Remembering Burt Bacharach
Burt Bacharach, who is among the musical giants of our era, passed away at the age 94 on Wednesday.
Bacharach scored more than 50 chart hits in the U.S. and across the world, with artists such as Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Dionne Warwick, Tom Jones, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Costello, etc.
Bacharach leaves behind a legacy that is hard to surpass with colossal hits across six decades.
Bacharach was born in 1928 in Kansas City, Missouri.
His family moved to New York where he grew up. His father was a sports columnist while his mother was an amateur musician and a painter.
Burt studied the cello, drums, and piano when he was young. But his exposure to jazz at the club broadened his musical horizons.
Bacharach also enrolled in music courses at the Mannes School of Music, in New York, and at McGill University in Canada.
He studied under celebrated French composer Darius Milhaud, who advised him to “never ever feel embarrassed or discomforted by a melody that people can remember or whistle.”
This was a tip that Bacharach never forgot and is probably the reason for his longevity and his ability to reinvent and adapt himself to the ever-changing world of pop music.
He served in the U.S. Army (1950-52), and while acting as a dance band arranger in Germany, he met the singer Vic Damone.
Following his return to civilian life, Bacharach accompanied Damone and numerous singing artists in the jazz club circuit.
Bacharach received his first break in 1958, composing the soundtracks of Steve McQueen's debut star vehicle, “The Blob.”
But Bacharach's mainstream success was achieved by collaborating with songwriter Hal David.
The pair worked together in the celebrated Brill Building, which housed dozens of musicians and songwriters during the late '50s and '60s.
Their sophisticated and understated tunes were in drastic contrast with the wild sounds of rock 'n' roll of that era, but that is what set them apart from the rest.
Their first hit was sung and whistled by legendary crooner Perry Como.
Bacharach’s melody and whistling section was also sampled by other musicians and the track was used in various movies and advertisements. There was something particularly joyous about the composition.
Also among their early hits was the title track of the John Wayne western, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” from 1962. Strangely the lively track wasn’t used in the film. Perhaps the makers thought it was too upbeat for the somber western.
Bacharach and David worked on “The Look of Love” which was performed by Dusty Springfield.
The song had a smoldering sensuality which worked effectively during the love scenes between Peter Sellers and Ursula Andress in the underrated James Bond parody Casino Royale from 196l. Bacharach said the melody was inspired by watching Andress in an early cut of the film.
It was even used by Steven Spielberg during a scene in the film ‘Catch Me If You Can.’
Diana Krall did her rendition of the track in her album of the same name in 2001.
Bacharach and David's Anyone Who Had A Heart in 1963, was soul legend Dionne Warwick's first hit in the U.S. that made her a mainstream artist.
Bacharach and David also worked on the title song of Michael Caine's "Alfie." The track was sung by Cilla Black and topped the charts in the U.K. while Warwick's rendition topped the U.S. charts.
Bacharach and David collaborated on the soundtrack of comedy "What’s New Pussycat," starring Peter O’Toole and Peter Sellers, which was based on a script by Woody Allen.
The lively title track sung by Tom Jones was nominated for an Oscar in 1966 for best original song. It still remains one of Jones’s greatest hits
"Here’s I am," was another memorable track sung by Warwick from the film:
‘Walk On By’ from 1963 was another collaboration between David, Warwick, and Bacharach.
Also in 1963, Bacharach collaborated with The Beatles for 'Baby It's You'
'I Say a Little Prayer' from 1966, told the story of a woman thinking of her lover who is on his way to the Vietnam War. This soulful track was another successful collaboration between Warwick, Bacharach, and David in 1966.
The track was covered by Aretha Franklin in 1968.
It received a revival upon being part of Julia Roberts's rom-com "My Best Friend's Wedding" from 1997.
"Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," once again by Bacharach and David for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" from 1969 was about a compulsive optimist.
It was also covered quite magnificently by the legendary Engelbart Humperdinck
Bacharach worked with Frank Sinatra for "[They Long To Be] Close To You."
Bacharach composed the title track for Arthur (1980), the hit starring Dudley Moore and Sir John Gielgud. The song by Christopher Cross won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1981.
In 1986, Bacharach had two major hits.
“That’s What Friends Are For” was recorded by Warwick with Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder as a charitable fundraiser for AIDS.
Then there was 'On My Own' performed by Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald.
In 1993, Bacharach and David reunited with Warwick for Sunny Weather Lover.
In 1995, he co-wrote "God Give Me Strength" with Elvis Costello for Allison Anders’s film about the Brill Building era, Grace of My Heart.
Bacharach saw a resurgence following his appearances in the '60s-spoofing Austin Powers film series, playing some of his greatest hits. This is how I discovered Bacharach.
His 2005 album "At This Time" was a ruminative piece that had Bacharach collaborate with artists such as Dr. Dre, Rufus Wainwright, and Elvis Costello.
His autobiography, Anyone Who Had a Heart: My Life and Music, was published in 2013, and in 2015.
He never retired, and continued touring past his 90th birthday, with concerts in the U.K. and continental Europe in 2018 and 2019.
Bacharach won three Oscars, two Golden Globes, and six competitive Grammy Awards, and was hailed as music's "greatest living composer" when he accepted the Grammy lifetime achievement honor in 2008.
Bacharach managed to bridge the boundaries of pop, jazz, and even classical. His music was relatable and accessible to all, yet it had the gravitas of jazz and classical music that earned him the reputation of being the Beethoven of pop. His songs, while joyous, had a distinctive undercurrent of melancholy.
Such was the magic of his work that they were used and will still be used in movies, TV shows, advertisements and so much more.
Many of the familiar tunes that are now part of pop culture were works of Bacharach. Perhaps listeners are fond of many of these tunes without realizing that they emanated from Bacharach's mind.
Bacharach's vast, unique and eclectic body of work has left an indelible mark in the minds of millions of his listeners.
Click here for more of Bacharach's genius.
And see this 60 Minutes Overtime segment, here, too:
Image: Screen shot from 60 Minutes Overtime video, via YouTube