On this day [25th May]: American lyricist Hal David was born

Hal David

As a writer, I have sympathy for lyricists who feel that their contributions to popular songs often are often overlooked. How many people I wonder, talk about “Elton John’s” Candle in the Wind but forget that the memorable lyrics for that song, as well as most of his other hits were written by Bernie Taupin? It has been the same for Hal David, born on this day in 1921.

David, grew up in New York and started writing material for big band leaders Sammy Kaye and Guy Lombardo back in the 1940’s but his career really took off when he teamed up with Burt Bacharach in 1957. Over the next twenty years, the duo had hits with songs like Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, This Guy’s In Love With You, I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, Do You Know the Way To San Jose?, Walk On By, What The World Needs Now Is Love, I Say A Little Prayer, Always Something There to Remind Me and Anyone What Had A Heart. Mind you, the duo could also come up with schmaltz like Magic Moments.

What David says about his own writing is better than anything I could put down, so I will leave it up to him to say what he tries to achieve when sitting down to write a lyric:

“In writing I search for believability, simplicity, and emotional impact. Believability is the easiest of the three to accomplish. One thing a lyricist must learn is not to fall in love with his own lines. Once you learn that, you can walk away from the lyric and look at it with a reasonable degree of objectivity. Often I discard a good line because it is inconsistent with the basic idea. If the line happens to be witty or sad in a particularly fresh way it hurts me to take it out. But that’s part of the pain of writing.

Simplicity is much harder to achieve. It is easy to be simple and bad. Being simple and good is very difficult. The sophisticated Cole Porter, the earthy Irving Berlin, the poetic Oscar Hammerstein, and the witty Lorenz Hart all have one thing in common – simplicity, the kind that is good. I must also mention a special favorite of mine, Johnny Mercer. Whether he is being poetic or humorous, he is never complicated. I seek this elusive thing called simplicity always. I hope I sometimes achieve it.

Above all, I try to create an emotion to which others can respond. Unless I can create an emotion to which I can respond, I throw the lyric away. Although I cannot know how others will react, I assume that if it moves me it may do the same for them. Sometimes I am right, sometimes I am wrong”. http://www.haldavid.com/words.htm

So, there you have it. How to write good song lyrics; ensure they are believable, simple, and pack emotional impact. Easy to say, hard to do…

Happy Birthday, Hal!


About stevehollier

Steve Hollier is the editor of AZ Magazine, an English language lifestyle magazine based in Baku, Azerbaijan. He began his career working for a firm of stockbrokers in the City of London then went on to attend the University of Essex where he was awarded an MA in Sociology in 1984. After a career in arts and cultural development work, he became a freelance arts consultant, writer and photographer.
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3 Responses to On this day [25th May]: American lyricist Hal David was born

  1. Julia Hawkes-Moore says:

    I am embarrassed that I had never heard of Hal David, although I know the words to so many of his songs!

  2. stevehollier says:

    I’m glad to have filled in a Q.I. gap!

  3. Adam says:

    What a wonderful writer Hal is… he is a true craftsman and his words always amazed me with their beauty, sound, and… simplicity.

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