For Mother’s Day 2021, former back-up singer Dionne Warwick carved out her niche as an easy listening, adult contemporary icon with timeless songs that endure on true oldies stations and in endless covers that made songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David household names. #popmusic #1960s #1970s #1980s #easylistening #adultcontemporary
Pop music is a very broad category. Though today it is most associated with teen-centric hits, this wasn’t always the case. There was a time, exemplified by the retro Austin Powers films, that adults could also enjoy it. Pop music for the over 21 crowd was originally called Easy Listening; the tempos were slower, with an emphasis on lyrics.
Themes were more mature and the subject matter was almost always about love, heartbreak and coming to terms with just how messy relationships can be. Musically, it borrowed from Jazz, piano ballads, torch songs and bossa nova, particularly in the 1960’s. Classy, urbane and sophisticated were adjectives most associated with descriptions of this genre.
Marie Dionne Warrick, member of the Gospel groups The Drinkard Singers and The Gospelaires (who were also professional studio back-up singers), outfits which spawned numerous other successful performers, happened by chance to be offered a deal to record demos to be used to pitch songs for others to sing by two songwriters she had done session work for: Hal David and Burt Bacharach.
Upon hearing the demos, Scepter Records president Florence Greenberg was immediately taken with the young singer and singed her to a recording contract. A misspelling on the label of her debut single made Warrick “Warwick”, and Dionne kept this name professionally.
She became Scepter’s biggest act, with songs primarily composed by Bacharach and David. A switch to Warner Brother in 1970 also saw the dissolution of the famous songwriting team, which left Warwick out to sea and almost devoid of hits for most of the decade. In 1979, before she gave up completely on the business, legendary record producer Clive Davis (whose more notable singings include Barry Manilow, Aerosmith, Janis Joplin, and Warwick’s cousin, Whitney Houston) persuaded her not to give up.
This proved to be her second act, becoming almost as popular as she was in the love generation. Arista Records was her new label, which knew how to work with veteran acts, those who weren’t about flash grenades at concerts and with a focus on quality material. It didn’t hurt that during this time, Adult Contemporary (AC), the new label for Easy Listening, made a massive impact on the charts.
In the latter half of the 20th century, during the “Rock” era, only one other woman charted more songs on the Billboard Hot 100 than she did: Aretha Franklin, the latter who actually covered some of the former’s material. Warwick’s style of singing, performing and clothing weren’t about attempting to compete with other big name stars of the day, but instead a focus on her own strengths as an interpreter of songs. For a time, her vocal style was the template of AC, or what network BET (Black Entertainment Television) called “Grown Folks Music”.
In a world of histrionic, poorly performed over processed ballads that have drown AC for the over-21 set for too many years now, Warwick is a testament to what it can achieve and what it really meant for a time: a force of power by using subtlety and emotional focus which have even captivated younger musicians such as The Weeknd and Chance the Rapper, both of whom are currently working with Warwick on a new charity recording.
A classic never goes out of style. This is beautiful music performed beautifully.
- Don’t Make Me Over, 1962, Presenting Dionne Warwick
- Heartbreaker, 1982, Heartbreaker
- Do You Know The Way To San Jose?, 1968, Dionne Warwick In Valley Of The Dolls
- Anyone Who Had A Heart, 1963, Anyone Who Had A Heart
- How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye, 1983, How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye (duet with Luther Vandross)
- Walk On By, 1964, Make Way for Dionne Warwick
- Then Came You, 1974, Then Came You (Dionne Warwicke with The Spinners)
- Wives And Lovers, 1965, The Sensitive Sound of Dionne Warwick
- (Theme From) Valley of the Dolls, 1967, single B-side to “I Say A Little Prayer”
- Deja Vu, 1979, Dionne
- I Say A Little Prayer, 1967, The Windows Of The World
- That’s What Friends Are For, 1985, Friends (with Gladys Knight, Elton John and Stevie Wonder)
- I Know I’ll Never Love This Way Again, 1979, Dionne
- I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, 1969, I’ll Never Fall In Love Again
Love to you all, and Happy Mother’s Day.
Ben “Daddy Ben Bear” Brown Jr.
Host, Show Producer, Webmaster, Audio Engineer, Researcher, Videographer and Writer
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