"Alfie" is a song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David to promote the 1966 film Alfie. The song was a major hit for Cilla Black (UK) and Dionne Warwick(US).


 [hide*1 Background


Although Burt Bacharach has cited "Alfie" as his personal favorite of his compositions, he and Hal David had not been very interested when approached by Ed Wolpin, who headed the composers' publishers Famous Music, to write a song to serve as a promotional tie-in with the upcoming film Alfie (a release fromParamount Pictures who owned Famous Music). Hal David would attribute the composers' lack of interest to the title character's name being pedestrian: "Writing a song about a man called 'Alfie' didn't seem too exciting at the time."

The composers agreed to submit an "Alfie" song if they were able to write a worthy candidate so named within a three-week period. When Bacharach, resident in California, was shown a rough cut of the film Alfie the quality of the film's depiction of a Cockney womanizer played by Michael Caine instilled in Bacharach a determination to writing a complementary song. As Bacharach felt - in his own words - "with 'Alfie' the lyric had to come first because it had to say what that movie was all about" [1] He arranged for David - in Long Island - to receive a script of the film to facilitate writing the lyrics for an "Alfie" song. David utilized one of Michael Caine's lines in the film: "What's it all about", as the opening phrase for the song's lyrics. When completed these were set to music by Bacharach. The original was recorded in the key of F-sharp major, but Bacharach usually plays it in the key of B-flat major live, the same key that Cilla Blacksang it in.

Cilla Black[edit]Edit

Although Bacharach and David suggested "Alfie" be recorded by Dionne Warwick, their most prolific interpreter, Paramount felt the film's setting demanded the song be recorded by a UK singer. Accordingly, the initial invitation to record "Alfie" was made to Sandie Shaw who had had a UK #1 hit with the Bacharach/David composition "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me". When the invitation to Shaw was declined "Alfie" was offered to Cilla Black, who had also had a UK #1 with a Bacharach/David song: "Anyone Who Had a Heart".

Black was invited to record "Alfie" in a letter from Bacharach - who Black recalls wrote that the song had been written especially for her. Brian Epstein, her manager, was sent a demo of the song. Black would recall her negative reaction to hearing the demo "of some fella singing 'Alfie'...I actually said to Brian 'I can't do this.' For a start - Alfie?? You call your dog Alfie!...[Couldn't] it be Tarquin or something like that?"

Black states that rather than overtly decline the song she would 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."

The session for Cilla Black's recording of "Alfie" took place in the autumn of 1965 at Studio One, Abbey Road Studios and was overseen by Black's regular producer George Martin. In addition to the agreed arranging and piano playing, Bacharach conducted a 48-piece orchestra which played on the session which also featured the Breakaways as background vocalists. According to Black, Bacharach had her cut eighteen complete takes before he was satisfied with her vocal while Bacharach's estimation of the session's total number of takes, including partial ones, is as high as "twenty-eight or twenty-nine...I kept going [thinking] can we get it a little better...[add] just some magic[?]".

"Alfie" was released in January 1966 four months prior to the opening of the film. The single was essentially intended as a specialty item to foster interest in the upcoming film rather than a mainstream hit. However the track accrued enough interest to enter the UK Top 50 in April 1966, reaching #9 that May.[1]

Black's "Alfie" was issued in Australia and the US in July 1966, the month prior to the release of the film Alfie in both territories. Despite the soundtrack appearance of a version of "Alfie" by Cher in the film's worldwide release, Black's "Alfie" was a sizable Australian hit at #22. In the US - where Black had had only one moderate success with "You're My World" in 1964 - her "Alfie" single just made the Billboard Hot 100 at #95, the Pop mainstream sector's focus on the song being primarily on Cher's version. Cher's was only a moderate hit in the US at #32. Interest in any single recorded version of "Alfie" was being dissipated by the plethora of easy listening-oriented covers which were in release by the summer of 1966.

Cilla Black entitled her 2004 autobiography What's It All About?, a reference to the opening phrase of the song "Alfie".


Although Black's version of "Alfie" in F major had served as a promotional tool for the film's UK release rather than as the film's theme - being in fact featured nowhere on the soundtrack of the film's UK release - for the US release of the film Alfie the film's distributor United Artists wanted the song featured on the film's soundtrack despite the objections of the film's director Lewis Gilbert who felt the song "Alfie" would distract from the jazz score he had had Sonny Rollinsprovide for the film. United Artists compromised with Gilbert in keeping the prospective theme song out of the main body of the film Alfie but having it play during the closing credits.

Rather than utilize Black's version, United Artists commissioned a new version of the song "Alfie" by Cher who was on the roster of Imperial Records. Recorded at Gold Star Studios, Cher's version of "Alfie" was released at the end of June 1966 almost two months prior to the film's US premiere (August 25, 1966); Sonny Bono's production showcased the song à la Phil Spector. Despite being the follow-up to the #2 hit "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" Cher's version of "Alfie" rose no higher than #32.[2]

The versions of "Alfie" by both Cilla Black and Cher were released in Australia in July 1966, with Black's becoming the major hit at #22; the Cher version's Australian chart peak was #96.

"Alfie" was featured on the October 1966 album release entitled Chér.

Despite her 1966 version being a relative chart disappointment, Cher was recruited to remake the song "Alfie" to play under the closing credits of the 2004 remake of the film Alfie, Cher by then being the only one of the song's early interpreters to have had any recent recording success. After previews, audiences responded to Cher's updated version of the theme song with laughter which led to the track being subsequently dropped from the soundtrack. After unsuccessfully wooing Norah Jones to remake "Alfie" for the film, the producers successfully recruited Joss Stone.[3]

Early covers[edit]Edit

Despite the relative failure of the version of "Alfie" cut for the US film release, Cilla Black's UK success with the song had attracted sufficient attention in the US for several American singers besides Cher tocover the song by the time the film Alfie opened in the US in August 1966. Two of these covers actually predate the Cher recording although neither was released prior to Cher's, the first evident recording of "Alfie" by an American singer being that cut by Jerry Butler in May 1966 which first appeared as a track on the December 1967 album release Mr Dream Merchant. Also in the spring of 1966 Dee Dee Warwick, while on a promotional junket to the UK, made a recording of "Alfie" at the Philips Studio in Marble Arch with Johnny Franz producing the session and Peter Knight arranging and conducting the orchestra; this version was first issued over a year later as the B-side of Dee Dee Warwick's 1967 single "Locked in Your Love".

At the time the film Alfie premiered in New York City August 25, 1966 at least eight recorded versions of the song "Alfie" were in release in the US: besides the Cher version from the film and the Cilla Black original which had been issued in the US that July to peak at No.95 on the Billboard Hot 100, "Alfie" had been recorded by Vikki CarrJack JonesTony MartinCarmen McRaeJoanie Sommers and Billy Vaughn. The five last-named singers had recorded "Alfie" in hopes of taking the song into the Billboard Easy Listening chart rather than scoring a mainstream Pop hit and both Joanie Sommers and Carmen McRae did score an Easy Listening hit with their respective versions of "Alfie" (Sommers - #9; McRae - #29).

Dionne Warwick Version[edit]Edit

"Alfie" would not become a Top 30 hit in the US until the summer of 1967 when Dionne Warwick, the most prolific interpreter of Bacharach/David compositions and the composers' original choice to cut the song, took it to #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #5 on the Billboard R & B Singles Chart. Introduced on the December 1966 album release Here Where There Is Love, Warwick's version of "Alfie" had been an impromptu addition to a recording session at A&R Studio in New York City whose scheduled tracks had been completed early; Scepter Records A&R man Steve Tyrell suggested to Burt Bacharach that the booked time remaining be put to use by having Warwick record a version of "Alfie". Warwick, though feeling it pointless to increase the song's massive cover version count (there were by then some forty-two recorded versions of the song), was persuaded to record the song cutting her vocal in a single take.

Although the "Alfie" track on Here Where There Is Love began receiving radio airplay as early as January 1967, the track was not issued as a single until March 1967 and then as the intended B-side of "The Beginning of Loneliness"; however disc jockeys preferred "Alfie" and the track began to ascend the Billboard Hot 100 in April 1967, with a major assist from Warwick's performing "Alfie" on the 39th Academy Awards ceremony television broadcast of April 10, 1967. Billboard's year end tally of the biggest Pop hits of 1967 ranked "Alfie" at #44 in a Top 50 composed otherwise of Top Ten hits.

Other versions[edit]Edit

In 1968, Stevie Wonder released a harmonica instrumental version. This version made the Hot 100, peaking at #66, and it was also a Top 20 Easy Listening hit. Wonder's single was made for Gordy Recordsand released pseudonymously as Eivets Rednow - an inversion of "Stevie" and "Wonder".

The Delfonics recorded "Alfie" for their 1968 La La Means I Love You album produced by Thom Bell; originally the B-side of the group's hit 1968 hit "Break Your Promise", the Delfonics' recording of "Alfie" had a belated A-side release in 1973 when it was a minor R&B hit (#88).

In 1994, Whitney Houston performed the song on select dates during her Bodyguard Tour, and her 1997 HBO televised concert, Classic Whitney Live from Washington, D.C..

Joss Stone remade "Alfie" to play under the closing credits of the 2004 remake of the film Alfie, her version replacing a new recording by Cher which was dropped after drawing laughter from preview audiences (Stone was offered the song after Norah Jones declined).[3]

Other artists to record versions of "Alfie" include several versions by Bacharach himself, Patricia BarberTony BennettLiane CarrollRandy CrawfordBlossom DearieBill EvansPercy FaithEverything But The GirlMaynard FergusonStan GetzTony HatchDick HymanThe Anita Kerr SingersChaka KhanEarl KlughJohnny MathisDavid McCallumBrad MehldauPat MethenyMinaMatt MonroOlivia Newton-JohnElaine PaigeRita ReysBuddy RichRumerThe John Scofield TrioThe Sweet InspirationsMcCoy TynerMidge UreSylvia Vrethammar (Swedish rendering), Sarah VaughanNancy Wilson,Andy WilliamsVanessa Williams, and Nanette Workman.

Barbra Streisand recorded the song for her 1969 album What About Today? and performed it on her "Timeless" tour in 2000.

In a deleted scene from the movie Austin Powers in Goldmember, the song is parodied, with "Austin" replacing "Alfie" in the lyric. Alfie is sung by most of the main characters. Michael Caine, who plays Austin Powers' father, also played the character Alfie in the original 1966 movie, and scenes from the film appear in the background while he is singing. Susanna Hoffs made the recording of this version - entitled "Alfie (What's It All About, Austin?)" for the soundtrack album.

  • Recently, Gina Hayes recorded an updated/jazzy version of the song, which appears on her 2014 album "Montage".
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