By late 1969, Burt Bacharach and Hal David were kings of the pop songwriting game. With over 20 Top 40 singles by their vocal muse Dionne Warwick, cover versions of their songs by an A-Z of artists including Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones and Ella Fitzgerald, movie soundtracks, TV specials and a Broadway musical, they’d done it all. But their biggest hit was just around the corner.
In the summer of that year, Bacharach was writing the score for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a film starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford as 1890s train robbers. Director George Roy Hill wanted something evocative of the period for a particular scene. The scene shows Newman takes a romantic bike ride with Katherine Ross. Though Hill was initially opposed to the idea of a pop song with a lyric, Bacharach talked him into it.
“Raindrops” began in an uncharacteristic way. In the Bacharach and David songwriting partnership, roles were clearly defined. Burt wrote music, Hal wrote words. But this was an instance when Bacharach came up with the title. They chose B.J. Thomas to sing the song.
B.J. Thomas was getting over laryngitis when he recorded this. It gave the song a raspy quality that the producers of the movie liked. Eight weeks later, Thomas recorded another version that was released as a single in October 1969. This version, with the famous horn solo added to the end, made #1 in the US the first week of 1970 and stayed there for 4 weeks. Said Thomas, “I was in the right place at the right time, and probably got their best song ever.”
Two weeks later a single version of the song for radio was re-cut at A&R Studios in New York, this one with a more full-throated performance from Thomas. The ukulele intro and tack piano arrangement from the soundtrack version remained. A song that conjured up turn-of-the-century quaintness seemed like a longshot for the charts, especially alongside heavy fare like “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin and “Come Together” by the Beatles. Released in October 1969 to coincide with the movie, “Raindrops” climbed to No. 1 on January 3, 1970, and stayed there for four weeks straight.
But the single version of “Raindrops” almost didn’t get released.
“I actually did stop it from coming out,” Bacharach recalls. “It was set for release, but I turned down the pressing. I had been torn between two takes—one that sounded comfortable, one that had a lot of energy. So I went with the comfortable one. But what I wound up doing was making an edit right in the middle of the song and picking up the fast one in the break. That’s how it was finally released.”
The song went on to win the 1970 Academy Award for Best Original Song. And in years since it has been heard in many television programs, commercials, and movies, including a prominent scene in the 2004 blockbuster Spider-Man 2.
As Tyrell says, “Mainly everything else [in 1969] was flower power, the protest songs, people were taking acid, and we were like, ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,’ right? But the song was a monster.”
Something about this song goes well with animated comedies – it has been used in The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Futurama. Movies that have used the song include Boys on the Side (1995), Spy Hard (1996), Clockwatchers (1997) and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002).