Bacharach, Burt


Born 12 May 1928, Kansas City, Missouri, USA. As a composer and arranger, Bacharach is rightly regarded as one of the most important figures in contemporary pop music. Although his father was a journalist, it was music rather than lyrics that was to prove Bacharach's forte. Raised in New York, he was a jazz aficionado and played in various ensembles during the 40s. He studied musical theory and composition at university and served in the US Army between 1950 and 1952. Following his discharge, he worked as a pianist, arranger and conductor for a number of artists, including Vic Damone, Steve Lawrence, Polly Bergen and the Ames Brothers. From 1956-58, Bacharach worked as musical director for Marlene Dietrich, a period in which he also registered his first hit as a composer. The song in question was the Five Blobs' "The Blob", a tune written for a horror b-movie. Bacharach's co-composer on that hit was Mack David, but a more fruitful partnership followed when Burt was introduced to his collaborator's brother, Hal David. In 1958, Bacharach/David enjoyed their first hit with "The Story Of My Life", a US Top 20 for Marty Robbins. In the UK, the song became an instant standard, courtesy of the chart-topping Michael Holliday and three other hit versions by Gary Miller, Alma Cogan and Dave King. Even greater success followed with Perry Como's reading of the engagingly melodic "Magic Moments", which topped the UK charts for an astonishing eight weeks (number 4 in the USA).

Despite their chart-topping songwriting success, the Bacharach/David team did not work together exclusively until as late as 1962. In the meantime, Bacharach found a new songwriting partner, Bob Hilliard, with whom he composed several songs for the Drifters. They also enjoyed minor success with Chuck Jackson's beautifully sparse "Any Day Now" (later recorded by Elvis Presley). It was during the early 60s that the Bacharach/David team recommenced their collaboration in earnest and many of their recordings brought success to both US and UK artists. Frankie Vaughan's "Tower Of Strength" gave them their third UK number 1, as well as another US Top 10 hit in a version by Gene McDaniels. The highly talented Gene Pitney, himself a songwriter, achieved two of his early hits with the duo's "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance" and "Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa". Other well-known Bacharach/David standards from the early/mid-60s included "Wives And Lovers" and "What The World Needs Now Is Love" (successfully covered by Jack Jones and Jackie DeShannon, respectively).

From 1962 onwards the formidable Bacharach/David writing team steered the career of songstress Dionne Warwick with a breathtaking array of high-quality hit songs, including "Don't Make Me Over", "Anyone Who Had A Heart", "Walk On By", "You'll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart)", "Reach Out For Me", "Are You There (With Another Girl)", "Message To Michael", "Trains And Boats And Planes", "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself", "Alfie", "The Windows Of The World", "I Say A Little Prayer", "Valley Of The Dolls" and "Do You Know The Way To San Jose?". Interestingly, the songwriting duo maintained a quotient of number 1 singles in the UK, thanks to first-class cover versions by Cilla Black ("Anyone Who Had A Heart"), Sandie Shaw ("(There's) Always Something There To Remind Me"), the Walker Brothers ("Make It Easy On Yourself") and Herb Alpert ("This Guy's In Love With You"). Looking back at this remarkable series of hits, one notices the strength of Bacharach's melodies and the deftness of touch that so neatly complemented David's soul-tortured, romantic lyrics. After writing the theme song to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Bacharach/David were popular choices as composers of film scores. The comedy What's New, Pussycat brought them an Oscar nomination and another hit when the title song was recorded by Tom Jones. Dusty Springfield recorded numerous Bacharach songs on her albums throughout the 60s and, together with Warwick, was arguably the best interpreter of his material. Further hits and Academy Award nominations followed between 1967 and 1968 for the movies Alfie and Casino Royale (which featured "The Look Of Love"). Finally, in 1969, a double Oscar celebration was achieved with the score from Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and its award-winning standard "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head". Although there were opportunities to write further film material during the late 60s, the duo were determined to complete their own musical, Promises, Promises. The show proved enormously successful and enjoyed a lengthy Broadway run.

Although Bacharach's reputation rests mainly on his songwriting, he has had a sporadic career as a recording artist. After a minor US hit with "Saturday Sunshine" in 1963, he outmanoeuvred Billy J. Kramer And The Dakotas in the 1965 chart race involving "Trains And Boats And Planes". Personal appearances at such prestigious venues as the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles and the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas have produced "standing room only" notices, while television specials based on his songs proved very popular.

By 1970, Bacharach seemed blessed with the hit Midas touch, and the Carpenters' beautiful reading of "Close To You" suggested that further standards would follow. Remarkably, however, this inveterate hitmaker did not enjoy another chart success for over 10 years. An acrimonious split from partner Hal David broke the classic songwriting spell. A barren period was possibly exacerbated by the concurrent break-up of Bacharach's marriage to actress Angie Dickinson and the loss of his most consistent hitmaker Dionne Warwick. Bacharach's desultory decade was alleviated by a series of albums for A&M Records, which featured his own readings of his compositions. Although the late 60s recording Make It Easy On Yourself and the 1971 Burt Bacharach were chart successes, the curse of the 70s was once more evident when Living Together sold poorly. Worse followed when his musical Lost Horizon emerged as a commercial disaster. His succeeding albums, Futures and Woman, also fared badly and none of his new compositions proved chartworthy.

It was not until 1981 that Bacharach's dry run ended. At last he found a lyricist of genuine commercial fire in Carole Bayer Sager. Their Oscar-winning "Arthur's Theme" (co-written with Peter Allen and singer Christopher Cross) returned Bacharach to the charts and in 1982 he married Sager. Together, they provided hits for Roberta Flack ("Making Love") and Neil Diamond ("Heartlight"). In 1986 Bacharach enjoyed the level of success so familiar during the late 60s, with two US number 1 hits, "That's What Friends Are For" (an AIDS charity record by Warwick and "Friends" - Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder) and "On My Own" (a duet between Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald). In the late 80s Bacharach collaborated with Sager on film songs such as "They Don't Make Them Like They Used To" (for Tough Guys), "Everchanging Time" (with Bill Conti for Baby Boom), and "Love Is My Decision" (for Arthur 2: On The Rocks). He also wrote the score for the latter. In 1989 the American vocalist Sybil revived "Don't Make Me Over", Warwick's first hit with a Bacharach/David song, and a year later the UK band Deacon Blue went to number 2 with their Four Bacharach And David Songs EP.

In 1992, some months after Bacharach had announced that his nine-year marriage to Sager was over, he and David finally reunited to write songs, including "Sunny Weather Lover" for Dionne Warwick's new album. In the following year, Bacharach extended his publishing empire in collaboration with veteran publishing executive Bob Fead, and subsequently wrote with John Bettis ("Captives Of The Heart"), Will Jennings and Narada Michael Walden. In 1994, a musical revue entitled Back To Bacharach And David opened in New York, and in the following year, BBC Television transmitted a major film profile, Burt Bacharach: ... This Is Now, which was narrated by Dusty Springfield. Naturally, she was represented (with "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself") on the 23-track celebratory The Look Of Love: The Classic Songs Of Burt Bacharach (1996), which also contained other significant versions of the composer's immortal melodies. That album, along with Bacharach's Reach Out (originally released in 1967) and The Best Of Burt Bacharach (on which he plays instrumental versions of 20 of his hits) were issued in the UK in response to a tremendous upsurge of interest in easy-listening music among young people in the mid-90s. Suddenly, Bacharach was considered "hip" again. Noel Gallagher of Oasis declared himself a great admirer, and leading figures in contemporary popular music such as Jarvis Cocker of Pulp, Michael Stipe of R.E.M., and Paul Weller all covered his songs. Welcomed by many critics as "a backlash against the hard rhythms of the dance/house stuff", the phenomenon also dismayed others, one of whom groaned: "And to think we went through two Woodstocks for this."

Bacharach's music is now hip with the young, so much so that he made a cameo appearance in the Mike Myers movie Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery. In 1998, Bacharach collaborated with Elvis Costello on Painted From Memory, a finely crafted collection of ballads bearing the unmistakable trademarks of its creators: Bacharach's deft romantic touch, coupled with the quirky, realistic style of Costello. Among the album's highlights were "God Give Me Strength", which featured in the 1996 movie, Grace Of My Heart, "This House Is Empty Now", and an impressive showcase for Costello's lyrics, "Toledo". Another of the numbers, "I Still Have That Other Girl", won a 1999 Grammy Award. In the same year, Bacharach and David contributed some songs to the Bette Midler movie Isn't She Great.

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