Burt, Back Around

Although his upbeat songs and brilliant music career seem the definition of the philosophy "do what you love and success will follow," Burt Bacharach says that, despite the success he's achieved through it, writing music is not always fun for him. "Music is what I do, but I am very hard on myself as a writer," Bacharach says. "So sometimes I can't say it's a lot of fun doing it."

We think he's just being humble. We would believe that statement coming from most people. But not from a man whose musical career spans six decades and includes a staggering number of chart-topping songs, numerous creative collaborations and a surprise or two that shakes up his image every so often. From Burt Bacharach, we don't buy it for a minute. It sounds like he's having fun to us. Creating the soundtrack to The Blob? Fun. Collaborating with musicians such as Elvis Costello, Ronald Isley and Dr. Dre? Fun. Working with Marlene Dietrich and making cameos in all three Austin Powers movies, including on top of a bus, no less, in International Man of Mystery? More fun.

And even though he's produced a large volume of songs over the years, he hasn't had a stinker yet. So we find it just as hard to believe that he has ever doubted his songwriting abilities, much less that he second-guessed one of the greatest hits of his career. "I remember trying to keep 'Say a Little Prayer for You' from coming out," he says. "I didn't think it was a hit; I thought that the tempo was too fast." That song, first performed by Dionne Warwick, is one of Bacharach's most well-known and has consistently achieved success both on the music charts and in popular opinion.

Although his songs have been reinterpreted on tribute albums, televised concerts and by many cover artists, Bacharach attracts successful musicians who want to collaborate with him on new projects rather than simply release their versions of his work. Painted From Memory, his recording with Elvis Costello, combined two successful songwriters from two different generations, and together they attracted a new generation of fans. That's quite an accomplishment for two classic songwriters releasing an album in the era of electric guitars and pop-punk-grunge-core. "Some people didn't think it would work," Bacharach says. "But we both write well, and songwriting is the medium we work in. People loved that album."

Many singers can credit Bacharach and his former songwriting partner Hal David for providing the words and music that launched their careers. Warwick is immediately associated with the songs of Bacharach and David, but there have been many others as well. "We would write songs for Gene Pitney, Bobby Vinton and lots of R&B musicians," Bacharach says. "We wrote for very different musicians."

Despite Bacharach's self-disciplined approach to songwriting, or because of it, his songs are a mix of timeless arrangements and universal lyrics and have become the soundtrack of many generations. Time and circumstance don't change the fact that people fall in love, experience infidelity and have broken hearts--themes that Bacharach prefers over grandiose odes to love and loss or political statements. "I try not to be trite and heavy-handed with my music," Bacharach says. "Maybe it's a continuation of what I feel, because a person's work reflects how they feel. It's not a conscious thing."

Whether it's always fun for him or not, Bacharach's career never stagnates. In fact, he has an upcoming release on Sony Records set to debut this fall in England. "It's all new stuff," he says. "It is basically instrumental but with little choral interjections here and there. Cutting-edge stuff."

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Stephanie Durham