The Rock’s Backpages Rewind: Talking with the late Hal David
In the spring of 2000, the late Hal David had just become the first non-Brit to be honored with a prestigious Ivor Novello Award when Terry Staunton spoke to him about his work and his sublime lyrics for Burt Bacharach--Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
Hal David was recently asked to write out the lyrics to 'We Have All The Time In The World', his 1969 James Bond theme, as a gift for a friend's wedding. But before putting pen to paper, the 78-year-old songwriter had to rush out and buy the sheet music — just to make sure he got it right.
He can be forgiven the odd lapse in memory, the occasional forgotten couplet here and there, because the sheer volume of classic popular songs that bear his name in brackets under the title is breathtaking. In tandem with Burt Bacharach, the perennial figurehead of the easy listening set, David has been responsible for some of the most enduring musical moments of the century. 'Walk On By', 'Make It Easy On Yourself', 'I Say A Little Prayer', 'This Guy's In Love With You'; arguably, there isn't a record collection in the world that doesn't feature at least one Bacharach & David opus.
Artists as diverse as Paul McCartney, the Pet Shop Boys, Manic Street Preachers, Prince and Elvis Costello cite the pair as a major influence, and songs like 'What The World Needs Now', 'The Look Of Love' and 'Anyone Who Had A Heart' are all but anthems, unassailable landmarks in the history of pop.
Yet lyricist David's contribution is often overlooked, with Bacharach afforded the lion's share of attention, the user-friendly face of the cocktails and turtlenecks crowd. The balance was redressed in London on May 27, with a special presentation to the wordsmith at the annual Ivor Novello Awards, making him the first non-Briton to be honoured in the awards' 44-year history. It was a rare foray into the limelight for an unassuming man who seems to like it best in the background.
"Burt is better known than me for a number of reasons," he says. "Composers tend to be better known than lyricists — just look at Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Bernie is a brilliant lyric writer, but Elton is the showman. And like Elton, Burt is a performer, he's good out in the open. That's never been my thing."
The Bacharach & David partnership held strong for close to 20 years, the pair going their separate ways in the early '70s. They've been working together again lately, penning songs the forthcoming Bette Midler film, Isn't She Great?, and for their original '60s muse, Dionne Warwick. David is enthusiastic about the results, but is well aware the new songs have a lot to live up to, considering the duo's formidable back catalog.