The Beatles & Bacharach
They never worked directly together directly but their careers intersected
In some respects Burt Bacharach seemed to to represent the antithesis of what The Beatles offered. Bacharach, suave, handsome, classically trained and perhaps a tiny bit square was much more an establishment figure in the George Martin mode. By the mid Sixties, however, his name was often mentioned in tandem with the new kids on the bloc and only partially in contrast.
Bacharach predated The Beatles, of course, writing his first hits while Paul and George was still at school. While they were bashing away in their marathon Hamburg sessions he was the musical director for Marlene Dietrich. Her upmarket cabaret circuit was never going to include the Star Club but Paul sung Falling in Love Again there, hamming up Marlene’s famously Teutonic vocal delivery.
The Beatles played Bacharach songs, perhaps unknowingly at first. One of these, ‘Baby It’s You’, was a staple of their live set. It appeared on their first album, where it was generally described as as a Shirelle’s song. This downplaying of Burt’s contribution was initially unconscious but did hint at a certain unease.
Lennon, particularly, wanted to distance The Beatles from the old world of handsome crooning showbiz schmoozing. Bacharach, for his part, had no interest in hearing his compositions bellowed a la Twist and Shout
McCartney seemed happier covering standards from the American songbook. Both songwriting partners quietly admired singers like Doris Day and Peggy Lee but Paul’s temperament and vocal technique were better suited to tackling show-stopping ballads. You could never imagine Lennon putting his hand up to sing ‘Till There Was You’, for example.
The influence of that tradition was also more apparent in McCartney’s songwriting. George Martin saw this and famously proposed edging in that direction in his arrangement of Yesterday. This was initially met with resistance (‘No strings, George! No vibrato’) but his innate musical intelligence soon recognised the benefits.
There were limits to the concession that The Beatles were going to make to appeal to a broader audience — and no commercial pressure to do so. The reverse was the case for their old friend, Cilla Black. Her first single, Love of the Loved had been a relative flop, despite having a Lennon-McCartney credit. It was essentially a early Paul composition: workman like and popular live but lacking distinction.
This criticism could not be made of her second single, a Bacharach and David composition which came at the suggestion of George Martin. ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ was an immediate sensation, much to the chagrin of one Ms D. Warwick. Nonetheless as the house diva for Bacharach and David, Dionne had first option on what would prove to be an even bigger hit, Alfie.
At this point the film studio stepped in, insisting that it had to be an English singer. Call Cilla — but by this stage Ms Black was not a woman to be trifled with.
“I said I’d only do it if Burt Bacharach himself did the arrangement, never thinking for one moment that he would. [When] the reply came back from America that he’d be happy to. … I said I would only do it if Burt came over to London for the recording session. ‘Yes,’ came the reply. Next I said that as well as the arrangements and coming over, he had to play [piano] on the session. To my astonishment it was agreed that Burt would do all three. So by this time, coward that I was, I really couldn’t back out.”
So Burt hauled himself over to Abbey Studio, for what proved to be a gruelling recording session .
With the takes moving into the late-twenties, George Martin came close to pulling rank. “Burt, I don’t think we are going to improve on the third one…”.
Burt reluctantly agreed but was delighted with the result. Paul McCartney was impressed, too, and Bacharach’s influence can clearly be heard on ‘Step Inside Love, the song he wrote to launch the Cilla Black Show.
Dionne Warwick — not so much.
Burt Bacharach 1928–2023 RIP