HomeLists10 Great Burt Bacharach Songs from the 1980s

10 Great Burt Bacharach Songs from the 1980s

Sadly, on 8 February the world lost Mr. Burt Freeman Bacharach, one of the all-time leading lights of American popular songwriting. The silver lining is that he left behind his expansive body of work  (and probably a bunch of unreleased stuff that may emerge from the vaults). Anyone who writes songs, or simply enjoys the art of songcraft, has been influenced by Bacharach.

When I think of Bacharach’s music, my thoughts immediately turn to his smash hits in the 1960s, from the likes of Dusty Springfield (“The Look of Love”), Tom Jones (“What’s New, Pussycat”), and Dionne Warwick (“Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”). After a brief dry spell in the 1970s – if you can call being married to Angie Dickinson a dry spell – Bacharach returned to our radio dials, and the Billboard charts, in the 1980s with more new hit compositions, as well as new hit versions of his past stuff. So, in loving memory, here are ten great Burt Bacharach compositions that hit in that glossy decade.

“Heartlight” – Neil Diamond


Reportedly written after Diamond, Bacharach, and Carole Bayer Sager went to see the movie E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial together at a New York theater, this song was a huge hit for Diamond. He hit #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. According to Rolling Stone magazine, the owners of the E.T. property, MCA/Universal, sued for copyright infringement, so Diamond, et. al., ended up writing a $25,000 check to settle the matter. I’m pretty sure they still came out ahead on the deal.

“Love Power” – Dionne Warwick & Jeffrey Osborne


Bacharach and Dionne Warwick remained a reliable team after the ’60s as illustrated by this beautiful duet with Jeffrey Osborne. A smooth, mid-tempo joint, this song features a saxophone solo from none other than Kenny G. Very popular during the summer of 1987, the single peaked high on three Billboard charts: #12 on the Hot 100, #1 Adult Contemporary, and #5 R&B. Curiously, the lyrics start off with Warwick singing “Saw a psychic in L.A.” a few years before she was infamously involved with the Psychic Friends Network in the 1990’s. How prescient.

“Always Something There to Remind Me”  – Naked Eyes


This song was originally released by swinging ’60s English singer Sandie Shaw in 1964 when it topped charts in Canada, South Africa, and Shaw’s native UK. Almost two decades later, English New Wave duo Naked Eyes, crafted the piece into a Top 10 synthpop gem, complete with lots of keys and electronic drums. When I first heard it on the radio in ’82 I rushed out to purchase the Naked Eyes album. It had some other good tunes – most notably “Promises, Promises” – but nothing could top this Bacharach cover. Timeless.

“That’s What Friends are For” – Dionne & Friends


Credited to “Dionne & Friends,” but what a group of friends: Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder. Wow! Add the fact that the track was released as a charity single to benefit the American Foundation for AIDS Research and there’s even more reason to love this song. The collaboration topped the Hot 100 for four weeks, as well as hitting #1 on both the Adult Contemporary and R&B charts on its way to being named the #1 song of 1986. This thing was huge and raised over $3 million for its cause.

Lest we forget, the song was originally sung by Rod Stewart over the final credits of the 1982 film, Night Shift. Warwick first heard the song as she was watching the movie on TV a few years after its release and contacted Bacharach. That is indeed what friends are for.

“Girls Know How” – Al Jarreau


Speaking of Night Shift, this next tune is my sleeper pick on the list, and it’s off that movie’s soundtrack. In the early ’80s, Al Jarreau teamed up with producer Jay Graydon and released several albums of yachty soft-rock gold. At that time, they also joined forces with David Foster to record this Bacharach gem and made it their own. If you liked Jarreau’s hit “We’re in This Love Together” or his theme song for the TV series Moonlighting, there’s something here for you.

“Any Day Now” – Ronnie Milsap


Written in 1962 and originally recorded by R&B singer Chuck Jackson, this tune has been covered many times by such diverse artists as Elvis Presley, Frankie Valli, and James Brown. The most widely known version of the tune however, was this cover by Ronnie Milsap in 1982. The lyrics, courtesy of Bob Hilliard, have the singer lamenting the belief that a lover will soon leave. It topped both the country and adult contemporary charts and peaked at #14 on the Hot 100 – a true country crossover smash.

“Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” – Christopher Cross


Bacharach crashed the ’80s with a bang. This hit single originated from the soundtrack for the 1981 film Arthur starring Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli. Christopher Cross teamed up with members of Toto (Steve Lukather, David Hungate, Jeff Porcaro) and enlisted Ernie Watts to contribute a tasty saxophone solo. It eventually stayed atop the Hot 100 for 3 weeks and won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song.

“Making Love” – Roberta Flack


Another single taken from a movie soundtrack, this one played over the end credits of the 1982 film Making Love, starring Kate Jackson, Harry Hamlin and Michael Ontkean. Many of Flack’s previous hits used slow tempos and sparse instrumentation to great effect and that spatial sound continues in this simple, beautiful ballad. The movie flopped, leaving the song to make a go of it on its own merits. While you’re not likely to hear it on a retro-radio “All ’80s Weekend,” it did peak on the Hot 100 at a respectable #13.

“On My Own” – Patti LaBelle featuring Michael McDonald


Originally written for Dionne Warwick in 1985, it didn’t make the cut for her Friends album. Patti LaBelle got a hold of the heartbreaking tune and tried her own version, but thought it would work better as a duet, so she contacted Michael McDonald and it was a perfect fit. Out of necessity, but consistent with the theme of the tune, each singer performed their parts at different times on opposite coasts. This separation would be aptly represented in the song’s video. The duet topped the Hot 100 for 3 weeks in June 1986, becoming the most successful single for both artists.

Lightning Round!

Dang, the ’80s were good to Burt. I’m going to cheat here in the last spot and flood the zone with a trio of notable ’80s Bacharach covers. These three tunes weren’t big hits or even released as singles, but deep cuts like these remind me of how missed the man will be on so many levels.

“Anyone Who Had a Heart” – Sandie Shaw


’60s swinger Sandie Shaw teamed up with the guys from the synth-funk group Heaven 17, calling themselves British Electric Foundation.

“A House is Not a Home” – Luther Vandross


Luther Vandross completely deconstructed “A House is Not a Home,” turning it into a powerhouse of the quiet storm genre.

“Do You Know the Way to San Jose” – Frankie Goes to Hollywood


Frankie Goes to Hollywood calmly turned out a harmless cover on their epic Welcome to the Pleasuredome album, produced by Trevor Horn. Relax.

Burt Bacharach wrote and recorded throughout his life. He endeared himself to a new generation through appearances in the Austin Powers movies. He later recorded a fantastic collaboration with Elvis Costello, the Grammy-winning 1997 album Painted from Memory. In fact, Bacharach was still performing at music festivals into his nineties. I think songwriter Dianne Warren put it best when she tweeted not long after Bacharach’s death, “The songwriting world has lost its Beethoven today.” He will be missed, but the music lives on.

Perhaps you’d prefer to just listen to these great tunes without my insightful commentary. I understand. Hence, in the interest of continuous play, my editor offers this Spotify playlist

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