Burt Bacharach, one of the most successful composers of the 20th century, dies at 94

The North-American artist and composer achieved 73 hits in the ‘top 40’ in the US and 52 in the UK, in addition to six Grammys and three Oscars.

The legendary songwriter Burt Bacharach passed away Wednesday of natural causes at the age of 94 at his home in Los Angeles.

It is likely that the name of Burt Bacharach does not ring a bell for many earthlings, but it seems almost impossible to inhabit this planet and not have come across at least a dozen of his songs.

Flagrant exception in a world, that of popular music, truffled by the cult of the first person, the composer from Kansas was the rare paradigm of the creator who remained behind the scenes while his work did not stop shining, time and time again, in the higher positions on the sales charts.

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More than 80 of his titles reached the US charts from as far back as 1957 to very recently. We are talking about a man who would have celebrated his 95th birthday in May and who has been mourned by all pop lovers with a bow tie since it was reported that he had died of natural causes this Wednesday, February 8, at his home in Los Angeles.

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Winner of six Grammy Awards and three Oscars —for Best Original Score, for Two Men and One Fate, and for Best Songs, for Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head, from that same film, and for Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do), from Arthur, the Golden Bachelor – Burt Freeman Bacharach achieved a practically unique feat in pop history: being unmistakable by his writing, not by the timbre of his voice, which he barely bothered to show us.

This intersection between classical melody, light jazz, bossa nova airs and orchestral romanticism was unusual in a universe, that of pop music, in which only three chords (tonic, dominant and subdominant) were enough to substantiate an overwhelming percentage of its titles.

The Look of Love – Burt Bacharach (Easy Piano with Guitar chords sheet music)

For years there was no lack of critics who considered him a dapper, smug musician, too stuffy and petulant by the standards of popular music, but time has only increased the value of a legacy that includes his good half a thousand scores. Even more so since in 1998 he shared a half album with another highly valued and much younger author, Elvis Costello. That superlative Painted From Memory , which curiously is reissued on March 3 in the form of a quadruple disc, served to discover him until then more reticent generations and to vindicate him definitively as one of the greatest authors of all time.

Bacharach was born on May 12, 1928, in Kansas City, although his family soon moved to New York. He studied cello, piano, and drums, became enthralled with the Big Apple’s fledgling jazz scene (his big boyhood heroes were, of course, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie) , and worked as a musician in countless nightclubs, even when the call-up from the army blew him away led to German lands. But it soon became clear to him that his great creative asset was writing, even more so after meeting Hal David, the lyricist with whom he would sign the vast majority of his iconic songs.

The first foray into the American top 20 came in 1957 with The Story Of my Life, for Marty Robbins, which reached number 1 on the London charts. History would repeat itself the following year with Magic Moments Perry Como’s . But the bulk of the activity of the Bacharach/David duo is concentrated in the sixties, a decade for whose soundtrack it would be almost as decisive as the Beatles, Dylan, the Stones or the Beach Boys.

In Bacharach’s consolidation as a major melodist, the figure of Dionne Warwick emerges, a singer who earned a living as a backup singer for the Drifters and who Burt chose as the priority recipient of his pages. Warwick was the owner of a ductile and mysterious voice, more sophisticated than dazzling, and that balance was perfect for songs with much more complex and elaborate structures than was the norm at the time, let alone today.

Dionne brought to success no less than 15 songs by Bacharach and Hal David in the six-year term between 1962 and 1968, songs that it is impossible not to hum in your head just by saying their titles: Do You Know The Way to San José , Walk on by, Anyone who had a heart, Message to Michael , I’ll Never Fall In Love Again (included in the Broadway musical Promises, Promises, another cornerstone), Alfie or the even more popular I Say A Little Prayer , which Warwick nailed in 1967, Aretha Franklin sublimated a year later and since then she has not stopped meeting illustrious recreations and film appearances.

This is, in fact, a constant in the biography of the deceased: its pages have acquired the dimension of classics, are the subject of dozens of renowned readings and become part of the popular heritage of the last 60 years, although many do not know the name of its original signatory.

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Bacharach and David thus became the basic pillars of the Brill Building, the emblematic Broadway office building that concentrated the great American music publishers and in which they wrote the original songs, waiting to find an interpreter, some of the best teams of composers of the 20th century: Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Neil Diamond, Sonny Bono, Bert Berns, Phil Spector and a very long etcetera.

In that hotbed, Bacharach was able to find his own language that went far beyond that easy listening that his detractors blamed on him.

In fact, many of the greats of jazz have ended up embracing and recreating his work, especially since Stan Getz opened that door in 1968 with the monographic album What The World Needs Now: Stan Getz Plays The Burt Bacharach Songbook.

Other highlights of that glorious decade for David and Bacharach include Mexican Divorce (The Drifters), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Gene Pitney), the memorable The Look Of Love (Dusty Springfield), This Guy’s In Love With You (Herb Alpert) or, already in 1970, Close To You, another resounding number 1 with which the world greeted the duo The Carpenters.

Burt Bacharach did not stop publishing several solo albums in the sixties and seventies with first-person versions of his own hits, but the reception of these works was always very discreet. For once, all the focus of attention fell on the work and not on the man who shaped it.

The Bacharach/David partnership dissolved after the soundtrack for Lost Horizon (1973), a resounding failure and, surely, the only significant blot on the service record of a man whose songs have recorded more than a thousand albums of performers over the years.

The cataclysm, punctuated by accusations and cross complaints, was thunderous and painful, but Burt Bacharach would find a new better half for the composition in Carole Bayer Sager, with whom he also ended up marrying in 1982.

Although the times of David and Bayer Sager are not comparable, this second major alliance with a lyricist yielded at least three historic titles: Best That You Can Do, for a Christopher Cross who in 1981 was a rookie on the crest of the wave, and two number 1s from 1986, On My Own ( Michael McDonald, ex of The Doobie Brothers, along with Patti Labelle) and That’s What Friends Are For, a charity song fronted by her old friend Dionne Warwick.

As if his career wasn’t admirable enough, Burt Bacharach never lost his love for sitting at the piano and continuing to scribble notes on the staff.

In recent decades, he was encouraged to write his own lyrics and in 2006 he even embarked on solo instrumental album, At This Time a Grammy-endorsed . Bacharach had time to experience everything, from his early years as a collaborator with Marlene Dietrich to the terrible suicide of his daughter Nikki.

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