Dionne Warwick – Deja Vu The Arista Recordings
Released 28th February 2020
Huge boxset containing everything Dionne Warwick recorded for Arista Records over her fifteen year stint there….Ian Canty tries not to walk on by anything important….
Born into a musical family in New Jersey near the end of 1940, Dionne Warwick (her real surname being Warrick, which she changed from when an early single of hers carried the misprint Warwick) began singing as part of a gospel choir at an early age. After providing backing vocals to pop and r&b acts, she was spotted by songsmiths Burt Bacharach and Hal David. She then enjoyed massive success with the pair from the early 60s onwards, but the next decade was marked by difficulties and setbacks. A split from Bacharach and David and move to Warners hadn’t paid off. After many years of mild successes and a long series of out and out flop singles, she switched to Arista, which would provide the road back to the charts for Dionne.
Apologies as this will have to be relatively “broad-brush”, as there are twelve discs to get through, but here goes. Her 1979 debut for Arista, Dionne, is a more than respectable post-disco platter. The Adrienne Anderson/Isaac Hayes-penned funky single Deja Vu is a beaut and it’s nice that the fuzz was retained for Dionne’s funky version of The Letter (originally made famous by the Boxtops). Barry Manilow was brought in to produce the record, but he does a good job and doesn’t bring with him too many of the over-sentimental or MOR touches one might assume.
I didn’t quite enjoy 1980’s No Night So Long so much, though everything is elegantly played and sung. The songs are just not as memorable. There are a few too many perfectly pretty but indistinct ballads, which makes for a curiously unbalanced sensation. There’s just a feeling that the LP never gets really going, despite a nice upbeat r&B opener in Easy Love. It’s doubly a shame because Dionne of course could sing these type of slow songs in her sleep and she sounds really up for it on the few faster efforts.
We Had The Time, the jazzy end-piece to No Night So Long, is a lovely effort though. All things considered it does seem like a bit of a missed opportunity though, the chance was there to put out a hot dance funk LP at the very tail end of disco. The bonus numbers of this disc have a lot more of the same thing, suggesting that 1980 was a mellow old time for Dionne.
Coming out a year later the double album Hot! Live And Otherwise does exactly what it says on the tin. The blandly titled Hit Record Medley jams snippets from across the years into a 20 minute piece, rather like Stars On 45 without the dance beat but increased quality control. It’s a bit Vegas and if I was at the concert and only saw her do a minute of Walk On BY I would have been peeved, but on record it’s quite fun. This one did include a few studio tracks on side four of the original LP and because of time constraints Dedicate This Heart and Even a Fool Would Let Go are instead featured as bonuses on the previous disc No Night So Long.
1982’s Friends In Love album is an improvement on the last studio offering. Bright opening track For You was natural single material and Dionne pairs up with Johnny Mathis well on the title track. They would collaborate a few more times over the Arista years and also on Got You Where I Want You on this very record. More Than Fascination is a good dance number and What Is This has a nice offbeat style to it. No bonus tracks on this one, but it is a decent collection nonetheless
As far as fool-proof schemes go, getting Dionne Warwick to sing songs written by the Bee Gees has to be right up there. 1985’s Heartbreaker pulled off this coup (Barry Gibb also helped to produce) and resulted in one of her most successful records for Arista. The title track itself was a big hit and was followed into the UK Top Ten by All The Love In The World. If one had the nagged doubt Dionne was starting to “phone it in” a little, the Gibbs returned her right back to the top of her game. There’s a richness and warmth here that was absent on No Night So Long and Friends In Love. The cool jazz funk of Take The Short Way Home, with the BGs very much in evidence on backing vocals, also proves Dionne could still do faster numbers with real style. A deservedly successful LP.
For the following year’s How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye, the Gibbs has been replaced by Luther Vandross in both the song-writing and production department. Vandross was at the time at the peak of his powers and it seemed the right fit. Certainly the fast funk/dance impulse of Got A Date starts things off in hot start, with even a metal guitar solo and the electro robot fizz of the cheeky I Did ‘Cause I Like It is another goodie and a step away from the ordinary balladry of old. Collaborating with these other high-calibre artists really gave Dionne a really shot in the arm. Even the slower songs, which seems samey on a few LPs here, shine. The title track is a good example, a fine duet with Luther and the sultry What Can A Miracle Do shows real emotion and depth. The drawn-out, bluesy version of the King/Goffin number Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow provides a fitting climax. The sole bonus track on this disc is a nice dance remix of Got A Date, all of which makes up for a good selection.
Finder Of Lost Loves arrived two years later and seems to be a bit of a mish-mash put together from recordings made over the previous year, including Dionne’s contributions to The Woman In Red soundtrack. Apart from those two, which were produced by Stevie Wonder, Barry Manilow was back behind the decks. This time round it is a lot more syrupy and I have to say, at times dull. Run To Me, single duet with Barry, is just a bland ballad and it’s no surprise it made no headway whatsoever.
This record feels like a step backwards from the quality of the last few albums to me. Bacharach And David wrote the title track, which in another form was the theme to a short lived TV series of the same name, a better duet with Glen Jones (Luther Vandross deps for him actual TV theme, presented as a bonus track here). A couple of nice pairings with Stevie Wonder in It’s You and Weakness aside, Finder Of Lost Loves is a bit duff and struggled to make much impact at all. It’s a shame they couldn’t have found space for the more up-tempo and quite good bonus tracks Broken Bottles and Dangerous in the running order, which would have roused this listener from imminent slumber.
Friends, despite a similar bitty construction, would restore Dionne’s fortunes, well in the US at any rate. Though the AIDS fundraising single That’s What Friends Are For did reach the UK Top Twenty, it was a massive hit in the US and Canada and raised $3 million dollars for AIDS research and featured Stevie Wonder and Elton John among others. Something which I feel was a great thing to do, talk about making a difference, well Dionne certainly did.
Unfortunately for Friends the album, after this promising start it gradually settles down to a long runs of ballads done in mostly a soporific fashion. It’s the curse of Dionne’s stay at Arista really, tasteful, well performed, but ultimately fairly dull. No lively bonuses to pick things up after the album proper either.
The title of 1987 Reservations For Two was a subtle hint that here Dionne was rolling out the big guns in supporting roles. They didn’t come much bigger than Smokey Robinson, who helps out on the shimmering beauty of You’re My Hero. Warwick and June Pointer do a great job on Heartbreak Of Love, penned by the talent-heavy combination of Burt Bacharach, Carol Bayer Sager and Dianne Warren. Howard Hewett of Shalamar fame puts in a decent performance alongside DW on single Another Chance To Love. With Dionne doing well on her own on the gusty Everything You Are and the spritely In A World Such As this, this album was one of her better offerings for Arista.
Talking of good records, the simply titled Dionne Warwick Sings Cole Porter album is an absolute peach. I know I’ve gone on about ballads etc a bit, but Dionne imbues those timeless, classy Cole Porter songs with a touching vulnerability or sly wit when the occasion fits. In reading the songs, she is first rate here and the instrumental accompaniment wonderfully on point. For the most part the songs are given treatments that don’t try to update the material for 1990, which helps them sound good today.
The only real exception is Begin The Beguine’s electro touches, but otherwise we are in jazzy, blues heaven. The jazz version of Night And Day is quite brilliant and just one of many stunning selections. Years before Robbie Williams made this kind of thing a “punch first, ask questions later” offence, Dionne had masterfully crafted the likes of the beautiful You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To and the coy and lovely You’re The Top as part of an excellent album. The highlight of this set for me.
Seemingly enthused by this, next LP Friends Can be Lovers also hit the spot, which has some nice jazz/funk touches. She roped in cousin Whitney Houston on cool slowie Love Will Find A Way and The Woman That I Am is a wonderful calm song of strength through adversity. The smooth soul of the title track is also a winner and the orchestrated set closer I Sing At Dawn is good too. Among the bonuses is a zesty duet with Johnny Mathis and the (Detriot) Spinners provide some great vocals on I Don’t Need Another Love.
Her final LP for Arista was Aquarela Do Brasil, an LP full of songs by writers from that country including Antonio Carlos Jobim. A Brazilian album was not such a weird step as it might seem on the face of it, Dionne had fell in love with the country whilst on tour. She spent a large part of her time in Brazil, eventually moving to live there. So it comes over as not so much a vanity project, more a celebration of the songs and land she was enchanted by. Virou Ariea has a seductive bossa nova groove and the pacey title song also charms.
Caravan catches the real spirit of the carnival, with Dionne holding forth among raucous whistles and marching drums. All of the bonus tracks on this set fit the theme and the beautiful jazz reflection of Rainy Day Girls, which features the song’s author Ivan Lins, is a nice way to end this disc and Deja Vu too.
It is obvious that this 12 disc collection is aimed at the more fervent Dionne Warwick fan. I’m sorry that I had to speed through it a bit. To summarise the picks for me are the 1979 Deja Vu LP, the Bee Gees and Luther Vandross hook ups, Reservations For Two, the completely splendid Dionne Warwick Sings Cole Port platter and her Brazilian album. For the other records, well there are some nuggets in all of them and it has to be said a lot of filler too.
However you can’t fault the boxset, which has been excellently compiled and anointed. Dionne Warwick has had some hard times since her Arista days, but it is great that she is still performing and recording. Her time with Arista was a bounce back to prominence after a tricky early 70s. They were a real second wind after her 60s success with the Bacharach and David hitmaking machine. She definitely recorded some material between 1979-1994 which rivalled those high times, as she successfully established herself as an artist which still had much to offer. The best of which makes Deja Vu a more than worthwhile listen.
Dionne Warwick’s website is here
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here