Country hit helped launch composer Burt Bacharach's legendary career

Gershwin Prize recipient Burt Bacharach plays at a concert honoring him and Hal David at the White House on May 9, 2012.

"Never be ashamed to write a melody that people remember."

That's one of many quotes attributed to Burt Bacharach.

The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner died Wednesday at age 94 at his Los Angeles home of natural causes, according to his publicist Tina Brausam.

That the music Bacharach composed has been recorded by over 1,000 artists and will live long after his death proves his statement true.

For one who was so incredibly beloved and influential, Bacharach, alongside his frequent co-writer Hal David, composed only 73 Billboard Top 40 hits (Elvis Presley sang 114) and won six Grammys and three Academy Awards. In an era where winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar or Tony certifies incredible superstardom, he was not that.

However, Bacharach impressively superseded that standard.

Bacharach's two-decade swing of chart-topping hits included "This Guy's in Love with You" (1968), "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" (1969), "(They Long to Be) Close to You" (1970), "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" (1981), and "That's What Friends Are For" (1986).

Bacharach and David received the Library of Congress' Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2011. James H. Billington — then the Librarian of Congress — compared their compositions to the work of American Songbook-era pop standard setters George and Ira Gershwin.

Are the opening bars of the Carpenters' "Close To You" comparable to "Rhapsody In Blue?" Are Dionne Warwick and friends singing the melody of "That's What Friends Are For" as memorable as "Summetime" from "Porgy and Bess?"

In both cases, the answer is an unquestionable yes.

Bacharach's work modernized the global standard of American-made pop using syncopation, key changes and climaxes to develop a connection tying classical and jazz music to Latin polyrhythms and rhythm and blues.

Even deeper, his work — because of its inherent musicality — created hits in many genres.

In a 2016 Tennessean interview, he recalled that his first No. 1 hit came from country music: "The Story of My Life," cut by Marty Robbins in 1957. It was one of the first songs he co-wrote with David.

"It was pop, too," Bacharach said. "But I was thrilled because it had been a long time working in the Brill Building with different writers."

His thoughts comparing his work in Manhattan's legendary Brill Building — home to Carole King, Phil Spector, and the legendary team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, among many others — to the work that Nashville greats achieve on Music Row speak to his reverence for the craft that his work elevated.

"[Music Row] is the citadel," he said. "It's the one place remaining where there's a concentration of writers, an interchange of people trying to get (songs written). That's the way it kind of used to be in the Brill Building years ago. I'm very appreciative of what you do down there."

Bacharach's work helped make beloved superstars of Karen Carpenter, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield and Warwick. Notably, these female artists were classically trained and skilled in traditions erring far from more rock- and soul-aimed movements in modern music of the mid-20th century.

"Burt's musicianship is — I don't think anybody can surpass it," Warwick said in a 2022 Vulture interview. "Hal David? I don't consider him a lyricist. I consider him a poet. And I was the interpreter of both. So we brought what we had to the table and it worked."

As for Franklin, her 1968 recording of Bacharach's "I Say a Little Prayer" followed Warwick's original release of the song as a Top 5 soul single in 1967.

While Franklin, her background singers and Bacharach were working on Franklin's 1968 album "Aretha Now," the "Queen of Soul" began playing around with her vocal over the bones of Bacharach's accompaniment during a break in recording.

"Aretha had only to open her mouth in a recording studio and the song became hers," Serene Dominic wrote in 2002's "Burt Bacharach: Song By Song."

The track was a global crossover Top 10 hit. It expanded a run of 11 Top 10 domestic and international singles over her first four No. 1 albums, which spurred unprecedented stardom.

Songwriter Burt Bacharach, right, shares a moment with Ed Shea during the 1969 ASCAP Awards Luncheon.

Bacharach's nightclub-schooled stylings melded with a cinematic scope and a bedrock base of collegiate musical awareness. A Kansas City, Missouri, native whose jazzy tastes developed in his teen years in Queens, New York, he was educated at McGill University in Montreal, the Mannes School of Music in New York City and the Music Academy of the West in Montecito, California. He developed an iconic sound that perhaps superseded charting stardom in creating the seductive soundtrack for easy listening vibes and smooth lifestyles forever.

To wit, the many films in which Bacharach's sound and style were associated included Mike Myers' turn as James Bond-spoofing global spy Austin Powers in a trio of movies released between 1997-2002. The composer made a cameo appearance in all three

How Bacharach's songs inspired Myers speaks volumes as to the global impact of his work.

Canadian-born Myers was driving home from ice hockey practice and heard Bacharach's composition on Springfield's 1967 single "The Look of Love," from the soundtrack of the Peter Sellers-starring Bond spoof "Casino Royale."

Notably, David had written the lyrics for Bond soundtrack songs "We Have All the Time in the World" (from 1969's "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and sung by Louis Armstrong) and "Moonraker" (the title song sung by Shirley Bassey, in 1979).

Bacharach's appearances — on top of a tour bus driving down the Las Vegas strip, no less — singing "What the World Needs Now Is Love" and joining Elvis Costello for "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" in "The Spy Who Shagged Me" pull everything together full circle.

Composer Burt Bacharach appears during an interview in Los Angeles on July 9, 1979. Bacharach died of natural causes Wednesday at home in Los Angeles, his publicist said. He was 94.

About his partnership with Bacharach from 1957-1973, David noted something in a March 1996 interview that speaks to the standout creativity that lends itself to Bacharach's timeless legacy.

"When we were writing, Burt and I always tried to find something that was original," David said. "There was no fun in being like everyone else."

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Burt Bacharach's first No. 1 hit was a country song by Marty Robbins