RIP Hal David

Oh dear; I just found out that lyricist Hal David, inseparable songwriting partner of Burt Bacharach, died at 91 on September 1. Son of a Jewish deli owner, he went on to write the words to so many hits. Here’s a partial list from Wikipedia:

In 1957, David met composer Burt Bacharach at Famous Music in the Brill Building in New York. The two teamed up and wrote their first hit “The Story of My Life”, recorded by Marty Robbins in 1957. Subsequently, in the 1960s and early 1970s Bacharach and David wrote some of the most enduring songs in American popular music, many for Dionne Warwick but also for The Carpenters, Dusty Springfield, B. J. Thomas, Gene Pitney, Tom Jones, Jackie DeShannon and others.

Bacharach and David hits included “Three Wheels on my Wagon”, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”, “This Guy’s in Love with You”, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose”, “Walk On By”, “What the World Needs Now Is Love”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me”, “One Less Bell to Answer”, and “Anyone Who Had a Heart”.

The duo’s film work includes the Oscar-nominated title songs for “What’s New Pussycat?” and “Alfie”, “The Look of Love”, from Casino Royale; and the Oscar-winning “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In addition, “Don’t Make Me Over”, “(They Long to Be) Close to You”, and “Walk On By” have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

I couldn’t choose only one, but it’s hard to choose even two. I eliminated anything by Karen Carpenter because I’ve already put up many of her songs, so here’s a tribute to David.

The first song is one of my favorites, “One less bell to answer” (1967), done best in 1970 by the Fifth Dimension with the incomparable Marilyn McCoo (I heard them live in college the next year). I think this version is live, but I’m not sure; it’s certainly not the recorded version. I love McCoo’s plaintive last line.

And, to show the sunnier side of romance, here’s what is said to be both Bacharach’s and David’s favorite song from their oeuvre, “Alfie” (1965). This goes out to someone who knows who they are:

The above is a rarity: a video of the original recording for the movie, made by Cilla Black in 1965, with the orchestra conducted and piano played by an expressive Bacharach. The most famous recorded version, of course, was by Dionne Warwick, but this one has a tale, told by Wikipedia:

Although Bacharach and David suggested “Alfie” be recorded by Dionne Warwick, their most prolific interpreter, Paramount felt the film’s setting demanded the song be recorded by a UK singer and the initial invitation to record “Alfie” was made to Sandie Shaw who had had a UK number 1 hit with the Bacharach/David composition “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me”. When the invitation to Shaw was declined “Alfie” was offered to Cilla Black, who had also had a UK No.1 with a Bacharach/David song: “Anyone Who Had a Heart”.

Black was invited to record “Alfie” via a letter from Bacharach – who Black recalls wrote that the song had been written especially for her – and her manager Brian Epstein was sent a demo of the song; Black would recall her negative reaction to hearing the demo “of some fella singing ‘Alfie’…I actually said to Brian ‘I can’t do this.’ For a start – Alfie?? You call your dog Alfie!…[Couldn’t] it be Tarquin or something like that?”

Black states that rather than overtly decline the song “I said I’d only do it if Burt Bacharach himself did the arrangement, never thinking for one moment that he would. [When] the reply came back from America that he’d be happy to…I said I would only do it if Burt came over to London for the recording session. ‘Yes,’ came the reply. Next I said that as well as the arrangements and coming over, he had to play [piano] on the session. To my astonishment it was agreed that Burt would do all three. So by this time, coward that I was, I really couldn’t back out.”

The session for Cilla Black’s recording of “Alfie” took place in the fall of 1965 at Studio One, Abbey Road Studios and was overseen by Black’s regular producer George Martin. In addition to the agreed arranging and piano playing, Bacharach conducted the 48-piece orchestra which played on the session which also featured the Breakaways as background vocalists. According to Black, Bacharach had her cut eighteen complete takes before he was satisfied with her vocal while Bacharach’s estimation of the session’s total number of takes including partial ones is as high as “twenty-eight or twenty-nine…I kept going [thinking] can we get it a little better…[add] just some magic[?]”.

It’s a beautiful song, no? And it’s so familiar that we forget to pay attention to the lyrics, which are fantastic.

h/t: Sigmund (for the sad news)

16 Comments

  1. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    I liked the appearance of Bacharach playing himself and the modest tribute to him in the first of the three “Austin Powers” movies. They used another fave of mine “The Look of Love” (“Alfie” being my main fave).

    Bacharach’s only apparent miss was the songs for the 1973 musical “Lost Horizon”, but even there although the movie is bad, the songs are actually quite good. The music soundtrack actually made more money than the movie.

    • Neil Schipper
      Posted September 15, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      I heard “The Look of Love” on the radio yesterday, and after years of being rankled by something about it (them!) I came to a solid conclusion: it’s a flawed song!

      The melodically sparse A part sets up one mood (a “60’s sexy” kind of romantic mood). The B part dominated by steady 1/8 notes takes you somewhere else (danceable pop).. and they just don’t mesh.

      And it’s tragic (dahlink) because both the A & B parts are great! They should be in two different songs!

      In contrast, consider This Guy’s ILWY”, which flows superbly from start to end as it goes from lazy-romantic to a passionate crescendo.

      But yeah the B-D team was a powerhouse for sure.

      • Posted September 15, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

        I have a counter post and (friendly) counter argument to this. Is it okay/polite to link other videos on youtube?

        • Posted September 15, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

          You can post vids without embedding them here by using the title goes here

          Here’s an example: The Look of Love, Diana Krall

          • Posted September 15, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

            I was using the (a href=”url”) title goes here (/a) construction.

            Heck… if this one doesn’t work, look at the source code with your browser to see what I’m doing.

        • Neil Schipper
          Posted September 16, 2012 at 12:38 am | Permalink

          OK, but not too friendly, OK?, or we’ll get ourselves kicked off the internet.

      • MAUCH
        Posted September 18, 2012 at 4:10 am | Permalink

        Is it polite to be concerned about people being polite?

  2. Posted September 15, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful. Thanks, Prof. Coyne.
    (Two tiny typos… s/b ‘Bacharach”)

  3. darrelle
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    My first concert experience, probably about 1973 or 1974, was of Dionne Warwick where she sang several of these songs. The venue was an outdoor amphitheater in the midst of a forest at night, called the Starlight Theater. It was an almost magical experience.

  4. Posted September 15, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this memoriam. I can understand why “Alfie” was his favorite. While still a song in the songbook it approaches the level of “aria” for its drama and payoff. Cilla grabs it like an operatic actor.

    The message is the important one.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted September 15, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      Yes! The lyrics are fantastic, and although I’m not a Cilla Black fan, I believe that she handles this beautifully.

  5. Dawn Oz
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    These are the songs that helped create a Western culture – we all know them, they are singable and they help us share our experiences of life and love. ‘Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head’.

  6. docbill1351
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    That was a great time. I remember it well!

  7. ah58
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    I’m seriously loving the scalemail, frills and longjohns look from the first video. They say that fashions repeat ever few decades. I’m wondering when this will come back.

  8. michieux
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Sad to hear of his passing. Glad he left such a wonderful trove of memorable tunes for us to enjoy, most of them unforgettable, for me, anyway.


%d bloggers like this: