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Burt Bacharach Part Three: Big Screen, Little Screen

Issue 148

Like many prolific composers, Burt Bacharach was called upon to compose music for a handful of films and stage productions. Some were fantastic works. One was so notoriously difficult that it led to a bitter breakup. I won’t cover all of his soundtracks here, but will visit some interesting highlights.

This first tune isn’t from a specific soundtrack, but many of us who were around a television in the early 1970s tuned to their local ABC affiliate will remember the “Movie of the Week” theme. This was Bacharach’s tune “Nikki,” written at the time for his prematurely newborn daughter. (You can relive the ABC opening credits here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rM-Vkd7On2Q).

 

Bacharach’s first film score was for the wild 1965 sex comedy What’s New, Pussycat?. None other than the hip-swaying Welsh belter Tom Jones provided the vocal for this boisterous waltz, having had his massive breakthrough hit “It’s Not Unusual” earlier that year. Jones also recorded the theme for the film Thunderball (which was not a Bacharach/David composition) later in 1965.

 

Another of Bacharach’s early film scores was the 1966 Peter Sellers vehicle After The Fox, which also featured Victor Mature and Sellers’ then-wife Britt Ekland, in an elaborate scheme to steal a shipment of gold. The vocals on the main title theme were sung by The Hollies. Thankfully, someone set the recording of the tune to the film’s opening credits for this video.

 

1967 brought us the Casino Royale film score. The film itself is chaotic, but the Colgems LP of the soundtrack became legendary for its sound quality among audiophiles. After the narrow confines of the comedy After The Fox, the scoring for Casino Royale is more fully realized, with many changes in mood, from the bustle of “Bond Street” to the brassy main title theme, and the sultry Dusty Springfield take on “The Look of Love,” which is the definitive version of this tune, either by Springfield or the countless other vocalists who have covered it.

 

The film score that followed was for the Paul Newman and Robert Redford film Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. The big hit from the film was “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head,” although it appeared in a scene in shortened form as “On A Bicycle Built for Joy.” (On that version, B. J. Thomas was suffering from laryngitis, which accounted for his rough voice on the soundtrack and on the A&M soundtrack album.)

A rather unique track from the score is “South American Getaway,” featured here. This is a five-part vocal track, and the way it was used in the film was unprecedented. This tune was used during a montage and chase sequence. The voices were recorded dry (without any reverb or effects); in the film, the sounds from the action and voices on screen are muted as well. It’s an odd juxtaposition of a modern jazz vocal sound (check out the unusual chord progressions) against the 19th century setting of the film, yet it works surprisingly well. The vocal group was primarily the core of the Ron Hicklin Singers, with Sally Stevens (soprano) a featured soloist.

 

A somewhat forgotten film called The April Fools featured Jack Lemmon and Catherine Deneuve. Both married, each have uncaring, unloving spouses, and go out on an adventure around town, eventually deciding to run away together the following evening. Accompanying the film was the poignant title tune, performed by Dionne Warwick.

 

Lost Horizon is the soundtrack that sidelined the Bacharach/David partnership. A musical remake of Frank Capra’s 1937 film. It not only failed catastrophically at the box office, but to this day is still lambasted as one of the worst films of all time. (Your author has tried to sit through it as well…I will say, the critics lambasting it were way too kind.) Bacharach himself has said that the songs worked in isolation, but not in the context of the film. The title track is sung by Shawn Phillips.

 

Mark Lindsay was known more as the front man for Paul Revere & The Raiders, but also recorded a handful of his own albums, scoring big with the hit “Arizona.” He was tapped to sing the catchy title track for the film Something Big, a comedy western starring Dean Martin, Honor Blackman and Brian Keith.

 

A relatively unknown Italian film from 1979, Together? originally had a score provided by the Italian progressive rock band Goblin. For US release, Bacharach created a new score, which was released on RCA. Here is “I Don’t Need You Anymore,”a tune featuring Jackie DeShannon.

 

Bacharach’s most well-known cinema tune is the main title for the film Arthur, starring Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli. Bacharach, along with lyricists Carole Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross and Peter Allen, would win an Oscar for the chart-topping “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do).”

 

In the next installment, we will revisit Dionne Warwick with some interesting, under-appreciated gems from her catalog.

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