Monday, 12 May 2008

Happy Birthday

Crime talk is interrupted for a special occasion. It’s the 80th birthday of Burt Bacharach, introduced at this year’s Grammy awards as ‘the world’s greatest living composer’, and the man who, through a couple of tv shows, fired my interest in music almost forty years ago.

Marlene Dietrich worshipped him, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, the Stranglers, the Manic Street Preachers, the White Stripes and the Beatles amongst countless others covered his hits, Elvis Costello and Noel Gallagher have performed on stage with him at live concerts that I’ve had the pleasure to attend. His co-writers include not only the great Hal David, but also the playwright Neil Simon, poet James Kavanaugh, Jerry Leiber, Gerry Goffin, Carly Simon, rapper Dr Dre, Costello, Cathy Dennis and Tim Rice. He discovered Dionne Warwick, wrote a solitary Broadway show that changed the musical forever and paved the way for the Lloyd Webber-Rice generation, and won three Oscars when he turned his attention every now and then to movies. He had cameo roles in all the Austin Powers films, and he’s just written a new orchestral work for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, to feature on a forthcoming live CD. It is simply not possible to escape his songs. They are played everywhere, so it’s best to come to terms with them. But it isn’t hard; his melodies have always lifted my spirits whenever I’ve felt worried or weary.

I admired his work when it was deeply, deeply unfashionable. Now the prejudice against what is mistakenly described as easy listening (though his music is often complex) is fading away at last. I owe Burt Bacharach a lot and it’s a great pleasure to wish him many happy returns.

For anyone who wishes to explore further, here are twelve obscure Bacharach songs you will almost certainly never have heard, but which I think are, even if less instantly accessible, as marvellous as many of the hits:

The Beginning of Loneliness – Dionne Warwick
What Am I Doing Here? – Liz Calloway
Checkout Time – Dionne Warwick
Who Gets the Guy? – Dionne Warwick
Riverboat – Libby Titus
Trouble – Chiara Civello
Falling Out of Love – Aretha Franklin
A Chance for Heaven – Christopher Cross
Hearts Don’t Lie – Joana Zimmer
Love is Still the Answer – Ornella Vanoni
Hurricane – Neil Diamond
Sometimes Late at Night – Carole Bayer Sager

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