Hal David was called a lyricist but really he was a writer, perhaps even a poet. His words encompassed topics with the ease of prose and they sound just as strong written down on paper as they do when sung. During an imperial period in the 1960s he complemented Burt Bacharach’s astonishing melodies and their keynote songs remain untouchable classics.
He could write from either male or female viewpoint and his lyrics often possessed a comparatively rare optimism perhaps best personified in `I’ll Never Fall In Love Again` written from a woman’s viewpoint the singer bemoans the difficulties that being in love presents; “what do you get when you fall in love? A guy with a pin to burst your bubble, That's what you get for all your trouble, I'll never fall in love again” It seems to get worse for our protagonist; “Don’t tell me what it’s all about, cos I’ve been there and I’m glad I’m out”. Yet despite it all, there is the line “So for at least until tomorrow, I’ll never fall in love again” recognising that people can move on. It’s a sophisticated lyric about the sort of situation novelists would spend 300 pages on but which David deftly summarises in a handful of verses.
Again and again he did this and because Bacharach wrote the most unusual tunes to go with these words, the songs sound timeless, peerless and uncannily accurate. Even more recognisably upbeat is `Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head`. Unashamedly forward looking the song can cheer you up or it can act as a reminder of an innocence of younger days. How great is a line like “The blues he sends to meet me won't defeat me, It won't be long till happiness steps up to greet me” It’s a song about seeing the bigger picture on days when things are not going so well.
Many of Hal David’s lyrics are unashamedly romantic as well as idealistic. “What the world needs now, Is love, sweet love, It's the only thing, That there's just too little of” he declares suggesting “no, not just for some, but for everyone”. There’s his John Barry collaboration for a Bond film for which he writes: “We have all the time in the world, Just for love, Nothing more, Nothing less, Only love.” In `Close To You` he uses imagery so strong you can imagine it “Why do birds suddenly appear?, Every time you are near, Just like me, they long to be, Close to you.” His most vivid descriptions of unrequited love surface in `Anyone who had a Heart` where he writes; “Anyone who ever loved could look at me, And know that I love you”.
Yet he could just as skilfully mine the down side and troubles of broken relationships. `Walk on By` advises a former lover “If you see me walking down the street, And I start to cry each time we meet, Walk on by, walk on by” as if he wants to wallow yet is he also trying to make her feel guilty? “Make believe that you don't see the tears,” he says later. Sometimes there’s a religious touch to the way David sometimes portrays love evident in `Say A Little Prayer` and `You’ll Never Go to Heaven` He was equally adept at what we might call kitchen sink drama such as ` Alfie`. Or there are just fun songs like `What’s New Pussycat` which proves that whatever outrageous musical curveballs came from Bacharach, David could match them.
Hal David’s words work whether you are going through the situations described or in retrospect looking back to happier or sad times with Bacharach’s swelling emotional music providing a perfect sea upon which they sail. Most of his classic songs were written in the 1960s but they reach across each generation and will continue to do so.