One day in the 1970s, a new LP turned up in the house. A collection of songs by Burt Bacharach. One song in particular stood out: This Guy’s in Love With You. It wasn’t necessarily the song that connected, but its association with . . . witchcraft!
Every Sunday we’d go for a day trip and one of the places we’d visit was Pendle Hill, the gloomy presence hovering over the villages of Newchurch and Sabden and Roughlee, places associated with the Pendle witches and bursting with evocative historical atmosphere.
We’d get home and stick a record on and if we were back from Pendle I’d beat everyone to the record player and stick the Burt Bacharach album on first. Originally written for Herb Alpert, the version of This Guy… on this album was awash with reverb and stereo echo giving it a slippery mood darker than Alpert’s original recording.
This one song introduced me to the astonishing songwriting of Burt Bacharach (or Burt Backache as Eric Morecambe called him). A product of his time, the 1960s when everyone was cool except the politicians, Bacharach’s songs, with lyrics by Hal David, were so smooth they were more viscous than liquid nitrogen.
His music made a star of Dionne Warwick in the US, and Cilla Black in the UK when Alfie was commissioned as the theme tune to the eponymous Michael Caine film. He was the ultimate lounge lizard, the music that was probably stuck in Frank Sinatra’s head when he wasn’t singing something else.
But it was only in later years, when I started to discover the challenges of song writing that a thought occurred to me: why are his songs immediately identifiable as Burt Bacharach songs? There are millions of songs, but very few songwriters are immediately identifiable within the first few bars.
Several years ago I tried to find out. Using music theory, what was unique, what compositional tricks or methods did Bacharach use to create that unique harmonic personality. Was it a certain chord progression or key change? One thing I did discover was that when jazz musicians tried to adapt his music to jazz arrangements the songs required hardly any alterations; Bacharach would use varying time signatures in a single track and always attached the rhythm of the music to the metre of the lyrics. But apart from that, no one has yet been able to tell me what he was doing that made his sound so distinctive.
Have a listen to The Look of Love and take care to notice where the verse becomes the chorus; you won’t spot it!
As for This Guys in Love With You, the album we had was lost and in spite of comprehensive searching on the internet and Youtube I could never find that particular recording of the song. And then one day I found a site that listed every single recording ever made of a Burt Bacharach song. Having identified the name of the ensemble I tracked down the mp3 to a Russian website of all places.
Maybe the recording encapsulates everything that is special about Burt Bacharach. Like any great mystery or magic trick, not knowing how it’s done is a fundamental part of the enjoyment known only to the subconscious.