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Apr 05

THE WALKER BROTHERS – “Make It Easy On Yourself”

Popular23 comments • 2,847 views

#203, 25th September 1965

Phil Spector’s great insight was that the massive orchestrations of early 50s pop would compliment the teenage agonies of late 50s pop. Like most really good ideas it proved infectious, and so it was that a new hearthrob group like the Walker Brothers found their singles given the full shock and awe treatment by ersatz Spectors.

Did it suit Scott Walker? Yes, luckily. As a singer Scott’s plumminess plays well off grand arrangements. Set him in a more folksy setting and it can be deliciously strange, but my favourite songs by him are still his shabby 60s solo epics: fantasias of crumpled velvet, always beautifully and heavily arranged.

So the singer was right for the arrangement, but the song I’m less sure about. Scott tries to sing it noble, and I almost believe a man could be this generous about being jilted, but at heart “Make It Easy” is a bitter song and when bitter tries to sound big it usually ends up just seeming more pathetic. Plus for me this arrangement holds back a little – the strings on the verses are a bit too smooth, the drums don’t punch like they might. Scott ends up not sounding that bothered that she’s leaving – which may be the point, perhaps “Make It Easy On Yourself” works best as an extended “I just want what’s best for you” kiss-off.

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Comments

  1. 1
    wwolfe on 6 Apr 2005 #

    Some artists just don’t seem to make the leap across the pond. As I recall, neither the Byrds nor the Mamas and the Papas made much of an impression in England, while Scott Walker, with or without his “brothers,” never connected with the mass American audience.

    For me, Scott’s singing always makes me think of Engelbert Humperdinck. The material here is better than anything the Hump ever sang, but the essential smarminess of both singers marks them as equals, more or less, to my ears.
    In a way, Scott’s pretentiousness makes him the more irritating of the two: Englebert never fooled himself into thinking he was anything more than a lounge singer out to make money; Scott actually seemed to believe he was some kind of tortured artiste.

  2. 2
    Tom May on 6 Apr 2005 #

    Wasn’t he? Have you listened to “Scott 3”, “The Electrician” &c.?

    I’d probably give this #1 a 7, but appreciate the reasoning. It certainly doesn’t represent the integrated whole of the Franz-Stott productions (on “Plastic Palace People”, “Boy Child” and the sublime entirety of “Scott 3”), or indeed “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”.

  3. 3
    wwolfe on 7 Apr 2005 #

    I don’t know if he was the genuine article, or if it was all a pose. The problem for me as far as enjoying his work is that tortured artistes as a class just don’t appeal to me.

    If Scott was truly sincere, then the most unusual thing about him might be that he chose to express the emotions of a tortured soul in the smooth tones of a Vegas singer, rather than opting for the post-Dylan, “I yowl, therefore I am” approach.

  4. 4
    Tom on 7 Apr 2005 #

    I think the genuine/poser question, turned inwards, is part of what made him ‘tortured’.

  5. 5
    Anonymous on 7 Apr 2005 #

    Somebody mentioned that ” Satisfaction” would be a hard act to follow….I agreed but really I mean , I’ve never even heard of this guy ! From the sublime to the innocuous.
    It’s only Rock ‘n’ Roll but I like it !

  6. 6
    Anonymous on 7 Apr 2005 #

    I don’t think I fully appreciated this one when it came out. As a Californian, I’d seen the Walker Brothers local television when they were an L.A. band. I wasn’t too impressed. The next thing anyone knew, they were a big deal in the UK–virtually British, at that. I think I must have been still trying to sort this out when this recording came out, because it was so unlike anything the Walkers did in L.A.

    Nowadays, I would probably give it a “7” myself. I don’t think the song is the problem; rather, the arrangement is spectacularly Bacharach-ish (as befits a song by that composer), the whole thing ends with something more than a whimper but much less than a bang. Sitting here now with the headphones on, the last “so hard to do” is much less emphatic than I remembered it. The harmonies on the last “do” soften the impact too much (what Tom calls the “kiss off”?), and make a bit of an anti-climax after the pause and the drumroll. A stronger ending if sung by Scott alone– another voice going for that not-quite-ethereal ascending note erases the pain that would (and should) be there, giving it a glitz that obviates the lyrics.
    The liner notes to the CD I have (The British Invasion: The History of British Rock, vol. 6 [Rhino compilation, 1991]) says the WBs learned the song from a Dionne Warwick album; strange, as Jerry Butler had a notable US hit with hit it only a couple of years before. Scott is surely more tormented than Dionne, but falls short of Jerry.

    Doctor Mod

  7. 7
    Anonymous on 7 Apr 2005 #

    Postscript:
    This is not an easy song to sing by any means, even though the WBs make it sound as if it is. It’s not Engelbert material by a long shot. I’d hate to think what a hash EB would have made of it.

    Doctor Mod

  8. 8
    Lena on 5 Nov 2006 #

    I heard the Jerry Butler original not long ago – still haven’t heard this version – and yes it is a tough song to sing, unless you are a great singer…which they both are (haven’t heard the DW version yet)…

  9. 9
    wichita lineman on 9 Sep 2008 #

    I always thought this was an odd number one – the Jack Nitzsche-produced Love Her preceded it and stalled at no.20 with very similar subject matter but featured a heart-in-mouth bass-and-vocal breakdown that made the performance absolutely believable. And the two singles which followed – My Ship Is Coming In and The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore – stomp all over it.

    Part of the problem is the slightly off-the-shelf arrangement which could just as easily have been intended for Cilla. I’m guessing it was force of personality as much as the vocals that pushed it to the top, bronzed sun gods arriving from CA in a drizzly English autumn.

    The song, on the other hand, I’ve always thought of as one of pop’s bravest and most romantic, so beautifully selfless. It may be harder to take the wilted Scott at face value, but there’s no such problem with Jerry Butler’s softer but way more intense version. Butler is a true stoic, a man not known for easy tears, from whom “run to him before you start crying too” is a line delivered by a man barely keeping it together.

  10. 10
    enitharmon on 9 May 2011 #

    The sun ain’t gonna shine any more for John Maus, aka John Walker. He had liver cancer, which wouldn’t make it very easy on himself.

  11. 11
    Mark G on 9 May 2011 #

    tsk.

  12. 12
    Billy Smart on 3 Dec 2011 #

    TOTPWatch: The Walker Brothers performed ‘Make It Easy On Yourself’ on Top Of The Pops on four occasions;

    12 August 1965. Also in the studio that week were; Horst Jankowski, Sonny & Cher, Jonathan King and The Byrds, plus The Go Jo’s interpretation of ‘Zorba’s Dance’. Pete Murray was the host.

    26 August 1965. Also in the studio that week were; Chubby Checker, The Hollies and The Honeycombs. Alan Freeman was the host.

    2 September 1965. Also in the studio that week were; Cliff Richard & The Shadows, Donovan, Sonny and The Sorrows. David Jacobs was the host.

    25 December 1965. Also in the studio that Christmas were; Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames, Jackie Trent, The Hollies, The Kinks, The Walker Brothers and Unit 4 + 2. Jimmy Savile, Alan Freeman, Pete Murray and David Jacobs were the hosts.

    None of these episodes survive.

  13. 13
    lonepilgrim on 6 Mar 2012 #

    meanwhile, over in the US, this was number 1:
    http://nohardchords.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/144-barry-mcguire-eve-of-destruction/

  14. 14
    Mutley on 6 Mar 2012 #

    Re 13, for the sake of balance and impartiality, you can’t watch Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” without watching The Spokesmen’s “The Dawn of Correction”, a direct response to Barry. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LHBZ5StOiE

  15. 15
    wichita lineman on 6 Mar 2012 #

    The Dawn Of Correction was one of a few anti-longhair 45s at that time. Jan & Dean’s Universal Coward – a response to Donovan’s Universal Soldier – takes the cake.

  16. 16
    Mutley on 6 Mar 2012 #

    Although Jan and Dean kept their options open by also recording Eve of Destruction.

  17. 17
    Cumbrian on 6 Mar 2012 #

    Wasn’t Universal Soldier a Buffy St Marie song with a Donovan cover(and Glen Campbell too – the version my Dad played at/too me when I was a kid)?

  18. 18
    Erithian on 7 Mar 2012 #

    Then there was “An Open Letter to My Teenage Son” by Victor Lundberg, a newscaster at a Michigan radio station and thus possibly the Rush Limbaugh of his day (if only locally). His record became a local hit and then was released nationally, making no. 10 in the Billboard hot 100 in December 1967.
    I’d only heard it once, many years ago, but the payoff stayed with me: “Your mother will love you no matter what you do, because she is a woman. And I love you too, son. But I also love our country and the principles for which we stand. So if you decide to burn your draft card, then burn your birth certificate at the same time. From that moment on I have no son.”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBU6GkseD1w

  19. 19
    wichita lineman on 7 Mar 2012 #

    Re 16: Ha! Good spot. They were certainly happy to record other PF Sloan songs, and did a pretty good job of them.

    Re 17: Yes of course it was, sorry. The first version I knew was Donovan’s, on the K-Tel 24 Golden Greats Of The Sixties comp. I like Glen Campbell’s best too – didn’t seem to tally with his political views, mid you.

    Re 18: I’ve never heard it, but heard of it (including that “I have no son” payoff) through Tom Hibbert’s Rare Records book.

    Somehow the sentiments are creepier coming from someone of draft age, like Jan & Dean. Dawn Of Correction was written by Madara and White who also wrote It’s My Party! Sweet Home Alabama has always made me queasy for similar reasons – it isn’t exactly rejecting the jibes of Southern Man is it?

  20. 20
    Mark G on 8 Mar 2012 #

    Yes, I have heard it. It’s truly scary as he sounds completely reasonable all the way through, but when he mentions loving his country, the ‘patriotic’ howling comes loudly in, and the denoument is truly shocking.

  21. 21
    hectorthebat on 17 Apr 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    Mojo (UK) – The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (2000) 81
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – The Top 150 Songs from the 20th Century (1998) 89
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  22. 22
    lonepilgrim on 26 Jul 2015 #

    it’s a strong tune but for me Scott isn’t convincing at selling the message. He doesn’t sound invested enough to be sincere nor does his performance suggest that he is trying to let her down gently by putting on an act.

  23. 23
    Paulito on 27 Jul 2015 #

    I think Scott’s slightly wooden delivery arises from the fact that the narrator is – or is trying to be – an old-fashioned chivalrous chap who maintains a stiff upper lip for the sake of the girl who’s ending their relationship (btw surely he’s telling HER not to let HIM down gently?). As such, it wouldn’t work if he sang too emotively – although he hits a couple of politely anguished notes which, to my ears, make him sound sufficiently like he means it (man).

    However, I do understanding what you’re saying. Scott’s performance here just isn’t quite arresting enough to lift this recording (even though I’m very fond of it) into the realms of the all-time greats. Certainly it doesn’t compare to his masterly study of resigned desolation in ‘No Regrets’, or even his moody dynamics in ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’. Still, if partly for sentimental reasons, it gets an 8 from me.

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