Sunday, September 2, 2012
Anyone Who Had a Heart - RIP Hal David
Anyone who had a heart
Would take me in his arms
And love me too
Every generation should have its celebrated songwriting teams - artists who churn out hit after hit that become part of the soundtrack of our lives. There's something comforting about knowing they're out there, working to reflect back to us our daily joys and sorrows, keeping us wondering what they're going to do next.
The Baby Boomer generation was lucky to have two prolific teams who put their distinctive stamp on our times - John Lennon and Paul McCartney, of course, and Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Bacharach and David were the classic style of team - one wrote the lyrics, the other composed the song. As lyricist, Hal David, who died yesterday at 91, had a knack for putting words together that captured the feelings we all had.
They wrote so many songs it would be impossible to pick my favorite. Their songs were everywhere when I was growing up, and I associate different ones with different things. But where lyrics alone are concerned, I did zero in on one when I heard the news of David's death, and that is Anyone Who Had a Heart from 1963. It makes me cry every time I hear it, like right now, and why? Because it just nails heartbreak. It's the simplest composition, but the words he selected were the perfect ones. There were no better ones.
Bacharach-David songs never seemed formulaic, and looking on Hal David's website, I believe I've found at least half of the reason for that. Here are his own words about how he wrote lyrics:
In writing I search for believability, simplicity and emotional impact. Believability is the easiest of the three to accomplish. One thing a lyricist must learn is not to fall in love with his own lines. Once you learn that, you can walk away from the lyric and look at it with a reasonable degree of objectivity. I often discard a good line because it is inconsistent with the basic idea. If the line happens to be witty or sad in a particularly fresh way it hurts me to take it out. But that's part of the pain of writing.
Simplicity is much harder to achieve. It is easy to be simple and bad. Being simple and good is very difficult. The sophisticated Cole Porter, the earthy Irving Berlin, the poetic Oscar Hammerstein, and the witty Lorenz Hart all have one thing in common - simplicity, the kind that is good. I must also mention a special favorite of mine, Johnny Mercer. Whether he is being poetic or humorous, he is never complicated. I seek this elusive thing called simplicity always. I hope I sometimes achieve it.
Above all, I try to create an emotion to which others can respond. Unless I can create an emotion to which I can respond, I throw the lyric away. Although I cannot know how others will react, I assume that if it moves me it may do the same for them. Sometimes I am right, sometimes I am wrong.
Anyone Who Had A Heart had many things going for it - a brilliant composer in Bacharach and the sublime voice of Dionne Warwick, for starters. But David hit the trifecta here with his lyrics - they had believability, simplicity and emotional impact in spades.
I won't recount his life here - there's a good obituary on him in today's New York Times, with many facts about him that I did not know. RIP Hal David.