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Burt Bacharach - 1928-2023

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 20 / 2 / 2023

Burt Bacharach - 1928-2023


Nick Dent-Robinson pays tribute to composer, songwriter, record producer and pianist Burt Bacharach who died this month.

Burt Bacharach died of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles on 8 February. He was 94. Bacharach was born in Kansas City in 1928 and raised in Queens, New York City. His father was a successful journalist and his mother was a keen amateur artist, musician and songwriter who arranged piano lessons for her son from an early age. Over a remarkably long career (starting in the early 1950s after he had enjoyed playing the piano and arranging music for concerts during his service with the US Army in Germany), Bacharach established himself as one of the greatest-ever songwriters with multiple Oscars and Grammys to his name. In the UK alone he enjoyed more than 50 Top 40 hits including such classics as ‘Close To You’, ‘I Say A Little Prayer’, ‘What's New Pussycat?’, ‘Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa’, ‘Alfie’, ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’, ‘Do You Know The Way To San Jose?’ and so many more. Detractors sometimes sneered that his silky but sophisticated tunes were mere “elevator music” but major players in the music business always disagreed. Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Frank Sinatra were amongst the 1200 or more artists who covered his songs. With his long-term collaborator Hal David, Bacharach also created songs for Diane Warwick, Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones, Cilla Black as well as Aretha Franklin. And his music was later championed by punk band The Stranglers and Elvis Costello as well as Noel Gallagher of Oasis who once said, “If you can't get a girl to make love to you by putting on a Bacharach song, you might as well give up. The man is a genius!” Bacharach was an unassuming man in many ways – described by Tim Rice (who collaborated with him on several compositions) as “a gentle soul who it was always a pleasure and an honour to work with – though he was also a ruthless perfectionist in his work.” Cilla Black could have confirmed that. She once described how she found Bacharach's determination to get the perfect take nightmarish when he made her sing ‘Alfie’ 29 times at London's Abbey Road studios. “I wanted to fucking kill him,” said Cilla. “But he was so fuckng gorgeous and a gentle soul at heart....” In his early career, Bacharach worked closely as musical director to Marlene Dietrich on various tours. The ageing star adored him and there's a tale that once, at an Edinburgh nightclub in the 1950s when the usual crowd were at the stage door clamouring for her autograph, she told them in her heavy German accent, “You know you don't want my autograph! You should be getting Mr Bacharach's.” When they asked who she meant, she replied, “Ah, you will know one day. He's going to be more famous than anyone you can think of!”. Dietrich had a huge crush on the young Bacharach – but he always insisted their relationship remained platonic. He was to marry four times, including to singer Paula Stewart, film star Angie Dickinson, successful lyricist and singer Carole Bayer Sager and finally to his surviving wife Jane Hansen (a ski instructor 32 years his junior) in 1993. He had four children including an adopted son with Bayer Sager. Burt Bacharach vowed never to retire and remained active in music until very recently. He travelled often to the UK and was a guest at Buckingham Palace on several occasions. He was also a regular visitor to the White House – where there was a special all-star tribute concert to celebrate President Obama presenting him and his collaborator Hal David with the Gershwin Prize awarded by the Library of Congress in 2012. Bacharach also performed at Glastonbury Festival as recently as 2015 – when he was 87! In 2018 Burt Bacharach said, “Good music softens the heart, makes you feel something, brings in emotion that you might not have felt before. It's a very powerful thing if you are able to create music – if you have it in your heart to do that. I am just so glad and grateful I've been able to do some of that in my life.” There's no question that Burt Bacharach's music will be enjoyed by many more generations in the years to come. And he would have been very happy about that.

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