By JENNIFER GAVIN
Songwriter Hal David, who sang his own memorable lyrics to the song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” at the Library’s recent event celebrating the ASCAP acquisition, tells a tale of how a song he wrote that just wasn’t working somehow suddenly found the right words – and a voice that needed to sing them.
“In writing, I search for believability, simplicity and emotional impact,” David remarks on his website, haldavid.com . “One thing a lyricist must learn is not to fall in love with his own lines. Often I discard a good line because it is inconsistent with the basic idea … that’s part of the pain of writing.”
Similarly, David says, entire songs may find their way into a drawer, or the round file, if they don’t square with his basic requirements. In 1965, he and longtime collaborator Burt Bacharach were working on “What the World Needs Now Is Love.” But something just wasn’t jelling, even though David had pondered and worked on the song for about two years.
He and Bacharach thought they liked it, but “after looking it over, we decided that our original instinct was wrong. We put it away in our desk drawer and kept it hidden there for 10 months – a flop, we thought.” David was stuck on what should come after the line, “No, not just for some, but for everyone.”
“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,” David said. “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.”
Bacharach quickly came up with the music to back up the new lyrics, but “after our initial enthusiasm, we became disenchanted,” David said. The song went back into the drawer.
“Finally, a day came when we were short of songs for a recording session,” he said. “We took the song out of the drawer. The singer loved it and so we recorded it.”
David said the song has been recorded by more than 100 singers, including Jackie DeShannon, the voice on the original hit version. “My favorite version is Dionne Warwick’s. She always interprets my lyrics in a way that sounds as though she had written them herself,” David said.
ASCAP estimates that “What the World Needs Now Is Love” has been played on radio more than two million times. The song has been a worldwide smash, has been performed in more than 224 movies and television shows, and was named the “Towering Song” in 2004 by the National Academy of Popular Music/Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Jennifer Gavin is the senior public affairs specialist in the Library’s Office of Communications.