Burt Bacharach - Biography

By J Poet

Burt Bacharach has never recorded many albums under his own name, but his contributions to the American songbook are prodigious. Since staring his run of hits with Marty Robbins’ “The Story of My Life”, a tune written with long time lyrical partner Hal David, in 1957, composition by Bacharach have seldom been off the charts. He’s had 48 Top 10 hits, nine #1 songs, and more than 500 compositions recorded by almost as many artists. His compositions for Dionne Warwick including standards like “Anyone Who Had a Heart”, “Walk on By” and “I Say a Little Prayer”, set the standards for classy R&B in the early 60s combining elements of jazz, pop, Brazilian music and rock. Although he has no gold records of his own, his name appears on the hundreds of gold singles and albums he wrote for other artists and he took home seven Grammys and three Best Song Oscars.


Bacharach’s recent work is just as compelling as his early compositions. In 1998 his collaboration with Elvis Costello produced two fine albums – Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach, Painted from Memory (1998 Mercury) and The Sweetest Punch: The Songs of Costello and Bacharach (1999 Polygram) a reinvention of the songs on Memory by eclectic guitarist/arranger Bill Frisell. At This Time (2005 Columbia) album, which won the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album, featured political songs written in response to 9/11 and the Iraq war, and includes some vocal work by the master. His place in music history is already assured, but as his recent work proves, Bacharach is still at the top of his game.


Bacharach was born in Kansas City in 1928, but the family moved to Queens, New York when Bacharach was four. He was forced into cello and piano lessons, but hated them. He wanted play football, but his short stature worked against him. He discovered jazz in his early teens and saw Charlie Parker live by sneaking into jazz clubs on a phony ID. Parker’s approach to melody was an influence on Bacharach when he started composing. Bacharach had a high school band modeled on the swing bands of the 40s. They played semi-professionally at dances and parties till he left to study music at McGill University in Montreal. He did post graduate work in theory and composition at the Mannes School of Music in New York, the Berkshire Music Center, and the New School for Social Research, with composers Bohuslav Martinu, Henry Cowell and Darius Milhaud.


He was drafted during the Korean War but served his time, playing jazz piano at the officer’s club and later as dance band arranger in Germany, where he met Vic Damone. After their discharge, Bacharach was Damone's pianist and also found work backing up the Ames Brothers, a young Joel Grey, Steve Lawrence and Paula Stewart, who became the first Mrs. Bacharach.


In 1957 he met lyricist Hal David at the Brill Building, the pop songwriting Mecca of New York’s Tin Pan Alley. Their first two collaborations were The Story of My Life”, a #1 country and #15 pop bit for Marty Robbins and Perry Como’s “Magic Moments”, a #4 pop hit. [The tunes appear on The Essential Marty Robbins (1991 Columbia) and Magic Moments The Best of Perry Como (2003 RCA).] Bacharach also tried his hand at writing rock’n’roll songs and as a member of The Five Blobs hit #33 with “Beware of The Blob”, the theme from the Steve McQueen horror flick The Blob (1958).


Bacharach became the musical director for Marlene Dietrich from 1958 to 1961, but kept writing with David when he wasn’t on the road. His hits included “Please Stay” by the Drifters [Save the Last Dance for Me (1962 Atlantic)], Gene McDaniels’ “Tower of Strength” [Tower of Strength (1962 Liberty)] “Baby It's You” by The Shirelles, the first successful Girl Group. [Baby It’s You (1962 Scepter)].


In 1962 Bacharach scored pop and R&B hits with “Any Day Now” by Chuck Jackson [Any Day Now (1962 Wand)], “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and “Only Love Can Break a Heart” by Gene Pitney [Only Love Can Break a Heart (1960 Musicor)], and Jerry Butler’s “Make It Easy On Yourself”. He was also writing and arranging sessions for The Drifters. He hired one of The Drifters’ back up singers, Dionne Warwick, and started he career off with “Don't Make Me Over” a pop and R&B hit. Bacharach & David wrote and produced 20 Top 40 hits for her in the 60s and 70s like “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” “Walk On By”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, and “I'll Never Fall in Love Again”. They also arranged and produced her albums Presenting Dionne Warwick (1963 Scepter), Anyone Who Had a Heart (1964 Scepter), Promises, Promises (1968 Scepter) and I’ll Never Fall in Love Again (1970 Scepter).


The Bacharach/David team also had hits with Jackie DeShannon (“What the World Needs Now”), the Fifth Dimension (“One Less Bell to Answer”), Manfred Mann and Love (“My Little Red Book”), Tom Jones (“Promise Her Anything”), and Dusty Springfield (“The Look of Love”). They were writing for movies as well, with Bacharach creating the scores for What's New, Pussycat (1998 Rykodisc) which included the title track, a Top 5 hit for Tom Jones, After The Fox (1998 Rykodisc), Casino Royale (2002 Varese Sarabande) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1990 A&M), which included the B. J. Thomas #1 hit “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.” Butch Cassidy captured a Best Film Score and Best Song (“Raindrops”) Oscar and a Grammy for Best Film Score. In 1968 they wrote songs for Neil Simon’s Promises, Promises which ran for three years and won best acting Tonys for Jerry Orbach and Jill O’Hara as well as a Grammy for Best Original Cast Recording. Varese Sarabande reissued The Original Cast Recording of Promises, Promises in 2005.


In 1966 Bacharach was signed to A&M as an artist and went on to make seven instrumental albums of his music: Burt Bacharach Plays His Hits (1965 A&M, 2005 Geffen), Reach Out (1967 A&M), Make It Easy On Yourself (1969 A&M), Burt Bacharach (1971 A&M), Living Together (1973 A&M), Futures (1977 A&M) and Woman (1979 A&M). His soundtrack albums include What's New, Pussycat (1998 Rykodisc) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969 A&M, 1990 Rykodisc). In 1973 Bacharach/David completed a movie score for a remake of Lost Horizon (1997 Razor & Tie) which was a disaster and led to the break up of the songwriting team.


Bacharach’s new lyricists included Paul Anka who worked with him on songs for an Italian movie called Together? (1979) [It included Jackie DeShannon's “I Don't Need You Anymore”] and Christopher Cross who wrote lyrics for “Arthur's Theme (The Best That You Can Do)” from the Dudley Moore film Arthur (1980). In 1981 Bacharach met Carol Bayer Sager and married her a year later. They turned out hits together throughout the 1980s including Sager’s “Stronger Than Before” in 1981, Roberta Flack’s “Making Love” in 82, Dionne Warwick’s “That's What Friends Are For in 85, Patty Labelle and Michael McDonald’s “On My Own” in 1986, and Dionne Warwick and Jeffrey Osborne’s “Love Power” in 1987. He also wrote the #5 Neil Diamond hit “Heartlight” with Diamond.


He had one of his best years in 1993 when he reunited with Hal David for Dionne Warwick’s “Sunny Weather Lover from Friends Can Be Lovers (1993 Arista), and collaborated on songs for James Ingram, ‘This Is The Night” and “Sing for the Children” from Always You (1993 Qwest), produced by Thom Bell, “Two Hearts” for Earth, Wind and Fire’s Milennium (1993 Reprise) and “Don't Say Goodbye Girl” for Tevin Campbell's I'm Ready (1993 Qwest).


In 1998 his work with Elvis Costello produced two fine albums – Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach, Painted from Memory (1998 Mercury) and The Sweetest Punch: The Songs of Costello and Bacharach (1999 Polygram) the songs on Memory arranged Bill Frisell. Memory won a Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for “I Still Have That Other Girl”.


In 1997, Bacharach became an actor and appeared in Mike Myers’ Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and as himself in Burt Bacharach: One Amazing Night (1998 Encoded music CD/DVD) a documentary of a star-studded tribute concert. He was also honored by The Look of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection (1998 Rhino) a three-disc anthology of his tunes by the original hit makers. A musical based on Bacharach/David's hits, What the World Needs Now, had its debut in Sydney, Australia, in August 2002. It had a brief Broadway run in 2003.


Bacharach arranged and produced Here I Am (2003 Dreamworks) for Ron Isley and in 2005 released At This Time (2005 Columbia) with collaborators Dr. Dre, Elvis Costello and Rufus Wainwright. Bacharach contributed two songs to New Music From An Old Friend (2007 180 Music), a reworking of “Alfie” by Peabo Bryson and a new song “I Still Remember”.


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