What made lyricist Hal David so special?
Hal David, one of the best lyricists of the 20th century, died on Sept. 1. Other than John Lennon and Paul McCartney, David and his songwriting partner Burt Bacharach were the preeminent purveyors of pop song craft in the ‘60s.
Bacharach’s melodies were often complicated, but David’s lyrics never were and therein rests their beauty. His words were simple, but never obvious: The line “one less egg to fry” in “One Less Bell To Answer” spoke volumes about despair and loneliness. He expressed vulnerabilities that would have sounded hyperbolic coming from a less-skilled pen, but from him, sounded like truths: When Herb Alpert sang, “Say you’re in love, in love with this guy, If not, I’ll just die,” in “This Guy’s In Love With You,” who didn’t believe that he would perish into thin air without her love?
There was also a specificity to David’s lyrics. They were spare and direct. Think about “I Say A Little Prayer,” one of his best from start to finish (which is why I left it out of the selections below): The protagonist very deliberately is putting on her make-up, combing her hair, running for the bus... the actions are mundane and serve as a contrast to the drama of the thought of not being together with her beloved forever and ever. In “A House Is Not A Home,” he doesn’t just yearn for her to return, he needs for her to still be in love with him as well. He knew heartbreak didn’t need a lot of explanation, it needed precision.
Even the lyrics that seem dated now, like “Wishin’ & Hopin’s” “Wash your hair just for him,” capture a moment and thought in time. Though there are hundreds to choose from, below are what I consider to be 10 of David’s finest lyrics.
"Foolish pride, that's all that I have left/So let me hide the tears and the sadness you gave me/When you said goodbye"— “Walk On By”
"One less bell to answer/One less egg to fry/One less man to pick up after/I should be happy/But all I do is cry" —”One Less Bell To Answer”
"I need your love/I want your love/Say you're in love, in love/With this guy/If not I'll just die" —-”This Guy’s in Love With You”
"The moment I wake up/Before I put on my makeup/I say a little prayer for you” — “I Say A Little Prayer”
"Anyone who had a heart would take me in his arms and love me too/Why won’t you?”—”Anyone Who Had a Heart”
“Darling, have a heart/Don’t let one mistake keep us apart/I’m not meant to live along/Turn this house into a home/When I climb the stair and turn the key/Oh, please be there still in love with me.” —”A House Is Not A Home”
"What the world needs now is love, sweet love/It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of"— “What the World Needs Now”
"On the day that you were born the angels got together/And decided to create a dream come true" —”Close To You”
“And if the way I hold you/Can’t compare to his caress/No words of consolation/Will make me miss you less”— “Make It Easy On Yourself”
"What do you get when you fall in love? You only get lies and pain and sorry/ So for at least until tomorrow/I’ll never fall in love again" —”I’ll Never Fall In Love Again.”