203. The Walker Brothers – Make It Easy on Yourself (1965)

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Long before Scott Walker was ordering a percussionist to punch a side of pork, he was a 1960s pop idol with his pretend siblings. The Walker Brothers first found fame with this first of two number 1s, Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s Make It Easy On Yourself.

John Maus, born in New York in 1943, was a child television star. In the late 50s he was friends with Ritchie Valens, and following the La Bamba hitmaker’s tragic death, he was an honorary pallbearer at his funeral. Later, he befriended future Beach Boys David Marks and Dennis and Carl Wilson, and he helped teach them how to play the guitar. He formed a musical partnership with his sister, and they were known as the acoustic duo John and Judy. In 1961, they met Scott Engel.

Engel, born in Hamilton, Ohio in 1943, had also been a child actor and singer, and in the late 50s he was marketed as a teen idol, with Eddie Fisher (one of the first number 1 stars in the UK) pushing him for stardom. Engel had intellectual tastes from an early age, and loved progressive jazz, Beat poetry and European cinema. When he met John Maus he was in the instrumental group the Routers.

Engel and Maus briefly backed John’s sister and they became Judy and the Gents. Somewhere around this time, the 17-year-old Maus got hold of an ID card for John Walker, enabling him to perform in clubs while underage. The name stuck, and he was sick of people getting his surname wrong anyway. After breaking away from Judy Maus, Engel and Walker were briefly part of the Surfaris, the group that had recorded Wipeout in 1963. At least, they were part of the touring group, none of whom recorded their singles.

In 1964, they decided to work together as the Walker Brothers Trio, with Al ‘Tiny’ Schneider on drums. Walker was lead vocalist and guitarist and Engel was bassist and provided harmony vocals. At some point Schneider left and they continued as a duo before meeting new drummer Gary Leeds. All three were photogenic and soon ended up on TV shows including Shindig. They signed with Mercury Records and recorded their debut single, Pretty Girls Everywhere. It was Maus’ idea they should all take the surname Walker, and I still find it odd that Engel continues to go by the name Scott Walker after all these years. I guess he must still have a soft spot for his time as a pop star.

Gary Walker had recently toured the UK with PJ Proby, and convinced John and Scott that the Walker Brothers should try their luck as pop stars on these shores. It was his father that financed their first trip early in 1965. Their first single barely scraped into the charts, but they had better luck with Love Her. This follow-up featured Scott on lead vocal, and upon its success, Scott began moving into the lead spot in the trio.

They found an ideal producer in Johnny Franz. He was one of the top UK producers of the 50s and 60s, and by this point had produced six UK number 1s, from Winifred Atwell’s Let’s Have Another Party in 1954 to Juliet by the Four Pennies in 1964. Franz was very effective at lavishly orchestrated 60s pop, which made him a natural choice to produce a Bacharach and David song. Make It Easy on Yourself was a decent slab of break-up melodrama from the genius duo, and became the songwriters’ sixth UK number 1. It had first been a hit in 1962 for Jerry Butler, based on a demo from Dionne Warwick.

Make It Easy on Yourself comes out on the losing side when compared to that other big heartbreak song of 1965, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’. Nobody does the Wall of Sound better than the creator, Phil Spector. Having said that, the Walker Brothers and Franz put in a decent try. The track opens with a wordless version of the chorus, and that first line, ‘Breaking up is so very hard to do’, set to Scott’s smooth baritone, sets things off nicely. It can’t keep the momentum going though, and the verses don’t have the tension and drama of the Righteous Brothers’ number 1. How many songs do, though? Oh, this song also features legendary session drummer Clem Cattini, who took part in a frankly ridiculously long list of UK number 1s over the years, the most recent of which had been the Bachelors’ snore-fest Diane in 1964.

Scott’s vocal is perhaps a little too polished and mannered to carry off the emotion… unless this is a deliberate ploy to make the protagonist sound in denial. You can easily imagine several other singers’ releasing this, such as Cilla Black, which means the Walker Brothers, in particular Scott, were still too green to put their own stamp on their releases. Their next number 1 was a big improvement.

Written by: Burt Bacharach & Hal David

Producer: Johnny Franz

Weeks at number 1: 1 (23-29 September)

Births:

Olympic athelete Phylis Smith – 29 September 

164. Cilla Black – Anyone Who Had a Heart (1964)

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Hmm. Cilla Black. I try to come to all these reviews with an open mind, but I was never a fan. I think many people of my age feel the same, too. To us, she was that wailing banshee that ruled over weekend television in the 1980s, presenting Blind Date and Surprise Surprise, wailing the theme tune of the latter at a pitch that could shatter TV screens if you had the volume too high. To my mum, she was a national treasure, to my dad… well, lets just say we felt the same. When she died in 2015, the media mourned, but if you dug deep on the internet, there were countless stories of a puffed-up prima donna, hated by airplane staff primarily. It seems ‘our Cilla’ could be a nasty piece of work. Now obviously I don’t expect every artist out there to be a lovely person, but when that’s the image they make their money from, it can grate.

That’s my touching tribute aside, now on with the facts. Cilla was born Priscilla Maria Veronica White in Liverpool in 1943. She became determined to make it as a singer while in her teens, and tried to get her foot in the door with a part-time job as a cloakroom attendant at the Cavern Club. It was the perfect example of ‘right place, right time’, as the Beatles were residents there, and they were impressed by her impromptu performances. She appeared as a guest singer for local acts including Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, who featured Ringo Starr on drums. The local music publication, Mersey Beat (whose name soon coined a whole musical movement) featured her in its first edition, but accidentally referred to her as Cilla Black. She made it her stage name.

Black was introduced to Brian Epstein by John Lennon. Epstein’s roster was rapidly growing, but initially he showed little interest in her. She was never the most technically-gifted singer, but her initial audition with him was a disaster. The Beatles provided her backing on Summertime, but a lack of rehearsal meant that they played it in the wrong key. However, Epstein saw something in Black, a girl-next-door image that could go down well, and a passion to succeed, and in 1963 he took her under his wing.

As someone who’d always struggled to understand just why Cilla was so popular, I assumed the Beatles connection was the sole reason she became famous in the first place. This no doubt played its part, but her debut single, a Lennon-McCartney original called Love of the Loved, barely scraped the charts. Lennon and McCartney were only just learning the ropes of songwriting, what about a duo with previous number 1 success?

Anyone Who Had a Heart was written by one of the decade’s most famous songwriting partnerships, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, for Dionne Warwick. It had become her first top ten single in the US in January. A scout for George Martin suggested the track could make a strong single for Black. Shirley Bassey had also been mentioned as a possibility, but a canny Bacharach was keen on Black releasing it. He knew that Liverpool was fast becoming one of the most musically important cities in the world, and believed that could only help the song’s chances.

It seems Warwick has never forgiven Black for outperforming her version in the UK, and she has mentioned several times over the years that she considers Black’s version a complete copy. Having compared the two, I surprised myself by siding with Cilla. Not only that, I actually prefer her version. Now that really surprised me. Black’s voice has never done anything for me, unlike Warwick’s, but I find Cilla’s more soulful and passionate. As the song is about heartbreak, this is how it should be. Warwick’s may be classier, but it’s a bit tame by comparison. Yes, Johnny Pearson’s arrangement is very similar, but I’m not sure what Warwick expected could be done to make it so different. The whole thing smacks of sour grapes to me. So, yes, I found myself appreciating a Cilla Black song! It helps of course that it has the Bacharach and David magic touch. This is a great slice of 60s pop.

Due in part to the rise of beat music, primarily consisting of four or five men on guitars and drums, there hadn’t been a female artist at number 1 since Helen Shapiro’s Walkin’ Back to Happiness in November 1961. Cilla Black ended the drought, and helped give rise to a new type of female singer – a working class, distinctive, a girl-next-door type that may not be the most technically gifted singer, but could make their own mark and inspire others to have a go.

There you go, I’ve bigged up Cilla Black. I’ve surprised myself.

Written by: Burt Bacharach & Hal David

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (27 February-18 March)

Births:

Prince Edward – 10 March
Shane Richie – 11 March
Footballer Lee Dixon – 17 March