Acclaimed songwriter Hal David died this week, at the age of 91. Born Harold Lane David in Manhattan, New York to Austrian immigrants in May 1921, his older brother, Mack, was also a songwriter (responsible for, among others, one you’ll all surely know: ‘Bibiddi-Bobbidi-Boo’ from Disney’s Cinderella).
After working as a copywriter for the New York Post, he followed his brother into Tin Pan Alley where he met Burt Bacharach, and thus began a most prolific partnership. Combining Bacharach’s melodies with David’s words, sometimes collaborating over the telephone, the duo would go on to achieve many hit singles over three decades; Grammy Awards (for example, for The Carpenters and ‘(They Long to Be) Close To You’); and an Oscar (for ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head’, the theme from the motion picture Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which was, interestingly, rejected by both Bob Dylan and Ray Stevens and taken to the top of the charts in 1970 by Billy Joe “B.J.” Thomas).
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the songs launched careers; they were particularly helpful to British Invasion acts in the 1960s. There were many chart-topping hit singles, their first major worldwide smash hit being ‘Magic Moments’ – for Perry Como, in 1957. By 1962, they were writing for Dionne Warwick, their muse, with whom they enjoyed a tremendous run of success (although, as Bacharach recalls, she did turn down ‘What the World Needs Now Is Love’, so didn’t quite make the most of having first dibs on their songs).
When ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head’ and B.J. Thomas were on top of the Billboard chart in 1970, ‘(They Long To Be) Close to You’ (The Carpenters), ‘One Less Bell to Answer’ (The 5th Dimension) and ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’ (Dionne Warwick) were also in the Top 75.
David would later go on to collaborate with other composers, including John Barry and Albert Hammond, with whom he wrote ‘To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before’ for Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias, an international hit in 1984. Yet he is best remembered for his work with Bacharach. Just last year they were awarded the Gershwin Prize for popular song by the US Library of Congress, the first time a song-writing team has received such an honour.
I’d like to know which of Hal David’s songs are your favourites, and which versions of them you like best. Here’s one of mine to listen to while you think – the very beautiful ‘Walk On By’, performed by Dionne Warwick – followed by several more. Some enjoyable alternative versions follow in brackets.
- ‘American Beauty Rose’, Frank Sinatra
- ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’, Cilla Black
- ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’, Dusty Springfield (also, more recently, The White Stripes)
- ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’, Elvis Costello
- ‘Make It Easy on Yourself’, The Walker Brothers
- ‘(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me’, Sandie Shaw
- ‘Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa’, Gene Pitney
- ‘What’s New, Pussycat?’, Tom Jones
- ‘What the World Needs Now Is Love’, Jackie DeShannon (not forgetting Tom Clay’s powerful 1971 remix, which has a connection to Pink Floyd – a prize for the first Irregular to tell me what that is)
Oh, and before you make the same mistake I almost made and include The Shirelles’ ‘Baby It’s You’ in your list; it was actually a collaboration between Burt Bacharach and Mack David, not Hal.