Hal David is able to find the poetry in everyday language, “I tend to understate rather than overstate,” David says. “I strive for a natural quality- as if anybody could have done it.”
Sometimes that effortless quality came easily – as in “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again,” which Bacharach & David wrote on a one-day deadline. Other times, achieving that sense of spontaneity was bloody hard work. David spent two years drying to find the right approach to the bridge on “What The World Needs Now Is Love.” “It seemed so right once I thought of it, but it took me forever to find it,” he says. “The struggle was getting it the way I felt it should be and yet having it feel like it just happened. Some of our songs were very deceptive in their simplicity – or seeming simplicity.”
David wrote the lyrics to one of the most sensuous songs of the 1960s (“The Look Of Love”), one of the most unabashedly romantic (“This Guy’s In Love With You”), and several of the most heartbreaking (“Make It Easy On Yourself,” “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself,” “A House Is Not A Home”). His deeply ingrained romanticism prevails in even seemingly unromantic songs such as “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” and the scowling “My Little Red Book.”
But David’s songs aren’t just about romantic love. Several of his songs have a spiritual dimension that’s rare in pop music. “What The World Need Now Is Love” takes the form of a prayer. “I Say A Little Prayer” and “You’ll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart)” are romantic ballads built on religious images. In “Alfie” David ponders issues of mortality and salvation and decides that love is “something even nonbelievers can believe in.” 29
About the spiritual overtones in his songs, David says, “I can’t say I do it on purpose, but in those areas that I do it, I’m very happy to do it.”
David wrote several timely message songs. “What The World Needs Now Is Love” addressed an increasingly world situation in 1965. In “Windows Of The World” David asked a question that was on a lot of people’s minds as the Vietnam War raged on in 1967: “What is the whole world coming to?” 23
David also dabble in soft-sell liberal politicking. “Everybody’s Out Of Town” reads almost like a Democratic party platform (thought it sings much better): “Everyone’s moved out from the ghetto/Lots of space/Empty apartments/No more pollution/Plenty of classrooms everywhere.”30
“That’s basically been where I am, where I was, where my parents were,” David says. “That’s how I think.”
In David’s book, What The World Needs Now And Other Love Lyrics, he explained: “There are many message songs being written. More and more of them are violent, I tend to take a gentler approach in my protest. I have a feeling that in the final analysis, the gentler approach will reach more people.”
Brooklyn-born Hal David, the younger brother of noted songwriter Mack David, met Bacharach in 1957 at Famous Music in New York. For the next five years, they wrote together on a nonexclusive basis. “Burt was also writing with Bob Hilliard,” David remembers, “I was also writing with Sherman Edwards and Lee Pockriss. Everyone was looking for the magic whatever-it-was. And then starting in 1962, it just seemed ‘boom.’ Burt and I couldn’t seem to write enough to satisfy our needs with Dionne and other people who were calling.
“We stopped writing with other people because we just did,” David says, “I don’t think we ever said, ‘Hey, now we’re a team.’ It just became so.”
During their hit streak in the 1960s, Bacharach & David lived on opposite coasts. Their usual pattern was to come together for three-week writing sessions at Bacharach’s Los Angeles home or his New York apartment. “The separation keeps our outlook fresh,” David said in 1972. “We see little of each other between writing sessions, and that’s to the good. Burt and I work together, seven hours a day. If we spent more time with each other socially, we’d have less to bounce off each other.”
Bacharach & David had a healthy respect for each other’s area of expertise. “We’d have our opinions,” David says, “He would like a line, not like a line. I would like a strain, not like a strain. We would delve into whatever it was if one of us found we didn’t care for something the other was doing. But when the chips were down, I would always defer to him musically, and he would always defer to me lyrically.”
David’s active role in the partnership with Bacharach is suggested by the their shared production credit on hits by Dionne Warwick, B.J. Thomas, and others. The two men started producing their hits in the early ‘60s – largely in self-defense.
“We wrote many songs that got recorded and didn’t work, and more than often not, the songs didn’t work,” David says, “People were recording our songs and taking away whatever we did that may have been a little different. If Burt had a 5/4 bar, they would turn it into a 4/4 bar. They made everything symmetrical. If they hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t have felt compelled to go and make our own records.”
What made Bacharach & David such a great team?
“I think there are many elements,” David says. “You start with Burt, who was and is not only a brilliant composer, but a unique composer. He was just different. Innovative. Original. His music spoke to me. I’d hear his melodies and I’d hear lyrics. I’d hear rhymes. I’d hear thoughts. And I’d hear it almost immediately – it was never a blank to me.”
Another key to their success, David says, is that they never settled. “I don’t ever recall in our collaboration that we ever wrote with any sense of limitation. We didn’t say, ‘We can’t do this because the range is so great’ or ‘Who is going to sing it?’ or ‘Is it commercial?,’ we just wrote.”
The two men also shared work ethic and perfectionistic streak. “I could and still can stay awake for nights over an and or a but to get it just the way I think it’s meant to be,” David says. “And Burt is very much the same way. The nights we stayed awake over a note or a chord … In the final analysis, on any given song, would it have made a difference? Maybe not. But would it have made a difference in the whole body of work? Yes.”
Since the early ‘70s David has resumed writing with other collaborators, including Albert Hammond, John Barry, and the late Henry Mancini. His non-Bacharach hits include “99 Miles From L.A.,” “It Was Almost Like A Song,” and “To All The Girls I Loved Before.” David also served as President of ASCAP from 1980 to 1986 and remains on its board of directors.
But David knows that his lasting legacy is the incomparable body of work he wrote with Bacharach.
“There’s a chemistry in life that creates magic sometimes,” he says. “It’s what happened with us. There was a chemistry of personality and talent that just mixed together and turned out very often to be magical.”
– Paul Grein
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