Burt Bacharach was born in 1928 in Kansas City, Missouri but the family moved to Kew Gardens in Queens, New York in 1932. He started studying the cello, drums and piano aged 12 and dreamed of becoming a professional footballer. The young Burt loved jazz with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker his heroes and when he realised he was too small to become a professional football player he resigned himself to his music. Aged 15, he had his first 10-piece band and made pocket money playing at friend’s parties and local dances. When he left high school he went to McGill University where he wrote his first song, "The Night Plane to Heaven." His post graduate studies took him to Mannes School of Music in New York and the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California. Somewhere in-between he did a short stint in the army. During this time he met Vic Damone and later became his piano accompanist. Burt first job as a song writer was for the Famous Paramount Music Company in the Brill Building, New York. When he met lyricist, Hal David, they hit it off and wrote their first hit for Marty Robbins with "The Story of My Life" (1957).
Not long after Perry Como took "Magic Moments" to the top of the US charts and Johnny Mathis had a UK hit with "Heavenly" into the UK charts.
Burt also scored a novelty hit with "(Theme From) The Blob.
Keen to expand himself, he toured with Marlene Dietrich as her musical director and visited Europe and the United States (1958-1961). The sixties saw more hits for Bacharach and Bacharach and David. Burt Bacharach songs combined jazz and pop and Brazilian music, always with memorable melodies but unconventional and shifting time signatures and unique chord changes. This was a new sound which was superbly complemented by Lyricist Hal David’s sharp and bittersweet, melodramatic lyrics which often contrasted with Burt Bacharach's soaring melodies. Technically their sophisticated compositions were meticulously crafted. Whilst they were working with the Drifters, Burt met Dionne Warwick, a member of backup vocal group called, the Gospelaires. Dionne Warwick was a conservatory trained vocalist and possessed a remarkable ability to sing difficult melodies and tempos. Burt and Hal started her as a demo singer in 1961, but soon realised Dionne’s demos were better than other singers. More and more they wrote for her voice alone. Dionne was ambitious and feisty and when she learned "Make It Easy On Yourself" was not going to be her commercial debut, she angrily remonstrated with the songwriters using the phrase "Don't make me over, man!" (slang for don't lie to me). This struck a chord and the angry response became the seed of the song writing duo next project, "Don't Make Me Over," became her first US hit in 1962.
Dionne Warwick had 39 singles co-written or produced by Bacharach, including twenty-two (22) Top-40 hits on the American Billboard Hot 100 charts before their association came to an acrimonious end. Fortunately they did get back together. Meantime Bacharach and David songs were being sung by many artists including the Drifters‘, "Please Stay,” Gene Pitney "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," and "Only Love Can Break a Heart", in 1962 Jerry Butler and "Make It Easy On Yourself," (later recorded by the Walker Bros).
Burt collaborated with other lyricists to commercial success: Gene McDaniel’s "Tower of Strength" by Gene McDaniel (co-written with Bob Hilliard), The Shirelles "Baby It's You" (lyrics were by Hal's brother Mack David and Barney Williams).
He wrote “Any day now” with Bob Hilliard which was recorded by Chuck Jackson.
Although Burt had written the music for the Blob movie earlier in his career, wife and actress Angie Dickenson encouraged him to do more and he came up with Alfie, the theme tune for the film of the same name.
He also wrote the film score for Woody Allen’s What's New, Pussycat?, After The Fox, Casino Royale and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
"My Little Red Book", from Casino Royale was originally recorded by Manfred Mann, but promptly covered by Love in 1966, and become a rock music standard.
In 1968, Bacharach and David collaborated with Broadway producer David Merrick to work with Neil Simon (playwright) on a musical version of the 1960 Billy Wilder film The Apartment. 'Promises, Promises,’ run for three years. In 1966, Burt Bacharach became a recording artist in his own right with an album which consisted of mainly instrumental re-recordings of some of his best-known songs. Through the decade he has repeated this and on each occasion his records have all sold well. During the 70s changing public tastes created a more competitive atmosphere for pop music. Pressure and disappointments from unsuccessful projects led to a fall out between Burt Bacharach and Hal David. As a result Dionne Warwick felt abandoned when her songwriters refused to work together and they are ended up suing each other and dissolving their partnership. By the eighties Burt had remarried and with new wife and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, they set to writing. In collaboration with Peter Allen and Christopher Cross the husband and wife team wrote "Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)" sung by Christopher Cross (1981).
Burt also scored the film. The couple also wrote "Stronger Than Before," Carole Bayer Sager (1981); "Making Love," by Roberta Flack (1982); "That's What Friends Are For," Dionne Warwick and Friends (1985); "On My Own," by Patty Labelle and Michael McDonald (1986); and Dionne Warwick and Jeffrey Osborne "Love Power," (1987).
A collaboration with Neil Diamond resulted in an other hit with "Heartlight” (1982).
The latter part of the 80s was quiet by comparison and it took until the early nineties before Burt was back again with a number of new projects, notably a reunion with Hal David and Dionne Warwick for the song "Sunny Weather Lover" from Warwick's Friends Can Be Lovers album.
In 2000, Burt composed the score and reunited with Hal David and Dionne Warwick for two songs for Isn't She Great, a film based on the life of novelist Jacqueline Susann. In 1998 Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello began to work together this including writing, recording and touring. Elvis Costello collaborated on a rendition of "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" for the soundtrack to the Austin Powers sequel "The Spy Who Shagged Me," and the duo made a cameo appearance in the film.
Burt Bacharach continues a successful concert career and has been occasionally joined by Dionne Warwick.
Worth a listen:
The Story of My Life (1957)
Magic Moments (1957)
Baby It's You (1961) and The Beatles (1963)
Please Stay (with Ray Ellis)
Mexican Divorce (with Claus Ogerman)
Let the music play, (with Gary Sherman)
Don't Make Me Over (1962)
Anyone Who Had a Heart (1963)
Walk on By (1964)
Do You Know the Way to San Jose? (1968)
Promises, Promises (1968)
That's What Friends Are For (1982)
Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa (1963)
I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself (1964)
The Look of Love (1967)
Wishing and Hoping
(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me (1964)
The Walker Brothers
Make it Easy On Yourself (1965)
What the World Needs Now Is Love (1965)
What's New Pussycat? (1965)
I Say A Little Prayer (1968)
Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
This Guy's in Love with You (1968).
(They Long to Be) Close to You (1970)
Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head
Reach out for me
Billy J Kramer
Trains and boats and planes
My Little Red Book