If Cole Porter is recognised as having written the Great American Songbook, it can be argued that Bacharach in collaboration with lyricist Hal David (sadly also passed away last year), Carole Bayer Sager and others, added volume 2 during his lifetime.
Across a 70-plus-year song writing and arranging career, he composed more than 500 songs that have been recorded by something like 1,200 artists, a number that is ever growing as younger generations have discovered and appreciated his talent – from the post punk and new wave rockers Elvis Costello, and The Stranglers, up to millennial rockers White Stripes, and samples have been used by Dr Dre, The Wu Tang Clan and Beyoncé. Performing, at the age of 87, on stage at the Glastonbury Festival has no doubt aided that recognition. Also a six-time Grammy Award winner, as well as three-time Oscar winner for song and score on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1970), and song for Arthur (1981), he even had a starring cameo appearance in the Austin Powers movies that Mike Myers said were inspired by the spoof Bond movie, Casino Royale, for which Bacharach penned the soundtrack and, in my opinion, the best Bond song ever ‘The Look of Love’.
His style has often been unfairly described as ‘easy-listening’, yet was musically intricate, sneaking elements of jazz, latin rhythm and classical music into pop tunes; playing around with harmony and rhythm, alongside unusual melodies, chord progressions, and odd selections and combinations of instruments. Yes, that was a flugelhorn giving a sad counterpoint to the lyrics on ‘Alfie’. The result were extremely sophisticated and complex songs, musically and lyrically, yet sounding so easy on the ears and simple to sing-a-long to. Take ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ with its time signature moving from 4/4 to 5/4 to 7/8, or ‘Say A Little Prayer’ with its 11/8 signature requiring the very top vocal agility. No wonder the Bacharach songbook is stuffed full of originals, covers, and covers of covers, by only the very best voices.
In tribute to an icon of the modern music catalogue, this selection is just some personal favourites.
Passing peacefully in his sleep at the age of 94, thank you for the music and RIP Burt Bacharach.