I‘m Just A Lucky So And So – these are lyrics Mack David wrote in 1945 for Duke Ellington, the same Mack David who co-wrote Baby It’s You with Burt Bacharach, a song I first heard once performed by the Beatles.
However, despite these links with his very beginnings, Burt Bacharach is not part of the dreary orthodoxy of rock music. When a dogmatic journalist criticized him for his absence from the rock ‘n’ roll revolution of the 1950s, Bacharach replied: “I was studying with the French modernist composer Darius Milhaud and I was listening to Dizzy Gillespie. Bill Haley just didn’t cut it for me.
When John Lennon cheekily suggested that the Royal Box “rock your jewels” during the 1963 Royal Variety Performance, Burt was backstage rehearsing Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, as Marlene Dietrich’s musical director.
And long before my first exposure to distorted electric guitars or a Tamla drum beat, my musical curiosity began with the comical bassoon part on Perry Como’s version of the first Burt Bacharach/Hal David song, Magic Moments, broadcast on the radio in our basement flat near Olympia, west London, in 1958.
Bacharach’s virtually uninterrupted collaboration with David from that time until 1973 gave the world more songs than anyone could sing in an evening, perhaps a week’s worth of evenings. If they had only written Alfie’s bridge, they would have given more to the music than a good deal of progressive rock concept albums. It doesn’t matter that Tom Jones thought What’s Up Pussycat? It was a joke when Burt first played it for him, he’s the man who wrote, Walk On By, The Look of Love, A House Is Not a Home, I Say a Little Prayer – sung by Aretha Franklin – while Manfred Mann, Mel Tormé and Love had to fight for My Little Red Book. Even today, you’re probably only 20 feet or so many minutes away from some sort of performance of one of his compositions.
Bacharach’s music is sometimes labeled “easy listening” because of its restraint, something almost completely erased in the construction of contemporary ballads, assembled like Lego. In truth, his music can be demanding, notably employing uneven time signatures, which can seem like a simple numbers game until one encounters “Whoever Had a Heart.” Burt told me that musicians accustomed to the common, steady pulse of 1950s ballads in 6/8 were perplexed by his use of odd measures of 3/8, 9/8 and one of 7/8 that appears in the coda of this song. . They represent the way desire takes your breath away or makes your heart skip a beat or nine.
There are few singers today, or perhaps at any time, with the gifts of Dionne Warwick, who first recorded Anywhere Had a Heart – with apologies to Cilla Black fans. Dionne began working as a demo singer for Burt and Hal, but they quickly recognized that she had a unique voice at both ends of the dynamic and musical range, unerringly precise against the unusual intervals of Burt and Hal’s melodies. at the same time able to inhabit the rhythmically precise narratives of Hal’s words.
I can speak with some experience about this latter challenge, since from 1995 until just a few weeks before Burt’s passing, we were collaborators, writing over 30 songs together. It wasn’t like Burt needed to add another floor to his song tower at the time we were writing May God give me strengthbut the curious experience of writing by correspondence remotely only made us want to enter the room together to see what else we could discover, which we did first in his writing studio in Santa Monica, then behind two keyboards in a large New York. Hotel suite in York and finally work on a dilapidated spinet in a Greenwich Village apartment.
Obviously, I took care of the lyrics but it was a mark of Burt’s curiosity that he allowed me to write a few songs in musical dialogue with him. Having never studied a note of music at school or university, I found working with Burt to be a more important education than I had been given in my 50 years of music writing. songs. He was extreme in his focus on details. If I worked at 3 a.m., I would later find out that Burt had been up until 4 a.m. “I don’t drive myself crazy by going 110% anymore,” he says, “I’m happy with 95%.” »
Without in any way wishing to present myself as Oscar Hammerstein Jr, I believe that Burt Bacharach is the heir of Richard Rodgers in the continuity of American writing. The only time I talked Burt into playing a song by another composer, he played the Rodgers and Hart song Little Girl Blue. It looked like it might have been one of his own compositions.
Burt’s many collaborations with his third wife, Carole Bayer Sager, including That’s What Friends Are For and Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do), should take the role of Oscar in this story compared to my slim folio of songs co -written. But even though Burt’s life and work surrounded so many innovations in popular song, his musical voice was always instantly recognizable, a voice that adapted with the times, the way Rodgers traveled from My Funny Valentine to You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Burt was once and forever. I have nothing but gratitude for the time we spent together.