Music Monday with PLC is a weekly feature written by my husband, Pat.
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R.I.P. Mr. Hal David
[photo of liner notes in The Look of Love by jennifer; review by pat]
Hal David passed away this weekend. He lived to the ripe old age of 91, and was a giant in his field and one of the best at what he did. Many of you may be asking, who is Hal David, and what exactly was he the best at? Fair question, easy answer. You may not have known of Hal David, but I am sure you have heard of his work: because Hal David is one of the best lyricists ever. His work with maestro composer Burt Bacharach was pure musical magic. For all you Eddie and the Cruisers fans (hand cupped behind ear), “words and music.”
David and Bacharach first met up in 1957 at the Brill Building in NYC. The legendary place where musicians and lyricists worked together in smoke filled cubicles on beat up pianos churning out the hope-to-be hits of the day. One of those first hits came for them with the song “Magic Moments” which was recorded by Perry Como, all when David was already in his late 30’s -
Yeah, it may be a little milquetoast, but the music and lyrics are deceptively sophisticated - all contained in a timeless message (and I’ve always been a sucker for a good whistle in a song). David said the three qualities he always sought in his lyrics were “believability, simplicity and emotional impact.” Not always an easy feat to do in three odd minutes while still attempting to rhyme; but like true craftsmen, he and Bacharach made it look easy. And soon after they started writing, they found the perfect voice to give life to these three qualities and many of their best songs: the lovely and talented 22 year old backup singer, Ms. Dionne Warwick. Together this triumverate tore up the charts and recorded many instant classics. Here is one of my favorites: “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” -
David uses the timeless story of going to LA to try and make it big in a cruel town where success is always hopefully one step away, finally resolving that the title character needs to find his way back home (San Jose), both physically and spiritually. Now that is the subtle work of a true master. During their heyday in the 60’s, David and Bacharach lived on opposite coasts and would get together for writing sessions. Wisely, the separation kept the ideas fresh between the two of them. Personality probably had a lot to do with the magic also. David was a mild mannered straight laced spectacled gentleman. While Bacharach was all open collar California cool, even going so far as to marry television’s Angie Dickinson (“Pepper” from Police Woman. Anyone, anyone? Bueller....). The best part of this duo is that they were making these sophisticated bachelor pad standards while many rockers where putting out some of their best works. Next to the songs of this duo, it sounds like many others were not even playing with the same notes, chords and words as these two masters.
Cool does come in many forms. I think one of the great keys to their success was like most great art - the tortured soul strong work ethic and perfectionist streak. David admitted, “I could and still stay awake for nights over an ‘and‘ or a ‘but’, and Burt is very much the same over a note or a chord.” It is in their dedication that the magic is made. Very few, if any, ever wrote the broken heart song better than David. And no one ever broke down the heartbreak of having one less egg to fry. Brilliant.
And a killer lead vocal performance by Ms. Marilyn McCoo of the 5th Dimension -
I remember when the Elton John tribute album Two Rooms came out. I was like, you mean another guy, Bernie Taupin, wrote all those lyrics for Elton John? It just seemed so natural to me that John wrote the whole thing. Such is the the greatness of Bacharach and David. The perfect words to the perfect music put together by two guys following their own collective muse. And many times lucky enough to find the perfect voice to bring their compositions to life. Their prolific catalogue is filled with amazing songs that I can list for hours: “Windows of the World”, “Alfie”, “Walk On By”, “Raindrops Keep Fallin‘ On My Head”, “(They Long To Be) Close To You", etc. etc. etc... ad infinitum.
Thanks, Mr. David. Rest In Peace, your songs will live on forever.
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- last season - Jack White
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