With his songwriting partner, Burt Bacharach, Hal David wrote the words of dozens of Top 40 hits, making him one of the most successful lyricists of the past century. During the 1960s, the songs of Bacharach and David became ‘standards’, recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra to the Beatles. Singer Dionne Warwick, in particular, built her career on their work.
As a boy, David learned to play the violin, but enjoyed writing more. At New York University, he studied journalism. Then, in the Second World War, he enlisted in the American army and was attached to an entertainment unit in Hawaii, where he wrote lyrics for shows for the troops.
On being discharged, he was encouraged by his elder brother, Mack, already a successful songwriter, to become a professional lyricist. He wrote for Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan before he was introduced to Bacharach at the Brill Building in Manhattan, the home of many of the finest songwriters of the day.
Up to then, Bacharach had been Marlene Dietrich’s musical director, but he and David agreed to team up and immediately struck gold. Early in 1958, they wrote Magic Moments for Perry Como, which stayed at the top of the British charts for eight weeks, and The Story of My Life for Michael Holliday, another No 1. After that, Bacharach returned to Dietrich and he and David did not renew their partnership until 1962.
It was a 21 year-old Warwick who reunited them. Bacharach saw her singing backing vocals in a session with the Drifters, and immediately realised her potential.
Over the years, he and David wrote such songs for Warwick as Anyone Who Had a Heart (1963) – also a chart-topper for Cilla Black – A House is Not a Home, You’ll Never Get to Heaven (if You Break My Heart) and Walk On By (all in 1964), Alfie (1965) – the theme music for the Michael Caine movie of the same name and another hit for Black – Trains and Boats and Planes (1965), and I Say a Little Prayer (1967).
For most of the 1960s, David lived on the east coast of America and Bacharach on the west, so they spent a month at a time at each other’s homes, often working on several songs simultaneously. On occasions, they wrote songs during phone calls that lasted for hours – I Say a Little Prayer was written in this way.
Besides Alfie, Bacharach and David wrote songs for a swathe of films, including the theme of Woody Allen’s comedy What’s New, Pussycat? (1965), sung by Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield’s The Look of Love (1967), which was heard in the James Bond spoof Casino Royale, and Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head (1969) for the Paul Newman/Robert Redford picture Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This last song provided Sacha Distel with a British No 1, and earned Bacharach and David an Oscar.
The songwriting duo also enjoyed success in the theatre. In 1968, they teamed up with Neil Simon to write the musical Promises, Promises, based on the Billy Wilder film The Apartment. Its hit songs included the theme tune and I’ll Never Fall in Love Again. The show arrived at the Prince of Wales Theatre, London, in 1969, and ran for 560 performances.
Their film musical Lost Horizon (1973), starring Peter Finch, John Gielgud, Liv Ullmann and Michael York, was a massive flop, and the critics’ reaction to it so shocked Bacharach and David that they dissolved their partnership and barely spoke to each other for the next 20 years.
David also worked with John Barry, writing lyrics for the James Bond movie songs We Have All the Time in the World, sung by Louis Armstrong at the end of Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), and the theme for Moonraker (1979), recorded by Shirley Bassey.
Renewed interest in the work of Bacharach and David in the 1990s by such unlikely enthusiasts as Elvis Costello and the Pet Shop Boys helped to reconcile them, and they began writing together again from time to time. But there were to be no more Bacharach and David hits.
Hal David, who was born in New York on May 25, 1921, died in Los Angeles on September 1, aged 91.
Richard Anthony Baker