Music World Loses a Legend as Composer Burt Bacharach Passes at 94

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Oscar and Grammy-winning composer Burt Bacharach passed away Wednesday at the age of 94, according to his publicist. A cause of death was not revealed.


Bacharach was a prolific and beloved composer who often teamed up with lyricist Hal David to pen some of the great hits of the 1960s, including “Walk on By,” “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” (which won an Oscar for best song for the 1969 movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid“), the “Look of Love,” and many more.

Tributes abounded Thursday, including this one from singer Tony Bennett:

Music and film critic Stephen Holden describes Bacharach’s signature style:

A die-hard romantic whose mature style might be described as Wagnerian lounge music, Mr. Bacharach fused the chromatic harmonies and long, angular melodies of late-19th-century symphonic music with modern, bubbly pop orchestration, and embellished the resulting mixture with a staccato rhythmic drive. His effervescent compositions epitomized sophisticated hedonism to a generation of young adults only a few years older than the Beatles.

Motown founder Berry Gordy expressed his appreciation, saying,

“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of one of the great composers of our time, my dear friend, Burt Bacharach … Over the years, no matter who Burt collaborated with, there was always a recognizable ‘Bacharach’ sound and magic to his songs. He was a unique writer whose music always touched my heart. I will miss him, but I know Burt’s amazing legacy will live on forever.”


I fondly remember “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” not only because it’s a catchy tune but because it was featured in one of the most bizarre sequences in film history. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are on the run, and usually in a movie like this, the mood would be tense as the two bandits feared for their lives. Instead, Cassidy (Paul Newman) starts riding around on a bicycle and wooing Etta Place (Katharine Ross) while the happy song plays:


As I said, it’s one of the more unexpected moments in movies—and yet somehow it worked, and the film is considered a classic.

Bacharach is also behind many other iconic songs. I’ve always loved Naked Eyes smash 1983 hit, “Always Something There to Remind Me,” but what I never knew until now is that it was Bacharach who wrote the song in 1964, and Lou Johnson was the original vocalist:


Bacharach’s resume includes hit songs performed by a variety of artists including Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin, Tom Jones, Neil Diamond, the Carpenters, Christopher Cross, and Elvis Costello. He racked up virtually every award Imaginable, including six Grammys, and In 2008, the Grammys named him music’s greatest living composer.

My favorite composition of his, 1967’s  “I Say a Little Prayer,” was sung by both Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin. The words were written by Hal Davis about a woman’s fear for her boyfriend/husband in Vietnam. (“Forever [forever] and ever you’ll stay in my heart…”)


While both versions are amazing, I am moved by Franklin’s just a tiny bit more.


Bacharach wrote about his great career in his 2014 autobiography, “Anyone Who Had a Heart: My Life and Music,” and felt that he had been “luckier than most”:

“Most composers sit in a room by themselves and nobody knows what they look like,” he wrote. “People may have heard some of their songs, but they never get to see them onstage or on television.” Because he was also a performer, he noted, “I get to make a direct connection with people.”

“Whether it’s just a handshake or being stopped on the street and asked for an autograph or having someone comment on a song I’ve written,” Mr. Bacharach added, “that connection is really meaningful and powerful for me.”

He will be missed.


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