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What’s new, Pussycat?

iTunes has been pumping out a lot of Bacharach lately. I tend to go through phases of gorging on the Maestro, and we’re deep into one right now. I’m not kidding around when I pronounce that Bacharach is one of the great 20th-century composers, and when I speak of BB, it is in the same breath as Arlen, Gershwin, Berlin, and the like. No doubt he matches the prolificness of the Pantheon of Great Songwriters, as well as serving as a benchmark of his musical time.

My folks always had a songbook at the piano, “Hits of the 60′s and 70′s”, and whenever I visit I find myself at the keys (the book is, of course, still there), flipping through the pages until I get to the next Bacharach tune … stopping at a certain measure every now and then, whispering “Ooh, good chord…” to no one in particular. And I think that’s the rub right there: it’s true, his songs aren’t always melodic gems, and yes, they often aren’t so very distinctive from each other—but every tune, even the doo-wop ones from his early years, always has that , “Ooh, good chord” moment.

The pride of my CD collection is a 3-disc set, released about 10 years ago when the Bacharach lovefest/retrospectives started popping up all over the place, titled: “The Look Of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection”. Tipping the scales at over 3.5 hours of songs, and spanning his entire career, it is probably just enough Bacharach for one person to conceivably want at any sitting. Another fun jewel in the crown is the CD he made from the live show, Burt Bacharach: “One Amazing Night”, an evening-”celebration” featuring pop names from Chrissie Hynde (who I’m pretty sure has never crossed BB’s radar before that concert) to Mike Meyers. It’s not a complete winner of an effort, but it’s worth it for 3 absolutely brilliant performances: Ben Folds Five covering “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”, Barenaked Ladies crooning “Close to You”, and walking off with the whole show, Wynonna (surely this is where all the talent in the Judd family resides), trumpeting out the most fantastic “Anyone Who Had a Heart” you ever heard.

I also have the video of this concert. Stop laughing.

Much of my obsession stems from the arrangements. His original arrangements are so completely bizarre … they frequently sound like they were penned on Mars. Anachronistic solo trumpets and oddly-placed glockenspiels abound—no subsequent covers of these tunes will ever quite reach the creativity of Bacharach’s original orchestrations. I find myself thinking during a typical track, “Oh, out-of-tune piano, tambourine, and trombone! Sure. Totally works. Why didn’t I think of that?”

So crank up the Dusty Springfield and join the party. He wrote enough Maj7 chords for everyone to get a taste…

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