BORN: May 12, 1928, Kansas City, MO
With a hit-single track record spanning four decades, Burt Bacharach became
one of the most important composers of popular music in the 20th century,
almost equal to such classic tunesmiths as George Gershwin or Irving Berlin.
His sophisticated yet breezy productions borrowed from cool jazz, soul, Brazilian
bossa nova, and traditional pop to virtually define and undoubtedly transcend
the staid forms of Brill Building adult pop during the 1960s.
Born May 12, 1928, in Kansas City, he studied cello, drums, and piano as
a child, and was later transplanted to New York City by his father, a syndicated
columnist. The time spent in New York gave him a chance to sneak into clubs
to watch his bebop heroes Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker; he also played
in several jazz bands during the 1940s. Bacharach studied music theory and
composition at the Mannes School in New York, at Berkshire Music Center, at
the New School for Social Research (with Darius Milhaud), at Montreal's McGill
University, and at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, CA. A
period in the Army interrupted his concentration of music study, but even
while serving in Germany, Bacharach arranged and played piano for a dance
band. He also played in nightclubs and backed Steve Lawrence, the Ames Brothers,
and Paula Stewart. Bacharach was discharged in 1952, and he married Stewart
on December 22nd of the following year.
On returning to the U.S., he began writing songs for Lawrence, Patti Page,
the Ames Brothers, and others, but his first hit came from Marty Robbins in
late 1957 when Robbins took "The Story of My Life" to the American Top 20
and the number one spot in England. The single was also notable for its co-composer,
Hal David, who became Bacharach's songwriting partner and collaborated on
most of his big hits. The Bacharach/David team followed up in January 1958
with Perry Como's "Magic Moments," another U.K. chart-topper and a Top Five
entry in America. Bacharach's marriage dissolved in 1958, and he left for
Europe to tour with Marlene Dietrich. He returned in 1961, and wrote several
songs for the Drifters with Bob Hilliard (including "Mexican Divorce" and
"Please Stay") before reuniting with Hal David. At an arranging session, he
found the singer who became the ultimate vehicle for his songs: Dionne Warwick
who was working as a member of the Drifters' backup vocal group, the Gospelaires.
By late 1962, Bacharach and David began focusing most of their composing
energy on Warwick, who was the recipient of 15 Top 40 singles from 1962 to
1968 (including the Top Tens "Anyone Who Had a Heart," "Walk on By," "Message
to Michael," "I Say a Little Prayer," "Valley of the Dolls," and "Do You Know
the Way to San Jose?"). The duo also remained dominant in England, where Frankie
Vaughan, Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw, the Walker Brothers, and Herb Alpert all
hit number one with Bacharach/David compositions. As if their schedule wasn't
busy enough throughout the '60s, the songwriters contributed film scores
for What's New Pussycat?, Alfie, and Casino Royale.
The film featuring their most celebrated score, Butch Cassidy and the
Sundance Kid (1969), won Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Theme
Song for "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" (plus two non-musical Academy
Awards). Bacharach and David began working on the musical Promises, Promises
in the late '60s; it won a Tony and a Grammy Award (for cast album) during
a popular three-year Broadway run. Bacharach hit the charts himself in 1969,
with the show's "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" reaching the Top 100. Surprisingly,
this was not his only foray into recording; Bacharach had reached number
four in the U.K. charts in May 1965 with "Trains and Boats and Planes," and
he released several popular solo albums during the late '60s.
The beginning of the '70s looked bright for Burt Bacharach, as the Carpenters
took "(They Long to Be) Close to You" to number one in the U.S. in July 1970.
The forecast was premature, though, as three of his closest partners -- Hal
David, Dionne Warwick, and his second wife Angie Dickinson -- left him. He
gathered several accolades for an eponymous 1971 album featuring renditions
of his previous hit compositions, but later albums were disappointing and
Bacharach's next hit was over a decade in coming. Finally in 1981, he collaborated
with Christopher Cross, Carole Bayer Sager, and Peter Allen on the Oscar-winning
"Arthur's Theme." Bacharach married Bayer Sager just one year later, and together
they wrote Roberta Flack's Top 20 hit "Making Love," as well as "Heartlight"
which Neil Diamond took to number five.
Once Bacharach resumed composing he began to hit, and 1986 was one of his
finest years, with two American number ones: "That's What Friends Are For"
(by an all-star group including Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie
Wonder) and a duet by Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald titled "On My Own."
He divorced Sager in 1991, but worked with Dionne Warwick again two years
later on "Sunny Weather Love," from her Friends Can Be Lovers album. Also
in 1993, Bacharach contributed songs to James Ingram, Earth, Wind & Fire,
and Tevin Campbell. Around the same time, many alternative bands began name-checking
the hitmaker as an influence, and Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher joined him
on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall as well as including a picture of him
on the cover of Oasis' Definitely Maybe. BBC-TV focused on Bacharach in a
January 1996 documentary, and a three-disc retrospective of his compositions
was released by Rhino in 1998. That same year he collaborated with Elvis Costello
on the acclaimed Painted From Memory, and was celebrated at an all-star concert
at Radio City Music Hall which later formed the basis for the LP One Amazing
Night. ~ John Bush, All Music Guide
During his heyday in the mid-to-late 1960s, American composer and songwriter
Burt Bacharach wrote many popular tunes for Broadway and films. Many of these
songs such as "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on
My Head," and "What the World Needs Now" have become American standards. He
is the son of syndicated newspaper columnist, Bert Bacharach. After receiving
professional training, Bacharach served in Korea as a concert pianist in the
Army. After his military stint, he became a professional accompanist for
such entertainers as Vic Damone, Joel Grey, and Polly Bergen, but he did
not really get his big break until he began working as the conductor-arranger
for Marlene Dietrich, on her world concert tour, while simultaneously penning
songs for Broadway musicals and films. Bacharach's songs during the '60s and
early '70s are distinguished for their complex, highly syncopated rhythms
and clever lyrics. Many of them were made popular by Dionne Warwick and Jack
Jones. He won two Academy Awards in 1969 for the soundtrack for Butch
Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and for the song Raindrops Keep Fallin'
on My Head from the same film. Many of his tunes were written with lyricist
Hal David. Though not as popular as he once was, Bacharach continues to score
films and has also established a career as a solo entertainer and performs
concerts and in nightclubs all over the country. ~ Sandra Brennan, All Movie