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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Kaycee’s Klasic Films – Alfie

Siobhan Kennedy-Clarke’s classic film reviews
Our fictitious reviewer Siobhan (KayCee) didn't have much of an education but she's passionate about films

alfie 1

When Michael Caine was young he was considered quite good looking and for a while in the 60s he was probably the biggest British star there was if you don’t count Sean Connery who only did James Bond. Michael did things like Zulu and The Ipcress File but his big success that made him a heartthrob was Alfie.

If you watch this now it is extremely un-PC. The way he talks to women and treats them and the fact that he’s got umpteen on the go at the same time it just isn’t done these days but you’ve got to realize things were different in those days and anyways not every man was like him in fact very few because it’s a film not real life.

Alfie is a jack-the-lad in London this was 1966 but it was kind of old fashioned even in its day The Beatles were past the clean-cut stage and the suits but Alfie and his mates are still looking like that and the music when he goes to a gig in a pub its not rock or even pop but jazz I suppose it took people a while to follow fashions.

So Alfie is what’s known as a ne’er-do-well funny expression it means he will never do well I think because all he’s interested in is pulling women he ain’t got a proper job but does a bit of chauffeuring and hangs around with his mate taking pictures of tourists with no film in the camera and gets them to pay in advance for nothing.

Not the sort of guy you’d take home to meet the family he’d probably seduce your Mum while you was making a cup of tea mine would of gone for it I’m sure. He’s got this quiet little “bird” as he calls them Gilda whose a soppy old thing and wants to have a proper home life with him even though she knows it will never happen and this bus conductor whose a real nice guy wants to give her that but he ain’t sexy like Alfie. “She’s a standby and she knows it and you can be very happy if you know your place,” Alfie says maybe not those exact words

Alfie 2
Trying it on with the doctor. She’s female, see, and that’s all that matters to Alfie

And he’s got this nice woman with a bit of life to her Millicent Martin big TV star at the time she’s married and Alfie tells you all about her and her husband in the voiceovers they use she’s called Siddie. He meets her once a week or something but right at the start of the film she’s starting to think she owns part of him and a bloke like him can’t have that so she’s on her way out.

Funny thing about Alfie is that he’s very particular about things he don’t like lipstick on his collar and he likes things neat and tidy but what he really likes is to get his own way.

One day at a transport café he meets this Annie (Jane Asher Paul McCartney’s girlfriend at the time) whose running away from her life up north and she’s hitched a lift with a lorry driver friend of Alfie’s but Alfie tricks him and takes Annie to his place. And all she does is scrub the floor and cook him meals she makes hotpot which is like a stew and he says it makes him bloated she just keeps busy all the time trying to forget some bloke back home.

So that’s plenty of birds to be going on with you might think but one day when he’s out doing the photographing scam he meets this big blonde Ruby (Shelley Winters) whose got money so he helps himself to some of her too.

To give the film a kind of serious point there was a lot of tuberculosis around at the time and he’s got it and gets sent to a I don’t know hospital or nursing home in the country to recuperate which means recover or get better I looked it up. Alfie gets released quite quick but goes back to visit this other patient Harry and meets Harry’s wife Lily (Vivien Merchant) who is no oil painting and a bit kind of chunky if you ask me but that don’t matter to Alfie a bird’s a bird and he is driving this Rolls Royce cos I told you he was a chauffeur so he gives her a lift back to London but they stop on the way for some refreshments and he has it off with her down by the river.

Around this point in the film the chickens start coming home to roost. Gilda’s pregnant and wants to keep the child so she does and she and little Malcolm get together with the bus conductor which makes Alfie feel something for a change he’s a bit jealous.

After their little fling by the river Lily is pregnant too (that was a common thing in films then because birth control wasn’t so good no pill or nothing just rubber johnnies they didn’t call them condoms then). Obviously Lily can’t keep the baby cos she’s married so Alfie arranges for an abortionist to come and that’s pretty horrible.

There’s this big punch-up at the pub gig because the lorry driver he nicked Annie from knows about it and in the end Alfie’s decided the most important thing in life is your health (but probably because in hospitals they have nurses and nurses are birds usually certainly in them days).

So as you can see it’s not the sort of thing you’d get away with nowadays but it’s good fun very entertaining quite funny. Whatever you do watch this version don’t go for the Jude Law remake it just ain’t the same no good at all. This one’s a kerrrlassic.