Hal David, who passed away on September first, was arguably the most recorded and celebrated songwriter of his time in American music, and his songs captured the heart and soul of that era. Songs such as Alfie, A House is Not a Home, Do You Know the Way to San Jose, One Less Bell to Answer, Close to You, What’s New Pussy Cat, Walk on By, Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head and Say a Little Prayer will live in our hearts and will continue to live in hearts as long as a song is sung. Although his technique was seamless–so effortless, that it appeared the words simply flowed from his genius like a fountainhead–as well as his wonderful love lyrics, his messages were often profound and dealt with the uneasiness of the world he was experiencing.
I was fortunate to sit on the ASCAP Board of Directors with Hal for over three years and he was truly a mentor. On many occasions, I had the wonderful opportunity of walking him to the apartment that he shared with his lovely wife, Eunice on 53rd Street. We would talk about many things, but it gave me the rare opportunity to discuss songs with him. I told him that one of my favorites was The Windows of the World. He told me that he was deeply troubled about the Viet Nam war and how it was impacting so many young men and women’s lives. He told me that it was hitting home in his own family and was concerned about his son and the role that he might have to play in it, and it was in this context that he wrote:
The windows of the world are covered with rain…
When will all those black skies turn to blue?
Everybody knows when boys grow into men
They start to wonder when their country will call.
Let the sun shine through.
His collaborator, Burt Bacharach played this song as his final tribute to Hal at his memorial service. Ironic that the timeless subject it addressed is still as relevant today.
Perhaps one of the seminal moments in my life was when Hal told me one day, “let’s make a stop before we head back to the apartment.” We got in a cab and he told the driver to stop at 1619 Broadway. In a few minutes we arrived at the famed Brill Building. We took an elevator to the sixth floor and headed to the end of the hallway. It was here that he and Burt produced some of the great songs of their illustrious careers. Hal showed me where Burt’s piano was situated and it didn’t take much to envision the magic that flowed from that office during their days with Famous Music. Although their most celebrated era began with the discovery of the young Dionne Warwick, as a pre-teen I was captivated by listening to the classic songs that came from their early years such as Blue on Blue, Only Love Can Break a Heart, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, True Love Never Runs Smooth, Wives and Lovers and Be True to Yourself among many others that were realized in this small room.
As well as the prolific life of a creator, Hal decided to devote much of his later years to championing the cause of the songwriter and composer as president of ASCAP. After serving as its chairman of the board, he continued his strong role of advocacy, and it was during that era that he and I became friends. I was fortunate to see Hal in that position, not only on the board, but also on trips to Washington, D.C. Hal’s presence in a congressional office was always a welcomed one. He was able to articulate the salient points of the moment and enlist support from both sides of the aisle. He was the most convincing spokesperson that we, as a community, could have hoped for. I remember on one trip to Washington, Hal was a featured performer at the yearly event that ASCAP hosts, We Write the Songs. At the end of the program Hal, Jackie de Shannon and an auditorium full of members of congress were singing What the World Needs Now is Love. This one moment united the group in ways that speak legions to the power of music and song as it celebrated the importance of our craft and moved our agenda forward in such an effective way.
In saying good-bye to a member of our community, it is always difficult, but Hal’s passing touched me in a deeper way than most. Perhaps it’s in knowing that the leadership and passion that he felt is something that only comes around once in awhile and in recognizing that there are so many mountains to climb and challenges to address that would benefit from his wisdom. I know it would be his hope that each of us does his or her part in helping shape the future of our industry. I will miss his creativity, his guidance and leadership, but most importantly, his friendship.
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
Is love, sweet love—
No not just for some
But for everyone….
Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XXVII, Number Four, Winter 2012]