211. The Walker Brothers – The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore (1966)

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Four months before the FIFA World Cup was scheduled to kick off in England, the Jules Rimet Trophy was stolen. On 20 March a thief broke into the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, ignored rare stamps nearby that were worth far more, and took the trophy from its public display. A package with the removable lining was left at Stamford Bridge with a ransom demand. When police arrested Edward Betchley, who mailed the package, he claimed the real culprit was known as ‘The Pole’. He/she have never been found, but the trophy was, by a dog called Pickles, a week after the robbery. His owner, David Corbett, bought a new house with the reward money, and Pickles won a medal and was invited to a celebration banquet when England won the tournament. He went on to a TV career before dying in 1967 after getting caught up in his choke chain while eating cheese. Poor Pickles, what a way for a hero to go.

Four days after Pickles’ discovery, Harold Wilson’s gamble paid off, and the Labour party won the snap general election, increasing their wafer-thin majority significantly. It’s unlikely him and the rest of the Cabinet were dancing to the number 1 at the time though. The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore isn’t exactly Things Can Only Get Better, is it?

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons songwriters Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio (also one of the Four Seasons) originally wrote the track as a solo single for Valli. However, his backing group also performed on The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore), as it was originally known upon its release in 1965. The Walker Brothers had stayed popular since achieving their first number 1 that year with Bacharach and David’s Make It Easy on Yourself. It was an admirable attempt to replicate Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound’, but fell short despite making it to the top. They then went to number three with My Ship Is Coming In before having a crack at Valli’s tale of heartbreak. This time they really nailed it.

Listening to Valli’s version, it’s clear that this was already a strong track, but the Walker Brothers and producers Johnny Franz and Ivor Raymonde take it to another level and really ramp up the melodrama. Their version starts with a rather Mexican/Spanish feel in the intro, before Scott’s baritone lead begins. As the song continues, his voice is almost lost in the lush intrumentation, but that’s entirely appropriate, as the singer is drowning against an overwhelming tide of heartbreak. Something about the way he sings the lines ‘The tears are always clouding your eyes/When you’re without love’ gets me every time. I’m a big admirer of Scott Walker as an artist, but nothing he’s written tops this in my opinion.

Following a month at number 1, Scott Walker began to take over with song choices and would also join in on production duties, but as his role grew, so did the dissension, and their success began to decline. In early 1968, after touring with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cat Stevens and Engelbert Humperdinck, followed by a tour of Japan. The trio disbanded.

All three ‘Walkers’ continued to record as solo artists, with Scott gaining a cult following that only grew over the years, even if mainstream success eluded him. His late-1960s albums are now considered classics. The best in my opinion, was Scott 3 (1969), featuring the trippy masterpiece Plastic Palace People.

In 1974 the Walker Brothers reformed and released three albums between 1975 and 1978. Apart from the title track to No Regrets however, they’re very MOR-country and not worth hearing. Since their final split, Scott Walker went even more leftfield and now releases albums sporadically to great acclaim. He also produced Pulp’s final album, We Love Life in 2001. Scott is a big hero of frontman Jarvis Cocker, and was also famously a big influence on David Bowie, which became ever more apparent during Bowie’s last few albums. A birthday message from Walker to Bowie on his 50th in 1997 even reduced him to tears.

The other two Walkers, John and Gary, released biography The Walker Brothers: No Regrets – Our Story in 2009, in which John seemed philosophical about losing his importance in the group to Scott. In 2000 he set up his own record label and began touring, but he died of liver cancer in 2011. Gary has seemingly disappeared back into obscurity.

Also in the news during the reign of The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore… 7 April saw the UK ask the UN Security Council for authority to use force to stop oil tankers that violate the oil embargo against Rhodesia. The UN did exactly that three days later. And the day after that, the Marquess of Bath, in conjunction with Jimmy Chipperfield, opened Longleat Safari Park at his Longleat House, which was the first drive-through safari park outside of Africa.

UPDATE (25/3/19): It was announced today that Scott Walker has died aged 76. He leaves behind a fascinating life story and a truly innovative body of work.

Written by: Bob Crewe & Bob Gaudio

Producers: Johnny Franz & Ivor Raymonde

Weeks at number 1: 4 (17 March-13 April)

Births:

Politician Andrew Rosindell – 17 March
Footballer Nigel Clough – 19 March
Politician Mark Williams – 24 March 
Athelete Roger Black – 31 March 
Disc jockey Chris Evans – 1 April
Footballer Teddy Sheringham – 2 April 
Footballer Steve Claridge – 10 April 
Singer Lisa Stansfield – 11 April 

Deaths:

Author CS Forester – 2 April
Footballer Barry Burtler – 9 April 
Author Evelyn Waugh – 10 April 

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