Burt Bacharach - Writer

Composer. Nationality: American. Born: Kansas City, Missouri, 12 May 1928; son of the syndicated columnist Bert Bacharach; brought up in New York. Education: Studied musical theory at the Mannes School of Music in New York City; Berkshire Music Center; New School for Social Research, studying under Darius Milhaud, Bohuslav Martinu, and Henry Cowell; further study McGill University, Toronto; scholarship to study at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara. Military Service: U.S. Army, 1950–52. Family: Married 1) Paula Stewart, 1953 (divorced 1958); 2) the actress Angie Dickinson, 1965 (divorced 1982); 3) the singer-songwriter Carole Bayer Sager, 1982 (divorced 1990); 4) Jane Hanson, 1991. Career: 1955—became member of ASCAP; 1957—teamed up with lyricist Hal David; 1958–61—toured America and Europe as musical director for Marlene Dietrich; 1962—Bacharach and David started to write for the singer Dionne Warwick; composed music for TV series Any Day Now . Awards: Academy Award for Best Song, for Butch Cassidy

Burt Bacharach
Burt Bacharach
and the Sundance Kid , 1969, and Arthur , 1981. Address: 10 Ocean Park Boulevard, Suite #4, Santa Monica, CA 90405–3556, U.S.A.

Films as Composer:


What's New, Pussycat? (C. Donner)


After the Fox (De Sica)


Casino Royale (Huston, Hughes, Parrish, McGrath, and Talmadge)


Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Hill)


Lost Horizon (Jarrott)


Arthur (Gordon)


Night Shift (R. Howard)


Arthur 2: On the Rocks (Yorkin)


Love Hurts (Yorkin)


Grace of My Heart (Anders)


Isn't She Great

Films as Songwriter:


Lizzie (Haas); The Sad Sack (George Marshall)


The Blob (Yeaworth Jr.); Country Music Holiday (Ganzer)


Love in a Goldfish Bowl (Sher)


Forever My Love (Marischka)


Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? (Daniel Mann); Wives and Lovers (Rich)


Send Me No Flowers (Jewison); A House Is Not a Home (Rouse)


Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (Mazursky)


Alfie (L. Gilbert)


April Fools (Rosenberg)

Other Films:


Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (Roach) (ro as himself)


Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (Roach) (ro as himself)



Karlin, Fred, and Rayburn Wright, On the Track , New York, 1990.

On BACHARACH: articles—

Film Dope (London), March 1973.

Ecran (Paris), September 1975.

Fistful of Soundtracks , May 1981.

Film Dope (London), March 1990.

Interview (New York), February 1996.

Mojo , March 1996.

Q , July 1996.

New Yorker , 19 October 1998.

* * *

Burt Bacharach has achieved a singular place in the history of twentieth-century popular music. During the sixties, when pop music was becoming rock, Bacharach and lyricist Hal David wrote a string of hit records that were both melodically complex and seductive, romantic and suave. It is surprising that Bacharach has not composed scores for more films—so much of his work seems cinematic—the sound track, perhaps, of some romantic, sophisticated urban comedy in his head. Describing his compositional technique, he said "I was thinking in terms of miniature movies. . . . Three and a half minute movies with peak moments and not just one intensity level the whole way through."

Burt Bacharach's musical education began at an early age, studying cello, drums, and later piano. Being a music student in New York exposed himself to a variety of influences: "I liked Berg and I liked Webern. . . . I hung out in New York watching Cage and Lou Harrison. I was aware of the angular side of music but I liked tunes too." His main influence, however, was Darius Milhaud, whom he studied under at the New School for Social Research, and who, Bacharach claims, taught him, "Never to be ashamed to write something people can whistle." From 1958 to 1961 he was musical director for Marlene Dietrich, touring Europe and the United States with her. He teamed up with lyricist Hal David in 1957, and in 1962 they began to write for the singer Dionne Warwick, a three-way partnership that yielded 39 hit records.

Bacharach's involvement with film began in 1958, with the title song—written with veteran songwriter Mack David (Hal David's older brother)—for the low-budget horror film The Blob . This set a pattern for a significant amount of his writing for films, lending the Bacharach touch by furnishing individual songs rather than the creating an entire score. In some cases the songs have proved more memorable than the films in which they appeared. He has written title songs for Whose Been Sleeping in My Bed? , Wives and Lovers , Send Me No Flowers , and A House Is Not a Home . He has also contributed the song "What the World Needs Now" to Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice . Sometimes Bacharach's role can be confusing—"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," the hit he wrote for Gene Pitney is inspired by John Ford's film of the same name but is not featured in it. And for many the aching Bacharach ballad "Alfie," used over the credit sequence in the American version of Lewis Gilbert's film, is more identified with Alfie than Sonny Rollins's coolly elegant modern jazz score.

Bacharach's first complete score for was Clive Donner's frantic sex comedy, scripted by Woody Allen, What's New, Pussycat." Because of Bacharach's relative inexperience with film composition most of the music used in the film was drawn from the buoyant title song: "They took that one title theme, the title song, and one or two of the cues I'd written, and (producer) Charlie Feldman put them all through the movie because he fell in love with them." The result was a score that provided a perfect complement to the on-screen antics. Less successful was his score for the dire James Bond spoof Casino Royale , which does little more than underline the film's heavy-handed humor. It did, however, yield one classic Bacharach/David song, "The Look of Love."

Bacharach's greatest success as a film composer was with George Roy Hill's Western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid , where Bacharach's score was crucial to the feel and the success of the film. The subject of the film was bleak: two middle-aged gunfighters, involved with one woman, unable to come to terms with the shrinking frontier, make a break for South America, where death instead of freedom awaits them. Thematically the film blends elements of Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch with François Truffaut's Jules et Jim . Bacharach adds a defiantly upbeat and sunny score that, along with William Goldman's witty script, deflects much of the story's fatalism. The music nods towards period with occasional passages of pastiche ragtime, otherwise it is modern in tone, action choreographed with light scat choruses. In the film's most celebrated sequence Paul Newman and Katharine Ross careen across a meadow on a bicycle accompanied by "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," one of Bacharach's most compulsively tuneful songs, perfectly matched by Hal David's nonsense lyrics. As if to emphasize the inspired incongruity, the sequence takes place in bright sunlight.

At the end of the sixties Bacharach and David and the playwright Neil Simon created the Tony award-winning Broadway show Promise Her Anything , based on Billy Wilder's film The Apartment . Bacharach provided music and songs for Lost Horizon Charles Jarrott's unsuccessful musical remake of the Frank Capra classic. After the partnership with Hal David foundered, Bacharach began a collaboration with his then wife, the singer/songwriter, Carole Bayer Sager. During the eighties Bacharach's most successful film score was for Arthur . The featured song, "The Best that You Can Do," written by Bacharach, Sager, Christopher Cross, and Peter Allen, won an Academy Award for best song.

—Dominic Power

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