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Hal David dies at 91; songwriting partner of Burt Bacharach

Hal David and Burt Bacharach wrote the hits 'Walk on By' and 'Do You Know the Way to San Jose' for Dionne Warwick, and 'Raindrops,' which won the Oscar for best original song in 1970.

September 02, 2012|By Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times
  • Burt Bacharach, left, Dionne Warwick and Hal David attend the musical tribute to David, "Love, Sweet Love," on David's 90th birthday in L.A. in 2011.
Burt Bacharach, left, Dionne Warwick and Hal David attend the musical tribute… (Vince Bucci, Associated…)

Hal David, the renowned pop music lyricist whose prolific collaboration with composer Burt Bacharach produced a wealth of enduringly memorable hits in the 1960s and early '70s, including "Walk On By," "What the World Needs Now Is Love" and the Oscar-winning "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head," died Saturday in Los Angeles. He was 91.

David died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center of complications from a stroke, according to his wife, Eunice.

"As a lyric writer, Hal was simple, concise and poetic — conveying volumes of meaning in the fewest possible words and always in service to the music," songwriter Paul Williams, president of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, said in a statement. David was a former president of the society and a longtime board member.

When David and Bacharach were awarded the nation's highest prize for popular music in May, President Obama said, "Above all, they stayed true to themselves."

"And with an unmistakable authenticity, they captured the emotions of our daily lives — the good times, the bad times and everything in between," the president said upon awarding them the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

David was too ill to attend the White House ceremony, but his wife accepted the award on his behalf.

"It was my great fortune to have ever crossed paths with Hal David. He was a great writer of lyrics. If you need proof, just listen to the lyrics of 'A House Is Not a Home' or 'Alfie' and that would be as good as you can get," Bacharach told The Times on Saturday.

James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, called David "an American songwriting treasure."

"The pairing of Hal David lyrics with Burt Bacharach music gave us powerful and memorable songs that have been embraced across generations," Billington said in a statement.

Singer and music historian Michael Feinstein told The Times in 2011 that lyrically David was "a very inventive wordsmith" who was "able to take the vernacular of the time and elevate it to poetic heights."

The Brooklyn-born David already had written a number of hit songs with other collaborators before teaming with the younger Bacharach in 1956 at Famous Music in the Brill Building, the legendary hub of music publishers and songwriters on Broadway in New York City.

They scored their first hit together in 1957 with Marty Robbins' recording of "The Story of My Life," which was followed by a 1958 hit for Perry Como, "Magic Moments" — two songs that, David later said, "didn't exactly break new ground."

Both David and Bacharach continued to collaborate with others before committing to an exclusive songwriting partnership after discovering what David once described as "their magical interpreter": a supremely talented young recording session backup singer named Dionne Warwick.

In 1962, Warwick recorded the Bacharach-David song "Don't Make Me Over" and it became her first hit single.

Warwick recorded a long string of Bacharach-David pop classics, including "Walk On By," "Alfie," "Reach Out for Me," "Message to Michael," "Trains and Boats and Planes," "I Say a Little Prayer," "Do You Know the Way to San Jose" and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again."

"She was so right for our stuff," David said of Warwick in 2003 in the Record of Bergen County, N.J. "You couldn't find anyone who could sing the melodies so well."

Of collaborating with Bacharach, he said: "We were really running parallel to rock 'n' roll. We were writing songs that I think were original and fresh and seemed to capture the imagination of the people at the time."

In 1963 — the year Warwick scored with the duo's "Anyone Who Had a Heart" — the songwriters had several other hits, including "Blue on Blue" for Bobby Vinton, "Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa" for Gene Pitney and "Wives and Lovers" for Jack Jones.

Other Bacharach and David hits of the 1960s included "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance" and "Only Love Can Break a Heart" (Pitney), "Make It Easy on Yourself" (Jerry Butler), "What's New, Pussycat?" (Tom Jones), "The Look of Love" and "Wishin' and Hopin' " (Dusty Springfield), "What the World Needs Now Is Love" (Jackie DeShannon) and "This Guy's In Love With You" (Herb Alpert).

"We'd sit in a room and start with maybe a line that I had, or four bars of Burt's music, and we'd build a song sort of like we were building a house," David recalled in 2000 in the London Guardian. "Very often we were writing three songs at a time."

Of his approach to writing lyrics, David told Daily Variety in 1998: "I always looked for an emotional impact and I always looked to tell stories. I like a narrative quality. I look for simplicity as opposed to being simplistic."

The inspiration for "Don't Make Me Over" came from a comment Warwick made to the songwriters after she sang "Make It Easy on Yourself" on a demonstration record, only to see it recorded by Jerry Butler.

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