Burt Bacharach was a great and popular songwriter, and a composer of many film scores. As we hear the sad news of his passing today, I wanted to say thank you Maestro, for all the memories and so many Magic Moments that made our Heart lights glow.
Together with Hal David, Burt Bacharach created songs that became popular standards. They were songs that once heard would never be forgotten, and each one seemed to have to it a persona, a mood and a refrain that would evoke memories of a time a place or an event that took place when you first heard it. Sophisticated, easy on the ear yet at times musically complicated, many of them became hits during a career glittering that lasted more than half a century. Bacharach’s songs surpassed the rock era; were never trendy but never out of vogue.
Burt Freeman Bacharach was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1928 but grew up in New York, where his father a well-known newspaper columnist. He developed an interest in jazz as a teenager, often gaining entry into many of New York’s jazz clubs while being underage. He began to study music in Montreal and then later in California and found himself becoming friends with John Cage, who became a major influence on his career. Bacharach did his army service in Korea and, when he left the army returned to New York where he found work as a composer and arranger, writing songs for numerous performers, including actress and singer Paula Stewart, whom he later married. At one stage in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he accompanied Marlene Dietrich, as she took her cabaret act around Europe and the United States. By then, he had teamed up with the lyricist Hal David. They met at the famous Brill Building in New York, where so many music publishers and popular songwriters had their offices.
Bacharach and David had their first big hits in the late 1950’s The Story of My Life, recorded by Marty Robbins in 1957 and Magic Moments, sung by Perry Como in 1957 which went to the number one position in the UK hit parade. As the decade of the 1960s began, it seemed that the duo could not put a foot wrong and produced hit after hit for a plethora of artists. Gene Pitney recorded the now classic song Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa, The Walker Brothers with another iconic song Make It Easy on Yourself and Dusty Springfield charted in the USA and the UK with I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself.
Inspired by his second wife, actress Angie Dickinson, Bacharach wrote songs for the cinema, including Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head, from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid performed by BJ Thomas, and t the haunting theme song for Alfie, which was a hit for Cilla Black. It was his song for Alfie that garnered him an Oscar nomination for best song, as did the theme for What’s New Pussycat, which was a hit for Tom Jones, and The Look of Love which became a hit for Dionne Warwick in the USA and also a hit for Dusty Springfield in the UK and featured in the spoof Bond movie Casino Royale.
It was with Dionne Warwick, a singer Bacharach and David had hired to record demo records, that the duo achieved their most successful and continuing collaboration. Which began with Don’t Make Me Over in 1962, she recorded a string of almost forty Bacharach and David hits over the next ten years, including Walk On By, Do You Know the Way to San Jose? and I’ll Never Fall in Love Again. (which was also a hit for Bobby Gentry). By the beginning of the 1970s, Bacharach and David had written more than a hundred songs, but their partnership was starting to fall apart. A musical version of the 1937 film Lost Horizon (1973) was a disaster at the box office and was responsible for a number of lawsuits. Bacharach’s partnership with David broke up at this time.
The composer’s marriage to Angie Dickinson was also failing and his music was becoming less in demand. But Bacharach made a stunning comeback in the 1980s, writing hits like the theme song for the film Arthur with his third wife, Carole Bayer Sager, which achieved chart success for the singer Christopher Cross. Together the couple went on to write Making Love for Roberta Flack, That’s What Friends Are For, sung by Dionne Warwick, and songs for the likes of Gladys Knight, Neil Diamond, and Patti Labelle.
Many younger songwriters, such as Noel Gallagher of Oasis, expressed admiration and respect for Bacharach’s music with many others clambering to work with him. He collaborated with Elvis Costello and the rapper Doctor Dre, and also appeared on screen (as himself) most famously playing a piano and singing on a bus in London in one of the Austin Powers films. In June 2015, Bacharach performed on stage at the Glastonbury Festival to a ecstatic welcome. The fluency and warmth of Bacharach’s music meant the cleverness of much of it was sometimes overlooked: it was dismissed as Lift music, or even lounge or easy listening, maybe waiting room muzak. But typically, the compositions of Burt Bacharach were rhythmically complicated, often surprising the listener with deviations of melody, time signature, and unbalanced phrasing.
The harmonies were sometimes alternative, and the composer excelled at producing a soaring and hauntingly affecting musical hook that just stayed with the listeners, lodging in their brain and subconscious refusing to leave.
Above all, his songs are musically cultured, and they were open to and invited stylish interpretations from his singers – one reason, perhaps, why later generations of songwriters positively revered him. He was and will remain a giant of the music world.