from Kansas City, Missouri, whose family emigrated
to Queens, New York, when he was still very young. Encouraged by his mom, he began studying
music at twelve years of age, cutting his teeth on the cello and drums and
then gravitating to his signature instrument, the piano. It was not his dream to pursue
music, however. He wanted to be
a professional football player, but his physical stature was much more
amenable to the keyboard.
jazz and frequently used a false identification card to snake his way into
be-bop clubs and hear his early influences, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie
Parker. He started his own band
when he was still in high school.
Actually, it was more like a small orchestra, boasting ten
musicians. They entertained at
dances and parties, and Burt was bitten by the bug.
his musical studies at Montreal’s McGill University, where he starting
writing songs. (As far as we
know, “The Night Plane to Heaven” never charted.) Burt matriculated to New York
City’s Mannes School of Music, where he took classes in composition
and theory. He also studied
under Henry Cowell, Bohuslav
Martinu and Darius Milhaud at the New School for
Social Research. Milhaud,
especially, informed his work.
In 1950, he
enlisted in the U.S. Army and during his two-year tour of duty, he arranged
for a dance band in Germany where he met Vic Damone. The two of them continued to
collaborate after their stint in the armed services, with Burt accompanying
him on piano. Other artists for
whom he did the same included The Ames Brothers, Polly Bergen, Imogene
Coca, Georgia Gibbs, Joel Grey, Steve Lawrence, and Paula Stewart. In 1953, Burt and Paula wed, and
their marriage would last a whopping five years.
getting divorced, Burt began another musical partnership, with a lyricist
named Hal David. They worked in
the Brill Building together and it did not take long for them to put
together a hit record. Martin
Robbins took “The Story of My Life” to the top of the country
chart and #15 on the pop chart, and one of the most lucrative songwriting
marriages in music history had been consummated. The song was covered by Alma Cogan,
Michael Holliday, Dave King, and Gary Miller, all of whom took it into the
top 25 in the U.K.
(Holliday’s version went to #1.)
In 1958, Perry
Como topped the charts in Great Britain and cracked the top ten in the
States with his recording of “Magic Moments”. Burt and Hal are reputed to be the
first songwriting team to pen back-to-back #1s in the United Kingdom. A lesser hit for Burt in the same
year was “(Theme From) The Blob”,
which rose to an astonishing #33 on the Billboard chart.
He went on
tour with Marlene Dietrich from 1958 to 1961, but enjoyed some songwriting
success in between. In 1959,
Jack Jones sang the Bacharach-David composition, “Make Room for
Joy” on the soundtrack of Jukebox
Rhythm. Johnny Mathis
struck gold with “Faithfully” and “Heavenly”, again
in the U.K. Jane Morgan cracked
the top forty stateside “With Open Arms”. In 1961, The Drifters managed #14
with “Please Stay” and Gene McDaniels
recorded “Another Tear Falls”.
for The Drifters, as well, and during a recording session, he met Dionne
Warwick, who was singing in their backing group, The Gospelaires. He employed her to record demos of
his and Hal’s songs, but the demos were so good, eventually they just
concentrated on writing songs for her to release on her own.
meantime, another one of Burt’s songs became a trans-Atlantic
hit: Gene McDaniels
took “Tower of Strength” to #5 in the U.S. and Frankie Vaughan
topped the British charts with his version of the song. 1962 was something of a breakout
year for Burt: Jerry Butler
reached the top twenty with his recording of “Make it Easy on
Yourself”; Chuck Jackson took “Any Day Now” to #23; Gene
Pitney occupied the top five with “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty
Valance” and “Only Love Can Break a Heart”; Dionne barely
missed the top twenty with “Don’t Make Me Over”; and,
Andy Williams squeaked into the top forty with “Don’t You
In 1963, Jack
Jones reached #14 with “Wives and Lovers”; Gene Pitney hit #21
in the States with “True Love Never Runs Smooth” and charted on
both sides of the pond with “Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa”;
Dionne did the same with “Anyone Who Had a Heart”; Bobby Vee entered the top forty with the sage words,
“Be True to Yourself”; and Bobby Vinton had a #3 hit with
“Blue on Blue”.
Black’s cover of “Anyone Who Had a Heart” topped the U.K.
charts in 1964. Other hits from
the same year included: Dusty
Springfield’s cover of “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with
Myself”, which went to #3 in the U.K.; “Message to
Martha”, which Adam Faith and Lou Johnson both took into the U.K. top
forty; “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me”, a
U.K. chart-topper for Sandy Shaw; and, “Wishin’
and Hopin’”, a #6 hit for Dusty
Springfield in the U.S. and a #13 hit for The Merseybeats
in the U.K. Dionne charted
thrice, with “Walk on By”, another trans-Atlantic smash, and
“Reach out for Me” and “You’ll Never Get to
Heaven”, which hit the trifecta in Canada,
Great Britain, and the United States.
In 1965, the hit
parade continued: Burt released
“Trains and Boats and Planes” which traveled into the top five
in the U.K. and Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas reached #12 with their
version; Jackie DeShannon hit #7 stateside with
“What the World Needs Now is Love”; Jimmy Radcliffe cracked the
top forty in the U.K. with “Long after Tonight is all Over”;
and, The Walker Brothers covered “Make it Easy on Yourself” and
topped the charts in Great Britain and peaked at #15 in the States. In addition, Burt composed the music
for the Peter O’Toole-Peter Sellers comedy, What’s New, Pussycat?. The title track was a trans-Atlantic
hit for Tom Jones; Manfred Mann recorded “My Little Red Book”;
and, Dionne was in the mix again, hitting several different charts with
“Here I Am”.
continue to have success with the songwriters’ efforts in 1966: “Are You There (with Another
Girl)” reached the top forty in the States; her version of “I
Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” went to #26; she
recorded “A Message to Martha” as “A Message to
Michael” and took it to #8; and, her rendering of “Trains and
Boats and Planes” went to #22.
highlights from 1966: Cilla
Black and Cher both scored hits with the title tune from Alfie; The Cryin’ Shames reached #26 in the U.K. with their
version of “Please Stay”; The Swinging Blue Jeans made over
“Don’t Make Me Over” and took it to #31 in the U.K.; and,
The Walker Brothers fared even better at #12 with their remake of
“Another Tear Falls”.
In his copious free time, Burt scored the film, After the Fox. He
also got married for a second time, this time to starlet Angie
Burt did more
film work in 1967, arranging and composing the soundtrack of Casino Royale, a James Bond spoof
starring David Niven. The theme song was a #27 hit for
Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass on both sides of the Atlantic. “The Look of Love” was
nominated for an Oscar and it became a #22 hit for Dusty Springfield in the
States. He and Hal were less
successful on the small screen, writing music for a TV program called On the Flip Side, which featured
Ricky Nelson as a has-been pop singer.
Although the show flopped, it afforded the songwriting team to
extend their chops and write in a variety of genres.
In 1968, the
pair tried their hand at writing for the Broadway stage: David Merrick hired them to pen the
music for Promises, Promises, a
musical based on The Apartment, a
1960 film directed by Billy Wilder and starring Jack Lemmon. Neil Simon would write the
book. The end result was a
smash hit that won a pair of Tonys and ran for a
grand total of 1,281 performances over a course of three years. The cast recording also won a Grammy
Award, and the title track became a top-twenty hit for Dionne Warwick in
Dionne also scored
a top-ten hit on both sides of the Atlantic with “Do You Know the Way
to San Jose”. Aretha
Franklin did the same with her cover version of “I Say a Little
Prayer”. Herb Alpert
topped the charts in the U.S. and peaked at #3 in the U.K. with his rendition
of “This Guy’s in Love with You”. Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 hit #4 in the States with their remake
of “The Look of Love”.
In 1969, Burt
and Hal returned to the movie studio, this time to score the Paul
Newman-Robert Redford vehicle, Butch
Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
The centerpiece to the score was B.J. Thomas’s recording of
“Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”, which went to #1 in the
U.S. Other hits from the same
“I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”, a #1 hit for
Bobbie Gentry in the U.K.; Isaac Hayes’ remake of “Walk on
By”, a top-thirty hit in the States; “I’m a Better Man
(For Having Loved You)”, a top-forty hit for Engelbert
Humperdinck; a remake of “Baby It’s You” by Smith which
reached #8 in the U.S.; and, “The April Fools” and “This
Girl’s in Love with You”, a pair of hits for Burt and
Hal’s golden girl, Dionne Warwick. Burt also penned the theme song for
the ABC Movie of the Week, a
theme that was used from 1969 to 1975.
(It was named “Nikki”, after his daughter.)
Johnny Mathis paid homage to a pair of Burts on
his album, Johnny Mathis Sings the
Music of Bacharach and Kaempfert. The Carpenters scored a #1 hit with
their recording of “(They Long to Be) Close to You”. The Fifth Dimension reached #2 with
their version of “One Less Bell to Answer”. “Raindrops Keep Falling on My
Head” was a hit for Sacha Distel and Bobbie Gentry in the U.K. B.J. Thomas scored another hit
stateside with “Everybody’s out of Town”.
continued to be the go-to girl, charting with a remake of “I’ll
Never Fall in Love Again”, a live version of “Make it Easy on
Yourself”, and “Paper Mache”, which went to #6 on the
Adult Contemporary chart. She
kept Burt in the charts in 1971 with “The Green Grass Starts to
Grow” and “Who Gets the Guy”, another AC #6 which crossed
over onto the R&B chart, barely missing the top forty.
In 1973, Burt
and Hal made an ill-fated excursion back into the cinema, writing the music
for a remake of the 1937 classic, Lost
Horizon. The film was, by
all accounts, a flop. The Fifth
Dimension managed to emerge from the mess okay, reaching #32 with their
recording of “Living Together, Growing Together”, but Burt,
Dionne, and Hal were growing apart.
The three of them wound up in court together, instead. Dionne sued Burt and Hal. Hal sued Burt. Burt countersued Hal.
In spite of
this legal entanglement, Burt’s songs continued to chart, albeit by
other artists: Gladys Knight
& the Pips re-recorded “The Look of Love” and took it to
#21 in the U.K.; The Stylistics took “You’ll Never Get to
Heaven” to #23 in the U.S.
Estranged from Dionne, Burt concentrated on his own performing
career, releasing a live album in 1974, simply titled, Burt Bacharach in Concert.
The same year, Burt
Bacharach’s Greatest Hits and Living
Together hit the shelves.
Burt and Hal
reunited in 1975 with a new singer, a young Stephanie Mills, producing and
writing songs for an album entitled, For
the First Time. In 1976,
The Stylistics’ cover of “You’ll Never Get to
Heaven” finally got to the U.K., peaking at #24 on the British
chart. Burt released a pair of
albums in the late ‘70s, Futures
in 1977 and Woman in the
1979. The laconically titled
albums failed to produce much chart success in the way of singles, but Woman was unusual in that it was a
song cycle recorded in tandem with the Houston Symphony Orchestra.
In 1980, Burt
and his woman divorced. It did
not take him long to find a new woman, Carole Bayer Sager, and the two of
them began a songwriting partnership that blossomed into a romantic
partnership. The musical
marriage bore fruit quickly, in the form of the theme song for the Dudley
Moore comedy, Arthur. “Arthur’s Theme (The
Best That You Can Do)”, as performed by Christopher Cross, won an
Oscar and a couple of Grammy nods.
In 1982, another Bacharach song found its way onto the big
screen: Rod Stewart recorded
“That’s What Friends Are For” on the soundtrack of Michael
Keaton’s breakout film, Night
meantime, a couple of his older songs received new treatment: “Any Day Now” was a
major hit for country superstar Ronnie Milsap and
“(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me” was an
unlikely smash for the new-wave outfit, Naked Eyes. Around 1985, Elton John, Gladys
Knight, Dionne Warwick, and Stevie Wonder huddled into a recording studio
and did a remake of “That’s What Friends Are For” which
won a Grammy and raised millions of dollars for AIDS research.
with a pair of duets in the mid-to-late ‘80s: Patti LaBelle
and Michael McDonald topped the charts with “On My Own” and
Jeffrey Osborne and Dionne Warwick did the same on the AC chart and hit #12
on Billboard with “Love Power”. Arthur
2: On the Rocks was
released in 1988 and again Burt was invited to compose the score.
In 1991, Burt
and Carole called it quits, and two years later, he married again, this
time to Jane Strauss Hanson, and they are still together to this day. He also reunited with Hal and Dionne
on her Friends Can Be Lovers CD
with a song they co-wrote, “Sunny Weather Lover”. Burt co-penned a pair of songs on
the James Ingram CD, Always You: “Sing for the Children”
and “This is the Night”.
He was also part of songwriting teams that crafted
“Don’t Say Goodbye Girl” on the Tevin
Campbell CD, I’m Ready, and
“Two Hearts” on the Millennium
CD of Earth, Wind & Fire.
In 1996, McCoy
Tyner recorded a Bacharach tribute CD with his trio, replete with an
orchestra, with John Clayton conducting. Burt was also paid tribute by the
BBC, who aired a documentary entitled Burt
Bacharach—This is Now.
In June of the same year, he performed at the Royal Festival Hall in
London, England, and was joined by Noel Gallagher of Oasis on “This
Guy’s in Love with You”.
He capped off the year in concert with Dionne Warwick, Live from the Rainbow Room, which
aired on American Movie Classics.
He rang in the
new year by making fun of himself in the Michael Myers comedy, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Ani DiFranco covered “Wishin’
and Hopin’” on the soundtrack of My Best Friend’s Wedding. In the meantime, Burt Bacharach Plays His Hits hit
the shelves, as well as John Zorn’s 2-CD tribute. Burt rounded out the year in
concert, this time at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York. Burt
Bacharach: One Amazing Night
was broadcast the following April on TNT and featured an all-star line-up,
including All Saints, Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds
Five, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, George Duke, Chrissie Hynde, Mike Myers, David Sanborn, Luther Vandross, Dionne, and Wynonna.
In 1998, Marie
McAuliffe released her own tribute CD, entitled Refractions, some artists Down Under released their own
tribute, To Hal and Bacharach,
and Burt and Elvis collaborated on the CD, Painted from Memory.
It contained eleven originals co-penned by the makeshift duo,
including the Grammy-nominated “God Give Me Strength”, which
they had crafted over a long distance by use of fax and telephone. They supported the album with a tour
in 1999, and received a Grammy Award for “I Still Have That other
Girl”. The pair also
appeared in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, and duetted on “I’ll Never Fall in Love
In the 1990s,
Burt’s songs were also fodder for six episodes of The Simpsons. In 1999, The Hits of Burt Bacharach and 20th Century Masters – The Millennium
Collection: The Best of Burt Bacharach,
were made available on CD. The
turn of the millennium found him reunited again with old friends Dionne and
Hal on a pair of songs for the film, Isn’t
She Great. In July 2000, he
gave a performance at Royal Albert Hall, again with guest artists, entitled
A Tribute to Burt Bacharach, and
it was made available to the public the following year. It probably looked handsome on store
shelves next to The Greatest Hits of
Burt Bacharach, also released in 2001.
2002, What the World Needs Now, a
musical inspired by Burt and Hal, hit the stage in Sydney, Australia. The jury is still out on whether the
world needed another Austin Powers sequel, but Burt made the cut again in Austin Powers in Goldmember. The soundtrack features Susanna Hoffs singing a parody of “Alfie”
to forge new and unusual creative partnerships with artists as diverse as
Cathy Dennis, Dr. Dre, and Will Young. Burt and Cathy wrote
“What’s in Goodbye” for Will’s first CD, From Now On. Burt and Will also appeared in
concert together at Hammersmith Apollo and Liverpool Pops. In the meantime, Bacharach junkies
could get their fix with a pair of retrospective/tribute CDs, Motown Salutes Bacharach and 60 Greatest Hit Songs. For the serious collector, The Rare Bacharach was released in
2003 and featured artists ranging from Sylvester to Andy Williams.
again that Burt was still relevant and hip in the cynical new millennium,
he was invited to appear on television fare such as American Idol and Dancing
with the Stars. American Idol finalists did a cover
of “What the World Needs Now is Love” for charity and it
reached an improbable #4 on the Billboard chart in 2003. The lowlight of the year was The Look of Love, another musical
inspired by the music of Burt and Hal, which opened on Broadway in May and
ran all the way to 29th June.
unscathed, however, because he had absolutely nothing to do with it. He was too busy working on another
unlikely collaboration, Isley Meets
Bacharach: Here I Am with
Ronald Isley. Ronald covered eleven of
Burt’s songs, and Burt, in turn, arranged, conducted, and produced
the album, which spent three months on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop album
As if there
had not been enough tributes at this point, the year ended with McCormick Present Burt Bacharach: Tribute on Ice, broadcast on
NBC. You guessed it: Nicole Bobek,
Brian Boitano, Ilia Kulik, etc., skating to the songs of Burt
Bacharach. What the World Needs Now:
Burt Bacharach Classics was also released, in case anyone wanted
to skate to them at home.
In March 2004,
Burt and Hal were again in the rarefied air of the #1 position on the
Billboard chart: Twista feat. Kayne West
sampled “A House is Not a Home” by Luther Vandross
on their release, “Slow Jamz”. Concomitantly, Steve Tyrell was
making his run to #3 on the Contemporary Jazz chart with his tribute album,
This Guy’s in Love.
Blast from the
past: In 2004, Alfie was
remade; The film included the theme from the original film, plus an
original for the film, “Wicked Time”, penned by Burt. The wave of nostalgia continued with
Blue Note Plays Burt Bacharach
and Something Big: The Complete A&M Years.
A first for
Burt: In 2005, he wrote his own
lyrics for the album, At this Time;
Elvis is on the album, as are Chris Botti, Dr. Dre, and Rufus Wainwright. The politically-charged lyrics met
with their share of critics, but the album won a Grammy nonetheless.
He returned to
American Idol in 2006 as a vocal
instructor and one airing of the show comprised nothing but his music. The pop icon showed once again that
he has a sense of humour about himself, doing a
self-parody on an ad for Geico insurance. He was also in the studio again,
working on an album titled The Look
of Love (Burt Bacharach Songbook) with jazz artist, Trijntje
In 2007, he
appeared on American Idol: The Search for a Superstar, and
penned a few songs for a concept CD entitled New Music from an Old Friend, which showcases songwriting
legends such as Carole King, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Paul
Williams, and Brian Wilson, often working together.
tribute, Back to Bacharach, was
recorded by Michael Ball, who went on a media blitz to promote the album,
appearing on a number of live television shows. Marlene
Dietrich with the Burt Bacharach Orchestra was released, at long last,
years, Burt has focused more on live performances than recording, appearing
at venues such as The Roundhouse (as part of BBC Electric Proms), the
Sydney Opera House, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Always
Something There: A Burt
Bacharach Collectors’ Anthology and Burt Bacharach: Live at
the Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra were released
In 2009, Burt
appeared on NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t’ Tell Me, as part of
the segment, “Not My Job”, which challenges celebrities to
answer questions well out of their realm of expertise.
He returned to
the studio briefly to produce Karima Ammar’s inaugural release, “Come In Ogni Ora” before
hitting the road for a European tour that included dates in Belgium,
Holland, Italy, Norway, Sicily, and Spain.
Rare Bacharach – The Early Years
1958 – 1965 was
unveiled in 2009 and Burt even made an appearance on Saturday Night Live.
At the age of 81, Burt Bacharach shows no signs of slowing
down. He was touring Australia
as recently as March 2010.
Dusty Springfield recordings
and Hopin’ (Burt Bacharach/Hal David)