Burt Bacharach's songs have been covered by so many artists that his royalty checks stack right up next to Paul McCartney's and the estate of Henry Mancini's. It's probably safe to say Bacharach has a very nice house. But who has done the best of the best?
1) "What the World Needs Now Is Love," by Jackie DeShannon (1965). DeShannon curiously sounds more than just a little like Dionne Warwick on this rendition of Bacharach's greatest composition. The melody seems deceptively simple, but it's real easy to screw up because of the subtle pacing shifts. DeShannon's version tops the list because she powerfully conveys the song's still-relevant message with a wonderful sense of innocence.
2) "The Look of Love," by Dusty Springfield (1967). From the movie Casino Royale, this song is the sophisticated side of the '60s. It's sexy, romantic and sohhh classy. "The look / of love / is in / your eyes." That's romance, baby. There are lot of good versions of "Look," but none that ooze that sense of amour better than Springfield's.
3) "Walk On By," by Isaac Hayes (1969). The man who gave us the theme from Shaft and later Chef, took this ballad and filled it with filthy, funky reverb-soaked guitar, grandiose orchestration and sweet background vocals. Yeah, it's dated, but it also has more funk per measure than what can be found in most of the collected works of every post-1980 hip-hop/rap/R&B act combined.
4) "This Guy's In Love with You," by Herb Alpert (1968). How's this for irony? The first Bacharach song to hit No. 1 was "sung" by a trumpet player (and co-owner of A&M records) who decided to branch out and sing. While Alpert is a better trumpet player than singer, there's something about his simple, unpretentious voice and the killer chorus that makes this special.
5) "Walk On By" (1964) and "I Say a Little Prayer for You," by Dionne Warwick (1967). A valid case could be made that Warwick should own all ten positions on this list. Bacharach and Hal David wrote songs for her, and she took them to heavenly places. These two tunes make it here because on "Walk On By," Warwick, propelled by an almost haunting arrangement, communicates heartbreak with a beautiful sense of purity and passion. On "Prayer," she shows more power but retains the wonder that attracted us to her voice in the first place.
6) "Baby It's You," by Smith (1969). Though the Shirelles sang this song in 1961, the one-hit-wonder group Smith cut the definitive version. Gayle McCormick's powerful vocals, which border on screaming, float over an R&B-laced, Hammond B3-saturated rendition that put some rock and funk into what was otherwise a middle-of-the-road hit. If you're going to be a one-hit wonder, this it the type of song you want to be remembered by.
7) "Raindrops Keep Failing on My Head," by B.J. Thomas (1970). You're singing it right now, aren't you? This is a classic Bacharach melody, built on a solid hook that involves subtle rhythmic tension and release. Part of the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid soundtrack, the song is oddly used in a scene where there's no physical rain. But it works, because rain is just a metaphor for the dumps, and Thomas's voice expertly feels the pain.
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8) "What's New Pussycat?" by Tom Jones (1965). This is one of the reasons why lounge has made a comeback.
9) "One Less Bell to Answer," by Stanley Jordan (1986). Jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan made this splashy Fifth Dimension hit into a solo guitar piece. His empathetic reading is tear-jerking. It also shows that the guitar wunderkind, who plays his six-string like a piano, could explore songs with the grace of a master interpreter.
10) "Alfie," by Stevie Wonder (1968). Yeah, Dionne hit No. 15 on the charts with this song, and her version is great -- heck, maybe even better than Stevie's, but Stevie makes the list for the novelty factor. He had the guts to release the song as an instrumental (harmonica as the lead instrument), and he put it out under the name Evits Rednow. Does it work? Yes.
-- Paul J. MacArthur