The Making Of Dionne Warwick's "Walk On By"
(Since its inception in 1973, the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame has enshrined nearly 1,000 recordings across all genres. The Making Of … series presents firsthand accounts of the creative process behind some of the essential recordings of the 20th century. You can read more Making Of … accounts, and in-depth insight into the recordings and artists represented in the Hall, in the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition book.)
"Walk On By"
(As told to Roy Trakin)
The song was originally the B-side of "Any Old Time Of Day." It didn't really get played on the radio until [New York DJ] Murray the K turned the record over after holding a contest for which side the listeners preferred, and they chose "Walk On By."
I liked it the first time I heard it. Like most of the songs I was given to record at the beginning of my career, it was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who were not only my songwriters, but my producers. I depended on them to give me great songs, and they did, as my history shows.
I met Burt first. He had written a song called "Mexican Divorce," with another writer named Bob Hilliard, for the Drifters. I was one of the background singers on the session, and after the date was finished, he asked if I'd be interested in singing some demos he was writing with a new partner, Hal David. And that was the start of our association.
We recorded the song at Bell Sound Studios in New York, live with full orchestra ... strings, horns, [a] rhythm section, [and] background singers. That's something I miss terribly. Those were always wonderful musical events. It was basically a performance, and a lot of fun.
With Burt Bacharach sitting at the piano or in the control room, it was never the first take, even if, in fact, it usually ended up being the first take [that we used for the record]. It wasn't about punching in overdubs. We did every single recording full-out, and on about the 28th take, I think someone probably said — if it wasn't me — "I think we may have it."
The song had a memorable melody and words. If I had known it was going to be a hit, I'd be sitting on a mountain with a ruby in my hand. I was dear, dear friends with both Burt and Hal. We depended on each other to bring to the table the expertise we each possessed. Hal David's lyrics were the most incredible I've ever sung. And Burt created those intricate, but memorable, melodies. And I was the vehicle to bring all of that to the listeners' ears.
I'm totally enamored [with] Isaac Hayes' cover, which he made his own. Very much like what Aretha did with "I Say A Little Prayer" or Luther Vandross did with "A House Is Not A Home." When anyone covers a song, it's a compliment to the original version.
To this day, I can't leave the stage without singing it. It's a song that not only I have grown to love over my 50 years in the industry, but it has become a favorite of my audience. The songs that I've had the pleasure of recording with Bacharach [and] David have grown with me. I'm singing it for people my age, who have brought their children, and in turn, they've brought their children. It's been able to age with each new group of listeners.
(Roy Trakin, a senior editor for HITS magazine, has written for every rock publication that ever mattered, some that didn't, and got paid by most of them.)