Magic Moments (2008) liner notes
Every definition you choose seems to offer a contradiction. The music is complex, yet approachable, overwhelming charged but never sentimental. The songs are highly confidential and yet they are known to whole world. The last expression that ever comes to my mind when I hear Burt's songs is the one containing the words, "listening" and "easy". Those who imagine the music in those terms may be listening but I don't think they are really hearing. Sure, the tone of Bacharach songs is always elegant, the rhythms gentle and persuasive but the effect is often torrid, even erotic.
When I first heard, "Anyone Who Had A Heart", I didn't even know the word for the way it made me feel. When you think about it, there was really something quite subversive about such adult music finding a home in the hit parade. Consider what is really going on in the music of, "Are You There With Another Girl?," "The Look of Love" or the bridge "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself," when idea of losing the love of someone is represented as if It were vertigo. Add the perfectly chosen words of Hal David's lyric and the meaning of the music is confirmed. The melodic line in some Bacharach songs can push right to far edge of the harmonic possibilities. A moment later, that is a tune that you will never forget.
I remember witnessing a rather literal-minded harangue from a German journalist, who seemed affronted that Burt had found no use for the cruder aspects of 50s rock and roll. Burt responded patiently, "I'd just come out of the army and was studying composition with (contemporary French composer) Darius Milhaud and listening to Dizzy Gillespie on 52nd St. Billy Haley and the Comets just didn't make it for me".
"Here I Am" or the exquisite, "Alfie" could have only come from a writer who like Gershwin or Richard Rodgers, was aware of Ravel but they were written only a year of two after Burt had been delivered R&B smash hits like "Don't Make Me Over," "Walk On By" and "Make It Easy On Yourself." Burt told me once that the musicians on a live date at the Apollo almost rebelled when confronted by the sudden bars of uneven metre that he had written in "Anyone Who Had A Heart." They were probably just trying to count the beats in the bar and not thinking of the erratic pulse that sometimes comes with the desperation of love. Burt said once they trusted the music, everything worked out just fine.
Bacharach songs connect the voices of Marlene Dietrich, Marty Robbins, Perry Como, The Drifters, Chuck Jackson, The Beatles, Gene Pitney, Frank Sinatra, Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones, Jack Jones, Scott Walker, Cilia Black, Issac Hayes and Aretha Franklin. His greatest interpreter is undoubtedly Dionne Warwick, a singularly gifted vocalist who made melodies that would confound many singers seem full of all the grace and soul the composer intended.
Between 1995 and 1998, Burt Bacharach and I wrote twelve songs that became the album, Painted From Memory. Most people would have expected me to act solely as lyricist but Burt went far beyond my wildest expectation in agreeing to co-compose most of our musical collaborations. This is an artist who is still interested in new challenges.
To witness Burt composing in a moment and to sometimes sit next to him on the piano bench, considering the placement of one semi-quaver or the harmonic choice of bass note was both an unconscious masterclass and among the greatest joys of my musical life.
He is still a songwriter who is up at 3am pondering one tiny amendment to a melody and an arranger who will sing the subtlest nuances of phrasing to a Flugel Horn player, those things that lie beyond the written notes on the stave.
When Burt's conscience moved him to write his own lyrics for the At This T1me album, he called me up to sing on, "Who Are These People", a particularly harsh critique of the way the world is headed. I asked Burt to give me a sense of the song. He said, "Things really have to change or we're all fucked". I said, "What are the lyrics?" He said, "Those are the lyrics".
Sadly what the world needs now is not only love but it will always be richer for containing the songs of Burt Bacharach; the familiar and deeply loved, as well as the many gems that still lie waiting to be discovered in his apparently fathomless catalogue.
What is his best song? That could still be next song that he writes.
Elvis Costello 17/09/08
PS. Burt and I just wrote two more...
The Definitive Burt Bacharach Collection liner notes
Elvis Costello's liner notes for Magic Moments - The Definitive Burt Bacharach Collection (2008).