Friday, May 17, 2013

Kentucky Songs: Message to Michael

Today’s Kentucky related song had three different American titles on its various releases. Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, the original title of the song was “Message to Martha” and was first recorded by Jerry Butler in 1962 for his 1963 album “Need to Belong.” It was released by Lou Johnson in 1964 under the title of “Kentucky Bluebird.” The biggest hit for the song, however, was when Dionne Warwick changed the focus of the song from a woman to a man and released it under the name of “Message to Michael.”


Although the songwriting team had signed Warwick as an artist, written numerous songs for her, and co-produced her recordings; lyricist Hal David was vehemently opposed to the changing of the sex of the song's title character and the use of the name of “Michael” – a name he disliked.

Warwick (no doubt using her Psychic Hotline Friends Network) realized the hit potential for her song and recorded it in Paris with a backing track that was originally intended for French singer Sacha Distel. Distel had passed on recording the song and Warwick used the track – which was much to the dismay of Bacharach and David. Blue Jac Productions, their company with Warwick, was given production credits; however, neither Bacharach nor David was present for the Paris recording session.

Bacharach and David acquiesced in allowing Scepter to release the song as a single; however, they insisted that it be relegated to a “B” side and not be promoted. Because New Orleans is mentioned in the opening lines of the tune, Scepter quietly promoted the song in that market, and when it became a hit there, the record was poised for national promotion.

Warwick was right. “Message to Michael” charted at #8 on the Hot 100 and #5 on the R&B charts. It proved to be Warwick’s first Top 10 record in two years and would bring Bacharach and David mucho dinero for songwriting and publishing royalties. It also proved to be the most popular version of the song as Butler’s recording was an album cut and Lou Johnson’s “Kentucky Bluebird” only peaked at #104.

1 comment:

  1. This story just goes to show that it is often the record buying public that makes the right decision regarding a song.