Super selections and wonderful words by Balearic Mike.
Where do you even begin with a songwriting talent like this? It’s amazing to think that there was a time when a lot of Burt Bacharach’s music was derided as ‘easy listening’, by the same people who were sniffy about The Carpenters. Those people are just plain wrong, and not to be trusted.
The list of ’best songs ever written’ by this total dude is just ridiculous. Your favourite Aretha Franklin song? Yep, that’s his. Favourite Dusty Springfield? Yep, those are his too. Favourite Dionne Warwick? Yep, that ’n’all! Favourite song by Sandy Shaw, Bobby Gentry, that Walker Brothers record you love? They’re all his as well! So, I’ve pulled out a few of my own favourites, but thought it would be nice to start with one credited to Burt as an artist as well, as most his songs were made famous when performed by somebody else.
Burt Bacharach – Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid – A&M Records 1969
This lovely record is the soundtrack to the film of the same name, a classic Western / buddy movie, starring those two completely average Joe’s, Paul (swoon) Newman and Robert (swoon again) Redford. The record is most famous for Burt’s Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, which let’s face it is a lovely song, used beautifully in the movie, and which went on to top the US charts and sell over 2 million copies in the states alone. As well as that, it won the Oscar for Best Original Song, and this soundtrack LP did the same for Best Original Score.
However, my favourite track is the completely gorgeous South American Getaway. Apparently an attempt at a bit of a “Ennio Morricone”, it’s a wonderful, flowing, wordless piece, with the vocals a kind of scat meets choral harmonies thing, while floating over a rolling, fluid piece of music, inspired as much by jazz as classical. If you liked the Sault album Aiir, then this track must sit alongside the work of Charles Stepney as a huge source of inspiration. Moonboots used to play this a lot, so definitely gets the Balearic seal of approval. My copy’s a nice original 1969 UK pressing with a laminated sleeve. I love those.
I was going to say that I wanted to include a more modern take on some of Burt Bacharach’s songs, and then the penny dropped that actually these versions were recorded originally in 1988, which is now 35 years ago!
Smith & Mighty – Walk On … / Anyone … – Three Stripe Records 1988 / 1990
These stunning versions of Walk On By and Anyone Who Had A Heart, both originally recorded quite beautifully by Dionne Warwick, are really quite special. Smith & Mighty are quite rightly hailed as originators of what became known as the Bristol Sound, blazing a trail for The Wild Bunch and super producer Nellee Hooper, Fresh 4, and most famously for Massive Attack and Tricky. What probably doesn’t get mentioned enough is the huge influence that these two records had on the burgeoning UK Balearic scene, as over the next couple of years its DJs and movers & shakers produced club classic after classic at much slower tempos. Of course, the sound of Soul II Soul was a huge influence – but then Nellee Hooper was heavily involved in making that break / beat – but the impact of these records, though, is often sadly overlooked. Nonetheless, they are just totally beautiful versions, and were really big on the UK street soul scene, as well as crossing over to the house / Balearic crowd. Hence there were loads of cheap secondhand copies in Manchester, which is when I picked up my copies of both tracks. Amazingly from the Vinyl Exchange bargain bins.
Aretha Franklin – Aretha Now – Atlantic Records 1968
This is one of the best albums released by one of the finest singers of all time, so it’s not that surprising that it also contains one of the all-time great pop songs of the 20th century. I am of course talking about the Burt Bacharach and Hal David penned I Say A Little Prayer. A Masterpiece that is executed with such beauty and perfection, that you do almost feel sorry for anyone else attempting to pull this off…. and there have been many. I found a website that listed 300 covers!
Not only is the song just utterly beguiling, but the performance is a masterclass in understatement. From the beautiful simplicity of that opening piano with just a rim-shot of percussion for accompaniment, to the soaring crescendos of the chorus when Aretha unleashes her vocal range to join the incredible (uncredited) backing singers. The song seems to float on the air, rising and falling effortlessly as it moves through us.
The rest of the album is also pretty hot! Particularly the A-side, which opens with Think, passes through I Say A Little Prayer, See Saw, Night Time Is The Right Time, and ends with a gorgeous version of Sam Cooke’s You Send Me. The B-side also starts with a killer break-beat on the intro to You’re A Sweet Sweet Man.
This was Aretha’s 13th studio album and a million seller in the USA. Mine is an original 1968 UK Mono pressing, which sounds amazing – punchy as hell! It also has a much nicer sleeve than the US pressing. I think Aretha looks so lovely in the cover photo, almost a bit shy. It was the first Aretha LP that I bought, picking it up in Kingbee Records sometime in the mid-90s.
For more from Balearic Mike you can find him on both Facebook and Instagram – @balearicmike.
Mike has a Mixcloud page packed with magnificent, magical, music, and you can catch him live on 1BTN, from 12 noon until 2 (UK time) every 1st and 3rd Friday.
You can also check out the super silk screen prints of “Balearic Wife” over at @jo_lambert_print