Sunday, September 2, 2012

Magic Moments - Hal David, RIP

The quieter half of one of the great songwriting duos, Hal David created the tricky, often sharply bittersweet lyrics that somehow fit perfectly into Burt Bacharach's tricky, major-minor music.  Theirs was the sound of the non-hippy sixties, the sound of cocktail lounges and supper clubs and other late-night places.  They took the building blocks of pop and made it sound grown up.

David, in his lyrics, has a genius for taking bits and pieces, minutiae (waking up, putting on your makeup) and transforming them into thrilling, sweeping moments of power (forever and ever you'll be in my heart).  That combination of scrupulous detail and just-this-side-of-bombast, paired with the impeccable rhythm and sweep of the Bacharach melodies, keeps in check even the most over the top, hyperfervid passages (anyone who had a heart; without true love we just exist), making them all the more powerful.

I expect today we'll see and hear and, I hope, listen to a great deal of Bacharach-David - a welcome flood of Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield and Tom Jones and even, God help us, the Carpenters and B.J. Thomas.  Some of the best versions of these songs are the least canonical - I love Tim Curry's "Anyone Who Had a Heart," not to mention Elvis Costello's "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself."  Here we have the UK's Eurovision princess, Miss Sandie Shaw, who had a couple of B-D hits, including both this, "Trains and Boats and Planes," and "Always Something There to Remind Me" (if you need a little cheering up, here's a highly AustinPowersische rendition of the latter).

Listening, as a child, to Bacharach-David songs, was an unsettling experience; they were like glimpses of a future alternately thrilling (is there anything sexier than "The Look of Love"?) and uncertain (what happened to that woman, to send her back to San Jose?). Love was full of promises, promises, but it was also something into which one should never fall again. But then you do, and it's a star to wish upon. Wish.


  1. I appreciate, as usual, all the salient points you make so well, but that Sandie Shaw sounds like a drunk waitress at a a bad karoke bar. If that's not redundant.

    1. I do admit that I was more taken with her Julianne Moore-meets-Jennifer North affect than her timbre, which is, um, variable.

  2. A sad day for music. RIP Mr David... Jx

    PS I, of course, disagree with the verdict on Miss Shaw. I think she was very underrated (if not the "purest" of voices), and - thanks to her sheer stubbornness in an era when most women in pop (Dusty excepted) were treated as "dolly birds" - managed to land her own (rather psychedelic) TV show in which she was in full artistic charge. She was a Mod heroine, and very ahead of her time, hence her restoration to glory by The Smiths in the 80s.
    PPS That "Austin Powers"-style appearance was from a very odd Anglo-German production "Pop Goes The 60s", in which all the acts (Helen Shapiro, The Who, The Hollies et al) were dressed in the most ridiculous "Carnaby-style" outfits. Worth seeking out, if only for a luagh...

  3. Sandie Shaw is new to me, but while the voice is certainly different, her phrasing sounds an awful lot like Karen Carpenter. And when she sings the word "boats", it's pure Karen.

  4. As usual your words, wit and intelligence come close to eclipsing the brilliance of the subject. Thank you for your observations, darling.

    ps - I don't mind her, but I do think Miss Shaw could have had a larger career if she hadn't picked a name so ideally suited for an American country and western singer. It's just.....misleading.