Legendary Composer Bacharach Dead At 94

by Kevin Burton

   You know Burt Bacharach, even when it’s not Burt Bacharach.

   Bacharach died Wednesday at home in Los Angeles of natural causes, according to his publicist, Tina Brausam.

   The Kansas City-born composer had an unmistakable sound, especially in his work with longtime writing partner, lyricist Hal David.

   The New York Times called Bacharach “debonair” in its tribute and said he added a high gloss to the 60s. With lush orchestrations and romantic melodies, the Bacharach sound stood apart from much of the other sounds spilling forth from the radio.

   For “That Thing You Do” a favorite movie of mine starring Tom Hanks, about a one-hit wonder band from Erie PA, writers created authentic-sounding 60s music to represent the immediate post-British Invasion times.

   The song “My World Is Over” by fictional pop star Diane Dane, is squarely in that Bacharach-David mode. The instant I heard it, I said, “OK, this is the Bacharach tune.”

   Looking at my CD copy of “The Very Best of Burt Bacharach,” I noticed to my astonishment that it doesn’t have my favorite Bacharach song.

   “Promises, Promises,” is one of the songs I remember hearing in heavy rotation in 1968 when I lived in Bermuda. I took an instant liking to it but couldn’t have told you why.

    It was only later that I learned one intriguing part of the song is it changes time signatures, something Bacharach is known for.

   In a 1999 interview he told 60 Minutes that he had a big fight with a band trying to play behind his favorite interpreter Dionne Warwick, as she sang “Anyone Who Had A Heart.” 

  “Anyone Who Had a Heart changes time signature every bar.” Bacharach said, and the sight-reading musicians weren’t getting the feel right.

  “Instead of reading what’s on the paper, just feel it in your heart” were his instructions to the band.

   The public could definitely feel where Bacharach aw was going musically. There were whole years when Bacharach was never off the chart.

   “Over the past 70 years, only Lennon-McCartney, Carole King and a handful of others rivaled his genius for instantly catchy songs that remained performed, played and hummed long after they were written,” wrote Hillel Italie of the Associated Press.

   “Bacharach was both an innovator and throwback, and his career seemed to run parallel to the rock era,” Italie wrote. “He grew up on jazz and classical music and had little taste for rock when he was breaking into the business in the 1950s.”

   “His sensibility often seemed more aligned with Tin Pan Alley than with Bob Dylan, John Lennon and other writers who later emerged, but rock composers appreciated the depth of his seemingly old-fashioned sensibility. Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Frank Sinatra were among the countless artists who covered his songs,”

   Bacharach-David tunes are as complicated to play as they are easy to hear and enjoy.

   “He was a perfectionist who took three weeks to write ‘Alfie’ and might spend hours tweaking a single chord,” Italie wrote. “It began with the melodies – strong yet interspersed with changing rhythms and surprising harmonics. He credited much of his style to his love of bebop and to his classical education, especially under the tutelage of Darius Milhaud, the famed composer.”

. “Although he was more interested in sports, he practiced piano every day after school, not wanting to disappoint his mother. While still a minor, he would sneak into jazz clubs, bearing a fake ID, and hear such greats as Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie,” Italie wrote.

   “They were just so incredibly exciting that all of a sudden, I got into music in a way I never had before,” Bacharach recalled in the memoir  “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” published in 2013. “What I heard in those clubs turned my head around.”

  In the 60s Bacharach, David and Warwick held their own against British and stateside rock and roll, with standards such as “Don’t Make Me Over,” “Walk On By,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” and “Do You Know the Way To San Jose.”

   “There are certain marriages that are made in heaven, Bacharach-David being one of them,” said singer-songwriter Elton John on the A&E documentary “The Songmakers.”

   Speaking of their collaboration with Warwick, David said. “It’s almost as if it was meant to be. I think it was meant to be.”

   Besides Warwick, the Bacharach-David team produced winners for other performers, including “What the World Needs Now Is Love” for Jackie DeShannon and “This Guy’s in Love with You” for Herb Alpert, the latter being their first number one hit.

   “Music softens the heart, makes you feel something if it’s good, brings in emotion that you might not have felt before,” Bacharach told the AP in 2018. “It’s a very powerful thing if you’re able to do to it, if you have it in your heart to do something like that.”

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