EXCLUSIVE! Remembering 1982’s Friends In Love Album with the Legendary Dionne Warwick and Producer Jay Graydon
Warwick recalls the recording sessions as “enjoyable musical events” and “a breeze,” while Graydon recalls working her “hard.”
When most people think of Dionne Warwick, they immediately think of her early years. In 1963, she took the world by storm with the first of a slew of songs written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
The tentpoles to Warwick’s Arista years are unquestionably that debut album, Dionne, her 1983 Barry Gibb-produced opus, Heartbreaker, and one of the biggest hits of her career, “That’s What Friends Are For” from her 1985 Friends project.
Those who can only recall those albums are missing out.
With Arista president and impresario Clive Davis guiding her career, Warwick didn’t release a bad project while on the label. Every one of those Arista releases is loaded with impeccable productions, stellar songs, and vocal performances that in many cases are even better than those from Warwick’s early Bacharach / David years. As impossible as it may seem, her voice, over time, had gotten even better, and Davis hired producers who knew exactly what to do with it.
But even given the quality of her Arista output, a few of those albums stand out. One of them is the gorgeous Friends In Love, produced by one of the recording industry’s unsung geniuses, Jay Graydon. He is perhaps best known for his work with Al Jarreau and as co-writer of some of R & B’s and pop music’s beloved classics, like Earth, Wind & Fire’s “After The Love Is Gone.”
The legendary Warwick shares this writer’s curiosity in the album’s relative obscurity.
“Jay, along with David Foster, were both very hot,” Warwick EXCLUSIVELY shared with me by phone from her home in New Jersey. “And I was madly in love with Al Jarreau’s voice, all of his songs and the recordings that he had done with Jay, so when I got the word that Jay was going to be producing that album for me, I was thrilled. I felt that the choice of songs was absolutely correct, and his production was spot on.”
I asked Graydon how the album came to be.
“Clive called me to do the record, and I said ‘Absolutely,’ “ Graydon EXCLUSIVELY said. “I knew that if Clive wants to pull a hit, Clive pulls a hit, so I was onboard!”
“While I was halfway through with the album, David Foster called me up and said ‘Do you know that Barry Gibb is producing an album with Dionne at the same time?”
That’s right: according to Graydon, Warwick’s stellar, Gibb-produced Heartbreaker project was recorded concurrently with Friends In Love. The former album would be released less than six months after the release of Graydon’s recordings with Warwick.
Warwick’s recollection of those events differs from Graydon’s. She remembers the recording of those two albums as separate, distinct projects.
“The Friends In Love album was finished and completed prior to my working with Barry Gibb,” Warwick said. “When I found out that I’d be working with Barry, it wasn’t immediately after Jay. It was quite a few months later, because [Barry] was sending me songs to listen to and that kind of thing. So it wasn’t a simultaneous thing.”
Maybe Davis just hadn’t told Warwick what he’d had in mind for the follow up to the Friends In Love project. Nevertheless, Graydon said he wasn’t happy about the timing of those two projects, and he shared his displeasure with Davis.
“I remember thinking ‘This isn’t good,’ so I called Clive and said “Man, why didn’t you tell me this? If you had told me that this was gonna happen, I wouldn’t have taken the gig. Barry Gibb’s hot. You’ve got an automatic hit with that. You’re gonna blaze on that record.’ “
“He said ‘What are you worried about? Your album’s coming out first.’ “
“I said ‘That’s what I’m worried about! If we don’t pull a hit with this, then it’s just gonna be shelved and you’re gonna move on.’ “
“And what I thought was gonna happen happened,” Graydon asserted. “Clive didn’t work the Friends In Love album that hard. There was a song on the album that he brought into the project [“Never Gonna Let You Go”] that actually ended up being a huge hit for Sergio Mendes a year later.”
“I was really upset that our album didn’t make any noise,” Graydon added. “It was a great record, and I did a good job, man. Those were great songs, and I made her sound great.”
As, to my ear, Warwick had always sounded “great” back then, I was curious about Graydon’s thoughts about his having “made” her sound so. As it turned out, there was a story there, too, and once again, the producer didn’t mince words.
“Every musician and every singer I work with is gonna tell you the same thing: I work them hard,” Graydon confided. “Their records are gonna be so much better sounding if they follow my instructions. Dionne never complained.”
“But here’s a little story: her pitch, in her mid low register, she usually sings a little flat,” Graydon said. “At least she did then. But when she gets to the middle part of her register, let’s say a third up in her range, her pitch is very good.”
“So what I had to work her on was…in the verses, when her pitch was under, I had to do a lot of takes until I had enough to combine into a great vocal,” Graydon said. “I never told her about it, because I didn’t want her to think about it. I always try to keep the singer’s vibe real happy. But in any case, I got what I needed [from her].”
“I don’t want perfection. I want it to feel great,” Graydon continued, of his productions. “I want it to be in tune. I want the rhythm section tight, but I want it to feel great. I’m looking for great pitch, great feel, and great performance. I want it all, because you should be able to get it all with talented people.”
While Graydon felt that his production technique involved working all of his artists, including Warwick, “hard,” Warwick told me that she didn’t feel that Graydon had prompted her to work strenuously. In fact, she called recording the Friends In Love album “a breeze!”
“He didn’t work me at all,” Warwick laughed. “[Recording that album] was really a breeze with him. I didn’t feel that I was being overworked.”
Upon hearing that Graydon had to finesse, as it were, Warwick’s deeper notes, she shared a perspective that made a lot of sense.
“As many, many years have gone by since I worked with Jay, of course, my register has lowered from those days,” Warwick said. “Then, I wasn’t accustomed to singing in lower registers, so I’m sure there were certain things that he wanted to correct.”
“There are certain notes that people expect me to sing today,” Warwick chuckled, “and I want to tell them ‘That was 25 years ago! Hello!”
Two unforgettable duets were recorded for the Friends In Love project, both of which pairing Warwick with the undisputed Voice Of Romance, Johnny Mathis. Warwick had nothing but fond memories of their work together on the album’s title track and on “Got You Where I Want You.”
“I love singing with John — who wouldn’t,” Warwick said. “We got into the studio, and I came prepared, and [Mathis] came prepared. We got the musicians and background singers in there…in fact, I became one of the background singers on that album! So it was just one of those enjoyable musical events.”
Warwick shared another highlight from her recording sessions with Graydon: the opportunity to record her stunning cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Can’t Hide Love.”
“I was an enormous fan of Earth, Wind & Fire,” Warwick said. “They are my favorite group of all time. In fact, a part of my repertoire in concert is doing a tribute to Earth, Wind & Fire. So when I had the opportunity to sing ‘Can’t Hide Love,’ with that arrangement, which was so completely different from what they did, that was a gift to me.”
As I wrapped up with Warwick, I asked her what she thought of the Friends In Love album, upon listening to it all of these years later.
“I’m really naughty when it comes to things like that,” Warwick shared with a chuckle, “because I don’t listen to me! I will listen to a project one time after I’m done, to see how it sounds, and get a feel for what we did in the studio. But I don’t listen to me at all.”
That’s ok, Auntie Dionne (as Warwick is lovingly referred to on X / Twitter: millions of discriminating music fans have been listening to you for over 60 years.
“But the way Jay put that album together for me,” Warwick added, of the Friends In Love project, “I felt, and still feel to this day, that that album is completely overlooked.”
Here’s hoping, over 40 years later, that a new generation of fans discovers Dionne Warwick’s gorgeous Friends In Love album, available at all major digital outlets. The title track and duet with Mathis is also available on Mathis’ Friends In Love album.
Info on Jay Graydon can be found at jaygraydon.com.
Johnny Mathis’s new Christmas Time Is Here album is available at johnnymathis.com and all digital outlets.
Connect with freelance writer Michael P Coleman at MichaelPColeman.com.