Born on May 12, 1928 in Kansas City, MO; son of Bert Bacharach (a columnist); married Paula Stewart, 1953 (divorced; 1958); married Angie Dickinson, 1965 (divorced, 1981); married Carol Bayer Sager, 1982 (divorced, 1991); married Jane Hanson, 2003; children: four. Education: Attended Mannes School of Music, NY; the Berkshire Music Center, NY; the New School for Social Research; McGill University, in Montreal, Canada; and the Music Academy of the West, CA. Addresses: Record company--A&M Records, 1416 North La Brea, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Website--Burt Bacharach Official Website: http://www.bacharachonline.com.
In a career spanning nearly six decades, songwriter Burt Bacharach has attained a virtual star status usually reserved for those on the other side of the recording process. After firmly establishing himself as a highly original tunesmith by the early 1960s, Bacharach became not only a household name, but even a publicly visible persona. As Francis Davis noted in the Atlantic Monthly, by the early 1970s, Bacharach had been acknowledged by critics and listeners as "a 'national idol'--a celebrity songwriter who was to his day what Stephen Foster, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter had been to theirs." Crafting a distinct style of melody, notably in collaboration with lyricist Hal David, Bacharach provided vocalists with the music for a vast list of hits, as well as for numerous acclaimed film soundtracks. While Bacharach's separation with David in the early 1970s was followed by a period of general stagnation, by the 1990s the composer was celebrated anew by a young generation of musicians who found great artistry in Bacharach's body of easy listening works.
Bacharach was born on May 12, 1928, in Kansas City, Missouri, before his parents relocated to New York City. Although he strived to become a football star, the young Bacharach was limited to a steady diet of cello, drum, and piano lessons at his mother's behest. Taking the study of music to heart, Bacharach exposed himself to jazz and classical performance through formal training, as well as by sneaking into local jazz clubs where he witnessed legends such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. After serving in the armed forces from 1950 to 1952, Bacharach immersed himself in music theory and composition study at the Mannes School of Music in New York City; McGill University in Montreal, Canada; the Music Academy of the West, in Santa Barbara, California, where he received a scholarship; and at the New School for Social Research. It was at the New School where Bacharach benefitted from the tutelage of Darius Milhaud, of whom many claim to have sharply influenced Bacharach's style.
Throughout the 1950s, Bacharach cut his teeth as a musician by serving as a piano accompanist and arranger to a number of performers before making his first attempts at songwriting. After meeting crooner Vic Damone in Germany, Bacharach worked alongside the singer for several years, leading to engagements with a virtual pantheon of club circuit celebrities including the Ames Brothers, Joel Grey, Steve Lawrence, and Paula Stewart, who married Bacharach in 1953. While acting as musical director to legendary German actress and chanteuse Marlene Dietrich, Bacharach's first steps in songwriting led him into a collaboration with lyricist Mack David, with whom Bacharach wrote the kitschy theme song to the science fiction film The Blob. Despite the fact that the song was actually a hit record, Bacharach quickly ended his partnership with David, but not before meeting his younger brother Hal David. Bacharach hit the top forty for the first time with the lyrical accompaniment of the junior David, providing country performer Marty Robbins with "The Story of My Life" in 1957 and crooner Perry Como with "Magic Moments" in 1958. Although it would take several years before the duo began working with each other exclusively, these first chart hits mark the start of one of the most fertile partnerships in popular music history.
Early Success with Hal David
As the 1960s began, so did the salad days of Bacharach's career, whereupon the composer cemented his most successful partnerships and developed a sophisticated, recognizable style. The onset of the decade found the songwriter supplying tunes for singers such as Gene Pitney and Chuck Jackson, and extensively for the group The Drifters, including "Mexican Divorce" and "Please Stay," both of which were created with lyricist Bob Hilliard. By 1962, with the release of Bacharach and David's "Make It Easy On Yourself" by pop/soul singer Jerry Butler, the composer had written, in Atlantic Monthly writer Francis Davis's words, "the first Bacharach song to sound vaguely like a Bacharach song... All these years later what's remarkable about the song is how grown up it sounds--as much a reflection of Bacharach's elegant melodic line as of the stoicism conveyed by Butler's vocal and David's lyrics." Bacharach and David had finally struck a delicate balance of songwriting, while not a formula. However, it was the discovery of vocalist Dionne Warwick, then a highly trained session vocalist for The Drifters, that rounded out the Bacharach/David team, illustrated by "Don't Make Me Over," released in 1962. Warwick's extreme versatility and range allowed Bacharach to indulge in the untraditional meter shifts and other devices which are his signature. With an ideal vocalist, the composer found a perfect match for melodies that were sophisticated and yet "deceptively simple." Despite what the ear thinks its hearing," noted Davis, "they rarely change key; what often accounts for their oddity is Bacharach's refusal to modulate into an easier key where another songwriter might, in order to give the singer a break."
From 1962 to 1970, the Bacharach/David/Warwick relationship became an institution in popular music, producing 39 charting singles, including eight which entered the top ten. In addition to the many Warwick pieces, among them "Walk On By," 1964; "Trains and Boats and Planes," 1966; "I Say A Little Prayer," 1967; and "Do You Know The Way To San Jose," 1968, a number of Bacharach's compositions also found success with other vocalists. To name only a few, Jack Jones's 1963 version of "Wives and Lovers;" Jackie DeShannon's classic 1965 recording of Bacharach's "What The World Needs Now Is Love;" trumpet virtuoso Herb Alpert's "This Guy's In Love With You," 1968; and The Fifth Dimension's "One Less Bell To Answer," recorded in 1970, were all chart toppers. As various Bacharach songs were re-recorded by a roster of diverse performers, it grew apparent that while the composer's work was sometimes captured in a definitive recording, as was the case with many Warwick cuts, the songwriting itself transcended any single version. Bacharach had established an identity, even an image, with popular audiences--he had even appeared in a fittingly romantic television vermouth advertisement with his then wife, actress Angie Dickinson--a feat almost unheard of for the usually invisible role of composer. However, Bacharach did not easily slip into his newly accrued public persona. "I found it a hard transition moving to the center of the stage," he recalled in a New Musical Express interview in 1996. "A lot of my musical life had been spent in the back or conducting for singers, and suddenly I was doing concerts by myself as the star, as the attraction. I had to talk to the audience but I could hardly get a word out because I was so nervous. It was tough."
By the early 1970s, Bacharach had achieved not only the appreciation of mass audiences, but also critical appreciation and even scholarly attention. Critics such as Popular Music and Society's Bruce A. Lohof publicly acknowledged the complexity and innovation in Bacharach's body of work, and ranked him among other giants of American songwriting. In 1970 the composer had been awarded two Academy Awards for his musical contributions to the previous year's film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which boasted the song "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" in addition to Bacharach's original score. Although this was the first time Bacharach had secured the Oscar, he had previously been nominated several times for his impressive film scores and songs, including What's New, Pussycat? in 1965, the theme song from Alfie in 1967, and "The Look of Love," written for the James Bond spoof Casino Royale, also in 1967. In addition, the Bacharach/David score for the long-running stage musical Promises, Promises, launched in 1969, garnered a Tony Award as well as a Grammy for its cast album.
The End of an Era
Given the success of Bacharach and David's film collaborations, it was surprising that their score for the 1973 remake film Lost Horizon was a resounding failure. Besides being generally condemned by audiences and critics alike for its histrionically romantic overtures, Lost Horizon's production also resulted in feuding between Bacharach and David. Their differences finally heated into lawsuits, and one of the most celebrated partnerships in popular music dissolved. The bitter breakup cut both David and Bacharach's careers to the quick, and for the rest of the decade the unhinged duo floundered in vain to find teamings with comparable chemistry. At this point, Bacharach turned to performing his own established material, both live and on record, but it was clear that his music was most successful when vitalized by other vocalists. With the exception of Bacharach's solo album Reach Out, released in 1967, the composer's self-recorded output was devoid of the charisma that made his songs popular, and albums such as Living Together (1972) and Woman (1979) are largely forgettable.
The pairing of Bacharach with lyricist Carol Bayer Sager marked the advent of a decidedly adult-oriented turn in the composer's career. After developing a work relationship with Sager in the early 1980s, resulting in the Academy Award winning tune "Arthur's Theme (The Best That You Can Do)," recorded by Christopher Cross for the 1981 film Arthur, Bacharach married his new partner in 1982--he had divorced Dickinson the previous year--and continued to compose with his new wife. While Bacharach's work with Hal David tended to be popular with audiences of all ages, his work throughout the 1980s is characterized by its easy listening, middle-aged appeal that most critics see as falling below his standards of the 1960s. Nonetheless, Bacharach returned to the charts with Sager collaborations such as "On My Own," an emotive soul duet recorded in 1986 by vocalists Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald, and "That's What Friends Are For," also recorded in 1986 as a fund raiser for AIDS research. The latter song featured vocals by Elton John and Dionne Warwick, and marked the reunion of Bacharach with his most celebrated interpreter. In addition to work with Sager, Bacharach expanded his portfolio with other writers, including R&B singer/songwriter James Ingram. Still, none of his later work recaptured the timeless quality achieved with David in past decades.
Although Bacharach's own work had entered a period of relative stagnation, by the early 1990s the composer's career received an unexpected boost. After years of confinement to an adult listening constituency, Bacharach's classic work of the 1960s became treasured anew by young fans and songwriters, many of whom had ironically come from polarly opposite music traditions such as punk rock and new wave. Critics such as Davis credit some of Bacharach's newfound exposure to subcultural ironic appreciation,, "among fans of what is variously called 'cocktail,' 'bachelor pad,' and 'E-Z listening'--those strange young record collectors with an overdeveloped (or underdeveloped?) sense of kitsch, wardrobes of Rat Pack leisurewear..., and too many good albums in their collections already." Although this kind of keenly postmodern "appreciation" ultimately devalued Bacharach's talent, many contemporary listeners truly found mastery in records found in parents' collections. "Why is this happening?" asked critic Lorraine Ali rhetorically in the Los Angeles Times. "It may reflect the maturation of the musically involved. Kids who were bombarded for most of their lives with noise and anti-melody are finding sensory relief in songs that go down smooth and easy." As a result, many young rock bands began to cite Bacharach as an influence as well as to perform his pieces, including the experimental French/British outfit Stereolab, American folk-rockers REM, and England's Oasis, just to name a few.
A New Generation of Fans
Accordingly, the Bacharach revival has included a number of tributes and retrospectives. In 1996, Bacharach's longtime label A&M released a career spanning compilation album, The Look of Love: The Classic Songs of Burt Bacharach, which was followed by an exhaustive three CD portrait by Rhino Records a year later. British television made the composer the subject of a documentary/tribute entitled Burt Bacharach: This Is Now, which was subsequently shown on American airwaves. Bacharach launched a European tour with Dionne Warwick to favorable reviews and performed at New York's Rainbow Room for a New Year's Eve television special. In addition, the flattered Bacharach fully endorsed the attention of his new generation of fans, collaborating with British songwriter Elvis Costello on the song "God Give Me Strength" in 1995 and performing his own "This Guy's In Love With You" alongside Oasis vocalist Noel Gallagher at London's Royal Festival Hall in June of 1996. The composer even made an amusing cameo appearance in the 1997 spoof film Austin Powers, another example of the blurry line between irony and adoration.
With the retro movement, Bacharach's songs began appearing regularly in motion pictures, including two additional Austin Powers movies, Two Weeks Notice, the re-make of The In-Laws, and Catch Me if You Can.
In July of 2000, A Tribute to Burt Bacharach & Hal David was held at Royal Albert Hall in London. It was later released on CD and DVD in 2001. Then, in 2002, a musical based on the careers of Bacharach and David called What the World Needs Now opened in Sydney, Australia. A musical based on Bacharach and David opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theater on Broadway in New York City. In December of 2003, a television special, McCormick Presents Burt Bacharach: Tribute on Ice, with superstar skaters Brian Boitano, Ilia Kulik, and Nicole Bobek. Bacharach craze was everywhere.
Bacharach shows no signs of slowing down. Indeed, he appears to be speeding up, continuing to make appearances and play with music. Whether ironically motivated or in earnest, and regardless of future compositions, Bacharach has undeniably earned a place in the canon of popular music.
by Shaun Frentner and Sarah Parkin
Burt Bacharach's Career
Worked as a nightclub conductor and pianist for Vic Damone and other entertainers in early 1950s; became member of ASCAP, 1955; formed partnership with Hal David, 1957; had first million-seller with Perry Como, "Magic Moments," 1958; began composing for Dionne Warwick with "Don't Make Me Over," 1962; scored first film, What's New Pussycat?, with a hit Tom Jones title song, 1965; released debut album, Reach Out, for A&M, 1967; wrote music for Promises, Promises, 1969; scored the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969; dissolved partnership with David, 1973; started collaboration with Carol Bayer Sager, 1978; scored the film Arthur, 1981; produced AIDS benefit single "That's What Friends Are For," 1986; co-wrote "God Give Me Strength" with Elvis Costello over a fax machine, 1998; recorded version of "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, 1998; composed score for Isn't She Great, 2000; appeared in Austin Powers in Goldmember, 2002; recorded Here I Am, 2003.
Burt Bacharach's Awards
Grammy Awards, Best Instrumental Arrangement, Alfie, 1967; Best Score From An Original Cast Show Album, Promises, Promises, 1969; Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or a Television Special, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969; Song of the Year, "That's What Friends Are For," 1986; Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals, "I Still Have That Other Girl," 1998; Academy Award, Original Score for a Motion Picuture [Not a Musical], Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969; Academy Award, Original Song for the Picture, "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," 1969; Academy Award, Original Theme, "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)," 1981; Swedish Polar Prize, 2001.
- Selected discography
- What's New Pussycat? Rykodisc, 1965.
- After the Fox Rydodisc, 1966.
- Reach Out A&M, 1967.
- Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid A&M, 1969.
- Make It Easy on Yourself A&M, 1969.
- Burt Bacharach Polydor, 1971.
- Living Together A&M, 1972.
- In Concert A&M, 1974.
- Greatest Hits A&M, 1974.
- Burt Bacharach's Greatest Hits A&M, 1974.
- Futures MVP Japan, 1977.
- Classics, Vol. 23 A&M, 1987.
- Walk on By Universal, 1987.
- Songbook Alex, 1995.
- The Magic of Burt Bacharach Charly, 1996.
- Easy Loungin' Collection Universal, 1996.
- The Look of Love: The Classic Songs of Burt Bacharach A&M, 1996.
- The Best of Burt Bacharach Polygram, 1996.
- Burt Bacharach Plays His Hits MCA, 1997.
- I'll Never Fall in Love Again Polygram, 1998.
- The Look of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection Rhino, 1998.
- One Amazing Night N2K, 1998.
- A Man & His Music Spectrum, 1998.
- The Greatest Hits of Burt Bacharach Metro, 2001.
- What the World Needs Now: Burt Bacharach Classics A&M, 2003.
February 8, 2006: Bacharach won the Grammy Award for best pop instrumental album for At This Time. Source: Grammy.com, http://grammy.com/GRAMMY_Awards/Annual_Show/48_nominees.aspx, February 9, 2006.
- Atlantic Monthly, June 1997.
- Billboard, May 26, 2001, p. 12.
- Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1995.
- New Musical Express, April 13, 1996.
- "Burt Bacharach," Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Website, http://www.awardsdatabase.oscars.org (April 25, 2004).
- "Burt Bacharach," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 25, 2004).
- Burt Bacharach Official Website, http://www.bacharachonline.com (April 25, 2004).
- Recording Academy Grammy Awards, http://www.grammy.com (April 25, 2004).