On May 12 of this year, Burt Bacharach turned 89 years young. Since 1952, when he began his career as a professional songwriter with Nat “King” Cole’s recording of the instrumental “Once in a Blue Moon,” hardly a year has gone by without a new Bacharach song. Throughout the seven decades in which he’s been working, Bacharach has enjoyed fruitful collaborations with not only Hal David, but also Bob Hilliard, Carole Bayer Sager, Elvis Costello, and most recently, Steven Sater. Now, the spotlight has been turned on his long partnership with another lyrical voice: Steven Krikorian, a.k.a. singer-songwriter Tonio K. Since 1995, Bacharach and Tonio K have jointly penned songs recorded by artists ranging from Chicago to Ron Isley. Burt Bacharach and Tonio K: Original Demos, just released by the Spanish label Contante y Sonante and authorized by both songwriters, is the first exploration of their collaboration – and it doesn’t disappoint. Its 14 fully-produced demo recordings are all previously unreleased, and feature such talents as Brian Wilson, Dr. Dre, and Bill Champlin.
Bacharach and Krikorian began collaborating in 1995, though the first song they wrote together didn’t appear on an album until 1999. That song, “If I Should Lose You,” appeared in a studio rendition on Chicago’s XXVI: Live, and kicks off this collection in its demo performed by Burt on piano, Billy Valentine on vocals, and Stephen Oberhoff on other instruments. The version here differs considerably from the Chicago recording, which featured Bill Champlin on vocals and the powers of the band’s horn section. (And what Bacharach song wouldn’t be enhanced by brass?) But it was a felicitous first composition for Bacharach and Krikorian, with a memorable hook and beautiful lyrical intensity that shines through in this demo.
In his introduction to the liner notes, producer Gabriel Raya quotes Tonio K recalling his initial meeting with the legendary composer: “Man, if I had been blindfolded, marched into a room with a gun to my head, and given one chance to guess who was playing piano, I would have said Burt Bacharach! You sound just like Burt Bacharach! B.B. laughed and said he hoped that was a good thing, as it’s all he knew how to do.” While these songs are sonically more of a piece with Bacharach’s soft-rock “Carole Bayer Sager” sound than his latter-day “Elvis Costello” period in which he reclaimed his ornate 1960s sound (urged on by his co-composer and lyricist Costello), they’re unmistakably Bacharach in the unexpected chord changes, time signature shifts, and halting piano lines.
In addition to “If I Should Lose You,” Billy Valentine handles the lead on the gorgeously wistful “Tell It to Your Heart,” recorded by Randy Crawford in 2001, and “Love’s Still the Answer,” a sort of belated affirmation to Hal David’s immortal proclamation that “What the World Needs Now is Love.” Dionne Warwick and Ron Isley are among the artists who have taken their turn with this slow-burning ballad. Isley also introduced the moving “Count on Me,” impressively sung here by blue-eyed soul master Bill Champlin. The late Warren Wiebe is heard on the impassioned vocal for “Never Take That Chance Again,” sung in cool fashion by jazz great Diane Schuur in 1999 in a production from Burt’s old friend and engineer, Phil Ramone.
The two highest-profile collaborators here may well be Dr. Dre and Brian Wilson. Dre provided the rhythm loops that became “Go Ask Shakespeare” on Bacharach’s Grammy-winning 2005 solo album At This Time. Rufus Wainwright learned his final vocal from this demo, featuring Bacharach’s own, intimate, and rough-hewn vocals over the same lush orchestral track utilized on the album. With Burt singing the timely lyrics himself, the result is even more affecting than the original. Bacharach and Wilson co-wrote “What Love Can Do” for Brian to sing on the 2007 Target-exclusive CD New Music from an Old Friend. This bright, bouncy tune married Brian’s verse to Burt’s chorus, complemented by Brian’s background countermelodies, resulting in a truly delectable pop nugget that deserved a greater audience. Here is the John Pagano-sung original demo, with Brian’s own stacked harmonies and Burt on piano. (In his exemplary track-by-track liner notes, Tonio K shares his amazing memories of the collaboration between Wilson and Bacharach that reportedly yielded at least one more title; none has ever surfaced other than “What Love Can Do.” He also shares his own remarkable photograph of both gentlemen, beaming side-by-side at the piano.)
In recent years, many of Bacharach’s compositions have only seen recordings in Europe. Germany’s Joana Zimmer debuted “When You Love Somebody” in 2005; this collection presents a demo sung by Donna Taylor with the alternate title and lyric “When You Lose Somebody.” Again, it finds Bacharach and Krikorian in a modern R&B vein. Swedish artist Carola was the first to record the optimistic “Someday” in 2001, sung here by young singer Mimi Paley and featuring a signature horn interlude.
A number of the songs here haven’t received commercial recordings. One such track might be familiar to Bacharach aficionados, however. “Change My Mind,” sung here by Valentine, was previewed on an episode of the sitcom The Nanny. It boasts a quintessentially quirky Bacharach melody of twists, turns, and dynamics. Bacharach and Tonio K reworked it years later as “It Was You” with members of Burt’s band (lead vocal by John Pagano, backgrounds by Josie James) and that version is here, too. (“It Was You” was recorded for the Japanese market by vocalist Sheena Ringo in 2013.)
The urgent power ballad “Where Does Love Go” has Valentine on lead, Burt on piano, and Donna Taylor of Burt’s current touring band on background vocals. It’s one of many tracks here that one can imagine in a vastly different arrangement recalling Bacharach’s “classic” orchestral style. Best of these unheard songs might be the irresistible “Do You?” Sung by Brittany Bertier, this three-way co-write by Bacharach, Tonio K, and the late Jerry Leiber is a breezily uptempo confection in a contemporary soul style, with infectious, Latin-inspired rhythms, and a melodically contrasting verse and chorus. An attractive melody he wrote suggested the title “You and I” to Burt; it’s one of the low-key highlights here.
Contante y Sonante is to be saluted for this top-drawer, beautifully-packaged collection of demos from a legendary (and legendarily vibrant) composer and his talented partner. “Inspiring” is the only word for an artist such as Bacharach who continues to pursue his distinctive musical muse even as he nears his ninth decade. Original Demos has been mastered for release by Jon Astley, and includes a 16-page full-color booklet with Tonio K.’s illuminating notes on the background of every song. This release – limited to 1,000 units worldwide – is available now directly from the label at the link below. Do you hope that Volume 2 is around the corner? I do!
Burt Bacharach and Tonio K., Original Demos (Contante y Sonante CSCD-0117, 2017)
- If I Should Lose You
- Change My Mind
- Never Take That Chance Again
- Tell It to Your Heart
- Where Does Love Go
- Love’s Still the Answer
- Count on Me
- Do You?
- Go Ask Shakespeare (drum loops by Dr. Dre)
- It Was You
- What Love Can Do (featuring Brian Wilson)
- You and I
- When You Love Somebody