Message to Michael
|"Message to Michael"|
|Single by Dionne Warwick|
|from the album Dionne Warwick in Paris|
|A-side||"Message to Michael"|
|B-side||"Here Where There Is Love" (Bacharach & David)|
|Format||7" single Scepter 12133|
|Recorded||1966 Paris, France|
|Genre||Soul, pop, adult contemporary|
|Label||Scepter, Disques Vogue (France), Pye International (UK)|
|Writer(s)||Burt Bacharach, Hal David|
|Producer(s)||Blue Jac Productions|
|Dionne Warwick singles chronology|
"Message to Michael" is a song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, that has been a hit for several different artists under several different titles. The song was first recorded as "Message to Martha" by Jerry Butler in 1962. In 1964, singer Lou Johnson had a minor US hit with the song, with the title "Kentucky Bluebird". UK singer Adam Faith also recorded the song as "Kentucky Bluebird" in 1965, and had a substantial hit with it in the UK, reaching #12. Exactly the same recording was issued in Australia as "Message to Martha", where it was a #15 hit for Faith. Americans are probably most familiar with the 1966 Top Ten version by Dionne Warwick, which was titled "Message To Michael".
In all versions of the song, the lyrics are addressed to a bluebird by the singer. The singer is in Kentucky, and his/her sweetheart is vainly pursuing musical stardom in New Orleans. The singer asks the bluebird to take a message to Martha/Michael, asking for the sweetheart to return.
The song was first recorded as "Message to Martha" by Jerry Butler in the 1962 session in New York City which produced Butler's hit "Make It Easy on Yourself". However, Butler's "Message to Martha" was not released until December 1963 when it appeared as a track on Butler's Need to Belong album. Marlene Dietrich recorded a German version of the song in 1964, singing to the instrumental track of the Butler original (with augmentations); Dietrich's version was entitled Kleine Treue Nachtigall ('faithful little nightingale'), the German lyrics were written by Max Colpet. In 1964 Bacharach had Lou Johnson record the song as "Kentucky Bluebird": this version reached Billboard's "Bubbling Under the Hot 100" chart at #104 that fall. Johnson's single was also released in the UK where it was swiftly covered by Adam Faith as "Message to Martha", which reached #12 UK in November 1964, becoming Faith's last Top 20 hit. Featured on the Adam Faith album released in the US in March 1965 in the wake of Faith's US Top 40 hit "It's Alright", "Message to Martha" was performed by Faith on the Shindig! broadcast of 23 June 1965 but the track was not given a US single release. In Australia Faith's "Message to Martha" – as "Kentucky Bluebird" – was issued on a single with "It's Alright" in February 1965 and the single became a double-sided hit with a #15 peak.
Dionne Warwick version
Warwick's association with the song began when she recommended it as a concert number to Sacha Distel, with whom she was headlining at the Paris Olympia Theatre in 1966. Jacques Denjean prepped a backing track to which Distel was to sing the song in concert; when Distel decided against performing the song, Warwick considered availing herself of the prepped instrumental track to record the song herself. Both Burt Bacharach and Hal David, when contacted by Warwick, were opposed to her singing what they maintained (in its English version) was a man's song. David also mentioned to Warwick that the only male name that could be subbed for "Martha" was "Michael", a name David disliked. Warwick took David's comment as a suggestion, recorded "Message to Michael" in a Paris recording studio, and added her vocals to the track prepped for Distel. Warwick would say that the most difficult part of the recording session was getting the French background vocalists to pronounce 'Michael' correctly.
Scepter Records a&r man Steve Tyrell recalls "getting in [a Brill Building] elevator with Burt and Hal and following them down into Times Square, begging them to let me put ["Message to Michael"] out. The next day they called [Scepter Records owner] Florence Greenberg and said 'Look, Steve is so into this tune – tell him he can put it on the B-side but he shouldn't promote it'". When "Message to Michael" was issued on a single backed with "Here Where There Is Love" Tyrell states "I got right on a plane [for] New Orleans and I went to WTIX [Radio]" and played "Message to Michael" for disc jockey Buzz Bennett who then "walked right into the control room and put it on the radio. Because it opened, 'Fly Away to New Orleans...' And in one week it was a smash!" In fact even prior to the single's release Warwick had performed "Message to Michael" on the NBC Pop music TV program Hullabaloo in an episode broadcast 9 March 1966.
In May 1966 "Message to Michael" became Warwick's first Top 20 hit since "Reach Out for Me" 16 months previously; also in May 1966 "Message to Michael" became a Top Ten hit, Warwick's third after "Anyone Who Had a Heart" and "Walk on By". The Billboard Hot 100 peak of "Message to Michael" was #8; Billboard's R&B chart would afford "Message to Michael" a #5 peak, which remains Dionne Warwick's alltime best R&B chart showing for a solo recording: she'd previously hit #5 R&B with her first release "Don't Make Me Over" and after "Message to Michael" would reach #5 R&B as a soloist with both "Alfie" and "Once You Hit the Road".
"Message to Michael" was not a major international hit for Dionne Warwick: it was released in April 1966 in the UK to chart no higher than #55. In Australia "Message to Michael" reached #44.
As Burt Bacharach and Hal David were not involved in the recording of "Message to Michael" – the team being in fact opposed to Dionne Warwick recording their song – the producers' credit on the track reads "a Blue Jac Production", Blue Jac Productions being the name Bacharach/David and Warwick had incorporated under in 1962 (officially Blue Jac Productions, rather than Warwick personally, were signed to Scepter Records; the same production credit would be employed for Warwick's 1970 single "Make It Easy on Yourself", which was a recording from a live performance.)
In his 1968 book: What the World Needs Now and Other Love Lyrics, Hal David emphatically admitted his misgivings over Warwick recording "Message to Michael" proved ill-founded, indeed stating "Dionne's vocal was so brilliant that it was obvious we had subconsciously written the song for her even while we thought we were writing it for a man".
During the 1988 US presidential election, George H. W. Bush cited the song's lyrics in his acceptance speech at the Republican Party National Convention saying: "Someone better take 'a message to Michael'", referring to the Democratic Party's presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.
- Nathan, David. Dionne Warwick-Love Songs (liner notes). Rhino Records CD. 2002.
- David, Hal. What the World Needs Now and Other Love Lyrics. Trident Press. 1968. ISBN 0-671-27060-5
- Platts, Robin. Burt Bacharach & Hal David: What the World Needs Now. ISBN 1-896522-77-7
- Dominic, Serene (2003). Burt Bacharach, song by song: the ultimate Burt Bacharach reference for fans. New York City: Schirmer Trade Books. pp. 97–98. ISBN 0-8256-7280-5.
- "Vivid overview". Allmusic.com.
- Wertsch, James V. (1993).Voices of the Mind: a sociocultural approach to mediated action; Harvard University Press. p.65 ISBN 0-674-94304-X.