Burt Bacharach Changed Music in Movies Forever

The man who created the soundtrack for a generation passed away last week

It is difficult to conceive of movie music without the talents of people like John Williams, for orchestra scores, and for individual songs, Burt Bacharach, who died on February 8.

One of the aspects of movies that we generally take for granted nowadays is that there is already popular music embedded in them, especially, say, in the case of something that includes one or more superheroes. They simply put music on top of the visuals to amplify what’s going on (e.g., AC/DC’s “Back in Black” in Iron Man).

Once there were songs that people wrote especially for particular movies. Burt Bacharach had a remarkable body of work in this genre.

One of the songs that he wrote was for the bicycle-riding segment of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a Western. Think about it for a moment: There is a bank robber (albeit a charming one, portrayed by Paul Newman) in 1899 Wyoming, someone whose more ordinary approach to mobility involves a horse, starts performing tricks like some early Mat Hoffman in order to impress Etta Place (Katherine Ross) as B.J. Thomas sings “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” on the soundtrack.

The song, which has become something of a bouncy standard, was reportedly inserted by director George Roy Hill because he wanted something of a sweet scene, though it comes off as aspartame.

The movie, which was released in 1969, was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Sound, none of which it won. And Best Story and Screenplay—Based on Material Not Previously Published or Produced, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score for a Motion Picture (Not a Musical), and Best Song—Original for the Picture, all of which it did win.

The biggest winner for the film was Bacharach, who wrote the score for the movie and co-wrote the winning song, “Raindrops. . .” with Hal David.

Bacharach has had a tremendous influence on movie music, especially for Academy Award-nominated and -winning songs.

Bacharach’s first Academy Award nomination was for “What’s New Pussycat?”, for the 1965 film directed by Clive Donner and written by Woody Allen. Tom Jones performed the title song.

It was a big movie year for the Welch singer as in 1965 Jones sang the title song for Thunderball. (And the movie franchise that has cumulatively added more to original popular music than any other is that of James Bond.)

The Bacharach song did not win the Oscar in 1965.

The following year the Academy nominated Bacharach’s “Alfie,” for the movie of the same name. Although we generally associate the song with Dionne Warwick, Cilla Black sang the soundtrack version. Black did her recording at Abbey Road Studios, and her producer, George Martin, participated. The song “Alfie” did not receive an Academy Award. (Nor did the movie.)

In 1967 his “The Look of Love” from Casino Royale, the parody version of the Ian Fleming novel. Dusty Springfield performed “The Look of Love”  for the film; Phil Ramone engineered it. The song didn’t win.

(Oddly, there were two Bond movies in 1967, with the other being the more canonical You Only Live Twice. Nancy Sinatra performed the theme song for that movie (not written by Bacharach). Her dad had turned down the opportunity. Frank was busy movie-wise in 1967, starring in both The Naked Runner and Tony Rome.

Bacharach had no nominations in 1968. In 1969 he had the two wins for the score and song for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Another Best Original Song nomination came in 1981 for the awkwardly titled “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” for the movie Arthur. The song has four songwriters. In addition to Bacharach, there are his then-wife Carole Bayer Sager, Peter Allen, who was the ex-husband of co-star Liza Minnelli, and performer Christopher Cross. The song was to be the second and last number-one single for Cross, which was good for him. What is good for us is that Liza didn’t vocalize. The theme song won the Oscar.

It was the last golden statuette that Bacharach received.

And another coincidence, back to B.J. Thomas. In 1985 he was to record “As Long as We Got Each Other,” the theme song to the Growing Pains TV show. For the second and third seasons of the show the song was recorded as a duet between Thomas and Jennifer Warnes. We associated Warnes’s voice with two movies of the 1980s: paired with Joe Cocker, she sang “Up Where We Belong” for 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman. In 1987 she paired with Bill Medley for “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” for Dirty Dancing.

Seasons four and five had still another duet with Thomas: “The Look of Love’s” Dusty Springfield.

Requiescat in pace, Burt.

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Stephen Macaulay

Stephen Macaulay writes about the music industry for Glorious Noise (www.gloriousnoise.com).He began his career in Rockford, Illinois, a place about which Warren Zevon once told a crowd, “How can you miss with a name like Rockford?”

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