WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW AND FOREVER IS...
By Paul Freeman [2006 Interview]
It's difficult to describe the career of Burt Bacharach without making it sound like hyperbole. But the fact is -- a list of his hit songs would exceed this article's word count. The brilliant composer/pianist's impact on pop history is immeasurable.
Late last year, Bacharach released ”At This Time,” his first solo album in more than a quarter-century. Seasoned with rich jazz flavors, his music is, as always, deceptively complex, though instantly irresistible. With this CD, not content to bask in a warm, nostalgic breeze, he invokes a tempest, stirring political passion into the mix.
Why did he wait so long to record again as a solo performer? "There was no reason to," says Bacharach. "I was writing for other people, doing other projects, doing concerts. And the record business is very strange. But this album was done because I needed to say something politically that would have an edge."
He found support from Sony BMG CEO Rob Stringer. "He's very powerful and he's very great. He actually cares about music, instead of just the bottom line. I'm very pleased with the way the record came out."
The CD won the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album. But this new work also features Bacharach's debut as a lyricist. Previously, he had teamed with such notable wordsmiths as Hal David, Carole Bayer Sager and Elvis Costello.
Guest vocalists on "At This Time" include Rufus Wainwright, Dr. Dre and Costello, who sings Bacharach's politically charged "Who Are These People?"
"Things kept getting worse in our world and words and concepts just came into my head, songs like 'Who Are These People?,' 'Please Explain,' 'Where Did It Go?' I'm just a messenger. I'm getting my message across."
He doesn't mince words about George W. Bush's failures. "He will go down in the history of our country as the worst President we have ever had, I do believe. Gore could have done a better job."
In addition to strong antiwar sentiments, Bacharach is motivated by environment concerns. He touts the urgency of the film "An Inconvenient Truth." "Whether you're Republican or Democrat, whether you like Al Gore or not, be aware. I took my 10-year-old, my 13-year-old to see it. They got it. It should be shown in schools."
Bacharach occasionally writes blogs for the Huffington Post web site and. He works for political candidates, including Tammy Duckworth, the Major who lost both legs in Iraq, and is running for Congress as an Illinois Democrat.
Bacharach strives to help change the political landscape, including the composition of the House of Representatives. "Is it an exercise in futility? I don't know. But I know it's a real exercise in futility, if I don't try."
His goal in concert, however, will always be to entertain. "I'll never cheat an audience. I don't fool myself. I know they're there to hear the music they know. But I'll still do at least four things from the album, including 'Who Are These People?'
"I like being on the road. I like playing for an audience. I like what I can possibly give them... and what they give me back."
Audiences love hearing such timeless classics as "Anyone Who Had A Heart," "Say A Little Prayer," "Do You Know The Way To San Jose," "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head". "The Best That You Can Do, "That's What Friends Are For," and "What The World Needs Now."
Bacharach can also sing his own compositions, in a voice that's wonderfully expressive and distinctively his own.
"There's a certain license about a writer being able to sing his own songs. You've got some really great singers out there who write their own material, like John Mayer. But there have been songwriters who sang with a lot of imperfection in their voice. Sammy Cahn used to do it. And it can be interesting."
In today's industry, where production values and videos often supersede the music itself, Bacharach wonders how long a shelf life performers like Back Street Boys and Britney Spears will have.
"You have to have a song there, you know what I mean? When all the synthesizers and sounds are pulled back and the drum loops are gone, what's left? If there's nothing, then that music will disappear. It's like restaurants -- they're in fashion for two months, then they're gone."
The music of Bacharach withstands the test of time. Cutting edge artists continue to cover his songs and cite him as an influence. His immortality is ensured.
"I'm lucky I wrote the bulk of the songs when I did. The market's changed. What do we have? The hip-hop generation. Rap. When was the last time you heard a new, great, great song?
"Artists like Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Aretha, Chicago, Earth Wind & Fire -- they may not have hit records anymore, but they sell out everywhere they go. These are survivors. There music is strong. Their music is great."
Don't misunderstand. Bacharach embraces positive change. He's not mired in the past. Composer of film scores and Broadway shows, winner of Grammys, Oscars and Emmys, Bacharach, at 78, still seeks new challenges. "You can't stand still, man," he says.
Bacharach still believes that music can change the world for the better. "The power of music is important. It always will be."