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Monday, September 3, 2012

Something even non-believers can believe in

Hal David died on Saturday at age 91. David wrote the lyrics and Burt Bacharach the music to one monster hit after another in the '60s and early '70s. The two met in the Brill Building, where they pumped them out before Burt headed off to Hollywood. David stayed in New York, but the two never missed a beat. They wrote a musical: "Promises, Promises." Tom Jones belted out "What's New, Pussycat?" Karen Carpenter wanted to be "Close to You." Bacharach made himself a household name, whereas David remained pretty much in the background.

It was a fascinating time in popular music. Rock and soul was sweeping out of the limelight, at least for a time, the sweet songs of Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Frank Loesser, the Gershwins, and the many others who had created the great American songbook. It was a tough time to be making a living writing schmaltzy adult songs for full orchestra. The market for that sort of work was narrowing, but Bacharach and David kept it fresh for a decade or more.

The duo's catalog is a mile long, and it contains many gems. The first one that grabbed us was "Anyone Who Had a Heart," which was a big hit record for an unknown girl from East Orange, N.J. named Dionne Warwick. "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" was on the air for what seemed like an eternity, picking off an Oscar along the way. Deep down in the mine are hidden greats like "Kentucky Bluebird (Send a Message to Martha)" by Lou Johnson. But if we had to choose one song to play for someone off that wonderful list, it would probably be this one. It's particularly interesting this weekend in that according to legend, it was created in the opposite order from the songwriting pair's usual routine. For this number, the lyrics were written first, by David, before Bacharach wrote the music:

What's it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give
or are we meant to be kind?
And if only fools are kind, Alfie,
then I guess it is wise to be cruel.
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie,
what will you lend on an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there's a heaven above, Alfie,
I know there's something much more,
something even non-believers can believe in.
I believe in love, Alfie.
Without true love we just exist, Alfie.
Until you find the love you've missed you're nothing, Alfie.
When you walk let your heart lead the way
and you'll find love any day, Alfie, Alfie.

Farewell, Mr. David, and thank you.

Comments (8)

Say a little prayer...

There's a list of songs I studied when I was young that just knocked me out both lyrically and for the chord progressions. Obviously, Lennon/McCartney played a big role for "body of work", but there were other individual songs by other song-writing teams.

With the list, I was aware that I was hearing a level of song-writing that was really advanced to the point where it was a big mystery to me. I could understand the more basic country or rock and roll songs but this list? I'd spend hours at the piano with the sheet music or trying to play it by ear.

One example: Simon and Garfunkel, "So Long Frank Lloyd Wright." You just didn't hear a line like "Architects may come and architects may go.." everyday. And the chords? Check out the chords sometime. Not exactly, "Long Tall Sally."

With Burt Bacharach and Hal David the song was, "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" sung by Dionne Warwick. The line that seemed so different was, "What do you get when you kiss a guy, you get enough germs to catch pneumonia, After you do, he'll never phone ya."

I thought that was charming and creative and the chord progression was brilliant. I mean if you're in a C, it alternates with Cmaj7 in the intro in a great way. Lennon/McCartney loved going from a major chord to the minor version, but these major 7th chords, were found more in jazz, (although George Harrison uses one in "Something" and there are other examples. The Beatles were as sophisticated as any songwriters ever.

Anyway, so in this Burt Bacharach/Hal David song you're in C let's say, but by the time you're through the first 3 lines you've arrived at A and A7 and it's not jarring. It's well-crafted. I'm aware of that progression more now, and you can hear it in classical music, but you never forget where you first learned about it. I loved that song. I thought it was a great hit record, by Dionne Warwick, and covered by many others including Ella Fitzgerald.

Song-writing is the best profession on earth. RIP, Hal David.

Out of those chains, those chains that bind you, that is why, I'm here to remind you...

I forgot the coolest part: At the chorus, she sings "I'll never fall in love again" but the second time she sings it, they shave 2 beats off the 4 and launch back into the 4/4 two beats early. That's what really stands out.

Music the will stand the test of time and still sound fabulous 200 years from now. Good stuff.

Thanks for this remembrance moment of tribute to Hal David, Jack. So
many great songs. So many great collaborations. Hal had a better understanding of women than 99.99% of men on earth.

Here's another great song with Burt that may otherwise have been overlooked today, done beautifully once upon a time -- One Less Bell To Answer -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZcA3kiaQb0

And from the most recent Broadway revival of "Promises, Promises" a whole new generation discovered & enjoyed Hal's lyrical gifts --

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