The Look of Love Lost

Two new releases pit the new songs of Bacharach & Costello against the old classics of Bacharach & David

At the same time, two of the most insensitive, pigheaded, male-chauvinistic lyrics David ever penned close out Disc One. "Wishin' and Hopin'" finds Dusty Springfield the unwitting Stepford girlfriend, ordering all girls within earshot to "wear your hair just for him, do the things he likes to do." And then there's "Wives and Lovers," where Jack Jones concurs that a house is not a home--it's a sex-slave camp where a working man has a moral obligation to commit adultery if his spouse sees him to the door with curlers in her hair.

Even for this leering, king-of-the-castle anthem, Jones is the worst kind of singer. He enunciates rather than emotes, reduces words to mere syllables and hits notes square on the head like he's going down a shopping list. In one of this collection's few questionable judgment calls, Jones' big hit was chosen over Dionne Warwick's lesser-known rendition, which had a way more sizzling Bacharach arrangement. But there's plenty of call for Dionne on what we might just want to title:

DISC TWO: Make Way for Dionne Warwick
Without a doubt, Dionne is the premier interpreter of Bacharach/David songs. "When you want a Bacharach/David song recorded, you've got to come to the source," she is quoted as saying, and who can argue? The source can pad her concerts with 30-minute medleys and still leave people rattling off Bacharach/David tunes she's left out. Even this set's inclusion of 17 Warwick performances doesn't begin to scratch the surface of the hits this winning trio racked up in 10 years' time. If Dionne's an extremely underrated vocalist, it's simply because she glides through the most difficult passages without the slightest hint of overexertion (check out "Land of Make Believe" or "Anyone Who Had a Heart" for that quickie demonstration). And although she falls victim to some of the most egregious lovers in all of popular song--witness "Odds and Ends," where her live-in partner leaves her alone with just a half-filled cup of coffee and an empty tube of toothpaste to remember him by--she manages to maintain her grace and control.

While Dionne's familiar hits abound on Disc Two, several of them are represented by other people like Cilla Black, Burt himself and Lou Johnson. Johnson is often referred to as the "male Dionne Warwick." One imagines it is because Bacharach and David set aside superlative first-run material for him ("Always Something There to Remind Me," "Reach Out for Me," "Kentucky Bluebird (Send a Message to Martha)," and that he evinced some of the same effortless yet soulful qualities as Dionne.

Unfortunately, he was also one of the unluckiest men in pop. Inexplicably, none of these songs reached anywhere near the top of the chart until they were covered later with identical arrangements by Warwick. Nor have any of these Johnson recordings seen the inside of a record store since they were first issued on singles and stuffed into paper sleeves, a sad fate this set happily overturns.

Perhaps Johnson's raspy quality revealed more heartache than audiences were ready to hear. His "Always Something There to Remind Me," which later became a hit for Sandie Shaw, R.B. Greaves and Naked Eyes in the '60s, '70s and '80s, respectively, has a sinister-sounding tag at the end that appears on none of the other versions. You hear Johnson stating emphatically "you'll always be a part of me" and "never gonna love another baby" in the same breath while encroaching dark strings hover overhead and the background singers continue to sha-dooby, oblivious to his pain.

Dionne graciously tells us in the accompanying text that it is she who was covering Lou and not the other way around. But you won't need a psychic friend to know what she was feeling when the shoe dropped on the other foot, when English birds Dusty Springfield, Sandie Shaw and Cilla Black beat out Dionne on the U.K. hit parade with note-for-note copies of Warwick's recordings. One of Burt and Hal's best was "Alfie," which Cilla screeches Ethel Merman-style. It sounds less like an explanation of love's fickle ways and more like she's ordering poor Alf to take out the trash.

No danger of competing versions ever befell Jackie DeShannon. Originally meant for Gene Pitney, "What the World Needs Now" was passed over by Dionne because it sounded "too country." Bacharach gave it to DeShannon with the full Dionne treatment and, voilà, it was a monster! After that, Bacharach and David furnished DeShannon with a few more songs that made her sound like the female Gene Pitney, but because they're so unsettling and weird, they didn't find a massive audience. "A Lifetime of Loneliness," "Come and Get Me" and "So Long Johnny" have melodies that chromatically descend from major to minor, which scientists could probably prove make people feel bad. But at this stage of the game, Bacharach is taking exciting risks simply because he can, risks that seem like distant memories toward the end of . . .

DISC THREE: Check-Out Time
By this time, Bacharach becomes a star in his own right, recording a series of albums and TV specials. You hear his often-derided singing only once here on "Hasbrook Heights," but you also hear it in B.J. Thomas, who offered a more polished version of Bacharach's own vocal style. When you read that Bacharach wrote "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" with Dylan's phrasing in mind and offered it to him to record, it just seems like a ridiculous rumor, one that Burt vigorously denies. Yet when you hear B.J. singing the companion piece "Everybody's Out of Town," it's easier to recognize the Dylan influence in "Raindrops." The way B.J.'s voice goes up like a half-asked question at the end of lines like "sleepin' on the job" and "nothin' seems to fit"--it's as much Dylan as it is Bacharach.

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