What Is Alfie Hal David and Burt Bacharach’s Greatest Composition?


There are plenty of great obituaries or biopics on Hal David; you should read as many of these as you can get your hands on. I did just that myself, but also indulged in some interior reflections regarding how I internalized some of this great music when I was but a kid, and you might say, managed to make it my own. Burt Bacharach and Hal David were Lennon and McCartney for the Lounge Scene (I later came to realize).

When I worked as an usher at an AMC Multi-Cinema (starting in 1968), I remember loving This Guy’s in Love With You (which piped blissfully through the lobby), while feeling guilty that this was Musak, when I should be listening exclusively to Rock! And yet I secretly loved and craved these easy listening sounds, as contrary to the times as they were. There was a mellowness to the 1960s, but I had some trouble accepting this (I guess you might say).

hal david and burt bacharach
One of the greatest songwriting partnerships of all times, Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Their ilk and strength was easy listening pop music!

So many great songs to choose from, so the picking was hard. I came up with just six to parcel out a few lines on, while knowing full and well many equally good tunes were left by the roadside. These are my six favorites, so don’t hold a grudge against me if I didn’t include your favorite. I wondered further how this great songwriting partnership collaborated? We’ll probably never know; also we’ll not know why they really broke up in 1973. And yet it’s a miracle they wrote what they did! Lend me your ear…

Trains and Boats and Planes will tear at your heartstrings and make you so sad, you might need to pull yourself back to earth, so wallowing in melancholy, you’ll find yourself drowning in your own teardrops. The Dionne Warwick track, included on Here Where There Is Love, released on December 4, 1966, is my preferred version (if not the only one I’ve ever heard). The vantage point of the lyric, is that the spokesperson loses her lover, who is apparently a foreigner.

I’m able to apply my own little private pathos to the lyric and to the simple, yet pensive melody, which naturally is in a minor key. I suspect Hal David was aware of the possibility that just about anyone and everyone has experienced a similar romantic interlude interrupted, which makes it a universal phenomenon, in the melancholic world of broken heartstrings. Listen for the electric piano with a slight tremolo, which captures the sad texture these great songwriters were likely shooting for.

“What do you get when you give your heart, you get it all broken up and battered, that’s what you get, a heart that’s shattered, I’ll never Fall in love again.” Just one of Hal David’s whimsical, yet evocative lines from I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, which was written with Burt Bacharach in 1968. This song is a bit more frivolous than Trains and Boats, but the warning line still packs a wallop, in terms of staying clear of the fatal cupidity of deadly L-O-V-E!

I’m quite okay with Dionne’s rendition, which is faster and bouncier than Bobbie Gentry’s version. Bobbie’s was a UK single chart topper for one week in October of 1969. Gentry’s take is slower, more sultry, a trifle more soulful than Warwick’s. I believe it’s for this (unique) cultural characteristic of its Southern proclivity of a twist, that I slightly favor it (like all Bacharach/David compositions, it’s been covered a zillion times). The tune (and lyric) stands its own ground, no matter who does it; don’t you sense the voice of the heroine will fall in love again, in spite of her own zealous warning?

hal david casino royale
This logo of a naked lady (which resembles Ursula Andress), helped to sell the offbeat, zany comedy, Casino Royale, which featured Dusty Springfield on the signature song, The Look of Love.

I do recall attending a screening of Casino Royale at Northpark Twin Cinemas in Dallas, and I do remember the song making a strong impression on me. I read on the Wikipedia page that Burt wrote the music around footage of the beautiful Ursula Andress, so this makes a little more sense to what’s behind the slow bump and grind (I drive home my point once again). Hal David provides a perfect fit for what Bacharach was getting at (which in turn works well with Dusty’s edition and the flippy film, marketed successfully with a naked tattooed-lady logo).

hal david Celia Black
Celia Black recording Alfie (arguably Hal and Burt’s greatest song) at Abbey Road Studios in 1966.

With this new expression of writing, I post YouTube videos on my Facebook page when writing in real time about Alfie. Now you can see just what I’m up to as pen a few comments on what this marvelous song is all about. The Celia Black version is the one used for the 1966 film and was recorded at Abbey Road Studios with no less than George Martin as the producer. That’s Burt with his arms a flailing, as he directs the orchestra and Celia recording her wonderful vocal. Footage of the session is precious and rare (in terms of a valuable, archival music/film history document).

I still have my Dusty Springfield 45 single, Wishin’ and Hopin’; okay, so it was still caked with a bit of dirt (from a leak in the attic when I lived in a rundown little flat in Fair Park), but I’ve polished her off and given her a few spins on my antiquated 1970s Quadraflex turntable. A few noticeable crackles and pops, but the tarnished vinyl still plays; no blatant skips, I might add. Dusty’s take was issued in May of 1964, but Dionne did it originally as a B side to The Empty Place in the Spring of 1963.

hal david dusty springfield
Dusty Springfield performing Wishin’ and Hopin’ on Ready Steady Go!, 1964.

For such a prudent man, sex seems to pop up a lot in the lines of Hal David! Sex sells and I betcha Hal knew this truism all too well. For the universal anthem of Love, as a sort of thematic panacea of the 1960s, I must mention the ultimate expression of this Neoplatonic cure-all for what ails humanity, has to be What the World Needs Now (is Love Sweet Love). This is (possibly) Hal and Burt’s Hey Jude or their All You Need Is Love. Jackie DeShannon’s version is your primary mover and was released on April 15, 1965.

We hear Hal ran into a bit of difficulty in penning the lyric, having to put it down many times until finally coming upon a solution. This is a political or social Love he was attempting to get at, such as advocated by Martin Luther King or Robert Kennedy, later in the ’60s. Hal penned this in 1965, so he maybe thought of it before Martin, Bobbie or John (and perhaps the Fab Four as well). The hook is: “No, not just for some but for everyone.”

CILLA BLACK-ALFIE. -MUSIC BY-((BURT BACHARACH -Hal David )) ((orig recording 65)) – YouTube