TRIBUTE: Burt Bacharach 1

TRIBUTE: Burt Bacharach

Burt Bacharach, one of popular music’s greatest-ever songwriters, died at home in Los Angeles on February 8th. He was 94 years of age. His publicist, Tina Brausam, confirmed the death with the Washington Post yesterday.

In the early 1950s, the classically trained musician became a piano accompanist to various musicians, including the American traditional pop and big band singer, Vic Damone, the popular singing quartet, the Ames Brothers and his first wife, Paula Stewart. He then became part-time music director for Marlene Dietrich, the actress and singer who had been an international screen star in the 1930s. They toured worldwide in the late 50s and early 60s.

But Burt Bacharach’s major breakthrough came when he met lyricist Hal David.  Together the two men went on to write a string of some of the most enduring songs of the era, all-time classics such as ‘I Say a Little Prayer’, sung by Aretha Franklin‘(They Long To Be) Close to You’, performed by The Carpenters‘What’s New Pussycat?’ by Tom Jones‘The Look of Love’ by Dusty Springfield‘This Guy’s In Love With You’ by Herb Alpert‘Make It Easy on Yourself’ by the Walker Brothers, and so many more besides. Bacharach and David scored more than 50 hit records in the US and UK.

It is far too simplistic, undeniably dismissive, and ultimately downright offensive to just file these songs under the category of easy listening, to be seen as some sort of ready-made source material for karaoke evenings in your local pub. Such a view pays scant regard to the detailed arrangements of these songs, their often unusual time signatures, complex chord progressions, and the undoubted jazz influence of their syncopated rhythms. And that is before we even get round to talking about the timelessness of the songs’ melodies.

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Burt Bacharach at Glastobury Festival, 2015

I only have to think of the marked diversity of three artists that I saw performing Bacharach and David songs in concert to affirm the far wider parameters of their appeal. Arthur Lee – one of the central figures of the late 60’s psychedelic rock scene – and Love and their radical reworking of ‘My Little Red Book’. The recreation of ‘Walk On By’ by one of the first wave of British punk bands in the 70s, The Stranglers, including Dave Greenfield’s frenzied, experimental keyboard break. And the beautifully orchestrated version of the same song by soul music revolutionary Isaac Hayes, one that stretched out way beyond the 10 minute mark like some high-class limousine.

And then there was seeing the great man himself, at Glastonbury Festival in 2015. In his superior black barathea blazer replete with large gold buttons, dark slacks, and shirt casually unbuttoned at the neck, the then 87 year old composer, songwriter, record producer, and pianist was the epitome of vintage cool. He effortlessly held the crowd in the palm of his hands as he led his band through a peerless greatest-hits set, one that begun with ‘What The World Needs Now Is Love’ and ended some 26 songs later with ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head’, performed, just for good measure, for the second time that very afternoon. It was an exhibition of pure pop perfection. It was sheer and utter class.

Photos: Simon Godley

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.