May 23, 2024

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Burt Bacharach, who added a high gloss to the ’60s, prolific composer of Jazz-pop hits, dies at 94: Videos, Photos

Burt Bacharach, a colossally successful pop composer — with more than 70 Top-40 hits — who provided the cocktail party playlist for the swinging ’60s and early ’70s with songs including “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Alfie,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “Close to You,” “Promises, Promises” and the Oscar-winning “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” died Feb. 8 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 94.

His publicist, Tina Brausam, confirmed the death but did not provide a specific cause.

Often teaming with lyricist Hal David, Mr. Bacharach wrote a succession of hits performed by musical torchbearers of the shag carpet era — Aretha Franklin, Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield, Herb Alpert, Sergio Mendes, the Carpenters, the 5th Dimension and especially singer Dionne Warwick.

Mr. Bacharach’s music ebbed and flowed from vogue, but his canon of songs brought him his industry’s highest honors. Much of his most enduring work featured majestic harmonies with abrupt key changes and ornate time signatures drawn from his grounding in classical music and his fervor for bebop jazz. Frank Sinatra once quipped that Mr. Bacharach “writes in hat sizes. Seven and three-fourths.”

More than 1,000 artists have recorded his music, a record placing him squarely in the Great American Songbook tradition alongside Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and the Gershwins.

Mr. Bacharach accepts the Oscar for Best Original Score for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” in 1970. (AP)

“His harmonic sophistication goes far beyond what record labels or audiences demanded in the 1960s and 1970s,” said Ted Gioia, author of “Love Songs: The Hidden History.” “He had higher standards than almost any of his peers on AM radio. It was a kind of hippie veneer imposed on solidly crafted melodies and rhythms from another era. There was a paradox here, but Bacharach made it work — in fact, he turned it into art.”

“What do you get when you fall in love? You only get lies and pain and sorrow,” Warwick sang playfully over an up-tempo rhythm in “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” the 1969 hit that summited Billboard’s Easy Listening chart. When he and David wrote the song, Mr. Bacharach was in the hospital — a setting that inspired the cheeky line, “What do you get when you kiss a guy? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia.”

“I always tried to create songs that were like mini movies,” Mr. Bacharach once said. One of his finest examples was “One Less Bell to Answer,” a massive hit for the 5th Dimension in 1970 in which the singer appears blasé about “one less egg to fry” and “one less man to pick up after” but ultimately reveals her pain — “all I do is cry.”

The hits kept coming. “What’s New Pussycat?,” “Walk on By,” “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” “A House Is Not a Home” all entered the cultural bloodstream — as did “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me,” which received a Top 10 new wave cover by Naked Eyes in 1983.

Mr. Bacharach’s musical reputation faded before a renaissance in the 1990s that was sparked by praise from unexpected sources such as the band Oasis, which included a photo of the composer on the cover of its 1994 debut album “Definitely Maybe.”

The jazz pianist McCoy Tyner recorded an entire album of Mr. Bacharach’s music in 1997. The next year, Mr. Bacharach shared with Elvis Costello a Grammy for best pop vocal collaboration for the song “I Still Have That Other Girl”; Costello had previously partnered with Mr. Bacharach on the ballad “God Give Me Strength,” used in the 1996 film “Grace of My Heart.”

The composer was cool again — even if some of his newfound appreciation was laced with irony. He played along, making a winking cameo in the Mike Myers spy spoof “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” (1997), playing the piano and singing “What the World Needs Now Is Love” atop a double-decker bus.

When President Barack Obama awarded Mr. Bacharach and David the Library of Congress’s Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2012 — the year David died — Myers gave an arch rendition of “What’s New Pussycat?” in a blue sequined jumpsuit.

Burt Bacharach: What the world needs now is a celebration of his best songs  - The Big Issue

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