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Maestro (1928-2023)

By bringing his own elegant sensibility to bear on a personal blend of uptown R&B and Broadway, Burt Bacharach took music to places it had never been. He could use a cheap plastic electric organ and an orchestra of strings, a twangy guitar or a French horn, a rack of boo-bams or pair of flugelhorns, and make them all sound as if they were worth a million dollars. He also had the taste to work with lyricists of the quality of Bob Hilliard and Hal David, whose eloquence and imagination illuminated “Any Day Now” and “Walk On By”.

I saw him in concert twice, both times at the Royal Festival Hall in London. The second time he sang at the end, sitting at the piano, the way he must have done when he first demonstrated his brand-new songs to Chuck and Dionne, and I can still hear that papery non-singer’s voice, so affecting. Now he’s gone, at 94 years old, leaving such treasure behind. “Anyone Who Had a Heart”. “If I Ever Make You Cry”. “In Between the Heartaches”. “Alfie”. “Don’t Make Me Over”. “This Guy’s in Love With You”. “Make It Easy on Yourself”. “What the World Needs Now Is Love”. “A House Is Not a Home”. “Here I Am”. “The Windows of the World”. Songs whose lustre will never fade.

And if I could only keep one of his records, it might be the one below: the epically titled “(Here I Go Again) Looking With My Eyes (Seeing With My Heart)”, in which he musters all his originality in an orchestration full of sweeping strings and busy percussion, on a melody that demands all Dionne’s virtuosity, the last word in something beyond words.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Paul Crowe #

    Among all those gems, “This Guy’s in Love With You”, by the non-singer Herb Alpert, has always been so special…………..

    February 9, 2023
  2. Tim Adkin #

    Richard, many thanks for this – a nice tribute to a true giant. Thanks also for ‘Looking With My Eyes’ which, I’m ashamed to admit, I’d never heard before despite owning several Dionne compilations – one of which even proclaiming itself to be ‘definitive’ and another Burt and Halcentric. It is indeed wondrous and its relative obscurity mystifying.

    February 9, 2023
  3. Bachrach was several, decisive cuts above most contemporary songwriters.

    February 9, 2023
  4. Evan Parker #

    Those Scepter records with Dionne ! Impossible to pick a bad track but “Her I Am” might be my choice.

    February 9, 2023
    • Peter Eden #

      Thank you for saying it so well
      for all of us. Excellent. We will
      all still love the songs and arrangements in our future.
      Thank you.

      February 9, 2023
  5. Evan Parker #

    her = here

    February 9, 2023
  6. When EMAP was still a going concern just off Oxford St., I was in the lobby one evening waiting for someone. The main doors opened and Bacharach walked in (Who could mistake that immaculate silver hair?) with a couple of assistants. Probably there to do an interview.

    He looked so cool — good jeans, white trainers, navy sweater and a navy down jacket. He had to wait and looked so composed, not fussed at all…even standing there the charisma was undeniable, and the handful of people found themselves all turning to have a good look. A true star.

    February 9, 2023
  7. Simon Watney #

    That string of albums starting with “Presenting Dionne Warwick” (1964) has few parallels in the entire history of popular music. Thank you for remembering “If I Ever Make You Cry” and “In Between the Heartaches”. So many perfect, heart-breaking songs. And also Lou Johnson.

    February 10, 2023
  8. David Kewis #

    « Solething beyond words, » as you write, Richard. I would like very much to read more of you on the sheer genius of Burt Bacharach – whether it be in collaboration with two other songwriting greats, Hal David or Elvis Costello.
    Thank you, as always, for your elegant and wise words.

    February 10, 2023
  9. David Lewis #

    Apologies for the typo: ‘SOMETHING beyond words’ is what you wrote in praising the compositions of Burt Bacharach.
    I have read elsewhere that the Bacharach/David catalogue is ‘easy listening. For me, such songs as « Anyone Who Had A Heart » and « Alfie » have a desolate majesty; the palette is beautifully broad.

    February 10, 2023
  10. Graham Jones #

    From the first few chords, his songs were immediately recognisable. We were very lucky to be around when these masterpieces were first aired. I always thought “Here I Am” from the What’s New Pussycat ? held the essence of Burt Bacharach’s music. A beautiful love song

    February 10, 2023

    From the lesser known end of his work , the Balance of Nature , Paper Mache & Are You There With Another Girl.

    February 10, 2023

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