Burt Bacharach: American Songbook

Ahead of headlining Wilderness festival this weekend, we asked a bunch of creative-types to pick out their favourite songs by the American maestro

Burt Freeman Bacharach is, in many people’s eyes, the greatest songwriter of the 20th century. Born in 1928, he both grew up and received his musical education in New York City and in the 1960s and 70s particularly, his songs – some written with lyricist Hal David – were as ubiquitous on the radio as those of Pharrell Williams today. ‘I Say a Little Prayer’? Yep, that was him. ‘Take It Easy on Yourself’? That too. “The Look of Love” – pure Burt. “What’s New Pussycat?”… oh come on. This weekend the 86-year-old will be performing his unmatchable cannon of hits live at Wilderness Festival. We asked fellow performers – culinary, literary and musical – to name their favourite Bacharach song and take a moment to consider the man’s genius.

Irvine Welsh
‘This Guy’s In Love With You’ – we’ve all felt that pathos-drenched way from time to time. My mum and dad used to sing it to each other. That’s as much as I want to say about it. I could never write 100 words about a love song I liked without embarrassing the fuck out of myself. I plead Scottish.

Joan As Policewoman
‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’ is a song completely dominated by the lyric, to the point where it’s untethered to any regular meter or form. The anguish of the sentiment urgently spurs the song to follow it, despite the fact that the meter must change almost every bar to keep up. The naturalness that ensues moves me every time. Thank you Burt.

We Were Evergreen
A grander feat than his usual pop songs, ‘South American Getaway’, which soundtracks the wonderful Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, conveys both Michel Legrand and Tom Jobim and impresses by its vivid depiction of a landscape – its frenetic voices cavalcading across latin-jazz mountains before breaking into lazy, strummed-out valleys. Wilderness swing

Ben Tish – Head chef, Salt Yard
I’d have to choose ‘Walk on By’ as my favourite Burt track. It’s such a peaceful, care free song, it reminds me of the summer months when the weather’s hot and balmy. The song can’t help but put a smile on your and everyone’s in a lovely mood. It can be super chilled or can be the start of an evening partying. I first heard many years ago but not directly via Burt Bacharach – it was on a mix tape from bar in Ibiza called Café del Mar, and after I heard it, I was a Burt convert and decided to buy his album. ‘Walk on by’ is the sound of the summer.

Russell Norman – Founder of Polpo
I love Burt Bacharach. When my wife Jules and I got married in 2004, we played only Bacharach songs at the ceremony. There was something innocent and joyful about the tunes and the lyrics that suited our frame of mind and how we felt about each other; we were soppily in love. We played ‘What The World Needs Now Is Love’, ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’, ‘The Look Of Love’, ‘Close To You’… but the track I remember most fondly is ‘Wives And Lovers’. The lyrics are seriously dodgy now in our enlightened, feminist times but I do like them in a tongue-in-cheek way and I’m pleased to say that my wife and I still make an effort for each other after 10 years of marriage: “Hey, little girl, comb your hair, fix your makeup / Soon he will open the door / Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger / You needn’t try anymore. For wives should always be lovers too / Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you /I’m warning you”


Connan Mockasin
‘The Look Of Love’ – it makes a beautiful instrumental on it’s own. The saxophone and percussion are stunning and the unexpected key change at the end gets me going. As a song with lyrics, Burt Bacharach does simple ‘duets’ on the piano with different woman. It is a very good song to cover. A lot of groups and artists have covered it well: Dusty Springfield, The Carpenters, Brazil 66, Alotta Fagina. I fancied her and since then I wanted to try and cover the song too. It is also the song I sing the most. “The monk, of fuss, is in, the bus”.

Joe Mount, Metronomy
‘Do You Know The Way to San Jose?’ is the perfect tribute to West Coast America. It’s full of sly little digs about aspiring actors moving to LA, not ‘making it’ and becoming waiters/waitresses. After their dreams are shattered, they move back to their childhood homes, in this case San Jose. The last time I was on holiday in America, I drove from LA to San Francisco. As we approached San Jose, I had and fulfilled the urge to put this song on. To me, that’s the sign of a great song. If someone says “What does San Jose mean to you”, I’m pretty confident that they will say/sing “Do you know the way” or “Burt Bacharach”. They probably won’t say “Silicon Valley” or “Naval Base”.

Wilderness Festival runs 7-10 August. For more information on the line-up across music, theatre, contemporary arts and dining experience, click HERE