LAST week saw the passing of lyricist Hal David, who teamed with Burt Bacharach in the '50s to form one of the greatest songwriting duos in music history. The pair came together at the legendary Brill Building, the New York hitmaking factory, and had their first success when Marty Robbins took their song The Story Of My Life to the top of the US country charts in 1957.
"From the first five songs we wrote, two of them became hits," David said of the instant songwriting rapport he shared with Bacharach. Here are five of their best:
Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head
THEY don't write songs like this anymore. Such beautiful optimism doesn't pop up in current songs; "the blues they send to meet me won't defeat me/it won't be long 'til happiness steps up to great me."
David and Bacharach wrote this Oscar-winning song for Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, helping create one of the film's many iconic scenes - the oft-copied bike-riding romance sequence. BJ Thomas, who was reportedly the third choice to sing the song, turned it into a number one hit around the world.
"B.J. wasn't a big star yet," David recalled in a 2010 interview, "but we knew the song was just right for him, and it turned out terrific."
The song remained one of David's favourites of his own compositions.
Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head has been covered by dozens of bands - from Englebert Humperdinck to The Flaming Lips, from Perry Como to Jebediah, from Barry Manilow to Manic Street Preachers.
John Farnham had a #1 with it in Australia back in 1970 (when he was still "Johnny" Farnham). Farnham's version bumped The Beatles double A-side Something/Come Together from the top of the chart. That same week, BJ Thomas' version was at #20.
Walk On By
THE singer most associated with some of David-Bacharach's best known compositions is Dionne Warwick, who became one of the top 40 most successful Billboards artists as a result. Warwick initially sang on David-Bacharach demos before finally getting her chance, landing her first hit with their track Don't Make Me Over - a song David said was inspired by a snappish Warwick comment directed at himself and Bacharach.
But their finest collaboration has to be Walk On By. It's a song of rare beauty that combines a lilting yet defiant hook melody as the narrator implores the person who broke their heart to just keep walking if they see them in the street. The song carries a strange emotional charge, mixing "foolish pride" with public grief.
Walk On By was Warwick's biggest hit in the UK and US at that stage and was part of her incredible run of 56 songs that made Billboard top 100. Covers of Walk On By have been done by the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Gabrielle, The Stranglers, Jo Jo Zep, Isaac Hayes, Alicia Keys, The Beach Boys and dozens more.
What The World Needs Now Is Love
IT reportedly took David two years to write the lyrics for this plea for peace before he finally took them to Bacharach and asked him to put music to them. David listed this as another of his favourites. In his book Chicken Soup For The Soul, he wrote that the opening lines and the chorus came to him in a matter of minutes while driving from his New York home in Roslyn to the Brill Building. The verses took a lot longer.
"I tried and tried, showed it to Burt, then put it away and went on to something else," David said.
"In a month or two or three, I tried again. It was always the same thing. I needed something to compare (love) to and everything I thought about had nothing to do with the person I was talking to - God. It took more time to write these lyrics than any other. I realized that I needed to write the antithesis - what we didn't need. One day on the ride to New York, it came to me. I gave the lyrics to Burt and he wrote a fabulous melody."
David claimed it was the only song he and Bacharach presented to Warwick that she turned down. In the end the song was a hit for Kentucky-born singer Jackie DeShannon. It would be her biggest hit until she co-wrote and performed the smash single Put A Little Love In Your Heart. The song pre-dates The Beatles' All You Need Is Love by two years and was covered by Judy Garland, The Supremes, Cilla Black, Barry Manilow, Rick Astley, Coldplay, and Mr Bungle (probably the only group to incorporate an ambulance siren).
I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself
THIS track was initially a single for American soul singer Tommy Hunt, but it wasn't until Dusty Springfield got her immaculate voice on to it that it became a hit and a modern pop standard. When she rises with the orchestra in the "summer rose" section, it's a beautiful musical moment that belies the desperation in David's lyrics. Everything reminds the heart-broken narrator of their ex - movies, parties - leaving them at loss as to how to go on.
That title line is one of the neatest summations of post-break-up emptiness in pop music. "Try to say things as simply as possible, which is probably the most difficult thing to do," David said in a 1999 interview. It's that simplicity, masking such deep emotions, that helped make this song a hit so many times.
After Springfield took to #3 in the UK, David-Bacharach regular Dionne Warwick had some success with it just two years later in the US. Other artists to cover the song include Marcia Hines, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Linda Ronstadt and Tina Arena. But many younger music fans will know it best from The White Stripes thunderous reworking, which was a single on their 2003 album, Elephant.
24 Hours From Tulsa
ONE of David's key pieces of advice to budding songwriters was "try and tell a narrative". "The songs should be like a little film, told in three or four minutes," he said. Perhaps his best example of that is the Gene Pitney hit 24 Hours From Tulsa, which Bacharach described as a "film noir" and "a piece of American Gothic par excellence".
It's a wonderfully warped tale in which the narrator tells his beloved he was on his way home, got to within a day's drive of his destination (Tulsa), but unfortunately he fell head over heels in love with someone else that he met at a motel. A rarity for a pop song, 24 Hours From Tulsa freely admits the bastardry of its narrator - what kind of guy is on the way home to his "dearest darlin'" but decides to never go home again because he met someone else while driving home?
The song conjures up vivid imagery without saying much at all. We get a welcoming light and a couple slow-dancing to a cafe jukebox and that's about it, but you can picture the whole story. The song went top 20 in the US and has covered many times, although a lot less than the other songs on this list.
David also wrote (with Bacharach and others): Alfie, What's New Pussycat?, Don't Make Me Over, Wishin' & Hopin', (There's) Always Something There To Remind Me, I Say A Little Prayer, Magic Moments, (They Long To Be) Close To You, To All The Girls I've Love Before, The Look Of Love, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.