To Hal David, who teamed with Burt Bacharach to create such classics as “Walk on By” and “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” writing songs was all about articulating what millions of people felt deep down in their souls.
“Above all, I try to create an emotion to which others can respond,” the acclaimed lyricist, who died in Los Angeles yesterday at age 91, once explained to author Bill DeMain. “I assume that if it moves me, it may do the same for someone else.”
As singer Dionne Warwick, who turned David’s lyrics and Bacharach’s scores into hits, once put it: “There are some of Hal’s lyrics that I can listen to and cry to, and then feel a sort of release.”
But how David managed to connect so powerfully with what we all experience is where the songwriters’ craft comes in. Here are the flights of inspiration that inspired five of David’s most famous and enduring lyrics.
- “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” David’s wistful 1968 lyrics about returning home after falling short of stardom took on their locale because David had been stationed at a military base near San Jose during World War II.
- “One Less Bell to Answer.” Written in 1967, this song eventually became a hit for both Rosemary Clooney and the Fifth Dimension. David got the inspiration from Bacharach’s wife, actress Angie Dickenson, who told him just to walk into the house when he arrived for dinner so that she wouldn’t have to answer the doorbell.
- “Don’t Make Me Over.” Warwick was upset when “Make It Easy on Yourself,” which she sang on Bacharach’s and David’s demo recording, was instead given to singer Jerry Butler. When she told David, “don’t make me over,” he made amends by turning those words into a 1967 hit for Warwick.
- “What the World Needs Now (Is Love).” This 1965 hit for Jackie DeShannon had a difficult genesis. After thinking of the catchy chorus, it took David several years to figure out the rest of the lyrics. “I kept thinking of lines like, ‘Lord, we don’t need planes that fly higher or faster,’ and they also seemed wrong,” he explained on his website. Eventually, it occurred to him that he needed to replace those with examples of divine creation, such as mountains and rivers.
- “I Say a Little Prayer.” What made this 1967 hit for Warwick so catchy, David believed, was how the title was woven into the stanzas rather than the chorus. “For whatever reason, at the time, it seemed to me that the title should come in the less obvious place of the verse, after ‘The moment I wake up, before I put on my makeup,’” he explained to DeMain. Here’s a 1970 cover by Aretha Franklin.