A LOOK BACK AT SOME OF THE INCREDIBLE MUSIC THIS INCREDIBLE MUSICIAN WAS BEHIND
I was at work when I heard the news that Burt Bacharach had passed. I played some of his music on the way home, and it made me realise just how much he influenced pop music even today. The first pieces of music that came to mind when I drafted writing this were the obvious ones, but for me these five stood out. These are my favourites in no particular order.
BJ THOMAS – ‘RAINDROPS KEEP FALLING ON MY HEAD’
This has a unique perspective because the melody is just bright and sunny, yet it talks about rain falling on your head. As someone that hates rain unless I’m at home and snuggled up. You will not get me outside for love nor money in the rain. But somehow the melody is matched up to words simply and beautifully. Several versions have been recorded, but my favourite is this one.
It has been featured on soundtracks having originally been recorded for Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, but it’s also on the Forrest Gump one.
THE CARPENTERS – ‘(THEY LONG TO BE) CLOSE TO YOU’
“Why do birds, suddenly appear, everytime you are near, Just like me they long to be close to you.”
Then the little chromatic run into the full instrumentation…
This is stunning. If I had to pick a favourite Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition it will be this…
It’s the little touches that make it what it is, a lesson in arranging a perfect pop song.
1:11-1:13 the little piano run, following the lyric:
Even before the days of pop videos it still conjures up an image that stays in your mind even by the musical cues.
“So they sprinkled moon dust in your hair of gold and starlight in your eyes of blue.”
The key change! A semitone from G Major to Ab Major, with a trumpet solo and full orchestration coming in…. This is where it goes from pop song to “grown up music”… But the innovation here for me happens at 2:59 where the harmonies are layered…
Oh God my heart!
Then! THEN! 3:21 they do this off beat thing like as if you’re kicking your leg back in the air as you dance…
Fake fade out too, now that’s genius….
CILLA BLACK – ‘ALFIE’
The first time I heard this was when I watched “Austin Powers: Goldmember” and Susannah Hoffs sang it, changing the name to Austin. Burt had composed a beautiful piece, with lyrics from his long term writing partner Hal David. This was originally for the Michael Caine film of the same name – Not a lot of people know that…
But what struck me was the overall arrangement, Cilla’s voice rang out beautifully on it – I grew up in the 80s where she was known for Blind Date and Surprise Surprise and those shows really didn’t get to show off her voice. I knew she could sing though because I’d first heard her on the b-side of a record called “You’re My World” – this song was called “Suffer Now I Must” but that’s a story for another time.
Bacharach and David originally wanted Dionne Warwick to record it, but Paramount wanted it to be recorded by a UK singer. Cilla was invited by Burt to record it, writing her a letter – how sweet is that?
This is what Cilla had to. say about it according to wikipedia “I said I’d only do it if Burt Bacharach himself did the arrangement, never thinking for one moment that he would. [When] the reply came back from America that he’d be happy to. … I said I would only do it if Burt came over to London for the recording session. ‘Yes,’ came the reply. Next I said that as well as the arrangements and coming over, he had to play [piano] on the session. To my astonishment it was agreed that Burt would do all three. So by this time, coward that I was, I really couldn’t back out.”
It was recorded at the musician’s Mecca, Abbey Road and overseen by George Martin… Wow. This session couldn’t get any bigger than that could it?
It was estimated that she recorded around 18 takes before Burt was satisfied by it. But the end result is now embedded in history.
ARETHA FRANKLIN – I SAY A LITTLE PRAYER
The Queen Of Soul took this to CHURCH! Wow!!! The intro is so recognisable it’s a head turner, this one will stop you in your tracks the moment you heard it.
“The moment I wake up,
Before I put on my make up,
I say a little prayer for you…”
The way this is arranged Aretha sings the first part and the backing vocals take the harmony and sing the responses… this is a song that could have had gospel lyrics.. the melody is so gorgeous it just envelopes you…
What a song.
DUSTY SPRINGFIELD – THIS GIRLS IN LOVE WITH YOU
Admittedly the first time I ever came across Dusty was when she collaborated with the Pet Shop Boys on “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” – a glorious pop record in itself. Then I discovered my namesake “Son Of A Preacherman” and it was all over I fell in love.
But this song, all about the glorious arrangement of it, the piano is what begins it, and then Dusty’s voice comes in lovely and husky, it’s got a gentle bounce to it…
The horns really fill it out too, giving it the characteristic Bacharach arrangement too. This is typically 60s and a gorgeous ballad too. It also has the distinction of being arranged by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin!
This is just the tip of the iceberg of some absolutely incredible music that has the stamp of a genius on them. Burt Bacharach may be gone but he will most definitely not be forgotten and will live forever by virtue of the all the incredible music he has bestowed upon us.
Words by Del Osei-Owusu