The Look of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection
Never before have I wrestled with such a musical beast. There lay three discs of music orchestrated by Burt Bacharach, whose impact on the popular music scene is undeniable. So here’s the dilemma: balancing the perspective of a career that has spanned more than three decades and left an indelible imprint, and my relative disgust for all that he stands for artistically.
And yet, to do that would virtually deny my dirty secret of a Top 40, melody-hungry childhood. I loved B.J. Thomas’ “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” which stayed in my mind long after the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — remember the bicycle scene? — did. At various times, I found myself humming “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” (both courtesy of Dionne Warwick). I mean, let’s face it: Nobody knew the importance of the melody in a song better than Bacharach, which is perhaps why the great Marlene Dietrich chose him as her arranger for her legendary cabaret shows of the 1950s and ’60s. Whether it was the over-the-top use of lush string arrangements or piano flourishes, or subtle percussive droplets or a light guitar strum, Bacharach knew something other arrangers did not, or could not, know.
But my God, how sappy, how insipid, how corny can one person be? Have I become so cynical in embracing, over the years, funk, punk, “alternative,” and other, hipper forms of music that I just can’t appreciate such shameless pop fluff? Well, er, yes. But even back then, I’m not so sure I liked Bacharach’s work. His roster of artist/collaborators reads like a who’s who of schmaltz: Warwick (his obvious favorite), Perry Como (!), Jerry Butler, Marty Robbins, the Drifters, the Shirelles, the Stylistics, Tom Jones, Bobby Vinton, Jack Jones, Tony Orlando, Bobby Goldsboro, the Fifth Dimension, Rick Nelson, Herb Alpert, the Carpenters, even Christopher Cross. Got any of THEIR box sets? Virtually every song on this box set could be the punch line to a joke at a karaoke bar singalong. If the phrase “easy listening” was in the dictionary, Burt’s toothy grin would be right there, smiling innocently back at us all.
On the flipside is how impressive that same roster reads when you look at Bacharach’s range of influence. Say what you (or I) will, but the man has worked with some of the biggest names in popular music, and the result of their work together has produced incredibly successful songs over the years. And yes, while we’re there, much has been made of Elvis Costello’s desire to collaborate with Bacharach, with the fruit of that labor saved for the final track on the third disc, “God Give Me Strength.” (And yes, it’s not a half-bad song, though not a deal-breaker.)
You see my dilemma then, don’t you? So I’ll just split the difference, and appreciate the man for a lifetime of achievement, and pass on the sum of its parts. Maybe it’s karma. Maybe I just don’t want to wind up in the Elevator from Hell on my passing. Just don’t make me over. I couldn’t handle the second time around. Rhino Records, 10635 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025; http://www.rhino.com