You have to play the songs the fans want to hear.
We don’t really do ‘Baby It’s You’ [recorded by The Beatles] when I’m onstage. I think the last time I heard it was when I did three concerts with Elvis Costello when our joint album ‘Painted From Memory’ was out. He also started that show with ‘My Little Red Book’, so there are two we don’t often do.
I actually got Adele to do ‘Baby It’s You’ when I played the Electric Proms in London last year, which was good. And I’ve heard The Last Shadow Puppets have been covering ‘My Little Red Book’, so I’m going to see if I can find that on my computer. But to be honest I never thought I’d get paid to do this, let alone have The Beatles record one of my songs, so I’m usually happy to do whatever the audience want.
Jimmy Page wasn’t always a hell-raiser
I recorded my first album [‘Hit Maker! Burt Bacharach Plays His Hits’] over here in the UK, in London. The band had such a great attitude and were really helpful and really good. I had a young Jimmy Page playing guitar. Good guys, good band, good attitude, everything!
You can never rest on your laurels.
The most important thing I’ve learned is never get too comfortable. You’ve got to constantly work and craft, you don’t want to get fat per se, you know what I’m saying? Even after all these years I know it’s as important as ever to keep in touch with your music. Rather than reliving past glories I’ll just sit down at my keyboard and keep improvising, see what happens.
I’m not even trying to write anything, I’m just staying in touch with my music. It’s no different than being a player on the tennis circuit. If you’re a competitive tennis player and you take two weeks off you go soft and you might lose something from your game in the process. You’re always looking for something new.
If you’re an artist you work on something for a particular time but then you have to let that go and move on. A couple of years ago I started doing something with drum loops which was a really different kind of record for me. That’s called moving on and challenging yourself.
Learn the rules…
When you’re young and starting out the best advice I could give is: learn the rules! Learn the principles so that when you come up with your tunes you are able to write it down musically instead of dumping it on to a tape machine or whatever. And just listen to what other people are doing, listen to Brazilian music. Listen to the music and learn what works and more importantly why it works.
Sign up for the newsletter
…then break the rules.
I wouldn’t change anything about my musical education. I learned the way I did and I learned the principles. But once you’ve learned the rules, then you break the rules. You do what comes naturally. I never knew anything about time signatures, I wasn’t really sure what it was when was I was writing ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’ in 7/8, but then I started to write down things. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s something new.’
Melody is king.
No matter what you put on a record, what effects you use, when you play it back you’d better have a melody. You’ve heard records, I’ve heard records you tire of after three days, they’re worn out. You need melody to keep people coming back.
Don’t listen to the men in suits.
When I was first writing songs the A&R wouldn’t sign them. He’d say, ‘I like them, but you’ve got to change it because they’re three-bar phrases not four-bar phrases, and that won’t work commercially.’ I fought really hard to get them out there, which was great. It’s important if you believe in what you’re doing. If you win you win, if you lose you lose, but whatever, you can’t blame the A&R. It’s all you.
I rehearse the songs and nothing else.
I always ad lib it when I’m being asked about my music. I was recently in Britain and I spoke at the Oxford Union, but I didn’t prepare a speech or notes or anything like that. I always ad lib. It makes it more comfortable. When I do television shows or a talk show and someone says, ‘I’m going to ask you these questions…’ and I’m stunned or something, I just jabber. I always want to be spontaneous.