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Bacharach & David Songbook Vol. 1

September 21st, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments

It is probably redundant to deliberate at length about Burt Bacharach’s massive influence, other than to point out how incongruous it is that there were times when it was seen as somehow uncool to dig Bacharach’s music. That, to me, is the equivalent of coffee being declared socially unacceptable. Still, a few words seem necessary.

Bacharach and lyricist Hal David probably were the most prolific Brill Building partnership; if others exceeded their output, then certainly not with as much success. And consider some of these Brill alumni: Goffin & King, Mann & Weil, Leiber & Stoller, Sedaka & Greenfield, Barry & Greenwich, Neil Diamond, Laura Nyro… The pair scored their first major hit soon after taking over a cubicle in the Brill Building in 1957: Perry Como’s Magic Moments. Over the next few years they scored a series of minor hits, many of which featured on the Bacharach: The Lesser Known Songbook mix.

The breakthrough arguably was meeting Dionne Warwick in 1961, who would become something of a muse for the songwriters. Warwick’s initial task was to sing on the demo recordings of songs destined for others. Warwick’s interpretations, however, were usually quite perfect. And so many songs came to be written with Dionne in mind. Some of these Warwick would be the first to record, others would be given to other artists first, to be covered later by Warwick (who had 22 US Top 40 hits with Bacharach/David songs). The triumvirate fell apart in the early 1970s amid a flurry of lawsuits.

By the 1970s the Bacharach style became unfashionable, incongruously labelled as easy listening fare. But it wasn’t: many Bacharach songs are best heard as soul songs, as the Covered With Soul Bacharach/David mix proved.

Soul singer Lou Johnson recorded several Bacharach/David songs before they became hits, though Kentucky Bluebird (later a Warwick hit as Message To Michael) was recorded by fellow soulster Jerry Butler a year earlier. Lyn Collins in her 1974 recording (featured here in the superior single version) proves further that many Bacharach songs are really soul songs, as do Aretha Franklin and Isaac Hayes, who had a way of transforming Bacharach songs into acid trips, though the present live version of The Look Of Love is a straight take on the song. Luther Vandross also was an outstanding interpreter of Bacharach, as he shows here on the slooowed down version of Anyone Who Had A Heart.

But outside soul and a few pop visionaries, Bacharach was considered uncool for a long time. When Frankie Goes To Hollywood singer Holly Johnson in the mid-’80s wanted to record a version of (Do You Know The Way To) San José, his laddish colleagues vociferously opposed the idea. In the event, they did record it, — perhaps because they could play Born To Run in return — and their version is quite lovely, if a bit wedding bandish. Arguably this was a significant step towards the rehabilitation of Bacharach which was complete by the late ’90s, with even the likes of Oasis’ chief plagiarist Gallagher paying tribute to Bacharach.

Bacharach had made something of a comeback with a few hits in the 1980s, co-written with wife Carole Bayer Sager, such as Arthur’s Theme, On My Own and Dionne Warwick’s comeback saccharine hit That’s What Friends Are For (as so often with Bacharach and Warwick, it had been previously recorded, by Rod Stewart for the soundtrack of 1982’s Nightshift).

Bacharach went back to his roots, in a way, when he composed, with occasional collaborator Elvis Costello, the song God Give Me Strength for the 1996 film Grace Of My Heart, which was loosely based on Brill alumni Carole King. Bacharach’s 1998 album with Elvis Costello, Painted From Memory, was a patchy effort, as was his 2005 solo album, At This Time. Much better was their lovely retro reworking of I’ll Never Fall In Love Again.

Burt’s unusual surname is German; there is a town called Bacharach in the Rhineland.

 

Bacharach’s melodies and arrangements are, obviously, exquisite. They also work well as instrumentals. But the lyrics of Hal David, who died in 2012, elevate these songs. David brought an old-school approach to lyrics to what was then modern pop. It is not only the elegance and poetic wordsmithery that sets David apart from most of his contemporaries, but also the rhythm of the words. In both regards, David was the equal of any lyricist that came before him, bar Cole Porter.

I think that Cole Porter would have killed for a line like this: “What do you get when you kiss a girl? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia. After you do she’ll never phone ya…” Hal David’s lyrics capture universal emotions with great perception and imagination. A couple of lyrics — Wives And Lovers, Wishin’ And Hopin’ — are rather of their time and awfully sexist, at least by our standards today. Both will feature on Vol. 2. But these are exceptions. Few lyricists have communicated heartbreak quite as close to the nerve as David; just listen to One Less Bell To Answer.

So it is right that this mix bears both names, Bacharach and David, even if the eagle-eyed pedant will point out that not every song here features the lyrics of Hal David. One song on this mix, Any Day Now, has Bob Hilliard’s words, sung by Elvis Presley. At least one other Hilliard song (Tower Of Strength) will be on the second Bacharach/David mix.

On this mix I am not experimenting: every one of these version is a favourite; most of them are the definitive interpretations. Still, I have imposed my usual rule: no artist is going to appear twice on a mix. A few will appear twice over the two mixes; certainly the muse Dionne Warwick.

The showstopper here is Barbra Streisand’s duet of herself with a mash-up of One Less Bell To Answer/A House Is Not A Home, which was covered to great effect in 2010 on the TV show Glee by Kristin Chenoweth and Matthew Morrison.

As ever CD-R length, home-made covers, PW in comments.

1. Carpenters – (They Long To Be) Close To You (1970)
2. B.J. Thomas – Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head (1969)
3. Herb Alpert – This Guy’s In Love With You (1968)
4. Sandie Shaw – (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me (1964)
5. Dusty Springfield – I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself (1964)
6. Jackie DeShannon – What The World Needs Now Is Love (1965)
7. Dionne Warwick – Walk On By (1964)
8. Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach – I’ll Never Fall In Love Again (2000)
9. Frankie Goes To Hollywood – San José (1984)
10. Luther Vandross – Anyone Who Had A Heart (1986)
11. Barbra Streisand – One Less Bell To Answer-A House Is Not A Home (1971)
12. Isaac Hayes – The Look Of Love (live) (1973)
13. Lyn Collins – Don’t Make Me Over (1975)
14. Aretha Franklin – I Say A Little Prayer (1968)
15. The Sweet Inspirations – Reach Out For Me (1967)
16. The Stylistics – You’ll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart) (1972)
17. Lou Johnson – Kentucky Bluebird (Message To Martha) (1964)
18. Jimmy Radcliffe – There Goes The Forgotten Man (1962)
19. Walker Brothers – Make It Easy On Yourself (1966)
20. Gene Pitney – Only Love Can Break A Heart (1963)
21. Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas – Trains And Boats And Planes (1965)
22. Elvis Presley – Any Day Now (1969)
23. Trini Lopez – Made In Paris (1965)

GET IT!

More Bacharach:
Bacharach: The Lesser Known Songbook
The Originals: Bacharach Edition
Covered With Soul Vol. 7: Bacharach/David Edition

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  1. simpon
    September 21st, 2017 at 10:21 | #1

    Great collection. Costello was clearly a big fan from the early days coming from a very musical background. Ever perverse, he used to perform Bacharach and David in his early ‘angry young punk ‘ days doing an amazing, raw cover of ‘Just dont know what to do with myself’ on the Stiff live tour and subsequent live album in 1977, defiantly stating to the audience, almost challenging them ‘ This song is written by Bert Bacharach and Hal David’ before launching into it with the proto Attractions. One for vol two?

  2. Hey-Its Mike
    September 21st, 2017 at 15:30 | #2

    This is a great collection! When Dionne’s version of ‘Walk On By” or “San Jose” play, I’m transported back to the kitchen of the house I was born in–the linoleum floor, the yellow wallpaper, my mom in a house dress at the sink, and an old radio on the counter tuned to station WJR are, briefly but clearly, around me. One of my earliest memories. There must have been something different about those songs that made them hook so deeply into a preschooler’s consciousness. 50 years later, they’re still great songs.

  3. Tom Frost
    September 21st, 2017 at 21:02 | #3

    Well done sir! Superb selection from the best songwriting team ever. And Hal doesn’t often get the credit he deserves in helping craft these perfect little masterpieces. As with Hey-Its Mike , these songs are engrained in my head from the 60’s. I have countless covers of many, many Bacharach/David songs. The songs are so good that it’s difficult to find a truly bad version. That said, the British covers always seem second rate compared to the originals -Sandie Shaw, Cilla, FGTH!, etc don’t really have the pipes to totally carry these tunes (imho). Exception being Dusty of course. You must have had a very difficult time choosing which versions to go with! Costello ably filled in for Hal as lyricist on Painted From Memory – a very underrated album. I still get tense every time I hear Elvis reaching towards the ‘I want him to hurt ‘ line towards the end of God Give Me Strength….sounds like he might explode…..but an outstanding song to sit alongside the Bacharach/David tunes. God, I love these songs….once again- well done for an excellent compilation.

  4. Pete
    September 22nd, 2017 at 12:03 | #4

    What a fantastic collection! Thanks for doing this :) only… I’ve downloaded it three times and it still fails to open. Any ideas? Thanks once again

  5. Clarence Jones
    September 22nd, 2017 at 22:50 | #5

    A beautiful collection of some of the best songs around. Don’t know if you’ve seen/heard this Vandross live performance of “One Less Bell/House is not a Home”. Babs did an amazing job on it, then Luther took it to another level entirely!

  6. Clarence Jones
    September 22nd, 2017 at 22:56 | #6

    And, now, the link to Mr. Vandross’ performance: https://youtu.be/Gu2JBMNBbKo
    Maybe that can work better like.

  7. halfhearteddude
    September 23rd, 2017 at 00:02 | #7

    Very strange, Pete. I’ve test downloaded it and worked fine. I suspect that the files somehow got corrupted on your downloads.

  8. September 23rd, 2017 at 13:50 | #8

    so I junked my old unzipper and got a new one – worked fine then! Thanks for taking the trouble to check and to reply – sorry if I put you to any inconvenience. Love the site by the way – leads to many conversations in my pub I can tell you”! :)

  9. halfhearteddude
    September 25th, 2017 at 19:48 | #9

    I’m glad it worked out. I like the sound of that pub!

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