Op-Ed: Hal David, Bacharach’s lyricist, dead at 91

Posted Sep 1, 2012 by Paul Wallis
Hal David was the guy who wrote I Say A Little Prayer with Burt Bacharach- by phone. He was responsible for some of the world’s most famous songs, many of which are all-time classics. He died of complications from a stroke.
Hal David with Grammy Award
Hal David with Grammy Award
Photo: Joe Kohen / Courtesy The Recording Academy
David and Bacharach met in the Brill Building, the Tin Pan Alley song factory. They penned a song for Perry Como that became their first million seller, “Magic Moments”, and things snowballed from there.
The New York Times:
In 1962 they began writing for a young singer named Dionne Warwick, whose versatile voice conveyed the emotion of David's lyrics and easily handled the changing patterns of Bacharach's melodies. Together the trio created a succession of popular songs including "Don't Make Me Over," ''Walk On By," ''I Say a Little Prayer." ''Do You Know the Way to San Jose," ''Trains and Boats and Planes," ''Anyone Who Has a Heart," ''You'll Never Get to Heaven" and "Always Something There to Remind Me."
The pair also wrote hit songs for numerous other singers: "This Guy's in Love with You" (trumpeter Herb Alpert in his vocal debut), "Make It Easy on Yourself" (Jerry Butler), "What the World Needs Now is Love" (Jackie DeShannon) and "Wishin' and Hopin'" (Dusty Springfield). They also turned out title songs for the movies "What's New, Pussycat" (Tom Jones), "Wives and Lovers" (Jack Jones) and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence" (Gene Pitney).
What makes a great lyricist?
What nobody is likely to mention about David’s lyrics is actually one of the most obvious things about the Bacharach-David partnership- David could actually match the dynamics of Bacharach’s dazzling piano.
Bacharach can make a piano sing, and David was the guy who came up with the lyrics to go with this incredible sound. I wasn’t much of a fan of Bacharach’s, some years ago. I, like everyone else, grew up with the guy. He was part of the musical mythology of the 60s. Of course it was a Bacharach song, whatever was in the charts. I didn’t even know who Hal David was until I saw the song credits.
I’d always assumed Bacharach was a typical studio/old school pianist. He’s not. I saw him play on TV, first time I’d ever bothered to really watch him at work. He can get things out of a piano that other people can’t get out of an orchestra. He’s a sort of “Robert Johnson in a suit” when he plays. He’s everywhere. That makes writing lyrics more like an Olympic event than normal songwriting.
If you listen to “I Say A Little Prayer”, the words have to fit in with some real piano gymnastics. Listen to the times and phrasing on Aretha’s “I Say A Little Prayer”. That’s a straight off the piano melody, and it’s delivered like an ICBM by Aretha.
To write lyrics which can go with a quite complex arrangement like that, and give the singers something to work with as well (how many different versions of that song have you heard?) you need to be a lot better than most people. Hal David is in the Lennon-McCartney, Sondheim and Paul Simon league. Just plain better than just about everybody else.
RIP, Hal David. And thanks for those fantastic songs.