Obituary: Hal David / Bacharach's lyricist for slew of '60s pop hits

May 25, 1921 - Sept. 1, 2012


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Hal David, the stylish, heartfelt lyricist who teamed with Burt Bacharach on dozens of timeless songs for movies, television and a variety of recording artists in the 1960s and beyond, has died. He was 91.

Mr. David died of complications from a stroke Saturday morning at a Los Angeles hospital, according to his wife Eunice David.

He had suffered a major stroke in March and was stricken again on Tuesday, she said.

Mr. Bacharach and Mr. David were among the most successful teams in modern history, with top 40 hits, including "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head," "(They Long to Be) Close to You" and "That's What Friends Are For." Although most associated with Dionne Warwick, their music was recorded by many of the top acts of their time, from the Beatles and Barbra Streisand to Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin. They won an Oscar for "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" (from the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"), Grammys and Tonys for the songs from the hit Broadway musical "Promises, Promises."

Mr. David joined the board of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 1974 and served as president 1980 to 1986. He was head of the Songwriters Hall of Fame from 2001 to 2011.

In May, Bacharach and Mr. David received the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song during a White House tribute concert attended by President Barack Obama. Mr. David could not attend because he was recovering from the stroke.

Mr. David and Mr. Bacharach met when both worked in the Brill Building, New York City's legendary Tin Pan Alley song factory where writers cranked out songs and attempted to sell them to music publishers. They scored their first big hit with "Magic Moments," a million-selling record for Perry Como, a native of Canonsburg, near Pittsburgh.

In 1962, they began writing for Ms. Warwick, whose versatile voice conveyed the emotion of Mr. David's lyrics and easily handled the changing patterns of Mr. 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," a hit in the 1980s for the synth pop band Naked Eyes.

Mr. Bacharach and Mr. David also wrote hits 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)

In a 1999 interview, Mr. David explained his success as a lyricist this way: "Try and tell a narrative. The songs should be like a little film, told in three or four minutes. Try to say things as simply as possible, which is probably the most difficult thing to do."

The writer, who lived in New York City, often flew to Los Angeles, where he and Mr. Bacharach would hole up for a few weeks of intense songwriting. Sometimes they conferred by long-distance telephone; "I Say a Little Prayer" was written that way.

Mr. David would recall working on a song that seemed to go nowhere. They stuck it in a desk drawer and left it there for months.

"This was particularly disappointing to me. I had thought of the idea at least two years before showing it to Burt," Mr. David wrote in a brief essay on his website, www.haldavid.com. "I was stuck. I kept thinking of lines like, 'Lord, we don't need planes that fly higher or faster ... ' and they all seemed wrong. Why, I didn't know. But the idea stayed with me.

"Then, one day, I thought of, 'Lord, we don't need another mountain,' and all at once I knew how the lyric should be written. Things like planes and trains and cars are man-made, and things like mountains and rivers and valleys are created by someone or something we call God. There was now a oneness of idea and language instead of a conflict. It had taken me two years to put my finger on it."

And so they had another smash: "What the World Needs Now is Love"

The hit-making team broke up after the 1973 musical remake of "Lost Horizon." They had devoted two years to the movie, only to see it scorned by critics and audiences alike. Mr. Bacharach became so depressed he sequestered himself in his vacation home and refused to work.

Mr. Bacharach and Mr. David sued each other and Ms. Warwick sued them both. The cases were settled out of court in 1979 and the three went their separate ways. They reconciled in 1992 for Ms. Warwick's recording of "Sunny Weather Lover."

Mr. David, meanwhile, went on to collaborate successfully with several other composers: John Barry with the title song of the James Bond film "Moonraker;" Albert Hammond with "To All the Girls I've Loved Before," which Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson sang as a duet; and Henry Mancini, who grew up near Pittsburgh in West Aliquippa, with "The Greatest Gift" in "The Return of the Pink Panther."

Born in New York City, Mr. David had attended public schools before studying journalism at New York University. He served in the Army during World War II, mostly as a member of an entertainment unit in the South Pacific. After the war, he worked as a copywriter at the New York Post, but music was his passion and he had written lyrics for Sammy Kaye, Guy Lombardo and other bandleaders before hooking up with Mr. Bacharach.

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