Bacharach: `You gotta keep growing'. Top '60s pop composer is writing new hits and taking them on a concert tour
Atlantic City, N.J. — History does repeat itself. Three-time Oscar-winning composer Burt Bacharach and singer Dionne Warwick have teamed up for a summer tour. Although they've been back at the top of the charts with recent hits, including the 1986 Grammy-winning Song of the Year ``That's What Friends Are For,'' the majority of the program is devoted to the songs that brought them together 20 years ago and helped them define their distinctive musical styles.
With songs like ``I'll Never Fall in Love Again,'' ``Do You Know the Way to San Jose,'' and ``Close to You,'' Bacharach, Warwick, and lyricist Hal David created a unique sound that influenced the '60s pop scene and gathered a multi-age, cross-cultural following.
Yet this concert series marks the first time the songwriter and singer have ever performed together in a live, full-length show. ``The idea of putting together a tour had been tossed around for three or four years,'' Mr. Bacharach explained in an interview. ``I didn't want to do it if it would just be a nostalgia trip..., but the idea of being able to combine the two - of doing the older songs as well as the newer songs - was appealing.''
For Bacharach, the ``newer songs'' are the hits written primarily in collaboration with his wife, lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, with whom he continues to make a mark as a composer in his fourth decade in the business. His theme song for the movie ``Arthur'' won a 1981 Academy Award; both ``Heartlight,'' recorded by Neil Diamond and ``On My Own,'' a duet sung by Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald, held top spots on different charts for several weeks in 1986, and the recently released ``Love Power,'' featuring Dionne Warwick and Jeffrey Osborne, landed in the Top 40 three weeks after release.
In addition to being the first tandem appearance for Bacharach and Warwick, the tour serves as public testament to their renewed friendship and professional relationship after a mid-'70s split. ``We had a real falling-out - Hal, myself, Dionne,'' says Bacharach. ``It was sort of like a three-way divorce. But that's over.'' Bacharach and Warwick were reunited when they collaborated on the theme song for the TV show ``Finders of Lost Loves.'' As Bacharach explains, ``Carole and I had written the song, and [producer] Aaron Spelling wanted us to cut it with Dionne. I was OK with that, so I called. ... It was very emotional. The first time I heard her sing the song in her house, I thought, `This is a perfect voice and an ideal instrument.' I had forgotten how great it was.''
In the '60s, it was Warwick's sound that was most often associated with Bacharach's innovative, Latin-flavored, mixed-rhythm melodies. But Bacharach was not destined to be just ``the man behind the music.''
In a 10-year period, he wrote over 35 songs that earned places on the charts, composed hit themes for such movies as ``What's New, Pussycat?'' (1963) and ``Alfie'' (1966), scored the music for the Broadway musical ``Promises, Promises'' (1968), and won two Academy Awards for ``Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'' in 1969.
In the '70s, however, a series of critical changes tested not only Bacharach's creativity but also his durability as a composer. Looking back on that period, he says, ``I made a big mistake in the '70s because I toured a lot. It took a lot of time away from writing. ... I wasn't writing with Hal, and the people I did write with - there was no magic, no chemistry. ... I was what they call in the business `cold.'''
A new collaboration in 1979 with Carol Bayer Sager helped Bacharach to reestablish himself commercially and artistically. Sager was a well-known lyricist with such hits to her credit as ``They're Playing Our Song'' and ``Nobody Does It Better'' when Bacharach called her to work on a song. The personal relationship that developed took him by surprise. ``I never thought I'd get involved with somebody in the same business as me,'' he recalls. ``It's something that I've always avoided in my life. But she's a very beautiful girl, very brilliant. I just fell in love - what can I say?''
Bacharach says his whole life has been changed, not only by Sager but also by their 1-year-old son, Cristopher Elton. He speaks of the difficulties inherent in trying to raise children outside of the limelight of his own celebrity. ``It's not easy being a daughter or a son coming from celebrated parents,'' says Bacharach, who also has a 21-year-old daughter, Nikki, from his marriage to actress Angie Dickinson. ``I don't want to overprotect Cristopher; I just want to be there to give him the right information, teach him things that maybe I could have done differently with Nikki.'' He continued, ``I think most fathers the second time around do things a little differently. A lot of fathers the first time around are more driven; they're away more and don't realize how critical it is for a baby to be with its parents during its first three years. So I spend a lot of time with Cristopher. I love him very, very much, and I love Nikki very, very much. We have a very good relationship.''
Although his life and his music have changed over the years, Bacharach sees his recent successes and clarity of direction in music as a ``resurgence'' rather than a new beginning. ``There's no such thing as starting over,'' he says. ``I don't think anybody who's going anywhere in life can stand still. You gotta keep growing, keep changing, keep evolving. ... That's how we're supposed to learn this life. [But] I'm ... I'm stubborn - it's difficult to move me on, to move myself on.''
When asked if during this growth he had ever compromised himself musically, Bacharach replies, ``I guess you always compromise a little bit. There's a great deal of frustration. I guess if I didn't compromise, then I'd never get anything done. I'd never get a record finished.'' Whether concessions are made because of budget restrictions or lack of time, he says, ``I've got to tell myself constantly that there are certain things nobody's gonna hear other than me, nobody's gonna feel other than me.'' He adds, ``You just have to have your taste coincide with the public. You can't second-guess the public or predict them or write thinking, `If I write it this way, it will be maybe a bigger hit.' You just write what's inside you.''
Future projects for Bacharach include working with Natalie Cole, Gladys Knight, Ray Parker, and Maurice White. Bacharach prefers to do one or two songs with an artist rather than a whole album, because he feels, at this point in his life, producing an entire record demands too much time and involvement that he'd rather spread around.
Working again with Hal David is a possibility, although remote. ``I'd like to,'' says Bacharach. ``The main reason I don't see it is I think I've got a pretty successful team going with my wife.'' He adds that he and David are ``friends now. ... We've not had a great, soul-searching conversation, but it's friendly, and it should be. You see, as Carole's lyric in `Finders of Lost Loves' goes, `You put your past behind you, and leave your heart open.' You shouldn't hold onto anything. ... Hatred's terrible, and if I find myself going there, I'm very careful to try and police it.''
Bacharach doesn't want to stay on the road touring for too long. He explains, ``The same thing will happen to me that happened in the '70s - I'll stop writing, and my output will go way down. I'm supposed to write, I'm not supposed to perform. You know, basically, if I can believe in being put on this earth for something, it is to write music and not to perform.''
So catch him while you can. Dates coming up in the Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick tour include performances tonight and tomorrow at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, a performance Sept. 13 at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa, Calif., and shows Sept. 24-26 at Radio City Music Hall in New York.