The song lyricist Hal David has died at the age of 91.
I was a huge fan of Burt Bacharach’s music from an early age – and a proud owner of the Dionne Warwick album The Windows Of The World at the age of 16 – but at first I wasn’t too sure about Hal David’s lyrics. Some of them seemed a little strange and clunky.
Whether it is that they have matured or maybe it’s that I have – that and the fact that I can’t imagine those gorgeous and always surprising Bacharach melody lines without them, to the extent that, like Beatles lyrics, they seem to have become imprinted on the subconscious – but they sound far better now.
David did a very clever thing in the ’60s. And he did it while working with Bacharach’s far from easy, odd-length lines and tricky turns. He moved the world of Great American Songbook lyrics from the grandly romantic to the everyday, without losing that romance. This is the world not of the nightclub and smart hotel martini set, but of the coffee-mug office workers and the suburb-dwellers:
“If you see me walkin’ down the street/And I start to cry each time we meet/Walk on by.”
“At work I just take time/And all through my coffee break-time/I say a little prayer for you.”
And perhaps the most beautiful of all:
“A room is still a room/Even when there’s nothing there but gloom/But a room is not a house/And a house is not a home/When the two of us are far apart/And one of us has a broken heart.”
I can’t add here the breathtaking new version of A House Is Not A Home from the new Kurt Elling album, 1619 Broadway, because it isn’t released yet, so here, instead is Aretha Franklin singing I Say A Little Prayer. Let’s all say one for Hal…