American composer, songwriter, producer and pianist Burt Freeman Bacharach (1928-2023) is generally regarded as one of the most important figures of 20th century popular music. Known for music characterised by unusual chord progressions, jazz harmonies and uncommon instrument selections for small orchestras, he arranged, composed, conducted and produced hundreds of pop songs from the late 1950s onwards.
Some of music’s biggest names in the 20th century, such as Dionne Warwick, Cilla Black, Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield and band The Carpenters enjoyed chart-busting hits courtesy of Bacharach. The six-time Grammy Award winner and three-time Academy Award winner had, at the time of his death, written 73 US and 52 UK Top 40 hits, and his work has, to date, been recorded by more than 1,000 different artists.
Here’s a breakdown of 10 of his most famous hits.
1. (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me
First recorded by Dionne Warwick in 1963, this song first charted for soul singer Lou Johnson in the summer of 1964. Sandie Shaw took the song to a number 1 chart position in the same year, while the duo Naked Eyes achieved a number 8 hit with the song in the US two decades later, in 1983.
2. What the World Needs Now is Love
One of Bacharach’s most iconic songs, What the World Needs Now is Love quickly became a hit in 1966, reaching number 7 of the US pop charts. Singer Jackie DeShannon performed the song’s message of love and hope, which was not without controversy, since the lyrics contained a subtext that commented upon the Vietnam War. Bacharach continuously used the song as the intro and finale for most of his live performance appearances throughout his career.
Written to promote the 1966 film of the same name, Alfie was a major hit for Cilla Black in the UK and Dionne Warwick in the US. Though Bacharach and his writing partner, lyricist Hal David, were not entirely keen on writing the song, Bacharach later stated that it was one of his favourite compositions.
4. I Say a Little Prayer
Another Dionne Warwick hit, Say a Little Prayer was written to convey a woman’s concern for her male partner who is serving in the Vietnam War. Bacharach’s recordings with Warwick normally took no more than three takes, Bacharach did ten takes on this 1967 song, yet still disliked it, feeling that it was rushed.
5. The Look of Love
Originally written for the 1967 spoof James Bond film Casino Royale, the song was a hit for English pop singer Dusty Springfield. It is notable for its sensuality and relaxed bossa nova rhythm, and received a Best Song nomination at the 1968 Academy Awards. In 2008, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
6. This Guy’s in Love With You
Singer Herb Alpert enjoyed enormous success with this number 1 song in 1968. The song nearly didn’t exist: it was only upon Alpert asking Bacharach whether he had any old compositions that he might like that Bacharach produced the music and lyrics for This Guy’s in Love With You out of his office filing cabinet.
7. I’ll Never Fall in Love Again
Originally written for the 1968 musical ‘Promises, Promises’, this song was later recorded by Dionne Warwick and became a hit, reaching number 6 on the US pop charts. Bacharach claimed that it was the quickest that he had ever written a song: he wrote it just a few days before the opening night of the show, where it became the cult hit of the musical.
8. Do You Know the Way to San Jose
Dionne Warwick’s hit song reached number 10 on the US pop charts in 1968, and has sold some 3.5 million copies to date. The song, which tells the story of a native of San Jose, California returning home after failing to break into the entertainment field in Los Angeles, earned Warwick a Grammy Award.
9. Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head
Originally written for the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, this song was performed by B.J. Thomas and quickly soared to number 1 on the US pop charts, and was the first American number 1 hit of the 1970s. The lyrics describe somebody who overcomes his troubles and worries, and scored an Academy Award win for best song.
10. (They Long To Be) Close to You
A huge hit for American duo The Carpenters, (They Long To Be) Close to You reached number 1 in the US pop charts in 1970. It is one of Bacharach’s most famous compositions, owing to its lush harmonies and sophisticated arrangement. It also remains one of the composer’s most covered songs, as well as a fan favourite.