Songwriters of the nineties often tend to belong to one special niche in the music process. One of the reasons for this is the fact that many are writing principally for themselves as artists, thus tending to fall into a single category. Burt Bacharach, who has been writing song hits in many regions of the pop landscape for four decades, is decidedly not a member of this special club.
Bacharach, in fact, has enjoyed major hits in all genres of music, including top 40, rhythm and blues, country, film scores and soundtracks. He is a multi-faceted composer enjoying credits with a host of major collaborators, particularly Hal David, who also is honored this evening with the Johnny Mercer award.
Born in Missouri, Bacharach did most of his growing up in New York City, where during his elementary school years, he began taking piano lessons. A familiar scenario indeed, which for many, ends almost where it starts with not enough will to practice and too much homework from school. Bacharach, in fact, ate it up and, already influenced by one of the significant fads of that time, be-bop jazz and such practitioners as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, he graduated from high school and continued his education at Montreal’s McGill University, the New School for Social Research in New York and the Mannes School of Music, also in New York. His studies included music composition from such masters as Darius Milhaud, Boguslav Martinu and Henry Cowell.
During the earliest phase of his career, Bacharach worked as accompanist and conductor for Marlene Dietrich’s night club act. In the early and mid-sixties, his songwriting talents became the pivotal force in his music, with country-rock smashes, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” and the classic, “Only Love
Can Break A Heart,” for Gene Pitney; and “Story Of My Life” for the county star, Marty Robbins.
Soon established as a major songwriting duo with Hal David, Bacharach and his partner became longterm contributors to the career of Dionne Warwick. Over a period of 10 years, the pair enjoyed a string of 39 consecutive chart hits with Ms. Warwick, including such memorable songs as “Walk On By,” “Don’t Make Me Over,” “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again,” “Promises, Promises,” and “Message To Michael.” The song, “That’s What Friends Are For,” recorded by Warwick with Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Gladys Knight, and co-written with Carole Bayer Sager, became number one on the hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts, received a Grammy for “Song of the Year,” and with songwriters and artists all
contributing their services without charge, the recording raised over $1,500,000 for The American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR).
Burt Bacharach’s motion picture scores have also achieved classic status. With Hal David a co-writer, the output includes a series of memorable themes, such as “What’s New Pussycat,” (the title song was a million-seller for Britain’s Tom Jones); “Casino Royale,” from which the song “The Look Of Love” was a
gold record for both Dusty Springfield and Sergio Mendez and Brazil 66. The title song became a major hit for Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Others in the movie genre include “Alfie,” “Together?” with vocals by Michael McDonald, Jackie DeShannon and Libby Titus; “Arthur,” “Night Shift,” “Making Love,”
“Baby Boom” and the memorable “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” for which he received a pair of Oscars. Meanwhile, an album compilation of greatest Bacharach hits featuring the original recordings, and titled “Look of Love,” was released earlier this year and promptly hit the number six position on the UK best-selling charts.
On the Broadway stage, Bacharach and David wrote “Promises, Promises,” a smash hit at the box office as well as through the Dionne Warwick recording of the title song. On another front, Bacharach, as arranger and conductor, has also recorded eight albums for A&M Records.
In the few moments not totally devoted to composing, Bacharach has also become a horse owner with several successful thoroughbreds currently running, including Soul of the Matter and Afternoon Deelites. Another from the Bacharach stable, Heartlight No. One, a filly, was winner of the prestigious Eclipse Award, an extremely significant accolade in track and paddock circles. The horse was named after the song, “‘Heartlight,” composed by Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager and recording artist Neil Diamond.