This week saw the passing of Kansas City native, famed composer, record producer, and pianist Burt Bacharach. He was 94. Bacharach wrote literally hundreds of the 20th century’s most popular songs, and is frequently listed among America’s top songwriters of all time. His lyricists included frequent collaborator Hal David as well as Carole Bayer Sager, and he received six Grammy Awards and three Academy Awards for his work, netting an impressive 73 U.S. and 52 UK top 40 hits.
Did he have a defining song? He wrote many hits for Dionne Warwick, and his “[They Long to Be] Close to You” recorded by The Carpenters became the group’s signature ballad. His themes are both memorable and eminently hummable, including his “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” “Any Day Now,” “Wishin’ and a Hopin’,” “Walk on By,” “What the World Needs Now is Love,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” and “Promises, Promises.” His songs were remade numerous times, and would be included in the soundtracks to several TV shows and films. Naked Eyes’ remake of “Always Something There to Remind Me,” which made the U.S. top 10 in 1983, was featured 15 years later in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, as one example.
For decades Bacharach’s name on a movie poster was as important to a film as John Williams’ name would become. In fact like Williams, Bacharach wrote music for several important and memorable genre films, including benchmarks in sci-fi, spy fi, comedies, and Westerns. Let’s run through some of those memorable hits.
First–like John Williams who wrote “The Mission” as the NBC theme for its nightly news, Bacharach’s music to his song “Nikki” (named for his daughter) was used for the ABC Movie of the Week in the late 1960s into the 1970s. Anyone with a TV back then heard this:
Getting his sea legs similar to how Williams in his 30s wrote the short sci-fi theme to Lost in Space, Bacharach wrote his own sci-fi theme song a few years earlier. The 1958 surprise hit The Blob ushered in the career of Steve McQueen, the popularity of science fiction invasion films, and the horror genre for mainstream America. It also featured a catchy (and goofy) theme and radio hit by Bacharach:
At the time The Blob was in theaters, Bacharach was musical director for touring film legend and performer, Marlene Dietrich. In 1962 Bacharach released his first of two songs written for what would become famous Western movies. The first film was The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance starring Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne. In the early days of pop songs in movies, Bacharach became part of a John Ford classic with a song every Western fan knows:
Bacharach wrote the scores for two notable movies featuring Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, and Woody Allen. The first was What’s New Pussycat? in 1965. The second was the first James Bond movie to hit the big screen, Casino Royale. It was also the beginning of his collaboration with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass (one of those hits being “This Guy’s in Love with You”). Here’s Bacharach, Alpert, and the Tijuana Brass’s main theme from Casino Royale:
Bacharach had another hit song from the movie with “The Look of Love”–
Bacharach wrote the single “Alfie” to promote the 1966 film of the same name. Bacharach returned to the Western genre in 1969 with “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” sung by B.J. Thomas, which became one of Hollywood’s biggest songs of all time, featured in a key scene with Paul Newman and Katharine Ross in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:
Bacharach wrote the score to the 1973 box office flop Lost Horizon. But he returned to the top with songs headlining two big comedy hits of the early 1980s. First, the theme sung by Christopher Cross that accompanied Dudley Moore as the drunk millionaire Arthur in the 1981 movie Arthur:
One year later Bacharach composed the music for the Ron Howard comedy hit Night Shift, which re-ignited the career of Henry Winkler, showcased new star Shelley Long, and introduced the man who would be Batman, Michael Keaton. He wrote the song “Night Shift” for the band Quarterflash, and Rod Stewart sneaked in the end credits of the film singing the first version of many versions of Bacharach’s “That’s What Friends Are For”:
Also in 1982, Bacharach partnered with his wife and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager on a pop hit sung by Neil Diamond, “Heartlight,” which surprisingly wasn’t part of the promotion–or connected at all–for the movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, but only inspired by the movie (a lawsuit was required to settle the matter, for a small sum):
Of all these, Bacharach won the Oscar for Best Music, Original Song for Arthur, a Best Music, Original Song and Best Music, Original Score for a Motion Picture (not a musical) for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Bacharach would later appear as himself with Mike Myers in the Austin Powers movies and he made several other appearances, on Broadway, on TV, and in live performances, over the past two decades.
C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg