The names of Burt Bacharach and Hal David are up there with Leiber and Stoller, Goffin and King and Lennon and McCartney on the Olympus of classic songwriting pairings. Though tunesmith Bacharach enjoyed other lyric partners, it was with David that he wrote the majority of songs that made him famous.
David, the senior partner by some seven years, and Bacharach met in 1957 when both worked in the Brill Building, New York’s legendary Tin Pan Alley song factory where writers cranked out hits for music publishers. Their first success came with ‘The Story Of My Life’ by Marty Robbins and ‘Magic Moments’, a million-selling record for Perry Como; both feature in our collection. But it was when they began writing for a young singer named Dionne Warwick that they truly hit their stride.
Bacharach had met Warwick when working as a songwriter with producers Leiber and Stoller on reviving the career of the Drifters. Warwick was a backing singer for the group, and Burt would work with her for many years thereafter. She recorded our opening number, ‘Don’t Make Me Over’ in 1961, and this made US Number 21 the following year.
Sometimes the lyrics came first, other times the melody. Gene Pitney’s 1962 Number US 4 hit ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’, was certainly in the former camp, as it was inspired by the John Wayne/James Stewart movie of that name. Indeed, it was set to feature in the film but was completed too late for inclusion. ‘It’s Love That Really Counts’ was not one of girl group the Shirelles’ greatest hits, but was successful for Liverpool’s Merseybeats. (‘Baby It’s You’, which the Beatles covered, was penned by Bacharach, Luther Dixon and Hal David’s brother Mack, so is ineligible for inclusion here.)
Not all the songs on these CDs were hits for the artists who sing them. Take ‘Make It Easy On Yourself’, performed here by former Impressions lead singer Jerry Butler; this was covered in 1965 by the more chart-worthy Walker Brothers. Likewise ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’, a 1962 B-side for ex-Flamingos member Tommy Hunt (and its first recording) is now associated with Dusty Springfield. Elvis Costello performed this song live as a rare cover version as he came to fame in the Seventies, and would later work with Burt on the 1998 originals album ‘Painted From Memory’.
Burt Bacharach and Hal David, the songwriting dream team of the 20th century, fell out in the early Seventies over a musical remake of Frank Capra’s pre-war classic movie Lost Horizon. Bacharach apparently felt he deserved a bigger share of the royalty they jointly received. David’s answer was negative; he was already unhappy at Burt receiving the lion’s share of the credit, playing concerts and recording instrumental version of their songs. Bacharach and David sued each other and Dionne Warwick, who had been relying on their songs for her next album, sued them both.
‘It was stupid, foolish behaviour on my part and I take all the blame for it,’ Bacharach said of his fateful demand in his 2013 autobiography Anyone Who Had A Heart: My Life And Music. The cases were settled out of court in 1979 and Bacharach and David didn’t work together for years. Appropriately, it was Dionne Warwick who reunited them in 1992 for the recording of her ‘Sunny Weather Lover’.
Burt Bacharach brought his classical training – he learned the cello and the drum before moving to the piano – to the world of light pop music, his songs characterised by unusual chord progressions, syncopated rhythms, irregular phrasing and frequent modulation between keys. His strong, catchy melodies have become instantly recognisable to listeners worldwide.
In a 1999 interview, Hal David explained his success as a lyricist: ‘Try and tell a narrative. The songs should be like a little film, told in three or four minutes. Try to say things as simply as possible, which is probably the most difficult thing to do.’ Fellow songwriter Paul Williams concurred: ‘As a lyric writer, Hal was simple, concise and poetic, conveying volumes of meaning in fewest possible words and always in service to the music.’
In May 2012, Bacharach and David were honoured by Barack Obama and the US Library of Congress. ‘The Gershwin Prize is named for one of the great American songwriting duos of all time. And it’s fitting that tonight’s award is being presented to another,’ the President said at a White House concert celebrating their work.
Sadly, Hal David passed away some three months later, but Burt Bacharach, at 85, still happily tours the world. With an estimated net worth of $150 million, he didn’t need the money…but audiences rolled up to see a master tunesmith deliver his classics. And you can bet some of the tunes on this album are still among his repertoire.