Watching a Hal David documentary that Channel Thirteen was running this week during a fundraiser, I found myself teary in spots: what a mensch Hal David was. What a brilliant wordsmith. What a prescient soul. Such a rare combination of humility alongside steady confidence in his talent.
The documentary features knockout performances of Burt Bacharach/Hal David hit collaborations. Of course, Dionne Warwick looms large, the essential interpreter of that mighty string of hit songs. (She was 18! when she sang her first Bacharach/David song, “Don’t Make Me Over.”)
Watching all this sent me rocketing back to junior high summer band mornings in 1970. Our sole sheet music was a Bacharach/David songbook including “Walk on By,” “One Less Bell to Answer,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “The Look of Love,” and “This Guy’s in Love with You.” It was romantic literacy boot camp for a rising seventh grader on second clarinet.
The day after watching the documentary, I cranked up YouTube and blasted Bacharach and David all afternoon. I highly recommend doing this. The video up top has a bunch of the songs. Dionne! Dusty! Barbra! Even Andy Williams, who 1970s me found a bit too be-cardiganed for love songs, knocked it out of the park with his version of “Alfie.” (Fun fact: Hal David felt that “Alfie” was the song in which he had come closest to expressing what he meant to say about love.)
YouTube will just keep playing them. And if you have strength for a further journey down the Burt Bacharach rabbit hole, I highly recommend his 1998 album with Elvis Costello, Painted from Memory. Elvis Costello has the guts to let himself in for comparison to Hal David, and he comes out fine.
Do you know the way to San Jose? Dionne Warwick didn’t like that song! Amazing.
P.S. More listening: here’s Terry Gross interviewing Bacharach and David on Fresh Air in 2010.