BACHARACH & DAVID |
The music of Burt Bacharach is likely to be found in the Easy Listening section of most record stores alongside the likes of James Last and Mantovani. I'm not sure whether Burt would regard this unfortunate fact as an insult, but if I were him I would certainly feel somewhat aggrieved. It's rather like having your music dismissed as middle-of-the-road slush for the masses, when it is in fact the highly-crafted product of a man who has been called one of the most accomplished songwriters of the 20th century, who studied with the polytonal classical composer Darius Milhaud, and who lists Maurice Ravel amongst his musical influences. In fact, one enlightened reviewer described Burt's songs as "a deep exploration of the material of music ", and "great works of art". Over the top ?? Actually, I don't think so.
Burt, who teamed up with an ideal and extremely gifted partner in lyricist Hal David in 1957, has the consummate ability to use the full range of the songwriter's armoury - shifting time signatures, sudden modulations, variations of orchestral colour and melodic line - in a way that makes his music constantly sound new, but always recognisably his own. And despite its sleek, urbane, easy surface, so often there is something else present - an undercurrent of melancholy, yearning or unease that lifts it into a whole new category. This is classic pop - an art form which I believe is often underrated.
Their best songs could genuinely be called masterpieces without fear of overstatement. If I had to choose one it would be I Say A Little Prayer For You, a song covered by Dionne Warwick in 1967 but given an unforgettable treatment by Aretha Franklin the following year. Aretha's rendering of this song never fails to stop me in my tracks whenever I hear it, whatever I might be doing. It is the finest example I know of the coming together of classic pop with the soul of black America.
As I write at the turn of the millennium Burt and Hal are back in with sections of the young as a reaction to some of the cliche-ridden and formulaic pap they are currently being fed, and top acts are again covering their songs. Musical styles may go in and out of fashion, but I have no doubt that the songs of this outstanding partnership will never lose their appeal to all who appreciate true artistry in music.