2 Nov 2015

Songwriting legend, Burt Bacharach

From Nine To Noon, 10:05 am on 2 November 2015

Burt Bacharach is one of the world's greatest and most successful songwriters. He's won eight Grammys and three Academy Awards, and penned so many hit songs it's hard to keep count.

Bacharach, who was born in 1928, has penned over 70 US Top 40 hits. He wrote classics like 'Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head' and The Carpenters' 'Close to You', as well as 'I Say a Little Prayer', 'Walk On By', and Tom Jones' hit 'What's New Pussycat'.

His compositions are more complex than the average pop song, characterised by unusual chord progressions, key changes, irregular phrasing and changing meters.

His biggest hits were written with lyricist Hal David. Together, they had a particularly fruitful collaboration with singer Dionne Warwick, who Bacharach describes as a great artist.

At 87, he's still going strong. After touring Australia, he'll be performing in Auckland on 7 November, where he will be performing with the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra.

Listen to the interview - and clips from Bacharach's songs - on Nine to Noon:

Bacharach told Nine to Noon his passion for music did not emerge straight away.

"I didn't like taking piano lessons, I didn't like having to come home from school and have to practise before I could go out and play with my friends. It was not a joyous time with music, you know."

What turned him around, he said, was jazz - great musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk, who were playing a sort of music he'd never heard before.

Classical musicians, in particular French impressionists Debussy and Ravel, also influenced him.

He tries to follow what feels natural and "do what the song is telling me to do" when composing, he explained. The changing meter in 'Promises, Promises', for example, is used to express the song's story.

"There's a certain urgency that's dictated by the lyrics. The guy's been promised a promotion all his life, been working at this company and he finally says, 'I'm through, I'm through with them all'... It had to express that kind of anger and resolute 'I am finished with you guys'."

Other songs were written to fit artists such as Dionne Warwick.

"The more I wrote musically and could record with her, the more I saw, you know, unlimited bounds. Her range was bigger than I expected," he said.

"The emotion that she could convey became more revealing. When you get that way, you start making the song to fit the artist, tailoring it."

A song needs to have substance to have longevity, he said, but the current music environment doesn't encourage it.

"Disposible is the best way [to put it]. There was a time when *NSYNC, you didn't think they could do anything wrong, Backstreet Boys, anything wrong, they'd have one hit after another - but I defy you to now say, I remember that song, I can sing the *NSYNC version of such and such. Ear candy, we used to call it."

Still, he said, contemporary artists such as Adele, Yo-Yo Ma and John Mayer are "very special" and playing at Glastonbury last June was one of the highlights of his musical career.

"It's daylight, I get the 5.30pm slot, and I go on stage and see 200,000 people out there or whatever it was, singing along - well, that's great. I was very honoured and very glad to do it."