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Burt Bacharach, The Genius Who Got Punks To Admit Elevator Music Was Cool, Is Dead

Burt Bacharach plays a piano

John Olson/Getty Images

As a kid I thought Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice was a lousy movie. 

I don’t remember how I ended up by myself in front of our living room TV after school watching that 1969 blockbuster about swinging couples. But I do recall being very confused seeing a group of barely clad beautiful people just laying in bed together but not touching each other or even talking. Just as I was about to change the channel, they all got out of bed and got dressed and got in an elevator, and a dramatic song with symphonic swells and a melody from the gods started playing, and the credits rolled. Young me was into the Beatles and probably Bachman Turner Overdrive-style pop rock at the time and would have been forced to pooh-pooh this soundtrack as “elevator music” if my friends were around. But I was alone and completely enthralled. I didn't get the movie’s plot then and haven't rewatched or reconsidered its goodness. But I've gone back to that closing number, ”What the World Needs Now Is Love,” repeatedly through the years. And my opinion of the song also remains unchanged. It's still as good as it gets.

Burt Bacharach, who with longtime songwriting partner Hal David wrote that wondrous tune and many dozens more with equally godly melodies, made elevator music cool. He died on Wednesday. Bacharach was 94 years old.

I’d grow up to fall for a lot more soft-serve Bacharach ditties. Among the hardest falls: the Carpenters’ version of “Close to You;” “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” and “I Say A Little Prayer” by Dionne Warwick; “Raindrops Keep Fallin On My Head” by B.J. Thomas. I mean, come the hell on! 

And I’ve consumed with gusto every version of “What the World Needs Now Is Love” I’ve ever come across. It showed up in more movies: Even Bacharach’s own goofy take for the Austin Powers franchise hits me where I live and gets my inner wimp rocker to take over.

Any doubt about Bacharach’s timeless hipness was forever wiped out in the mid-1990s when maturing former angry young man Elvis Costello asked to work together. The resulting recording finds Costello bending more toward Bacharach than vice versa. Costello’s cover of Bacharach/David’s 1962 tune, “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself,” is torchy perfection. (The White Stripes’ metallic version of the same tune brings out the feels, also.) And one of their collaborations, “God Give Me Strength,” won the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration. Like elevator music, Grammys can be cool.

Hal David died in 2012. But Costello and Bacharach kept each other busy, and just last month they announced jointly that they were releasing a box set of recordings from their 25 years of working together.

But what I need now is more of "What the World Needs Now." Come join me here. If you ain’t crying, you ain’t listening.

RIP, Mr. Bacharach. 

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