There aren’t many composers, American or British, who could support a six-CD box set of their work, but Burt Bacharach — who has just turned 85 and is due to perform in Israel for the first time in July — is one such giant of post-war song. The last major collection of his music was The Look Of Love, a mere three-CD affair from 1998. It is dwarfed by this massive trove, which is divided into distinct parts.
You get a sense not just of the length of Bacharach’s career — 60 years and counting — but the breadth, via the thematic sequencing of the CDs. Disc one covers the period before he achieved international recognition for his breathtaking melodies and the huge number of hits he co-wrote with lyricist Hal David (who sadly died last year). But, even here, starting in the ’50s, there are signs of the massive commercial breakthrough to come with Baby It’s You by The Shirelles and Perry Como’s Magic Moments.
There are more than two dozen products of the Bacharach-David partnership on disc two. For three years in the early-to-mid-60s, the duo were responsible for more flawless hit singles than any other partnership, with the possible exception of Lennon and McCartney. There's Walk On By, A House Is Not A Home, Anyone Who Had A Heart, Wives And Lovers and I Say A Little Prayer, many of them recorded with Dionne Warwick, the best-known interpreter of the Bacharach-David songbook. Of course, Bacharach conjured up a world of affairs and Martinis, bourgeois anxiety and chic sophistication far removed from the ragged rebellion of the rock generation.
The third disc covers Bacharach’s forays into movie soundtracks, with theme tunes and scores for What’s New Pussycat?, Casino Royale and Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid.
It also features versions of his songs by artists not normally associated with his work — Elvis Presley, Petula Clark and Aretha Franklin.
CD four includes collaborations from beyond his golden era, from the interesting (his 1998 team-up with Elvis Costello) to the, frankly, unnecessary (his 2011 duet of I’ll Never Fall In Love Again with boy band dummy Ronan Keating). The penultimate disc comprises piano renditions by Bacharach of some of his classics while the last finds jazz musicians, from Stan Getz to Ella Fitzgerald exploring the possibilities of those inimitable unexpected chord sequences.
Complete with 44-page booklet, it’s a monumental tribute to a towering talent.