Burt Bacharach remembers Hal David
It was my great good fortune to have met Hal David, who was introduced to me by Eddy Wolpin — the man who ran Famous Music in New York’s fabled Brill Building at 1619 Broadway.
I had been out on the road conducting and playing piano for the Ames Brothers and had decided to quit and come back to New York City to try and write pop songs. In those days, the Brill Building, also known as the Music Factory, was filled with songwriters playing musical chairs, writing with different partners each day. I worked with Hal maybe two afternoons a week.
Hal had been writing for a while and he had had some hits, whereas I was just starting out. Our early songs were rather ordinary. Musically, I gave Hal material that I thought was very commercial — nothing like what we would later write. We wrote some bad songs, songs you have never heard and never will. Songs like “Peggy’s in the Pantry” and “Underneath the Overpass.”
Even when we had our first two hits, “The Story of My Life” and “Magic Moments,” we were well under the radar of where we would eventually go.
Our writing process was very interesting. We would sit in a room in the Brill Building and maybe Hal would have an idea — a couple of lines, a title — or I would have a music fragment. And we would go from there. It wasn’t like we would sit in that room and finish a song. That never happened. Hal would take his story, get on the train, and go home to Roslyn out in Long Island.
And I would take whatever music I had and go back to my apartment. Then we’d meet a day or two later, or maybe talk it through on the phone.
Those two early hits gave me the courage to start taking some chances with the music that I was giving Hal. It helped to have an extraordinary vehicle, our muse, Dionne Warwick, to make the most difficult things seem easy. Hal’s real genius was that he could take these meaningful words and make them sound and fit so great on my musical notes.
Hal’s instincts were so often on target. I remember playing “What the World Needs Now Is Love” for Dionne. Dionne was our main artist and she usually had first priority on songs. Dionne didn’t like the song and took a pass on it. I put too much weight on Dionne’s opinion and put the song in a drawer to be forgotten about.
Within the year, Hal and I were going to record Jackie DeShannon. And when Jackie came into the office, Hal said, “Why don’t you take that song ‘What the World Needs Now’ out of the drawer and play it for Jackie?” When she started to sing it, I knew that Hal had made the right move. I would have left it in the drawer.
Hal and I never really socialized, except for going to the bar at the local Chinese restaurant to celebrate a particularly good recording session. Basically, we did our work and didn’t hang out.
Like many relationships ours had its bumps. The big bump — a disagreement that arose during the failed attempt to remake the film “Lost Horizon” as a musical — was most unfortunate. Hal and I didn’t speak for 10 years except through our lawyers, and I will take the count for that one — my fault.
What we might have written in those 10 years we’ll never know. Hal could write story lyrics like a miniature movie — just listen to “24 Hours From Tulsa.”
Hal, we had a great run and I’m so grateful we ever met.
Hal David and Burt Bacharach wrote the hits “Walk on By” and “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” for Dionne Warwick. In 1970, they won the Oscar for original song for “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” which became a No. 1 hit single for B.J. Thomas.
Bacharach is currently working on his memoir, titled “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” to be published by HarperCollins in 2013.
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