Hal David (1921–2012)

Most people have heard that Hal David, the lyricist who gave life to music written by Burt Bacharach, died Saturday at age 91.

TDMB did a post on July 12 that featured music by the team. I made the mistake that many folks make, which was to focus mostly on Bacharach.

Of course, Bacharach is great, gifted and unique composer. But the greatness of David tends to get lost. Bacharach is photogenic and, through his appearances in the Austin Powers movies and his collaborations with Elvis Costello, was more in the public eye than David. But David’s lyrics were an indispensable part of the formula.

Fans of the duo suggest with great justification that they captured the cultural identity of the 1960s and 1970s. If so, it was as much — or perhaps more — David’s doing. And, if it was true, it’s quite an achievement. That period was enormously complex and nuanced. Indeed, culturally it must have been a more difficult time to define than the 1940s of World War II and the 1950s of Eisenhower. To get the sense of it into songs about raindrops, saying a little prayer or the desire to recapture a simpler time is a feat.

As a kid growing up during those days, I had no idea who Bacharach and David were. But their songs–particularly Do You Know the Way to San Jose–represented a vision of the older generation that was far more benign and reasonable than the one that was carelessly sacrificing kids not too much older than I in Vietnam. The song, my favorite by Bacharach and David, also elicits a remarkable sense of nostalgia.

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