Hal David dies at 91

Hal David's life was the spectacle of a hard thing done well, with grace.

David completed his song in Los Angeles on Sept. 1, at 91. As a musician and lyric-writer, I grew up with his words, especially his celebrated work with Burt Bacharach. How easy the words rode - how twisty the musical rails.

I asked a very accomplished songman, Paul Williams ("We've Only Just Begun" and much else), who is president and chairman of the board of the music company ASCAP, what he valued about his friend's lyrics. In an e-mail, Williams nailed it.

"Part of the magic and beauty of the Bacharach-David collaboration," he wrote, "was that Hal was able to fashion such simple, direct, and poignant lyrics to Bacharach's melodically and rhythmically sophisticated music. It takes a master lyricist to be able to do that so artfully. Hal was the perfect wordsmith for Burt's musical flights of fancy. The combination of their two sensibilities gave their songs a freshness and immediacy that still endures today."

Let's think about his words and what he did well.

Williams has already captured David's knack - natural words for tough music. But he also told great stories, stories of his moment, and created engaging characters and situations.

He managed to make something memorable out of many everyday scenarios. Eric Bazilian, singer-songwriter of the hallowed Philly band the Hooters, and a huge fan of David's work, says his "genius lay in his ability to transform the mundane into the sublime."

Case study? Sure: The magnificent "Are You There With Another Girl?" on Dionne Warwick's 1965 album Here I Am.

A woman stands outside her man's door. In a cliche too intense to be hackneyed, she agonizes between desire to believe in her mate and the evidence of her senses:

I hear the music coming out of your radio . . .

I hear your laughter . . .

I see two silhouettes in back of your window shade . . .

What an amazing recording - and a study of songwriter and lyricist.

The superlative Warwick, then a mezzo-soprano, is the only pop singer of any color or gender in that era who would even have attempted such an ordeal of the throat. The very first note - the I in "I hear the music coming out of your radio" - is bold, low. She hits it every time and vaults. Wonderfully.

But to return to the poor woman of the song, standing there: Should she ring the doorbell? Walk away?

Love requires faith, I've got a lot of faith, but

I hear the music coming out of your radio . . .


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