Sunday, April 22, 2012
The Legend behind the Song "Alfie"
What's it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live
What's it all about when you sort it out Alfie
Are we meant to take more than we give, or are we meant to be kind
And if only fools are kind Alfie , then I guess it is wise to be cruel
And if life belongs only to the strong Alfie
What will you lend on an old golden rule
As sure as I believe, there's a heaven above Alfie
I know there's something much more
Something even non believers can believe in
I believe in love Alfie
Without true love we just exist Alfie
Until we find the love we missed, we're nothing Alfie
When you walk let your heart lead the way
And you'll find love any day Alfie
These are the lyrics of a beautiful song composed by the great legend Burt Bacarach.It was also the theme song for the movie Alfie (played by Michael Caine and Jude Law when he made the remake). It had been nominated for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Picture, Best Writing and Best Song. Because of its musical arrangement and lyrics, great singers like Dionne Warwick, Barbara Streisand, Cher, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan (where I got my name from, as told by my dad),Whitney Houston to name a few have their own renditions of the song.
There was a time when a local channel here in the Philippines used to showcase a Burt Bacarach musical special and my dad together with my siblings would gather in front of our cabinet size National Panasonic television set to watch it. Unlike the usual musical shows with glitzy costumes and glaring spotlights, his shows were very different because it showcase his musical composition in progress together with his artists. It was very hard to be in front of the camera, exposing ones' work as artists need lots of space,time and tranquility . Some artists do not even want their work discussed until it had been completed. With Burt Bacarach , he takes you with his journey and since he was a musician, composer, arranger and singer, you get enveloped with his passion, his love for music that when he plays his piano, he conducts at the same time. He was the first composer I have witnessed who had to stand and beat while his head matches with the rhythm. What more, when the composed song had satisfied his meticulous scrutiny, he takes the viewer to the recording studio. So as a child I have witnessed the raw recording of some of his songs , a feat that nobody was able to accomplished until now.
Because of Bacarach's genius, he had composed songs for the Beatles, Carpenters , Dionne Warwick,and even the original Dumbledoore himself Richard Harris. I could still remember him singing " Mac Arthur's Park. " Some of his songs were Close to You, Arthur's Theme, Raindrops Keep Falling In My Head, That's What Friends Are For, Say A Little Prayer, A House Is Not A Home... the list goes on and on.
Bacarach is now 83 years old. He still is very in demand. He still gets recognition around the world and sometimes acts as musical director for the Oscar Awards. He also became a guest judge and mentor once on American Idol in 2006 where his songs were featured at the Finale. If every person has a National Anthem, mine will be Alfie. All my kids know that. I usually have my repertoire when I am doing the laundry, a trait that I had inherited. There was even a time when I sang the first line and my autistic son Red would reply by singing "Alfie." Though it was a difficult to sing, the lyrics made by Hal David and the music of Bacarach conveys a message so touching that unsurprisingly, a lot of artists include it in their repertoire when they have concerts, not just because of the vocal challenge but the simplicity of what the song represents.
When I was browsing youtube.com for a video of the song with lyrics, I had a difficulty finding one. It was either a video of the artist singing it or one with just lyrics. I also found one where Bacarach was interviewed and admitted that it was his most favorite of all the songs he had made. That explains why each time he gets recognized, he will definitely play the song on his piano, sometimes with his eyes close. There was also a time that he sang while he played the music, even thanking Hal David, the lyricist, as he told the audience "he hoped he had done justice with the song," before he sang it. But what was more remarkable was the first ever recording of the song with the original British singer Cillia Black where she only agreed to sing if Bacarach flew all the way to London,that he will be the one to arrange it and that he will play the piano. The gifted composer did that and more. He conducted a 48-piece orchestra and had less than 30 takes before he finally agreed to have it recorded. This happened in 1965, years before I was born. According to Black, Bacharach had her cut eighteen complete takes before he was satisfied with her vocal while Bacharach's estimation of the session's total number of takes including partial ones is as high as "twenty-eight or twenty-nine."
Just like Henry Mancini, Michel Legrand, Sergio Mendez, Burt Bacarach was one of my first music teachers. Listening to his songs reminded me of my childhood, of the National Panasonic television which is now a cabinet for my mom's old pocketbooks, which my kids' usually sell if they are running short of money, of how a song can be repeatedly listened and why one cannot get enough of it. Sadly it also conveys that most songs nowadays may not equal the timeless quality of the songs then. And I hope, just like fashion , these songs will again be in fad, because they deserve not just to be listened but to be passed on to the next generations.
click your mouse to youtube.com and you will understand why this man is one of the best of all time)
(video credits to youtube.com and additional recording information from google.com)