More than almost any other artists, songwriters define their moments. Burt Bacharach was such a songwriter. His most prolific period being from the early-Sixties right through the Seventies when the hits just poured out of him and his song-writing partner, the late Hal David.
That time is mainly remembered for the Beatles and Rolling Stones, but riding high alongside them were the sumptuous strings and horn arrangement for Bacharach-David hits by Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black and Sandie Shaw.
And, of course, also for Dionne Warwick, the American singer who sang nearly all the duo’s hits first. She’d been originally hired to simply make demo records for the big stars to copy, until she put her foot down and demanded that she, too, could be a star.
The result was that the first time anyone ever heard Anyone Who Had A Heart it was by Dionne Warwick. Dusty wanted it to be her first solo single for the UK market, but Cilla Black got there first. After which Cilla sang the title song for the film Alfie, another Bacharach-David song.
The first time I heard the Walker Brothers hit Make It Easy On Yourself, another Bacharach-David hit, it was being sung by Dionne Warwick on her first album, which Bacharach also produced.
Although boy groups got most of the attention then, Bacharach and David wrote best for women singers with heart wrenching stories of betrayal and hurt. Think only of the plea in Don’t Make Me Over, or the despair in Dusty Springfield’s I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself. Then there was The Look Of Love for Dusty and Close to You for Karen Carpenter.
Hal David wrote the lyrics, of course, but he needed fantastic singable melodies to put the words to. Second only to Lennon and McCartney, he and Bacharach were the songwriters in greatest demand.
The result was that Hollywood loved them, and shoe-horned Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head into Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Another film song was What’s New, Pussycat? for Tom Jones.
At the time, the pop formula was for a couple of verses, a middle eight, maybe an instrumental break and then the verse again. But melodically Bacharach threw that shape out of the studio window.
His songs could be complex, borrowing their shape from Latin American rhythms. Do You Know The Way To San Jose? by Dionne Warwick, changes rhythms and style several times.
Their songs told a story, too. Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa, had Gene Pitney virtually sobbing that he’s found someone new. It was dramatic stuff.
But best of all was that the melodies were so strong we could all hum or sing them to ourselves.
Burt Bacharach used to say that his music teacher at college had told him never to be ‘ashamed of something that is melodic’ a tune that people could whistle. It was advice that served him well when he wrote Magic Moments for Perry Como in his first flush of success in the early Fifties.
‘I never forgot that advice,’ he would often say. ‘Never be afraid of something that you can whistle’.
We’ll all be whistling Burt Bacharach’s tunes today.