A Note on Burt Bacharach
One of my favorite frequent requests are the DMs I receive each week asking for the chords to my songs. Often, the questions stem from two features: chords I steal from Joao Gilberto and odd bars I steal from Burt Bacharach. By “odd bar” I mean either a bar of non-4/4 in a 4/4 song or a form with an odd number of bars in it (or both). Also, “steal” is perhaps not the right word for my relationship with Bacharach’s songs, better might be “enabled by.”
When I think of a song, I rarely, if ever, think of the chord changes. The power of a piece of music lies largely in the melody. And you gotta serve it! You gotta serve the melody. A lot of great songs (probably most if I’m being honest) keep square, regular, 4/4 time. Bach, Charlie Parker, Stephen Sondheim, most of everything is 4/4. And, most of the time, it’s perfect. It’s what we want! But ultimately, you gotta serve the melody. Most other genres have that knowledge as a baked-in feature (Musical Theater and Sondheim maybe more than most. It’s even a meme—a good one—that musical theater overdoes the odd bar—it often does), but pop music largely discarded the odd bar for a long time. Suits: “it’s awkward, jilted, not good for dancing, not built for radio.” When pop music feels square…that’s because it is…pretty square. Bacharach said no way. He said we deserve better. Melodies we can sing and cry to and arrangements that serve the melody. (A hot take here says arrangements that don’t serve corporate interests, but labels made a killing with Bacharach’s songs.)
Bacharach’s innovation was not the odd bar itself but its implementation in American popular “big record label” music, radio music. Sneaking these wonderful little quirky moments by the suit-and-ties, hiding them in songs sung by Aretha Franklin, The Carpenters, Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield, The Drifters, Herb Alpert, Isaac Hayes, etc. etc. He was a covert Brian Wilson, operating undercover, disguised as Luther Vandross or Elvis Costello.
Pretty cool. A 21-measure-bar salute for the king Burt Bacharach.
Listen to that little hiccups/hop-in-your-step/jumpy quirks in the form of “I Say a Little Prayer”
Makes the song sing! Gives it that flow! Whew!
Presave to automatically enter the draw to win 1/5 “Goth” stamps featuring my tribute to a true legend, Freestyle Canoe Ballet Champion Marc Ornstein. I love it.
Find a few odd bars!
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