Free To Be – Part 6: Dionne Warwick

Dionne Warwick recorded many hits during the 60s and 70s. She was most associated with the songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Bacharach has a very distinctive style. He uses wide leaps between notes, unexpected phrase lengths and unusual meters. Warwick became very comfortable with his musical style and learned new songs quickly.

For the television version of Free To Be, I was given a poem by Elaine Laron titled “The Sun And The Moon,” and asked to compose music for it. (The song is sometimes mistakenly called “I’d Rather Be The Sun.”)

After I’d composed the music I played it for Marlo and Carole and Bruce and they were very pleased with it. I sent Dionne a tape and spoke to her by phone to set a key. Then I wrote the arrangement and recorded the orchestra in Manhattan. I used strings and reeds to give the song the sound i thought the music and words required. For the vocal I took the tape to a recording studio in New Jersey and overdubbed Dionne there.

I immediately knew we had a problem. Dionne was accustomed to Bacharach’s unique composing techniques and they affected her singing of “The Sun And The Moon.” Of course she was by then a natural at singing songs like “I Say A Little Prayer” and other great Bacharach-David songs, but I didn’t compose “The Sun And The Moon” to be sung with pop inflections. I interrupted the recording several times and Dionne seemed to be running out of patience.

I had had a similar experience when Patti LaBelle appeared on Sesame Street and sang my song “Take The Hand of Someone You Love” (lyrics by Mark Saltzman). It’s possible she had spent little or no time rehearsing it, and it did require rehearsing. She was singing live to the recorded band and took many liberties with the melody and I stopped the shoot several times and corrected her. This did not endear me to her. By the end of the afternoon we had a very happy composer and I think Patti was happy too because, although she had to stretch her comfort zone, the song looked and sounded great.

We had a similar happy ending with Dionne. She was flexible enough to make me happy and still enjoyed singing “The Sun And The Moon.”

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