Lyricist whose partnership with Burt Bacharach produced a host of timeless classics such as I Say A Little Prayer
HAL DAVID, who died last Saturday aged 91, was one of the great lyricists of the 20th Century; his partnership with Burt Bacharach in the 1960s -- which produced such hits as I Say a Little Prayer, Do You Know the Way to San Jose? and Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head -- added more standards to the modern canon of popular song than any writing team bar Lennon and McCartney.
David had already established himself as a successful writer for the likes of Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan when he was introduced to Bacharach (at 29, some seven years his junior) in 1957. Both had offices in Manhattan's Brill Building, then the principal 'factory' of the music industry.
Though David had briefly enjoyed fruitful relationships with Henry Mancini and Arthur Altman, he had yet to find his ideal foil. For his part, Bacharach was known more as a musical director who had revived Marlene Dietrich's cabaret career than as a composer, although he had enjoyed a minor pop hit, The Blob, with lyrics by David's older brother.
The partnership between Bacharach and David soon revealed itself to be as natural as that between hand and glove. Almost immediately they scored a big hit with Magic Moments, which Perry Como took to No 1 in Britain in 1958. But Bacharach then returned to Dietrich's employ, and it was not until 1962 that they began to work together continually.
The catalyst for this was Bacharach's discovery of the perfect vehicle for his music, the 21-year-old Dionne Warwick, whom he had noticed recording backing vocals for The Drifters. Her voice -- as light, flexible and strong as tempered steel -- had the range to cope with the Latin rhythms and changes of time signature that Bacharach favoured, while also being admirably suited to the tales of heartbreak that were David's lyrical specialism.
With Warwick, the pair enjoyed a stream of almost 20 hits that have since become imperishable classics -- among them Walk On By (1964), Anyone Who Had a Heart (1964), Reach Out for Me (1964) and Do You Know the Way to San Jose? (1968).
Notable versions of the duo's songs were also recorded in this remarkably creative period by Aretha Franklin, with I Say a Little Prayer (1967); Dusty Springfield, with The Look of Love (1967) and I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself (1968); Gene Pitney, with Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa (1963); the Walker Brothers, whose rendition of Make It Easy On Yourself (1968) became their signature tune; Herb Alpert, who had a No 1 in America with This Guy's In Love With You (1969); and The Carpenters, whose arrangement of Close To You succeeded where Dionne Warwick had had a rare failure.
Bacharach and David were also much in demand to write themes to films, and were thrice nominated for the Oscar for Best Song -- for What's New, Pussycat? (1965), Alfie (1967) and The Look of Love (from the Bond spoof Casino Royale, also 1967) -- before finally capturing the prize in 1970 with Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head, written for the soundtrack of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
The last of these was a fine example of their art -- an eminently hummable (and unusually plain) melody by Bacharach to which David had added deceptively simple words. For, as with many of their songs, the content of his lyrics actually formed a downbeat counterpoint to the jauntiness of the tune; the song is in fact about someone suffering constant disappointments.
David's gift was for writing words that gave voice to the interior sadness of daily life, the melodramas of devotion, rejection, jealousy and vulnerability. Thus San Jose, which at first hearing seems to bounce along merrily enough, is actually a record about a person abandoning her dreams of fame: "And all the stars that never were/ are parking cars and pumping gas."
If his songs can be said to have a theme to them, it is that of putting on a brave face when inside all is tears: "What do you get when you fall in love?/A guy with a pin to burst your bubble" (from I'll Never Fall in Love Again).
His critics claimed David's lyrics were banal (but no more banal, surely, than "All you need is love"). Certainly his songs lacked the verbal pyrotechnics of Cole Porter or Lorenz Hart, but such dexterity with rhyme did not suit his purpose, which was to tell everyday stories in the most natural way. He understood the great truth of good writing: it should not appear to have been written at all.
Bacharach and David's partnership was not only one of talent but also one of great industry. For much of the 1960s they lived on opposite coasts of America, so would spend a month at a time at each other's apartments, often working on three or four songs simultaneously. "We'd sit there and build a song like we were building a house," recalled David.
At other times they developed tunes on the telephone for hours on end, for example I Say a Little Prayer. They rarely socialised together, however, and both were free to work on other projects if they chose. David, for instance, collaborated with Louis Armstrong on another Bond theme, We've Got All the Time in the World for On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
At the end of the decade he and Bacharach turned their attention from film to Broadway, that traditional proving ground of great American songwriting partnerships. Initially they had great success, in 1967, with Promises, Promises (a musical version of the Jack Lemmon film The Apartment), for which they wrote I'll Never Fall in Love Again. But when, in 1973, they tried to combine two fields in which they had previously had nothing but triumphs, for a musical film of the book Lost Horizon (somewhat improbably starring John Gielgud), the result was universally panned.
Unused to such criticism, their partnership broke under the shock and they fell out acrimoniously. For almost 20 years they barely spoke to one another -- and as individuals had hardly a single hit song.
Hal David was born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 25 1921, the son of Austrian Jews who ran a kosher delicatessen. His elder brother, Mack, also became a successful lyricist, writing songs such as I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine (recorded by the young Elvis Presley, among others), The Ballad of Cat Ballou (for the film starring Jane Fonda) and the English version of Edith Piaf's La Vie en Rose.
By contrast with his brother, Hal was not obviously musical as a child, and soon gave up trying to learn the violin. He always enjoyed writing, however, and on leaving school went to New York University to study journalism. Following the outbreak of war he was drafted into the US military and found himself attached to an entertainment unit in Hawaii, where he began to write lyrics for musical productions for the troops.
Before the advent of the pop revolution and of acts (notably The Beatles) who wrote their own music, most singers still depended for material on songwriters, many of whom were based in the area of New York known as Tin Pan Alley. When the war ended, David began to hawk his songs around the music companies, and soon became resident lyricist to the bandleader Sammy Kaye. He suffered a temporary reverse when one of his first hits, Horizontal, about a tired soldier wanting to sleep, was banned by the authorities, who suspected it of having sexual connotations.
Following the end of his partnership with Bacharach in the early Seventies, David continued to write songs, although like Bacharach he enjoyed virtually no success on his own, perhaps his biggest hit coming in 1984 when Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson recorded To All the Girls I've Loved Before.
From 1980, David also busied himself as president of ASCAP, the American songwriters' copyright society, as well as with his investments, which included a broom factory and a business that made wallpaper.
In the Nineties there was a strong revival of interest in his work with Bacharach, prompted by the tributes of Oasis and Elvis Costello. This renewed attention helped to reconcile the former partners, and they began writing together from time to time.
The mild, bespectacled David tended to receive less attention than the distinguished-looking Bacharach, but this never bothered him. "The important thing is what one does," he reflected, "not one's name. The songs live, the writer doesn't. You just hope your songs outlast you."
In 1999 he became the first non-Briton to be given the Special Award of the Ivor Novello Songwriters' Association. In May this year, Bacharach and David were awarded the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
Hal David married Anne Rauchman in 1947. He later married Eunice Forester in 1988, who survives him with the two sons of his first marriage.