Burt Bacharach & Hal David

Hal David on writing with Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick, and songwriting

Burt was under contract to Famous Music, which was a publishing arm of Paramount. I had an arrangement with Famous Music. We knew each other...and one day we decided we’d try to write a few songs together.

I didn’t know there was such a thing as country songs, or rhythm and blues songs, or whatever. I thought there were just songs.

I think we started to write together permanently — or “exclusively” is perhaps the better word — when Dionne Warwick came into our lives.

She came into our lives, and she came up to see if she could make some demonstration records for us, demos. This probably was around 1961. She had done backup singing, and we knew her from that, and she had asked if she could so some demos for us, and we invited her to our place at Paramount. And she came and she sang for us, and she blew us away, just blew us away.

Such great musicality. I mean she’s a real musician, and you know, she's just so musical. And we learned quickly that she could do our songs so well. We did our first date, and we had a song called “Don’t Make Me Over.” The first time she really recorded by herself, and it was an enormous hit. And then we had hit after hit after hit after hit for about 17 years.

We sometimes started with some lyrics, sometimes started with some melody, sometimes started with a whole lyric, sometimes started with a whole melody. Sometimes we’d sit in a room and just work on a song and build it. It was almost like architecture. The one thing that Burt and I did particularly well was he could write to a lyric. Not every composer — technically any composer can write to any lyric, and technically any lyric writer can write to any melody, but you’ve got to be able to do it well.

He is far and away the best composer I’ve worked with who could write to a lyric, and I think I do write lyrics to his music in a pretty good way, too.

We used to meet every day, and we were usually writing three songs at one time, but not fast. You know, we were really very good craftsmen in terms of not letting things go until we were happy with them.

I always think the song is going to be successful, if I take it around. I don't show a song that I don't think will be successful.

There are two lyrics I’m most proud of. One was a big hit called “Alfie.” I think “Alfie” may be a lyric I got the closest to getting exactly everything I felt about the subject. We wrote that for a film, a British movie that Paramount was going to release.

0Burt was in California now. He was with Angie Dickinson. I was still — my main home was on Long Island. He said, "Why don’t you get a start?" It was my job to get a start. I had a lot of trouble with “Alfie” because “Alfie” was a funny title. It doesn’t sound funny anymore, but “Alfie,” before you heard the song, sounded like an old-fashioned English musical song, something you would dance to and be silly about, and I had to get that out of my mind.

And I struggled with it and struggled with it and couldn’t get it and couldn’t get it, and one day I thought of, "What’s it all about, Alfie?" And from there on I knew how to do it. “

When I heard music that I liked, I heard words right away. Not necessarily the words I’d wind up using, but I heard words, I heard titles, I heard — as somebody pictures something, I heard something. I’ve always been like that. They have to sound like they weren’t even created, they just happened, just natural perfection when they turned out right.


What It Takes--Carole King. This Is What It Takes podcast with Alice Winkler. Voice of America, February 9. 2018.

Recording Years / Label
1988 -  A&M Records
Name Member Years Instruments
Burt Bacharach 1988 vocals, piano
Hal David 1988
Name Birth Death
Burt Bacharach 1928-05-12 2023-02-09
Hal David 1921-05-25 2012-09-01
Name See associated acts
Burt Bacharach Burt Bacharach

There are thousands of artists on the ON A&M RECORDS website. Click on a photograph to take you to a new artist!