Dionne Warwick's greatest tracks – ranked!

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20. By the Time I Get to Phoenix/I Say a Little Prayer (1977)

The live album A Man and A Woman is both delightful and slightly odd: Warwick dueting with Isaac Hayes, who had just had a hit with a paen to troilism called Moonlight Lovin’ (Ménage à Trois). Its solitary single isn’t a medley, more an attempt to bind two songs together as a call-and-response. It works.

19. Keepin’ My Head Above Water (1977)

Why Warwick couldn’t get a hit for most of the 70s is an intriguing question, particularly given the singles she was putting out: perhaps she was too associated with the 60s to be reinvented. Certainly, the strutting, beautifully orchestrated Keepin’ My Head Above Water deserved better than to vanish without trace.

18. Once You Hit the Road (1976)

Warwick would have been a perfect fit for the kind of feathery soft soul peddled by the Chi-Lites and the Stylistics and it is a bit of a mystery why she didn’t make more records in that vein. She also turned out to be adept at disco, as evidenced by this lovely Thom Bell-produced, MFSB-assisted single.

17. You Can Have Him (1965)

Warwick isn’t exactly renowned as an experimental artist, which makes You Can Have Him a genuine oddity: daringly enough, there is literally nothing to the first third of the song except frantic drums and vocals. It’s viscerally exciting and hard-hitting in a way her singles seldom were.

16. I’ll Never Love This Way Again (1979)

Warwick was scooped out of her 70s doldrums by Barry Manilow, who produced her platinum-selling 1979 album Dionne. Its big single, a Grammy winner, was a beautifully written easy-listening ballad that sounded as if it should be on a film soundtrack: for better or worse, it set the tone for most of her subsequent work.

15. Reach Out for Me (1964)

Reach Out for Me is a study in dramatic contrasts. The verses are soft, at odds with the toughness of the lyrics – “you just can’t accept the abuse you’re taking” – but on the choruses the strings swell, and so does Warwick’s voice: it sounds as if the microphone is struggling to cope with the sheer power of her singing.

14. (Theme From) Valley of the Dolls (1968)

A B-side that became a minor US hit in its own right. Jointly written by André Previn and his then-wife, Dory, (Theme From) Valley of the Dolls was more melodically and lyrically opaque than Warwick’s usual material, but no less enthralling: the lyrics seem to hint at mental illness, a regular theme of Dory Previn’s scandalously underrated subsequent singer-songwriter albums.

Warwick at the Paris Olympia Hall, 1964.
Warwick at the Paris Olympia Hall, 1964. Photograph: Photo 12/Photo12/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

13. Déjà Vu (1979)

Co-written by Isaac Hayes, Déjà Vu was a markedly different single to its predecessor, I’ll Never Love This Way Again: a breathily sung, lushly orchestrated disco ballad with a distinctly funky undertow, rather than an MOR showstopper. A hit at the time, but subsequently forgotten, it deserves rediscovery.

12. Then Came You (1974)

In the middle of a commercially fallow period for Warwick, Then Came You was a No 1 hit in the US, smartly pairing her with the Spinners and genius producer Thom Bell: a supremely classy example of the mid-70s Philly sound, it briefly threatened to reinvent Warwick as a straightforward soul singer.

11. The Windows of the World (1967)

A rare thing: a Bacharach and David protest song, the gentleness of its arrangement masking a lyric haunted by the Vietnam war – “when boys grow into men, they start to wonder when their country will call” – which perhaps accounts for its muted commercial response: certainly, it was nothing to do with Warwick’s magisterial performance.

Warwick at a Royal Command performance, London Palladium.
Warwick at a Royal Command performance, London Palladium. Photograph: Tom Hanley/Alamy

10. I’m Just Being Myself (1973)

The commercial failure of Warwick’s early 70s solo albums – and the shadow cast by her 60s work – means they are packed with hidden gems. The flop single I’m Just Being Myself is a case in point: a fabulous piece of period soul, written and produced by Holland-Dozier-Holland but influenced by Curtis Mayfield’s contemporary work.

9. Don’t Make Me Over (1962)

The striking thing about Warwick’s debut single is how supremely confident someone only recently promoted from backing vocalist and demo singer sounds: utterly commanding and in control. But perhaps that’s to be expected: the song’s title came from a phrase she angrily yelled at Burt Bacharach after learning he had given Make It Easy on Yourself to Jerry Butler.

8. Trains and Boats and Planes (1966)

Everyone from Chet Baker to the Fountains of Wayne has had a go at Trains and Boats and Planes, but Warwick’s version is the killer. The backing vocals hint at her gospel roots, but her vocal is subtly detached: an onlooker blaming transportation, not emotional upheaval, for her lover’s departure.

7. Heartbreaker (1982)

Spurned by radio and supposedly deeply unfashionable, the Bee Gees spent the 80s continuing to have huge hits by getting others to sing their songs. Heartbreaker is the perfect example: that you can imagine the Gibbs singing it themselves in How Deep Is Your Love style does nothing to dent the classiness of Warwick’s performance.

6. Anyone Who Had a Heart (1964)

With respect to the late Cilla Black, who threw everything but the kitchen sink at the song, the definitive Anyone Who Had a Heart is Warwick’s, precisely because she doesn’t throw everything but the kitchen sink at it: even at its climax, there’s an element of wounded reserve to her vocal that hits harder than melodrama.

5. This Girl’s in Love With You (1969)

Blessed with arguably the greatest melody Bacharach ever wrote, the most famous version of This Guy/Girl’s in Love With You is by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, but Warwick’s take might be better: languidly sexy where Alpert’s version is urgent, subtly sung even when the orchestration turns blockbusting.

4. You’ll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart) (1964)

Boasting a pillow-soft arrangement with a vaguely Latin rhythm and one of Bacharach’s sweetest melodies, Warwick’s vocal brilliantly starts out in step with its surroundings – listen to her gorgeously delicate extempore singing on the intro – but gets tougher and more strident as the song progresses, changing from pleading to demanding.

3. Are You There (With Another Girl) (1965)

In the hands of a 60s girl group, Are You There (With Another Girl) could have been a straightforward Brill Building pop classic, but Warwick’s version is far more grown up, interrupting the deliciously breezy melody with pregnant pauses, rhythmic shifts and unexpected chord changes that embody the song’s mood of suspicion and indecision.

2. Do You Know the Way to San Jose? (1968)

Do You Know The Way To San Jose is an exquisite double-bluff: the music is bottled sunshine, relaxed and joyous; the lyrics, about failure, are filled with darkness: “Dreams turn into dust and blow away, and there you are, without a friend.” Warwick’s vocal manages to capture both emotions.

1. Walk on By (1964)

Walk on By embodies the unique position Dionne Warwick held within the pantheon of 60s singers. It’s soulful, but it isn’t straightforward soul music. It’s too sophisticated to be classified as pop – “just let me grieve in private” is just not the kind of line you found in singles circa 1964 – and too emotionally powerful to warrant the dismissive label of easy listening. Everything about it is magnificent – the vocal that veers between stoicism and despair, the spareness of the lyric and arrangement, the wonderful burst of singing on the fade. As an example of the songwriter’s art operating at high altitude, working in perfect harmony with a vocalist, it’s unbeatable.

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