Saturday Night Classics: ‘Alfie’

 

After reading about Burt Bacharach’s passing, I was reviewing many of his songs, and this one seemed to stick with me for days. Written as the theme for the 1966 film, most of us are familiar with the Dionne Warwick version, but the original was recorded by Cilla Black for the film’s British release. Unusual for the Bacharach-Hal David songwriting duo, David wrote the lyrics first. After watching a preliminary cut of the film, he utilized one of Michael Caine’s lines from the script, “What’s it all about?” as the opening phrase.

Next is the recording, done at Abbey Road studios in London. Note legendary Beatles producer George Martin in the control room during the session.

Cilla Black, originally reluctant, recounted how she was persuaded to record the song:

Black states that, rather than declining outright to record the song, she decided to set conditions: “I said I’d only do it if Burt Bacharach himself did the arrangement, never thinking for one moment that he would. [When] the reply came back from America that he’d be happy to. … I said I would only do it if Burt came over to London for the recording session. ‘Yes,’ came the reply. Next I said that as well as the arrangements and coming over, he had to play [piano] on the session. To my astonishment it was agreed that Burt would do all three. So by this time, coward that I was, I really couldn’t back out.”

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  1. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    I had never heard of Cilla Black before and I don’t recall every hearing the song.  Thanks for the history lesson.

    • #1
  2. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Played it for my piano teacher today. She’s an older gal, classically trained, and was unfamiliar with Burt Bacharach. She liked it and recognized the skill of the composition. 

    • #2
  3. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Cilla was very big in the UK and had a huge hit with Bacharach/ David’s Anyone Who Had a Heart.

    • #3
  4. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    One of the striking things about the video is it’s live in the studio quality.  It’s a stark contrast to much of what is released today, aided and abetted by a number of electronic voice enhancing gimmicks.

    • #4
  5. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Played it for my piano teacher today. She’s an older gal, classically trained, and was unfamiliar with Burt Bacharach. She liked it and recognized the skill of the composition.

    ????

    Played what? You played this song from a recording for Her? Played this video? Played this song on the piano for Her? Define “it.”

    • #5
  6. Unsk Member
    Unsk
    @Unsk

    Cilla Black had several hits with Burt Bacharach songs in the UK and gained  kinda of legendary status I think because she was managed by Brian Epstein, the Beatles manager and had kinda an association with the Mersey Beat sound.

    Frankly I think she was over-rated. Dionne Warwick’s version which was a hit at the same time here is much better.

    Sheridan Smith played Cilla in a retrospective of Cilla’s life and there is a YouTube video  out with both singing the same song  ( Does anyone have a heart by Bacharach and You are my World by Carl Sigman) and Sheridan’s singing is head and shoulders above Cilla’s. BTW Sheridan at that time was also much prettier.

    • #6
  7. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    The soundtrack in the US had neither this version nor the one by Dionne Warwick.  For some reason, Cher.

    • #7
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Cilla did a beautiful job, but I’m still partial to Dionne’s version —

     

    • #8
  9. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    There’s a distinct difference in style between the two.  

    • #9
  10. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Can I mention that the chances of this Alfie being made today are slim and none?  I think the subtlety that it is Alfie who has the problem would be lost on today’s wokesters.

    There was a remake in 2004 or so that I ignored.

    • #10
  11. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Played it for my piano teacher today. She’s an older gal, classically trained, and was unfamiliar with Burt Bacharach. She liked it and recognized the skill of the composition.

    Oh W. C.  . .. 

    What your old sis would give for a video of you playing this ^.   Please have Mr. W.C., or one of your dear daughters get on this.   {{Hugs}}

    • #11
  12. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    Trink (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Played it for my piano teacher today. She’s an older gal, classically trained, and was unfamiliar with Burt Bacharach. She liked it and recognized the skill of the composition.

    Oh W. C. . ..

    What your old sis would give for a video of you playing this ^. Please have Mr. W.C., or one of your dear daughters get on this. {{Hugs}}

    You playing the piano?

    Post the video or it didn’t happen.

    • #12
  13. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    Trink (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Played it for my piano teacher today. She’s an older gal, classically trained, and was unfamiliar with Burt Bacharach. She liked it and recognized the skill of the composition.

    Oh W. C. . ..

    What your old sis would give for a video of you playing this ^. Please have Mr. W.C., or one of your dear daughters get on this. {{Hugs}}

    You playing the piano?

    Post the video or it didn’t happen.

    You gonna make me practice??? I like to play piano, not practice!

    • #13
  14. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Cilla was very big in the UK and had a huge hit with Bacharach/ David’s Anyone Who Had a Heart.

    She was “discovered” working as a cloakroom attendant at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, where the Beatles became famous. John Lennon recommended her to Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ early manager. She was big in England, and appeared on Ed Sullivan’s show once, but didn’t like to tour outside Great Britain.

    • #14
  15. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Alfie, the fictional character, drove a Vauxhall. It doesn’t look particularly striking today, but at the time British audiences took it as a subtle cue to his caddish, selfish, ambitious ways. Because Vauxhall was an American-owned company, the rather ordinary looking car was supposed to be redolent of vulgar energy and hype. (Ford of Britain, for some reason, was always seen as a more authentically transplanted company.) 

    • #15
  16. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Great to see this well-deserved choice get promoted.

    • #16
  17. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    As a young man in the 1960’s or 70’s I got the sheet music and liked to play this song on the piano.

    I always thought it an ideal example of best pop music of the hippie era–perfect combination of lyrics, melody, harmony, rhythm, arrangement/chord voicing/movement.  But all in the service of cunning, corrosive lies, of the evil spirit of the times.

    • #17
  18. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    One of the striking things about the video is it’s live in the studio quality. It’s a stark contrast to much of what is released today, aided and abetted by a number of electronic voice enhancing gimmicks.

    What especially fascinated me was the live aspect. In the studio doing who knows how many takes, Bacharach directing and playing piano, orchestra, backup singers, and Cilla belting it out. A bygone era?

    • #18
  19. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    I had never heard of Cilla Black before and I don’t recall every hearing the song. Thanks for the history lesson.

    The first time I heard the song was when the mom of one of my friends took 6 of us to the movie. That was a real shocker.

    IHO, Cilla Black’s version is the best. The rest are like a tribute band, entertaining but not quite the real thing.

    • #19
  20. She Member
    She
    @She

    Cilla Black was huge (bigger than the Beatles) in the UK. Huge voice. She died several years ago, and–in concert with a very few in the entertainment industry, there seemed to be nothing detrimental said about her, by anyone.  A favorite from my past, oh, so many years ago:

     

    • #20
  21. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    She (View Comment):
    Cilla Black was huge (bigger than the Beatles) in the UK. Huge voice. She died several years ago, and–in concert with a very few in the entertainment industry, there seemed to be nothing detrimental said about her, by anyone.  A favorite from my past, oh, so many years ago:

    Oh man, she just gave me chills. I will always think of that song as hers.

    • #21
  22. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I cannot get this wonderful song out of my head three days after I listened to it. I hear it at night when I am trying to sleep. It is playing nonstop in my head. :) :) 

    • #22
  23. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    MarciN (View Comment):

    I cannot get this wonderful song out of my head three days after I listened to it. I hear it at night when I am trying to sleep. It is playing nonstop in my head. :) :)

    Welcome to my world.

    • #23
  24. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    OldPhil (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

    I cannot get this wonderful song out of my head three days after I listened to it. I hear it at night when I am trying to sleep. It is playing nonstop in my head. :) :)

    Welcome to my world.

    Me too!

    • #24
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