Dionne Warwick – The Complete Scepter Singles (review)

Dionne Warwick – The Complete Scepter Singles (Real Gone Music / Rhino)

A whopping 74 tracks, and everyone of them a mini-opera masterpiece

I’m really not sure there was ever a more fruitful partnership between singer, songwriters and producers that yielded more fantastic results than the one pairing Dionne Warwick with Hal David and Burt Bacharach.  Their collaboration gave birth to a new kind of hit single, sort of a “mini opera,” full of sophistication, tension and release, and surprises at every turn, all packed into 2 1/2 minutes.  The trio netted numerous hits and Grammy nominations.  A new, 3-disc collection, celebrates this teaming with The Complete Scepter Singles, and it’s a fantastic set.

“Don’t Make Me Over,” Warwick’s first hit, sets the scene – lilting strings, her cool delivery, singing behind the beat.  Then, the middle eight rolls in, and Warwick shouts “accept me for what I am” in the upper register.  It’s a jaw-dropping performance – and she was just getting started.  

“Anyone Who Had a Heart” was her first Top Ten.  Had a Top 40 hit had that many time signature changes before? This was followed by her blockbuster, “Walk on By,” which still gives goosebumps today.  Warwick manages to be both cool and fiery, all in the span of 2:50. 

Marvel at the horns, piano and percussion on “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself,” as the backdrop creates a dialogue between the instruments and the vocalist, with the song building.  The ethereal “Alfie” was another high point.  

Warwick was just an unrivaled vocalist – compare her version of “I Say a Little Prayer” with that of Aretha Franklin’s.  Warwick’s version features more restraint on the verses, giving more contrast when she does finally let loose on the chorus.  

Warwick/David/Bacharach’s forte’ is the melancholy, but there are examples of different approaches too.  The rolling drums of “You Can Have Him” or the gospel-flavored “Let Me Be Lonely” are two. Or the sparse “Amanda,” which starts with electric guitar and percussion, before building to a big chorus.

I love her re-working of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”  I mean, she was the queen of the tension and release, so this cover makes sense. The breathy, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” was her last Top Ten for Scepter.  “Make It Easy on Yourself” shows her power in a live setting, while the gorgeous “Walk the Way You Talk” was sampled by DJ Khaled in his song “Shining.”

I am absolutely amazed at the high quality of not only the “A” sides, but the “B” sides as well.  “Any Old Time of Day” is the flip of “Walk on By” and it’s pure magic in the ascending strings, and Warwick’s playful delivery. “Reach Out For Me,” the “B” side of “A House is Not a Home,” features pounding drums and piano.  Or, how about “The Beginning of Loneliness,” the flip of “Alfie,” where the start of the track reminds me of the theme from Midnight Cowboy. 

There are also songs that ended up as big hits for others, including “Wishin’ and Hopin,” which Dusty Springfield recorded, “You’ll Never Get to Heaven” later performed by the Stylistics, and “Always Something There to Remind Me,” which was a hit in the Eighties for Naked Eyes.  Probably most interesting is to hear Warwick tackle “They Long to Be Close to You” way before the Carpenters took it to the top of the charts.  Warwick gives it a gentle, smoldering performance.  

The quality of each song is impeccable – I feel the need to write something about each one.  Thankfully, Paul Grein has already done just that in the extremely in-depth liner notes.  I have never heard a collection where both sides of every single were of such high quality.

Grein laments in the booklet that, despite all of the success that these singles garnered, Warwick is somehow still under appreciated.  The Complete Scepter Singles is simply a fabulous testament to the brilliance of Dionne Warwick, Hal David and Burt Bacharach.  —Tony Peters