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I make a little list for you: Kevin Courtney’s top 10 Burt Bacharach songs

The legendary songwriter has given us so many magic moments it’s hard to pick just 10, but here goes . . .

As Cilla Black might have said, Burt Bacharach wrote a lorra lorra songs. Alfie, the theme tune from the movie starring Michael Caine, was just one of them. It was one of Cilla Black’s biggest hits, back in the days when she was a chart-topping songstress, and long before Blind Date was a twinkle in a TV producer’s eye. Alfie doesn’t feature in this list of top 10 Bacharach songs – great tune, but just not one of my favourites by the great man.

Everyone will have their own personal top 10 Bacharach tunes, and their own very valid reasons for choosing their selection, so don’t take this list as a definitive best of. The man has so many great songs to his name, you could keep making lists until the cows come home, and you still wouldn’t come near to encapsulating what makes Bacharach such a great songwriter.

10. Magic Moments

This was one of the first efforts by Bacharach and his songwriting partner Hal David, and a huge hit for Perry Como in 1958, but we remember the song best from the ad for Quality Street chocolates, which was ubiquitous in the 1980s. Like the chocolates it advertises, this is a somewhat sickly sweet confection that leaves you feeling a tad queasy. It was used to great effect in a surreal scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Erasure covered the tune in 1997.


9. Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head

Another cheesy earworm, this one featured in the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and was a massive hit for BJ Thomas in 1969. On this side of the Atlantic, we know the song better from the version by French singer Sacha Distel. Unsurprisingly, this saccharine-sweet, drizzly tune attracted every cheesy crooner from miles around to record a version, including Perry Como and Andy Williams. When The Manic Street Preachers incorporated the song into their live show, however, they lifted the tune to a whole new level.

[Burt Bacharach plays Iveagh Gardens on July 20th. Book tickets now]

8. Make it Easy on Yourself

Although a hit for Jerry Butler in 1962, it took a trio of beatniks known as The Walker Brothers to bring the song to wider notice in 1965, becoming their first big hit. In later years, The Divine Comedy, an unashamed Scott Walker fan, covered the song for a b-side, while Northern Irish band Ash sampled the tune for their song Candy.

7. (They Long to Be) Close to You

Sometimes a song just needs the right singer to make it shine. This song was first released by American actor Richard Chamberlain in 1963, but no one would come near it with a 10-foot bargepole. Even Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick couldn’t get the song past first base, but when the brother-sister duo The Carpenters covered it in 1970, it broke them through into the big-time.

6. I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself

Originally recorded by soul singer Tommy Hunt, the song didn’t get much public attention at first, but when Dusty Springfield took it into the UK Top 3 in 1964, suddenly everyone wanted to put out a version. This was Springfield’s third single, and the first to really showcase her unique singing style. Dionne Warwick, the singer most closely associated with Bacharach/David, put out her version in 1966, but sorry, luv, Dusty’s versh is the best. The White Stripes covered the song for their 2003 album Elephant, complete with a Sofia Coppola-directed black-and-white video featuring Kate Moss pole-dancing – as if the tune needed any embellishment.

5. (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me

Dionne Warwick may have hogged many of Bacharach’s best tunes, but it was English rose Sandie Shaw who took it and put manners on it. The song was Shaw’s first hit, topping the charts in the UK, Canada and South Africa, and propelling the Dagenham girl to superstardom. But America remained impervious to the song’s charms – that is, until a British synth-pop duo, Naked Eyes, took it into the US Top 10 in 1983

4. What the World Needs Now Is Love

No one could disagree with the sentiment of this song, but Bacharach and David were initially unsure whether the song’s anti-war sentiment would fly. But in the midst of the Vietnam war, this was just what the public wanted to hear. It was a hit for Jackie DeShannon in 1965, and since then has featured in many movie soundtracks, most recently in The Boss Baby.

3. Walk on By

Punk rockers may be a bit surprised to find out that The Stranglers’ version of this song was not actually the original. That was by Dionne Warwick in 1963, and was just one great song that emerged from the singer’s fruitful partnership with Bacharach and David. Walk On By is the ultimate dumped lover’s lament, as the singer exhorts her ex to just walk on by and leave her alone with her tears.

2. The Look of Love

This is the ultimate seduction song, delivered with breathy passion by Dusty Springfield, so it’s a little disconcerting to hear it first appeared in the 1967 spy spoof comedy Casino Royale. Bacharach said he was inspired to write it after watching Ursula Andress in a scene from the film. No surprise that it was also used in 1990s’ spy spoof Austin Powers.

1. I Say a Little Prayer

Arguably the biggest tune by Bacharach, it was a massive hit for Dionne Warwick in 1968, but the Aretha Franklin version from the same year – also a massive hit – is for many the real deal. When it was used in the famous rehearsal dinner scene from My Best Friend’s Wedding, that cemented its status as a true camp classic.

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is an Irish Times journalist