– Nickolas Ashford and Valarie Simpson, “We Need to Go Back”
What’s remarkable about the 19 outtakes on Dionne Warwick’s We Need to Go Back: The Unissued Warner Bros. Masters (Real Gone Music RGM-0170) is that they’re every bit as good as – and in many cases, superior to – the music actually released during Warwick’s stormy five-year stay at the label. Every one of the soulful stylist’s Warner albums is represented with outtakes save 1972’s debut Dionne, the final Bacharach-David-Warwick production. In addition, abortive sessions with Nickolas Ashford and Valarie Simpson, Randy Edelman, and Joe Porter are also included here, nearly in full. (More on that “nearly” soon.) We Need to Go Back is a companion volume to Real Gone’s The Complete Warner Bros. Singles; if you missed our review, click on this link and then join us back here!
The 1972 Holland-Dozier-Holland production “Too Far Out of Reach” – like Ashford and Simpson’s pair of productions, “We Need to Go Back” and “Someone Else Gets the Prize” – sounds tailor-made for Diana Ross. But that’s not to say that Warwick didn’t bring her elegant vocal instrument and expressive musical personality to her performance. “Too Far Out of Reach” beautifully blends funky drums and bass with orchestral grandeur, similar to the best songs crafted by the team for Miss Ross. But Warwick brings sheer conviction to the song’s insistent refrain that “you’re only hurtin’ yourself and nobody else!” as the strings swell with Detroit style. “Too Far Out of Reach” sits comfortably alongside H-D-H’s more reflective “It Hurts Me So,” in which Warwick confronts her unfaithful lover (“You didn’t tell me that you had a wife/Suddenly, I’m left to find I’ve got to make a new life/Without you, who’s gonna see me through?”). With its horn flourishes, “It Hurts Me So” has a slight Bacharach-esque feel redolent of the album’s “I Always Get Caught in the Rain.”
Recorded in May 1973, Ashford and Simpson’s “We Need to Go Back” is one of the unquestionable highlights here, even if the vocal coos and soft singing that open the track again recall Ross. Soon, it’s pure Warwick magic, though, with her lead gliding effortlessly over strings and backing vocals in a nostalgic reverie: “We need to go back to the songs we used to sing…” The song deftly balances the earthbound with the divine as Dionne concludes, “Maybe we need to pray!” It’s a mystery why the Ashford and Simpson sessions were discarded, considering the strength of “We Need to Go Back” and the other track included here, “Someone Else Gets the Prize.” (The song is a different one than Diana Ross’ “No One Gets the Prize,” though the later song may have been influenced lyrically by the title phrase here.) Warwick’s innate grace and dignity keeps her from ever being pitiable as she ponders “why does it always turn out someone else gets the prize?” These two songs would have made one hell of a single release, yet they were inexplicably consigned to a “might-have-been.” Real Gone has dropped one tantalizing footnote, though: a seven-and-a-half-minute version of “We Need to Go Back” still exists in the WEA vaults. Though the proposed single edit of the track made the cut here, the full version deserves imminent release as well. (There’s the “nearly” here!)
After the jump: discover new works from Randy Edelman, Burt Bacharach, Thom Bell and more!
The young Randy Edelman (“Weekend in New England,” the underrated singer-songwriter gem Farewell, Fairbanks) recorded three songs with Warwick in August 1973 at New York’s A&R Studios, with Brooks Arthur in the booth. All three tracks make their debut here. Best of all is the beautiful “You Are the Sunshine, I Am the Moon.” Edelman tells liner notes scribe Paul Howes that he thought of Warwick because the song “had a harmonic complexity I thought she would respond to.” Indeed, it recalls vintage Bacharach in melody and arrangement; Edelman, like Holland-Dozier-Holland and later, Thom Bell, sparingly applied touches reminiscent of Warwick’s great musical partner while still maintaining his own identity. The catchy “Give a Little Laughter” (“Give a little sunshine every day…”) is a bright confection while “The Laughter and the Tears” played to Warwick’s ballad history. Edelman’s spare piano anchors this gentle reminiscence.
What makes We Need to Go Back truly historical, though, is the inclusion of three songs written, arranged, produced and conducted by Burt Bacharach for Dionne Warwick in June 1974 following the acrimonious dissolution of his partnership with Hal David. Not even Warwick, interviewed by Howes, can remember the circumstances of the two-day session with engineer Phil Ramone at Los Angeles’ A&M Studios that yielded three richly melodic if defiantly non-commercial songs. But the proof is in the pudding. This trio of songs is stunning, mature, and altogether revelatory. 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,” appeared for the first time earlier this year on Dionne Warwick Sings Burt Bacharach, a PBS-exclusive pledge CD produced (like We Need to Go Back) by Jim Pierson.
Reviewing that title, I wrote of “And Then You Know What He Did”:
“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.”
Most amazingly, though, the other two songs are just as spellbinding. Russell’s other lyric, “Plastic City,” plays out like a sequel to Hal David’s “Paper Mache.” Warwick confides, “Oh I won’t live inside a plastic city/The walls would melt and make a town of pity,” before excoriating just what makes these people so plastic: “Some folks live life but never get into it/They can’t love ‘cause they don’t like themselves/What else is there to live for/’Cause if I don’t like me, how can I love you?” Warwick asks her partner to “consider our strong foundation and with no reservation,” building in confidence to an affirmative instrumental crescendo of “We’re gonna make it fine!” as horns triumphantly echo this lyrical discovery. Bacharach sets Russell’s offbeat lyric to a wistful and winding melody, with prominent guitar, evocative tack piano, a slithering saxophone, eerie strings and his signature brass.
Neil Simon, with whom Bacharach also wrote Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Seconds” for the aborted Promises, Promises film, contributed the lyric to “And Then He Walked Right Through the Door.” Despite the similar title, it bears no relation to Russell’s “And Then You Know What He Did.” It’s another intricate character study and interior monologue: “What made me stay? What made me pray? What made me know that he would walk right through the door? Walk right in my life again, love him like I loved him then, even though he’d left before?” Rather than recalling the stage score to Promises, its arrangement instead is of a piece with Bacharach’s Lost Horizon, thanks to its haunting baroque setting. Like the other two songs recorded at the session, “And Then He Walked Right Through the Door” finds Bacharach at his most complex, a natural extension of late-period Scepter songs like “Who Gets the Guy.” And only Warwick could have made these compelling if challenging melodies seem so effortless and so natural.
All three Bacharach/Warwick “reunion” tracks have a dark, rueful sensibility. They share a lack of background vocals, putting Warwick front and center, and feature extended instrumental sections. Perhaps it was too painful for both parties to continue working together at that juncture, but the magic clearly hadn’t abandoned them. When both Bacharach and Warwick returned to commercial supremacy, though, it would be with very different sounds – he with the streamlined music he created with lyricist and wife Carole Bayer Sager, she with a smooth pop style encouraged by producer Barry Manilow. These three recordings represent an artistic peak for Bacharach and Warwick, and a poignant coda to their heyday. They might have led to the album Warner Bros. had been hoping for since the fractured, low-key Dionne, but alas, it wasn’t “Meant to Be.” That, however, was the title of the one outtake from the Jerry Ragovoy-produced album Then Came You, and it’s a rousing uptempo piece with great single potential.
“Meant to Be” was bumped from Ragovoy’s album in favor of the Thom Bell-produced Spinners duet which lent the LP its title but sonically didn’t fit in with the great soul man Ragovoy’s productions. But Warner was canny enough to employ Philadelphia soul architect Bell to craft Warwick’s next long-player. 1975’s Track of the Cat remains her best Warner LP, and one of her best on any label. Bell might have been the true heir apparent to Bacharach, and intuitively understood how to best utilize Warwick’s voice. The MFSB orchestra added their customary magic on Track of the Cat. Two titles were consigned to the vaults, both of which make exciting appearances here. “One Last Memory,” co-written by Pat Cooper, Bruce Hawes and Ron Tyson, has all of the hallmarks of Bell’s own sophisticated arranging style in which he brought symphonic invention to R&B. It’s a sensual and adult look back at a relationship gone wrong. Bell, Gabriel Hardeman and Sherman Marshall’s funky “I Found Someone Else” begins with Bell’s slinky piano, and could have made a perfect follow-up to “Then Came You” thanks to the producer-composer’s instantly memorable melody and similarly-styled arrangement.
Producer Joe Porter produced seven tracks for Warwick in 1976, only two of which were released as a non-LP single (“I Didn’t Mean to Love You” b/w “He’s Not for You”). On those sides, Warwick delivered some of her most unrestrained singing ever on record, but the remaining tracks had a strong country influence. Those five songs appear here, and interestingly, two were written by composers who would play a major role in Dionne’s Arista years. Porter produced Warwick on Barry Gibb’s “Rest Your Love on Me,” and gave the country-inspired song (a hit for Conway Twitty) a Caribbean-flavored treatment. He also helmed a rendition of Isaac Hayes’ appealing “Make a Little Love to Me” which Warwick had sung on an episode of The Rockford Files. Gibb would, of course, later produce Dionne’s smash single and LP Heartbreaker. Hayes – with whom Dionne had toured and recorded the ABC Records concert album A Man and a Woman during the Warner Bros. period – would co-write her hit single “Déjà vu.”
The collection closes with the lone outtake from the Steve Barri/Michael Omartian-produced Love at First Sight, which closed out Warwick’s Warner Bros. tenure. “Room Enough” is pleasant pop but is rather nondescript compared to the should-have-been classics produced by Bell, Bacharach, Ashford and Simpson and company.
The only known “unissued masters” missing from We Need to Go Back – other than the full version of the Ashford and Simpson title song – are seven productions by Tony Camillo (producer of Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia”) recorded in 1973 and left on the shelf. Five of these songs were written by Jim Weatherly, the writer of “Midnight Train.” The Camillo sessions have been issued on various overseas grey-area compilations, and so Real Gone considered them ineligible for inclusion in this set, per the liner notes. That said, they deserve an official appearance on CD in upgraded sound.
We Need to Go Back includes an eight-page booklet containing some striking photographs as well as an essay from Paul Howes. He doesn’t go into much detail or analysis of the songs, but draws on illuminating quotes from Warwick and especially Randy Edelman. No remastering engineer has been credited for the fine work here. Though the newest recording on this anthology is over 35 years old, this is truly the album Warwick devotees have been waiting for. The opportunity to hear never-before-heard vintage material from masters such as Warwick, Bacharach and Bell is one that is all too rare. As such, it’s one of the can’t-miss releases of 2013.
Dionne Warwick, We Need to Go Back: The Unissued Warner Bros. Masters (Real Gone Music RGM-0170/OPCD-8778, 2013) (Amazon U.K.)
- Too Far Out of Reach
- It Hurts Me So
- We Need to Go Back
- Someone Else Gets the Prize
- You Are the Sunlight, I Am the Moon
- Give a Little Laughter
- The Laughter and the Tears
- And Then You Know What He Did
- Plastic City
- And Then He Walked Through the Door
- Meant to Be
- One Last Memory
- I Found Someone Else
- Am I Too Late
- Rest Your Love on Me
- I’ll Never Make It Easy
- Make a Little Love to Me
- Keep Me Warm
- Room Enough
Tracks 1-2 produced by Holland-Dozier-Holland
Tracks 3-4 produced by Nickolas Ashford and Valarie Simpson
Tracks 5-7 produced by Randy Edelman, engineered by Brooks Arthur
Tracks 8-10 produced by Burt Bacharach, engineered by Phil Ramone
Track 11 produced by Jerry Ragovoy
Tracks 12-13 produced by Thom Bell
Tracks 14-18 produced by Joe Porter
Track 19 produced by Steve Barri and Michael Omartian