• Interviews

On Music: Burt Bacharach – “What the World Needs Now”

Considered one of America’s greatest contemporary songwriters, Burt Bacharach has written songs that have been recorded by over 1,000 artists, including B.J. Thomas, Dusty Springfield, Herb Alpert, The Carpenters, Barbra Streisand, and of course, his musical muse, Dionne Warwick. Their collaboration, along with that of lyricist Hal David, has produced 22 Top 40 hits including such numbers as “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “Walk on By,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” and “Alfie “ – each one becoming a standard in The Great American Songbook.

Bacharach’s talents were not limited to just recordings. He earned multiple Golden Globes and Academy Awards for his musical scoring to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Arthur, as well as acclaim in the world of theater for Promises, Promises, his musical adaptation of the Billy Wilder film The Apartment

Now, at age 93, the six-time Grammy winner is back at work with Some Lovers, a new musical of which a concept album has just been released featuring the vocal interpretations of such artists as Kristin Chenoweth (Wicked), Jonathan Groff (Mindhunter), Lea Michele (Glee), Jennifer Holliday (Dreamgirls) and Ashley Park (Emily in Paris).


The HFPA sat down with Bacharach to talk about this long-awaited project as well as his still-flourishing career.

Some Lovers was originally produced back in 2011 at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego. How has the show evolved over the last decade?

BACHARACH: Well, we made changes after the run at the Old Globe. Steven (Sater) kind of rewrote out of the book, changed the concept, got a different director and did a lot of hard work on the show. Unfortunately, when we were maybe in a position to move it forward, we got hit with the pandemic and everything basically got shut down.

You had such a success with Promises, Promises on Broadway in 1968. Why has it taken you 43 years to return to the theater?

BACHARACH: Well, I kind of got turned off after Promises, Promises because I was so used to the mentality and the way that we would handle things. You go into a studio, you make a record, you make an album, you do a couple of singles, you get it on tape, it’s there, it’s permanent, you got it. 

And how was theater different?

BACHARACH: I will always remember the call from (producer) David Merrick after we had done the cast album on Promises, Promises and he called me in Palm Springs. He said they just had a matinée and Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers and Hammerstein) was in the audience, and I said “Wow.” Then David says – and he could be a real nightmare, tough guy, good producer, but just you go through wars with him – but he said to me, “In the orchestra of that show that Richard Rodgers saw, you had a substitute drummer, you had a substitute trumpet player, five important subs.” My music is not that simple where you can just come in and sit and play it so easy, a rehearsal would have been good. But there were five subs, (laughs) and that’s how Richard Rodgers saw the show.  And I said, “You go into a studio, you get the music on tape and it’s there, it’s permanent. You put a show on a weekend, and you lose people: you have five subs, key ones, including the keyboard player.” So, if you are looking for an answer, that was one of the big answers.

So, with this concept album of Some Lovers, you do have that full studio control. You certainly picked some amazing vocal talents to work with.

BACHARACH: Steven is very much in the world of shows and musicals and musical theater – I mean he’s brilliant, I can’t say enough about Steven. I also have to say I look at the songs that we wrote, and I am very proud of them, even if nothing ever happened to them if we never got the show on again or something. But the book has been changed, and we have done some workshops since before the pandemic in England – some successful, some not so successful. The one thing that stayed permanent was the score. 

You received a Golden Globe and Oscar for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and have gone on to score many more iconic films. What did you find about scoring films that meant more to you than just constructing a pop song?

BACHARACH: Well, you see the long basis of how the story unfolds and you have got the chance to – see, I knew every line, I didn’t work with a click track. Say on Butch Cassidy, I never worked with a click track, I just knew every line, I knew the next line that was coming up and where the music dipped down or dipped up. So, I thought I could write something for a purpose, and I did. I did the score, and George Roy Hill was the director, and he – when I went to have a meeting with him that first time, I found him at 20th Century in his office, and he was a piano player, so that was a good thing and a bad thing. (laughs) You have got a director who can play the piano, who is musical, and that’s a good thing – and the bad thing is, that he can play the piano. (laughter) But he never said, “That line doesn’t work,” or, “Can the music stop here?” – he never got onto one thing. I like scoring films, but has to be a film that I really like, I mean as to the story, and I am also learning it – I don’t want to have a click track that is keeping me honest about when I get out and when I get in.

Not many people know that your song “That’s What Friends Are For” actually came from the film Night Shift and was sung over the closing credits by Rod Stewart. Did it take the Dionne Warwick interpretation to fulfill your vision for that track?

BACHARACH: Well with Dionne and Gladys and Elton and Stevie, the four artists, with Night Shift, it could have been in that film. And the recording of “That’s What Friends Are For” with Rod, it wasn’t the way I heard the song – the chord structure, the tracking, very simplistic, three-note, four-note chord songs, the way that the Rod Stewart band is used to playing. So no, I didn’t like the way it went down.

There is a terrific new documentary about to come out about Dionne. What was so special about your musical marriage?

BACHARACH: Actually, Dionne was just a blessing. She just came and sang background for something I was doing for Lieber and Stoller and a song I had done called “Mexican Divorce.” She came in as one of four, with Cissy Houston and a couple of others. Sensational sound really was splendid, but something about Dionne kind of stood out, the way she carried herself, the way she looked. They all sang great, but she came and we heard her sing maybe a month later by herself as an audition and we knew we had to record this girl. That’s how it started.