Burt Bacharach (1928-2023)
12th February 2023
The world-famous songwriter, composer, and musician has died aged 94
Matthew Field looks back on the career of world-famous songwriter, composer and musician, BURT BACHARACH, responsible for scoring the 1967 James Bond spoof, ‘Casino Royale’, who has passed away in Hollywood, at the age of 94.
Burt Bacharach’s soundtrack for ‘Casino Royale’ is arguably the film’s greatest and most enduring asset. It was the glue that held producer, Charles K. Feldman’s crazy carnival of a motion picture together. In 2021, talking exclusively about the movie to Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury, Bacharach reflected, “It’s a very odd film, it didn’t really make much sense. Chaotic. But what else would you expect with five directors?”
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, on 12 May 1928, Bacharach’s father was a sports star and later a noted newspaper columnist, while his mother, Irma Freemann, was an artist and songwriter. Early on, he learned the drums, piano, and cello and showed an avid interest in jazz musicians such as Thelonius Monk and Charlie Parker. At McGill University in Montreal, Bacharach studied musical theory and later at the New School in New York. After his military service, he found work as a composer and arranger as well as a piano accompanist on the club circuit.
Bacharach’s lengthy collaboration with lyricist, Hal David, began in 1957 when they met at the famous Brill Building in New York where many songwriters and music publishers were based. Their first hits ‘The Story of My Life’ sung by Marty Robbins and ‘Magic Moments’ recorded by Perry Como were both number one in the UK and began a winning streak for the duo. Into the 1960s, they continued to write hit after hit. Highlights included songs for Gene Pitney, The Walker Brothers, Aretha Franklin, and Dusty Springfield but it was with Dionne Warwick, with who they enjoyed their greatest partnership, with tracks including ‘Walk on By’, ‘Do You Know the Way to San Jose?’ and ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again.’ Their work was never considered fashionable, but it was never out of fashion either. The songs were commercial, catchy, and classy as well as being musically complex. Bacharach rightfully said, “There’s nothing wrong with writing something people can whistle.”
Although Bacharach had written many songs for film, his first foray into composing came in 1965 with ‘What’s New Pussycat?’ and with David, wrote the title track, sung for Tom Jones. Producer Feldman then invited him to join his zany Bond spoof ‘Casino Royale’. Bacharach’s work on the picture would span a punishing two years. Feldman first gave him the script as early as August 1965 and he flew to London with David in October 1967 to start work on the picture to write as Variety reported, “half a dozen ditties”. In his autobiography Bacharach wrote, “By the time I started working on the picture, all the directors had already left so there was no one to tell me where the music should start and where it should stop.”
Feldman requested Bacharach and David write a “baroque” tune for the opening titles. First titled, ‘Little French Girl, Little French Boy’ it was later re-written as the instrumental Casino Royale theme with a version that was also accompanied by lyrics sung by Mike Redway, after Johnny Rivers declined. This fanfare-style theme was performed by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and became the film’s central musical motif used throughout the film segueing from one madcap set piece to another.
‘Casino Royale’s’ best scene is when Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress) seduces Evelyn Tremble (Peter Sellers) to the dreamy and sensual, “The Look of Love” sung by Dusty Springfield. On set, the director of this segment, Joe McGrath, had used the Stan Getz-Astrud Gilberto bossa nova song, ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ as playback and Sellers and Andress had moved in time with it. Even though Feldman ordered McGrath to remove the scene, which he described, as “artistic nonsense” Bacharach and David wrote a sultry tune to cover it. He said years later, “It wasn’t really a love theme as much as a kind of very understated sexual theme written for [Andress’] body and face.”
Bacharach recalled the recording session with Springfield was particularly tough, “Dusty was a great girl with a really soulful voice, but she was very hard to record. We were both perfectionists, but Dusty was much harder on herself than she needed to be…Dusty was so insecure that when we cut, ‘The Look Of Love’ together in London she would go into a separate control room so she could listen to the playback herself.” ‘The Look Of Love’ was the first James Bond song to be nominated for an Academy Award. It was performed at the Oscars ceremony by Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’66 who also released their version as a single. The dreamy, sultry number became an instant classic and in 2008 was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
The duo also penned, ‘Let The Love Come Through,’ however, only the melody was eventually used in Bacharach’s final score. Interestingly, the song turned up later on Rowland Shaw’s 1967 tribute album, ‘More James Bond In Action.’ Bacharach had also spoken with The Animals regarding a possible track for the film, but this never materialised.
In January 1967, Bacharach took 8 days to record ‘Casino Royale’s’ 100 cues totaling around 60 minutes of score, at CTS Studios in London. Unusually, recording supervisor, Jack Glegg, recorded Bacharach’s sessions using very expensive high-end tape which resulted in a sophisticated recording and the original LP release remains to this day, sought after amongst audiophiles. Asked about his influences for ‘Casino Royale’ which marked the pinnacle of the 60s spy craze, Bacharach told Field and Chowdhury, “I listened to the way London felt at the time, the streets. I spent a lot of time walking in the park. It was representative of what was going on in England at the time. It was chaos. And it was chaos just getting it written and done. I drank too much Jack Daniels and took too many sleeping pills. I would stay up all night, writing against the clock. It didn’t come easy. The score does come off well though, I got off lucky.”
In 1970, Bacharach and David won an Academy Award for ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ from ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ (1969) with Bacharach winning a second Oscar for his score. However, in 1973, their successful partnership came to end following the disappointing failure of a musical version of the 1937 film ‘Lost Horizon’. It resulted in an acrimonious split. Bacharach said; “I really worked my tail off while he played tennis in Acapulco.” During the 1970s, his career was fading but an estimated $40 million fortune cushioned his slow down. He enjoyed a resurgence in the 1980s and with his second wife, lyrist, Carole Bayer Sager, (who penned ‘Nobody Does it Better’) won a third Oscar for the theme to ‘Arthur’ (1981).
By the mid-1990s Bacharach had become known as the King of Sixties smooth, a position he parodied in all three Austin Powers films and which raised his profile significantly. His back catalogue began to gain respect and admiration by a new generation of musicians such as Oasis, REM, and Massive Attack. Mike Myers who created Austin Powers said that Bacharach’s music, in particular, ‘Casino Royale’, was a major inspiration for re-creating the atmosphere of the swinging sixties. In 1998, he worked with Elvis Costello on the Grammy award-winning album, ‘Painted From Memory’. He also briefly rekindled his partnership with Hal David. Bacharach continued to tour into his 90s. He once reflected on his work, “The biggest thrill for me is being able to make a dent, even a small one, in somebody’s life. The reward is when someone tells you one of your songs means something special to them. It might be the memory of a good time, or a love affair, or when their baby is born.”
While Burt Bacharach gave us so much more than his bombastic work on ‘Casino Royale’ to Bond fans and soundtrack connoisseurs it will always be a highlight. While the film remains an interesting curio that divides opinion, it did feature one of Bacharach’s most alluring songs. To the wider world, it will always remain a little-known fact that ‘The Look of Love’ began life in a James Bond movie.
Burt Bacharach died on February 8th, 2023, from natural causes. Married four times, he is survived by his fourth wife, Jane Hansen, and three of his four children.