Music Week looks back on an interview it conducted with songwriting legend Hal David, who passed away on Saturday aged 91.
David was honoured back in 2004 by US society ASCAP - where he served as president from 1980 and 1986 and then a memebr of the board of directors - at its annual awards in Lodnon. Ahead of him receiving that honour we caught up with him to share his thoughts on Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick and songwriting in general.
How much of an affinity do you have with the UK?
I come over at least once a year, sometimes twice. London is really like a second home because I’ve done so much work here over the years. My introduction to important films started here in London. Burt Bacharach and I were at the Dorchester Hotel and Charles Feldman was doing What’s New Pussycat and asked us to do the song from it and from here we did Casino Royale and Alfie and After The Fox and we recorded here quite a bit for Pye Records, which was the British part of the record company and had Dionne Warwick.
Your extensive catalogue of songs with Burt Bacharach is constantly being covered. What do you make of one of the latest remakes, Joss Stone’s version of Alfie from the forthcoming film of the same name?
It’s terrific. She’s just fantastic and she came out of nowhere it seems.
Why do you think your songs have stood the test of time?
I wish I knew because I would bottle it and sell it. The first thing I always try to do is write a terrific song and try to be a little fresh and original and don’t try to follow what is the trend of the moment, which I think a lot of people do.
Who stands as the best interpreter of your lyrics?
Dionne Warwick. So many of the songs were written for her and by and large she has been the main interpreter. We’ve had fantastic records from Aretha, Petula Clark, Barbra Streisand, so many people, but I would have to say Dionne.
Can you explain what the magical chemistry was between you, Burt and Dionne?
Chemistry, unless you’re really a scientist and know what you’re doing, chemistry among artists is something that’s organic and from the moment Burt and I started to write together it just seemed to happen. Whatever the two of us had it was something more than just two people. Two became one in the best sense and then a few years later Dionne came into our lives and we came into her life and from the first recording we made – Don’t Make Me Over – it just worked.
Do any unusual cover versions stand out?
Naked Eyes’ version of Always Something There To Remind Me (the British group reached the US Top 10 in 1983). When I first heard it, it sounded so different and unconventional, but when I’d heard it three or four time I fell in love with it.
What is your relationship like these days with Burt Bacharach?
We’ve been very good friends over the years. We talk to each other quite often. We have a lot of records out and we have Alfie coming out again with the movie. We do write with each other from time to time and I think some of the songs we write are amazing, but it’s not so easy getting them recorded these days.
Would you agree the quality of lyrics these days has dropped?
I think so. For the most part you don’t hear as many memorable lyrics as you used to. But there are some terrific writers around and these things are cyclical. What happens is we’re in a record world and sound maybe has a greater influence now than lyrics, but there are terrific singers around like Norah Jones.
Why has there been a drop in standards?
If I were to think of a reason it’s people break through much quicker today than they used to so they become stars so much faster and haven’t gone through the mill or refined their work quite to the extent of what used to happen.
What music do you listen to for pleasure?
I love to listen to Tony Bennett who still sounds fantastic. I think he’s better now than he was. I love listening to Joss Stone, which is new to me in my life, and Norah Jones is really good and she reminds me of some of the wonderful things of the past.
And what is the favourite of your own songs?
It changes over the years. At this time, which might have something to do with all that is going on in the world, it’s What The World Needs Now Is Love. In the States it’s been a big song and I think it’s even more important now.