Top 10 Burt Bacharach and Hal David Songs

Masterpieces of Pop Songwriting

Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick, and Hal David
Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick, and Hal David. Photo by Frank Driggs Collection / Getty Images

Teenage Burt Bacharach received classical training as a pianist, but he loved jazz. He combined both interests after meeting lyricist Hal David in 1957. The pair began working together as songwriters at the legendary Brill Building in New York City. Their first hit "The Story of My Life" was a  #1 country smash for Marty Robbins in 1957. The songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David are some of the greatest pop hits of all time.

 

01
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B.J. Thomas - "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" (1970)

BJ Thomas Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head
B.J. Thomas - "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head". Courtesy A&M

Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote the positive minded "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" for the soundtrack of the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The recording played in the movie is slightly different than the one released for radio airplay. It includes an extended instrumental section that accompanied actor Paul Newman performing stunts on his bicycle. "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" won the Academy Award for Best Song From a Motion Picture. B.J. Thomas recorded the version of the song used in the film, and it became the first #1 pop song of the 1970s. It also spent seven weeks at #1 on the adult contemporary chart.

Ray Stevens, known for his straightforward hit "Everything Is Beautiful" and the novelty classic "The Streak," and Bob Dylan were both given the option to record the song but declined. Burt Bacharach and Hal David produced the B.J. Thomas recording as well as writing the song. "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" includes a horn solo, a common element of Burt Bacharach and Hal David productions, in the gently loping arrangement. Many cover versions of the song exist. French singer Sacha Distel reached the top 10 on the U.K. pop singles chart with his interpretation. In 2014 B.J. Thomas' recording of "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

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02
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Dionne Warwick - "I Say a Little Prayer" (1967)

Dionne Warwick I Say a Little Prayer
Dionne Warwick - "I Say a Little Prayer". Courtesy Scepter

One of the most poignant of Burt Bacharach and Hal David songs, "I Say a Little Prayer" depicts a devotion to love so thorough that thoughts and deeds are focused on the lover nearly every moment of the day. Lyricist Hal David intended the song to convey a woman's concern for her man serving in the Vietnam War. Dionne Warwick recorded the original version of the song, and Burt Bacharach and Hal David produced it. She disliked the recording, and it languished for over a year before release as the B-side of "(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls."

Radio stations preferred "I Say a Little Prayer," and it became Dionne Warwick's fourth top 10 pop hit in 1967 and earned her a Grammy Award nomination for Best Contemporary Female Solo Vocal. The performance is energetic as she glides through dynamic changes amid the elegant instrumental arrangement. "I Say a Little Prayer" hit the pop top 10 again in 1968 in a recording by Aretha Franklin. Glen Campbell and Anne Murray recorded "I Say a Little Prayer" as a duet in 1971.

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03
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Herb Alpert - "This Guy's in Love With You" (1968)

Herb Alpert This Guy's In Love With You
Herb Alpert - "This Guy's In Love With You". Courtesy A&M

Herb Alpert's recording of "This Guy's in Love With You" came about when Herb Alpert asked Burt Bacharach if he had any songs lying around that were never recorded. Herb Alpert hoped to uncover a pearl. The song they gave to him was a simple, straightforward song in a range easy for Herb Alpert himself to sing. He first sang it on the 1968 television special The Beat of the Brass. Viewer response was so positive that he decided to release it as a single.

The result was not only Herb Alpert's first #1 pop hit, climbing to the top in 1968, but also the first #1 pop hit for his record label A&M. It spent a phenomenal ten weeks at the top of the adult contemporary chart. Herb Alpert later became the first artist to top the Billboard Hot 100 with both a vocal performance and an instrumental performance when his disco instrumental "Rise" reached #1 in 1979. "This Guy's in Love With You" is notable for its huge crescendos with cascading piano and a horn break common in Burt Bacharach and Hal David songs. "This Guy's in Love With You" was recorded in cover versions by a wide range of artists. One of the most notable was Dionne Warwick's gender reversal "This Girl's in Love With You" which reached #7 on the pop chart in 1969.

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04
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Dionne Warwick - "Walk On By" (1964)

Dionne Warwick Walk On By
Dionne Warwick - "Walk On By". Courtesy Scepter

Dionne Warwick recorded "Walk On By," with its elegant pop arrangement, in December 1963. Released in the spring, it became her second top 10 pop hit. It also reached the top 10 on the adult contemporary chart and #1 on the R&B chart. Dionne Warwick earned a Best Rhythm and Blues Recording Grammy Award nomination for the song.

"Walk On By" is notable for the many cover versions of the Burt Bacharach and Hal David song in existence. Isaac Hayes recorded a legendary 12 1/2 minute funk version of the song in 1969 for his Hot Buttered Soul album. It hit #30 on the pop chart. Melissa Manchester reached the top 10 of the adult contemporary chart in 1989 with her version. R&B singer Sybil took the song to the top 3 on the dance and R&B charts in 1990. She previously scored a hit with a cover of another Dionne Warwick classic "Don't Make Me Over." "Walk On By" revisited the top 10 on the dance chart once again in 2004 with a version by Cyndi Lauper.

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05
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Carpenters - "(They Long To Be) Close to You" (1970)

Carpenters Close To You
Carpenters - "(They Long To Be) Close To You". Courtesy A&M

The song "(They Long to Be) Close to You" dates back to 1963. It was first recorded by actor and singer Richard Chamberlain but failed to chart. The B-side "Blue Guitar" became a minor hit. "(They Long to Be) Close to You" was released as a single B-side in 1965 in a version recorded by Dionne Warwick. Burt Bacharach recorded and released his Herb Alpert planned to record the song as a follow up to "This Guy's in Love With You." However, he was not pleased with his recording and gave the song to a newly signed act on his A&M label, the Carpenters.

Richard Carpenter said he was reluctant to record the song at first, but the result was a #1 pop hit in 1970 and a breakthrough for the duo. It also topped the adult contemporary chart and hit the pop top 10 in the UK. The Carpenters earned a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Performance By a Duo, Group or Chorus. Richard Carpenter initially expected Herb Alpert to play the flugelhorn part in the Carpenters arrangement, but studio musician Chuck Findley played it instead. Herb Alpert finally released his recording in 2005 on the Tijuana Brass album Lost Treasures 1963-1974.

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06
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Jackie DeShannon - "What the World Needs Now Is Love" (1965)

Jackie DeShannon What the World Needs Now Is Love
Jackie DeShannon - "What the World Needs Now Is Love". Courtesy Imperial

"What the World Needs Now Is Love" is a song that was initially rejected by Dionne Warwick. Burt Bacharach was reluctant to offer the song to another singer. However, singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon released it as a single in 1965, and it became her first top 10 pop hit and one of her signature songs. The record includes a very distinctive horn solo playing the hook. Jackie DeShannon's version of "What the World Needs Now Is Love" was played by Los Angeles radio stations as a eulogy for Robert F. Kennedy after his assassination in 1968.

"What the World Needs Now Is Love" inspired an extensive collection of cover versions. In 1971, L.A. disc jockey Tom Clay combined the song with "Abraham, Martin, and John," popularized by Dion, and clips from speeches by John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. along with news coverage of their assassinations for a surprise top 10 pop hit. In 2016, an all-star group of Broadway vocalists performed "What the World Needs Now Is Love" in a protest against gun violence. They also released a recording under the name Broadway for Orlando to raise funds in support of the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting.

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07
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Dionne Warwick - "Alfie" (1967)

Dionne Warwick Alfie
Dionne Warwick - Alfie. Courtesy Scepter

Burt Bacharach has mentioned "Alfie" as his personal favorite composition. He and Hal David were approached to write a theme song for the film Alfie. They agreed to submit a song if they could come up with something of high quality in three weeks. Lyricist Hal David was provided a script from the film, and the line, "What's it all about" is borrowed from the lead character in the movie.

For the release of Alfie, a British film, executives decided that the song should be recorded by a British singer. They selected Cilla Black, and she agreed on the condition that Burt Bacharach would create the arrangement himself and play piano on the recording. The production was overseen by George Martin, known for his work with the Beatles;  The song hit the top 10 on the pop singles chart in the U.K. in 1966. For the U.S. release of the film, Cher recorded a version, and it became a minor top 40 pop hit. 

"Alfie" finally became a significant top 20 pop hit in the U.S. when a version by Dionne Warwick, now seen as the definitive recording of the song, reached #15 in 1967. It also climbed to #5 on the R&B chart. Dionne Warwick's recorded her powerful vocal in one take. "Alfie" was originally intended as the B-side for the song "The Beginning of Loneliness," but radio DJs preferred "Alfie." She performed "Alfie" at the 1967 Academy Awards celebration where it earned a nomination for Best Original Song.

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08
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Dionne Warwick - "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" (1968)

Dionne Warwick Do You Know the Way To San Jose?
Dionne Warwick - "Do You Know the Way To San Jose?". Courtesy Scepter

"Do You Know the Way to San Jose" became Dionne Warwick's biggest international hit reaching the top 10 in both Canada and the U.K. It was her third consecutive top 10 hit at home in the U.S. "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" crossed over from pop into both the adult contemporary and R&B singles charts. Engineer Ed Smith created the distinctive introduction to the recording by attaching a microphone directly to the head of a bass drum played by Gary Chester.

Lyricist Hal David wrote the words based on his particular affection for the city of San Jose, California. He was stationed there while serving in the US Navy. Dionne Warwick was not a fan of "Do You Know the Way to San Jose" and needed convincing to record it. She said, "It's a dumb song, and I didn't want to sing it." The song earned her a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Despite the success of the recording, she refused to change her opinion of the song.

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09
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5th Dimension - "One Less Bell To Answer" (1970)

5th Dimension One Less Bell To Answer
5th Dimension - "One Less Bell To Answer". Courtesy Bell

"One Less Bell To Answer" was originally written for legendary jazz singer Keely Smith in 1967. In 1969, producer Bones Howe discovered the song and brought it to the vocal group the 5th Dimension. It was released as a single in 1970 and went to #2 on the pop singles chart becoming the group's fifth top 10 pop hit. It also topped the adult contemporary chart. In 1971, Barbra Streisand recorded a memorable medley of the song with "A House Is Not a Home" later covered on the TV show Glee. Burt Bacharach also covered the song himself on his self-titled 1971 album. The lead vocal in the 5th Dimension recording is by Marilyn McCoo who later recorded the #1 pop hit "You Don't Have To Be a Star (To Be In My Show)" with her husband Billy Davis, Jr. 

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10
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Gene Pitney - "Only Love Can Break a Heart" (1962)

Gene Pitney Only Love Can Break a Heart
Gene Pitney - "Only Love Can Break a Heart". Courtesy Musicor

Recorded by singer-songwriter Gene Pitney and released in 1962, "Only Love Can Break a Heart" was one of the earliest major pop hits written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It climbed all the way to #2. The song reached the top 10 on the country chart twice in the 1970s in different cover versions by Sonny James and Kenny Dale. 1940s pop star Margaret Whiting reached the top 5 on the adult contemporary chart with her cover of "Only Love Can Break a Heart" in 1967 during her late 1960s comeback.

Gene Pitney had success as a songwriter before breaking through as a performer in 1962. He wrote the Crystals' #1 hit "He's a Rebel." Gene Pitney became a member of the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. He passed away the victim of a heart attack in 2006 at age 66.

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