By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
On What the World Needs Now, many of the best-known Bacharach-David songs, from “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” to “Alfie,” receive instrumental treatments. The way you hear them is perhaps clearest in the case of one of the least famous, 1971’s “Nikki.” The piece opens with some swiftly cascading minor electronic-keyboard chords. A muted trumpet then states and restates the melody — mildly windswept, yet moving in its calm way, inevitably somewhere else, as the restless drumming hints — with the repeat transitioned through a brief upswing of strings, which themselves suavely reappear to grab and voice the last few concluding bars. Then the rhythm subtly changes, and a saxophone lies sensuously back, making the chorus sizzle. The rest of the piece is a loose dance of the trumpet, those strings and that sax. The listener goes from the English countryside to a Malibu beachfront to a fire-lit interior, the woodsy acoustic qualities of all locales fused into one colorful blur. The orchestra never acts more grandly than the sax, which in turn never behaves less rudely than the strings.
The reissue is hardly exhaustive; it omits Bacharach-David songs such as “Hasbrook Heights,” a suburban romance perfectly sung by Bacharach (from 1971’s Burt Bacharach, still a Japan-only reissue), ’60s tunes as compactly magisterial as “The Windows of the World,” film scorings as closely composed as “The April Fools,” jazzy rhythmic workouts as alive as “Pacific Coast Highway.” But it includes “Something Big,” on which Bacharach sings, backed by trim chorale, that that’s what he’s after. “Why do I go on and fill my life with little things,” he asks, doing the “composer vocals,” as Sakamoto termed them, “when there are big things I must do?”
As a kid, my piano teachers insisted that scores unlocked the performance secrets to all music. Although the “Whole Lotta Love” sheet music disproved this, my copy of “This Guy’s in Love With You” worked as fully as Bach. As What the World Needs Nowdemonstrates, this indicated more than the fact that Bacharach composed on a piano and Led Zep did not; it meant that Bacharach, while working at a polo-shirted stylistic remove from ’60s and ’70s rockers, was still going at things with the zestful inventiveness of the pop times. You can reject his place in the kitsch universe; you can realize that rock purists will always miss him. You can insist he’s no Percy Faith. But then you hear one of Bacharach’s bass clarinets slide over exactly the right drumming, or you hear him vary the tempo in a way that causes most pop musicians today to run for cover, and you just think, well, Burt Bacharach, he’s his own narrative. And whether that universe is closer to Ravel’s or Jobim’s matters not at all.
WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW: BURT BACHARACH CLASSICS | (A&M)