RIP: lyricist Hal David


Another one bites the dust. The connection between “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head”, “Always Something There to Remind Me”, “Walk on By”, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” is Hal David. The lyricist, who died on September 1, 2012 at the age of 92, is far better known for his words than for his face or career. He was behind many of Burt Bacharach’s best-known songs, and also penned Dionne Warwick’s biggest hits.

The magic in lyrics

It’s always a bit humbling when you see so many great songs coming from a single source. The temptation is to put it down to some sort of magic. But in an interview, David revealed that many of his lines were worked on for long periods of time. If he and Bacharach got stuck on a song, it was put aside until later. On his website, he remembers that he once worked on a line for “at least two years before showing it to Burt. I was stuck. I kept thinking of lines like, `Lord, we don’t need planes that fly higher or faster…’ and they all seemed wrong. Why, I didn’t know. But the idea stayed with me. Then, one day, I thought of, `Lord, we don’t need another mountain,’ and all at once I knew how the lyric should be written. Things like planes and trains and cars are man-made, and things like mountains and rivers and valleys are created by someone or something we call God. There was now a oneness of idea and language instead of a conflict. It had taken me two years to put my finger on it.”

Now think about your last few lyrics. Are they really that focused? Fancy another run at finding the one great image that will drive the lyric home? What if David’s secret is that he tried harder? How would that change the way you approach songwriting and lyrics?

Nonetheless, David gave one bright pearl of wisdom for anyone struggling with words in songs. I’ll quote it verbatim:

In writing I search for believability, simplicity, and emotional impact.

Are there any writers out there you think could take over from Hal David? Who are the lyricists we’ll be quoting tomorrow?

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