“One of the most accomplished pop music craftsmen of the 20th century…”
He was dubbed ‘easy listening’ but this was nonsense. His dazzling music, a result of classical tuition and nights in bebop clubs, defied categories – and made stars of soul singers, rock bands and mum-friendly crooners.
With the arrival of rock’n’roll, pop music divided, broadly speaking, into two categories. There was music aimed squarely at the recently discovered teenager that frequently seemed to have the specific intention of alienating their forebears. And then there was the music that carried on much as it had in the years between the end of the second world war and the appearance of Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Little Richard et al. Look at the charts from 1952 or 1953, and they’re packed with songs that seem to target an older demographic, who didn’t want shock or rebellion or white-hot excitement, but something to soothe or buoy them along, what eventually became known as easy listening.
The twain very seldom met: if anything, the divide became more pronounced as the 1960s wore on and a cocktail of new technology and new drugs meant the music aimed at teenagers became more adventurous, strange and innovative. Look at the charts from 1966 or 1967 and you’ll find a stark split: Strawberry Fields Forever and Purple Haze v Engelbert Humperdinck.
But Burt Bacharach’s music existed somewhere in the middle. He often got lumbered with the term easy listening. You could see why – his own albums tended towards syrupy arrangements and cooing vocal choruses.
The truth was that no obvious label or category could contain what Bacharach did: his style was once memorably summed up by Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen as Ravel-like harmonies wedded to street soul. He could come up with Magic Moments for Perry Como, but he could also write for the Drifters, Gene Vincent, Chuck Jackson and the Shirelles.
—Alexis Petridis, the head rock and pop critic of the Guardian
Just how good was Burt Bacharach?