The numbers, charts and awards for Burt Bacharach, the legendary songwriter who passed away on February 8 at 94, are as formidable as any music titan. Six Grammy Awards (including a Lifetime Achievement award), three Oscars, a combined 125 US and UK Top 40 hits, the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, entry into the Songwriters Hall of Fame—the list goes on and on.
And unsurprisingly, it’s not enough to describe the hold that Bacharach—writing with lyricists like Hal David, Carole Bayer Sager, and others—has had on our collective psyches. His unique song structures lit up pop radio at a time of great sonic change in the ’60s, reinventing what American radio would find easy to listen to and crafting a songbook of some of the greatest romantic tunes of all time.
If you’re new to Bacharach’s formidable catalog, or you’ve been singing along for decades and want to remember his best as he left it for us, here are 10 to get you started.
Dionne Warwick, “Walk On By” (1964)
Bacharach had been a veteran contributor to New York’s legendary songwriting hit factory in the Brill Building since 1957. But his 1961 discovery of singer Dionne Warwick turned out to be one of the defining moments of his career. With Bacharach, Warwick released more hits over the course of the decade by any female artist except Aretha Franklin. “Walk On By” was one of their first Top 10s, a deft combination of heartbreak with a balanced, sensual approach that established Warwick as a new breed of R&B singer. Five years later, emerging funk/soul icon Isaac Hayes transformed “Pass” in the epic opener to his groundbreaking LP Hot buttered soul.
Jackie DeShannon, “What the world needs right now is love” (1965)
It took Bacharach and David two years to finish writing this unconventional, waltz-like plea for unity. (David’s lyrics became clearer as tensions flared in Vietnam.) Rejected by Warwick for being “too country [and] too preachy,” singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon would take the song to the Top 10.
Herb Alpert, “This man is in love with you” (1968)
While Bacharach and David wrote hits for Warwick and others, trumpeter Herb Alpert became another key figure of American pop in the 1960s. He founded his own record label, A&M, with executive Jerry Moss, and sold millions of instrumental records such as Whipped cream and other treats. After signing Bacharach to the label as a recording artist in the mid-1960s, Alpert took advantage of a forgotten tune in Bacharach and David’s songbook, performed it with a combination of trumpet and vocals, and gave Bacharach his first No. 1 as a songwriter . .
BJ Thomas, “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” (1969)
Perhaps the ultimate example of Bacharach’s light touch, from the punchy melody to the luscious musical arrangement – which, like “This Guy” and Dusty Springfield’s “The Look of Love,” was heavy on copper. BJ Thomas’ lighthearted approach to “Raindrops” became a sensation when it was included on the soundtrack to Paul Newman and Robert Redford’s hit song. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. It surpassed the Billboard Hot 100, and Bacharach won his first two Academy Awards, for Best Song and Best Original Score.
Carpenters, “(they desire) to be near you” (1970)
The quiet, graceful style that Bacharach had perfected as a songwriter-producer was a major influence on siblings, Richard and Karen Carpenter, whose squeaky-clean image and polished musicianship paved the way for easy listening radio in the 1970s. Recorded for A&M with the legendary team of session players known as The demolition crew“Close to You” – which was cut to no fanfare by Warwick and others – was another smash hit.
Christopher Cross, “Arthur’s Theme (The Best Thing You Can Do)” (1981)
While the 1970s brought Bacharach some personal hardships — a flop movie-musical remake of Lost Horizon in 1973 led to a feud with Hal David and, by extension, Dionne Warwick – Bacharach found himself rejuvenated by the professional and personal association with lyricist Carol Bayer Sager, his third wife. The pair contributed a few big hits to ’80s radio, including the lite rock theme in the Dudley Moore comedy Arthur. It earned an Oscar for the pairing with Christopher Cross, who had recently made history himself by winning all four major Grammy Awards (record, album and song of the year and best new artist) in one night.
Luther Vandross, “A house is not a home” (1981)
Even if Bacharach had a lesser presence in the charts in the ’80s, his influence was deeply felt. When former session singer Luther Vandross was on his own with the critically acclaimed debut Never too much in 1981 he capped it off with an epic rendition of a forgotten Warwick hit that recast the tune as a slow jam for the ages. In 2003, Vandross’s version would become the backbone of a No. 1 hit sped up and sampled on Twista’s Kanye West-produced “Slow jamz.”
Bare Eyes, “Always Something To Remind Me” (1983)
Bacharach and David’s songbook was so deep that it spawned hits, seemingly at random, long after their collaboration ended. British singer Sandie Shaw took the duo “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me” to the top of pop music in the UK in 1964, but it was virtually unknown in America until pop duo Naked Eyes – who ironically had little success in their native England – brought a bombastic electronic version to the Top 10.
Dionne & Friends, “That’s What Friends Are For” (1985)
One of Bacharach and Bayer Sager’s most enduring compositions seemed doomed languish on the soundtrack of the 1982 Ron Howard comedy Night shift (recorded by, of all people, Rod Stewart). Subsequently, a reconciliation between Bacharach and Warwick – who by then had done everything from making hits to psychic hotlines – led her to record this song with Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and Elton John. She released it as a charity single to raise money and awareness about the AIDS crisis. As a result, it became the biggest hit of 1986 and raised millions for charity.
Elvis Costello, “God Give Me Strength” (1998)
By the end of the 20th century, Bacharach seemingly had nothing to prove: his generation’s music was seen as kitschy but brilliant, and he was invited to make a cameo appearance in all three Austin Powers films as a symbol of the swinging sixties. But he wasn’t content to rest on his laurels and go into battle old fan Elvis Costello as a songwriting partner. That collaboration began with “God Give Me Strength,” a song written for the film Mercy from my heart, and continued on several albums and beyond. (A box set detailing their partnership coming out next month.)