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Remembering Burt Bacharach: 10 Essential Songs That Epitomize The Songwriting Giant's Legacy
Venerable songwriter Burt Bacharach died Feb. 9, leaving behind a canon that spanned decades and dominated the charts. GRAMMY.com reflects on 10 of his many hits.
Regarded as one of the most influential and popular songwriters in American music history, the death of Burt Bacharach at age 94 marks the end of an unparalleled career. The legend's work spanned decades and dominated the charts, simultaneously defining eras and minting a litany of some of music’s brightest singers along the way.
For his efforts, the songwriter was awarded a total of six GRAMMY Awards and 21 nominations, as well as multiple songs in the GRAMMY Hall of Fame including "The Look of Love" and "Walk On By."
"Burt Bacharach was a visionary who composed and arranged some of the most timeless songs in the late 20th century," said Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason, jr. A six-time GRAMMY Award-winner and recipient of the Recording Academy Trustees and Lifetime Achievement Awards, Burt’s impact across the music industry is undeniable. We’ve lost one of music’s giants, and he will be dearly missed."
A testament to his longevity, Bacharach's first GRAMMY nomination occurred nearly 60 years ago. In 1964, he received the nod for Song Of The Year/New Song Of The Year for writing "Wives and Lovers," a tongue-in-cheek meditation on marriage for the artist Jack Jones. Most recently, Bacharach was nominated for Best Musical Theater Album at the 64th GRAMMY Awards in 2022. He wrote new songs for the Paris recording of Burt Bacharach and Steven Sater's Some Lovers.
The pillars of Bacharach's amazing career were supported by his three important partnerships: first with the songwriter Hal David, with whom Bacharach began his songwriting career. Upon their falling out, Bacharach began writing with third wife Carole Bayer Sager.
Throughout his career, Bacharach’s legendary collaboration with Dionne Warwick resulted in the singer’s biggest hits. "Burt’s transition is like losing a family member," Warwick said upon news of Bacharach’s death. "These words I’ve been asked to write are being written with sadness over the loss of my dear friend and my musical partner."
From a discography that includes hit pop singles, memorable movie themes and blockbuster Broadway musicals, here are 10 of Bacharach’s most notable songs.
"Wives and Lovers" (1963)
The song that earned Bacharach his first GRAMMY turned into a hit for the singer Jack Jones, and was later recorded by Frank Sinatra and Count Basie, Vic Damone and Nancy Wilson. It was also his and David’s first collaboration. "We wrote ‘Wives and Lovers’ for the movie (of the same name)," David later recalled to the website Songwriter Universe, noting it was later cut from the final product. "It wasn’t in the movie because Burt was still under contract to another studio."
"Walk On By" (1963)
Another seminal hit courtesy Bacharach and David, "Walk On By" was recorded by Warwick in New York City weeks after the Kennedy assassination, then released in the spring of the following year.
Read more: The Making Of Dionne Warwick's "Walk On By"
A GRAMMY nominee for Best R&B Recording, it was one of many of the duo and Warwick’s acclaimed collaborations. The song was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame in 1998 and has been covered by Issac Hayes, Aretha Franklin, Average White Band, and others.
"What the World Needs Now Is Love" (1965)
Starting off with a melancholy horn riff before blossoming into a hopeful melody, one of Bacharach’s most indelible tunes was written for Warwick before Jackie DeShannon released it as a single. Just as any expertly-crafted pop song sounds deceivingly simple on its surface, "What the World Need Now Is Love" took over two years for Bacharach to complete. It was subsequently nominated for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)/Best Background Arrangement at the 8th GRAMMY Awards.
"What’s New Pussycat" (1965)
This Tom Jones-sung pop confection was written for a 1965 comedy film of the same name, but nearly did not see the light of day. "The producer, Charlie Feldman loved it when he first heard it," Bacharach remembered in 1986. "But [Feldman] had a question of, ‘How are they going to dance to it in discotheques, you know? It's a waltz. How is it going to be a hit?’ [I said], I don't know, I think it could be, but I don't know, I just know that for your picture, it services your picture."
"It took me three weeks to write the music for 'Alfie," Bacharach told the Guardian in 2015 of the song he’d later win the GRAMMY for Best Instrumental Arrangement. Penned for the hit movie of the same name, Bacharach noted his scrupulous process was one secret to his success. "I probably wound up using what I started with, or close to it. But I have to turn a song upside down and make sure it’s really as good as I can make it."
"The Look of Love" (1967)
Oozing with sultriness, the sensual "The Look of Love" was made popular by English singer Dusty Springfield and is another Bacharach entry into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame, inducted in 1998. Written for the 1967 movie Casino Royale (the first James Bond film), Bacharach was inspired after watching footage of star Ursula Andrews. The soundtrack later garnered him and David three GRAMMY nominations.
"Promises, Promises" (1968)
With its adventurous melody and tongue-twister lyrics, "Promises, Promises" the Warwick-sung song comes from a Bacharach-David’s hit musical of the same name. For the duo, it was a unique creative process which brought that show to life: "There were a few tunes in Promises, Promises that I did write where I started with the music first," Bacharach later said. "But the majority of it was lyrics first."
"Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head" (1969)
Inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame in 2014 and recorded by the singer B.J. Thomas while recovering from laryngitis, "Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head" was produced as a part of Bacharach and David’s soundtrack for the movie classic Butch Cassiy and the Sundance Kid. A western was a unique choice for the colleagues, but the combination turned into a blockbuster choice.
"I wrote the entire melody, and the only words that kept running through my mind from top to bottom were 'raindrops keep fallin’ on my head,'" Bacharach wrote in his 2014 autobiography, before adding however: "David tried to come up with another title, as the sun is shining brightly throughout the sequence (in the movie)."
"Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)" (1981)
Yet another one of Bacharach’s contributions to film history, the song recorded by Christopher Cross resulted in a later-career hit for Bacharach in the early '80s. Co-written with Cross, director Peter Allen and Bayer-Sager, the ballad was nominated for Song Of The Year at the 24th GRAMMY Awards.
"That’s What Friends are For" (1985)
Winning GRAMMY Awards for both Best Pop Performance By A Duo or Group with Vocals and Song Of The Year in 1987, one of Bacharach’s final hits of his career proved to be one of his biggest. Recorded by Warwick along with Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder and Elton John, the heartfelt track was produced to raise money for AIDS research, then at the height of the epidemic and wound up raising $3.4 million for the cause.
Photo courtesy of Big Yellow Dog Music
Quarantine Diaries: Daniel Tashian Is Writing Music With Burt Bacharach & Watching Hayao Miyazaki Movies
As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors
As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, singer, songwriter and producer Daniel Tashian shares his Quarantine Diary. Daniel's new kids' album Mr. Moonlight is out now, and his forthcoming album Blue Umbrella with Burt Bacharach drops on July 31.
[9:32 a.m.] My day starts pretty late, I guess. The problem is, I’ve been staying up late looking at news, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. Usually, one of the twins (Tinkerbell or Matilda) will pounce on my completely asleep body (their method of getting breakfast going before 10 is understandably merciless. I don’t blame them) and it works—I’m up. Coffee in the "Mr. Coffee" is on, cereal is made and toast is buttered (raisin toast with Kerry gold butter please!). I read the New York Times morning briefing and check Twitter.
Breakfast is noisy and chaotic. Then, everyone usually goes to their own things—maybe a Zoom ballet class for the twins, or a FaceTime call with a friend or Grandma for my oldest daughter Tigerlily. Technology plays a huge role in our lives right now for better or for worse. At first, my wife Lillie and I sort of fought it, but as the weeks wore on, we decided instead of trying to beat them, we would join them.
I feed the dogs and let them out, then Lillie and I enjoy coffee and conversation—sometimes outside on the back deck. But today, the humidity is so thick in Nashville, so we stay inside. Usually there’s a massive pile of dishes to do from the day before—which is my job. I was too lazy to do them, so I will put on a podcast (Brian Funk’s Music Production Podcast or Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend) and do the dishes.
[10:30 a.m.] I’ll usually head out my back door and walk the 30 feet to the studio out back. It’s in an old garage. It’s big enough to fit all my stuff out there—guitars, amps, pedals, etc. I will pick up where I left off the night before, usually working on some overdubs or making a rough mix. Today, a friend of mine, Cecilia Castleman, and I will be working on a song. We will jump on FaceTime to work on the lyrics and the melody. It’s kind of awesome that it’s possible to collaborate and work so well on the internet. What a time to be alive! But it also has its heartbreak and its frustrations. For instance, on FaceTime, only one person can play and sing at a time so you have to listen to the other person and you can’t jam together. I have heard they are working on developing something where you can jam in real time, but I don’t know what it is.
[12:30 p.m.] Lunchtime. Tuna on a cracker. I make quesadillas for the girls, who will be going to grandma’s house down the street for a play date. The in-laws have been on lockdown with us, as well as my parents and Lillie’s stepmom and dad. It’s a blessing to have family to bounce the kids around to, even more so for the girls, so all the days don’t run together, and they can get a little change of scene. We have to find the twins bunnies before they can leave (stuffed lovies they don’t like to be without).
I’m not getting as much exercise as I should. I take the dogs on their leashes down the street and back. It’s getting hotter. I come back and make a third cup of coffee and get back to the studio. My friend Joel Korte has sent me a guitar pedal to check out. He’s a total genius, and I rely on his Chase Bliss Audio pedals to help me keep moving forward and find new sonic territory. I’m fascinated by the videos people are making on YouTube to explain gear and show what it can do. I’d like to make a video like that one day. It’s harder than it looks to do it well. You need multiple cameras and the audio has to be perfect as well. Part of me wonders if I should bite the bullet and get more into YouTube. My friend Tom Bukovac is a YouTube genius. He talks about playing guitar and gives people a window into the session scene. “Homeskoolin” is his show. He’s played on a ton of records. Something about a channel feels like a very pandemic thing to do. I’d like to give something to the musicians stuck in their houses.
[2:00 p.m.] I’m on a FaceTime call with Cecilia. She’s an innovative guitarist and singer and she has a studio in her house as well. She quickly sends me a vocal track and several guitars via Dropbox. I import them into my session and start looking around through my samples for a beat to hold it all together. At some point, in the next couple days, my production partner and dear friend Ian Fitchuk will come by, and with his mask on, play a drum track and maybe some bass on the song later. He's moving houses currently, so I make sure the little drum kit I got for Christmas as a 10 year old is miked up so we cannot waste time. Ian is hands down my favorite musician on the planet. He just exudes confidence, swagger, charm and elegance in his playing. What a gift.
[3:30 p.m.] The girls are back from grandma’s house and there are Amazon groceries on the porch. I put the groceries away and cut up some strawberries, cucumbers and apples for the girls. Tigerlily informs me she will be making a custard with a raspberry coulis. She watches a lot of baking shows and is passionate and very good at baking. "Please don’t watch," she says. So, I leave the kitchen. There will be flour all over the floor when I return, but I don’t really care that much like I used to.
[4:30 p.m.] Burt Bacharach calls and asks me if I have a minute. I always have time for Burt. He’s been working on the bridge of a song we have in progress called "21st Century Man."
"I think I’ve found a solution," he says. I close my eyes and listen to the sound of him playing the piano over the phone, articulating a specific melody with his right hand. "That’s lovely, Burt," I say, and I scribble a couple ideas that could be potential lyric jumping-off points for the section. I never argue with Burt about melody. There are times when he wants to compare two slightly different phrases, and I will sing A and B for him, but ultimately, when we work together, usually, he decides the melody. "21st Century Man" is slightly different because I had a bit of a verse that I brought to him. We work on the phone for about an hour. "Much love—y’all stay safe," I tell him.
[5:30 p.m.] "We are going to watch the sun go down at Ellington Agricultural Center," Lillie informs me. This is a park and nature preserve nearby. I quickly grab my backpack that holds my watercolor paints and brushes and fill up a bottle of water. I drew pictures and painted a ton as a kid, and I’ve fallen back in love with watercolor painting during this pandemic. I try to make a painting every day to keep improving—it’s a real bugger. But it’s good to not let yourself get stuck—you have to keep growing and moving forward. I see that in Burt! We drive the 15 minutes to the creek and the girls play in the water while Lillie and I talk, and I make a painting that doesn’t look like the creek at all. Oh well. It’s a joy to be here, to be alive and I feel very lucky.
[7:30 p.m.] Dinner time. I put some water on to boil and cut up some broccoli and garlic. Vegetarian tends to be the way around here. Tigerlily came out of the womb a staunch vegetarian, so we all tag along. It’s too hard to argue with her, and I don’t want to make two separate meals. Sometimes I will grill some chicken if I’m feeling ravenous. The girls are all riding their bikes in the driveway and talking to neighbors walking their dogs by. We live on a lovely quiet street without a lot of traffic. I make a cocktail for Lillie and I—Campari with ice and ginger ale.
It’s hard to believe there’s anything wrong in the world but tugging at my sleeve is always a feeling of dread and heartache. I can push it away and work when I need to, but it’s always there in moments of reflection. I’ve started to make peace with the fact that humans are a work in progress, but it doesn’t stop all the tears that want to well up when I think of all the pain, the racial division, the misunderstanding and the hatred. I wonder where hate comes from and how it persists. I think about meanness and try to understand it, but I come up short every time.
My cousin Ethan moved to France. "Moving away from America doesn’t keep you from worrying about it," he says. That makes sense to me. Through the trees across the street, I see our neighbor, Nord, planting flowers. He works on his yard like crazy. It’s beautiful, and he’s made a bee colony and garden. That’s how he deals with it—gardening and making the neighborhood more beautiful.
[9:00 p.m.] I realized the films of Hayao Miyazaki are available to stream for the first time. With great enthusiasm, I queue up Ponyo for me and the girls. We cuddle on the couch together and watch. The colors and the story always brings tears to my eyes. Ponyo is a fish that wants to be a girl. They don’t know why tears come to my eyes, and I laugh. "It’s the colors," I say.
[11:00 p.m.] I once heard in Spain, at midnight, you would find families out in the parks, children playing. I know that’s too late for kids to go to bed, but if they go to bed at 8, they will wake us up too early. I’ve gone through phases where I get up at 5, but not right now. We read a short book, kiss the girls goodnight, and I go into my studio "C" which is in my closet. Lillie is enjoying her sherry and an English mystery show. There’s some pedals and a drum machine in studio C, and I like to mess around before I fall asleep.
Before bed, I remember how grateful I am to be here and healthy. I wish for peace on earth and pray to continue to grow and become a better version of myself.
[1:00 a.m.] Lights out. But wait... I haven’t looked at Twitter in a while....
If you wish to support our efforts to assist music professionals in need, learn more about the Recording Academy's and MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.
If you are a member of the music industry in need of assistance, visit the MusiCares website.
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Neil Young, Sheryl Crow Added To Stephen Stills' Autism Benefit Concert
Burt Bacharach, Judy Collins and Jack Black also scheduled to appear at L.A. benefit in April
Want to see some great artists in concert and support a good cause? Check out Stephen Stills' Light Up The Blues benefit concert to raise funds to support those with autism.
Join Stills, along with top-notch performers Neil Young, Sheryl Crow, Burt Bacharach, Judy Collins, Chris Stills, Jack Black, and Christina Applegate, as they play their hearts out at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles on Apr. 21. All money raised from the benefit will be donated to the organization Autism Speaks.
The Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young singer held the first Light Up The Blues show in 2013, hosting it annually through 2016. Stills was motivated to create Light Up The Blues because his 21-year-old son was diagnosed with autism at a young age and Stills wanted to give back to others with the diagnosis. He revived the concert this year thanks to Young's influence.
"The reason we started Light Up The Blues was out of the void of me not having to be micromanaging Henry so much, as he was finally in a good place," Kristen Stills, Stills' wife, told Rolling Stone. "Stephen and I wanted to give back to families that don't have time and resources to make their kid's life a full-time job with lots of overtime.
"Neil [Young] stopped by our house one day last year. He said, 'Stephen, man, we gotta do Light Up The Blues again.'"
Photo: Popperfoto/Getty Images
The Making Of Dionne Warwick's "Walk On By"
Current GRAMMY nominee recalls creating magic with Burt Bacharach and Hal David on her GRAMMY Hall Of Fame-inducted classic "Walk On By"
(Since its inception in 1973, the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame has enshrined nearly 1,000 recordings across all genres. The Making Of … series presents firsthand accounts of the creative process behind some of the essential recordings of the 20th century. You can read more Making Of … accounts, and in-depth insight into the recordings and artists represented in the Hall, in the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition book.)
"Walk On By"
(As told to Roy Trakin)
The song was originally the B-side of "Any Old Time Of Day." It didn't really get played on the radio until [New York DJ] Murray the K turned the record over after holding a contest for which side the listeners preferred, and they chose "Walk On By."
I liked it the first time I heard it. Like most of the songs I was given to record at the beginning of my career, it was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who were not only my songwriters, but my producers. I depended on them to give me great songs, and they did, as my history shows.
I met Burt first. He had written a song called "Mexican Divorce," with another writer named Bob Hilliard, for the Drifters. I was one of the background singers on the session, and after the date was finished, he asked if I'd be interested in singing some demos he was writing with a new partner, Hal David. And that was the start of our association.
We recorded the song at Bell Sound Studios in New York, live with full orchestra ... strings, horns, [a] rhythm section, [and] background singers. That's something I miss terribly. Those were always wonderful musical events. It was basically a performance, and a lot of fun.
With Burt Bacharach sitting at the piano or in the control room, it was never the first take, even if, in fact, it usually ended up being the first take [that we used for the record]. It wasn't about punching in overdubs. We did every single recording full-out, and on about the 28th take, I think someone probably said — if it wasn't me — "I think we may have it."
The song had a memorable melody and words. If I had known it was going to be a hit, I'd be sitting on a mountain with a ruby in my hand. I was dear, dear friends with both Burt and Hal. We depended on each other to bring to the table the expertise we each possessed. Hal David's lyrics were the most incredible I've ever sung. And Burt created those intricate, but memorable, melodies. And I was the vehicle to bring all of that to the listeners' ears.
I'm totally enamored [with] Isaac Hayes' cover, which he made his own. Very much like what Aretha did with "I Say A Little Prayer" or Luther Vandross did with "A House Is Not A Home." When anyone covers a song, it's a compliment to the original version.
To this day, I can't leave the stage without singing it. It's a song that not only I have grown to love over my 50 years in the industry, but it has become a favorite of my audience. The songs that I've had the pleasure of recording with Bacharach [and] David have grown with me. I'm singing it for people my age, who have brought their children, and in turn, they've brought their children. It's been able to age with each new group of listeners.
(Roy Trakin, a senior editor for HITS magazine, has written for every rock publication that ever mattered, some that didn't, and got paid by most of them.)
Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage.com
Jerry Leiber, 1933–2011
GRAMMY winner and Recording Academy Trustees Award recipient dies at 78
(In 1999 songwriter/producer Jerry Leiber and partner Mike Stoller were honored with The Recording Academy's Trustees Award. The following tribute ran in the GRAMMY Awards program book that year. Jerry Leiber died today at the age of 78.)
It's an unfortunate fact of the music industry that some of the most meaningful and innovative artistic contributions are routinely underestimated, particularly by a public audience that is less exposed to the behind-the-scenes process of making records. Such can even be the fate of some of the most prominent and important songwriters and producers — men like Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
Despite orchestrating the careers of great R&B groups like the Coasters and the Drifters, writing some of Elvis Presley's best-known hits and functioning as tacit mentors to writer/producer icons such as Phil Spector and Burt Bacharach, the Leiber and Stoller team still has the dubious distinction of being almost invisible. The evidence? Despite their incalculable contribution to the Presley legacy, they are dismissed with only one-line passing references in pop Elvis bios like Albert Goldman's controversial Elvis and Down At The End Of Lonely Street: The Life And Death Of Elvis Presley by Peter Henry Brown and Pat. H. Broeske.
But those who follow music closely, especially those familiar with the operation of New York's famed Brill Building in the '60s, know better. The authors of classic early rock like "Kansas City," "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock" and even pop/jazz like Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?" Leiber and Stoller understood both the art and commerce of music, and showed a particularly intuitive sense of the burgeoning teen market. At times, they did everything but press their own records, functioning as writers, producers, A&R men, publishers, and label executives. That wasn't completely unusual for the New York pop milieu of the early '60s, but few proved themselves equally capable in both arenas.
Leiber and Stoller met in Los Angeles in 1950, both East Coast transplants. They shared a love for R&B and a desire to create some of their own. They hooked up with such established West Coast industry figures as bandleader/promoter Johnny Otis and promoter Lester Sill. With Sill they embarked in the label business, starting Spark Records, while Otis helped connect the pair with singer Big Mama Thornton, for whom they wrote the now legendary "Hound Dog."
In the meantime, they were writing humorous story songs for a group called the Robins. Soon, their label was purchased by Ahmet Ertegun's Atlantic Records, and Leiber and Stoller moved to New York to set up shop in the Brill Building. The Robins were renamed the Coasters and a long string of hits ensued: "Searchin,'" "Yakety Yak," "Poison Ivy," and more.
This led to work with established artists like Joe Turner, LaVern Baker and the Drifters. With the Drifters especially, Leiber and Stoller began to refine their studio process, cutting detailed sessions and adding strings to R&B records for the first time (they've been credited with producing arguably the first soul record — the Drifters' "There Goes My Baby").
By the early '60s, the pair had become the standard by which other producers could be measured, which led Sill to send a young L.A. producer out to New York to study under them. Spector slept on Leiber and Stoller's office couch by night and absorbed their innovative production techniques by day. But their presence at the Brill Building influenced others too, such as Bacharach, who wrote for the Drifters and often incorporated Leiber and Stoller's love of Latin rhythms into his songs.
Eventually, Leiber and Stoller left Atlantic and started their own label again, this time Red Bird Records, where they scored hits particularly with girl groups like the Dixie Cups and the Shangri-Las. They ultimately tired of label ownership, selling Red Bird in 1966 to concentrate on writing and producing, working with singer Lee and rock bands like Procol Harum and Stealers Wheel (they produced "Stuck In The Middle With You," which gained renewed fame in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs).
Leiber and Stoller are among that rare group of writers with an expansive body of work that will be recorded and re-recorded forever. "Hound Dog" sits comfortably in the GRAMMY Hall of Fame, and the pair were fittingly inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
More recently, Leiber and Stoller's music has been brought back into focus through the production of "Smokey Joe's Cafe: The Songs Of Leiber & Stoller," a hit musical that takes its name from a late-'50s Robins' track. It's a colorful extravaganza built around 40 classic Leiber and Stoller hits, a true celebration of a vibrant legacy that turned the music world on its collective ear.