Burt Bacharach And Hal David: A 50-Year Musical Duet The legendary composer and lyricist -- who collaborated on tunes like "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," "I Say a Little Prayer" and "What's New Pussycat?" -- discuss their 50-year relationship and some favorite tunes from the Broadway revival of their musical, Promises, Promises.

Burt Bacharach And Hal David: A 50-Year Musical Duet

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. The Tony Awards are this Sunday and four nominations have gone to the revival of "Promises, Promises," featuring songs by our next guests, Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

Bacharach and David are one of the greatest songwriting teams of the second half of the 20th century. Among their songs are "Make it Easy on Yourself," "Only Love Can Break a Heart," "Don't Make Me Over," "Anyone Who Had a Heart," "Wishin' and Hopin'," "There's Always Something There to Remind Me," "What The World Needs Now is Love" and "The Look of Love."

Dionne Warwick recorded 38 singles written by Bacharach and David that made the charts. "Promises, Promises" is the only Broadway musical they've done. Two songs from the original 1968 production became hits: the title song and "I Say A Little Prayer." Neil Simon wrote the book for the show, adapting it from the Billy Wilder movie "The Apartment." The revival stars Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth.

Terry spoke to Burt Bacharach and Hal David in April when the show opened.


Burt Bacharach, Hal David, welcome to FRESH AIR. You know, it's such an honor to talk with you together. I was always hoping for a chance this would happen, and I'm grateful that it has.

Let's talk about some of the songs you wrote for the show. Let's start with the title song "Promises, Promises," which Jerry Orbach sang in the original production. So let's start by hearing his performance of "Promises, Promises." So here we go.

(Soundbite of song, "Promises, Promises")

Mr. JERRY ORBACH (Actor): (as Chuck Baxter) (Singing) Promises, promises, I'm all through with promises, promises now. I don't know how I got the nerve to walk out. If I shout, remember I feel free. Now I can look at myself and be proud. I'm laughing out loud.

Oh, promises, promises, this is where those promises, promises end. I won't pretend that what was wrong can be right. Every night I'll sleep now, no more lies. Things that I promised myself fell apart, but I found my heart.

Oh, promises, their kind of promises take all the joy from life. Oh, promises, those kind of promises can just destroy your life. Oh, promises, promises, my kind of promises can lead to joy and hope and love, yes, love.

(Soundbite of applause)

GROSS: That's Jerry Orbach in the original cast recording of "Promises, Promises."

Burt Bacharach, Hal David, let's talk about how you wrote this song. Let's start with the title. Hal David, did the title "Promises, Promises" start with the song or with the show?

Mr. HAL DAVID (Songwriter): I think it started with David Merrick, who wanted a title song for the show.

GROSS: And was the show already called "Promises, Promises?"

Mr. DAVID: Am I correct, Burt?

Mr. BURT BACHARACH (Songwriter): Yeah, and I think Neil wanted to call it "Promises, Promises."

Mr. DAVID: Yeah.

Mr. BACHARACH: And not "The Apartment." That was the source from the original film, the Billy Wilder film. And it was just kind of nice to hear Jerry Orbach singing there.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. BACHARACH: Because I hadn't, I guess I hadn't heard that cast album in...

Mr. DAVID: In 40 years.

Mr. BACHARACH: Yeah, I mean, I don't know about you, Hal. I don't sit around listening to...

Mr. DAVID: No, I don't either.

Mr. BACHARACH: ...our old cast album. But Jerry Orbach, he was wonderful in the show. I mean, and Sean Hayes is just magnificent in the show. But I remember with Jerry Orbach, coming into New York, when I came into New York and would come to see the show maybe after it had been playing three months, and I'd go backstage and see the cast, and Jerry Orbach would say to me: Man, if I have to sing this song again, one more it's because it's - granted, it is a very notey - in other words, it's not an easy song to sing.

My motivation was the urgency that makes it work dramatically, or you think it's going to work dramatically by the anger that comes through in that many notes and that many words.

But Jerry, after three months, was saying: Why do you have to make it so difficult? Night after night, he's up there doing "Promises, Promises."

GROSS: So, Burt Bacharach, you said it's so notey because it has to show anger. Well, the instruments, the orchestra is kind of like churning behind the singer. And it just, like, there's such a kind of hyperactive energy going on there, and the time signature keeps changing. It changes like 20 times during this song.

Mr. BACHARACH: You're right. Very good.

GROSS: So it's just kind of like frenetic sounding and disorienting, in a way. It's wonderful. Did you consciously say, when you sat down to write this song, it needs 20 different key changes - I mean, time signature changes?

Mr. BACHARACH: No. I never do - I've never done anything, like, intentionally. It's only when I have gotten it where I'm hearing it, where it's in my head, where I can play it, where I can get away from it, lie on the couch, go over it in my head, and I start to write it down. And when I write it out, I realize, hey, that's - you've got to change time signature in this bar, time signature in this bar.

So it's not deliberate. I mean, that's the main thing. It can drive musicians crazy, you know, until they stop counting and just hear and feel the music. I think it's kind of selfish on my part. I just write it, say, we've got to get it done. You know, it'll get done.

So as far as your observation about the churning in the orchestra, yeah. So much of what I've written, whether it's from the show or whenever, it's always been - it's almost like they come out of the same bed, you know. It's not just piano and voice. It's, like, where the drums will be playing, where the strings come in. Where the - they are made and created about the same time as the song is being written.

GROSS: You hear that all in your head as you're writing the song. You hear the percussion. You hear the trumpet.

Mr. BACHARACH: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: Okay. Well, that leads me to the final version I want to play of "Promises, Promises," and that's the one that was the really big hit, Dionne Warwick's version. Did you know at the start that you would ask her to do this song?

Mr. BACHARACH: Well...

GROSS: She had already had hits with some of your songs.

Mr. BACHARACH: Well, she was like our star vehicle, you know, and we had been recording Dionne and producing her, kind of trying to tailor-make songs that would fit her. And she was an extraordinary vocalist and a great vehicle for what we would write. And the more that we would write for Dionne, the more we would see where we could go with her, the challenges that we could do.

Mr. DAVID: Dionne is a great musician.


Mr. DAVID: Has a great feel for the songs we wrote.

Mr. BACHARACH: And also, Hal, you know, by having that kind of mobility - I mean, you take a song like "Promises, Promises." In somebody else's hands, it could sound maybe labored or under duress being sung. Dionne just kind of floated through it, like, effortlessly, and that was one of the things that she had - the ease.

GROSS: She's incredible. Let's hear her recording of "Promises, "Promises."

(Soundbite of song, "Promises, Promises")

Ms. DIONNE WARWICK (Singer): (Singing) Promises, promises, I'm all through with promises, promises now. I don't know how I got the nerve to walk out. If I shout, remember I feel free. Now I can look at myself and be proud. I'm laughing out loud.

Oh, promises, promises, this is where those promises, promises end. I won't pretend that what was wrong can be right. Every night I'll sleep now, no more lies. Things that I promised myself fell apart, but I found my heart.

Oh, promises, their kind of promises can just destroy your life. Oh...

DAVIES: We'll hear more from the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of song, "Don't Make Me Over)

Ms. WARWICK: (Singing) Don't make me over. Now that I'd do anything for you.

DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's interview with Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Their songs are featured in the Broadway revival of "Promises, Promises."

GROSS: Let's talk about your other really big hit from the show, "I'll Never Fall in Love Again." There's a great story behind this song. So whichever one of you wants to start telling it, go ahead.

Mr. DAVID: Well, when Burt was hospitalized with pneumonia and...

Mr. BACHARACH: It was, like, maybe three days after we opened in Boston.

Mr. DAVID: Yeah.

Mr. BACHARACH: And we had good reviews in Boston.

Mr. DAVID: Yeah.

Mr. BACHARACH: We thought we had a hit.

Mr. DAVID: We thought we had a hit. But there was one spot in the show, we had a song called "Wouldn't That Be a Stroke of Luck?" or something similar to that.


Mr. DAVID: And...

Mr. BACHARACH: That's a good title, Hal.

Mr. DAVID: Yeah, but we threw it out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DAVID: That song didn't work. Everybody liked the song but the audience didn't like the song. And while Burt was in the hospital, I started writing lyrics for that song. You know, the famous lines: what do you get when you kiss a girl? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia after you do. She'll never phone you. I don't recall thinking that Burt was in a hospital and had pneumonia, but obviously there was some subconscious thing about it, because that's what I wrote.

GROSS: So...

Mr. BACHARACH: And we wrote it really quickly. I mean...

Mr. DAVID: I think you wrote it - I gave you a lot of the lyric. I think we wrote it in one day.

Mr. BACHARACH: The day I got out of the hospital.

Mr. DAVID: The day you got out of the hospital, we played it for Neil and David Merrick. They wanted it in the show the next day. It stopped the show, like a Hollywood movie. It just stopped the show.

Mr. BACHARACH: As it did the other night when the opening of the revival.

Mr. DAVID: Yeah, yeah.

GROSS: So, Burt Bacharach, you must have been feeling pretty lousy when you wrote this song, if you'd just gotten out of the hospital from pneumonia.

Mr. BACHARACH: Yeah, I felt there's is no way to recover from pneumonia is to then write the song and start standing in the back of the house - meaning in the back of the theater in Boston - for the rest of the run and then going on to Washington, doing the same and being in a sweat and thinking you had the pneumonia back and getting frustrated with it.

The conductor that we had, the tempos and, you know, I'm kind of a control freak. So, what was my choice? Go and take the place of the conductor and spend the next three years of my life in the pit, in the Broadway pit, conducting? But it's not the way to get over pneumonia. It really isn't.

GROSS: I'll bet it's not. But I can understand your frustration. I mean, your songs are so tricky and require, I think, a real sense of precision to really get all the twists and turns in the rhythm and in the orchestrations. And you must have really.

Mr. BACHARACH: And the tempos.

GROSS: ...and the tempos. And you must have really wanted to be there conducting.

Mr. BACHARACH: Well, yes. But that is not the answer, because then you put the rest of your life and your career on hold, you know.

GROSS: Right, right. Okay, so we have to hear the song now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So this is "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," aka "The Pneumonia Song," and why don't we hear Dionne Warwick singing it?

(Soundbite of song, "I'll Never Fall in Love Again")

Ms. WARWICK: (Singing) What do you get when you fall in love? A guy with a pin to burst your bubble. That's what you get for all your trouble. I'll never fall in love again. I'll never fall in love again.

What do you get when you kiss a guy? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia. After you do, he'll never phone 'ya. I'll never fall in love again. Don't you know that I'll never fall in love again?

Don't tell me what it's all about, 'cause I've been there, and I'm glad I'm out - out of those chains, those chains that bind you. That is why I'm here to remind you. What do you get when you fall in love? You only get lies...

GROSS: "I'll Never Fall In Love Again," one of the hit songs from the Broadway show "Promises, Promises," which is now being revived on Broadway. My guests are the song's composers, the famous songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

So, you know, we were talking before about time signature changes, and there aren't a lot of them in "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," but the song I think is really significant, it switches from 4/4 time to 2/4 time on the...

Mr. BACHARACH: Right. Very good.

GROSS: ...I'll of I'll never fall in love again, just like one note: I'll never fall in love again.

Mr. BACHARACH: Yeah. Very good observation.

GROSS: So what does it do to change just for that one note to the, I'll never fall in love again?

Mr. BACHARACH: It certainly makes it fresher for me, and it's a nice little turn. And it always surprised me that one of the first records we got on it, Ella Fitzgerald.

Mr. DAVID: Yeah. Great record.

Mr. BACHARACH: Except...

Mr. DAVID: She didn't do it then. She squared it out.

Mr. BACHARACH: She didn't do it.

(Singing) I'll never fall in love again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And that bothers you?

Mr. DAVID: But that record was on its way to being a hit, and then Dionne's came out, and, of course, Dionne just swamped her.

Mr. BACHARACH: Yeah. It's true. But I like it with the 6/4 bar - or a 4/4, 2/4, and you say, Terry.

GROSS: Yeah, well, what I like about that is that I think it frames the, I'll, like everything kind of stops for a second when it's sung that way. But a lot of singers don't do it. A lot singers just go, like, I'll never fall in love again. You know, they don't emphasize - they don't give it the full two beats.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...on the, I'll, and it always frustrates me to think of that.

Mr. BACHARACH: Well, it goes to the most normal way, but an abnormal way can, in its own right, be the right way. And, you know, it can be natural, just like the easier way out would've been to just not change bar lines, not going 4/4, 2/4. But, hey, we didn't do it that way. It didn't hurt us. It's fine.

GROSS: So what did it mean to you in 1968 to have a Broadway show, to be on Broadway? Was that important to you?

Mr. DAVID: Well, it was important to me. And I think it was the most fun time I had on any project I've done. I don't know if Burt will feel the same way, but...

Mr. BACHARACH: If I hadn't gotten sick, I would have had a good time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BACHARACH: You know, by the time we did the cast album, I was just looking to get to Palm Springs and not touch a piano for a while. So we should have written another one, but should've and would've and could've, we don't count that, Hal.

GROSS: Were you asked?

Mr. DAVID: We did enough.

Mr. BACHARACH: I don't know if we were asked. I just know that I had some frustration, too, that came from the actual problems of writing something for the theater, and that was there are substitutes in the orchestra. Maybe there are two, three subs in a given performance.

My music is not so easy to play, and I remember getting a call from David Merrick...

GROSS: The producer of the show. Yeah, go ahead.

Mr. BACHARACH: ...yeah - a week and a half into the show. And he called me up and said: I want you to know that there were five subs in the band today - it was a Saturday matinee - five members of the band had subs, the drummer, first trumpet player. These are key people reading the music for the first time. And Richard Rodgers was in the house.


Mr. BACHARACH: And I say geez, you know what I mean? You just want to go and stick your head in the sand in the desert, because you wanted him to hear it at the best.

GROSS: So, I thought we could close with another song. And this is a song that you wrote - that you didn't write for "Promises, Promises," but it's been interpolated into the new production. And the song is "I Say a Little Prayer." And I thought we'd use Aretha Franklin's 1968 recording of it.

Mr. DAVID: A great record.

GROSS: Yeah. Were you amazed to hear her record this?

Mr. BACHARACH: It's a better record than the record we made.

Mr. DAVID: Mm-hmm. We did, yeah. And we did a great record, but she topped it.


GROSS: Why is this one better?

Mr. DAVID: You'll hear it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BACHARACH: It's more natural.

Mr. DAVID: Yeah.

Mr. BACHARACH: It's just more natural. We're talking about bar changes and time changes on the chorus of forever and forever, you stay in my heart, and I will - you know, that's going 4/4, 3/4, 4/4, 3/4. Then regard the way it was treated by Aretha, because Aretha just makes it seamless, the transition going from one change to another change. You never notice it.

GROSS: Okay. It's been really an honor to speak with you both. Thank you so much for doing this.

Mr. BACHARACH: Hey, good talking to you.

Mr. DAVID: Good to talk to you.

Mr. BACHARACH: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song, "I Say A Little Prayer For You")

Ms. ARETHA FRANKLIN (Singer): (Singing) The moment I wake up, before I put on my makeup...

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Makeup.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) ...I say a little...

Unidentified Group (Singing): Pray for you.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) And while combing my hair now, and wondering what dress to wear now...

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Wear now.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) ...I say a little prayer for you.

Ms. FRANKLIN and Unidentified Group: (Singing) Forever, and ever, you'll stay in my heart, and I will love you. Forever, and ever, we never will part oh, how I love you. Together, together, that's how it must be to live without you would only mean heartbreak for me.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Woo. I run for the bus, dear...

DAVIES: Burt Bacharach and Hal David spoke with Terry Gross in April. Their songs are featured in the Broadway revival of their musical "Promises, Promises." The show is nominated for four Tony Awards. The presentation ceremony is set for Sunday.

Coming up, David Edelstein on the new film "Winter's Bone."

This is FRESH AIR.

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