Burt Bacharach and Hal David, a prolific songwriting team of the '60s and '70s, wrote this. They discovered Dionne Warwick and wrote many of her hits, starting with her debut solo single, "Don't Make Me Over
," in 1962.
The upbeat melody belies the melancholy lyrics about giving up on a dream and going back home. The juxtaposition was a common technique with Hal David. The lyricist told NPR: "The idea of doing a lyric that is essentially kind of sad to a very up and optimistic melody is something I've done a lot, and I've always thought it was an effective way of writing a song. Burt played this melody for me, and music says things to me and should say things to me.
I heard the phrase do you know the way to San Jose, and from that I began to create the storyline that became the person who comes to Los Angeles to make his or her career in the entertainment business and has dreams of being a big star, and for most people it does not turn out to be quite that happy."
Dionne Warwick said: "I thought it was a really silly song. Obviously Hal David had a great affinity for San Jose as I believe he was stationed there during his time in the Navy and he loved the place and he wrote a song about it. I just giggled all the way to the bank, what can I tell you?"
Burt Bacharach (from Record Collector magazine): "Dionne did not want to record that song. She didn't like it. But we talked her into it and she did it. Her mind changed once it was a hit (laughs). I knew it was a pretty special song and I knew it was a different kind of song, too."
The song title is a question famously put without a question mark, indicating it is more rhetorical.
This won a Grammy for Best Contemporary-Pop Vocal Performance, Female.
Mike - Mountlake Terrace, WA, for all above
This was used in several movies, including Alive (1993), The Scout (1994), Fargo (1996), My Best Friend's Wedding (1997), Rent (2005), and Coming Up Roses (2011).
It was also featured on the TV shows Helix (pilot episode, 2014) and Last Man on Earth ("Mama's Hideaway," 2016).
At the time she recorded the tune, Warwick had never been to San Jose. Shortly after, she visited the town for the first time - it wasn't yet a leader of the high-tech industry, but a farming community populated with orchards - which helped her gain a slightly better appreciation for the song. In 2014, she was named the city's "global ambassador of goodwill."
When asked by Analog Planet
how the song came together, Bacharach replied: "That was a melody I had started. It was uptempo. We didn't cut too many things up like that with Dionne. I played it for Hal, he got an idea, then we kind of steamrolled it together. We finished it and played it for Dionne who wasn't too crazy about the song and when she performed it at the recording session, I think it was the only time during that period we didn't get a vocal from her that was good enough to use. So we had to bring her back into the studio to have her overdub her vocals."