(February 11, 2023).  As the music world mourns the passing of legendary songwriter Burt Bacharach—creator of some of the most beloved songs of the 20th century who died Wednesday, February 8 at age 94–djrobblog also pays its respects to the man whose music knew no limits and has been part of the soundtrack of our lives… seemingly forever.   

Understandably, the tributes have been abundant on traditional news and social media outlets with many of them commemorating the several decades-worth of pop classics that are now part of America’s musical fabric and Bacharach’s incredible and enduring legacy.

The late Burt Bacharach (1928-2023)

Among those were No. 1 hits that are now considered pop standards like “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by B.J. Thomas, “This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert, “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” by Christopher Cross and, of course, “(They Long To Be) Close To You” by the Carpenters.

Bacharach’s ability to craft a great pop song was undeniable.  Mere words could hardly do his musical talent justice.  In fact, it took the words of brilliant lyricist Hal David to match Bacharach’s song craftsmanship and bring those tunes to life. 

After years of writing and producing mostly mid-charting hits with David beginning in 1957, the pair found a highly suitable song interpreter in a young Dionne Warwick who, in 1962, recorded her first of many Bacharach/David compositions with “Don’t Make Me Over.”

That song launched Warwick’s phenomenal career (she’s still going strong more than 60 years later) but also set Bacharach and David on a course to songwriting superstardom.  By the early 1970s, their partnership had yielded dozens of pop chart entries by the likes of (mostly) Warwick, Gene Pitney, the Shirelles, Jerry Butler, Herb Alpert, B. J. Thomas, the Carpenters, the Fifth Dimension and many more.

Bacharach’s songs were often complex compositions, musical masterpieces with unique construction and sophisticated chord sequences and key modulations that artists often found challenging to sing, according to legend.

In fact, none of the three biggest hits from 1970 penned by Bacharach/David—“Raindrops,” “Close To You,” and “One Less Bell To Answer” (by Fifth Dimension)—contained choruses…each song having just verses and bridges with the titular lyrical refrains embedded in them.  The latter two songs also had odd but highly effective key modulations embedded in their bridges. 

Indeed it took very talented singers to tackle those songs and make them work, something Bacharach understood through years of having many of his tunes recorded by multiple artists, often with a cover version becoming a much bigger hit than the original.

Examples of this included “Close To You,” which had been first recorded in 1963 by Richard Chamberlain followed by several others (including Dionne Warwick) before the Carpenters made a hit of it; and “Alfie,” a song first recorded by Cilla Black and covered by dozens of other artists before Warwick made it her own in 1967.

A byproduct of having his songs recorded so many times by artists from every walk of life was that Bacharach’s tunes knew no boundaries when it came to genre categorization.

It’s how a country superstar like Ronnie Milsap could take a Bacharach song like “Any Day Now” and turn it into a No. 1 country smash in 1982.  It had been a soul hit for Chuck Jackson twenty years earlier. 

Or how a synth-pop/new wave group like Naked Eyes could take “Always Something There To Remind Me” and turn it into a top-10 pop classic in 1983.  Soul singer Lou Johnson had a hit with that in 1964 (under a slightly altered title).

Dionne Warwick’s signature hit (and her biggest) had been first recorded by British rocker Rod Stewart three years earlier. 

That song? 

It was “That’s What Friends Are For,” on which Warwick teamed with her “Friends” Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder to get a No. 1 pop smash.

That song is among the biggest examples of how Bacharach’s music was able to cross genres when placed in the hands of supremely talented interpreters.  “Friends” also topped the soul chart in 1986, a dual chart-topping mark the iconic composer would repeat just three months later with the No. 1 soul and pop chart placements of the smash “On My Own” by Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald.

In fact, Bacharach, paired with his former wife Carole Bayer Sager who co-wrote the two songs, may be the only songwriter in history to write two different songs that both topped the soul and the pop charts in the same year by different artists.  What’s more incredible, the two songs wound up ranking as the biggest pop (“That’s What Friends Are For”) and soul (“On My Own”) singles of 1986, a feat that also has to be some kind of first for a single songwriting pair.

Yet while Bacharach’s pop prowess has been well documented (even his Wikipedia entry only lists “orchestral pop,” “easy listening,” and “lounge pop” among his genres), his songs’ success on the soul chart is also noteworthy.

This blog’s tribute focuses on those songs that were made into soul classics, including some of the songs already mentioned along with several others.

Burt Bacharach penned “Make It Easy On Yourself,” one of his many soul classics.

In honor of this late icon, djrobblog came up with what this author considers the 15 greatest soul classics written by Burt Bacharach.  These are the songs that proved more than any other, based on this blogger’s humble opinion, the following two facts: 1) you can’t hold back a great song no matter how hard you may try; and 2) if music is universal enough in its appeal, then it can reach audiences of all types. 

The songs ranked below either did very well on the Billboard (or Cashbox) soul charts or have endured as highly regarded album tracks that might have charted under different circumstances.

For this ranking, songs with multiple versions are listed only once (with a nod given to other artists’ versions) to facilitate variety and completeness.


Rank.  Title – Artist (year of release; co-writer)

Fifteen.  “There’s Always Something There To Remind Me” – Lou Johnson (1964; Hal David)

Most people of my generation (Gen-X) and beyond are likely more familiar with the Naked Eyes version of this soul nugget, which that British group took to No. 8 pop in America in 1983.  But Lou Johnson’s soulful rendering was the original.   His slightly alternately titled “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me” reached No. 12 on Cashbox’s R&B singles chart in 1964 (Billboard didn’t publish a soul chart between late 1963 and early 1965).  The song is known for its key modulation between the verses and choruses, requiring great vocal range for anyone daring to take it on, which Johnson boldly did long before the song’s many cover versions. A true classic!

Fourteen. “Love Power” – Dionne Warwick & Jeffrey Osborne (1987; Carole Bayer Sager)

Dionne Warwick famously resumed her partnership with Bacharach in the mid-1980s after famously splitting from Bacharach/David in 1971.  One of the results of their reunion was this top-5 soul duet with former LTD lead singer Jeffrey Osbourne.  It’s the first of several Dionne Warwick songs on this list and one of the products of the songwriting union between Bacharach and his then-wife, singer/songwriter Carole Bayer Sager. 

Thirteen. “Baby It’s You” – Shirelles (1961; Mack David, Barney Williams)

The early 1960s were a prolific period for Bacharach as he penned many songs that were big hits on both the soul and pop side (too many to include in a 15-song list).  One of those was this No. 3 soul/No. 8 pop single by ‘60s vocal quartet The Shirelles.  Interestingly, all eight of the Shirelles’ top-10 soul hits were penned by different songwriting teams, with Bacharach, Mack David and Barney Williams owning the credit for this one. 

Twelve. “Make It Easy On Yourself” – Jerry Butler (1962; Hal David)

Ironically, it was Dionne Warwick’s demo recording of this song—her first for Bacharach in 1962–that was shopped to Jerry Butler that year, and which he promptly fashioned into a top-20 soul and pop chart smash.  Interestingly, it was Warwick’s knowledge of Butler’s recording that prompted her to utter these words, in her disappointment, to Bacharach and David: “Don’t make me over, man!”  Those words would form the title of her first hit later that year.  As for Butler, his only other charted recording of a Bacharach/David song was his 1972 take on “(They Long To Be) Close To You,” with Brenda Lee Eager, which reached the soul top 10 that year. 

Eleven. “Any Day Now (My Wild Beautiful Bird)” – Chuck Jackson (1962; Bob Hillard)

Most people will cite country music legend Ronnie Milsap’s 1982 smash hit version of “Any Day Now” (sans the parenthetical subtitle) as the preeminent version of this mournful tune about the fear of losing someone you love.  But R&B singer Chuck Jackson, who was one of the first singers to successfully record Bacharach’s songs, made the original.  It became Jackson’s biggest hit, reaching No. 2 on the soul chart (for three weeks) and No. 23 pop.  Thankfully, both Jackson, who will turn 86 this July, and Milsap, 80, are still around today to commemorate the song’s and Bacharach’s legacy.

Ten. “The Look Of Love” – Isaac Hayes (1970; Hal David)

This soul classic missed the R&B chart altogether when it was released in 1971, but ironically made the pop chart (No. 71).  The song is Hayes’ 11-minute magnum-opus from 1970’s To Be Continued album and set the stage for his highly influential string of soul hits during that decade.  While “The Look Of Love” was a bigger chart hit for other artists, like Dusty Springfield and Sergio Mendes, Hayes’ version has been just as enduring.  It’s been sampled in nearly 100 songs, mostly hip-hop in nature, including Jay-Z’s “Can I Live” from his iconic debut album, Reasonable Doubt.  That means Bacharach and David have earned songwriting credits on a rap hit by the MC who was recently named the greatest of all time by Billboard and Vibe magazines.

Nine. “Don’t Make Me Over” – Sybil (1989; Hal David)

It’s hard to believe this funky remake of Warwick’s first hit single is itself more than 33 years old. It was the first of two remakes of Dionne’s songs by American soul singer Sybil, with the following-up being a cover of Dionne’s first No. 1 soul chart hit, “Walk On By,” a song that also launched the singing career of Isaac Hayes.  Sybil took her version of “Don’t Make Me Over” to No. 2 on the Billboard R&B chart in October 1989.  It was ironically held out of No. 1 by “Back To Life” by Soul II Soul featuring Caron Wheeler, ironic because Wheeler would sample a line from Sybil’s recording as the refrain for her future solo hit, “I Adore You” (although Bacharach and David did not originally get songwriters’ credits on the latter song).

Eight. “What the World Needs Now” – Sweet Inspirations (1968; Hal David).

Few songs evoke tears like this one, originally a pop hit for Jackie DeShannon in 1965 and later in a medley (joined with “Abraham, Martin and John”) for Tom Clay in 1971.  Dionne Warwick even recorded a non-single version in 1966.  And while the DeShannon and Clay versions—both top-ten pop singles—also touched the Billboard soul chart (No. 40 and No. 32, respectively)—it is the Sweet Inspirations’ gospel-inflected version that gets the nod on this list.  Their rendition, which features the church-honed stylings of Cissy Houston (mom of Whitney), only reached No. 128 on the Billboard charts in 1968, but it’s easily the most soulful of the versions mentioned here. 

Seven. “Alfie” – Dionne Warwick (1967; Hal David)

By the time Dionne Warwick reluctantly recorded “Alfie,” the title track from the 1966 film, there were reportedly more than 40 covers of Cilla Black’s original, causing Ms. Warwick to quip to her songwriting team of Bacharach and David that there were already too many versions of it out there (this included versions by Cher and, ironically, the man who “stole” what Warwick thought should’ve been her first hit, Jerry Butler (“Make It Easy On Yourself”).  Still, Warwick recorded it and hers became the biggest American chart version, reaching No. 5 soul and No. 15 pop in 1967.  Stevie Wonder, under his reverse-pseudonym Eivets Rednow, famously recorded an instrumental featuring his lead harmonica in 1968.

Six. “On My Own” – Patti LaBelle & Michael McDonald (1986; Carole Bayer Sager)

Patti LaBelle teamed with ex-and-future Doobie Brother Michael McDonald to earn her first No. 1 pop and R&B chart hit in over ten years (since 1975’s “Lady Marmalade” with her group LaBelle) with the soaring “On My Own.”  This song, written by Bacharach and his then-wife Carole Bayer Sager, wound up being the biggest R&B chart single of 1986, a first for Bacharach.  It also propelled LaBelle’s album Winner In Youto No. 1 on the pop chart that year, part of a banner year that saw (for the first time) four Black women top The Billboard 200 album chart: Labelle, Sade, Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson.

Five. “I Say A Little Prayer” – Dionne Warwick (1967; Hal David); Aretha Franklin (1968)

It is said that this song caused friction between divas Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin, although those rumors were dispelled when the two legends performed a duet of it on Dionne-hosted “Solid Gold” some 15 years after it was a top-10 hit for both artists.  Interestingly, Aretha’s version was intended as the B-side of what turned out to be a double-sided hit with “The House That Jack Built,” while Dionne’s was the A-side of what turned out to be a double-sided hit with “Theme From ‘Valley of the Dolls’.”

Four. “That’s What Friends Are For” – Dionne & Friends (Elton, Stevie & Gladys; 1985; Carole Bayer Sager)

Chart geeks will delight at this fast fact: “That’s What Friends Are For,” which teamed the legendary Warwick with fellow legends Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder in what was perhaps the biggest superstar collaboration this side of “We Are The World,” was the No. 1 pop song of 1986, but the No. 4 soul hit (after hitting No. 1 on both charts that year).  Conversely, “On My Own,” itself a collaboration between two singing titans—LaBelle and McDonald—was the No. 1 soul song and No. 4 pop hit of 1986 (also after having topped both weekly charts during that year).  The only common denominator: songwriters Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sayer.

Three. “Walk On By” – Dionne Warwick (1964; Hal David)

This eternal classic has famously charted for artists like Isaac Hayes (his first chart hit in 1969), Average White Band, Gloria Gaynor, D Train and Sybil.  But nothing touches the 1964 original by Warwick, a version she recorded in the same session that produced predecessor “Anyone Who Had A Heart” (itself a classic that gets honorable mention in this tribute).  “Walk On By” topped the Cashbox soul chart in 1964, the year Billboard’s soul chart was on hiatus.  It reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Two. “One Less Bell To Answer” – Fifth Dimension (1970; Hal David)

Few songs prove that a good tune is unstoppable when placed in the right hands and given the right exposure more than this torcher from the Fifth Dimension, featuring singer Marilyn McCoo on lead vocals.  It was the fifth(!) single released from the group’s debut album on Bell Records, called Portrait.  Counting B-sides, “One Less Bell To Answer” was the sixth song from that album to reach the Hot 100, with none of its predecessors ranking higher than No. 24 (“Puppet Man”). That all changed when radio got a hold of Fifth Dimension’s version of “One Less Bell,” which itself was a remake of the much lesser known original by American jazz singer Keely Smith.

One. “A House Is Not A Home” – Luther Vandross (1981; Hal David)

If there’s such a thing as a torch song sung by a male singer, this would be the very definition of it.  The late crooner Luther Vandross took this 1964 Dionne Warwick original and completely owned it.  He included it on his 1981 debut album for Epic Records, Never Too Much.  And what an epic record it was.  “A House” was never officially released as a single during its peak popularity, so Vandross’ version never charted in Billboard, but his is considered among the greatest soul ballads of all time (Essence magazine included it in its top 25 all-time ranking in 2009).  Luther famously performed it in 1988 in front of Warwick (see above video) where she was said to have been brought to tears, not unlike so many women who were absolutely bowled over by Vandross’ incredible take.  It was a tough call, but “A House Is Not A Home,” as perfected by Luther Vandross, ranks as the blog’s greatest soul song written by Burt Bacharach along with his late longtime partner Hal David.

And there you have ‘em, the 15 soul songs considered by this blog to be the greatest penned by the late Burt Bacharach.

And may Mr. Bacharach (May 12, 1928 – February 8, 2023) rest in eternal peace.


Appreciator of great 20th century music DJRob (he/him/his) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.

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By DJ Rob

2 thoughts on “<strong>Songwriting icon Burt Bacharach (1928-2023) wrote some of the greatest POP songs of all time; here are his 15 greatest SOUL classics!</strong>”
  1. Brother you killed it! I knew Burt composed some of your list but others I did not! He was one of my all time favorites. Thanks for sharing.

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