Let’s just get the facts and figures out of the way first. Here, on three double CDs and one three-CD set, are Dionne Warwick’s first 16 albums, recorded for the Scepter and Warner Bros labels from 1962 to 1973, along with 22 bonus tracks, many of which are previously unissued.
Together, they stand as an enduring monument to possibly the greatest collaboration in pop history. Burt Bacharach wrote the music, lyricist Hal David the words and Ms Warwick supplied the sublime vocals.
It was a triumvirate made in heaven, turning out three-minute masterpieces that combined soulfulness and subtlety and set a benchmark that few others could aspire to.
The quality is apparent from the first album, Presenting…, with tracks such as the aching “This Empty Place”, the powerful “Don’t Make Me Over” and the wistful “Wishin’ and Hopin’”.
By the time of album No 2, she has, with the help of B&D, conquered the market in power ballads with the achingly impressive “Anyone Who Had A Heart”. But it’s in the next album, Make Way For, that she reaches the heights. Are there any other three consecutive album tracks that match the majesty of “Reach Out for Me”, “You’ll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart” and my choice for the finest pop/soul song of the Sixties, “Walk On By”.
But it’s not all Bacharach and David. There’s an attractive version of the Disney staple “Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah” done in Phil Spector-stlye on the first album, while The Sensitive Sound has clutch of tracks Dionne cut in London, including a storming version of the Roy Hamilton hit “You Can Have Him” where she gives full vent to her gospel background as one of the Drinkard Singers (another member of the family-based group was her aunt, Cissy Houston, mother of the troubled Whitney).
By the time we’re on to the second collection, the collaboration is in full throttle with Dionne exploring some of B&D’s greatest songs including “What The World Needs Now is Love”, “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself”, “Trains and Boats and Planes” and "Alfie", with some diversions on the way including a Live in Paris album which was anything but (sadly, its mostly studio tracks with dubbed applause) and the obligatory show tunes album, that includes “Summertime” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.
The standard set in the first two sets is maintained in the third with the world-weariness of “I Say A Little Prayer”, the heartache of “Another Night” and songs such as “(There’s) Always Something there To Remind Me” and “Do You Know The Way to San Jose?” that show Dionne and her writing team at the top of their game.
The final set of four albums takes into the 70s, when the songs were still good – “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”, “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head and the under-rated “They Don’t Give Medals (To Yesterday’s Heroes)” – but the cracks were beginning to show in the relationship between Bacharach and his lyricist David.
Dionne battled on with a new label, Warner Bros, but success was getting harder to come by to and even a collaboration with ex-Motown songwriting stars Holland, Dozier and Holland failed to find a market (although after the timeframe of these albums she would find renewed success with “Then Came You”).
Still, these 16 albums display what can happen when the right singer finds the right songwriters – and there’s a bit of magic in the air.
Beautifully presented in slipcases with excellent sound and exemplary sleevenotes by soul music expert Tony Rounce, these are reissues to cherish.