The title Something Big: The Complete A&M Years...And More (2004) pretty well sums up the embarrassment of riches contained within this compendium. Even while working -- usually with then-partner Hal David (lyrics) -- to create hits for other artists, Burt Bacharach (piano/vocals/arranger) was well on his way to becoming arguably the most gifted and successful pop music composer/arranger of the latter 20th century. Likewise -- as the 109 selections on these five discs certainly bear out -- Bacharach also invested a significant part of his profession actively recording and touring as a solo act.
Although there have been a multitude of woefully incomplete anthologies issued on CD, for the first time in the digital domain, the essential Bacharach long-players: Hit Maker! (1965), Reach Out (1967), Make It Easy on Yourself (1969), Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969), the self-titled Burt Bacharach (1971), Living Together (1973), the rarely heard In Concert (1974), Futures (1977), and Woman (1979) are available. And the icing on the entire affair is the host of previously unreleased gems from deep within the A&M Records vaults, as well as from Bacharach's own archive.
It is fascinating to hear the treatments given to "Are You There (With Another Girl)," "What the World Needs Now Is Love," "The Look of Love," "A House Is Not a Home," "I Say a Little Prayer," "Message to Michael," "Promises, Promises," "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," "Make It Easy on Yourself," "Do You Know the Way to San Jose," "This Guy's in Love with You," "(They Long to Be) Close to You," "Wives and Lovers" and "One Less Bell to Answer" (just to name a few) as interpreted by their creator.
Perhaps as a testament to the completeness of the compositions themselves, Bacharach's orchestrations are often as full of subtle textures as the more familiar hit versions. For the most compelling evidence of that phenomenon, listeners should treat themselves to the 15 tracks originally featured on the U.K. import Burt Bacharach in Concert (1974). The coupling of "Alfie," with "Do You Know the Way to San Jose," as well as the medley of "Don't Make Me Over," "Anyone Who Had a Heart," "What's New Pussycat," "Wives and Lovers, and "24 Hours from Tulsa" are, as the saying goes, worth the price of admission alone.
The fifth and final disc -- subtitled "Essentials" -- is of equal significance as it contains a few one-off curios -- all of which were at the very least produced by Bacharach. Of primary interest are the never-before-issued alternate mono mix of "Saturday Sunshine" circa the aforementioned Hit Maker!: Burt Bacharach Plays His Hits (1965), a Joel Grey-sung "What's New Pussycat," "My Little Red Book (All I Do Is Talk About You)," with Tony Middleton (vocals), "After the Fox," and "The Fox Trot" both credited to Burt Bacharach & His Orchestra. Plus, "Nikki," and "Juanita's Place" by the Burt Bacharach Orchestra & Chorus. The set concludes with three soundtrack sides from the 1980s, "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)," "That's What Friends Are For," -- which was in the film Night Shift (1982) before becoming an international hit for the supergroup of Elton John, Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight -- and the "Love Theme from Arthur" from Arthur 2: On The Rocks (1988).
The entire affair is bound in a hardbound cloth casing and inside are 42 pages of notes including tributes from Richard Carpenter and producer Phil Ramone. Collectors take note as Something Big is limited to an edition of only 5,000.