The Songwriters – Burt Bacharach and Hal David

Burt Bacharach (left) and Hal David

We’ve looked at such behemoths of songwriting as Lennon/McCartney, Leiber and Stoller and Holland/Dozier/Holand, but there is another partnership that served up an incredible menu of pop songs during that golden era that was the 1960s: Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

While to the world at large it is Bacharach’s name that is most important, where would his fabulous tunes be without the emotional, evocative and superbly crafted lyrics of David? Even the titles do part of the job sometimes: You’ll Never Get To Heaven (if you break my heart), for instance. Anyone who thinks that heralds a soppy song can leave right now. Haven’t you ever been in love?

Bacharach and David’s songs are perhaps old-fashioned in a way, reliant on orchestration and sweetness from an earlier era, but they filled my youth with beauty and love just as much as The Beach Boys and the Lovin’ Spoonful.

At first glance the B&D canon seems to start with Dionne Warwick, but there was life before that, so let’s look at that period first. The Story Of My Life was a hit for country legend Don Williams before being covered by the rest of the world. In the UK it was Michael Holliday, a smoothly-dressed crooner perching on a stool, and who was displaced at the top of the charts by the man he was influenced by, Perry Como, with another Bacharach and David song, Magic Moments.

For someone like me, a child of the 50s who only really started to pay attention with the advent of The Beatles, these songs are of my parents’ generation, but even so, you can’t help but notice how good they were: catchy as hell even if you would prefer to be untouched by them.

Then, unbeknown to us in the UK, an American singer, Jerry Butler, heard Make It Easy On Yourself and asked Bacharach to  help him record it. The Walker Brothers took it up the British charts in their wall-of-sound style.

Bacharach in turn discovered the aspiring star Dionne Warwick singing whatever anyone would let her – backup, demos etc. – and recognized her as a vehicle for his music. It was a marriage made in heaven, probably unique in the whole world of singer-composer relationships, and the hits flowed like honey from the comb. Don’t Make Me Over registered with the public but it was Walk On By, with that desolate David lyric brought to heartbreaking life by Warwick, that planted the towering tree in popular music.

Warwick got first crack at the material but others tiptoed around the dinner table looking for scraps, and grabbed them eagerly, often taking the arrangements lock, stock and barrel. Thus Cilla Black was launched on the tidal wave of Anyone Who Had A Heart and Sandie Shaw suggested a more substantial vocal talent than perhaps was really there through (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me.

Then there was Alfie, written as the theme of the film starring Michael Caine, and existing in versions by both Warwick and Black, but appearing on the UK release of the film by Cher. The Cilla Black recording session at Abbey Road studios with George Martin producing has attained legendary status, and the question is: why wasn’t her version used, when Bacharach had flown to London to supervise the session?

Reading between the lines, I can’t help thinking he wasn’t entirely convinced. Cilla had two voices: the breathy, vulnerable one that starts the song and the strident, nasal one she drifted into when she got worked up. Maybe Bacharach didn’t like that one but didn’t know how to tell her. Whatever the reason, there was always another girl waiting to record Bacharach and David songs, and Cher was hot property at the time.

The list of hits grew as if by magic, effortlessly, with Trains And Boats And Planes, I’ll Never Fall In Love Again and the aforementioned You’ll Never Get To Heaven, plus the latin-flavoured Do You Know The Way To San Jose, and that’s just the singles. Dionne Warwick albums were like fruit stalls laden with superb produce: Are You There With Another Girl and Window Wishing would have been the pinnacle of most writers’ careers.

Meanwhile, there was Tom Jones with What’s New Pussycat and Manfred Mann with My Little Red Book, which was also recorded by superhip L.A cats, Love.

British soul/pop icon Dusty Springfield got to sing The Look of Love and a 1968 musical yielded the title song Promises Promises.

Incidentally, most Warwick compilations will include Valley Of The Dolls, from the film of Jacqueline Susann’s novel of that name, and I only discovered the fact while researching this post, but that was written by Andre and Dory Previn. Worthy of Bacharach and David, perhaps, but  someone else’s work, and released as the B side of I Say A Little Prayer.

As the 60s drew to a close the Bacharach and David catalogue registered another gem: Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, recorded by B. J. Thomas for the soundtrack of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, for which Bacharach wrote the soundtrack.

Then The Carpenters, slipping slickly onto the scene as the 70s began, found the ideal introducer in Close To You.

Like many of the great partnerships, Bacharach and David’s was not without its tensions, and the golden age came to an end, with Bacharach collaborating with other lyricists including Carole Bayer Sager (they were married for several years) and Christopher Cross.

Hal David became involved in the administration side of songwriting, but his name will always be inextricably linked with that of Burt Bacharach, peerless tunesmith to his sublimely-skilled lyricist.

 

 

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The Songwriters – Bob Dylan

For a songwriter as idiosyncratic and downright awkward as Bob Dylan to have so many of his songs covered by such a variety of other artists is something of a mystery. He sings them himself in one of a variety of voices, appears to make no attempt at commercialism and yet others listen to them and hear hits.

The first to do this was Joan Baez, who was very close to him in his early days when it was just guitar and vocals and he wanted to emulate his gritty, no-frills heroes such as Woody Guthrie.

Baez did an album’s worth of Dylan covers, from Farewell Angelina and It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue to Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, and she didn’t do anything revolutionary with the songs – she just sang them in her pure, guileless voice and somehow something came out that wasn’t immediately apparent in the originals.

The Byrds took a different approach, though, giving them a full folk-rock treatment complete with Roger McGuinn’s jangly 12-string  Rickenbacker guitar. The result was like putting milk on cornflakes.

Mr Tambourine Man changed from folk club staple to worldwide chart resident, but without selling out in any way (although the purists who didn’t like Dylan himself going electric probably wouldn’t have agreed). All I Really Want To Do and My Back Pages followed the same formula, giving the material a bit of melodiousness, a bit of juice. Suddenly those of us who had found him a bit dry and forbidding had those great lyrics and those hidden  tunes opened up by the band sound and the vocal harmonies.

The international hits flooded out under various banners, with British beat boomers Manfred Mann particularly partial to a bit of Bob and able to translate his heavily disguised likeability into chart hits.  If You Gotta Go and Mighty Quinn took Dylan into those little boxes of seven-inch singles where he had probably never imagined himself and elsewhere in England Fairport Convention, who had yet to embark on the traditional British folk material that would be their métier, put three Dylan songs on their Unhalfbricking album, including a French-language version of If You Gotta Go: Si Tu Dois Partir.

Fledgling jazz singer Julie Driscoll, under the musical leadership of Brian Auger and his band The Trinity, hit the jackpot with This Wheel’s On Fire.

Meanwhile back in Dylan’s homeland they were queuing up to record his stuff, with multiple versions of I’ll Keep It With Mine (including one by the high priestess of strange, Nico) and I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight (Maria Muldaur, Emmylou Harris, Ray Stevens and others).

Guitar virtuoso Jimi Hendrix drove his early girlfriend Fayne Pridgon mad by spending their last few dollars on  a Dylan album and playing it obsessively, interrupting conversations to point out this great line and that brilliant phrase. His version of All Along The Watchtower was such a brilliant treatment of the tune that Dylan himself would play that arrangement live in later years. Hendrix also did a typically sprawling version of Like A Rolling Stone, which I thought was unbeatable until I heard what Californian psychedelic outfit Spirit did with it.

The Band, who at one stage were Dylan’s backing band and with whom he recorded the legendary Basement Tapes, were perfectly positioned to snap up some gems and duly did great versions of Tears of Rage, When I Paint My Masterpiece and others.

Even Neil Young, a fellow long-term American musical hero, and not exactly short of great material, has done loads of Dylan in his live electric sets, cranked up and feeding back as ever and treating the songs as if they were his own.

As he got a bit older and perhaps less crabby, Dylan gave us some tuneful songs such as one on Blood On The Tracks, You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, which Madeleine Peyroux rubbed some massage oil into thus:

And to round off what is admittedly a tiny selection of what is available, one of the highlights of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album is  Dylan’s If Not for You. Olivia Newton-John did it too, but never mind.

Got your own favourite? Let me know.

Forever Young? I know, I know, it’s just not one of my favourites.