One of the leading pop music composers of the 20th century, Burt Bacharach, has died at age 94. An artist who dominated the charts with 73 top 40 hits, he was the pinnacle of musical sophistication in pop.
According to the Associated Press, Burt Freeman Bacharach died on Wednesday (Feb. 8) at his long-time home in Los Angeles of natural causes.
Bacharach’s music crossed age lines, appealing to teens as well as older generations. Everyone from the Beatles to Perry Como loved his songs. Yes, the Beatles and Burt worked together.
“Alfie,” “Walk on By,” “I Say A Little Prayer”, “Promises, Promises,” “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” “What the World Needs Now is Love,” “Close To You,” and “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?,” Bacharach had an incredible run in the 1960s and 1970s with a wide range of pop, rock, R&B and soul singers. Working with lyricist and co-producer Hal David, Bacharach and David developed a unique style featuring instantly hummable melodies and quirky arrangements that blend everything from jazz and rock to Brazilian grooves and classical. These songs are so evocative of the 60s that Bacharach was featured performing on screen in all 3 Austin Powers movies!
He created a hit musical Promises, Promises, written Neil Simon in 1968, that is still revived today.
Bacharach began motion picture songwriting with the Steve McQueen horror flick The Blob in 1958, and continued creating indelible soundtrack songs such as “The Look of Love” (Casino Royale 1967) and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The theme song “Raindrops” earned Bacharach two Oscars (best score and best theme song) as well as a Grammy for best score. He continued to score films in the 80s with Arthur and Night Shift (dir. Ron Howard).
His songs were sung by such major artists as Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield, Neil Diamond, Tom Jones, Roberta Flack, the Carpenters, Barbra Streisand, and Kenny Rogers, as well as hundreds of others. The collaboration with Warwick is one of those magical parings where a creative artist and performing artist are so perfectly matched that the results seem effortless and always joyful. Burt and Dionne both had classical training and this led him to experiment with odd rhythms and poignant harmonies that she made sound easy.
A good example is a recording session where Warwick felt Bacharach was asking too much and said: “Don’t make me over!” Hal David and Burt looked at each other and began writing the hit song of that title.
During his early years, A&R people would criticize his work as not being danceable, and too unusual. Bacharach “became a producer and arranger out of self defense” (his words), and he and Hal David became a formidable producing team with many gold records. Although they didn’t always record the definitive version. For example, “They Long to Be Close to You” was recorded several times until The Carpenters version became the top song of 1970. Burt was delighted to have a monster hit.
Bacharach had one of his biggest hits in 1985 with an all-star AIDS charity single called “That’s What Friends Are For” that hit no. 1 globally and won Song of the Year. The song was co-written by his wife Carole Bayer Sager, and produced by Bacharach.
Other music stars shared their thoughts about Bacharach. The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson said he was “a hero of mine and very influential on my work.” The Kinks guitarist Dave Davies said Bacharach was “probably one of the most influential songwriters of our time” and “a great inspiration”. Warwick said: Burt’s transition is like losing a member of the family.” Diane Warren posted: “Too many genius songs to mention. The Songwriting world has lost its Beethoven.”
Or perhaps we have lost our modern Gershwin, an artist who was a hit-maker and a timeless composer.
Either way, thank you, Mr. Bacarach, for a lifetime of memories, and the memories yet to come.
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David Raiklen wrote, directed and scored his first film at age 9. He began studying keyboard and composing at age 5. He attended, then taught at UCLA, USC and CalArts. Among his teachers are John Williams and Mel Powel.
He has worked for Fox, Disney and Sprint. David has received numerous awards for his work, including the 2004 American Music Center Award. Dr. Raiklen has composed music and sound design for theater (Death and the Maiden), dance (Russian Ballet), television (Sing Me a Story), cell phone (Spacey Movie), museums (Museum of Tolerance), concert (Violin Sonata ), and film (Appalachian Trail).
His compositions have been performed at the Hollywood Bowl and the first Disney Hall. David Raiken is also host of a successful radio program, Classical Fan Club.