In all of pop music no one impressed or moved me more than the late Burt Bacharach who died this past Wednesday at age 94. There have been others (Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Van Morrison, Paul Simon, for example) whose individual songs have rivaled Bacharach’s, but none moved me or surprised me more than the songs he composed with his lyricist partner, Hal David (who died in 2012).
“Close to You,” is probably their greatest composition made famous by the Carpenters. In my opinion, there is no single song that is as elegant, easeful and soaring. It is the song that many songwriters wish they could have composed.
My favorite Bacharach/David songs, though, were sung by Dionne Warwick. “Do You Know The Way to San Jose?” rocked my world in every way – rhythmically, lyrically and melodically. “Walk on By” and “Promises, Promises” and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” are all great examples of Burt’s unmistakable arrangements, records that defined the urbane, LA sound in the sixties.
Bacharach and David also wrote one of the best movie songs, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” brilliantly sung by BJ Thomas for the film, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” I’ll never forget how everyone in my family loved that tune including my grandparents.
What Burt Bacharach did best is hard to describe, but I’ll give it a try. First, he orchestrated his arrangements and did so with imagination, probably pissing off many conservative arrangers and players. He didn’t care. Such is the case with pioneers.
Second, his melodic lines were long and intricate. Rock and folk music lines are typically short and simple (nothing bad about that) but Bacharach wrote on a higher level. It was probably his jazz training, something we saw later in the songs of Billy Joel and Elton John, who were classically educated composers.
It’s a regret of mine that I never wrote him a letter to express my admiration and how he affected my desire to give my life over to creating music. Like Paul Simon, Bacharach seemed a little too great in his talent to be approached. I was overawed by him and probably would not have known what to say beyond, “you’re great.” I’m sure he probably knew that, but I still wish I could have shook his hand and let him know what he meant to me.
I think it’s why I never play The Star with kids. I talk to them and let them know that we are all worthy of respect and attention. As Hal David wrote, “They long to be close to you,” and that’s what I try to do.
So, thank you, Mr. Bacharach and Mr. David. I know that my songs are not as unique or popular, but I hope that what I do inspires some kid to consider making music, like you gents did for me. If I can do that, then I will have passed on your love for songs, for creativity and collaboration. And I will have done better than shake your hands. I will have become the next link in a very special chain.