Pop composer Burt Bacharach has experienced a critical and creative
renaissance in recent years. In early 1998, Bacharach was feted during a
New York City tribute concert by some of music's biggest stars, including
Sheryl Crow, Ben Folds Five and Barenaked Ladies. The acts covered several
of his classics and spoke glowingly of his influence.
Later in the year, veteran British rocker Elvis Costello collaborated with
Bacharach -- whom he called a musical inspiration -- on a duet LP of new
songs, Painted From Memory, and a short tour.
Bacharach was born 71 years ago today in Kansas City, Mo. His mother
encouraged him to study cello, drums and piano. Bacharach settled on music
as a career after his diminutive size kept him from pursuing his dream of
playing pro football.
The young Bacharach loved bebop music and idolized jazz greats such as
Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Bacharach got a job playing piano at a
Catskills resort and then as a musician touring Army hospitals with the USO.
While serving a two-year stint in the Army, he gave concerts at Fort Dix.
Bacharach then studied music at the New School for Social Research with,
among others, modern classical composer Darius Milhaud, who greatly
Bacharach also spent time working in a dance band in Germany, where he met
singer Vic Damone. Upon exiting the Army, he became Damone's piano player;
he also worked for the Ames Brothers, Steve Lawrence and other vocalists.
Two years later he teamed with his greatest collaborator, lyricist Hal
David, with whom he wrote hits for Marty Robbins ("The Story of My Life")
and Perry Como ("Magic Moments"). Bacharach spent the next three years as
musical director for Marlene Dietrich's touring show. Around this time, the
Shirelles had a hit with "Baby It's You" (for which he wrote the music), a
song later recorded by the Beatles.
In 1962 Gene Pitney recorded Bacharach's "The Man Who Shot Liberty
Valance," which was based on the John Wayne film of the same title.
Bacharach also wrote songs for the Drifters, including "Please Stay." While
working with the band, he met singer Dionne Warwick, who was part of the
Drifters' backing group, the Gospelaires.
Warwick had a string of hits with Bacharach/David compositions, including
"Walk on By," "I Say a Little Prayer," "You'll Never Get to Heaven" and "Do
You Know the Way to San Jose?" The songwriting duo also scored big hits for
others, including Jackie DeShannon ("What the World Needs Now"), the Fifth
Dimension ("One Less Bell to Answer"), Herb Alpert ("This Guy's in Love
With You"), Tom Jones ("What's New, Pussycat?"), B.J. Thomas ("Raindrops
Keep Fallin' on My Head") and the Carpenters ("[They Long to Be] Close to
In 1968 Bacharach and David wrote the hit musical "Promises, Promises."
Bacharach also concentrated on scores for such movies as "Casino Royale,"
"Alfie" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (for which he won Oscars
and a Grammy).
Bacharach also co-wrote the Academy Award-winning Best Song of 1981,
"Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" from "Arthur." Other
Bacharach-written hits of the decade included "That's What Friends Are For"
and "On My Own."
After a quiet period during which he composed for such artists as Tevin
Campbell and James Ingram, Bacharach teamed with Costello for
HREF="http://media.addict.com/atn-bin/get-music/Costello,_Elvis/God_Give_Me_Stre ngth.ram">"God Give Me Strength"
ngth.ram">"God Give Me Strength"(RealAudio excerpt), a song from
the 1996 film "Grace of My Heart."
Around this period, artists such as R.E.M., Stereolab and Oasis sang
Bacharach's praises in the media. This adoration culminated in the 1998 TNT
special "Burt Bacharach: One Amazing Night," the film of the all-star New
York concert tribute. His LP with Costello earned the pair a Grammy for
"I've Still Got That Other Girl."
That same year, Rhino Records issued the box set The Look of Love: The
Burt Bacharach Collection. Bacharach is to appear with Costello in the
upcoming movie "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," for which they've
collaborated on a song.
Bacharach's music will be remembered for its airy melodicism and unusual
chord changes and rhythms. Ben Folds said he and his band "listened to
[Bacharach] when we were kids and he's part of the musical vocabulary."
Other birthdays: Ian Dury, 57; James Purify, 55; Billy Swan, 55; Steve
Winwood, 51; Billy Squier, 49; and Billy Duffy (ex-Cult), 40.