OBITUARY



BURT BACHARACH TRIBUTE

(May 12, 1928 – February 8, 2023)

Burt Bacharach was born in Kansas City in 1928 but his parents relocated to New York when he was still a child. He took piano and 'cello lessons but his heart was not in classical music: he listened to jazz musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker and became hooked. He served in the US Army in the 1950s and on return to civilian life began to study music under the French composer Darius Milhaud (1892-1974).

From 1957 to 1962 he was Marlene Dietrich's Musical Director. At the same time he rented an office in New York's legendary Brill Building and it was there that he met lyricist Hal David (1921-2012). So began a creative partnership almost unequalled in American popular music history, yielding over 20 Top Ten hits in a single decade, despite their rhythmic and harmonic complexity. Their first collaboration produced The Story Of My Life in 1957, a hit for Marty Robbins in the US and Michael Holliday in the UK; this was closely followed by Magic Moments, which was in fact on the B side of Perry Como's Catch A Falling Star (not one of their compositions).

In 1961 Bacharach came across Dionne Warwick, then working as a backing singer for various artists. He and Hal David took her under their wing and composed a succession of hit songs for her, starting with Don't Make Me Over (1962). This was followed by Anyone Who Had A Heart (1963), Walk On By and A House Is Not A Home (1964), Message To Michael (1966), I Say A Little Prayer For You and Alfie (1967). It's no secret that Dionne Warwick was upset by Cilla Black's cover version of the latter, which performed better in the UK charts. 1968 saw Do You Know The Way To San Jose? become yet another chart success for the Bacharach/David/Warwick team.

Many of their songs were recorded by other artists: The Walker Brothers (Make It Easy On Yourself), Gene Pitney (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), Dusty Springfield (The Look Of Love), Jack Jones (Wives And Lovers), Tom Jones (What’s New Pussycat?) and B.J. Thomas (Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head).
Bacharach and David broke new territory in 1968 with music and lyrics for a show called Promises, Promises (book by Neil Simon). The show's standout song, written at the eleventh hour just before it opened on Broadway, was I’ll Never Fall In Love Again. Five years later they moved to Hollywood and began work on the score for a musical remake of the classic 1937 Frank Capra film Lost Horizon, featuring a cast of non-singers such as Peter Finch and Liv Ullman. The composers' relationship on this project became strained to such an extent that Hal David walked away and Dionne Warwick began legal proceedings against Bacharach for failing to produce fresh material for her to record.

In due course things were patched up but the partnership was never the same. Bacharach however continued to appear in concert and together with Carole Bayer Sager, who became the third of his four wives, wrote Best That You Can Do for the 1981 hit Dudley Moore film Arthur. One of his final collaborations was with the British songwriter Elvis Costello.

Burt Bacharach died in February 2023 aged 95. His music will remain in copyright until 31st December 2093.

Anthony Wills, 23.02.23

To say that Burt Bacharach was arguably the most significant popular song composer of his generation is probably to understate the case. Few – if any – others can claim to have produced such a large catalogue of hits, or worked with as many top performers as he did. The winning combination of Bacharach's music and David's lyrics was unbeatable – Ed.


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