Seems there's always something there to remind us of composer Burt Bacharach. And that is as true now as it was in the '60s, when the team of Bacharach and Hal David turned out a string of hits for such artists as Aretha Franklin, Tom Jones, Jackie DeShannon and, especially, Dionne Warwick.
Bacharach, who appears tonight and Saturday with Warwick at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, seemed perpetually on the charts in the days when the Beatles, the Doors and Jimi Hendrix represented the cutting edge of pop music. More than 25 years later, alternative rock bands, an unlikely source of Bacharach adulation, are finding fodder in the composer's canon. Blackie Onassis of Urge Overkill cites him as an influence. The Cranberries have covered the Top 40 hit "(They Long to Be) Close to You," which Bacharach wrote for the Carpenters in 1970.
Add to this the fact that the BBC is set to air a major documentary on Bacharach's life and that a pair of Bacharach retrospective albums are due for release in the next few months and it becomes clear that the 67-year-old songwriter is still in the public eye.
"I like people rediscovering my songs," he said in a phone conversation from his home in Santa Monica. "It gives [the songs] renewed life. They were written with the concept that they were suitable for only one artist, made with [that artist] in mind. You hear Dionne singing in your head, and that's how you do the song. But [the covers] show the songs can be done another way."
Bacharach admits that he didn't always feel that way. When Arthur Lee and the band Love released a driving, rock-beat version of the Bacharach-David lament "My Little Red Book," reports had it that both men disapproved.
"That was an odd [composition], really, atypical of what I wrote. Then Arthur Lee came along and cut his version and had a hit. I've just had to get used to people making radical changes on my songs, stand back and objectively look at it and see if I liked what they'd done.
"When Aretha recorded 'Say a Little Prayer,' she changed the melody a bit, some other things, and I thought, 'Hmmmm.' But when I got used to it--and she's incredible--I was fine with it. Those kind of things give your tune an existence beyond its original self."
By no means is Bacharach resting on the laurels of his earlier material, which includes such hits as "Make It Easy on Yourself," "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" and "What the World Needs Now."
"I'm writing, have been writing always, over the years," he said. "It seems to go on a curve, up and down. It's not harder to write now, but, I think, it's harder to find the singers, harder to find the right vehicle for the music."
Sometimes the vehicles search him out. Recently the composer teamed with an unlikely collaborator, Elvis Costello, to write a tune for an upcoming movie being produced by Martin Scorsese.
"It was a lot of fun [working with Costello] even though we never sat in a room together. I was here, he was in Ireland. He'd leave a message on my answering machine, and I would take the tape off the machine, write [the music] down on a lead sheet, and then FAX him a copy. We went back and forth that way, and we got a good song out of it."
Bacharach is also working on another project, a musical theater adaptation of the Snow White story.
"There's some 14 songs, loosely based on the environment of those characters, but in current times, not in the past and not with seven dwarfs. It's an allegory of good and evil, an evil stepmother and the good daughter."
Bacharach is also known for his work on several musicals and movies during his career, including "What's New Pussycat?," "The Apartment" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."
"Writing a musical project is a big chore, no matter how it ends up. I got spoiled because my first experience was with 'Promises, Promises' [in 1968], which couldn't have gone faster or easier. And the money with a hit, that spoils you too."
Bacharach speaks in reserved, considered tones during the conversation, with just a hint of musical inflection in his voice. He finds the current musical scene vastly changed from his heyday.
"Just eight or 10 years ago, there were artists that could be counted on to deliver a solid ballad: Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Dionne. Now, with the way radio has changed, there's no sure thing out there any more. You can't count on airplay just because of the artist. Your window of exposure is less and more self-contained."
And Bacharach, whose music was nearly always recorded by artists other than himself ("Trains and Boats and Planes" did score a hit for Bacharach's orchestra and chorus), says he's changed his style to reflect the state of today's music market.
"I'm more conscious of what I'm doing now. I'll stand back and look at what I'm writing, examine it to make sure I'm not putting the listener under stress or duress or asking the audience to tap into something that is more difficult than it need be.
" 'Promises, Promises' was a tough song. When I wrote it out, I realized that it was changing time signatures nearly every bar. The reason it was written like that was because of the urgency of what was happening on stage. But when I wrote it out it felt natural and good to me. Now I try to do things a little more simply."
Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick perform tonight and Saturday at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. 8 p.m. $50 to $68. (800) 300-4345. \f7