Iron Leg Digital Trip #27 – The Sound of the Walker Brothers
You’re All Around Me
The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore
After the Lights Go Out
Take It Like a Man
(Baby) You Don’t Have To Tell Me
My Love Is Growing
Living Above Your Head
The Saddest Night In the World
I Can See It Now
I Wanna Know
I Can’t Let It Happen To You
Just Say Goodbye
I hope everyone has had a pleasant weekend. The end of summer is nipping at our heels.
This is not to say that the warm weather is in retreat, since here in NJ we can expect at least another month of niceness (made especially nice by the exit of the tourists), but rather that the symbolic end of summer, that being Labor Day, is right around the corner.
The mix I bring you today is something that I’ve been wanting to do since the inception of Iron Leg (and likely before that).
Though I most certainly knew ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ (having been a voracious consumer of ‘oldies’ radio as an adolescent), I didn’t really take a serious interest in the Walker Brothers until sometime around 1990, when I picked up the Marc Almond-curated Scott Walker comp ‘Boy Child’ during a trip to Atlanta.
I had read about the ‘cult of Scott’ in our local alternative paper sometime before that, and when I happened upon the record I picked it up right away. It wasn’t until I got home and had a chance to play it, that my mind was good and truly blown, synapses redirected for the rest of my musical life by songs like ‘Montague Terrace In Blue’.
My newfound Scott Walker obsession quickly expanded to include the sounds of the Walker Brothers, and in a few short years I was able to track down (at what now seem like amazingly reasonable prices) all of the original UK Walkers LPs and the US issues of the first three Scott solo LPs.
It took me a while to sort out the Walker Brothers material, since along with plenty of post-Spectorian brilliance (and lots of great Scott vocals) there was also a lot of dross to get through. Their record company seemed to want to cast the Walkers as blue-eyed soul brothers, and although there were some interesting takes on material by black artists (Walter Jackson especially), some of the covers were especially lame.
That said, we concern ourselves here with the group’s quality material, including their two biggest hits, a couple of 45-only tracks and several John and Scott originals from the latter part of their three-year run as a group*. Be forewarned: this mix is (like the Walker Brothers catalog) heavy on ballads and bombast. If this is not to your taste, hold steady and I’ll be back with something a little harder next week.
The sound of the Walker Brothers, as much as it can be nailed down, owes a lot (A LOT) to Scott’s sonorous baritone, quality arrangements and last but not least a taste for the dramatic. Their best work owes a debt to the Wall of Sound (to which they have a direct connection via their work with Jack Nitzsche). Though there’s often an orchestral underpinning to their sound, there is always a rock rhythm section, as well as the kind of filigree (celeste, kettle drums etc) that Phil Spector and his many disciples layered on their productions like so much frosting on a cake. Fortunately it can be said that where this style appears in the Walker Brothers records, more often than not it was done tastefully, and with a feel for sonic adventure.
The history of the Walker Brothers is both brief and chaotic. John (Maus) and Scott (Engel) had been performing together under the Walker Brothers name when they met Gary (Leeds – who had played with the Standells) in Los Angeles. They took advantage of Gary’s connections (he’d been to the UK drumming with P.J. Proby) and moved to the UK, where – as the cliché goes – the rest is history. Though they only really had two hits in the US, the Walker Brothers were positively HUGE in the UK (and Japan) where they (especially Scott) were among the biggest stars of the Beat era. It is thanks to their fame in the UK that Scott Walker was able to continue as a solo artist, creating his amazing body of work in the late 60s.
They released two LPs in the US and three in the UK. There is some overlap between them, and a number of tracks that only made it onto 45s and EPs. All of these LPs are represented here in some form.
The mix gets started with their first big hit, ‘Make It Easy On Yourself’. One of many Bacharach/David tunes they would record, the song was originally a hit for Jerry Butler in 1962. I apologize for the fuzzy sound on this one, which (thanks to an edge warp on the LP) was dubbed from a styrene 45.
‘Love Her’ a 45-only track in the US was a Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil song. Originally recorded by the Everly Brothers in 1963, it did not chart until it became the first Walkers 45 to hit (albeit gently) in the UK. It is also notable for being the record that brought Scott’s monumental baritone to the fore for the first time**. The single was produced by the great Jack Nitzsche.
‘You’re All Around Me’ was one of the first tunes co-written by Scott to appear on a Walker Brothers album. It’s one of the finest tunes on the group’s first LP, with a great build up to the chorus, and of course a wonderful vocal by Scott.
‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ is – at least in the US – the Walker Brother’s best remembered single. Originally recorded by Frankie Valli, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Scott singing the song, let alone the leader of the Four Seasons. It is no less than a tour de force performance (and arrangement) that verily threatens to overflow any set of speakers through which it courses. The Walker’s deviate from the Valli original in both style and substance. Their arrangement has much more of a kick to it, and Scott changes the notes in the last line of the chorus. Oddly enough, this was a non-LP track in the UK.
The next tune is – at least in my opinion – the Walker Brother’s finest track. ‘After the Lights Go Out’, written by John Stewart is among the finest pieces of faux-Phil Spector ever to be committed to vinyl. It builds ever so slowly, layering instrument on instrument, voice on voice until it comes to an explosive climax in the chorus. It’s one of those records that ought to have been a much bigger hit, or at least elevated to the point where it is revered by the record nerds of the world as a masterpiece.
Though many of the Walker’s LP tracks came from obscure cover material, ‘Take It Like a Man’ – written by the mighty Leiber and Stoller – was originated by the group. Featuring a Frankie Laine-esque lead vocal by John, the song sounds like something Gene Pitney would have ripped into.
‘(Baby) You Don’t Have To Tell Me’ is a great showcase for Scott and John’s harmonies. The song was originally recorded by a singer named Bobby Coleman, who died shortly after his original version of the song was released.
‘My Love Is Growing’ was another John Stewart song, is a great John/Scott duet which was later covered by Dutch beatmasters the Motions.
‘Living Above Your Head’ is a fast moving number, originally waxed by Jay and the Americans. In my opinion the Walker’s version is superior to the original, which although it has a great vocal by Jay Black, lacks the energy of the cover.
‘The Saddest Night In the World’ is a John (Maus) Walker original, with a great vocal by Scott that appeared as a non-LP track.
By the time the Walkers recorded their second UK LP ‘Portrait’ they brought several original compositions into the studio. Scott’s original ‘I Can See It Now’ has a repeating trumpet figure in the verse that shows the influence of the Bacharach/David catalog. ‘Saturday’s Child’ is another Scott original that bears an uncomfortable resemblance to ‘River Deep Mountain High’ (especially in the chorus).
By the time the Walker’s went into the studio to record their third LP ‘Images’ (never released in the US) they were clearly on the verge of dissolution. This is not necessarily a bad thing either, as Scott, fed up with the teen idol life had started to set the stage for his solo career. He and John had both released ‘solo’ tracks at this point (on two sides of the ‘Solo John/Solo Scott’ split-EP).
The first John Walker track from ‘Images’ that we’ll feature is the hidden treasure ‘I Wanna Know’, which mixes the best aspects of freakbeat and Northern soul. Of all the Walker’s LP tracks, ‘I Wanna Know’ really should have been released as a single, where it may very well have become a hit.
The second John track from ‘Images’, ‘I Can’t Let It Happen To You’ moves back over to the ballad side of things, with a wonderful arrangement by Reg Guest.
The next two tracks from ‘Images’ are both Scott Walker originals, and are a great window into his oncoming solo career. Both ‘Genevieve’ and ‘Orpheus’ (especially the latter) could have appeared on any Scott solo album without interrupting the vibe. The arrangements, Scott’s vocals and the overall feel of the songs are much closer to the more personal style he would debut on his first solo album. ‘Orpheus’ is an especially wonderful song, with unusual lyrics and a suite-like structure that is unlike anything else on ‘Images’.
The final track in this mix, is fittingly the very last track on the very last Walker Brothers album. ‘Just Say Goodbye’ is a Petula Clark song (co-written by Clark and Tony Hatch) that was also covered by the Vogues. It’s an oddly dark arrangement, taken at a slower pace than the original, a fitting ending to the Walker Brothers career.
There are a number of reissues of the Walker Brothers best material, including UK/Euro CD issues of their individual LPs with most of their non-LP material gathered as bonus tracks.
I hope you dig this mix, and I’ll be back next week with something groovy.
*Despite Gary Walker’s solo singles and his monumental album with the Rain (post-Walkers) I have never been able to find out what – if anything – he had to do with the group’s albums, aside from possible contributions of backing vocals.
** Prior to ‘Love Her’, John was for all intents and purposes the lead singer of the group