It is with great sadness that I have heard of the passing of Burt Bacharach.
Over the past 70 years, only Lennon-McCartney, Carole King and a handful of others rivaled his genius for instantly catchy songs that remained performed, played and hummed long after they were written.
He had a run of top 10 hits from the 1950s into the 21st century, and his music was heard everywhere from movie soundtracks and radios to home stereo systems and iPods, whether “Alfie” and “I Say a Little Prayer” or “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” and “This Guy’s in Love with You.”
Dionne Warwick was his favorite interpreter, but Bacharach, usually in tandem with lyricist Hal David, also created prime material for Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones and many others. Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Frank Sinatra were among the countless artists who covered his songs, with more recent performers who sung or sampled him including White Stripes, Twista and Ashanti. “Walk On By” alone was covered by everyone from Warwick and Isaac Hayes to the British punk band the Stranglers and Cyndi Lauper.
Bacharach was both an innovator and throwback, and his career seemed to run parallel to the rock era. He grew up on jazz and classical music and had little taste for rock when he was breaking into the business in the 1950s. His sensibility often seemed more aligned with Tin Pan Alley than with Bob Dylan, John Lennon and other writers who later emerged, but rock composers appreciated the depth of his seemingly old-fashioned sensibility.
"The shorthand version of him is that he’s something to do with easy listening,” Elvis Costello, who wrote the 1998 album “Painted from Memory” with Bacharach, said in a 2018 interview with The Associated Press. “It may be agreeable to listen to these songs, but there’s nothing easy about them. Try playing them. Try singing them.
”He triumphed in many artforms. He was an eight-time Grammy winner, a prize-winning Broadway composer for “Promises, Promises” and a three-time Oscar winner. He received two Academy Awards in 1970, for the score of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and for the song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” (shared with David). In 1982, he and his then-wife, lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, won Oscars for “Best That You Can Do,” the theme from “Arthur. His other movie soundtracks included “What’s New, Pussycat?”, “Alfie” and the 1967 James Bond spoof “Casino Royale.
"Bacharach was well rewarded, and well connected. He was a frequent guest at the White House, whether the president was Republican or Democrat. And in 2012, he was presented the Gershwin Prize by Barack Obama, who had sung a few seconds of “Walk on By” during a campaign appearance.