Burt's Still the Word

The newly rediscovered Burt Bacharach has a history most fans have never even heard about

Much has been made of the renaissance composer Burt Bacharach has been enjoying as of late. The Maestro's sudden resurgence is the result of a number of high-profile collaborations and media appearances, and a new retro craze that has put the work of classic '60s tunesmiths on a pedestal. But instead of just dissecting his newfound fan base, let's take a look at his longtime acolytes, as well, those folks for whom Burt has always been The Word.

Type A: Burt's adult contemporaries. Lucky enough to experience Bacharach and longtime partner Hal David's songs on first impact, but unlucky enough to suffer it on clackety eight-tracks. These fifty- to seventysomethings watched the annual Bacharach TV specials and religiously attended his concerts, even during the hitless years. And they're still in attendance today.

The first ones out of their seats after a Dionne Warwick hit, they positively glower at the intrusion of an Elvis Costello number cutting into a familiar set list. Given a chance to buy Painted From Memory, Bacharach's 1998 collaboration with Costello, and his best album in decades, Type A fans opted for Dionne Sings Dionne, an album of tepid Bacharach-David remakes.

You see this guy? This guy's in love with you! Bacharach, right backatcha.
You see this guy? This guy's in love with you! Bacharach, right backatcha.
Bacharach's pioneer production came during the days when you couldn't keep songs about Indian attacks off the charts. Unless Dick Van Dyke sang them.
Bacharach's pioneer production came during the days when you couldn't keep songs about Indian attacks off the charts. Unless Dick Van Dyke sang them.

Type B: Newly minted adults, thirty- to fortysomethings who at some point in the '90s made the connection to their childhood and realized all the Bacharach-David songs were the thread running through it. Having had their hearts broken and reassembled numerous times by then, they could assign the correct adult emotional response to Hal David lyrics heard hundreds of times on their father's car radio. Further informed by the excellent Rhino Records box set The Look of Love, they may have been moved to snap up a best-of Dionne or Dusty Springfield in addition to a few of Bacharach's instrumental albums. Like Type A's, these fans love Bacharach's back catalogue and believe they've already purchased all of it.

Type C: Bacharach fanatics. The same age group as Type B, these fans snapped up Burt's box set and just kept on buying every record with a Bacharach-David credit in brackets.

Generally musicians, or people who first experienced love through music and then spent a lifetime transferring that emotion to other people. They make no distinction among the weird time signatures, clever internal rhymes and breakneck dynamics in Bacharach-David music and the emotional wallop it packs. Once they've had pull-over-to-the side-of-the-road hearings of "Alfie" or "Anyone Who Had a Heart," they keep looking for the same powerful messages in obscure B-sides or out-of-print albums. And incredibly, they're there, in countless undiscovered songs like "Loneliness Remembers What Happiness Forgets" or "Long Ago Tomorrow."

That's why these fans still frantically downloading rare Bacharach cuts from Napster and trading tapes on various Bacharach Internet sites like A House Is Not a Homepage (http://studentweb.tulane.edu/~mark/bacharach.html) and The Hitmaker Archive (http://listen.to/burt), the most comprehensive archive of information on the 577 Bacharach songs and the 1,200 unique artists who've recorded them.

Bacharach's roll call is a virtual who's who of pop. Every adult contemporary singer of the last 50 years -- not to mention many of the biggest rock, pop and R&B groups of the '60s and '70s, from the Beatles to James Brown -- took at least one stroll through the house of Bacharach. As a presence in the last half-century of music history, he's simply inescapable.

Tell that to the man himself and he lets out that almost whispered laughter. "I don't know that for sure. But I know what you're saying. I think when I was writing it was a very fortunate time," he says of the early years. "To be able to establish hits, or near hits, or art records and because of the lyrics, to be able to have longevity . . . you can't plan that. To be discovered or redone. I mean Noel Gallagher [who put a picture of Bacharach on the cover of Oasis' Definitely Maybe] wasn't born when these songs were around. But he got to hear them."

The indefatigable composer agreed to do some quickie (and we do mean quickie) phone interviews to plug his upcoming concert tour. At age 72, when most living legends are happy resting and collecting residuals, Bacharach continues working at a pace that would fell someone a third his age.

Earlier this year, he suffered an injury to his shoulder that forced him to cancel several dates and tack on an hour of daily physical therapy to his already cluttered to-do list. "It'll take a while to heal to be really over it," he says. "It only knocked down 10 appearances. I can conduct fine, but with a little limited range. Who knows, by the time we get to Arizona . . .," he trails off, stopping himself before veering into Jimmy Webb territory.

In the past year, Bacharach has written an Oscar-nominated song ("Walking Tall") with Lyle Lovett for the children's feature Stuart Little, scored another film (Isn't She Great), collaborated with Chicago on "If I Should Ever Lose You," (the only conceivable reason to buy an album called Chicago 26), appeared in a second Austin Powers movie, toured nationally and internationally and acted as musical director for this year's Academy Awards telecast.

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