#99: “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” by Dionne Warwick
I can’t remember what originally got me obsessed with “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” when I’d hear it on the radio as a kid. It was either the muted horn section that suddenly accompanies Dionne’s vocal line in the second verse or the slightly martial drumming that personifies, to me, the musical arrangement version of high 60s cool. Or maybe it was the “whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whooooa’s” that filter through the song’s intro and outro. Or maybe it was Gary Chester’s brilliant bass playing. It had to be the music. Because what I can clearly remember is sitting in my office at VIBE one day at age 25, hearing the song, listening to the lyric, and suddenly feeling a melancholy I’d never felt from a pop song before—as well as a great deal of respect for the craft of songwriting. What I once thought was just a jaunty, coy California-chic pop tune was actually more Play it as it Lays, a novella in music, with resignation and hope battling each other in Hal David’s elegant lyric as the Burt Bacharach melody bubbles like a lethally laced Tequila Sunrise. But enough about that; I’ll just get sad again. As for the music: The details are so subtle and just right. It’s one of those songs where the elements—the squiggle of keyboard here, the yawn of strings there, the chilly but knowing Dionne Warwick vocal style—all play their parts with just the right amount of ease, reminding a devout music-lover how a wonderful arrangement of a great tune with top-flight musicianship can sound.
Here’s the tune: