks unearthed for Rhino Handmade’s limited-edition series of reissues reappear here, a duet version with Thomas of “They Don’t Give Medals To Yesterday’s Heroes” (written for the television musical On the Flip Side and first recorded by Rick Nelson) and the lost gem “California.” The latter is a twangy, Bacharach and David version of country music, with a lyric that plays like a belated sequel to “Do You Know the Way to San Jose.” Instead of searching for fame, the singer in “California” heads west to “be happy” but realizes that she must look inward to affect real change and find real happiness. David’s heady lyrics were matched by a quirky Bacharach melody and assured vocal by Warwick. Indeed, the clever and varied track selection here makes for an alternate look at the singer’s deep discography.
Another hidden gem given a reappraisal here is “Who Gets the Guy.” It may be the apotheosis of the Scepter years. The March 1971 A-side was her second-to-last single for the label and her final one written and produced by Bacharach and David. It barely made an impression on the charts (No. 57 Pop, No. 41 R&B) but touches on all of the elements that made their collaboration so special – musically, lyrically and vocally. “Who gets the guy at the end of the show?” Warwick asks, once again adopting the persona of someone done wrong in love. “I’d like to know…people say you have found another…Is it true what they say? When the picture’s over, will it be all over?” The strength and innate elegance of Warwick’s voice keeps her story from ever being maudlin, even when she later pleads “Tell me that the ending is a happy ending…” Hal David, in addition to ever-increasing the social awareness quotient in his lyrics (think “The Windows of the World’ or “Paper Mache”), gave mature voice to his protagonists in song, recognizing universal emotions in an elegant way. Bacharach, on “Who Gets the Guy,” employed his full range of recognizable orchestral colors. As with his best work, his arrangement is an integral part of the song’s very fabric: the rueful whistling that opens the song, the brass bleats that underscore the opening lines, the prevalent and varied horns that seem to comment on each lyric, the tack piano that lends an earthy feel, the organ that adds gravity. His melody lines had become even more fiendishly tricky to maneuver as the seventies dawned, but Warwick nonetheless glided effortlessly on extended phrases like “And that’s why I just keep listenin’ to the music to see if it’s happy or sad/Because if it’s happy that’s how I feel, and if it’s sad, well, that’s too bad for me…” It was too bad for all three parties that an era was almost over, but it was wonderfully encapsulated on this single – and singular – song.
Following one album for Warner Bros. Records, the Bacharach/David/Warwick partnership ended in a flurry of ill will, accusations and lawsuits, all of which have been covered extensively elsewhere (including in Bacharach and Warwick’s memoirs). But what’s been less well-chronicled is the fact that Bacharach brought Dionne and their friend and engineer Phil Ramone into Los Angeles’ A&M Studios in June 1974 to record three new songs. Two featured lyrics by Bobby (“Little Green Apples”) Russell, with whom Bacharach would also collaborate on Tom Jones’ “Us” and Bobby Vinton’s “Charlie.” A third, mooted for a possible film version of Bacharach and David’s 1968 Broadway musical Promises, Promises, had playwright Neil Simon’s words. One of the two Russell songs, “And Then You Know What He Did,” is appearing for the first time anywhere on Dionne Warwick Sings Burt Bacharach. (It’s the only track without a Hal David lyric on the CD.)
Warwick’s voice begins supported only by the sound of an acoustic guitar. She intriguingly confides, “Because I was so fond of you, I could not see beyond you…” It seems the singer is in the unenviable position of recounting to a loved one why she’s left him for another man. Russell keeps his lyric conversational throughout as the story unfolds. It’s the little things, like a smile, or a willingness to light her cigarette (“No, it’s no big thing…but then, I can’t remember when you did as much for me,” she notes ruefully) that attracts her most to this stranger. Warwick is convincing herself even as she’s trying to convince her ex-paramour that she’s made the right choice: “I can’t help my feelings/And then you know what he did/[He] held me to himself/And I began to live! So I had to stay and you don’t need me anyway! Don’t think you ever did/I’m so sorry, I finally see!”
Melodically, the song plays like a mini-suite. This is music you feel, with the peaks and valleys of a relationship built into its contours. The shifting melodic phrases are unmistakably Bacharach’s, especially the staccato rhythms (“I/can’t/help/my/feelings”) that come to an emotional boil – or the pure exultation when the melody soars as an emotional release: “Then I looked up and saw the sun…” Even nature is smiling on the character in the song, and the melody sounds like a ray of sunshine. (Warwick reaches for the top of her belting range for a particularly powerful section, and one that’s relatively unusual for the cool and restrained singer.) The shimmering electric piano flourishes anticipate the fusion-jazz style of Bacharach’s 1977 solo album Futures, while the horns echoing the title phrase of the song are classic touches. The track is a mature coda for a decade-plus of artistry from Bacharach and Warwick.
Following the sessions that yielded “And Then You Know What He Did” (as well as Russell’s “Plastic City” and Simon’s “And Then He Walked Through the Door”), Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick didn’t record together for more than a decade. With the 1985 “Finder of Lost Loves,” co-written with Bacharach’s then-wife Carole Bayer Sager, the old magic was rekindled for a number of songs including “That’s What Friends Are For.” Bacharach and David eventually reconciled and reunited, too, for 1993’s “Sunny Weather Lover” recorded by Dionne. The songwriters would periodically reteam until David’s death earlier this year.
Both Dionne Warwick Sings Burt Bacharach and My Music: Burt Bacharach’s Best are timely and fitting tributes to a sound that’s completely of its time and also utterly timeless. That’s the sound crafted by Burt Bacharach and the late Hal David (to whom the television special is dedicated) in tandem with Dionne Warwick and her talented contemporaries. There may still be just too little of love, sweet love, but thankfully, there’s plenty to savor of the music of Burt Bacharach.
You can own My Music: Burt Bacharach’s Best and Dionne Warwick Sings Burt Bacharach by supporting PBS. For your convenience, we have provided these links to our local PBS affiliates, WNET-13 and WLIW-21, but we urge you to visit your own local PBS station’s website if you are interested in ordering!
Don’t miss our coverage here of the extensive Dionne Warwick reissue campaign coming this summer from Warner Music Japan!
Dionne Warwick, Dionne Warwick Sings Burt Bacharach (PBS-exclusive, 2013)
- Message to Michael (SCE 12133-A, 1966)
- (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me (SCE 12226-B, 1968)
- Alfie (SCE 12187-B, 1967)
- I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself (SCE 12167-A, 1966)
- This Empty Place (1247-A, 1963)
- Trains and Boats and Planes (SCE 12153-A, 1966)
- Another Night (SCE 12181-A, 1966)
- Who Gets the Guy (SCE 12309-A, 1971)
- Loneliness Remembers What Happiness Forgets (SCE 12276-B, 1970)
- This Girl’s in Love with You (SCE 12241-A, 1969)
- Only Love Can Break a Heart (from Only Love Can Break a Heart, Musicor 2501, 1977)
- You’ll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart) (1282-A, 1964)
- They Don’t Give Medals to Yesterday’s Heroes – duet with B.J. Thomas (from Very Dionne, Rhino RHM2 7869, 2004)
- Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head (SCE 12346-A, 1972)
- The Green Grass Starts to Grow (SCE 12300-A, 1970)
- (Here I Go Again) Looking with My Eyes (SR 12111-A, 1965)
- Reach Out for Me (1285-A, 1964)
- Let Me Go to Him (SCE 12276-A, 1970)
- A House is Not a Home (1282-B, 1964)
- Who is Gonna Love Me (SCE 12226-A, 1968)
- Wives and Lovers (from The Sensitive Sound of Dionne Warwick, Scepter SRS 528, 1965)
- The April Fools (SCE 12249-A, 1969)
- Make It Easy on Yourself (SCE 12294-A, 1970)
- California (from Very Dionne, Rhino RHM2 7869, 2004)
- And Then You Know What He Did (rec. 1974, previously unreleased)
All tracks are Scepter Records singles unless otherwise indicated.