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This is Bernard Gabriel. Since the man sitting beside me this broadcast has just won a Grammy Award for the best lyrics in a Broadway musical. And it's now up for his fourth nomination for an Academy Award for a very very popular song of the moment. Since he's in the highest bracket of royalty earners in ASC camp and also since he has a book just out it should surprise no one that his name rings familiarly in the air. But I think that he'd be the first to agree that many of his songs are still more popular and famous. Well then his name may be yet be because there might be a few people around somewhere who haven't yet heard of Hal David. But who hasn't heard of do you know the way to San Jose. Everybody's heard that. And well of course Promises Promises. Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head. So very very many more. Now David I'm extremely glad to have this opportunity of a chat with you about the general subject of words and music. And I'm hoping that somehow somewhere along the way one of your
secrets of how to compose a commercial successful lyric for a popular song will somehow leak out and look back you I'm very glad to be here and if I do have a secret I'd. I don't think I know what you don't want. Tell me if you hear at the right time people are listening and watching. I know that you had a long association with Burt Bacharach in collaboration with him now is he the only composer that you've worked with. No we've worked together for the last oh 10 11 12 years prior to that I worked with the Lee Parkers Sherman Edwards Leon Carr and a number of other very fine composers done well through the years. Yes I was wondering have you ever tried music too. I don't know how many successful collaboration in the one person there have been in the history of popular music but I can think right off of Cole Porter Irving Berlin and have there been many others rather a few of Frank
Loesser is another. And there are a few others I tried at from time to time I learned that I'm not a very original composer and nor a very good composer. And like most other writers I'm content to work in one area of the song if I can do it well. Yes that's quite a trick when they do both though isn't it so what would you say to Cole Porter and Berlin were really the outstanding. Individuals were able to do both portabella and lesser and I think with the three most outstanding Well there's a young man today who does it brilliantly I think will be one of the major writers of our time Jim Webb who does both and he's brilliant. How did your own career start. Did you always write lyrics or poetry. VS Well I reared as a kid I wrote all the way through school.
I seem to be more interested in short stories and the other form of writing. And then I thought I wanted to be a newspaper writer. And when I graduated from high school I went to the New York University School of Journalism. And that's actually how I started writing professionally. I got a job on the New York Post. After a while it was before World War Two and you dream never to be a songwriter. Yes it wasn't until I went into the army where I was put into the special services because I was a newspaper writer and they required a writer to do everything in the army. You write sketches skits lyrics and so I wrote sketches skits lyrics and found that I enjoy doing their expressed and. I did the best of all my writing said Maurice Evans was helpful at that time in your career.
Yes he was the major of the special services group I was with a very professional brilliant talent and he was very encouraging and he helped. Focus my attention on where my ability was. That's amazing in a way because here was a serious actor doing Shakespeare and all that and yet being able to recognize outstanding talent. You know I feel so removed from his own. Well he had an interesting background he started out as a song and dance man in England many many years a guarantee. That was Maurice and Maurice things. All that is a shocker. I would never have dreamed it. So he has a very rounded career and great awareness of every part of the theater. Oh wait there was one other who did who did both. No coward. No OK I had to say. How do you remember your first hit Hal David. Yes it was the four winds and the Seven Seas back many years ago. Who
did the music for that. Don Rodney who at that time was a vocalist and guitarist for Guy Lombardo and we wrote the song and they were the first people to hear it. Limbaugh does and publish that too for us has luck played any great part in those early days. Don't say it has if it hasn't because a lot of people like to say it has you know even though it's just pure hard work or something but has it really. Well I think luck has played a part all the way through my career and I kind of like right being there at the right time with the right song. The early part of my career of course there were all kinds of luck even bad luck that I did not being there at the right time with the right song where it seemed like I couldn't get going with a hit very often.
But it requires a great deal of hard work a great deal of what the right people around to hear it somehow have to pay attention I suppose don't they. But the right people are always willing to hear it and will pay attention if you persist. And of course I down doors you know and stay out all night waiting til he comes in in the morning. I get it but you hear stories like that and somehow people who really do persist. But I think you know everybody is seeking talent including the producer the publisher the director everyone seeks talent and they're willing to listen and if you just persist it's really not that difficult to get an opportunity. Would you believe in the classical field out to get an audition with a big management is almost impossible. Well I'm just like that no matter even if you're gifted unless you've got some sort of pull or somebody recommends you or you've been hurt in some big place if you rode into a big mansion watching an audition I would say that the chances of being heard would be meager or if they did give you a point would be just as a
gesture kind of thing. Well I find it interesting coming back from California. About a week ago two weeks ago I sat next to one of the gentlemen from the Metropolitan I'm trying to recall his name who's there for the operations. And they were having it at the University of California Southern California. And he was speaking about the modeless college you know great voices and great talents of the college students and you know I wonder of all of them had a poll or are they just you know submitted them their names or their abilities or were recommended by teachers I don't know if they have a competition as yet of the big things. I'm just talking about a management as such. Now like everything else these days I think styles in popular music rock n roll for example are constantly changing and much more rapidly than probably was ever before in the case. And I'm wondering what a good lyric one considered very good in 1964 65 seem very outdated and passe now.
No it wouldn't because I don't think a good lyric that was written in 1920 would be outdated. You don't know I do now and that's very often you hear older songs coming back again and becoming popular again. I think the the good lyrics and the good lyricist. I don't have a time factor it is not of fashion like a dress or a tie or a suit. There has got to be intrinsic value for it to be good. But you hear about rock n roll having to deal with current situations in the protests and the feeling about life and environment nowadays. Well don't you isn't that almost a must. Well you know it's part of what's being written today in a very important part and I think a very good part of what's being written today unfortunately it seems to
me the problems of environment are not new. If they were new there wouldn't be demonstrations on the campuses today and demonstrations in the cities because it's that people are upset about it and responding to songs of that nature. And I would hope that the need for that kind of expression in songs and other art forms would evaporate immediately tomorrow or the next day but I'm afraid it's going to take a lot I think with that kind of song will be here for many many years many decades and which is sorry I think to say it but. I don't think it's fashion. I think it's life. But I lyric a good lyric written 10 15 20 years ago if it were good then chances are that it might still be good news I think today. Yes I believe I think that will not only surprise me but many
listeners as well. Don't you think so I think a lot of people have a feeling everything's got to be right up to date or forget it. Well it's all according to what up to date is. Well what about current lingo. Well if you're currently in is very important. There is always been the novelty song. Yes and where a novelty song can be and often is good. I'm not thinking in terms of that. The music goes round and round as a kid. It's a very very fine are very fine they're a kin to a lot of the rock songs of today and where it is not sung to any great extent today. The money the rock and roll songs will not be sung in 10 15 years from today. But the real fine songs and in the rock as well will be sung because they that there are not a
passing moment. They hear that and you know it seems to me I'm conscious of a lot of songs about rain these days including your own Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head Now what does that mean. Oh I don't know how I did. Oh I went as far as Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head. It was written for a fellow but CASSIDY And in seeing the film and seeing the particular scene which the song was to be written it was a very sunny day. But to catch the day was Paul Newman was riding a bicycle with Catherine Ross and it seemed to be a very very happy gay boy insane yet. Basically he was he had a very serious problem which was within himself and I tried to write the song from his point of view
rather than from the playing against the scene. The sun shines and that's where the raindrops came from but you don't think as a trained rain. No they were a big feature of today's songwriting. Well to give you an example of my I have a brother Mack David who is a very prominent writer songwriter and his first hit which goes back 35 years ago I guess it was called Rain rain go away so it goes back and he was in the first one. OK I won't present a point. How David what qualities in general would you say that you look for in a good Larry. I think perhaps the most important thing to me is that it evokes an emotion of some sort in me and trying to write being able to. Make that emotion touch other people and I just
thought of a great lyric. I HATE YOU I HATE YOU I HATE. Well that is at the start of a good emotional read properly or you know in the context it could and it should spark some emotional feeling in an individual. And the only way it can do this is to be very believable. Not to be contrived but to be something that an individual has felt. Can picture himself feeling can be any wasted words I take it that they shouldn't be untruthful words or words that seem. Superficial and around the subject but not much of it is ideal. No I don't. I think if you can find an original way of saying something or an original approach to something.
It's just marvelous and I think the more important songs very often have some novel approach to the subject but the subjects are basically very much the same. It's your approach to it. Now David you have a book out called What The World Needs Now which I believe is the title of one of your songs. And this is published by Trident press. This is largely a collection of your song lyrics and you're one of the very few people I think to ever have been so honored as to have lyrics come out without the music in book form. And I was wondering if you'd be willing to take one of your songs one of the very popular ones and possibly analyze it with us. Just a bit would you do that. Because so many people here Larry you know and they like it or they don't and they really don't. Perhaps even think about it too much but they couldn't tell you why they like it or what's in it from the professional point of view. You see it and hear it very differently I'm sure than the average layman including
myself. So I have here in front of me one that the world knows and will for a long time do you know the way to San Jose. Would you go into that little bit for us what's in there that I don't see. Well you know the way to San Jose I approached the melody the melody was written initially what. Yes in this particular case. And I approached it very much the same way I approached the scene. Raindrops Keep Falling on my head it's I guess it's an approach to life. I particularly like I tend to like to play against a situation rather than oh why didn't anybody just about knowing the way to San Jose. Well first the end of the Mahdi is a very happy. That's memo that caught me the first time I heard it here. And yet if you read the lyric it's the other way to saying I was a I've been away so long I may go wrong and lose my way. Do you know the way to San Jose I'm going back
to find some peace of mind in San Jose. Your mind is pretty much in everybody's And then everyone goes. Then he goes on to speak about L.A. as a great big city but a hundred down and buy a car in a week maybe two they'll make you a star. Things that were a reminder dreams that fell apart in Los Angeles the unhappiness of Los Angeles to the individual. And it's not a very happy lyric you know and you know you read some more of it yes I know it's not that musically it's very happy but there is a hint there is hope in it which brings it into the picture of happiness. And where it has I think an appeal to others. It is the place where it has an appeal to me. I like L.A. to a certain extent but if I like L.A. enough I'd be living there because I you know you have a sufficient amount of workforces picture right. And I commute out there there's always been something about Los Angeles that has never been quite real to me
and never a place I felt I could root my family and myself. And so consequently I prefer living in the east and traveling out there and having a look what's the Chamber of Commerce sours ever done for you. They say that the certificate and yet how do you like it. As it happens I I was to San Jose during the war of World War Two. I was stationed nearby and that perhaps that's how. Now you say you can really breathe in San Jose I hope you've got it bass it was apparently had a nice memory for me. I had forgotten I had been to San Jose it was until after I wrote the song it was out and was popular all of a sudden the carrot to me. I did spend time there and I as you go along you said you want to really love the verse. Yeah well there's the first verse if I can go back later because I think that's the crux of what happens not only in L.A. but it happens all over the world.
I mean go back to L.A. as a great big freeway put a hundred down and buy a car in a week maybe two they'll make you a star. Weeks turned into years how quick they pass and all the stars that never were parking cars and the gas that's going. And it's in the next verse of course is fame and fortune is a magnet can put you far away from home. And because so many people are seeking that. Rainbow guy and they give their lives away for it and they never quite achieve it. And it's a very sad thing. Consequently people often ask What can I do to break into the theatrical field and how can I tell whether I'm talented and should I give my life to it and. Well it's an almost impossible question to answer. I would certainly suggest that anyone who could be dissuaded from
writing songs professionally acting professionally dancing professionally if they can be persuaded they should be persuaded to feel less you. Well I don't I don't believe it that I don't believe it's that tough a field but I believe unless you're odd the chairman against all odds you're not right for it. Yes well I take it that this song that you just a little bit for us is one of your favorites What is your view of this. Well I love I always love my current head when I have one and Raindrops Keep Falling on my head I'll Never Fall In Love Again about you I wouldn't mind a Alfie what the world needs now is a lot of money too. Particularly like my own. Now everybody asks you the next question that I want to put to you so I don't know why I should be different. What comes first the music or the words. There is no set formula with me. I
often write to the music. As I said in Raindrops Keep Falling on my head I did write to the music with Alfie and what the world needs now Is love the lyrics were written for us. Do you know the way to San Jose the music was written for us. So there is no set formula other right that I gather with Rodgers and Hammerstein Hammerstein wrote the lyrics first and Richard Rodgers the music. You have to first line the hardest one to get you know it's like a writer with a typo you know he'll sit sometimes for ages until that first sentence comes out and then maybe a thing or oh you finally look at verse 7 so the first couple of the first couple of lines and then it starts to unfold. How David do you have any special advice to newcomers in the field. Aside from sort of don't do it unless you got to do it. Well as far as learning how to write. I believe if you have the talent to. You can improve tremendously by listening to songs getting
LPs of songs that you particularly like respect and try to evaluate how the writer really arrived at work the way it hearing it at that moment. And also if you cannot be dissuaded you will grow and grow into perhaps a very successful man that he anywhere can you. Well there is no giving away your gift and what you do yourself good. Well that's the way it happened with me and with most right as they are now giving courses in the various colleges around the country doesn't work. I don't know it's to the cost of the revenue that certainly isn't required. Every Bellenden take it goes but whatever. I'm not against education I mean if there is a a way to learn it in school and I don't know how effective it is I think it's very worthwhile trying. It's amazing how many of the grade in music have achieved their success with
very little study. Even in the very serious field concert pianists I can mention one or two had very little formal training and you know that in net or in the Met on opera pins I never even learned how to read notes and he wasn't the only one and people like Alec Orci had practically no training. I think you see it today you have it Nielsen You know good Nielson and Corelli who had very little formal training. So as so many people in music well have had little if any First comes the gift of talent even imports. GONZALES I think never took a tennis lesson and always that he was somehow some require of formal training others have that tremendous draw I have to learn on their own. However not too many people believe they can write a good tune and I would suspect but lots of people when they hear some of the lyrics that go around think gee I could do better than that. Do you think that's sometimes the case or isn't it as easy as it looks.
Well I don't think it's as easy as it looks. I suspect almost anyone can write one good song even one yet in his life I mean that it's happened to greenwash 20 million people. But to make a career and less you make a career of it it is not worthwhile it's even damaging to get get hooked by a love for something that you're not good at. It's not as easy as it looks. I suspected that that was the case. Can you usually fore see something of a degree of success that one of your songs may have before it's published or recorded. I usually have an opinion and I am very often wrong. I don't some of the my biggest songs I didn't think would be hits and some of the things I thought would be big hits turned out to be fate as France Schubert used to impulsively jot down melodies that suddenly occurred to him on
a restaurant menu or the tablecloth and do you find yourself getting such sudden inspirations or do you work much more methodically. I jot things down from time to time as they occur to me but I do work methodically I try to work on a day to day basis you do. Yes I do a couple of hours a day or more when I'm really working I try to put in five six seven hours a day. It's right. I was going to ask you Is there any average length of how long a lyric might take or does it vary enormously. Well it varies enormously in you never know but you never know when the thought first occurred to you. From the moment the thought occurred you may write that thought into a lyric four years later and somewhere in your subconscious you have building up resources to write. Well now you have a great interpreter of your songs and
Dionne Warwick. And I think you almost really discovered her didn't you. Doing well. Well she came to us. We had. I hate to think to say we discovered her because she had been a big success whether we were there we weren't there but we were the first people to realize her talent and on the spot how many of your songs she recorded like say about 50 perhaps 60 70. Yes and still going strong I think it continuing. What about promises promises which I saw not too long going enjoy. Well that's not only flourishing here in New York but elsewhere I believe it's playing today in London doing well in Stockholm and Rome. And we will have a California company in May. Can I get a scoop from you any new musicals in the works what's in the immediate future for you. We just finished recording in Warwick and B.J. Thomas who did the Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head and which took a lot of work and we've just been vacationing
and we were on we'll be doing a picture or two very shortly you will. Yes but we know no other Broadway. You know I mean there isn't anything that. So if you anywhere there is we're prepared to deal with it. I'm dying to do one. You are. Yes it's just a matter of finding a property that we're all thrilled with because there are so few things it seems to mean well it means a Broadway but I think there are only a few. So how did you do would be. Obviously one of those few. What trends if any do you see coming because things as I said mentioned happened so fast in your field and you've got to be right up to date or ahead of the field in order to sense I imagine what the young crowd is going to go for now you've probably got some feelers out don't you. Well frankly no I'D I never think in terms of
in terms of trends. I I guess if I'm current then apparently I am. I seem to feel instinctively as I'm going along I'm sure somebody's going to write a song about Mideast dresses or something but I think that'll be transitory ingenue. Well they have been done by now but I think you know that won't be a very lasting kind of thing. No I don't think there are any decided trends I think music and songs just keep growing with the times and that's about how Dave and I said at the start of the broadcast that your name already had a very familiar ring in people's ears and that you were indeed a famous man. I feel sure that give you another year or so and your name will be a household word. Thank you my thanks again for joining me. Continued fabulous success to you this is Bernard Gabriel with my ever present wish for a most musical week. This program was acquired with funds provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
This is the national educational radio network.
Bernard Gabriel
Episode Number
"Word and Music" Hal David
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Chicago: “Bernard Gabriel; 29; "Word and Music" Hal David,” 1971-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 26, 2024,
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APA: Bernard Gabriel; 29; "Word and Music" Hal David. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from