Play Burt Bacharach
Bacharach was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and grew up in the Forest Hills section of New York City, graduating from Forest Hills High School in 1946. He is the son of Irma M. (née Freeman) and Mark Bertram "Bert" Bacharach, a well-known syndicated newspaper columnist, His family was Jewish, he writes in his biography, and adds that "no one in my family went to synagogue or paid much attention to being Jewish. . . . but the kids I knew were Catholic. . . I was Jewish but I didn't want anybody to know about it."
Bacharach showed a keen interest in jazz as a teenager, disliking his classical piano lessons, and often using fraudulent identification to gain admission into 52nd Street nightclubs such as Spotlite to see bebop musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, who were a major influence on him.
Bacharach studied music at McGill University, under Helmut Blume, at the Mannes School of Music, and at the Music Academy of the West in Montecito, California. During this period he studied a range of music, including jazz harmony, which has since been important to songs which are generally considered pop music. His composition teachers included Darius Milhaud, Henry Cowell, and Bohuslav Martinů. Bacharach cites Milhaud as his biggest influence and has said, "Before I went into the service during the Korean War I studied with Milhaud at the Music Academy of the West which was a summer program. I wrote a 'Sonatina for Violin, Oboe and Piano.' There were five in the class, and we were writing in a modern style. I had been hanging out in New York with John Cage. The middle section of my piece was very melodic, and I worried that it was too melodic. Milhaud said, 'Never be afraid to be melodic.'" Following service in the Army, Bacharach worked as a pianist, both as a soloist and as an accompanist for singers such as Vic Damone, Polly Bergen, Steve Lawrence, the Ames Brothers and Paula Stewart (who became his first wife). For some years, he was musical arranger for Marlene Dietrich, as well as touring as her musical director.
Early songwriting work
In 1957, Bacharach and lyricist Hal David were introduced while at the Brill Building (which Bacharach described as a "music factory") in New York City, and began their writing partnership. Almost a year later, they received a significant career breakthrough when their song "The Story of My Life" was recorded by Marty Robbins for Columbia Records, becoming a number 1 hit on the U.S. country music chart and reaching #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1957.
With Stevie Wonder in 1970s
Soon afterwards, "Magic Moments" was recorded by Perry Como for RCA Records, and became a number 4 U.S. hit in February of that year. These two songs were back-to-back No. 1 singles in the UK ("The Story of My Life" in a version by Michael Holliday), giving Bacharach and David the honor of being the first songwriters to have written consecutive No. 1 UK singles. Bacharach also worked with other lyricists at first, including Bob Hilliard and Hal David's brother, Mack David, but he and Hal David decided to form an exclusive writing partnership together in 1963.
In the early and mid-1960s, Bacharach wrote well over a hundred songs with David. He produced a number of songs on New York soul singer Lou Johnson, including the original recordings of "Always Something There To Remind Me", "Kentucky Bluebird (Message To Martha)" and "Reach Out For Me", but the two were mainly associated throughout the decade with Dionne Warwick, a conservatory-trained vocalist. Bacharach and David started writing a large portion of their work with Warwick in mind, leading to one of the most successful teams in popular music history.
Over a 20-year period, beginning in the early 1960s, Warwick charted 38 singles co-written or produced by Bacharach and David, including 22 Top 40, 12 Top 20 and nine Top 10 hits on the American Billboard Hot 100 charts. During the early 1960s, Bacharach also collaborated with Bob Hilliard on a number of songs, including "Please Stay" and "Mexican Divorce" for The Drifters, "Any Day Now" for Chuck Jackson, "Tower of Strength" for Gene McDaniels, and "Dreamin' All the Time" and "Pick Up the Pieces" for Jack Jones.
Bacharach released his first solo album in 1965 on the Liberty Records label. "Hit Maker! Burt Bacharach Plays His Hits" was largely ignored in the US but rose to #3 on the UK album charts, where his version of "Trains And Boats and Planes" had become a top 5 single. In 1967, Bacharach signed as an artist with A&M Records, recording a mix of new material and re-arrangements of his best-known songs. He recorded for A&M until 1978.
Other singers of Bacharach songs in the '60s and '70s included Bobby Vinton ("Blue on Blue"); Dusty Springfield ("The Look of Love" from Casino Royale), (a cover of Dionne Warwick's "Wishin' and Hopin'"); Cilla Black (a cover of Dionne Warwick's "Anyone Who Had a Heart"), the Delfonics, and Cher ("Alfie" - originally recorded by Cilla Black); The Shirelles, The Beatles ("Baby, It's You"); The Carpenters ("(They Long to Be) Close to You"); Aretha Franklin ("I Say a Little Prayer"); Isaac Hayes ("Walk on By", from the Hot Buttered Soul album); B. J. Thomas ("Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head", "Everybody's Out of Town"); Tom Jones ("What's New, Pussycat?"); Engelbert Humperdinck ("I'm a Better Man"); Sandie Shaw ("Always Something There to Remind Me"); Jack Jones ("Wives and Lovers"); Jackie DeShannon ("What the World Needs Now Is Love"); Gene Pitney ("Only Love Can Break a Heart", "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", "24 Hours from Tulsa" and "True Love Never Runs Smooth"); Herb Alpert, ("This Guy's in Love with You"); Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 ("The Look of Love"); The Stylistics, ("You'll Never Get To Heaven If you Break My Heart"); Jerry Butler, the Walker Brothers ("Make It Easy on Yourself"); and the Fifth Dimension ("One Less Bell to Answer").
Although Bacharach's compositions are typically more complex than the average pop song, he has expressed surprise in the fact that many jazz musicians have sought much inspiration from his works, saying "I've sometimes felt that my songs are restrictive for a jazz artist. I was excited when [Stan] Getz did a whole album of my music (What The World Needs Now: Stan Getz Plays The Burt Bacharach Songbook, Verve, 1968) but you're never 100 percent sure of how good you are even after you've had success. But one night I had dinner with Miles Davis and he said, '"Alfie," that's a great song.'" Bacharach songs were adapted by jazz artists of the time, such as Stan Getz, Cal Tjader and Wes Montgomery. The Bacharach/David composition "My Little Red Book", originally recorded by Manfred Mann for the film What's New, Pussycat?, and promptly covered by Love in 1966, has become a rock standard; however, according to Robin Platts' book "Burt Bacharach and Hal David", the composer did not like Love's version. The title of the song is likely a tongue-in-cheek reference to Mao Zedong's Little Red Book, which was first published by the Communist Party of China in April 1964.
Bacharach composed and arranged the soundtrack of the 1967 film Casino Royale, which included "The Look of Love", performed by Dusty Springfield, and the title song, an instrumental Top 40 single for Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Bacharach and David also collaborated with Broadway producer David Merrick on the 1968 musical Promises, Promises, which yielded two hits, the title tune and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again", for Dionne Warwick. The year 1969 marked, perhaps, the most successful Bacharach-David collaboration, the Oscar-winning "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head", written for and prominently featured in the acclaimed film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
The two were awarded a Grammy for Best Cast album of the year for "Promises, Promises" and the score was also nominated for a Tony award. There were other Oscar nominations for Best Song for "The Look Of Love", "What's New Pussycat" and "Alfie".
Bacharach's music is characterized by unusual chord progressions, influenced by his background in jazz harmony, with striking syncopated rhythmic patterns, irregular phrasing, frequent modulation, and odd, changing meters. Bacharach has arranged, conducted, and produced much of his recorded output.
An example of his distinctive use of changing meter is found in "Promises, Promises" (from his score for the musical of the same name). His style is sometimes also associated with particular instrumental combinations he is assumed to favor or to have favored, including the prominent use of the flugelhorn in such works as "Walk on By", "Nikki", and "Toledo".
1970s and 1980s
Throughout the late 60s and early 70s, Bacharach continued to write and produce for artists, compose for stage, TV, and film, and release his own albums. He enjoyed a great deal of visibility in the public spotlight, appearing frequently on TV (hosting several variety specials under his own name) and performing live in concert.
In 1973, Bacharach and David were commissioned to score the Ross Hunter-produced revival of the 1937 film, "Lost Horizon" for Columbia Pictures. The film was a critical and commercial disaster and a flurry of lawsuits resulted between the composer and the lyricist, as well as from Warwick. She reportedly felt abandoned when Bacharach and David refused to work together. Bacharach tried several solo projects (including the 1977 album Futures), but the projects failed to yield hits. He and David reunited briefly in 1975 to write and produce Stephanie Mills's second album For the First Time released on Motown Records.
By the early 1980s, Bacharach's marriage to Angie Dickinson had ended, but a new partnership with lyricist Carole Bayer Sager proved rewarding, both commercially and personally. The two married and collaborated on several major hits during the decade, including "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" (Christopher Cross), co-written with Cross and Peter Allen; "Heartlight" (Neil Diamond); "Making Love" (Roberta Flack); "On My Own" (Patti LaBelle with Michael McDonald), and perhaps most memorably, "That's What Friends Are For" in 1985, actually the second single which reunited Bacharach and singer Warwick. The profits for the latter song were given to AIDS research. Bacharach's 1980s tunes showed a new sound.
Other artists continued to revive Bacharach's earlier hits in the 1980s and 1990s. Examples included Luther Vandross' recording of "A House is Not a Home"; Naked Eyes' 1983 pop hit version of "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me", and Ronnie Milsap's 1982 country version of "Any Day Now". Bacharach continued a concert career, appearing at auditoriums throughout the world, often with large orchestras. He occasionally joined Warwick for sold-out concerts in New York, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles.
1990s and beyond
Bacharach performing in 2008
In 1990, Deacon Blue charted number 2 in the UK singles chart with an EP entitled "Four Bacharach & David Songs", with the first track, "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" receiving extensive media coverage. In 1996, jazz pianist McCoy Tyner recorded an album of nine Bacharach standards that featured Tyner's trio with an orchestra arranged and conducted by John Clayton. In 1998, Bacharach co-wrote and recorded a Grammy-winning album with Elvis Costello, Painted from Memory, on which the compositions began to take on the sound of his earlier work. In 2006, he recorded a jazz album with Trijntje Oosterhuis and the Metropole Orchestra called The Look of Love (Burt Bacharach Songbook) which was released in November that year. Bacharach collaborated with Cathy Dennis in 2002 to write an original song for the Pop Idol winner Will Young. This was "What's in Goodbye", and it appears on Young's debut album From Now On. During July 2002, Young was a guest vocalist at two of Bacharach's concerts, one at the Hammersmith Apollo and the other at Liverpool Pops.
In 2003, he teamed with legendary singer and songwriter Ronald Isley to release the album Here I Am, which revisited a number of his 1960s compositions in Isley's signature R&B style. Bacharach's 2005 solo album At This Time was a departure from past works in that Bacharach penned his own lyrics, some of which dealt with political themes. Guest stars on the album included Elvis Costello, Rufus Wainwright, and hip-hop producer Dr. Dre.
On October 24, 2008, Bacharach opened the BBC Electric Proms at The Roundhouse in London, performing with the BBC Concert Orchestra accompanied by guest vocalists Adele, Beth Rowley and Jamie Cullum. The concert was a retrospective look back at his six-decade career, including classics such as "Walk On By", "The Look of Love", "I Say a Little Prayer", "What the World Needs Now Is Love", "Anyone Who Had a Heart", "Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa" and "Make It Easy on Yourself", featuring Jamie Cullum.
In early 2009, Bacharach worked with Italian soul singer Karima Ammar and produced her debut single Come In Ogni Ora. A #4 hit, the song has been heard during the 59th Sanremo Music Festival and also features him playing piano.
Bacharach and David were awarded the 2011 Gershwin Prize for Popular Song bestowed by the Library of Congress, the first time that a songwriting team has been given the honor. David died the following year on September 1 at age 91.
Film and television
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Bacharach was featured in a dozen TV musical and variety specials videotaped in the UK for ITC, several were nominated for Emmy awards for direction (by Dwight Hemion). The guests included artists such as Joel Grey, Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick, and Barbra Streisand. Bacharach and David did the score for an original musical for ABC-TV titled On the Flip Side, broadcast on ABC Stage 67, starring Ricky Nelson as a faded pop star trying for a comeback. Whilst the ratings were dismal, the soundtrack showcased Bacharach's abilities to try different kinds of musical styles, ranging from (almost) 1960s rock, to pop, ballads, and Latin-tinged dance numbers.
In 1969, Harry Betts arranged Bacharach's instrumental composition "Nikki" (named for Bacharach's daughter) into a new theme for the ABC Movie of the Week, a TV series which ran on the U.S. network until 1976.
During the 1970s, Bacharach and then-wife Angie Dickinson appeared in several TV commercials for Martini & Rossi beverages, and even penned a short jingle ("Say Yes") for the spots. Bacharach also occasionally appeared on TV/variety shows, such as The Merv Griffin Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and many others.
In the 1990s and 2000s, Bacharach had cameo roles in Hollywood movies, including all three Austin Powers movies. His music is credited as providing inspiration for these movies, partially stemming from Bacharach's score for the 1967 James Bond film Casino Royale. During subsequent Bacharach concert tours, each show would open with a very brief video clip from the movie Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, with Mike Myers (as Austin Powers) uttering "Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Burt Bacharach."
with actress-wife Angie Dickinson shortly after they married in 1965
Bacharach appeared as a celebrity performer and guest vocal coach for contestants on the television show, "American Idol" during the 2006 season, during which an entire episode was dedicated to his music. In late 2006, Bacharach appeared as the celebrity in a Geico auto insurance commercial, where he sings and plays the piano. He translates the customer's story through song ("I was hit...in the rear!")
In 2008, Bacharach featured in the BBC Electric Proms at The Roundhouse with the BBC Concert Orchestra. He performed similar shows in the same year at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and with the Sydney Symphony.
Bacharach has been married four times. His first marriage was to Paula Stewart and lasted five years (1953–58). His second marriage was to actress Angie Dickinson, lasting for 15 years (1965–80). Bacharach and Dickinson had a daughter, Nikki Bacharach, who committed suicide in 2007 at the age of 40. His third marriage was to lyricist Carole Bayer Sager; this lasted nine years (1982–91). Bacharach and Bayer Sager collaborated on a number of musical pieces and adopted a son, Cristopher. Bacharach married his current wife, Jane Hansen, in 1993; they have two children, a son, Oliver, and a daughter, Raleigh. His autobiography, "Anyone Who Had a Heart," was published in 2013. He lives in Brookville, New York.
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