Oh Dionne Warwick… she had first access to Burt Bacharach songs… but… as great a vocalist she is: Delicate, technically proficient, and soulful enough… there are certain times where she was outdone by someone else on her own songs… not only chartwise… but… well, on a gut level
1) Make It Easy On Yourself
Jerry Butler (1962)
Granted Dionne Warwick’s first cut version of this song was a piano/drum/guitar demo, in contrast to the epic Opera Soul masterpiece that Jerry Butler made it out to be with an Oscar worthy plea for honesty and angelic, crystalline background vocals over that shimmering arrangement. Her 1970 “live” top 40 hit version is nothing to really write home about either. Her original demo is, what will be a constant problem that I will highlight with each other song I present… is that it’s too “nice.” The irony of this being that in songs with similar subject matters she could tap into a aching vulnerability and provide layers to what on the surface was her cool aloofness (see why her original takes on “Anyone Who Had A Heart” and “Walk On By” work so effortlessly). Then again… had her version not sucked… we would have never gotten “Don’t Make Me Over”
2) “Wishin’ & Hopin”
Dusty Springfield (1964)
(Here with OMG Martha & The Vandellas!)
2nd case of “too nice.” While Dusty starts out as neat and dignified as Dionne, verse by verse she gets less “patient” about sharing her advice, either out of the fact that she “knows” how to really conquer a prize, versus Dionne Warwick sounding like she’s reciting advice from Ladies Home Journal over tea and cookies. The difference is really obvious by the time Dusty does what I can only equate to a James Brown “Take it To The Bridge” on the bridge, which is just a gleeful slap in the face of 1950s prudishness about waiting to have a guy make the move. This is the moment that Dusty Springfield became enshrined as a Gay Icon, giving her West End Drag Queen friends a little faith for a better tomorrow, and getting the guy, while… well… Dionne kept the advice to a few sorority sisters.
3)Message To Michael
The Marvelettes (1966)
I’ll admit that Dionne Warwick could tear this song up in a live performance, but something about the top 10 hit she had with it….
…. I really fault the backing track produced in France, which was also Dionne first production of herself, as the main fault. This is one of the few times that Motown did a cover song that worked superior to the original. The fuller backgrounds, the warmer bass and the extra grit of Gladys Horton’s plea, pours over smoother, and at the same time more mournful.
4) (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me
Patti LaBelle & The BlueBelles (1966)
Dionne’s cover of the Lou Johnson/Sandi Shaw split hit is ok, soulful enough, but is produced in that stereotypical “Bacharach” way. I love the way Patti and the girls bend and twist this standard, in a lot of ways making it a follow up to their stop and go shimmering “All or Nothing” until it is a let your hair down workout…. which brings me to the ultimate smack down…
…5) I Say A Little Prayer
Aretha Franklin (1968)
Burt Bacharach himself said that Dionne’s original was too quick, tense and nervous (and plotted against it’s release for a year, finally being veto’d in 1967), But Aretha opens it up and lets the song breathe… and makes it a more personal conversation between her and the man she wants blessings for. One of those moments on record that Dionne Warwick seemed narcissistic and holier-than-thou (see! I’m praying for you! I’m an awesome girlfriend!) is made more of a shared thing by ReRe… and that interplay between her and The Sweet Inspirations (I Believe) is priceless….
Judge for yourself….