Hal David: The Lyrics Keep Rolling Along


Fifty years ago this month, “(They Long To Be) Close To You” by The Carpenters was the number one song in America.
The lyricist was Hal David, a Brooklyn native who lived for many years in Roslyn.
The classic tune, which rocketed the brother-sister duo to the top of the pop world, was just one of many memorable hits authored by David and his legendary partner, Burt Bacharach. While the latter, with his photogenic looks, became a celebrity, the personable David remained in the background, writing profusely, while also becoming the founder of the Los Angeles Music Center and chairman of the board of the National Academy of Popular Music and its Songwriters Hall of Fame.
With Bacharach, David completed the most famous songwriter duo since Rogers and Hammerstein.
A native of Brooklyn and a graduate of both Thomas Jefferson High School and Brooklyn College, David began writing lyrics in the 1940s, working for such legendary bandleaders as Sammy Kaye and Guy Lombardo.
His career took off in the mid-1950s when he began working with Bacharach. The two had offices at the Brill Building in midtown Manhattan and the nerve center of Tin Pan Alley and popular music in America itself.
In the Fifties, Bacharach and David composed such hits as “The Story of My Life” and “I Cry More.”
In the Sixties, the duo’s creative talents took off. They found a talent in Dionne Warwick. The trio clicked and the hits kept coming: “Don’t Make Me Over,” “I’ll Never Love This Way Again,” “Anyone Who Had A Heart,” “I Say A Little Prayer,” “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again,” “Do You Know The Way To San Jose?” and “Walk On By.”
Warwick wasn’t the only singer to take a Bacharach-David composition to the top. The duo also wrote for Dusty Springfield, B.J. Thomas, Tom Jones, Jackie DeShannon, and Gene Pitney.
Versatile on all fronts, the duo also composed for country stars Marty Robbins, Ronnie Milsap (“It Was Almost Like A Song”), plus the unforgettable duet with Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias (“To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before”). The hits included “Alfie”, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”, “This Guy’s in Love with You”, “What the World Needs Now Is Love”, “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me”, “One Less Bell to Answer” and “Anyone Who Had a Heart.”
The duo moved into film, working on songs for such hit movies as Casino Royale, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and Moonraker.
By now, readers are certainly humming and singing along. Who can forget these hits?
The awards began to pile up. In 1969, David won an Oscar for “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.” The next year, there was a Grammy for “Promises, Promises.” In 1984, the Academy of Country Music came calling with an award for “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before.” He also won the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, one bestowed by the Library of Congress, the first time a songwriting team was given the honor.
To cap off an amazing career, the public television special, What the World Needs Now: Words by Hal David was aired on both television stations and home video in 2019. The program was hosted by Bette Midler and contained archival interviews with David, plus tributes by Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick, Valerie Simpson, Barbra Streisand, Cher, Dusty Springfield, B.J. Thomas, and Glen Campbell.
In Roslyn, this most private man lived with his wife and children in the historic Mackay Estate Dairyman’s Cottage of the Harbor Hill estate. He later relocated to Los Angeles.
David died in 2012. In his later years, a website was constructed. David was unfamiliar with this new technology, but he did offer remarkable insights into his songwriting routine.
“How do I go about the business of writing lyrics?” David asked. “I wish I really knew. If I did it would make writing much easier for me. Because I have no formula, sometimes it flows smoothly and other times it is like rowing a boat upstream. Most often a lyric starts with a title. A line in a book I am reading may set me off. Other times some dialogue in a play or a movie becomes the catalyst. More often than not the idea just pops into my head-where it comes from I hardly ever know.
“In writing I search for believability, simplicity, and emotional impact. Believability is the easiest of the three to accomplish. One thing a lyricist must learn is not to fall in love with his own lines. Once you learn that, you can walk away from the lyric and look at it with a reasonable degree of objectivity. Often I discard a good line because it is inconsistent with the basic idea. If the line happens to be witty or sad in a particularly fresh way it hurts me to take it out. But that’s part of the pain of writing.
“Simplicity is much harder to achieve. It is easy to be simple and bad. Being simple and good is very difficult. The sophisticated Cole Porter, the earthy Irving Berlin, the poetic Oscar Hammerstein, and the witty Lorenz Hart all have one thing in common – simplicity, the kind that is good. I must also mention a special favorite of mine, Johnny Mercer. Whether he is being poetic or humorous, he is never complicated. I seek this elusive thing called simplicity always. I hope I sometimes achieve it.
“I try to create an emotion to which others can respond. Unless I can create an emotion to which I can respond, I throw the lyric away. Although I cannot know how others will react, I assume that if it moves me it may do the same for them. Sometimes I am right, sometimes I am wrong.”
As always, there was the partnership with Burt Bacharach.”
“I am fortunate to have enjoyed a long-time collaboration with Burt Bacharach,” David concluded. “Burt is a man of many talents – a masterful arranger, an outstanding conductor, but first and foremost a brilliant composer. Among songwriters there are many tune writers but just a handful of composers. He is one of the few.”
And so too was Hal David, just one of the greats to call Roslyn home.
—Additional information from Wikipedia

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