Burt Bacharach has died aged 94. One of the most gifted and successful songwriters of the modern era, Bacharach wrote 73 top 40 hits in the US and 52 in the UK.
A six-time Grammy winner and recipient of three Academy Awards, Bacharach’s songs have been recorded by over 1,000 artists including Dusty Springfield, The Carpenters, Herb Alpert And The Tijuana Brass, Aretha Franklin, Tom Jones, Gene Pitney, Love, Bobbie Gentry, The Walker Brothers and most notably Dionne Warwick, for whom Bacharach and lyricist Hal David wrote a string of 39 consecutive chart hits including Walk On By, I’ll Never Fall In Love Again and Do You Know The Way To San Jose?
Under their breezy, melodic exteriors, Bacharach’s compositions contained a musical sophistication and subtle inventiveness, drawing from jazz, classical music, bossa nova, soul and more.
Bacharach was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1928, before his family moved to New York. After developing a love of jazz as a teenager, he would frequently sneak out to clubs in Manhattan to watch the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie. He studied classical music in Canada and California, and the combination of classical training with his love of jazz chord progressions, changing meters and irregular phrasing would have a lasting impact on his songwriting.
Following two years in the US Army between 1950 and 1952, Bacharach worked as piano player for big band singer Vic Damone and for artists including Polly Bergen, The Ames Brothers and Paula Stewart, the latter of whom he would marry. In the late ‘50s he worked as arranger and composer for Marlene Dietrich.
In 1957 Bacharach met lyricist Hal David working in New York’s fabled pop production house The Brill Building, sparking one of the most fruitful songwriting partnerships of the 20th Century. The pair scored their first hit when Marty Robbins’ recording of The Story Of My Life topped the US country charts in 1957. It was shortly followed by Magic Moments, sung by Perry Como. A number four hit in the US, Magic Moments also went to number one in the UK the week after a version of The Story Of My Life by British singer Michael Holliday had done the same, making Bacharach and David the first songwriters to have back-to-back number one records in Britain.
In the early ‘60s Bacharach worked with other lyricists including Bob Hilliard, with whom he wrote The Drifters’ Please Stay and Three Wheels On My Wagon for Dick Van Dyke. But in 1962 he reunited with David and scored another hit with Jerry Butler’s Make It Easy On Yourself, later a chart-topping hit for The Walker Brothers in Britain.
Bacharach first met Dionne Warwick when she was working as a backing vocalist. In 1961, with Warwick and her sister Dee Dee, he released a single, Move It On The Backbeat, under the name Burt And the Backbeats. Bacharach and David wrote Warwick’s first single as a solo artist, Don’t Make Me Over, marking the start of a partnership between the three that would produce some of the era’s most memorable and successful songs. Over the next two decades, Warwick’s performances of Bacharach and David songs would sell over 12 million copies.
Bacharach released his first solo album in 1965, Hit Maker! Burt Bacharach Plays His Hits and, after signing to A&M in 1967, he would record as a solo artist in tandem with his successful career as a writer for other artists.
Bacharach and David continued to write hits for other performers through the ‘60s including Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black and Tom Jones. In 1969 the pair won an Oscar for Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head, performed by B.J. Thomas and taken from the soundtrack to Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid.
In 1973, following the failure of musical film project Lost Horizon, Bacharach and David ceased to work together, which in turn resulted in Warwick filing a lawsuit against her songwriters for a loss of material. Bacharach and David briefly reunited in 1975 to write and produce Motown singer Stephanie Morris’ album, For The First Time.
Through the ‘80s, Bacharach had a successful writing partnership with his third wife, lyricist and songwriter Carole Bayer Sager, and the pair wrote songs for Neil Diamond, Roberta Flack, Patti LaBelle and, on 1985’s That’s What Friends Are For, Dionne Warwick.
In 1998, Bacharach teamed up with Elvis Costello for Grammy-winning LP Painted From Memory: a boxset of their complete collaborations, The Songs Of Bacharach & Costello, is due to be released on March 3.
Bacharach’s last EP, 2020’s collaboration with Daniel Tashian, was also nominated for a Grammy.
“Burt was a hero of mine and very influential on my work,” Brian Wilson commented of Bacharach upon news of his passing. “He was a giant in the music business. His songs will live forever.”