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Best Dionne Warwick Songs: 20 Unbeatable Classics
List & Guides

Best Dionne Warwick Songs: 20 Unbeatable Classics

Ranging across heartfelt soul, prowling funk, feisty pop and more, the best Dionne Warwick songs reveal a singer that is hard to categorise.

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The versatility and range of Dionne Warwick is magnificent. While she is often bracketed as an “easy listening” singer, a close listen to her catalogue reveals plenty of soul; big emotive power ballads; gospel-like intensity; feisty pop; and prowling funk. When taking a career-long perspective on the best Dionne Warwick songs, she is a singer that is hard to categorise. “I tell people I don’t want to be anyone else,” Warwick has said. “I like me. I don’t want to be anyone but who I am.”

The songs that Warwick is most usually associated with date from the 60s, and are written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. They can almost be seen as a musical genre in themselves. These are songs that are too emotional for easy listening, too smooth for R&B, too adult for pop, too earnest for irony. The association between Warwick’s voice and the songs of Bacharach and David was so strong that the songwriting duo would usually think of her as they were writing. “The more that Hal and I recorded with Dionne and the more we wrote, the more chances I could take because I could see what she could do,” Bacharach has said of working with one of the best female singers of all time. “I would think to myself, if she can cover that range, then I can take that risk a little bit more if she is that musical. Therefore, I was able to expand and stretch when working with her.”

In latter times, Warwick has been the subject of a documentary (Don’t Make Me Over), written her autobiography, continued the charity work that has long been a passion of hers and found time to take down a few idiots on Twitter (her tweets were even included in a 2021 art show in the US). “Everything you saw, heard, and will hear or see has always been a part of me, and will always be a part of me,” Warwick said in 2021. “I am and will always be relevant.” The best Dionne Warwick songs prove all that and more.

Listen to the best of Dionne Warwick here, and check out our best Dionne Warwick songs, below.

20: (They Long To Be) Close To You (from ‘Make Way For Dionne Warwick’, 1964)

In this list of the best Dionne Warwick songs, there are many tracks that are better-known in a version by someone else – but often Warwick’s will predate that famous recording, sometimes by many years. Here is her early treatment of the Bacharach-David song that would become a huge hit for Carpenters six years later. With its odd funereal piano and weeping flugelhorn, the Warwick version of (They Long To Be) Close To You is dramatic and borderline weird. It gives a different, sadder, tone to the song.

19: Caravan (from ‘Aquarela Do Brasil’, 1994)

At a commercial low point after the poor sales of 1993’s Friends Can Be Lovers album, Warwick decided to try something new: a vibrant album of Brazilian jazz and pop, Aquarela Do Brasil. At the time, Warwick had recently bought a home in the Bahia region of Brazil, and her love for the country is clear in her sensitive yet exuberant vocals, sung in both English and Portuguese. Caravan is one of the collection’s real gems, a Juan Tizol/Duke Ellington song dating back to 1936, but which here stands as a late-career entry among the best Dionne Warwick songs.

18: Promises, Promises (from ‘Promises, Promises’, 1968)

Promises, Promises is from the 1968 musical of the same name (written by Bacharach and David, and based on the 1960 Billy Wilder film, The Apartment). “It really worked when I wrote that many words and that many notes,” Bacharach said of this song. “The reason that I wrote so many notes was to give the song a sense of urgency. That song did have a lot of notes and a lot of words but, in the hands of Dionne, it was just so fluent, totally fluent. She breezed through it with consummate ease.”

17: I Say A Little Prayer (from ‘The Windows Of The World’, 1967)

I Say A Little Prayer was originally imagined by lyricist Hal David as the everyday reflections of a young woman, separated from her man, who is fighting in the Vietnam War. Her day is punctuated by little prayers for him, as she puts on her make-up, gets the bus, takes a coffee break. Warwick recorded the delicate original, with thoughtful vocals which perfectly convey the sentiment of David’s melancholy lyrical vision. In 1968, Aretha Franklin created a powerhouse interpretation – doing something entirely different with the feel of the song, and claiming it among the best Aretha Franklin songs in the process. Franklin and Warwick didn’t get along in real life, but both of their versions of this tune explore (in different ways) the heartache, rage and fear the Vietnam War brought into so many North American households.

16: Do You Know The Way To San Jose? (from ‘Valley Of The Dolls’, 1968)

“It’s a dumb song and I didn’t want to sing it,” a typically blunt Warwick said of Do You Know The Way To San Jose?, one of her biggest worldwide hits. Millions disagree. Often remembered as one of the best Dionne Warwick songs, its light samba feel and conspicuous bass drum combine with Warwick’s silky vocals to create a superficially “nice” easy-listening single – but Hal David’s lyrics are pretty snarky and cynical. The verses deal with the broken dreams of Los Angeles and the human cost of fame-seeking, as starry-eyed youngsters end up “parking cars and pumping gas”. On close listens, Warwick’s airy tones make the song sound even more pessimistic. “I’m happy these songs were successful,” she once shrugged, “but that still doesn’t change my opinion about them.”

15: I’m Your Puppet (from ‘Soulful’, 1969)

Do You Know The Way To San Jose? featured, on its B-side, the track Let Me Be Lonely. It was more R&B-influenced than Warwick’s usual sound, and had won fans; encouraged by the song’s reception, Warwick decided to explore this aspect of her artistry in greater depth. Her 1969 album, Soulful (made without the direct involvement of Bacharach and David), included some beautiful versions of recent soul hits, among them Do Right Woman – Do Right Man and I’m Your Puppet, first recorded by James and Bobby Purify in 1966.

14: You Can Have Him (from ‘The Sensitive Sound Of Dionne Warwick’, 1965)

Not the Irving Berlin song, but a gender-swapped You Can Have Her, written by Bill Cook. The arrangement and instrumentation here is almost skiffle-like – there’s an electrifying street-corner jazz sound and exciting energy in Warwick’s voice. From her fourth album, this track really illustrates how nimble and lively the best Dionne Warwick songs could be.

13: I’ll Never Fall In Love Again (from ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’, 1970)

Burt Bacharach was hospitalised with pneumonia, Hal David visited him, and the lyricist then decided to rhyme “pneumonia” with “phone ya”. A modern standard was born. Covered by pretty much every easy-listening titan since its composition in 1968, I’ll Never Fall In Love Again scored its biggest US success thanks to Dionne Warwick, who took it to the top of Billboard’s Easy Listening chart (in the UK, it was Bobbie Gentry’s recording that reached No.1). Warwick’s is one of the most understated etchings, too: she handles the song in a straightforward, touching manner, bringing it back to what it’s about – loneliness, disillusionment and endless hope in the face of constant disappointment.

12: You’re Gonna Need Me (from ‘Just Being Myself’, 1973)

Following the dissolution of the Bacharach-David partnership in the early 70s, Warwick found herself working with former Motown songwriter-producers Holland-Dozier-Holland. It was a different, less collaborative approach than she was used to, and on the 1973 album Just Being Myself she was basically a singer over previously recorded backing tracks. But what a singer, and what backing tracks! In the 21st century, the deep soul qualities of You’re Gonna Need Me were picked up on by the hip-hop elite, who found in some of the best Dionne Warwick songs the foundations for their own grooves: J Dilla used it on his classic album Donuts, and it’s also prominently featured on Usher’s 2004 single Throwback.

11: Another Night (from ‘The Windows Of The World’, 1967)

Dionne Warwick could be ambivalent – to put it kindly – about the singers who went on to do versions of songs she had cut first. “I was very upset that over the years a lot of my songs have been covered by British artists,” she has said. “I didn’t like that the original versions weren’t given enough time to be heard.” Another Night is possibly one of the songs she is referring to. It’s a fantastic Warwick recording that, though released as a single in the UK, didn’t chart, and was subsequently recorded by that enormous soul fan, Dusty Springfield, on her 1968 album, Dusty… Definitely.

10: Trains And Boats And Planes (from ‘Here, Where There Is Love’, 1966)

Trains And Boats And Planes was originally intended for Gene Pitney – but he did not end up recording it, sniffing to Bacharach that “it’s not one of your better ones”. Instead, Bacharach took the song and first recorded it himself with UK session singers The Breakaways, and then in 1966 with Warwick. One of the best Dionne Warwick songs of the era, it’s the kind of wistful, yearning tune that her voice is so suited to – and, with all due respect to the talents of Pitney, it was probably a good thing that it ended up in Warwick’s hands.

9: Anyone Who Had A Heart (from ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’, 1964)

In the UK, Anyone Who Had A Heart is primarily associated with the Liverpudlian belter Cilla Black, who took it to No.1 just months after Warwick released it as a single. But Warwick crafted the subtler original – and she reputedly nailed the vocals in just one take. Black’s success in the British charts has long been a touchy subject for Warwick, who knew she had created the superior version. However, in recent years she’s softened just a little to her nemesis. “I don’t blame Cilla. Over the years, I came to realise she hadn’t been making the decision about what to sing,” she said in 2022. “So I’ve almost forgiven her. Not completely, but almost.”

8: (I’m) Just Being Myself (from ‘Just Being Myself’, 1973)

Funky flutes and a Curtis Mayfield-like cinematic mood introduce this superb track. Produced by Holland-Dozier-Holland, (I’m) Just Being Myself sees Warwick balance out her gospel-esque call-and-response with a careful funky strut. The early 70s have traditionally been seen as a tricky time for Warwick; having been rightfully hailed as one of the best 60s female singers, she now had to adjust to creating music without the Bacharach-David partnership. In doing so, she found the freedom to branch out into the new decade, working with new people, expanding out from the smooth, easier sounds usually associated with the best Dionne Warwick songs.

7: You’ll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart) (from ‘Make Way For Dionne Warwick’, 1964)

One of Dionne Warwick’s classic singles. The success of songs such as You’ll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart) meant Warwick was now in demand as a touring artist, and, as a young Black woman, this opened her up to new – and not always fair – ways of living. “What I experienced in the early part of my career and in the very early tours that I did in the southern region of our country – I saw a lot of stuff I never even knew existed because I didn’t experience that where I came from,” she said in 2021. “I lived on a block that I refer to to this day as virtually being the United Nations. We had every race, colour, creed and religion, and we interacted with each other on the basis of who we were, not what we were.” Warwick has recently expressed sorrow at the lack of progress on racial-justice issues in the US. “Nothing’s really changed yet,” she said in 2020. “I hope eventually we’ll get to the point where we all understand that we all bleed red blood, end of.”

6: Paper Maché (from ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’, 1970)

The most perfect easy-listening triumph among the best Dionne Warwick songs. Completely of its time (the slight LSD-hangover lyrics over a gentle soul arrangement), Paper Maché’s genius was instantly recognised by lounge music artists – Ferrante & Teicher and Frank Chasksfield quickly put out their own versions – and, later on, by more alternative musicians. Rita Calypso (aka Ana Laan), a Spanish-based indie singer-songwriter, recorded a cover in 2002, while Jowe Head (formerly of post-punk band Swell Maps) did so in 2006. But Warwick’s is, of course, the definitive take.

5: Get Rid Of Him (from ‘Make Way For Dionne Warwick’, 1964)

It’s not often that Dionne Warwick goes for the full-on girl-group sound, but when she does it’s really something to cherish. This gossipy, girls-together number captures Warwick sounding like the young woman she was at the time of recording (because she is such a class act, it’s easy to forget that she was only in her early 20s at this point), and it is one of the most playful entries among the best Dionne Warwick songs. It was also recorded by Warwick’s Scepter labelmates The Shirelles.

4: Track Of The Cat (from ‘Track Of The Cat’, 1975)

This whole of 1975’s Track Of The Cat album – but especially the title track – is ripe for reappraisal. Working with legendary Philadelphia soul producer Thom Bell, Warwick is part Eartha Kitt, part Cher, on this tough early disco track. “I always told Dionne that she reminded me of a cat,” Bell said in 2017, reflecting on the album’s sessions. “I had a buddy of mine who worked at the Philadelphia Zoo. He wouldn’t let any civilians in there until a certain time, but he would let me in there. I watched lions for the day. I watched tigers for the day. Then I watched panthers for the day. They don’t walk straight to you. They walk around the sides of walls. I thought, There’s Dionne right there! That’s the same way she is. She’s stealth-like.” Warwick’s vocals don’t even kick in until nearly two minutes in, and they remain minimal throughout; she slinks about Thom Bell’s light funk arrangement and a cavalcade of wildcat sounds, all of which Bell field-recorded at that same Philadelphia Zoo.

3: Don’t Make Me Over (from ‘Presenting Dionne Warwick’, 1963)

Legend has it that Dionne Warwick was all geared up to record the Bacharach-David song Make It Easy On Yourself as her first single. After all, she had already demoed it. But the soul singer Jerry Butler had also heard that Warwick demo, exclaimed, “Man, it’s a great song, and the girl who’s singing it, and the arrangement, is a hit” – before gazumping Warwick and recording the song himself. Upon learning all this, Warwick got mad and shouted at Burt Bacharach: “Don’t make me over, man!” Inspired by her outburst (and presumably a desire to make it up to their new talent), Bacharach and David composed Don’t Make Me Over especially for her. And what a consolation prize it was. Easily one of the best Dionne Warwick songs, Don’t Make Me Over is part of the small cache of proto-feminist early-60s music (see also Lesley Gore’s You Don’t Own Me) in which young women were starting to speak up in song about toxic relationship dynamics. Special mention should also go to Warwick’s background singers on this track – the heavenly voices of her sister, Dee Dee Warwick, aunt Cissy Houston and Sylvia Shemwell.

2: Heartbreaker (from ‘Heartbreaker’, 1982)

“I cried my eyes out after we wrote it,” Maurice Gibb, who co-wrote Heartbreaker with his fellow Bee Gees, said. “I drove home and thought, We should be doing this one, and when she did it, it was brilliant. We sang on it, and it still became like a duet between the Bee Gees and Dionne Warwick.” Heartbreaker is a fantastic slice of pop music that gave Warwick one of her later career triumphs – even if the singer herself wasn’t so keen on it. In fact, just like Maurice Gibb, she shed some tears. “I cried all the way to the bank,” Warwick said.

1: Walk On By (from ‘Make Way For Dionne Warwick’, 1964)

Topping our list of the best Dionne Warwick songs, Walk On By is about dignity in the face of a crumbling psyche. It is one of the most emotionally challenging songs of its era, and made more so because of Warwick’s nuanced vocals, which are caught between keeping up appearances and letting it all go. Burt Bacharach has said that he sees his songs as “three-and-a-half minute movies, with peak moments and not just one intensity level the whole way through”, and Walk On By is the epitome of this. The torment of the narrator, the lack of resolution at the end, the universality of that rock-bottom feeling… Warwick captures it all perfectly. “I feel that every song I’ve sung has been written specifically for me,” she said in 2021. “Legendary? Everybody keeps saying I’m a legend. I’m working on it.”

Find out where Dionne Warwick ranks among our best female singers of all time.

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