You see this guy?
To mark the death of Hal David this weekend, we've revived our Monday-morning music slot for a salute to a great lyric-writer based around a couple of his contributions to our Song of the Week selection and my 90th birthday tribute to him last year. You can find Part One here. Herewith, Part Two:
The Look Of Love
Is in your eyes
The look your smile can't disguise
The Look Of Love
Is saying so much more...
We left off our 90th birthday salute to Hal David with his great hit from Casino Royale. David was born on May 25th 1921, which, as I noted last week, made him part of the generation of pre-rock songwriters supposedly swept away by Dylan, the Beatles et al. Yet, as the years go by, his great run of hits from the Sixties are simultaneously one of the most appealing sounds of the era yet also transcend it. Over four decades on, as the noisier fellows he shared the Top 40 with have faded, the Bacharach & David catalogue remain some of the most performed songs to emerge from that time. I mentioned last week that Hal had said to me many years ago how much he admired Irving Berlin for "his confidence to express things simply". But he also liked Berlin as a business model: "Most writers succeed only in one or two areas," David told me. "Rodgers and Porter were basically theatre men. But Berlin did everything. He's unique in that he worked successfully and continuously in all three areas of popular song - shows, films, Tin Pan Alley. Burt Bacharach and I tried that in the Sixties, and believe me, it's tough."
I'll say. By 1968, Bacharach & David had provided big pop hits for Dionne Warwick, Gene Pitney, Cher and many others, and they'd made memorable contributions to What's New, Pussycat? and others of the more determinedly groovy films of the period. Their chance to crack that third venue of popular song - the theatre - came when David Merrick signed them to write a Broadway show with Neil Simon. Promises, Promises was an adaptation of a Billy Wilder film from the beginning of the decade - The Apartment, with Shirley MacLaine, Jack Lemmon, and Fred MacMurray. It's one of my favorite Wilder movies, but I'm not sure the premise quite sings enough to be a full-blown musical. Still, it was a hit, and it had some memorable moments, including Michael Bennett's office-party disco frenzy for "Turkey Lurkey Time". But Burt Bacharach did not enjoy the experience. On a record, on a film score, a perfectionist can get it just the way he wants: recorded perfection - the flugelhorn player he wants playing the flugelhorn part the way he wants it to sound, now and forever. But what to other men is the thrill of live theatre was to Bacharach the tinny sound of not-quite-good-enough. He disliked the "subs" - the way a Broadway orchestra playing eight shows a week inevitably has a trombonist out on Tuesday night and a bass player sick on Wednesday matinee, and some guy filling in who's never seen the score. Bacharach told me that what soured him on the whole experience was the day Richard Rodgers came to see the show. Rodgers! Mister Broadway! Coming to hear Burt Bacharach's music! And that day the lead trumpet was a sub, and so was the drummer, and six other guys in the band. Bacharach wants Rodgers to hear his score the way he intended it to be heard, and there are eight fellows in the pit sight-reading, including the drummer. Years later, I asked Alan Jay Lerner, author of Gigi, Camelot and My Fair Lady, if there were anyone he'd like to write a Broadway show with. "Burt Bacharach," he said. "But, after his experience on Promises, Promises, Burt will never write for the theatre again."
They got a hit out of it. Trying out the show in Boston, Bacharach & David realized they needed a new song for a big scene in the Second Act. Burt was sick. He'd contracted pneumonia. After visiting him in hospital, Hal wrote:
What do you get when you kiss a guy?
You get enough germs to catch pneumonia
After you do, he'll never phone ya
I'll Never Fall In Love Again...
"Pneumonia"/"phone ya" is a cute rhyme. But the great comedy writer Dick Vosburgh never tired of pointing out what he saw as one slight problem with it: pneumonia is not a communicable disease. We were once on some terrible BBC Light Ent show together and he brought up the subject yet again, and I remember tossing out alternative ailments to Dick and inviting him to rhyme them:
What do you get when you kiss a guy?
You get enough germs for halitosis
After you do, he won't send roses...
After the show, we were having a drink and Dick revealed that that wasn't his only problem with Hal David. The first time he heard "This Guy's In Love With You", back in the Sixties, was when a friend sang him the opening bars. His ear misunderstood the title phrase as "The Sky's In Love With You":
You see the sky
The sky's in love with you...
"Wow!" he said. "'The Sky's In Love With You'. What an awsome concept." His friend, on the other hand, heard Vosburgh's re-iteration of the title phrase as "This Guy's In Love With You" and couldn't understand why Dick was so bowled over by what seemed entirely conventional boy-meets-girl territory. When their mutual confusion was resolved, and Vosburgh was apprised of the correct lyric, he was less impressed.
There's not a lot of in-betweeny opinion on "This Guy's In Love With You". People are either utterly charmed by it or left entirely cold. I'm closer to the former, initially for personal reasons - I dated a gal who used to love it when I sang it to her - but later because I came to appreciate its extremely skilful artlessness.
They wrote it for a television show. Herb Alpert was the trumpet-playing frontman of the Tijuana Brass, and in 1968 CBS offered him a TV special. He said yes, but he'd like to get his wife on the show, too. But how? Someone said, "Why don't you sing her a song?" The producers liked that idea. There were a lot of variety shows on the air back then, but mostly for singers. So maybe the trumpeter should take a crack at singing a number to the missus. All he needed was the right song. Aside from playing trumpet, Herb Alpert also ran a record company - he was the "A" of A&M Records - and they'd just signed Burt Bacharach to the label. So Alpert asked Bacharach & David to write him a song, and they did it as a professional favor with no expectation of ever earning a dime from it. And so midway through a CBS special on "The Beat Of The Brass", Mr and Mrs Alpert turn up on the beach at Malibu, and Herb sings:
You see this guy
This Guy's In Love With You
Yes, I'm in love
Who looks at you the way I do?
It's often said that Bacharach & David wrote it for their friend's limited vocal skills. And, in a way, that's true: The first line is all the same note, virtually the entire lyric is monosyllabic words, there's not a lot of sustained notes, etc. But, on the other hand, it's quite rangey: It goes down at the end ("if not I'll just die") and way up on the "other" of "know each other very well". I think it would be truer to say that Bacharach wrote the tune for a trumpet player: It sings like a trumpet solo, with a kind of beautiful translucence to its crescendi. In that sense, its musical simplicity is deceptive. For a lyric writer, it presents a different kind of challenge. What do you write that won't seem too complicated for the tune? Recall what Hal David said to me in this space last week:
Most of us, when we start to write, try to be clever. It takes us a long time to find the confidence to express things simply. But to me the perfect song is one which sounds as if the singer's just making it up as he goes along; it unfolds naturally.
I think this is the best example of that in the David catalogue. It's what gives "This Guy's In Love With You" its special charm. It doesn't seem like a "love song" so much as a guy coming up with words for a love song extemporaneously. On TV, singing it to his wife on the beach at Malibu, the trumpet player appeared to be "just making it up as he goes along". Of course, if you actually did that, it wouldn't come out this good:
When you smile
I can tell
We know each other very well
I show you
I got to know you?
That's one of only two feminine rhymes in the song. Unlike "pneumonia"/"phone ya", it's not in the least bit clever, and that's exactly why it works. It's true to Hal David's sense that the guy should just sound as if he's improvising the sentiment. Likewise, this next bit:
I've heard some talk
They say you think I'm fine
Yes, I'm in love
And what I'd do to make you mine
Tell me now
Is it so?
Don't let me be the last to know...
That's what David means by the "confidence" to express things simply. Johnny Mercer used to say that writing music takes more talent but writing lyrics takes more courage - because most writers' reaction on putting those words to those notes would be that people would laugh. They don't laugh at the simplicity of the tune, but they quite often jeer at the simplicity of the words that sit on top of it. So the temptation is always to pull back from the simplicity, to complicate the thought, obscure the image. It takes a lot of (as David says) "confidence" not to. But that's what gives the song its distinctive combination of spontaneity and intensity. And, by the time the arrangement gets to its big climactic pounding, the lyricist simplifies even further, abandoning rhyme entirely:
I need your love
I want your love
Say you're in love
In love with this guy...
It was a TV variety show moment: There were a lot of them in the Sixties. But, when this show was over, viewers besieged the CBS switchboard demanding to know what that song was that Herb was singing to Mrs Alpert and what record was it on. The thought had never occurred to Alpert, Bacharach or David. "I did it as a favor," said Burt. "I conducted the orchestra, left the Gold Star Studios, and got in the car. If you'd said to me the song would be Number One a month later, I would have laughed." Alpert had made the Top 40 many times as an instrumentalist. But this was to be his very first Number One. Bacharach & David had had many American hits and two British Number Ones (with Michael Holliday and Perry Como). But this was their first American Number One. Over a decade later, with the release of "Rise" in 1979, Herb Alpert became the only pop act in the history of the Billboard Hot One Hundred to get to Number One as both a vocalist and an instrumentalist.
"This Guy" was too good to stay on the beach with Mr and Mrs Alpert. I believe Eydie Gorme was the first gal to sing it as "This Girl's In Love With You", and thereby resolve any lingering "Sky's In Love With You" confusion. In my disc-jockey days, I liked to play Dionne Warwick's "This Girl" back to back with Herb's "This Guy", the one as the answer to the other. Written off as cheesy easy listening in 1968, by the time Noel Gallagher of Oasis sang it with Burt himself on the piano at the Royal Festival Hall in 1996 "This Guy's In Love With You" had outlasted almost everything else from the era. Today everybody does it - Harry Connick, Dave Koz, Steve Tyrell, Mr and Mrs Regis Philbin. But that first Herb Alpert vocal full of yearning for the (then) Mrs Alpert is still hard to beat.
Not long afterwards, they got a call from Hollywood for a new picture, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. Aside from Bacharach's orchestral score, one song was required, for a bucolic interlude in which Butch (Paul Newman) puts Sundance's gal Etta (Katharine Ross) on the handlebars of a newfangled gizmo called a "bicycle" and takes her for a spin.
"'Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head' was my title," Bacharach told me. "I looked at the scene with the bicycle and it just came into my head. Hal didn't like it." Nobody likes to be boxed in, and that title does a lot of boxing. At MGM two decades earlier, Arthur Freed had told Comden & Green to go and write a film called Singin' In The Rain:
"All we knew," Betty Comden liked to say, "is that somewhere we'd have to have a scene where it was raining and a guy was singing."
"In it," added Adolph Green.
When you're given "Raindrops Keep Falling My Head", all you know is that somewhere you're going to have a head and raindrops are falling. On it.
You can understand why Hal David was wary of being confined to a song scenario that didn't seem to have much to do with the movie. So he kept rejecting "Raindrops Keep Falling" and proposing alternatives. "None of them seemed to work as well," Bacharach told me. "I think it was because I'd been scoring the picture and I'd seen it so many times, far more than Hal. And every time I watched that scene I heard that title. When you're scoring a film, you serve the story, the plot, the characters. And that title just seemed right."
So Hal David quit grumbling and got to it. And, if nothing else, the unwanted title brought forth a most unusual image from the lyricist in the song's very first rhyme:
Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head
And just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed
Nothing seems to fit
Those Raindrops Are Falling On My Head, they keep falling...
Steve Tyrell says Burt Bacharach conceived the tune as his version of a Bob Dylan song, and you can sort of hear that, even though it's in a slightly modified version of standard AABA form. And Tyrell even manages to demonstrate the point by singing Hal David's easy, sunny lyric in a Dylanesque croak:
So I just did me some talkin' to the sun
And I said I didn't like the way he got things done
Sleepin' on the job
Those Raindrops Are Falling On My Head, they keep falling...
"We wrote the song with Paul Newman in mind," said Hal David. "Not for him to sing but the character of Butch Cassidy. You don't write for the singer who's going to be singing over the scene. You should write for the character and what the scene has to say." In America's Songs, Philip Furia and Michael Lasser write that "David gives the lyric an offhanded quality that feels very close to the understated spinning of yarns, although the release breaks with Butch's laconic manner. It's impossible to imagine the shrewd, skeptical Cassidy ever saying":
But there's one thing I know
The blues they send to meet me
Won't defeat me
It won't be long
Till happiness steps up to greet me...
Oh, I don't know. It's excellent film writing: Without a trace of period feel, the song is absolutely right for that moment in the picture. Whenever I see it, I find I've always forgotten the bit where Etta is in the hayloft and Butch is bicycling round the barnyard doing a bit of stunt riding - one foot on the bike seat, the other leg up in the air behind him, that sort of thing. Bacharach suddenly lurches into self-conscious vaudevillian pastiche, the sort of thing he's too much his own man to ever be very good at (see also the "comic" bits of Casino Royale). And then there's the moment when Butch goes crashing, somewhat improbably, through a split-rail fence and finds himself confronting a cranky bull, to whom he winks. But they're details. It's the overall spirit of the scene that stays with you. Yet, at the time, very few singers seemed to sense the possibility of any magic in the marriage of that dramatic moment and that song. Bacharach wanted Ray Stevens ("Everything Is Beautiful", "The Streak", "Ahab The Arab", etc) to sing "Raindrops", and arranged to show him the film. Stevens liked the movie but turned down the song. Bacharach & David took it to the aforementioned Bob Dylan. He wasn't interested, either. That left a guy whom Burt had just taken under his wing more or less at Dionne Warwick's request: B J Thomas. It was a big hit - and then everyone did it.
And since then? Well, raindrops began falling on Bacharach & David's heads almost immediately. A film musical of Lost Horizon turned into a nightmare and bust up the team more or less for good. Bacharach stayed famous and successful and had hits with his new wife and writing partner Carole Bayer Sager, but I don't think "That's What Friends Are For" or "Arthur's Theme" are what anybody has in mind when they rave about how great Burt Bacharach is. On the other hand, whatever one feels about Hal David's "To All The Girls I've Loved Before", some of his other songs with Albert Hammond - "99 Miles From LA", "It Never Rains In Southern California" - have something of the same quality as those Bacharach & David songs. Maybe the other guy was more essential to that so-called "Bacharach sound" than anybody realized.
At the time, Bacharach & David were regarded as Tin Pan Alley throwbacks, easy-listening guys serving Dionne Warwick, Jack Jones, the Carpenters and somehow managing to hold on in an age of rock supergroups and singer-songwriters. "The other day," Elvis Costello said to me back when he was touring with Bacharach, "this German guy was giving Burt a hard time because he'd never got into rock 'n' roll. And Burt said, well, if you've just come out of the army and you're studying composition with Henry Cowell and listening to Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Haley doesn't sound that hip. And I can see that now." Forty years on, the Velvet Underground, Jefferson Airplane, you name it, all sound as quaintly dated as Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians. But Bacharach & David wound up cooler than ever. "It's like the clothes from the Sixties," said Burt. "They don't work anymore. A lot of the songs don't work anymore." And he flashed me a big, perfect smile. "But some songs do."
You see this guy? His name's Hal David, and writing songs that "sound as if the singer's just making it up as he goes along" is what he did with deceptive ease, and very well, for six decades. And, although he was modest and self-deprecating, I hope he knew how much he was appreciated:
I've heard some talk
They say you think I'm fine.
~You can hear Hal David's two James Bond theme songs, sung by Louis Armstrong and Shirley Bassey, in our special SteynOnline audio tribute to 007's music man, John Barry.
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