By Lauren Wise
By Anthony Sandoval
By New Times Staff
By Chris Parker
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Lauren Wise
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Chase Kamp
"Fender Mender" (1966) as recorded by The Celestials
Revisionists have offered On the Flip Sideas a candidate for the first rock opera, but there's too much script and too few songs for that description to stick. It is, however, Bacharach and David's first stab at writing a musical, albeit an hourlong TV special with commercial interruptions for Fab, Singer and Alka-Seltzer thrown in.
Teen idol Rick Nelson couldn't have felt great about portraying Carlos O'Conner, a rock star who's washed up at the age of 25. In real life Nelson was 27, and hadn't seen a Top 40 hit since the British Invasion of '64. Realizing that groups are the "in" thing, O'Conner enlists the talents of a backing troupe called the Celestials.
The forerunner to the Tony-winning Promises, Promises, On the Flip Sideis the only time Hal David allowed lyrical references that date the songs to the '60s. "They're Gonna Love It" mentions miniskirts, and "Fender Mender" pays verbal homage to the Fab Four ("I wanna do the things the Beatles do," shriek the Celestials, with "yeah yeahs" inserted just in case someone missed the point).
Unlike peers who made fools of themselves to get a hit with the youth market (see Bob Hilliard's "Ringo for President" or Jack Wolf's "My Boyfriend Has a Beatle Haircut"), David wisely chose to maintain a respectable distance, while Bacharach made conservative use of a fuzz-distorted bass line. Somewhere underneath this Fifth Dimension foreshadowing track is a hard rocker that the Move might've been able to sledgehammer onto the charts.
"Long Ago Tomorrow" (1971) as recorded by B.J. Thomas
Coming off an Oscar win for "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," this stunning final collaboration between Thomas, Bacharach and David must've seemed like a sure bet. It's chockfull of horns, big buildups and odd breakdowns, plus a brilliant false ending.
Put out in the fall of 1971 and added to the American release of this British movie about paraplegics in love, neither the film nor the record was a hit, although Bacharach's arrangement was nominated for a 1972 Grammy award.
"I like the songs I wrote for Isn't She Great," says Bacharach. "I liked the lyrics Hal wrote for Dionne and Vanessa Williams, but the picture was a stiff. It doesn't matter what you write. If a picture dies, the music goes down with it."
"If I Could Go Back" (1973) as recorded by Peter Finch
Director Charles Jarrott should've known casting George Kennedy in 1973's Lost Horizonwould've doomed it to be a disaster movie. And letting Sally Kellerman sing and do the twist is a move that has "box office turkey" written all over it. Just like having the best song in the score be sung by Peter Finch, the guy who played Howard "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" Beale in Network.
The failure of Lost Horizondragged quite a few careers down with it, especially Bacharach and David's. With quite a few good songs to commend it, we wondered whether Lost Horizon could ever be salvaged or revived as a stage musical, but Bacharach quickly dismisses that notion.
"You can't think that way because there ain't no chance that that's gonna happen," he chuckles.
"While I was doing it, it was just an unbelievable amount of work, and it was still fun. And I thought the songs were good. But the movie . . . it was a disaster. It doesn't matter if Peter Finch sings 'If I Could Go Back,' which is really a damn good song. That song by itself has a lot of heart. But you saw it in the movie and you don't give a fuck if he goes back or not.
"The whole experience was pretty bad because I kept fighting for the way the music should sound, and they wound up banning me from the dubbing stage and the mixing stage. It should've been thrilling because that's the way it was on tape. But it came out sounding compressed."
"After that," he sighs, "it was just 'I wanna get away from everybody, live down on the beach,' and that's what I did."
When reminded that he hasn't released a proper album of new songs under his own name since 1979's Woman, he says, "I know, I know. I've been approached by a couple of people. But for me to go in and make an album and put six or seven months into it and then they can't sell it, can't get it played on the right radio format at the right level, or the company is suddenly acquired, taken over by somebody who doesn't give a shit about it . . ." He pauses. "I'd rather just keep writing for other people. And maybe there will be an opportunity to come up there."
Fast forward to 1997 and the fortuitous pairing of Bacharach and Elvis Costello. Finally, Bacharach found an intense sparring partner after years of writing by committee with Carole Bayer Sager and any number of outside third parties like Bruce Roberts, Peter Allen and Neil Diamond.
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