The extraordinary life and recording career of Dionne Warwick is celebrated tonight on BBC2 in the documentary Don’t Make Me Over, followed by 90 minutes of her greatest performances at the BBC. From her 1960’s breakthrough, she has always been regarded as songwriter Burt Bacharach’s muse and, perhaps also, the greatest interpreter of his iconic compositions. However, her success in the UK was rather reduced by a local star literally stealing her thunder.
‘Our Cilla’ was virtually a national treasure from her debut hit with Anyone Who Had A Heart, which shot to number one in the UK in 1964. But the plucky lass from Liverpool’s glory was founded on swooping in and recording an alternate version of Dionne’s original recording – and the US star “never forgave” her.
Dionne’s original was released in January 1964, and hit the Top Ten in the United States, Canada, Spain, Netherlands, South Africa, Belgium and Australia – but only made it to Number 42 in the UK.
It started a pattern of Cilla covers and was swiftly followed by the Italian classic You’re My World (Il Mio Mondo) and then the Walker Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.
Anyone Who Had A Heart launched Cilla’s entire career, selling over a million copies and establishing her as a star for five decades.
And Warwick was not happy about how it all started, In 2016 she said: “From 1962, when I first met that woman, there was a confrontation. She stole my songs and I was not a very happy camper about that.”
And then again on Lorraine in 2019, Warwick had another go: “I was not pleased, of course, that she covered my recording of Anyone Who Had a Heart. Prior to at least giving me the time and exposure.”
Cilla herself later said of the feud over Anyone Had A Heart: “Dionne was dead choked and she’s never forgiven me to this day.”
However, Warwick took comfort when she gained a little “revenge” over Cilla with another classic Bacharach recording.
She said: “Then she did a little thing called Alfie. I was the 47th person to record Alfie, and I must say I’m very proud I’m the only one to have a hit record with it.”
Alfie had actually been offered to Cilla first (after Sandie Shaw turned it down) and recorded for the soundtrack of the Michael Caine film of the same name.
Cilla herself had not been keen to do it, disliking the title, and tried calling Bacharach’s bluff by insisting he handled the music arrangements, played piano on the recording and flew to London to do all of it. To her shock, he agreed.
It was a success in the UK, peaking and Number 9, but only made it to Number 95 in the US – overshadowed by the Cher version that also featured in the film.
To her satisfaction, Dionne then recorded the song in 1967 and took it to Number 15 in the US.
Extraordinarily, there was almost a film about the whole rivalry, starring another huge star. In 2016, Warwick posed in Cannes in front of a poster announcing a biopic of her life focussing on the 1960s, with (it seems hard to believe) Lady Gaga set to play Cilla.
At the time Warwick told reporters she regarded the British star as her “nemesis.” Cilla Black’s estate released a statement about the casting saying: “We think Lady Gaga is fabulous. She’s a great actress and we really look forward to seeing her portrayal.”
Even more extraordinarily, representatives for Lady Gaga then denied she was at all involved in the project.