More than just about any other songwriters of the rock era, Burt Bacharach and Hal David reflect the classic songwriting values of the "Great American Songbook" era of the 1930s. So it's fitting that they have been selected to receive the annual Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, which is named in honor of George and Ira Gershwin.
Bacharach and David are the fourth winners of the prize, following Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon and Paul McCartney. This makes them the first songwriting team to win, and also the first songwriters to win who primarily wrote for other artists. The award, which is bestowed by the Library of Congress, will be presented next spring at an all-star tribute in Washington, D.C.
It's telling that two of the three previous winners of the Gershwin Prize have recorded Bacharach songs. Wonder had a chart hit in 1968 with an instrumental version of "Alfie." The Beatles covered "Baby It's You" on their first British album, Please Please Me.
In the '60s, there was music for kids and music for adults. Bacharach and David, uniquely, appealed to both generations. They also bridged the worlds of pop and R&B with songs they wrote for Dionne Warwick, Jerry Butler and Chuck Jackson, among others. In the end, the way their music bridged generations and genres is a big reason it is so distinctive and compelling.
Bacharach and David worked in the Brill Building in New York, but they stood apart from it. Their songs were a little more adult than the teen-minded songs of such fellow Brill Building writers as Carole King & Gerry Goffin and Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil. Partly, that's because Bacharach and David were a little older than these other writers. David was 36 and Bacharach was 29 when they had their first hit in 1957.
Bacharach and David wrote one of the most sensuous songs of the 1960s ("The Look Of Love"), one of the most unabashedly romantic ("This Guy's In Love With You") and several of the most poignant ("Make It Easy On Yourself," "A House Is Not A Home," "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself").
They also wrote a few socially conscious songs, notably "What The World Needs Now Is Love" and "The Windows Of The World."
Here are the 30 songs that Bacharach and David have put into the top 10 on Billboard's Hot 100 (or its predecessor pop chart), together or with other collaborators. All songs are by Bacharach and David unless otherwise noted directly after the artist's name. The songs are ranked based on highest peak position, with ties broken by weeks at peak, then weeks in the top 10 and finally weeks in the top 40. Note: I show only the highest-charting version of each song, but I mention all other versions that made the top 10.
1. "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head," B.J. Thomas. This disarming, easygoing tune was the "Hey, Soul Sister" of its time. And then some. The smash, from the movie Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, was #1 for four weeks in January 1970. It was the biggest hit for Thomas, who was 27. It won an Oscar as Best Original Song and received a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year.
2. "(They Long To Be) Close To You," Carpenters. Richard Chamberlain, TV's Dr. Kildare, was first to record this song in 1963. Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield also took a stab at it. But it took Karen and Richard Carpenter (who were just 20 and 23, respectively) to turn it into a smash. Their record was #1 for four weeks in the summer of 1970. It was their first top 40 hit and their biggest. It won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus.
3. "That's What Friends Are For," Dionne & Friends (Bacharach/Carole Bayer Sager). Rod Stewart introduced this song on the soundtrack to the 1982 movie Night Shift. Warwick's graceful and poignant version (on which she was joined by Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder) was #1 for four weeks in early 1986. This was Warwick's biggest hit (and her last to reach the top 10). It won Grammys for Song of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. More important, it raised both money and consciousness in the fight against AIDS.
4. "This Guy's In Love With You," Herb Alpert. Alpert had led the Tijuana Brass on 20 chart hits, nearly all of them instrumentals, before he scored his biggest hit with this vocal solo. It was #1 for four weeks in the summer of 1968. It was the first Bacharach/David song to top the chart. The fact that Alpert is just an average vocalist added to the sense of vulnerability on this nakedly emotional track. Dionne Warwick's cover, "This Girl's In Love With You," was #7 for three weeks in March 1969.
5. "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)," Christopher Cross (Bacharach/Carole Bayer Sager/Peter Allen/Christopher Cross). This sleek smash from the Dudley Moore comedy Arthur was Bacharach's first new song to reach the top 10 following his split with David in 1973. This was #1 for three weeks in October 1981, becoming Cross' biggest hit. It brought Bacharach his second Oscar for Best Original Song and his fourth Grammy nomination for Song of the Year.
6. "On My Own," Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald (Bacharach/Carole Bayer Sager). This break-up melodrama was #1 for three weeks in June 1986. It was the biggest hit ever for the former lead singers of LaBelle and the Doobie Brothers. Alas, it was the last top 10 hit for LaBelle--and also for Bacharach and Sager.
7. "One Less Bell To Answer," the 5th Dimension. Keely Smith introduced this torch ballad in 1967, but it didn't take off until this quintet recorded it. Their exquisite version was #2 for two weeks in the winter of 1970. Marilyn McCoo's lead vocal is one of her best.
8. "Only Love Can Break A Heart," Gene Pitney. This melancholy ballad hit #2 in November 1962, becoming Bacharach/David's biggest hit to that point. It was Pitney's biggest hit ever. This was Pitney's follow-up to "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance," making him the first artist to score back-to-back top 10 hits with Bacharach/David songs. (Dionne Warwick achieved the feat in 1964.)
9. "My Heart Is An Open Book," Carl Dobkins, Jr. (David/Lee Pockriss). This peppy tune was #3 for three weeks in August 1959. It was the first and biggest hit for the then-18 year old singer, who was briefly a rival to Ricky Nelson.
10. "What's New Pussycat?," Tom Jones. The team wrote this burlesque-style smash for the Woody Allen comedy of the same name. It was #3 for two weeks in the summer of 1965. It was the first top five hit for Jones, who was then 25. His combustible vocal is the best thing about the hit, which is almost a novelty song. Nonetheless, it worked in the movie and brought Bacharach and David their first Oscar nomination for Best Original Song.
11. "The Four Winds And The Seven Seas," Sammy Kaye and his Orchestra (David/Don Rodney). This bland and forgettable ballad was David's first big hit. Tony Alamo sang lead on the song, which hit #3 in September 1949. A rival version by Mel Torme reached #10.
12. "Blue On Blue," Bobby Vinton. This pretty ballad hit #3 in July 1963. It's schmaltzy, but richly melodic.
13. "Magic Moments," Perry Como. This cozy, old-fashioned ballad was the first Bacharach/David song to reach the top 10. It hit #4 in February 1958. Como, who was 45, had the top-rated TV variety show of the 1957-1958 season.
14. "I Say A Little Prayer," Dionne Warwick. It's almost impossible to pick a favorite Bacharach and David song, but this is mine. The brisk tempo reflects the pace of modern life. David's lyric finds the poetry in an average day. Warwick's record hit #4 in December 1967. It was her first top five hit. An inspired cover version by Aretha Franklin hit #10 in October 1968. Franklin's gospel-infused performance transforms the song.
15. "The Look Of Love," Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66. This sensuous ballad from the 1967 James Bond spoof Casino Royale brought Bacharach and David their third consecutive Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. Dusty Springfield sang the song on the movie soundtrack, and took it to #22, but this dynamic, smartly-arranged cover version was an even bigger hit. This was the group's first top 10 hit. Janis Hansen sang lead.
16. "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance," Gene Pitney. Bacharach and David wrote this Western-style saga for the John Wayne movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but it wasn't included it in the movie. Movie-makers weren't yet fully aware of the box-office boosting power of a hit song. This song reached #4 in June 1962. It was Pitney's first top 10 hit. He was 22.
17. "Heartlight," Neil Diamond (Bacharach/Carole Bayer Sager/Neil Diamond). This bittersweet ballad was #5 for four weeks in the fall of 1982. It was inspired by the movie E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, which had been breaking box-office records since its release that June. This was Diamond's last top 10 hit. He was 41.
18. "Baby It's You," Smith (Bacharach/Mack David/Barney Williams). The Shirelles' original version of this song, a girl-group classic, hit #8 in February 1962. Bacharach co-wrote the song with Mack David (Hal's older brother) and producer Luther Dixon, who wrote under the pen name Barney Williams. This Janis Joplin-influenced rock remake was #5 for three weeks in November 1969. It was the only top 10 hit for Smith, which was fronted by lead singer Gayle McCormick.
19. "To All The Girls I've Loved Before," Julio Iglesias & Willie Nelson (David/Albert Hammond). David teamed with Hammond (who recorded the 1972 smash "It Never Rains In Southern California") to write this ballad, which first appeared on a Hammond album in the mid-1970s. This unlikely combination of the Spanish heartthrob and the country legend reached #5 in May 1984. It was Iglesias' only top 10 hit and it was David's only new song to hit the top 10 after the split with Bacharach. The song also topped the country chart for two weeks. The "odd couple" casting was gimmicky, but the song has its charms.
20. "Tower Of Strength," Gene McDaniels (Bacharach/Bob Hilliard). This exuberant hit reached #5 in November 1961. McDaniels makes the most of the song's comic potential. A trombone hook adds to the lighthearted tone.
21. "Wishin' And Hopin,'" Dusty Springfield. This was the B side of a minor chart hit for Dionne Warwick in 1963, but Springfield turned it into a smash. The coquettish song was #6 for three weeks in August 1964. It was Springfield's first top 10 hit. She was 25.
22. "Walk On By," Dionne Warwick. This classy and soulful recording hit #6 in June 1964. It deservedly received a Grammy nomination as Best Rhythm And Blues Recording. If you think of Warwick as strictly a pop singer, check this one out.
23. "I'll Never Fall In Love Again," Dionne Warwick. Bacharach and David wrote this witty song for the 1968 Broadway musical Promises, Promises. Bacharach was the first artist to put the song on the chart in 1969. Warwick took it to #6 in February 1970. It brought Warwick her second Grammy for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, Female, and brought Bacharach and David their third Grammy nomination for Song of the Year.
24. "What The World Needs Now Is Love," Jackie DeShannon. This was a prayer for love and understanding at a particularly turbulent time. The song, which was #7 for two weeks in July 1965, was DeShannon's first top 10 hit. She was just 20. A medley of this song and "Abraham, Martin And John" by Los Angeles DJ Tom Clay hit #8 in July 1971. The dramatic "sound collage" included news bulletins and interviews with young children. It was Clay's only chart hit.
25. "Broken-Hearted Melody," Sarah Vaughan (David/Sherman Edwards). This fine song was #7 for two weeks in September 1959. It was the last top 40 hit for the jazz great, who was then 35.
26. "Johnny Get Angry," Joanie Sommers (David/Sherman Edwards). This sassy tune hit #7 in July 1962. It was the biggest hit for the actress and singer, then 21. The kazoo (!) gives the song a novelty edge, but David's lyric shows an understanding of the games people play in romantic relationships.
27. "Always Something There To Remind Me," Naked Eyes. This trendy synth-pop recording was the fifth version of this song to reach the Hot 100. It was the only one to crack the top 10. The song was #8 for two weeks in June 1963. It was the only top 10 hit for the English duo, which featured lead vocalist Pete Byrne. The original version by R&B singer Lou Johnson peaked at #49 in 1964.
28. "Message To Michael," Dionne Warwick. As on the previous entry, R&B singer Lou Johnson recorded the original version of this song in 1964 (under the title "Kentucky Bluebird (Send A Message To Martha"). It "bubbled under" the chart at #104. Warwick's moving version was #8 for two weeks in May 1966.
30. "Do You Know The Way To San Jose," Dionne Warwick. Here's a peppy song that tells a poignant story about busted dreams. It's an example of David writing against the mood of Bacharach's melody, resulting in a more interesting song. This was #10 for three weeks in the spring of 1968. It brought Warwick her first Grammy for Best Contemporary Pop Vocal Performance, Female.
Note: I co-wrote the liner notes to the 1998 box set, The Look of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection, which contains most of these songs.
Bacharach/David photo by Bruce Glikas/Getty Images; Warwick/Bacharach photo by Ron Galella/WireImage