American lyricist Hal David (b. New York City, May 25, 1921) has been the primary collaborator of composer and pianist Burt Bacharach throughout the better part of the careers of both men. His unsentimental, tart lyrics have been the perfect match for Bacharach’s unconventional musical style. Among his many awards is an Oscar® for “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” (1970); he also had Academy Award® nominations for “What’s New, Pussycat?”(1966), “Alfie”(1967), and “The Look of Love” (1968). “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “Walk On By,” “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” and “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” all sold more than a million singles apiece. “Don’t Make Me Over,” “(They Long To Be) Close to You,” and “Walk On By” are in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Hal David grew up in Brooklyn and began writing lyrics in the 1940s for pop bands led by the likes of Sammy Kaye and Guy Lombardo. He was well established as a writer at the Famous Music company in the Brill Building in New York when he met Bacharach there in 1957. Their partnership was an immediate success with back-to-back hits in “The Story of My Life,” recorded by Marty Robbins for Columbia, and “Magic Moments” recorded by Perry Como for RCA. The next year their “Make Room for the Joy” was featured in Columbia’s film musical Jukebox Rhythm, sung by Jack Jones.
In 1961 Bacharach, while working as an arranger with the Drifters, met Dionne Warwick, then a member of a backup vocal trio known as the Gospelaires. She started her long and fruitful association with David and Bacharach by recording demonstration samples of their songs. Her first Top 40 hit, “Don’t Make Me Over,” in 1962, was suggested to David by her angry outburst when she learned that another song, which she thought was going to be her own debut as a soloist, had been given to another singer. Over the next ten years, Bacharach and David would write twenty Top 40 hits for Warwick, seven of which made it to the Top Ten: “Anyone Who Had a Heart” (1963), “Walk On By” (1964), “Message to Michael” (1966), “I Say a Little Prayer” (1967), “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” (1968), “This Girl’s in Love with You” (1969) and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” (1969). The sum total of songs written in this period by David and Bacharach – as a team, aside from their work with other collaborators – numbered well over a hundred.
Although David had contributed lyrics to many songs in films (The Sad Sack 1957, Country Music Holiday 1958), the David/Bacharach team did not enter the movie business until 1962, with Forever My Love. They were nominated for an Oscar® for “What’s New, Pussycat?” in 1965, and again for “Alfie” in 1966. “The Look of Love” in Casino Royale (1967) brought Bacharach and David a third nomination and a popular hit in two separate recorded versions, by Dusty Springfield and by Dionne Warwick. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) introduced “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” which finally won them an Academy Award® outright.
Other popular performers of Bacharach/David songs in the ’60s and ’70s included Jerry Butler (“Make It Easy on Yourself”), Cilla Black (“Anyone Who Had A Heart,” “Alfie”), The Carpenters (“Close to You”), Isaac Hayes (“Walk On By”), Jackie DeShannon (“What the World Needs Now is Love”), Tom Jones (“What’s New, Pussycat”), B.J. Thomas (“Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head”), Engelbert Humperdinck (“I’m A Better Man”), Jack Jones (“Wives and Lovers”), Manfred Mann (“My Little Red Book”), Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66 (“The Look of Love”), Herb Alpert (“This Guy’s in Love with You”), Bobby Vinton (“Blue on Blue”), The Fifth Dimension (“One Less Bell To Answer”), The Walker Brothers (“Make It Easy on Yourself”), Gene Pitney, Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, and the Beatles.
In 1968, producer David Merrick persuaded Bacharach and David to collaborate with playwright Neil Simon on a musical version of The Apartment, the 1960 quintuple-Oscar®-winning film by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond. The result was Promises, Promises, which ran for three years on Broadway, spawned several hit songs, earned a Tony® nomination, and won a Grammy for Best Cast Recording. The songwriting team, however, did not return to Broadway until a revue of their songs, The Look of Love, had a disappointing 49-performance run in 2003 (in fact neither of them had any personal involvement with the show). They have returned again with the revival of Promises, Promises in April 2010.
In 1973, Bacharach and David undertook a highly anticipated musical film version of the 1937 film Lost Horizon, produced by Ross Hunter. It was a disaster. Not one of the songs became a significant hit – indeed, some were roundly mocked. It starred Liv Ullman, Peter Finch, and a long list of actors with big names, none of whom could sing except for Bobby Van, and all of whose songs were dubbed without much success in the lip-synching department. Demoralized, David and Bacharach refused to work with each other; as a result Dionne Warwick felt so abandoned she sued the songwriting team, and like falling dominoes, David sued Bacharach and Bacharach countersued David. The songwriters worked together again briefly in 1975, but, lacking Warwick, their songs failed to reach the charts. The rift was not healed until 1993, when all three were reunited for the song “Sunny Weather Lover” on Warwick’s album Friends Can Be Lovers.
In 2000 David, Warwick, and Bacharach were again united for two songs in the film Isn’t She Great, a film based on the life of trash novelist Jacqueline Susann (for which Bette Midler was nominated for the Razzie Award for Worst Actress). A concert in July of that year at the Royal Albert Hall featured the three as well as Elvis Costello, Petula Clark, and others. A recording was released in 2001.
David has written songs with countless other composers in the course of his career: Sherman Edwards (“Broken Hearted Melody” – Sarah Vaughan 1959; “Johnny Get Angry” – Joanie Sommers 1962), Lyn Murray (“Promise Her Anything” 1965), John Barry (“We Have All the Time in the World” from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Louis Armstrong 1969; “Moonraker” 1979), Marvin Hamlisch (“Something Big” 1971), Henry Mancini (“The Greatest Gift” from The Return of the Pink Panther 1975), and Lennie Niehaus (“Sea of Heartbreak” from Heartbreak Ridge, 1986). Among Hal David’s country music hits are Willie Nelson’s “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” and Ronnie Milsap’s “It Was Almost Like a Song.”
In 1984 David was elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He holds two honorary doctorates (Lincoln College, Illinois, 1991 and Claremont University, California, 2000) and serves on several Boards (ASCAP, Claremont University, The Society of Singers, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center). The National Academy of Popular Music’s Songwriters Hall of Fame, of which he is an active member, offers an annual “Hal David Starlight Award” to young artists.