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Legendary pop songwriter Burt Bacharach has died at 94

The composer of 52 top 40 UK hits passed away at home in Los Angeles

By Joe Goggins

Burt Bacharach, 2020
Bacharach was one of the 20th century's most successful songwriters. (Photo: YouTube)

Burt Bacharach, widely acknowledged as one of the finest songwriters of his generation, has died at the age of 94.

Bacharach, who’s penned classics like ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head’, ‘This Guy’s in Love with You’ and ‘Do You Know the Way to San Jose’, died at home in Los Angeles yesterday (February 8), his publicist told the Washington Post. No cause of death has been confirmed.

He worked most closely with the singer Dionne Warwick, but his formidable partnership with lyricist Hal David provided material for many of the 20th century’s most popular artists. Tom Jones (‘What’s New, Pussycat?’), Dusty Springfield (‘The Look of Love’) and Aretha Franklin (‘I Say a Little Prayer’) were among the acts he wrote directly for, while his songs were covered by everybody from Elvis Presley to The Beatles. His songs first topped the US singles charts in the 1950s and have continued to do so into the 21st century.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, he moved to New York City at a young age and would sneak into jazz clubs to see performances by the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie whilst still a child. That jazz grounding, accompanied by a classical education in Montreal, New York and California and an early career as a piano accompanist, paved the way for him to write his own songs in a manner that was sometimes seen as old-fashioned at face value, but that was admired for its complexity by the countless musicians who recorded his songs. 

“The shorthand version of him is that he’s something to do with easy listening,” said Elvis Costello in a 2018 interview with the Associated Press; he made an album with Bacharach, Painted from Memory, in 1998.  “It may be agreeable to listen to these songs, but there’s nothing easy about them. Try playing them. Try singing them.”

His music held cinematic appeal, and his score for the classic 1969 western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid won him an Oscar; he also picked up the award for Best Original Song, for ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head’. In total, he had 52 top 40 hits in the UK, and 73 in his native US. He continued to collaborate with modern artists in his later years, including Dr. Dre and Sheryl Crow.