Print Shortlink

Bacharach, Burt (12 May 1928–8th February 2023)

Singer-songwriter, composer, pianist and record producer 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.

Burt loved 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.

He continued 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.

Shortly before 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”.

Burt arranged 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.

In the meantime, another one of Burt’s songs became a trans-Atlantic hit:  Gene McDanielstook “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 Believe It”.

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”.

Cilla 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”.

She would 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.

Other 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 Dickinson.

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 the States.

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 year included:  “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 EngelbertHumperdinck; 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.)

In 1970, 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”.

Dionne 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 Hitsand 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 Shift.

In the 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.

Burt scored 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 Again”.

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.

In August 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” entitled—what else—“Austin”.

Burt continued 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.

Proving once 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.

Burt remained 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 chart.

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 Oosterhuis.

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.

Another 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, on CD.

In recent years, Burt 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 2008.

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 showed no signs of slowing down.  He toured Australia in March 2010 and in 2015 appeared at the UK’s Glastonbury Festival.  Within a few months he was launching the 90 minute live arrangement of “What’s It All About? Bacharach Reimagined”.

He died at home of natural causes in February 2023 in Los Angeles, California when he was 94 years old.

Dusty Springfield recordings
Wishin’ and Hopin’ (Burt Bacharach/Hal David)