Honoring six decades of Hal David’s lyrics

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Sixty years ago, two singers with very different styles recorded two songs that quickly rose up the 1957/1958 pop charts. Country singer Marty Robbins scored a hit with “The Story of My Life,” while crooner Perry Como racked up sales with “Magic Moments.” 

The songs were linked by what would soon become the phenomenally successful songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. 

“People say to me all the time ‘Your husband wrote those songs?’ and I say yes, they were Hal and Burt’s first hits,” said Hal’s widow, Eunice David, from Los Angeles.

David passed away in 2012 and last November, Eunice chronicled the 25 years she spent with her lyricist husband in “Hal David: His Magic Moments: There Is Always Something There to Remind Me.”

The pair first met playing mixed doubles tennis in 1987. 

“Hal had no ego at all and told me he just wrote songs, but I had no idea who he was!” laughed Eunice about their first meeting. “Of course, Burt and Hal’s songs had been some of my favorites for years, but I always thought Burt had written them by himself.”

That assumption was understandable.  Unlike his inconspicuous literary partner, Bacharach was a musician who regularly performed his works in public. 

“In his early years, Burt didn’t always explain that someone else had written the lyrics,” noted Eunice. “But in later years he did start mentioning Hal and how important the lyrics were. Hal really appreciated that.”

Dionne Warwick recorded many of songwriting duo’s hit songs and made sure David was acknowledged.

“When people only mentioned Burt, I would always let them know how essential Hal’s words were,” said Warwick from her home in New Jersey. “Otherwise, they would all be just humming Burt’s music!” 

Warwick says David was easy to work with.

“He was a kind, gentle man. As I’ve always said about his lyrics, Hal wrote to the heart, not at it. They were words everyone wanted to say to someone at one time or another. With Burt’s wonderful melodies, they depended on me and others to bring those words to the listening ear.”

Singer Jackie DeShannon recorded the popular Bacharach/David peace anthem ‘What the World Needs Now is Love,’ which reached the U.S. Top 10 pop charts in 1965.

“It was actually Hal who pushed Burt to let me hear it,” recalled DeShannon from Los Angeles. “I was preparing for a recording session and we were rehearsing songs. Burt was reluctant to play it but when he heard me sing it he said ‘That’s it!’ and he knew I was the right match for the song.”

Hearing the song for the first time, DeShannon was immediately charmed.

“I grew up on a farm in Kentucky, so the lyrics about corn fields and wheat fields brought a smile to my face,” she said. “And the chord changes were rooted in gospel music which I had grown up with in the South. So it was a match made in heaven.”

Though penned over half a century ago in the troubled 60s, DeShannon says David’s lyrics still resonate today in a world still coping with political, military and social conflicts.  

“I don’t see the lyrics losing their relevance in my lifetime, which is sad,” she said.

The simple, yet poignant elegance of her husband’s words were typical, says Eunice.

“Hal always said he strove for words that everyone would understand and could sing,” she said. “He wanted the songs to be seamless and not to sound as if two people had written them. Well, he was successful, wasn’t he, because people didn’t always realize he had composed the lyrics!”

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 600 magazines and newspapers. See www.tinseltowntalks.com

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