Burt Bacharach, legendary pop songwriter, dies at 94

NEW YORK (AP) — Burt Bacharach, the exceptionally gifted and popular composer who delighted millions with the whimsical arrangements and unforgettable melodies of “Walk on By,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” and dozens more successes, died at 94.

Grammy, Oscar and Tony winner Bacharach died Wednesday at his Los Angeles home of natural causes, publicist Tina Brausam said Thursday.

Over the past 70 years, only Lennon-McCartney, Carole King and a handful of others have rivaled his genius for instantly catchy songs that remained performed, played and hummed long after they were written. He had a string of top 10 hits from the 1950s to the 21st century and his music has been heard everywhere from film soundtracks and radios to home stereos and iPods, both ‘Alfie’ and ‘I Say a Little Prayer” or “I’ll never fall in love again” and “This guy is in love with you”.

Dionne Warwick was his favorite performer, but Bacharach, usually in tandem with lyricist Hal David, also created top-notch material for Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones, and many more. Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Frank Sinatra were among the countless artists who covered his songs, with more recent artists singing or sampling it including the White Stripes, Twista and Ashanti. Just “Walk On By” was covered by everyone from Warwick and Isaac Hayes to British punk band The Stranglers and Cyndi Lauper.

Bacharach was both an innovator and a throwback, and his career seemed to parallel the rock era. He grew up on jazz and classical music and had little taste for rock when he broke into the business in the 1950s. His fascination often seemed more in line with Tin Pan Alley than with Bob Dylan, John Lennon and other later writers, but rock composers appreciated the depth of his seemingly old-fashioned sensibility.

“The shortened version of him is that he has something to do with easy listening,” said Elvis Costello, who co-wrote the 1998 album “Painted from Memory” with Bacharach, in a 2018 interview with The Associated Press. “It may be pleasant to listen to these songs, but there is nothing easy about them. Try playing them. Try singing them.

A box set, “The Songs of Bacharach & Costello”, will be released on March 3rd.

He has triumphed in many art forms and even on the track. He is an eight-time Grammy winner, an award-winning Broadway composer for “Promises, Promises” and a three-time Academy Award winner. He received two Academy Awards in 1970, for the soundtrack to “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and for the song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” (shared with David). In 1982, he and his then-wife, lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, won for “Best That You Can Do,” the theme from “Arthur. His other film scores included “What’s New, Pussycat?”, “Alfie” and the 1967 James Bond parody “Casino Royale”.

Bacharach was well rewarded and well connected. He was a frequent visitor to the White House, whether the president was a Republican or a Democrat. And in 2012 he was presented with the Gershwin Prize by Barack Obama, who had sung a few seconds of “Walk on By” during an election appearance.

In his life and in his music he stood out. Fellow songwriter Sammy Cahn was fond of joking that the smiling, wavy-haired Bacharach was the first composer he had ever known who didn’t sound like a dentist. Bacharach was a “swinger,” as these men called in his day, whose numerous romances included actor Angie Dickinson, to whom he was married from 1965-80, and Sager, his wife from 1982-1991.

Married four times, he formed his most lasting ties with work. He was a perfectionist who took three weeks to write “Alfie” and could spend hours tweaking a single chord. Sager once observed that the routine of Bacharach’s life remained essentially the same: only wives changed.

It started with the melodies, strong but interspersed with shifting rhythms and amazing harmonics. He attributed much of his style to his love of bebop and his classical education, especially under the tutelage of Darius Milhaud, the famous composer. He once played a piece for piano, violin and oboe for Milhaud which contained a melody which he was ashamed of having written, as atonal 12-point music was in vogue at the time. Milhaud, who liked the piece, advised the young man: “Never be afraid of the melody.”

“It was a big statement for me,” Bacharach recalled in 2004.

Bacharach was essentially a pop composer, but his songs became hits for country artists (Marty Robbins), rhythm and blues artists (Chuck Jackson), soul (Franklin, Luther Vandross), and synth-pop artists (Naked Eyes). He reached a new generation of listeners in the 90s with the help of Costello and others.

Mike Myers would recall hearing the sultry ‘The Look of Love’ on the radio and quickly finding inspiration for his retro spy comedies ‘Austin Powers’, in which Bacharach made cameos.

In the 21st century, he was still testing new avenues, writing his own lyrics and recording with rapper Dr. Dre.

He was married to his first wife, Paula Stewart, from 1953 to 1958, and married a fourth time, to Jane Hansen, in 1993. He is survived by Hansen, as well as his sons Oliver, Raleigh, and Christopher, Brausam said . He was preceded in death by his daughter with Dickinson, Nikki Bacharach.

Bacharach knew the heights of acclaim, but remembered himself as a loner growing up, a short, awkward boy so uncomfortable with being Jewish that he even taunted other Jews. His favorite book as a child was “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway; he was referring to the sexually impotent Jake Barnes, who considered himself “socially impotent”.

He was born in Kansas City, Missouri but soon moved to New York City. His father was a syndicated columnist, his mother a pianist who encouraged the boy to study music. Although he was more interested in sports, he practiced the piano every day after school, not wanting to disappoint his mother. While still a minor, he would sneak into jazz clubs, with a fake ID, and listen to greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie.

“They were so incredibly exciting that I suddenly got into music in a way I’ve never done before,” he recalled in the memoir “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” released in 2013. “What I Heard in Those Clubs it made me dizzy.”

He was a poor student, but managed to get a place at McGill University Conservatory of Music in Montreal. He wrote his first song at McGill and listened to Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” for months. Music may have even saved Bacharach’s life. He was drafted into the Army in the late 1940’s and was still on active duty during the Korean War. But officers in the US soon learned of his gifts and wanted him around. When he went abroad, he was in Germany, where he wrote orchestrations for a recreation center at the local military base.

After his discharge, he returned to New York and tried to enter the music business. At first he had little success as a songwriter, but he became a popular arranger and accompanist, touring with Vic Damone, the Ames Brothers and Stewart, his eventual first wife. When a friend who had toured with Marlene Dietrich was unable to do a show in Vegas, he asked Bacharach to step in.

The ageless young musician and singer quickly clicked, and Bacharach traveled the world with her in the late 1950s and early 1960s. During each performance, she introduced him in a big way: “I wish you could meet the man, he is my arranger, he is my accompanist, he is my conductor, and I wish I could say that he is my composer. But it’s not true. He is the composer of all … Burt Bacharach! »

Meanwhile, she had met her ideal songwriting partner: David, as professional as Bacharach was temperamental, so tame that he left every night at 5 to catch the train back to his family on Long Island. Working in a tiny office in Broadway’s famed Brill Building, they produced their first million-selling hit, “Magic Moments,” sung in 1958 by Perry Como. In 1962, they located a backing singer for the Drifters, Warwick, who had “a very special kind of grace and elegance,” recalled Bacharach.

The trio produced hit after hit. The songs were as complicated to record as they were easy to listen to. Bacharach liked to experiment with time signatures and arrangements, such as having two pianists play on “Walk on By,” their performances slightly out of sync to give the song “a jagged sort of feel,” he wrote in his book. memories.

The Bacharach-David partnership ended in the dismal failure of a 1973 musical remake of “Lost Horizon.” Bacharach became so depressed that he secluded himself in his vacation home in Del Mar and refused to work.

“I didn’t want to write with Hal or anyone,” she told the AP in 2004. Nor did she want to deliver on her commitment to record Warwick. Both she and David sued him.

“Burt’s transition is like losing a family member. These words I have been asked to write are written with sadness at the loss of my dear friend and musical partner,” Warwick wrote in a statement on Thursday. “On the lighter side we have laughed a lot and had our fights but we always found a way to let us know that our family like roots were the most important part of our relationship.

Bacharach and David eventually reconciled. When David died in 2012, Bacharach praised him for writing lyrics “like a miniature movie”.

Meanwhile, Bacharach kept working, vowing never to retire, always believing a good song could make a difference.

“Music softens the heart, it makes you feel something if it’s good, it brings emotions you may not have felt before,” he told the AP in 2018. “It’s a very powerful thing if you’re able to, if you have it.” in the heart to do something like that.


The late Associated Press writer Bob Thomas contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

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