Four decades into one of songwriting's most successful careers, Burt Bacharach continues to set industry records and trends. Today, he continues to break ground in the world of pop music with Grammy Awards for such hits as That's What Friends Are For, On My Own and Best That You Can Do.
Burt Bacharach, most often in tandem with lyricist Hal David, played a major role in mainstream pop of the '60s, chalking up an incredible number of musically sophisticated hits. Bacharach compositions typically boasted memorable melodies, uncommon rhythms and striking chord changes. David's lyrics added a touch of Tin Pan Alley craft and melodrama to mainstream pop. Bacharach was born in Kansas City, Mo., on May 12, 1928. The son of syndicated columnist Bert Bacharach, Burt grew up in New York and -- at his mother's insistence -- studied cello, drums, and then piano at a very early age. His dream was to be a professional football player, but his lack of size kept him out of that field.
As a teenager, Bacharach used a fake ID to get into clubs to see bebop greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. The outré harmonies and melodies of bebop were a major influence on the young composer.
His first musical jobs were playing at a Catskills resort and touring army hospitals with the USO. He went on to study theory and composition at the Mannes School of Music in New York City; at the Berkshire Music Center; at the New School for Social Research with Darius Milhaud (whose influence on Burt's style is apparent in his work), Bohuslav Martinu and Henry Cowell; and at McGill University in Montreal. He was also awarded a scholarship to the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara.
One of his first songs to be published was "The Night to Heaven." From 1950-52 Bacharach served in the Army, playing piano at the officer's club on Governor Island and giving concerts at Fort Dix; his performances there consisted mainly of improvisations and pop medleys of the day.
While serving as a dance band arranger in Germany, Bacharach met Vic Damone. After his discharge, Bacharach became Damone's piano accompanist. He also worked nightclubs, restaurants and accompanied performers such as Ames Brothers, Imogene Coca, Polly Bergen, Joel Grey, Georgia Gibbs, Steve Lawrence and Paula Stewart. He married Stewart in 1953 (they were divorced in 1958).
The first of Bacharach's songs to be recorded, by Patti Page, was "so awful," according to Burt, that he's forgotten the name. In 1955 he became a member of ASCAP.
In 1957, Burt teamed up with lyricist Hal David (b. May 25, 1921), whom he met at Famous Paramount Music Company, and the pair immediately had hits with Marty Robbins ("The Story of My Life," 1957) and Perry Como ("Magic Moments," 1958).
From 1958-61 Burt toured Europe and America as musical director for Marlene Dietrich. During this period, two songs were recorded: "Tower of Strength" by Gene McDaniel (with lyrics by Bob Hilliard) and "Baby It's You" by the Shirelles (lyrics by Mack David and Barney Williams). Both were recorded in 1961. "Baby It's You" was subsequently recorded by the Beatles (mid-'60s) and the duo of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe (1984).
In 1962, soul singer Chuck Jackson recorded "Any Day Now" (lyrics by Bob Hilliard). Also that year, Gene Pitney recorded "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," a song inspired by the John Wayne/James Stewart movie.
Bacharach worked extensively with the Drifters, arranging horns and string parts and collaborating with lyricist Bob Hilliard on the group's 1961 singles "Mexican Divorce" and "Please Stay." At a Drifters session he met Dionne Warwick, a member of Drifters backup vocal group the Gospelaires and the niece of vocalist Cissy Houston. Bacharach later described the voice of Warwick as "perfect," and Warwick had little problem wrapping her nimble voice around Bacharach's unconventional melodies, phrasings and time signatures. Beginning in 1962 with "Don't Make Me Over" (#21), the team of Bacharach & David supplied Warwick with 39 chart records in 10 years, eight of them Top Ten hits: "Walk on By," "Anyone Who Had a Heart," "I Say a Little Prayer," "You'll Never Get to Heaven," "Message to Michael," "Trains and Boats and Planes," "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" and "Promises, Promises."
Besides their work writing and producing Warwick's albums, Bacharach and David were also responsible for hits with other performers, including Jackie DeShannon ("What the World Needs Now"), the Fifth Dimension ("One Less Bell to Answer"), Bobby Vinton ("Blue on Blue"), Herb Alpert ("This Guy's in Love With You"), Jerry Butler ("Make It Easy on Yourself"), Tom Jones ("What's New, Pussycat?"), Jack Jones ("Wives and Lovers"), Dusty Springfield ("24 Hours from Tulsa"), B.J. Thomas ("Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head"), the Carpenters ("[They Long to Be] Close to You"), Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66 ("The Look of Love") and others.
As the sixties closed, Bacharach and David teamed up for a Broadway musical, Promises, Promises (1968). The title song was a hit for Warwick, and the play ran for three years and 1,281 performances. The musical was based on the film "The Apartment," written by Neil Simon and starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley McLaine. The play earned a Tony and the cast album garnered a Grammy. Through his wife, screen star Angie Dickinson (whom he married in 1965 and divorced in 1982), Bacharach moved into film scores. His credits include the tile song to Alfie, a hit for Dionne Warwick, What's New, Pussycat?, (its title was a Top 5 hit for Tom Jones in 1965), Casino Royale, Lost Horizon and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which spawned "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," a #1 hit for B.J. Thomas in 1970. The score brought Bacharach two Oscars (Best Score and Best Theme Song) as well as a Grammy for best score.
Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, Peter Allen and Christopher Cross co-wrote the 1981 hit theme from the film Arthur. Recorded by Christopher Cross, "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" was a number one hit and won an Academy Award for Best Song. In 1982, Bacharach composed the music for Ron Howard's Night Shift, which introduced "That's What Friends Are For," and, in 1988, the music for the sequel to Arthur, Arthur 2: On the Rocks. In April 1982, Bacharach married Sager.
Around that time, Bacharach composed the title theme to the TV series "Finder of Lost Loves," with Dionne Warwick on vocals.
In 1993, Bacharach emerged from a relatively quiet period with a number of new projects, most notably a reunion with Dionne Warwick on the song "Sunny Weather Love," included on her album Friends Can Be Lovers. He also wrote two songs for James Ingram's "Always You" album: "This Is The Night" (Bacharach, Ingram, Bettis) and "Sing for the Children" (Bacharach, Ingram, Bettis). They were produced by Thom Bell. That same year he wrote "Two Hearts" (White, Bacharach, Bailey) on Earth, Wind and Fire's album "Millenium." He also wrote "Don't Say Goodbye Girl (Walden, Bacharach, Dakota) on Tevin Campbell's album "I'm Ready" in 1993.
In 1995, Bacharach collaborated with Elvis Costello (via fax) on the composition "God Give Me Strength," a song from the soon-to-be-released film "Grace of My Heart." He also has been working recently with lyricist B.A. Robertson, of Mike + the Mechanics, on a modern musical retelling of Snow White.
Bacharach has been a longtime fan of horseracing, and his horses have competed in many of the sport's most prestigious events.
Burt and Carol Bayer Sager were divorced in the early '90s.
By all estimates, Bacharach is enjoying a resurgence of popularity among listeners, with alternative artists such as Pizzicato Five, Oasis, REM, Stereolab, Eric Matthews, Grenadine, Combustible Edison and others each paying him homage in interviews and through recordings. In January 1996, Burt was the subject of a BBC documentary, "Burt Bacharach--This Is Now," which has been licensed for broadcast in America on "Great Performances." Burt has recently been taking advantage of that resurgence in mounting a European tour with Dionne Warwick. For an appearance in London at the Royal Festival Hall in June 1996, Oasis' Noel Gallagher joined Burt onstage to croon "This Guy's In Love With You." A three-CD collection of Bacharach's material was released in 1998 from Rhino Records. 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".