100 Essential CDs – Number 82– The Essential Collection – Dionne Warwick

 

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The Essential Collection – Dionne Warwick (Global 1996)

UK Chart Position – 58

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Released to shift some units for the Christmas market in 1996 and no doubt accompanied by a TV advertising campaign I favour this 48 track two CD collection over other greatest hits compilations for this artist.  We get one album of Dionne Mark 1 – the Bacharach and David chanteuse with twenty-six of their compositions and a second CD of Mark 2 spearheaded by her biggest UK chart hit given to her by the Bee Gees which came after a period of 12 years without UK success.   CD 1 represents the 60’s and the second CD is slightly more all over the place with tracks from throughout her lengthy career.

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Sometimes you just need a little class and there’s few artists more classy than Dionne Warwick.  An inspiration to so many other artists.  Dionne was born in 1940 and grew up in a New Jersey gospel music background.  She set up a group with sister Dee Dee and their aunt Cissy Houston (mother of Whitney) and as well as recording gospel material began to sing background vocals on pop recordings.  At a session for a Drifters track composer Burt Bacharach was impressed by Dionne’s vocals and asked if she would record demo tracks for songs he had written with partner Hal David.  The rest as they say, is history.

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Dionne could be considered one of the unluckiest singers in pop music history.  Hers is a voice that has launched other careers as the Bacharach and David tracks first given to her became bigger hits for other artists.  A look at the track titles certainly bring this home.  Primarily, and probably most acrimoniously there is Cilla Black, whose career really took off in the UK when she recorded her version of Warwick’s first US Top 10 hit (#8 1964) “Anyone Who Had A Heart” and scored one of the big singles of the 1960’s but lets add to this list Sandie Shaw “There’s Always Something There To Remind Me; (first recorded by Dionne and a debut UK#1 for the ex-Ford, Dagenham worker); Dusty Springfield (An early B-side “Wishin’ And Hopin’ became a US#6 for Dusty in 1964.  In the UK the Merseybeats took their version to #13 in the same year); Walker Brothers (“Make It Easy On Yourself” was a 1962 demo by Dionne and became their first UK #1 three years later); Aretha Franklin (in the UK anyway Aretha’s version of Dionne’s US hit “I Say A Little Prayer” became her signature tune and a much bigger hit reaching #4); The Carpenters ( a 1965 B-side for Dionne which became a career launching US#1, UK#6 in 1970) the list goes on. Another demo recording “This Girl’s In Love With You” underwent a gender change and became a US#1, UK#3 for Herb Alpert,  although Dionne did strike back and got a US#7.

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Even in later years The Stylistics eclipsed Dionne’s 1964 original of “You’ll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart) reaching U2#23, UK#24, “A House Is Not A Home” was transformed into an all-time soul classic by Luther Vandross and in the UK Dionne’s debut American hit “Don’t Make Me Over” (#21 in 1963) did not make the chart until it was re-imagined as a cool club track by Sybil in 1989 (UK#19).

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There are a number of reasons for all this.  Dionne was originally employed as a demo singer and some of these songs were intended to be picked up by other artists and Dionne’s versions only begun to see the light of day as B-sides and album tracks as her career took off, also, these were great songs picked up by great artists (most of those names above feature somewhere in my Essential Collection CD rundown) and sometimes us Brits couldn’t wait for the originals to be released so went for the cover version.

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Dionne also got her own back and recorded songs that some of these artists had scored big with.  Bacharach and David wrote “Alfie” for Cilla Black who scored a UK #9 whereas Dionne took it to number 13 in the US, she had a US#26 with a song better associated in the UK with Dusty Springfield “I Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” (although original of this was by Chuck Jackson).  “Message To Martha (Kentucky Bluebird)” had been recorded by Lou Johnson (another Bacharach and David demo-er) and Jerry Butler and had been a UK hit for Adam Faith.  Re-dedicated to Michael it went to #8 for Dionne in the US.  “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” had been a UK#1 for US country singer Bobbie Gentry but in the US it was Dionne who got the number 6 hit version.

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All of these original versions/successful cover versions of these Bacharach & David songs can be found on the first CD of “The Essential Collection”.  That also leaves room for a couple of songs that Dionne had no problem with making her own. It’s hard to believe that pop standard, a touching tale of unrequited love “Walk On By”, an absolute classic pop tune only made it to number 9 in the UK charts of 1964 (#6 in the US).  At that point of her career it was her biggest hit on both sides of the Atlantic and the song is perfectly suited to her voice.  It has been recorded by countless other artists but the original has never been eclipsed.  Notable versions have come from Isaac Hayes (US#30-1969), who drew it out into a sweet-soul opus, Gloria Gaynor who disco-fied it, The Stranglers, who turned it into a punk hit (UK#21- 1978), the Average White Band who gave it a jazz-funk vibe (UK#46- 1979) and the aforementioned Sybil who put out a Stock-Aitken-Waterman version in 1990 which topped Dionne’s chart position by getting to number 6.

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“Do You Know The Way To San Jose” is the epitome of sophisticated lounge music and often features on compilations which feature the word “lounge” and “easy”.  It’s an all too familiar tale of failing to make it big and aiming to return to the hometown that had already been escaped from to avoid a life of “parking cars and pumping gas”.  This classy track became a Top 10 US hit in 1968 and became her biggest hit of the 1960’s in the UK by going one place better than “Walk On By”, explaining why this is the track chosen to open this CD.  Other highspots on the Bacharach-David CD include the slightly frantic “Promises, Promises” from the 1968 Broadway show of the same name (US#19) and “Are You There With Another Girl”, a US Top 40 hit from 1966. 

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 Not everything Bacharach and David turned out was a gem however.  I find the chauvinism of the song “Wives and Lovers” embarrassing, even given it Dionne’s female voice, rather than Jack Jones’ US hit version and the 1967 track “The Windows Of The World” may have given Dionne a #32 but does nothing for me.

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It seemed like Dionne disappeared for most of the 1970’s but really that did not happen.  She certainly took a back seat when disco was dominating the charts but in 1974 scored her first US # 1 pop hit with the (Detroit) Spinners and the soulful “Then Came You” which got to an understated #29 in the UK, but that track is not included on these CDs nor is much of her 1970’s post Bacharach and David material.  Dionne moved to Warner Brothers and Burt Bacharach and Hal David fell out after their work for the movie flop “Lost Horizon” (the track “The World is A Circle notwithstanding). Warner had signed Dionne very much as part of the team.  The first she knew about the split was when she read about it in a newspaper, causing considerable tension between herself and the songwriters.  Five albums on Warners saw different production and songwriting teams including Thom Bell and Holland-Dozier-Holland but the hits were not forthcoming either in the UK or in her homeland.  To try and change her luck Dionne on the advice of an astrologer added an extra “e” to her surname in something to do with numerology but that didn’t work and was later abandoned with Dionne returning to the original spelling. 

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What did work was a move to Arista records in 1979 and all of the tracks on CD are from this association which lasted for fifteen years and eleven studio albums.  In the UK the return to the upper reaches of the chart came via the Bee Gees who still had the golden touch in 1982.  “Heartbreaker” had an old-fashioned feel in a UK Top 5 which included Culture Club, Tears For Fears, reggae star Eddy Grant and Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” but us Brits took to it more than we had ever taken to a Dionne Warwick track and it ended up in the Top 20 Best selling singles of the year, the third biggest by a female artist below Irene Cara and Toni Basil.  In the US this track went to number 10, a position also attained in the UK with her follow-up “All The Love In The World”, which actually I like better than the bigger hit.  Her 1982 studio album became her only UK Top 3 success.

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 In the US the dry spell had ended three years earlier with a pair of consecutive pop hits.  “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” is an anthemic pop-soul ballad and certainly ranks amongst her very best tracks.  The producer for the album “Dionne”  was Arista label-mate Barry Manilow and at long last the fears that she could not survive without Bacharach and David were laid to rest as worldwide this became a million selling album, certified platinum.  Showing just how she straddles markets she picked up two Grammys in 1980 – “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” (US#5) won Best Female Pop Vocal and she took Best Female R&B Vocal for its follow-up, the US #15 “Déjà vu” which is not on this CD.  This double victory brought Dionne’s Grammy tally up to 4.  Dionne combined two of her career saviours in 1985 when she recorded a duet with Barry Manilow of the Bee Gees song “Run To Me” which is included on this CD.

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 Dionne and Barry Manilow

Perhaps more than any other multi-million selling artist Dionne’s biggest successes have been when she combined her vocal talents with other artists.  Collaborations with Johnny Mathis, Luther Vandross and Jeffrey Osborne gave her US Top 40 pop hits (with only the latter’s “Love Power” -US# 12- 1987 included here.  Dionne’s only US chart-topper to date had been with The Spinners and the Bee Gees were not too far in the mix in her pair of big UK 1980’s hits.  In 1985 we had the ultimate collaboration of four major talents on what I would consider the best charity single of all time.  Dionne engineered a track to raise funds for AIDS with a song written by old pal Burt Bacharach with his then wife Carole Bayer Sager which had been originally recorded by Rod Stewart.  For this new version Dionne recruited a trio of hit-makers with careers even more impressive than her own – Stevie Wonder (9 US#1’s to this point), Gladys Knight (who shared Dionne’s then tally of 1 US#1,) and Elton John (6 US#1’s).  They could all add one more chart-topper to their lists as “That’s What Friends Are For” lived up to expectations and spent four weeks as the US #1 and won them all another Grammy with Best Group Vocal Pop Performance.  Released towards the end of 1985 it was the biggest selling single in the US in 1986.  In the UK it certainly under-achieved reaching only 16.  It was a worldwide hit topping charts in Australia and Canada.  What really works for me is the easing in of each vocalist to do their bit together with great adlibs and an ear-worm of a chorus and Stevie’s harmonica stopping it all from getting too sweet.
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Apart from the aforementioned “Love Power” this saw the end of Dionne’s pop hit singles but her reputation as a song stylist can be heard in a trio of sixties tracks, a solo version of a song better known as a duet , Marvin and Tammi’s “You’re All I Need To Get By”, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feelin’” and the Broadway standard “Who Can I Turn To” which Dionne recorded in 1965.  She does a very good version of Luther Vandross’ “So Amazing”.  I’m not so keen on the couple of tracks from her 1990 album “Dionne Warwick Sings Cole Porter” as there’s an emptiness in both “Night And Day” and especially “Begin The Beguine” which certainly are not essential versions of either song (and Dionne can certainly do these tracks- another compilation album of hers I play often a 1998 compilation “Sings The Standards” sees her tackling Porter’s “I Love Paris” alongside Gershwin, Bernstein and Rogers & Hammerstein songs with huge aplomb).

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This leaves just the album closer ,another career highlight and a great way to end this retrospective.  I don’t know what it is about the gentle, yet almost chilling “Theme From The Valley Of The Dolls” which I enjoy so much.  This was a US #2, UK#20 and was taken from the film version of the Jacqueline Susann novel I reviewed recently.  You might expect something glaring and brash to come out of this but this sensitive ballad written by Andre and Dory Previn was chosen to represent the film.  Gladys Knight also does a lovely version of this but I think Dionne’s original has the edge.

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These 48 tracks give an excellent picture of the long career of the hard-to-define often under-rated Dionne Warwick.  The Bacharach and David tracks provide examples of the some of the best pop songs ever written, even if Dionne did not have the most successful version and the second CD proved there was more to her than the B&D muse as her quality versions of other songs and collaborations with some of music’s biggest players of the 70’s and 80’s ensured her a continued place in surely even the hardest of  hearts.

Even the wonders of 60’s television choreography cannot kill off Dionne’s seminal hit.  Watch and enjoy (don’t know who the Japanese lady is at the very end!)

And 21 years later

 

The Essential Collection is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £5.64 and used from £0.01. In the US it can be bought from $14.99 and used from $2.89

 

100 Essential CDs – Number 48 –Patti Labelle – Winner In You

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 Winner In You – Patti Labelle (MCA 1986) 

UK Chart Position – 30

US Chart Position – 1

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In March 1975 an extraordinary thing happened.  “Lady Marmalade” a tale of a New Orleans prostitute, a song which was blessed with at least three hooks topped the American pop charts.  The transformation of Patti Labelle and The Bluebelles to space-age funksters Labelle, with outlandish costumes and headgear was complete.  It marked their first appearance in the US Pop 40 for over ten years and gave them a UK#17.  The song is an all-time classic and turned them into very hot property overnight helped by their strong visual image and great live performances.  It seemed like Labelle would become a supergroup.  But………..with the unpredictability of the pop world, nothing much happened.  Subsequent singles and albums performed very well in R&B, Soul and Disco Charts but there was no more commercial crossover.  By 1976 the group was falling apart with arguments over musical direction and the stress of the flicker of fame getting to the girls and they went  their separate ways after 14 years together.  Solo success seemed inevitable for all three members, in particular rock-chick Nona Hendryx and the outrageously talented Patti Labelle.

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Labelle’s initially remained with Epic Records but they were unable to break her into the big time as a solo artist.  There was an astute move back to her home town of  Philadelphia and internationally celebrated label Philadelphia International (who had made stars of acts such as O’Jays, Three Degrees, Harold Melvin & Bluenotes and Billy Paul in the mid 70’s). It has also given another bite of the fame cherry to Lou Rawls, Jerry Butler and Dee Dee Sharp so it would seem to have been a sound move linking her with label supremos Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.  By 1981 they had lost a number of the acts they had broken big and Patti was expected to put dwindling fortunes right.    At her time in Philadelphia she made a number of what are now classic soul singles (especially “If Only You Knew” and “Love, Need And Want You”, which was used by Nelly in his number 1 hit “Dilemma” where the vocals were given to Kelly Rowland with Labelle appearing in the video).  She became a regular visitor at the top of R&B charts but still could not put her back in the pop listings.  Her Epic and Philadelphia albums have strong tracks but there are patchy moments suggesting that they still hadn’t found quite the right direction for Labelle.    Patti might have expected more of the same when she signed to MCA in 1985.  She must have seen a glimmer of hope as another old trouper had recently made a huge comeback at an age where most female artists were struggling for record label’s attention- Tina Turner had exploded with a force she never had with her years with Ike and the breakthrough of a new artist, one Whitney Houston suggested that first class vocals were back on the menu.

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Patti in latter years with Gamble & Huff

MCA’s first plan was to drop a couple of tracks onto the soundtrack of “Beverly Hills Cop”.  The rather brash, uptempo “New Attitude” and “Stir It Up” fitted in perfectly with the brash, uptempo Eddie Murphy movie and the first of these tracks saw Labelle in the pop charts after another 10 year absence when it reached number 17, the first time as a solo artist.

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And it is at this point in this lengthy career where this album was released.  Ten tracks using a range of top flight producers and songwriters such as Nik Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager and Richard Perry who had pretty much masterminded the return to top chart honours for The Pointer Sisters.  Patti was entrusted with the role of Executive Producer. MCA must surely have been quietly confident of their new signing despite erratic chart positions in the past.  Their faith paid off.  It became Labelle’s only charting UK album reaching number 30 but in her homeland she was back on top again.  Her biggest selling album by a clear mile.  It went platinum, has sold over 7 million albums worldwide, and extraordinarily for a 42 year old woman who had found pop success elusive topped the US album charts for two weeks.  Patti Labelle was back!

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The explanation for this reversal of fortune is down to the first track chosen as a single which reignited Labelle’s career.  A quality vocalist needs quality songwriters and they don’t get that much better than Burt Bacharach.  Together with his then wife Carole Bayer Sager they wrote a lament of coping after a lost love, “On My Own” which was given to Patti to record.  The decision was made that, despite a blistering performance from Labelle that the song could work even better as a duet.  Ex-Doobie Brothers singer and possessor of a great soul voice himself, Michael McDonald, took up the daunting challenge of singing with Patti.  This might have been one of the early occasions of phoning in a duet as the two did not meet in the studio.  Labelle’s vocal was recorded and McDonald added his to this.  They did not meet for the video, where, perhaps appropriately given the theme of the song, their contributions were filmed on their own.  They actually met the first time, according to Patti in her 1996 autobiography “Don’t Block The Blessings” when they turned up to perform it on Johnny Carson’s television show.  Despite all this suggesting this shouldn’t work, the chemistry between the two voices is terrific.  The split screen video is something of a kitsch classic with Patti drenched in furs and with super-high hair which became her identifying trademark around this time but the song is fantastic.  This is despite a friend who nearly ruined it all for me who would sing the song impersonating northern comedienne Hylda Baker (listen to the first line Patti sings – this is where this comes from as there is an undeniable hint of Baker in the delivery).  Hylda Baker passed away around about the time this was released so we were spared a reunion with Arthur Mullard to give this song a go, in the way in which they completely annihilated the songs from “Grease” for me with their hit version of “You’re The One That I Want- I still hear “When you’re filled with infection” as the song lyric).  However, once I get Hylda “I must get a little hand on this watch” Baker out of my mind this track is an absolute joy.  It gave Labelle her second US chart-topper and was held off for three weeks from the number 1 spot in the UK by (the wonders of the UK singles chart in the 1980’s!) “The Chicken Song” by Spitting Image, one of the worst novelty songs ever!  It also reached number 1 in the Netherlands and in Canada and number 4 in New Zealand and attained a high chart position in many other countries.  Neither artist would have this sort of success again.

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One of the problems Patti Labelle had been having with her crossover pop career is getting any consistency, yet this album provided her with a second hit on both sides of the Atlantic.  “Oh People” with its message of banding together to fight poverty and conflict over a mid-tempo beat might not have seemed the most obvious choice for a follow-up single, but it is surprisingly catchy and whilst I have been listening to this album for the purposes of this review it has been the track which has crept into my ear to keep me awake in the middle of the night.  It reached #26 in the UK, #29 in the US.  There were certainly more potential hit singles on this album as far as I am concerned.  Two other tracks are certainly first-class.  “Finally We’re Back Together” was produced by Nick Johnson (who co-wrote the song) and Budd Ellison which leads off with an impressive sax solo by David I (any relation to Kenny G?).  This track shows what makes Patti unique vocally as she swoops and soars over the simple melody.  “Sleep With Me Tonight” is an impressive power ballad and is another Bacharach and Bayer Sager production on a song written by them alongside Neil Diamond.  The title might have killed off airplay in 1986 but this sounds like another hit single to me.  It’s a good song with a performance of real honesty and warmth.

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Check out the hair!

There’s also quality in the driving “Something Special (Is Gonna Happen Tonight)” which sounds like the group Labelle at their best, the more subtle “Kiss Away The Pain”and the closing Ashford and Simpson title track which was apparently taken from a musical play “Pipes”.  It’s another dramatic track in which Patti wrings out every ounce of emotion, a powerful closer.

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More hair!

It was great to see Patti Labelle at the top of her game with this album, which ended 1986 as the fourth biggest selling album in the US that year.  Patti had certainly been waiting years for that level of fame to come.  The three year absence between this and 1989’s “Be Yourself” was too long in the fickle world of showbusiness and that limped to #86 in the US Album Charts.  Through the 1990’s she was recording gold and platinum albums for MCA but nothing with the commercial appeal of “Winner In You”.  An association with hip-hop Def-Jam Records under their Def Soul Classics umbrella did bring about a comeback with two good selling albums, “Timeless Journey” (#18- 2004) and an album of covers of her favourite songs “Classic Moments” (#24-2005).  This latter CD is, for me, the most essential of her post-Winner recordings.

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Patti also has recorded a number of Christmas albums and had a chart-topping Gospel album with a return to her roots with “The Gospel According To Patti Labelle”.  At 72 she is still going strong, combining live performance work with Broadway and regular US TV appearances.  In the UK we last saw her in “American Horror Story: Freak Show” and in “Empire”, both too brief appearances.  In 2015 she participated in America’s version of “Strictly”- Dancing With The Stars in 2015 partnered by ex-Strictly Champion Artem Chigvintsev leaving the show in 8th place.  This CD for me remains the crowning glory moment of her illustrious career.

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 Patti On “Dancing With The Stars”

The Winner In You is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £16.27, and used from £1.24. In the US it is currently $17.97 new and used from $0.01. and as a download for $5.99.