If there’s one thing the Bible shows us, it’s that God can use anything as a conduit for delivering His messages. Whether it’s a converted religious leader who had overseen persecutions or a donkey that suddenly learned how to talk, God seems to specialize in utilizing the least likely source to get His point across. And it isn’t just the Bible where this kind of thing happens. There is a plethora of contemporary examples of people seeing, hearing, and feeling God in everything from their morning toast to gorgeous scenes in nature. Personally, while I have yet to see a face in my toast, I have had my fair share of seemingly mundane moments were I suddenly had the feeling God was speaking to me. Enter Burt Bacharach.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Burt Bacharach was one of the best things about the 1960’s. Born in Missouri on May 12, 1928, and raised in Queens, New York, Burt Freeman Bacharach was beloved all around the world for his composing, arranging, and songwriting. A recipient of numerous Grammy, Emmy, and Academy Awards for his musical talents, much of his success came during the most turbulent decade of recent American history. During a ten-year span that saw man go to the moon, Americans fight abroad in Vietnam and at home in Selma, Alabama, and saw the deaths of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert, it was Bacharach’s tunes that helped the country trudge through it all. You probably know his songs, even if you think you don’t. Songs like “The Look of Love”, “Alfie”, and “This Guy’s in Love with You” became hits, and justifiably so.
Their lilting melodies and subtle musical sophistication (few listeners probably detected the single measure of 6/4 Bacharach slipped into “The Look of Love”) nestle themselves into the mind. Even without their feel-good and wholesome lyrics, Bacharach’s songs are imbued with a stubbornly sunny mood. It is little wonder that pop singers and jazz musicians alike were drawn to his music. This brings me to a tune of his called “What the World Needs Now is Love”.
Even for happy Bacharach, “What the World Needs Now” is dangerously saccharine. From its syrupy lyrics to its sing-songy melody and music, I could not stand the song at all as a kid. I’m not alone in this. When Bacharach initially presented the tune to Ms. Dionne Warwick in 1965, she also balked at the song. Her refusal even caused Bacharach to ponder the merits of his song. It wasn’t until another singer named Jackie DeShannon recorded it that the tune became a hit, unleashing it and numerous covers into the world. Its lyrics were perfectly suited for 1965. With words calling for love, sweet love, it became the anthem the country didn’t know it needed. And, the anthem I didn’t know I needed.
Mr. Bacharach passed away on February 8, 2023. As saddening as that news was, I was doubly saddened when the first thing that came to my mind was… “What the World Needs Now Is Love”. It’s a testament to Bacharach’s skills that a song I considered corny would find itself lodged in my head decades after having last heard it. As I begrudgingly hummed Burt’s ditty, those words I had long-ago written off as banal came to mind but, oddly, they didn’t seem so banal anymore. In fact, they seemed oddly appropriate.
Yes, the 1960s were a rough ten years, but the past few years have been equally tumultuous. Indeed, it almost seems as if the past three years have been the 1960s in condensed form, with a life-altering pandemic thrown in as well. If there’s one thing the world needs now, it’s love. Having never liked the song enough to actually learn the lyrics past the first few bars, I looked them up. I was shocked. Removed from the music, they read like a prayer. “Lord, we don’t need another mountain”, says the lyric. “There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb.” The song continues this theme of exclaiming that love is what the world desperately needs most of, not mountains, fields, sunshine, or anything else. Those things are wonderful, but without love nothing else matters.
As Christians, we’ve heard this before. Thousands of years before Bacharach wrote his first note, Jesus told a crowd to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matt. 22:37-39 NIV). Paul elaborated on the importance of love when he wrote to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, Paul makes it abundantly clear that even if you’re the most generous philanthropist in the world, the best physician or surgeon to ever walk the halls of a hospital or commit your life to do mission work in the most dangerous of locales, yet haven’t love, it’s all for naught.
While I haven’t seen God’s face in my toast yet, God did use an innocuous 58-year old song by a skilled songwriter to remind me that love is not only the most precious thing in the world but something I could be more mindful of in my daily interactions. Burt Bacharach and his work may be unfamiliar to you, but I would encourage you to use his passing as an opportunity to give his music a listen. After all, you never know how God will speak to you— or what He will use to do it.
Tarik Townsend is from Loma Linda, CA, where he is a registered nurse by night and asleep by day. When not outside birdwatching, he is inside listening to his record albums—usually jazz. He writes about jazz and record collecting on his website, raggywaltz.com.
Title image by ABC television/ Spectrum
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