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Music / Burt Bacharach

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"It was a very defining moment when Miles Davis said, 'Hey man, that song, “Alfie,” you wrote was a pretty good song.' I said, 'Jesus, if Miles Davis said it’s a good song, I must be doing okay.'"

Burt Freeman Bacharach (May 12, 1928 – February 3, 2023) was an American composer, songwriter, and record producer who was considered one of the most influential and prolific pop songwriters of the late 20th century. His musical career spanned from the 1950s to the 2020s, but hit its peak during the 1960s and his writing and producing partnership with the lyricist Hal David.

The son of Bert Bacharach, a well-known fashion writer, Burt was born in Kansas City and raised in New York City, but he graduated from McGill University in Montreal. After studying composition with the French classical composer Darius Milhaud, Bacharach started his music career as an employee of the likes of Vic Damone and Marlene Dietrich. He met Hal David in NYC in 1957; the two had a career breakthrough after writing "The Story of My Life" for Marty Robbins and "Magic Moments" for Perry Como. Bacharach, usually with David as lyricist, went on to create multiple songs for artists like Gene Pitney, Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield, The Carpenters, and most notably Dionne Warwick. He also recorded his own music on occasion, though none made as big a splash as his collaborations.

His music also made it to stage, film, and TV, such as the song "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the scores for Casino Royale (1967) and Arthur (1981). Along with David and producer David Merrick, he also wrote the musical Promises, Promises.

While he was classically trained, Bacharach also incorporated plenty of jazz into his music, which is occasionally characterized as "easy listening".

He also appeared As Himself in various works like Austin Powers, Nip/Tuck, and The Nanny.

He was married four times (to actresses Paula Stewart and Angie Dickinson, lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, and ski instructor Jane Hansen) and had four children (a daughter with Dickinson, an adopted son with Sager, a son and daughter with Hansen). He published a candid memoir called Anyone Who Had a Heart in 2013, with much of it devoted to his relationship with his eldest daughter Nikki, who struggled with a serious case of Asperger Syndrome before taking her own life in 2007.

Bacharach died in his home of natural causes on February 8, 2023 at the age of 94.


In addition to the hundreds of songs he wrote for other artists and several compilation rereleases, Bacharach's own discography includes:

    open/close all folders 
  • Hit Maker!: Burt Bacharach plays the Burt Bacharach Hits
  • Burt Bacharach
  • Portrait in Music
  • Living Together
  • Futures
  • Woman
  • Blue Umbrella (5-Song EP with Daniel Tashian)

    Film Scores 


Tropes in his works:

  • All Take and No Give: The theme from Alfie has the lines (by Hal David) "What's it all about, when you sort it out, Alfie? Are we meant to take more than we give?" Depending on how it is performed, the song can be from the perspective of a character who is a Giver to Alfie's Taker, or, if sung from a narrative perspective instead of a character perspective, can be a comment on Alfie's Taker personality in general.
  • Anti-Love Song: "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" (words by Hal David), in which the singer bemoans her own love life and warns other women off the topic.
  • Break-Up Song: "Always Something There to Remind Me" (words by Hal David), in which the singer can't stop seeing their ex-lover in the locations around them.
  • Casting Gag:
  • Christmas Songs: Not very many in his catalogue. The most notable one is the novelty tune "The Bell That Couldn't Jingle".
  • Compilation Re-release: His music has been compiled new releases multiple times, such as The Look of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection in 2001 and Magic Moments: The Definitive Burt Bacharach Collection in 2008.
  • The Cover Changes the Gender: The Bacharach-David song "Kentucky Bluebird (Take a Message to Martha)", first recorded by Lou Johnson, became "Message to Michael" when Dionne Warwick had a hit with it. They'd originally forbade her from doing the song, because they felt the storyline (about a small town narrator pining for The One Who Made It Out) made more sense being sung by a man, so she just recorded it without their involvement.
  • Creator Cameo: His voice can be clearly heard among the "sha-la-la-la-la"s in "Baby It's You" by The Shirelles.
  • Divorce in Reno: "Mexican Divorce", first recorded by The Drifters, with lyrics by Bob Hilliard about a man who goes looking for his wife and finds her traveling to Juarez for a quickie divorce.
  • Domestic Abuse:
    • "Rain on Me", by Ashanti (Douglas), has her address the pains and challenges of facing, and then overcoming, an abusive relationship. The music video also combines this with Dramatic Thunder.
    • The 1970 Dionne Warwick song "Check Out Time" is a first person account of a woman leaving an abusive relationship.
  • Doo-Wop Progression: "Magic Moments" has the I-vi-IV-V progression in its verses.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: One of his first hits as a composer was the wacky theme song for The Blob, with lyrics by Hal David's brother Mack.
  • Instrumental: A lot of his own albums featured instrumental versions of hits he'd wrote for others, plus some original instrumentals, two of which made it onto the Look of Love box set ("Nikki", "Pacific Coast Highway").
  • It Will Never Catch On: "Trains and Boats and Planes" was written for Gene Pitney, but he turned it down, telling Bacharach that it was "not one of your best". Dionne Warwick would have a hit with it in America, while versions by Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas and Bacharach himself scored big in Britain.
  • Kids Rock: The chipper "Saturday Sunshine" from 1963, his first Billboard Hot 100 hit as an artist, features vocals by a chorus, but the lead part is sung by a rather shrill young boy.
  • Location Song:
    • The Dionne Warwick song "Do You Know The Way To San José?" about a native of San José who didn't make it in Los Angeles and thus returns to her hometown.
    • "Hasbrook Heights", about suburban life in New Jersey, though the actual town's name is Hasbrouck Heights.
  • Please, Don't Leave Me: "Any Day Now"
    I know I shouldn't want to keep you
    If you don't want to stay
    Until you're gone forever
    I'll be holding on for dear life
    Holding you this way
    Begging you to stay
  • Pop-Star Composer:
    • By the time Lost Horizon was being planned Bacharach and David were already music industry titans and were brought on to score the film.
    • Neil Simon asked the producer of Promises, Promises to hire Bacharach and David, neither of whom had written a stage musical before, to bring a contemporary pop sound to Broadway.
  • Rock Opera: On the Flip Side, a musical written by Bacharach and David and broadcast on ABC in 1966, starring Ricky Nelson as a former rock star struggling to regain popularity, is sometimes considered an early example.
  • Shaped Like Itself: "After the Fox": "Who is the Fox? I am the Fox! Who are you? I am me! Who is me? Me is a thief!"
  • Step Up to the Microphone: His solo albums generally featured instrumentals and chorus vocals, but Bacharach sang lead on a few select songs. By his own admission he didn't have a good singing voice at all (a husky baritone with flat phrasing), but he felt that he could sometimes give a song a little extra Narm Charm with his vocals. On "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" and his other Bacharach-David produced songs, B.J. Thomas kind of sounds like a more polished version of Bacharach.
  • Stepford Suburbia: "Paper Mache", a song written for Dionne Warwick.
    Twenty houses in a row
    Eighty people watch a TV show
    Paper people, cardboard dreams
    How unreal the whole thing seems
  • Uncommon Time: A major trademark of his style, as his songs will often shift between several time signatures, and be based around oddball tempos, but done in a way that seems effortless and unnoticeable to the untrained ear. "Anyone Who Had a Heart" is often cited as the prime example in his work, since it starts off in a non-standard time signature (which sheet music publishers have interpreted as either 5/4, 9/8 or even 15/8!), then changes to a different one in the very next line (again, the sheet music varies, with 4/4 and 6/8 both getting cited), then shifts signatures throughout (including some 7/8). Good luck to the lyricist and singer having to deal with all that, and Hal David and Dionne Warwick both admitted the song was a struggle for them.
  • With Lyrics: The soundtrack for Arthur (1981) includes two pop songs that do not appear in the film but are With Lyrics versions of instrumental pieces from Burt Bacharach's underscore: "Money" became Ambrosia's "Poor Rich Boy" and "It's Only Love" became a Stephen Bishop song with the same title.


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