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Burt Bacharach: a musical stayer

OPINION by Bob Wisener | February 12, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

A line from one of his 1980s songs, long after we knew the way to San Jose, may have best summed up Burt Bacharach's place in popular music.

"When you get caught between the moon and New York City," sings Christopher Cross in an upbeat tune that topped the record charts and won an Oscar, "the best that you can do is fall in love."

Bacharach, who died Thursday at 94, formed the soundtrack for many turned off by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Carole King's name was mentioned in a wire-service obituary for Bacharach, her fame coming with songs that transcended any musical phase. Along with Frank Sinatra and others whose music succeeding generations are sure to discover, they are stayers in a dog-eat-dog world that asks entertainers to repeat their success over and over and in which many are consumed.

Songs like "Walk on By" and "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?", the latter as sung by Dionne Warwick, made some sense of the turbulent 1960s. Bacharach and co-writer Hal David were responsible for one of the first chart-toppers of the 1970s and which was still associated with the composer years later when Bacharach dabbled in horse racing.

Before a Kentucky Derby in the 1980s, Hall of Fame trainer Wayne Lukas pointed out the horse owner. "There's Burt over there," said Lukas, who could needle with the best of them, "with raindrops falling on his head." Burt's horse didn't win that race, but Heartlight No. One, named for the song he cowrote for Neil Diamond, won the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly of 1983. Other good ones he raced were Soul of the Matter and Afternoon Deelites.

He wrote "This Girl's In Love With You," a No. 1 song in 1968 for trumpeter Herb Alpert, who with record producer Jerry Moss founded A&M Records. Moss raced the magnificent, once-beaten (in 20 races) Zenyatta, who twice won the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn.

His wives included actress Angie Dickinson and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, with whom he won an Oscar for "Best That You Can Do," from the movie "Arthur."

In 1970, he won Oscars for the soundtrack to "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," a Western alternative to people not hip on John Wayne wearing an eyepatch in "True Grit" -- also the first Newman-Redford film blockbuster -- and for "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," the B.J. Thomas song people couldn't get out of their heads in the spring that the Beatles let it be.

Welcome in the White House no matter what the president's political party, Bacharach received a 2012 award from Barack Obama named for George Gershwin, with whose work and others the composer's work is distinctly American and likely to stand the test of time.

If nothing else, he put San Jose in the news long before most of us heard of Steve Jobs and Silicon Valley. It was to Bacharach that David Bowie, in "Changes," might have sung, "Look out, you rock and rollers."

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