The Extraordinary Pop Music of My Youth
I Now Feel Lucky to Have Grown Up with Bacharach.
Finally posting a small tribute to the 20th century’s greatest “pop music” composer, Burt Bacharach. He passed away at age 94 on February 8 in his Los Angeles home.
His music, as the cliché goes, will live on forever. Sure, he didn’t stop wars, poverty, etc. but neither did Bach, Beethoven, or Brahms, for that matter. What Bacharach did was give us moments of pleasure that lifted our spirits, while enjoying time with family and friends — surely that counts for something?
His body of work might be seen as a symbol of a time and place, a society and culture, including the humor and wit that leavened a few disappointments in life — that all seem to be sadly gone from this world … at least for now.
THERE WAS A QUIP back in the day which went something like this: “List of the great composers? Bach, Beethoven, Brahms — and Bacharach.”
Even at the peak of his popularity, his genius was already acknowledged by astute observers. And yet, it seems his music was simply taken for granted for the longest time. Fresh looks at its true artistic merits have come forth especially since his death.
Burt Bacharach wrote so many hook-filled melodies, but they stood head and shoulders above the average “pop song.” There were perfectly placed offbeat rhythms (syncopation, clipped beats), creative orchestration, and handsome arrangements (with the use of strings, prominent brass, assorted percussion, and electronic keyboards). They had a sophistication and classiness that rendered them unique and timeless. They seemed to capture the excitement and adventure of the age, the Sixties. They were romantic but not sappy; in fact, there was a subtle melancholy to some of them. It was music for grown-ups. (And yet, we kids liked them a lot, too.)
What’s amazing about Bacharach’s songs is that despite their incredible complexity and finesse, they were accessible to the vast majority of listeners. (Meanwhile, the more “rebellious” rock musicians with their drugs and “anti-establishment” slogans and lifestyles attracted the disenchanted or bored youth seeking thrills different to that of their parents.)
That he was for a time part of a charismatic celebrity couple with second wife, actress Angie Dickinson, and his sporting good looks himself did not hurt his popularity at all.
Reach Out (1968 ALBUM)
This might be my extra-favorite Bacharach album!
We played this all the time at home. Sometimes lulled us to sleep, too. Every nuance, every staccato beat, each pause in every song is etched in my memory.
So, I might be wrong, but wasn’t “Reach Out for Me” used in some ad for a major US airline? Pan Am? TWA? Or—no, never?
ALBUM by Burt Bacharach
℗ An A&M Records Release;
℗ 1968 UMG Recordings, Inc.
Released on: 1967-01-01
Producer, Associated Performer, Recording Arranger: Burt Bacharach Studio Personnel
Engineer: Phil Ramone
Composer: Burt Bacharach
Lyricist: Hal David
CLICK ON IMAGE TO ACCESS FULL PLAYLIST:
Playlist from Wikipedia:
"Reach Out for Me"
"Bond Street" (Bacharach)
"Are You There (With Another Girl)"
"What the World Needs Now Is Love"
"The Look of Love"
"A House Is Not a Home"
"I Say a Little Prayer"
"The Windows of the World"
"Message to Michael"
SELECTED CLASSIC SONGS, CLIPS, SHOWS & DOCUFILMS:
A House is Not a Home (1964)
Here with the phenomenal songstress, Dusty Springfield.
This was one of our favs, dedicated to his and wife Angie Dickinson’s daughter. A great tragedy in their lives that neither would ever quite get over, when Nikki died in 2007 at age 40, even more sadly, by her own hand.
I remember when this aired on some TV show, it had home movie clips of little Nikki outdoors, maybe with a horse (or maybe not; ‘twas decades ago).
Burt Bacharach Documentary - Composer - His Life and his Music.
A BBC-produced documentary film, originally aired in 1996 (I’d never seen this till now.)
Dusty Springfield narrates a documentary profile of the songwriter who won an Oscar for the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid score, enjoyed stage success with Promises, Promises and whose classic songs continue to influence modern music. Featuring interviews with Dionne Warwick, Noel Gallager, Hal David, Herb Alpert, Elvis Costello, Cilla Black, Richard Carpenter, Carol Bayer Sager and Gillian Lynne.
(SOURCE for info.)
“This Guy’s in Love” (1968)
Sung by trumpeter Herb Alpert (and one-half of the fabulous A&M Records label with Jerry Moss, and leader of the Tijuana Brass band till 1969). I’d never seen this clip before now, either. It looks kinda cheesy now. 😬 (In real life, Alpert’s love is singer Lani Hall, ex of the great bossa nova pop group, Sergio Mendes and Brasil ‘66).
“Pacific Coast Highway” (1968)
Not too commonly heard. Always wondered what this roadway was like to be so honored with a musical piece. Became iconic. When we were able to drive on it for real at last, it gave such a thrill to finally see the actual, stunning “Pacific coast” in the song title.
“Mexican Divorce” (written in 1962)
One of my favorites, and another little-known tune. The lilting melody and the witty, casual-sounding lyrics (not by Hal David, but Bob Hilliard) conceal the sadness of a relationship coming to an end. I like the Mexican-sounding bits and the jangly tempo. Originally sung by The Drifters, this later version by Bacharach and friends is much nicer.
I think this nearly-hour-long TV special (new to me, again) really shows Bacharach’s inventive orchestral arrangements. Listen to the “Wives and Lovers” at the top of the show.
Then, if music hall/vaudeville isn’t your thing, skip to 24:07 for “Nikki” (with footage of his little daughter), followed by singer Vikki Carr, who also does a new duet version of “Look of Love” with Bacharach at the piano. Then come Anthony Newley and Sammy Davis, Jr with a medley of songs by Newley and Leslie Bricusse — many hits among them.
Burt Bacharach TV Special 1972 Full Show with Anthony Newley, Vicki Carr & Sammy Davis Jr.
Burt Bacharach, with Sammy Davis Jr., Anthony Newley, and Vikki Carr. Anthony Newley and Sammy Davis Jr. perform a medley of songs from "Stop the World, I Want to Get Off" and "The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd" Burt and the orchestra perform "Wives and Lovers", "Nikki" and "Lost Horizon". --Sammy sings "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head". --Anthony sings "The Good Old Bad Old Days". --Vikki sings "Make It Easy on Yourself". --Sammy and Anthony duet on "Candy Man". –Burt and Vikki sing “The Look Of Love”. Originally produced for the BBC, this was syndicated in the U.S. 51 minutes with commercials edited out.
A rarity, just posted by the BBC a few days ago: speaks on how a “perfect pop song” is made real.
1964: BURT BACHARACH on Composing PERFECT POP | Tonight | Classic BBC Music | BBC Archive
American composer Burt Bacharach chats to Tonight's Magnus Magnusson about the secret to writing a pop hit. Originally broadcast 2 December, 1964.
This almost throwaway tune has always fascinated me, with words like those below.
[full lyrics HERE]
“Paper Maché” (1971) [excerpts only]
Twenty houses in a row:
Eighty people watch a tv show.
Paper people, cardboard dreams,
How unreal the whole thing seems...
Can we be living in a world made of paper mache?
Everything is clean and so neat.
Anything that's wrong can be just swept away.
Spray it with cologne, and the whole world smells sweet.
Was it a soft and stealth attack on modern suburban life or society?
I dunno, the song sounded like something was wrong with things being “clean and … neat.” To one living in a country that was kinda messy and chaotic, a “clean and neat world” sure sounded attractive!
AT ANY RATE, no one else wrote music quite like Bacharach did. His main lyricist, Hal David, gave us some of the loveliest, cleverest, and neatest words to go with such fine melodies.
Bacharach’s music offered a balm to the sociocultural and political upheavals ongoing everywhere at the time, even as his music “broke the rules” and went against the standard “pop” musical fare (read: smooth, sleepy and predictable).
Years before, unlike his peers in classical music composition class, Bacharach was already given to writing melodic tunes. At the time, atonal and dissonant works were all the rage among music academics. a “countercultural freak” he might have been, but who today remembers those “avant-garde” creations, outside of the halls of higher music education?
At first, he deferred to the '“authorities” who wanted to reshape his music to fit their “prefab” notions of what “popular music” was supposed to sound like. Fortunately, Bacharach soon realized this error of acquiescing to his supposed “betters” and took charge of recording production himself.
With a classical music foundation, his music drew upon popular, R&B, and jazz influences to turn out winning creations that pleased millions around the world. Those singular musical “curveballs” via time and key signature changes, as well as melodic twists and turns kept the songs fresh with every new hearing. His orchestral arrangements especially show this musical ingenuity.
While the songs sounded slick and easy, they were far from a breeze to sing. A wide vocal range and agility were requisite. Only the likes of top calibre singers like Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield could do them justice, thereby creating such iconic Bacharach songs.
“Songs” actually seems a trivial term for these deceptively facile but complex musical works. Rest assured that people will still be enjoying this music in eons to come. (Note that a new generation of musicians in recent years has been adapting those tunes for their time.)
Our parents loved his music a lot. We looked forward to any TV program that chanced to air and had him on as a guest. (Note that this was 10K miles away. Ah, the far-reaching tentacles of Hollywood and US culture, dominating with its hegemony all over that world outside of the USSR/Red China sphere of influence.)
I NOW THINK THAT having Bacharach’s more cheery, interesting and novel music as one of the dominant sounds in our household (aside from some standard Broadway tunes and classical fare) helped keep the influence of ragged and loud rock ‘n’ roll at bay during our more vulnerable years of callow youth. Giving eternal thanks to our parents for that happy circumstance.
Thank You, too, Burt Bacharach, for all you did to help make the world a more pleasant place to live in.
℣. Requiem æternam dona ei, Domine
℟. Et lux perpetua luceat ei:
℣. Requiescat in pace.
Please consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Final point: it wasn't the RNR music per se that was a danger to us -- but the drug culture associated with it. It didn't spread as widely in that society then as families were generally still close and strong, thankfully.
Just put on Reach Out. I remember my mom who loved Bacharach used to play it all the time. It still boggles my brain that these tunes used to pop on top 40 radio stations along with a most unusual and unpredictable assortment of other from every genre. I’d love to find a station somewhere that just runs playlists from the 1960’s. Besides being so much fun to listen to, they added incredible flavor color to what seemed like a very dull black and white world. Sometimes I feel so lucky to have grown up in such a setting. Can’t imagine what it’s like for kids today - not just getting confused by the Woke mentality or frightened by the masks and the rest of the pandemic insanity - but they have to listen to a lot of garbage (some of it with satanic undertones).