If you see me walking down the street, and I start to cry…or smile…or laugh…there’s a good chance I might be listening to a song by Burt Bacharach. Since beginning his songwriting career with 1952’s instrumental “Once in a Blue Moon” as recorded by Nat King Cole, Bacharach has provided the soundtrack to many of our lives, often in tandem with lyricist Hal David. (Their first collaborations date to 1956, including The Harry Carter Singers’ “Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil,” and Sherry Parsons’ “Peggy’s in the Pantry,” a song Bacharach would rightfully rather forget!) A new compilation on the Starbucks Entertainment label is bringing Bacharach’s music to coffeehouses around the world, and is making quite a splash in the U.S., actually opening at a none-too-shabby No. 59 on the Billboard 200. It offers sixteen selections, the majority of them drawn from the most famed period of the composer’s still-thriving career. This was the time when Angie Dickinson was on his arm, the drink was Martini and Rossi, and the composer-conductor-producer- arranger-performer was proclaimed “The Music Man” on the cover of Newsweek. The simply-titled and elegantly-designed Music by Bacharach will take you back to the mid-1960s, when Bacharach matched David’s universal lyrics to sophisticated melodies, the likes of which weren’t seen in pop music. They still aren’t.
Music by Bacharach doesn’t offer any rarities, and doesn’t purport to cover Bacharach’s entire career. (He’s still active today; in 2011, Bacharach scored a hit in the U.K. with his Ronan Keating collaboration When Ronan Met Burt, and also wrote the original score to the musical Some Lovers, which premiered in San Diego.) Instead, it focuses on the halcyon hitmaking era, when Bacharach provided 39 consecutive chart hits for Dionne Warwick alone. Appropriately enough, the collection offers two songs by Warwick, the third part of the Bacharach/David “triangle marriage.” Also figuring prominently with two tracks each are Dusty Springfield and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Bacharach himself participated in nine of the album’s sixteen tracks, with the remaining seven tracks all well-chosen “cover” recordings. Though far from comprehensive, the collection is a potent and well-curated time capsule nonetheless.
Warwick is represented by her first hit (No. 21 pop), “Don’t Make Me Over,” written to order by Bacharach and David for the young firebrand, as well as with her iconic reading of “Walk on By.” Across the pond, many considered Dusty Springfield to be Bacharach’s supreme interpreter, and her catalogue is tapped for the charming “Wishin’ and Hopin’” (originally a Warwick B-side) and the incendiary “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself,” first recorded by Tommy Hunt. Warwick’s own recording arrived two years after Springfield’s, in a rare reversal. Herb Alpert is heard on the theme to Casino Royale as well as on the 1968 “This Guy’s in Love with You,” somewhat unbelievably the very first pop No. 1 for Bacharach and David. Another iconic performance, Jackie DeShannon’s original 1965 take of “What the World Needs Now is Love,” is also included. Warwick followed DeShannon with a 1967 version of the song.
The most recent tracks on Music by Bacharach are two 1990s collaborations. “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” originally a 1963 hit for Warwick, may be one of the most musically challenging of Bacharach’s songs. It announced Dionne on the scene as her first Top 10 hit in 1963, as the singer navigated with ease the tricky time signature shifts (5/4 to 4/4 to 7/8 and back to 5/4). Ronald Isley takes on the song here in a supremely soulful rendition from his 2003 Isley Meets Bacharach. Just a few years earlier, Bacharach had teamed with Elvis Costello for the song “God Give Me Strength,” written for Allison Anders’ film Grace of My Heart. The song’s success led to a full-blown album collaboration, Painted from Memory, which remains one of the strongest sets of songs in either man’s considerable oeuvre. From its opening horn salvo, “God Give Me Strength” announced a return to classic form for Bacharach after his successful detour into modern pop in the 1980s (“On My Own,” “That’s What Friends Are For,” “Arthur’s Theme”). It shares the signature Bacharach sound that’s highlighted on each of the older tracks here.
Hit the jump for much more on Music by Bacharach, including an order link and the full track listing with discography!
Of the tracks lacking the maestro’s direct involvement, Scott Walker leads The Walker Brothers on their dramatic hit version of “Make It Easy on Yourself,” and Astrud Gilberto takes a plaintive “Trains and Boats and Planes” into the bossa nova stratosphere on a cut from her rare 1969 LP I Haven’t Got Anything Better to Do. Like Astrud Gilberto’s selection, Barbra Streisand’s “Alfie” has rarely been anthologized on Bacharach collections. Two of the most essential non-Bacharach recordings of his songs are also present. Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 took “The Look of Love” to another place entirely in 1968, eschewing the seductive, slow-burning sensuality of Dusty Springfield’s original for a glossier, more boisterous (yet still sexy, thanks to Janis Hansen’s lead vocals) interpretation. And Aretha Franklin’s smoldering southern soul-infused “I Say a Little Prayer,” also from 1968, is one of the few outside productions Bacharach has praised fulsomely, going so far as to say it bettered his own. (The others include Thom Bell’s reinvention of “You’ll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart” as recorded by The Stylistics, and Richard Carpenter’s “Close to You” for Carpenters.)
The final song on Music by Bacharach is the composer’s own performance of “The Windows of the World,” one of Hal David’s most heartfelt pleas for peace during the Vietnam era. (Echoing the trajectory of many of his contemporaries, David’s lyrics became more and more socially conscious as the 1960s progressed, but he never lost his ability to speak concisely and directly to listeners through his lyrics.) Although shorn of its lyrics in this instrumental version, the wistful melody still resonates, and its prominent piano makes it a close relative of Bacharach’s Academy Award-winning score to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Compilation producer Steven Stolder contributes a lengthy essay and track-by-track liner notes in this typically lavish Starbucks release. Like Rhino’s still-definitive box set The Look of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection, this single-disc sampler presents the Bacharach and David canon free of kitsch and the startlingly-inaccurate “easy listening” tag, and in the context of the changing musical landscape of the 1960s. As such, there’s a good chance you might not want to walk on by.
Various Artists, Music by Bacharach (Starbucks Entertainment B0016252-02, 2012)
- Dionne Warwick – Don’t Make Me Over
- The Shirelles – Baby It’s You
- Dusty Springfield – Wishin’ and Hopin’
- The Walker Brothers – Make It Easy On Yourself
- Dionne Warwick – Walk On By
- Dusty Springfield – I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself
- Jackie DeShannon – What the World Needs Now is Love
- Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass – Casino Royale
- Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – The Look of Love
- Astrud Gilberto – Trains and Boats and Planes
- Barbra Streisand – Alfie
- Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass – This Guy’s in Love with You
- Aretha Franklin – I Say a Little Prayer
- Ronald Isley – Anyone Who Had a Heart
- Elvis Costello with Burt Bacharach – God Give Me Strength
- Burt Bacharach – The Windows of the World
Track 1 from Presenting…Dionne Warwick, Scepter LP SPS-508, 1963
Track 2 from Baby, It’s You, Scepter LP 504, 1962
Track 3 from Stay Awhile/I Only Want to Be with You, Philips LP PHS-600-133, 1964
Track 4 from Introducing the Walker Brothers, Smash LP SRS-67076, 1965
Track 5 from Make Way for Dionne Warwick, Scepter LP SPS-523, 1964
Track 6 from Dusty, Philips LP PHS-200-156, 1964
Track 7 from This is Jackie DeShannon, Imperial LP 12286, 1965
Track 8 from Sounds Like…Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, A&M LP SP-4124, 1967
Track 9 from Look Around, A&M LP SP-4137, 1968
Track 10 from I Haven’t Got Anything Better to Do, Verve LP V6-8876, 1969
Track 11 from What About Today?, Columbia LP CS 9816, 1969
Track 12 from Beat of the Brass, A&M LP SP-4146, 1968
Track 13 from Aretha Now, Atlantic LP SD-8186, 1968
Track 14 from Here I Am: Isley Meets Bacharach, DreamWorks CD B0001005-02, 2003
Track 15 from Painted from Memory, Mercury CD 538 002-2, 1998
Track 16 from Reach Out, A&M LP SP-4131, 1967