Walk On By - Dionne Warwick
Although she was no Aretha (who is?), Dionne Warwick was amongst the best female vocalists of the 60's. Under the wing of songwriter/producers Burt Bacharach and Hal David, she seldom ventured beyond the normal "sophisticated pop" territory of the duo.
But she does on their 1963 classic "Walk On By", straying off the easy listening tarmac onto the greener verges of soul and r&b.
As far as sophisticated lounge music goes Dionne's sixties and early seventies' songs written by Bacharach and David are as good as it gets, and alone constitute a body of work that would place them at the pinnacle of of pop music composers:
"Walk On By", "Don't Make Me Over", "Always Something There to Remind Me", "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?",
"You'll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart)", "Message to Michael", "Trains and Boats and Planes" (see https://www.unclestylus.com/single-post/trains-and-boats-and-planes-dionne-warwick ), "A House is Not a Home", "I'll Never Fall in Love Again", "Wishin' and Hopin'", "Anyone Who Had a Heart", "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself" and "I Say a Little Prayer" (see last post) among them. Include their album tracks and the list seems endless.
Bacharach first spotted Warwick in late 1960 when she was in the studio singing backing vocals for the recording of his song "Mexican Divorce" for the Drifters. Recognising the strength and certainty of her singing even when the tone was soft and delicate, he offered her a job as a "demo singer". Demo's are recordings of new songs made for sole circulation to performers and producers to entice them to record them.
So numerous were the number of demos she cut for Bacharach and David, Warwick became a kind of musical dressmaker's dummy for the duo. Even after she became successful in her own right in the States, you could see that the tag still rankled as she became tetchy when the likes of Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw, Bobbie Gentry and, in particular, Dusty Springfield, were often more successful in Europe and Australia than she was, covering songs that had been hits for her on the Hot 100.
She had no such problems with "Walk On By", a hit for her all over the world. Hal David's words are perfection, the irony of carrying the deepest heartbreak within you through the everyday action of just going from a to b, perfectly expressed in Warwick's poised vocal, beautifully expressing the feeling of someone in control but close to the edge of emotional collapse. The chopping guitar that ekes out the rhythm accentuates this mood, as do the edgy, staccato 6/5 trumpet fills. The piano melody evokes the determined steps takes as she "walks on by" and that she is asking him to do, while the romantic, andante strings dramatise her inner turmoil. Topping it off are the backing singers' refrain of "Don't ....stop" like a pair of changing pedestrian crossing lights urging him on, and leaving her behind, alone and brokenhearted on the other side.
As you listen, sing along and try to emulate the subtlety, passion and sadness of Warwick's vocal. It's a rewarding exercise:
"If you see me walking down the street and I start to cry each time we meet walk on by, walk on by.
Make believe that you don't see the tears - just let me grieve in private 'cause each time I see you I break down and cry
and walk on by (don't stop) walk on by (don't stop) walk on by
I just can't get over losing you and so if I seem broken and blue walk on by, walk on by.
Foolish pride - that's all that I have left so let me hide the tears and the sadness you gave me when you said goodbye
-walk on by (don't stop)........."
Despite her humiliation in having to beg him to "walk on by", Warwick somehow not only maintains her dignity, but is so delicately controlled, so nuanced, that she actually increases it. Dionne Warwick's greatest performance. This despite the ambivalence of her message - are they singing "Don't stop!" or urging the opposite: "Don't!" Stop!", reflecting the conflict in her heart?
"Walk on by (don't stop) Walk on by (don't stop) Now you really gotta go, so walk on by (don't, don't stop) Baby, leave, you'll never see the tears I cry (don't, don't stop) Now you really gotta go, so walk on by (don't, don't stop) Mmm, baby, leave, you'll never see the tears I cry (don't, don't stop) Now you really gotta go, so walk on by (don't, don't stop)"