LYRIC WRITING is considered to be quite a respectable profession in my family today, although it wasn't always so. When my brother, Mack David, decided to be a songwriter instead of a lawyer, my father called him a "Broadway bum" and threw him out of the house. Later on, of course, when Mack wrote the first of his many hit songs, my father was very proud and welcomed him back home.
During my high-school summers I played violin with a neighborhood band in the Catskill Mountain hotels. We put on shows on Saturday nights for which I wrote endless parodies, mostly for my own amusement. I used to go around to the New York music publishers to get free professional copies of sheet music, and it was usually the lyrics that made me prefer one song to another.
Expressing a feeling is what lyric writing is all about to me. My feelings go back to a little delicatessen in Brooklyn that my parents owned. There was a sign over the salami that said "Once Tried, Never Denied." That rhyme became my family's coat of arms.
My brother Mack had written such songs as "Candy," "La Vie En Rose," "I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine," and "Cherry Pink." He was a hero to me and I'm sure he helped motivate me to become a lyricist.
Over the years I have written with many wonderful composers -- Henry Mancini, Michel Legrand, John Barry, and of course, Burt Bacharach. Burt and I collaborated for many years and we had more than our share of good fortune.
Although I've written many songs over the years, certain songs are more memorable for me because of how they came about.
When I was in London many years ago, I was invited to someone's house. The hostess said, "When you get here, don't ring the bell. Just walk in. That will make one less bell for me to answer." The line took hold of me and wouldn't let go. I told Burt about it and he liked it too. We set about turning that phrase into a song and finally, four years later in 1971, "One Less Bell" became a hit record by The 5th Dimension.
One day Burt and I were in our office and a little girl in sneakers and blue jeans walked in. She was taking us up on our promise to listen to her sing. After two or three songs Burt and I were impressed. We told her that the next time we wrote a song that was right for her we would ask her to make the demo.
One day we did write a song that sounded like her. After assuring our publisher (who paid for demos) of her talent, we called our little girl. She was just wonderful as she sang. Her demo was played for singer Jerry Butler. He loved it, and recorded it. "Make It Easy on Yourself" was a hit for Jerry. What is more important, it was the beginning for Dionne Warwick.
Dionne recorded many of our songs over the years. But she always felt that we had given Jerry Butler her song. After she became a star she did record it, and she established it as one of the most important songs in her repertoire.
Most songwriters like to think they know when they have written a hit. I'm no exception.
In the early '60s, Burt and I wrote a song that we thought we liked. 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.
I had thought of the idea at least two years before showing it to Burt. The chorus section beginning with "What the world needs now" came quickly. However, after I finished with, "No, not just for some but for everyone," I was stuck. I kept thinking of lines like, "Lord, we don't need planes that fly higher or faster . . ." and they all seemed wrong.
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. 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.
When the idea came the lyric flowed with ease. As soon as Burt saw the lyric, the music seemed to flow as naturally. However, after our initial enthusiasm, we became disenchanted.
Finally, a day came when we were short of songs for a recording session. We took the song out of the drawer. The singer, Jackie DeShannon, loved it and so we recorded it. The song was "What the World Needs Now Is Love."
Of course, there are other stories about other songs that I've written. As I look back, I realize that I really loved the process of writing as much as I did the songs themselves. And loving the process is important, because, as every songwriter knows, not every song you write turns out to be a hit. However, the one thing I'm sure of is you can't write a hit if you don't write a song.