Barry Manilow once sang “I Write the Songs That Make the Whole World Sing” (a song he didn’t write), but that title would be much more befitting Burt Bacharach who died this month at 94 and composed the music to dozens and dozens of hits — most written with lyricist Hal David — that have been recorded by over 1000 artists since the late 1950s. Dionne Warwick was his muse, but many have scored hits with his songs, including Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield, and Jackie DeShannon. While his music has been associated with lounge and easy listening, Bacharach’s pop creations transcend genre and many indie and alternative acts have put their spin on Burt’s compositions, from punk to synthpop, garage rock, post-hardcore, Britpop and more.
We put together a list of 20 Burt Bacharach covers — plus a few more — that date from 1978 through 2022, featuring some very popular artists and some more obscure ones. But Burt’s way with a melody shines through all of them. Read the list, and listen to a playlist of the songs, below.
20 BURT BACHARACH COVERS BY INDIE / ALTERNATIVE ARTISTS
The Stranglers – “Walk on By” (1978)
One of the biggest hitmakers of UK punk’s original wave, The Stranglers went to #21 in the British charts with their version of what might be the best song Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote for Dionne Warwick (there’s a lot of competition). They do a great job with “Walk on By,” too: Hugh Cornwell’s guitar riff is nice and dirty, but the MVPs are Jean-Jacques Burnel whose bass is fuzzy but melodic and keyboardist Dave Greenfield who helps push things fully into Doors territory halfway through.
Naked Eyes – “Always Something There to Remind Me” (1982)
One of the best known modern pop covers of a Bacharach/David song is British synthpop duo Naked Eyes’ inspired take on “Always Something There to Remind Me.” Originally recorded by Dionne Warwick but made a hit in 1964 by Lou Johnson in the US and Sandie Shaw in the UK, the song in Naked Eyes’ hands gets a melodramatic Big ’80s makeover. Released in 1982 as Naked Eyes’ debut single, it reached #8 in the US singles chart in March 1983. “I had always loved the song,” singer Pete Byrne later recalled, “so we called a friend who had the record, he read the lyrics over the phone and we put it together from memory.”
The Circle Jerks – “Close to You” (1983)
LA punk icons Circle Jerks closed their third album with “Golden Shower of Hits,” a medley of soft rock classics subtitled “Jerks on 45” as a reference to the popular Stars on 45 records of the early ’80s. Sandwiched between their young n’ snotty versions of The Association’s “Along Comes Mary” and Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight” is their (piss) take on Bacharach/David’s “Close to You” which was a 1970 hit for The Carpenters, and which frontman Keith Morris punctuates with a well-placed belch.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood – “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” (1984)
Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s sprawling debut double album Welcome to the Pleasure Dome is a wild ride that includes hits “Relax” and “Two Tribes,” schmaltzy ballad “The Power of Love” (also a UK #1), and a whole bunch of covers, including Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” Edwin Starr’s “War,” and this respectful version of “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” which was one of many Bacharach/David compositions first recorded by Dionne Warwick (in 1968). The band and producer Trevor Horn keep the breezy, beachy vibe but coat things in dreamy synthsizers. Frontman Holly Johnson has a great voice for loungey songs like this.
Everything But the Girl – “Alfie” (1986)
Before they transformed themselves into house / electronica stars with “Missing,” UK duo Everything But the Girl made stylish, sophisticated and jazzy pop that was clearly descended from ’60s Burt Bacharach. So their cover of the theme song to the 1966 Michael Caine comedy Alfie was a natural fit. Cher sang it on the soundtrack but it was a hit for Cilla Black in the UK and Dionne Warwick in the US, and Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt put their own sublime spin on it. It was originally released as the b-side to 1986 single “Don’t Leave Me Behind.”
The Pretenders – “Windows of the World” (1988)
The Pretenders recorded this version of “Windows on the World,” a rare protest song by Bacharach and David, for the soundtrack of the 1988 Kieffer Sutherland / Robert Downey Jr / Wynona Ryder drama 1969. (More dates: the song was a hit for Dionne Warwick in 1967.) With Nick Lowe behind the boards and a recently unencumbered Johnny Marr on guitar, The Pretenders keep the misty vibe of Dionne’s version while bringing their own jangly spin, with Chrissie Hynde delivering a great vocal. More memorable than the movie it was recorded for.
Grenadine – “This Girl’s In Love With You” (1994)
Grenadine were the DC indie rock supergroup of Jenny Toomey (Tsunami), Mark Robinson (Unrest, Air Miami), and Rob Christiansen (Eggs) that existed for two albums and three singles in the mid-’90s. Their gender reversed cover of “This Guy’s In Love With You” is the closing song of their second album, 1994’s Nopalitos, and is little more than Toomey’s voice and gently strummed guitar. The production, however, makes it sound like you’re listening on a portable transistor AM radio that’s just about out of range of the station it’s playing on. Bewitching.
Gene – “I Say A Little Prayer” (1995)
London band Gene were riding high on the success of their debut album, Olympian, when they played the 1995 Glastonbury Festival. Near their end of the set, they covered “I Say a Little Prayer,” which was originally written for Dionne Warwick (a #4 hit in 1967). Guitarist Steve Mason keeps things jazzy and light at first but by the “forever and ever” chorus, he’s kicked on the fuzz pedal and turned it into a Britpop anthem with frontman Martin Rossiter showboating just enough to sell it. The recording showed up next year on b-sides comp To See the Sights.
The Divine Comedy – “Make It Easy On Yourself” (1996)
Neil Hannon, who is The Divine Comedy for all intents and purposes, will be the first to admit how big a Scott Walker fan he is, so his covering this Bacharach/David song that was a 1965 UK/US hit for The Walker Brothers is right in his wheelhouse. Recorded live at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire in October, 1996 with a full orchestra behind him, Hannon swings for the fences and knocks it out of the park — even if it sounds pretty much exactly like the Walker Brothers’ version.
Faith No More – “This Guy’s In Love With You” (1997) / Mike Patton – “She’s Gone Away” (1997) / Mr Bungle – “What the World Needs Now is Love”
In a 1997 interview with Keranng!, Faith No More frontman Mike Patton said he likes to unwind after “a night on the raz” with “maybe something by Burt Bacharach. If you don’t like his stuff, you don’t know shit.” That was the same year FNM released their final full-length for 18 years, Album of the Year, and on that tour they started covering “This Guy’s In Love With You” live. A powerhouse, reverential version from that tour, recorded in Sydney, Australia, was included in the 2016 deluxe edition of Album of the Year. Also in 1997, Mike Patton contributed a cover of “She’s Gone Away,” a deep cut from Burt’s 1969 solo album Take it Easy on Yourself, for the John Zorn curated tribute album Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach. Wait there’s more: Mr Bungle have also covered “What the World Needs Now is Love” live.
BMX Bandits – “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” (1998) / Gruff Rhys – “Shark Ridden Waters” (2011)
The ’90s were rife with tribute albums and of course there were a few for Burt, including 1998’s What the World Needs Now: Big Deal Recording Artists Perform the Songs of Burt Bacharach which was released by Big Deal Records and featured covers by Shonen Knife, Wondermints and Scottish cult indie band BMX Bandits (a group that at one point included Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake) who contributed this version of “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.” Their arrangement is pretty faithful to ’60s band The Cyrkle’s version which appeared on their 1967 album Neon and was also sampled by Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys on “Shark Ridden Waters” from 2011’s Hotel Shampoo.
Braid – Always Something There to Remind Me (1998)
Midwest emo pioneers Braid recorded their very Braid cover of “Always Something There to Remind Me” as one side of a split 7″ with Burning Airlines (who covered Echo & The Bunnymen’s “The Back of Love.”) It’s pretty clear they were covering Naked Eyes’ arrangement, as Jay Ryan’s bassline follows the church chimes hook of that single. Braid’s version is of course slowed down and much heavier.
Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach – “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” (1999)
Burt Bacharach had a resurgence in the mid-’90s thanks to a few factors including: his jazzy style was hip again via the lounge/exotica revival that gave us Combustible Edison, The Cardigans, The Cocktails and more; fan Mike Myers’ got Burt to perform “What the World Needs Now is Love” in the original Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery movie; and Elvis Costello and Bacharach collaborated on the acclaimed 1998 album Painted from Memory. For 1999 sequel Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Myers got Elvis Costello and Burt to perform “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” which was originally written for 1968 musical Promises Promises and was a worldwide hit for, you guessed it, Dionne Warwick. Elvis, Burt and the band basically get their own music video within the film as Meyers and Heather Graham offer some rather silly choreography.
The White Stripes – ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’ (2003)
One of the most famous alt rock covers of a Bacharach song, The White Stripes released their version of ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’ as the second single from their fourth album, Elephant, and it was a Top 40 hit in the UK and New Zealand (and on the US Modern Rock chart). It was Meg White’s idea to cover the song and had been in their live repertoire for a while when the decided to record it. Jack and Meg turn it into a White Stripes song while keeping the wistful spirit of the song — a hit for Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick in the ’60s — intact.
Fountains of Wayne – “Trains and Boats and Planes” (2003)
While getting their start in the mid-’90s alt-rock boom, Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood were clearly students of classic Brill Building pop songcraft, as you can hear on such FoW tracks as “Sick Day,” “Prom Theme” and even “Stacy’s Mom.” As for the latter, one of the b-sides is a cover of Bacharch/David classic “Trains and Boats and Planes” which was a hit for Billy J Kramer, Dionne Warwick and Burt himself. In their simple arrangement, mostly acoustic guitar and synth, it’s all the more apparent how much Fountains of Wayne’s music owed to Burt.
Lloyd Cole – “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” (2009)
The White Stripes were far from the first artist to work up a version of “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” and far from the last. (There are three versions of this song in this list alone.) Lloyd Cole put a jangly take on the song on the 1997 Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach tribute album that also featured Marc Ribot, Mike Patton, Bill Frisell, Medeski Martin & Wood, and more. Featuring Robert Quine on lead guitar, Lloyd pulls the song into “Everybody’s Talking” territory with the arrangement.
Thurston Moore / Jim O’Rourke – “Always Something There to Remind Me” (2010)
Tortoise’s Jim O’Rourke is a huge Bacharach fan; he covered “Something Big” on his 1999 album Eureka, and in 2010 conceived tribute album All Kinds Of People ~ Love Burt Bacharach that featured guest vocals from Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Haruomi Hosono, Boredoms’ Yoshimi P-WE, and more. It’s also got Thurston Moore for this cover of “Always Something There to Remind Me” which takes its cues from the song’s origins (and not Naked Eyes). Chances are you’ve never heard the former Sonic Youth guitarist/singer like this before (or since).
Mac Demarco – “This Guy’s In Love With You” (2014)
For a guy who relishes in burps and farts, Mac Demarco is a softie at heart with a sweetly romantic style that clearly owes a little to Burt. That said, this cover of “This Guy’s In Love With You,” which was a hit for Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, is pretty weird and about as lo-fi as Mac got. It was released in 2014 as a video announcing new band member Andy White that followed him as he discovered “the sights, sounds and flavour of New York City.”
Cat Power – “What the World Needs Now is Love” (2018)
“I wanted to release a song with a message of hope,” says Chan Marshall of her whistle-infused cover of one of Bacharach’s most famous songs. “‘What the world needs now is love sweet love,’ is a lyric anyone can embrace right now.” It was originally released as a bonus 7″ single with her 2018 album Wanderer and was later added to the deluxe version of the album.
Bryan Ferry – “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” (2022)
Bryan Ferry has always been a great interpreter of other people’s songs, and in 2022 released a EP, Love Letters, featuring his take on classic love songs, including “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself.” Ferry co-produced and brings a somber arrangement that is as luxurious as you’d expect — all moody piano and strings — and also a perfect vehicle for his weathered but still-in-fine-form voice.
BONUS: Yo La Tengo – “Moby Octopad” (1997)
OK this is not a cover but Yo La Tengo did sample the guitar riff from Burt Bacharach’s “Bird Bath” — from his soundtrack to 1966 Peter Sellers heist comedy After the Fox — for their song “Moby Octopad,” one of the standouts from 1997’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One. The song also features samples of The Velvet Underground’s “European Son” and The Who’s “Armenia City in the Sky.”
And here’s a playlist with all the songs from this post that were on Spotify:
Rest in Peace, Burt.