Our Song of the Week this week is celebrating its 50th anniversary this Easter weekend. That's to say, if you'd been to your local fleapit in mid-April 1967 to see Casino Royale (not the Daniel Craig film, but a very hit-and-miss spoof of 007), amidst all the leaden misfires and labored jollity, you might have perked up when wafting across the auditorium, for the very first time, came this:
The Look Of Love
Is in your eyes
The look your smile can't disguise
The Look Of Love
Is saying so much more...
The men who wrote that song were Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and they had a point. "The Look Of Love" was indeed saying so much more - at any rate, so much more than Casino Royale was saying, which is why it hung around over the next three decades. Indeed, it said even more after the attack on the World Trade Center at the dawn of the new century. George Will cited the presence on the hit parade of Diana Krall's CD of the same name as one of the hopeful cultural trends of America post-9/11. In The Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout agreed. He'd been sitting in a New York McDonald's tuned to some young persons' radio station when, instead of the usual ghastly caterwauling, "The Look of Love" drifted over the speakers. "Is Diana Krall's current popularity a fluke?" mused Mr Teachout. "I've been thinking that it might have a little something to do with September 11... Unless I miss my guess, beauty is becoming fashionable again."
It's safe to say he missed his guess. Fifteen years on, the Top 40 is more vulgar, more witless, more pneumatic than ever. So much for the return of beauty. How grand it would be if "everything" had indeed "changed" on 9/11 - if on September 12th the massed ranks of gangsta rappers had gone on stage ready to slough off old favorites like "Sit On This, Bitch" only to open their mouths and find themselves warbling "Moonlight Becomes You" to a gorgeous string arrangement by Axel Stordahl as their retinue of hoes and muthaf**kers sat dumbstruck in terror. Alas, a return to standards, either in the George Will or George Gershwin sense, is further off than ever. Indeed, Burt Bacharach's own response to the Bush era and the war on terror was a new album in which, for the first time, he wrote his own lyrics. He called up Elvis Costello to ask if he'd sing on a track called "Who Are These People?" "What's it about?" asked Costello.
"Things really have to change or we're all f**ked," said Bacharach.
"What are the lyrics?" asked Costello.
"Those are the lyrics," said Bacharach.
So much for beauty. A few years back, when some reformed British rocker hit the charts with a cover version of a Billie Holiday staple, "That Old Devil Called Love," I asked its composer, a lovely lady called Doris Fisher, whether this heralded a return to the good old days. "Ha!" she scoffed. "They always say that, every time there's an exception to the rule. But that's all it is." There's always room for one exception. And for a while Diana Krall's "Look Of Love" was such an omnipresent exception that even the shrewdest observers thought it was "saying so much more" about where we're headed.
But Bacharach & David always were an exception to whatever else was happening, whether in the Oughts or the Sixties. And, as pop fashions have come and gone, "The Look Of Love" and the rest of their catalogue have somehow and endured and prospered. Hal David was born in New York on May 25th 1921; Burt Bacharach followed seven Mays later - May 12th 1928, in Kansas City. And, if you're doing a bit of rough math on your fingers and toes, you'll have worked out that both men belong to the pre-rock generation yet had their greatest run of success in the 1960s, when the likes of "The Look Of Love" and "I Say A Little Prayer" and "Make It Easy On Yourself" were competing on the charts with Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. Bacharach & David were one of the most famous songwriting teams in the world back then, if only because the very notion of a songwriting team - Lerner & Loewe, Rodgers & Hammerstein - seemed faintly quaint. Yet in the age of the "singer-songwriter" Bacharach & David were a hit writing partnership.
Burt Bacharach, the music guy, was the famous one - a conductor-pianist, a celebrity and a star, the embodiment of what they called in Britain, somewhat to his bewilderment, "the Bacharach sound". "I think it was something to do with the flugelhorns," he once told me. Women, in particular, grew very flugelhorny in his presence. He was a bona fide sex symbol. "Every songwriter looks like a dentist," said Sammy Cahn, "except Burt Bacharach." Hal David made a passable dentist, and thus generated fewer magazine covers and gossip columns, content for the most part to be the other fellow to Burt's Bacharach. The singer Steve Tyrell, who started as an A&R guy at Scepter Records, worked on, among others, the recording session for Dionne Warwick's single of "The Look Of Love". He knew well both Burt and Hal: They were his first break. So a couple of years back, in a period when he was releasing an album every week, a desperate publicist thought now might be the time for him to return to his roots and make a CD of 14 Bacharach & David songs. Tyrell consulted Hal David about a couple of lyric rewrites to masculinize the chick songs ...and yet he still called the thing Back To Bacharach. Nobody thanks his dentist.
The general assumption was that Burt was the great artist, Hal the solid craftsman who did a good professional job. Some scholars go further than that. In his tome The American Songbook, Ken Bloom writes:
There are three kinds of songs: those in which the music and lyric are equal in importance (think Gershwin), those in which the lyric is more important than the music (think Sylvia Fine), and those in which the music far overshadows the lyrics (think Bacharach and David).
Blimey. As we've noted before, Ira Gershwin is a very problematic lyricist: No one could seriously argue that the lyric of "I've Got A Crush On You, Sweetie Pie" or "The Man I Love" ("Someday he'll come along... and he'll be big and strong") are the equal of the tune, and I'd contend that that mismatch is already denting the longevity of certain terrific George Gershwin melodies; posterity-wise, he'd be in much better shape if he'd written with, say, Dorothy Fields ("The Way You Look Tonight"). As for the second category, insofar as there are songs in which the lyric is more important than the music, Sylvia Fine's no example thereof. Nobody sang her songs except her husband, Danny Kaye, and even he took the precaution of making them marginally less unfunny by rattling them off at express speed. (I'll make one slight qualification to the preceding: "Lullaby In Ragtime" is not without a modest appeal.)
Which brings us to Bacharach and David. On, say, Gene Pitney's masterpiece "Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa" (1963), I love Bacharach's psycho mariachi trumpets. But that's an orchestrational ornamentation. The song is driven by David's very artfully poised lyric:
I had to write to say that I won't be home anymore
'Cause something happened
While I was drivin' home and I'm not the same anymore
Oh, I was only Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa
Only one day away from your arms
I saw a welcoming light
And stopped to rest for the night
And that is when I
Likewise, "Alfie" (1966), for which David wrote the lyric first and Bacharach then set it. Many writers are minded to muse philosophically - "What's it all about?" - but not many would wish to do so within the constraints of a song bearing a blokey Brit name like "Alfie". David pulled it off so well that it's Bacharach's favorite among his own compositions. He also admires the breezy distillation of an entire ethos in "Do You Know The Way To San Jose?"
LA is a great big freeway
Put a hundred down and buy a car
In a week, maybe two, they'll make you a star
Weeks turn into years
How quick they pass
And all the stars
That never were
Are parking cars
And pumping gas
That's wonderfully written. The Gershwin comparison is relevant only in the sense that, temperamentally, Hal David was content to play Ira to Bacharach's George. Like George Gershwin, Burt squired glamorous women of the era (Angie Dickinson). Like Ira, Hal rarely got mentioned by celebrity magazines unless they were profiling his composing partner. But, on the big Bacharach numbers, David more than did his job. In fact, he made Bacharach sing easier. The tunes were certainly more interesting than the average rock number, in both their harmonies and their shifts of time-signatures, but they never sounded tricksy because Hal David's words made them sing so effortlessly. "I marvel at Hal's selflessness," Elvis Costello said to me after his own collaboration with Bacharach. "He always served the music."
David liked simplicity. "Most of us, when we start to write, try to be clever," he told me some years ago. "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." The example he quoted that day was Irving Berlin:
What'll I Do
With just a photograph
To tell my troubles to?
He described the Berlin waltzes of the early Twenties as "the quintessential popular songs". In 1987, while his wife Anne was dying of cancer, David chanced to hear Liza Minnelli and Michael Feinstein's medley of Berlin's "Always", "Remember" and "What'll I Do". "At a very difficult time of my life," he said to me, "that recording meant so much more to me than anything else around. In three minutes, a song can touch a chord and, ever after, define certain moments for you - more than books, plays or any of the supposedly more difficult forms."
As a young man in Brooklyn, he didn't know Irving Berlin but he knew a lot of other writers. His older brother Mack was a professional lyricist, and young Hal knew some of the other local fellows who'd broken into Tin Pan Alley, such as Jack Lawrence and Arthur Altman, writers of our Song of the Week #122 "All Or Nothing At All". Mack David's catalogue includes the English lyric to "La Vie En Rose", and a big Johnny Mercer hit "Candy", and Duke Ellington's "I'm Just A Lucky So-And-So", and "This Is It", Bugs and Daffy and Porky and the gang's big "on-with-the-show" theme for "The Bugs Bunny Show". He also wrote "Sunflower", a country-ish number that was a modest hit for Frank Sinatra and made a ton more money after an out-of-court settlement in a plagiarism suit over the marked similarities between "Sunflower" and the later song "Hello, Dolly!" As that ragbag of credits suggests, it's not easy being a jobbing lyric-writer with no regular composing partner. Mack David advised his younger brother to go into journalism instead.
For a while, Hal did. But songs were what he wanted to write, and in the years before he met Bacharach he had a few hits: "Broken Hearted Melody", for Sarah Vaughan, is still played; "The Four Winds And The Seven Seas", for Vic Damone, not so much. My favorite David song from this period is a floral novelty Sinatra had a hit with in 1950:
Daisy is darling
Iris is sweet
Lily is lovely
Blossom's a treat
Of all the sweethearts
I've yet to meet
Still I finally chose
An American Beauty Rose...
Well, you get the idea, but David certainly keeps it coming:
Why she's clingier
And she's zingier
Than Black-Eyed Susan
Than Mabel in June...
Burt, meanwhile, was studying composition with Darius Milhaud and Henry Cowell. He wrote a Sonatina for Violin, Oboe and Piano. For half a century, he's read that Bacharach & David harken back to an older tradition, to the Great American Songbook. But, in fact, Bacharach is a more fully-formed musician than, say, Jerome Kern or Richard Rodgers. He is, unlike them, his own orchestrator. Almost twenty years ago, I spent an afternoon watching Bacharach rehearsing his string section in the lobby of the Chicago Theatre, preparatory to a concert that evening. Afterwards, he flossed, playing a different kind of string. Elvis Costello and I stood off to the sides, Elvis breezily chirping along to Hal David's lyrics, word perfect, like a beefier, pastier Dionne Warwick. I knew the words, too, but I preferred to watch in silence - trying to figure out whether Bacharach was approaching what he was putting them through as a song, a composition, an arrangement, a section, a part... I do know he was trying to pull from them all manner of nuances that no known system of musical notation has yet figured out a way to put on the page. Framed by the theatre's classical columns and gilded sconces, it was like watching a supercool Palm Court ensemble.
What I took away from the occasion was that Bacharach writes standards, but doesn't necessarily like standards. He has no interest in hearing "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" as a bossa nova, or "Anyone Who Had A Heart" as an up-tempo fingersnapper. If his original record has flugels, he doesn't want to hear it played on trumpets. If the saxes are counting straight, he doesn't want to hear them swung. And he likes his time-signatures. He doesn't want a jazz waltz put into 4/4, as Sinatra did with "Wives And Lovers". Time signatures are a Bacharach signature, changing through a song according to what Bacharach feels it needs. As a result, not all the new recordings are congenial to him. "What's the girl's name who did the single for Best Friend's Wedding?" he asked me, when the subject turned to "I Say A Little Prayer".
I'd forgotten, but it turned out to be Diane King, who did a sort of reggae version, "Me Say A Little Prayer".
"I don't particularly love that. I'm glad it was a hit, but I don't know why they had to change the 3/4 bar." He's referring to the way Miss King smoothed out the "Forever, forever you'll stay in my heart..." section, which shifts back and forth between 4/4 and 3/4. In eliminating the tempo changes and several syllables, she made the song more ordinary. But then, as Sinatra said, giving Bacharach a shout-out from the stage in Vegas long ago, "He's a helluva composer. He writes in hat sizes - seven and three-quarters."
And once he's got the hat he doesn't even want to raise or lower it. It's not just orchestration and arrangement and tempo; he doesn't even like key changes. Latterly, he refused to tour with Dionne Warwick because her voice has changed, and she likes to do her old Bacharach & David songs a fourth down - and he literally can't bear to listen to her sing them in those keys.
After Milhaud et al, Bacharach served a more conventional showbiz apprenticeship as pianist for Vic Damone and Marlene Dietrich. As for rock'n'roll, he wasn't that interested. Elvis Costello told me about watching a German interviewer "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 and the Comets doesn't sound that hip.' And I can see that."
He went to New York's famous Brill Building to write songs and they paired him with an older guy who came in from the suburbs to write lyrics every day. But even Bacharach & David took a while to figure out Bacharach & David: Their first hits - "The Story Of My Life" for Michael Holliday in 1957, "Magic Moments" for Perry Como in 1958 - sound closer to "American Beauty Rose" than to "I Say A Little Prayer" or "A House Is Not A Home".
But in 1962 they asked a jobbing vocalist called Dionne Warwick to come in and sing "Make It Easy On Yourself". She thought she was making a single. In fact, Burt and Hal just needed someone to do a demo they could pass to Jerry Butler, the guy they had in mind to record it. Dionne was not happy when she found out, and yelled at them, "Don't make me over, man!" - ie, "Don't screw me over." Hal liked the phrase, and, modifying its meaning to "Take me as I am", wrote it up for Dionne. "Don't Make Me Over" is, I think, the first Bacharach & David song that sounds as what we think of by that description - that's to say, a harmonically adventurous ballad with a vernacular lyric that approximates to what the Golden Age songwriters might have come up with if they'd shown up 30 years later and rock'n'roll had never happened. After a while, it became their default style: "Anyone Who Had A Heart", "Always Something There To Remind Me", "Walk On By", "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself"... During his Austin Powers revival twenty years ago, I was sent a boxed set of Bacharach classics, and I remember really looking forward to sticking it in the CD player and then being kind of disappointed at how samey "the Bacharach sound" was after the first couple of dozen. My favorites from these years are the anomalies - Tom Jones bellowing "What's New, Pussycat? Whoa-o-o-o-o-oah!" or the jazzy little waltz they wrote for the film Wives And Lovers that Hal David told me he thought was "too hip to be a hit". But Jack Jones made it one. And then people started complaining it was chauvinist. A few years ago, I had a vague idea for an album called Songs For Swingin' Sexists, comprised mostly of tunes from the "Girl Talk" era. Bacharach & David's "Wives And Lovers" would certainly make the cut:
Hey, little girl
Comb your hair
Fix your make-up
Soon he will be at the door
Don't think because
There's a ring
On your finger
You needn't try anymore...
Elvis Costello told me that he thought Hal David's lyric was meant to be "ironic". "Oh, come on," I said. "There's not the slightest evidence he meant it as anything other than for real." But poor old Elvis felt he had at least to make an effort to justify the pleasure he took from the song. A few hours after he'd advanced his "ironic" argument, I saw him sing it, in a very stripped down arrangement, accompanied by Burt at the piano. He did a grand job, but it still wasn't ironic.
When it comes to less controversial boy-meets-girl stuff, David's great strength is strong titles and lyric concepts. He doesn't always advance them as far as he might, but he doesn't need to: "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself", "There's Always Something There To Remind Me", "What The World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love" - the title's half the song, and it's good enough to carry the rest. In 1967, Bacharach was scoring a picture called Casino Royale - nothing like the recent reboot, but a 007 all-star spoof (David Niven, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, Deborah Kerr, etc) that's all but unwatchable today. Bacharach's score doesn't help: It has its moments (the title theme), but the forced, nudging quality of his "funny" music is at odds with anything happening on screen. On our John Barry podcast, Tim Rice talks about about Bacharach and John Barry (house composer for the Bond films), and we discussed certain qualities they had in common. But, after watching the Bacharach Casino Royale, I realised how very grateful I was that no one had asked Burt to score Goldfinger. At any rate, Bacharach was watching an early cut of the film, and the memorable seduction scene with Ursula Andress. It's not entirely for real - it's with Peter Sellers, after all - but Ursula underdressed was enough to inspire the composer to write a smoldering sax theme. That's what it was meant to be: An instrumental. But it was so obviously a vocal line that David was called on to supply a lyric. He wrote:
The Look Of Love
Is in your eyes
The look your smile can't disguise
The Look Of Love
Is saying so much more
Than just words could ever say
And what my heart has heard
Well, it takes my breath away...
With or without words, Bacharach was immensely attentive to the orchestration: The spare intro, the string obbligato, the sax... It all fits so right, and "The Look Of Love" is such a great title you wonder why no one ever used it before. In fact, someone had - Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen in a ring-a-ding-dinger for Sinatra five years earlier. In this case, "The Look Of Love" is "the look that leaves you real shook" - a quintessential Sammy line. There's nothing wrong with their "Look Of Love". It does its job in the Frank/Nelson Riddle/Cahn & Van Heusen style, even if it does sound as if the boys wrote it in five minutes. But it doesn't quite grasp what a great title it's got. Sammy Cahn hated guys who "don't respect title". Cahn & Van Heusen wrote a song called "Only The Lonely" and, after Roy Orbison did the same a few years later, Sammy told me "I have a certain antipathy toward Mr Orbison". Likewise, toward Cyndi Lauper re "Time After Time". But he conceded to me, in a rare moment of self-reflection, that "Look Of Love"-wise Bacharach & David had rung more juice out of the concept than he and Van Heusen. "The Look Of Love" is better than the film deserves, but it's just right for that moment. If you ever found yourself on a sofa with Ursula Andress late at night in a small apartment, this is the song you'd write. This "Look" is in close-up: Musically and lyrically, it's very intense. And then, characteristically Bacharach, you get the extra beats and, characteristically David, the lyric's so deft it seems as natural as walking. The controlled observation of the main theme yields to the anticipatory ecstasy of the release:
I can hardly wait to hold you
Feel my arms around you
How long I have waited
Waited just to love you
Now that I have found you
You've got The Look Of Love
It's on your face
A look that time can't erase...
That's Hal David at his best, serving the music superbly. And then it all wanders off a bit:
Be mine tonight
Let this be just the start
Of so many nights like this
Let's take a lover's vow
And then seal it with a kiss...
And that's Hal David on autopilot - trite sentiments ("be mine tonight"), formulaic expressions ("seal it with a kiss"). But it doesn't matter - because the central idea is so strong and so in tune with the music. Dusty Springfield's performance on the soundtrack is the highlight of the picture. In my disc-jockey days, I had a mild preference for Gladys Knight taking it slow and soulful, aside from the occasional interjection from her oddly orgasmic Pips. But really it's very hard for a female vocalist to go wrong with this song. To be honest, that's why I was flummoxed by the success of the Diana Krall version. I'm all for distant Hitchcockian cool - I've got a ton of Julie London albums - but Miss Krall sounded awfully detached from the song's sentiments. Pottering around the room about a year after "The Look Of Love" came out, I heard her moaning low from the TV in the corner and thought "Don't tell me they're still plugging this album," but no: "The Look of Love" had moved seamlessly on from selling CDs to selling the new Honda Lethargo or Toyota Catatonic or whatever car commercial it was. If Terry Teachout is excited to hear it in McDonald's, good for him. If it can sell cars, it's certainly dandy music to buy hamburgers to:
The Look Of Love
Is in your fries
The look that says
One must respect a hit, and Diana Krall has certainly claimed the song for 21st century ears. But I miss the erotic crackle of Gladys Knight, and Dusty musicalizing the look of Ursula Andress in swingin' London:
How long I have waited
Waited just to love you
Now that I have found you
Don't ever go
Don't ever go
I love you so...
It's harder than you might think to write "Don't ever go" and then be assured enough to follow it with "Don't ever go". But the line might have come in useful a few years later when Bacharach & David were working on a musical remake of Frank Capra's film Lost Horizon. They were a team, and a very successful one. But Bacharach was in the studio late one night working on the picture's background score, and he thought of David, who, having turned in his lyrics, had flown down to Mexico to play tennis. And the thought rankled. So Burt called Hal and said he reckoned that, instead of their usual 50/50 split, they should move to 60/40 in Bacharach's favor. Partners don't do that. Another lyricist recently told me of coming home to his answering machine to find a message from his composer proposing a similarly lop-sided arrangement. The lyric-writer called his florist and sent round a delightful arrangement spelling out "BUGGER OFF" to be dropped in his collaborator's front yard.
But at the time of Lost Horizon there were no answering machines to shield David, and no 24-hour florists. And Hal had his own rankling thoughts - all those magazine covers drooling over Burt and whichever Swingin' Sixties totty he happened to be squiring that week. If he was the archetypal songwriter who looks like a dentist, how come he felt like the one on the receiving end of a decade-long root-canal? Sixty/forty? Hal said no. Burt said, "F**k you and f**k the picture", and hung up.
The picture was already f**ked. It flopped and made nothing. And 60 per cent of nothing is exactly the same as 40 per cent of nothing. So it would have made no difference to Lost Horizon. But it finished Bacharach & David. Burt declined to write anything for Dionne's new album. So Dionne sued Burt. And then Burt sued Hal. I forget whether Hal sued Dionne, but the courtroom jousting went on for almost a decade. Both men found occasional partners and had occasional hits - "That's What Friends Are For" (Bacharach), "To All The Girls I've Loved Before" (David).
But it was never the same. Maybe the standard critique is right: The music's sophisticated, the words are simple. Because, as Hal David told me, "it takes us a long time to find the confidence to express things simply." And sometimes simple words express simple truths:
Now that I have found you
Don't ever go...