The very best ballads of Burt Bacharach

The very best ballads of Burt Bacharach


norman lebrecht

February 09, 2023

The great songwriter, who died today aged 94, wrote more great movie themes than anyone.

Not many know that he was profoundly influenced as at early stage by contact with john Cage. His best ballads often fail to go where the listener expects.


  • Patrick says:

    RIP Mr. Bacharach…much gratitude for your musical gifts to us

  • Sam's Hot Car Lot says:

    The greatest popular songwriter of the last 70 years. It’s worth noting that Bacharach always paid tribute to Darius Milhaud, one of his early composition teachers.

    Here’s a lesser known Bacharach song that I think should be recognized as one of his best ballads:

    • Don Ciccio says:

      Another influence was Henry Cowell.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Yes, that’s a very good ballad! The day Tony Bennett passes will be very upsetting for me. I grew up with my parent’s playing him often on the stereo. Even then, I often times preferred him to Sinatra. And, of course, I grew up quite close to San Francisco.

      • Sam's Hot Car Lot says:

        Nice remembrance, Barry.

        Tony Bennett was much more strongly identified with the pre-war standard songwriters than with Bacharach, but he made several fine Bacharach recordings in the late ’60s – early ’70s.

      • Violinophile says:

        I suspect many prefer Bennett or quite a few others to Sinatra. For one reason, Frank seemed to feel the need to twist, distort and contort the melody as written in whatever random way he felt like on any given day no matter how it ruined the song. And too many other singers took to imitating him in that way. No respect for the songwriter’s intentions.

    • Violinophile says:

      Just as the Sixties would not have been the Sixties without the Beetles, they would not have been the Sixties without Bacharach. I do not understand why he has never received the level of appreciation he deserved, not that he did not receive a lot. He was a throwback to the days of really thoughtful lyrics and very original and brilliant melodies. I challenge anyone to write a melody that sounds like Bacharach. I doubt it can be done. Listen to The Windows of the World or Anyone Who Had a Heart. How many songs cut that deep? He will be remembered after much of our “pop” music is forgotten. The world could use a Bacharach revival. No one was ever better.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        “Anyone Who Had a Heart”. That’s an absolutely excellent song and I didn’t know Bacharach (Bach and Rach right in that name) composed it.

        A life well lived, I’d say.

      • RAM says:

        Anyone Who Had a Heart with Dionne Warwick struck me as completely new and different, from another world, like nothing else on the radio.

  • Buxtehude says:

    Another of his composition teachers (at the Mannes School of Music) was Martinu.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    “Walk On By”, “The Look of Love”, “I Say A Little Prayer” – these are great songs, as worthy as any in the repertoire.
    Burt Bacharach’s music – instantly recognizable – was the soundtrack of more than one generation.
    I’m happy and grateful to know his songs, and I’m glad that he lived such a long life.
    ‘Bye, Burt….

  • Ludwig's Van says:

    Bacharach was up there with Mancini and Legrand as the greatest of pop song and movie score composers.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    His legacy will certainly live on for generations to come, perhaps deep into the 22nd century. That he was blessed to enjoy the many performances and recordings of his music was a gift to his life and others. His classical training also helped to inspire his vast catalog of some of the most beautiful songs written in the last half of the 20th century, so much to the point that a three movement piano concerto, the “Burt Bacharach Concerto”, was arranged by Dick Tunney in 2017, premiered in 2018. Eternally remembered through music.

  • PaulD says:

    When I was a youngster, I thought this was my parents’ music. But, growing older and wiser, I’ve come to appreciate the sophistication of the work of Bacharach and Hal David.

    In January last year, Mark Meyers, in the Wall Street Journal, had an interview with Bacharach and Dionne Warwick about the creation of “Walk on By”. It is an interesting read. This song was not thrown together, but well thought out.

    “Mr. Bacharach: I envisioned the orchestration as I wrote out the chords. Two very important elements distanced the song from being normal and were indelible.

    When Dionne sings “walk on by” in the verse, I wanted her to be answered not by background singers but by two flugelhorns echoing those words. The flugelhorn is fleshy and sensual. Two trumpets would have been too hard and piercing. By having two flugelhorns play in unison, the notes would be slightly uneven around the edges and sound human.”

    I’m going to listen to it now.

  • J Barcelo says:

    And he studied with Henry Cowell. I grew up with his pop songs and movie music being ubiquitous – he kind of wrote the soundtrack of my life. (Is there anyone who can write a pop song like he could? Or is great song writing a thing of the past?) RIP – a life well lived.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      In answer to your question about pop songs; it depends on whether a composer wrote BOTH music and lyrics or just the music. It was rare to have both successes.

    • Violinophile says:

      Even if another Bacharach were to come along, the pop music scene is so narrowed and debased today that he would probably never become widely known. He would never get a record company to sign him. The gatekeepers of the music industry today would not give him a chance, probably. What a sad comment on the state of the pop world today.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Bacharach and Warwick really put each other prominently on the map. What a great musical team.

  • High-Note says:

    Here’s one of Bacharach’s loveliest songs – not as well known as it should be, from the film of the same name – The April Fools:

  • Sylph Ear says:

    I have a fond,but distant memory, of going to the Edinburgh Festival ,around 1963, to see Marlene Dietrich with her beautiful young Music Director and pianist, Burt Bacharach,and have enjoyed many of his songs ever since. A dad loss to so many.