Friday, 3 June 2011
The Walker Brothers
The recent passing of John Walker was so “unannounced” by the media, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was another John Walker, rather than one third of one of the most popular Sixties bands. But then again, The Walkers have been semi-written out of history by numerous people - from one of my relatives who claims they were “never that big”, to the hipsters who namecheck the correct Scott solo albums, but have no idea where it all started. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again - no “Portrait”, no “Scott 4”. No “Nite Flights”, no “Climate Of Hunter”. To commemorate John’s death, in this blog I shall look at the band’s 60’s and 70’s output.
The Early Years
Both Scott Engel and John Maus, as they were then known, had long been involved in music before they formed The Walker Brothers Trio with drummer Al Schneider. They were effectively a beat combo, with John as the lead singer and guitarist, and Scott as bass player. They released their debut single in 1964, “Pretty Girls Everywhere”, a so-so pop song, which gave no indication as to the direction the band would take later on. The b-side, “Doin’ The Jerk”, was a song that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in an Austin Powers movie, and the band even performed the song - playing themselves - in a film called “Beach Ball”, one of the most surreal things you will ever see in your life. By the end of the year, with the single flopping universally, Schneider was replaced by Gary Leeds, and the trio adopted their Walker surnames. Leeds had a good pedigree musically, but had apparently signed a bizarre deal earlier on in his music career, and was thus precluded from recording on any Walkers records, meaning session drummers had to be used on all future Walker Brothers studio recordings.
The “trio” recorded their next 45, “Love Her”, in the USA. It had more of a brooding, Phil Spector-esque sound, with a big orchestral roar that would become the Walkers ‘sound’ throughout the sixties, but the first version taped with John on lead was deemed poor. John himself suggested that Scott’s deeper voice would suit the track better, and although Scott was reluctant to be in the limelight, he agreed to sing the song if it was felt he could provide a better vocal. "The Voice" was discovered, and the Walkers were never the same again. Scott, more or less, became the group’s lead singer, and although it was later claimed John was jealous of this shift in “rank”, he stated he was more interested in the band becoming popular, even if it meant he had to hand the reins over to Scott.
After recording “Love Her”, the band relocated to the UK, whom Gary suggested would “get” the band more than in the US. Upon arrival, “Love Her” started to garner interest, and charted well in the UK. The band decided to stay in Europe, a move that pleased Scott as he was fascinated by European Cinema. The band’s success back in the States remained minimal. By the time the band released their monumental version of “Make It Easy On Yourself” as their next 45, they were superstars - it gave the band a UK Number 1, and the band’s gigs were starting to become manic affairs - John and Scott were often mobbed on stage, and attempts to continue playing as a guitar based 3-piece had to be abandoned almost immediately. The group instead moulded themselves into a vocal duo with a full band backing them, The Quotations, with Gary as second drummer - twenty five years before Adam And The Ants did it!
The band’s debut LP, “Take It Easy With The Walker Brothers”, was issued at the tail end of 65, and charted well. A bit of a patchy affair at times, heavily reliant on covers, it’s image on the front of the three Walkers with their mop tops looking miserably at the camera gave something of a clue as to the morose nature of some of the material they were performing. Although the album did not hit the top spot, the band were by now so popular, their fan club was rivalling that of The Beatles - it seemed that whilst the Fab Four had a lot of admirers who were not obsessive enough to join their fanclub, the Brothers seemed to be worshipped by just about everybody who bought one of their records. There were no "floating" fans. And whilst John and Gary loved the attention, Scott did not. There were stories of the band having to wear crash helmets when arriving for gigs, so they were not injured in the crush, whilst Scott was later reported to have attempted suicide, so horrified by the level of fame the band were gathering.
During 1966, the Walkers began to move into even darker territory. Their masterpiece on 45, a cover of “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”, was a huge hit, but somewhat subversive, being swathed in heartbreak and depression. It was followed by what many regard as their greatest LP, “Portrait”. Another front cover of the boys looking troubled, the choice of songs were indicative of Scott’s state of mind - the title of one of the covers, “In My Room”, tells you all you need to know about how Scott was feeling isolated by fame, the madness of the show business world. And yet, although it was arguably the high point of their career, it also spelled the beginning of the end.
The Break Up
At the tail end of 66, the Walkers issued their second EP. But “Solo John Solo Scott” was, as it’s title suggested, not really a Walkers EP at all. It featured a pair of solo songs by each Brother, with John absent from Scott’s two tunes, and vice versa. It was - although nobody knew at the time - the beginning of the solo careers for both men. Whilst John’s side was quite mainstream, Scott’s songs were an indication of where his solo career would up end - in particular, the self penned kitchen-sink drama of “Mrs Murphy” would have fitted straight onto any of those classic “numbered” solo albums he released from 67 to 69.
During the spring of 67, the Walkers set out on what remains one of the most famous - and baffling - package tours of the decade. They were supported by Cat Stevens, Engelbert Humperdinck, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Quite how this lot ended up sharing the bill is beyond me, but given that they had all had a hit record each, one can only assume they were all seen as being “pop” stars at the time. During the first show of the tour, at the Finsbury Park Astoria, Hendrix famously set his guitar on fire (apparently as he was a bit miffed at the muted reaction he got from the Walkers fan base), and once that had happened, the Walkers performance seemed a bit dull in comparison. It was later reported that some “top brass” asked Hendrix not to do it again - I did read somewhere that the instruction came from the Walkers’ management, who were concerned about their support act blowing them offstage, although Wikipedia claims it was from the Rank Theatre management, whose venues were being used, who were trying to do a “health and safety” job on Hendrix.
The end was now in sight. Just before the tour started, the band had released “Images”, their third LP. So famous were the band before it’s release that it contained their picture, the album title, but not the band name - people could tell not just who Scott was, but Gary and John as well, so the band name appeared only on the spine of the vinyl edition. But some reviews were a bit mediocre, and there was a feeling that the band’s old fashioned crooner act was a bit "last year" - and the Astoria show seemed to confirm it. With relationships between Scott and John strained, the still obsessive fan base troubling Scott, and the feeling that the band were behind the times, Scott decided that the final show of the tour would be the end, and announced to the rest of the group that he was throwing in the towel backstage at the final gig. The rest of the band happily agreed to quit. The final show was at the Tooting Granada on 30th April 1967, and after a rather low-key “farewell” single, “Walking In The Rain”, failed to do much in the charts, the group bowed out with a whimper.
The band did reunite in early 68, for a series of shows in Japan that they had committed to do pre-split. Scott agreed to do them because he “needed the money”, but they still put in their usual classy performances. A Japanese only album, “Walker Brothers In Japan”, was compiled using selected recordings from the shows, and featured a number of songs that the band had never taped in the studio - although they were all cover versions. Gary also got to do one of his solo songs, “Twinkie Lee”, and the album ended with a message from the Walkers to their fans, stating they would see them all again soon. It would be seven years before the Walkers would return.
The GTO Years
During the seventies, all three of the Brothers failed to do much commercially or critically, and at the tail end of 74, all three of them found themselves in contact again, where talk of a reunion took place. All three agreed, and they signed to GTO Records. Following on from the Country Rock vibe of Scott’s 1974 album “We Had It All”, “No Regrets” ploughed a similar path. All of the songs were covers, although John wrote a B-side called “Remember Me” under the pseudonym, “A Dayam”, presumably as some sort of tax dodge. “Remember Me” was issued in on the flip of the title track, released as a single early in 1976.
“No Regrets“, a cover of a Tom Rush number, was a remarkable piece of work. A slow burning epic, with the band reportedly adding overdub after overdub to create a wall of sound during the second half of the song, it did little at first. Radio 1 refused to play it, as the band were dubbed “60’s throwbacks”, but eventually, the world started to realise it’s genius, and it gave the band one of the biggest hits of their career. The Walkers found themselves on TV across Europe, Scott and John with their guitars, looking little like they did in their suited and booted 60’s days. Even the cover of the album was seemingly anti-”Walker”, John and Gary in denim jackets, minus shirts, grinning at the camera, whilst a topless Scott holds his beercan in celebration. In a reasonable throwback to the “I Hate Fame” image of the previous decade, he is at least looking away from the camera, with his hand strategically placed to try and block the camera from seeing him. But otherwise, it looked more like a Rolling Stones album cover than a Walker Brothers one.
But whilst the single was a huge success, the album was not. It sold in OK numbers, but not great ones, and critics were nonplussed by the slightly middle of the road nature of the material. Nevertheless, it was only the beginning (again), and later on in 1976, the band returned with “Lines”, hoping to improve matters. The title track, also issued as a single, was a Jerry Fuller song apparently about drug abuse - the Walkers seemed to be back to their dark selves once more. Scott later claimed it was his favourite ever Walkers recording, but it flopped. The album - all covers but for a single “A Dayam” tune - failed to generate any interest, and even a follow up 45, a brilliant stab at Boz Scaggs' “We’re All Alone”, flopped. When Rita Coolidge had a hit with the same song later the same year (1977) following a stack of radio play, the band claimed there was some sort of conspiracy theory in place, that resulted in radio stations ignoring the group irrelevant of how good their new material was.
By now, the writing was on the wall yet again. GTO were rumoured to be going bust, and Scott and John were arguing once more. Scott felt they had just one more album in them, and decided that this time, they should go out with a bang. He came up with an idea - to try and make a Walker Brothers album that didn’t sound like the Walker Brothers at all. So, he instructed each member of the band to go away and write four songs, and the twelve resultant songs would be used on the next LP. Apart from a rumoured anonymous co-write in 1973, these would be the first songs Scott had written since 1971.
The plan sort of worked - Scott managed five songs, although the fifth one was an unfinished demo called “Tokyo Rimshot”, Gary only managed two. But with ten songs in the can, the band went into the studio to record “Nite Flights”. The result was a bafflingly mixed up album, with Gary’s dirge-like rumbles on “Den Haague” opening side 2, and John’s camp-as-christmas disco romp “Child Of Flames” finishing the album.
The decision was taken to group the songs written by each member together - so whilst John’s quartet closed the album, Scott’s started it. And what a start it was. The four songs Scott wrote were astonishing - from the post punk growl of “Shutout”, to the terrifying horror of “Fat Mama Kick”, and the half ambient throb/half 60’s-esque Walkers string-roar of “The Electrician”, it caused a headache at the record company. They loved Scott’s songs, but were not so keen on the rest. They asked Scott to split the band, and write another four or five “Electrician's". He refused. Partly through loyalty, partly through a desire to release the album that he had originally planned, it did mean that “Nite Flights” was a fascinatingly strange mish mash of an album. Although it is not cool to say so, I have always loved the whole album, not just the Scott songs, and I was always pleased that “Nite Flights” sounded the way it did.
The album flopped. Despite coming in a striking sleeve, and with the lyrics to “Fat Mama Kick” being printed in such a way they look even more frightening in print than they sounded on record, it simply didn’t connect to anyone other than the band’s hardcore fan base. “The Electrican” was released as a single, and failed to chart. The end was nearly over.
Depending on who you ask, the band’s farewell tour was either a poorly attended cabaret style embarrassment, with John and Scott walking off stage after a fight during at least one gig, or was a celebratory finale. Depending on who you ask, the band either played no “Nite Flights” material as it was too difficult to re-create on stage, or slipped a few numbers into an otherwise greatest hits show. By the end of 1978, they had split for the final time. GTO didn’t go bust, but got bought out by CBS, and thus survived until 1981. In the same year, they finally got their wish to plug “Nite Flights“ as a ‘Scott Solo‘ record - they issued the “Walker Brothers EP”, which featured the four Scott penned songs off “Nite Flights” and nothing else.
The Aftermath and The Reissues
During 1979, musicians started to line up to name check “Nite Flights” as one of their favourite albums of the year. David Bowie led the queue. A couple of years later, Ultravox “borrowed” ideas from “The Electrician” for “Vienna”. Scott and The Walkers started to get cited as an influence by everybody, and although the cool kids always claimed they preferred “Scott 4” over “Portrait”, the popularity of the band never went away - a 1992 “Best Of” stormed into the top 3.
It wasn’t the first Walkers’ best of - indeed, there had been plenty of them during the sixties and beyond. The first one of major interest was 1975’s “Greatest Hits”, which included “Doin’ The Jerk” and it’s accompanying A-side, “Pretty Girls Everywhere”. Earlier sets had included some of the “non album” single material, but the rarity of the debut single made this collection extra special.
In 1998, the band’s three studio albums from the 60’s were reissued, with stray A-sides, B-sides and EP tracks added as bonuses (with the exception of the “Pretty Girls Everywhere” 45). “Take It Easy” added the a-sides “Love Her” and “My Ship Is Coming In”, plus the b-sides “Seventh Dawn” (from “Love Her”) and “But I Do” (from “Make It Easy On Yourself”). All four tracks from the band’s first EP, “I Need You”, finished the set.
“Portrait” adds both sides of the four stand alone singles the group issued in 66 - “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”, “Baby You Don’t Have To Tell Me”, “Another Tear Falls” and “Deadlier Than The Male”. All four songs from the “Solo John Solo Scott” EP finished the set off. “Images” added both sides of the “Stay With Me Baby” and “Walking In The Rain” non-album 45’s.
In 2001, Columbia issued the “If You Could Hear Me Now” CD. A sort of “GTO Years” best of, the set was padded out with seven previously unheard tracks from sessions from all three of the GTO LP’s. 2005’s Scott collection “Classics & Collectables” threw in some Walkers tunes, including a previously unissued alternate mix of “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”.
2006’s “Everything Under The Sun” is - nearly - the last word. Including all six studio albums, the EP’s and all the A and B-sides (including “Remember Me”), it also throws in the seven “new” songs from “If You Could Hear Me Now”, sequenced alongside the relevant albums from which the outtakes date (as opposed to being shoved at the end). The alternate mix of “The Sun” appears again, along with 12 other previously unissued songs/mixes. However, it is not quite everything (under the sun). Not only is the “In Japan” material missing, but so is a 1967 rarity called “Don’t Fight It”, which surfaced on a US only compilation LP at the time called “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore Baby, You Don’t Have To Tell Me” on Smash Records.
And aside from a few more greatest hits, and a mixture of reissue singles, that’s pretty much it. Sheer genius. RIP John.
Depending on how you look at it, the Walkers discography is either very simple - or bafflingly never ending. This is the simple version: six studio LP’s, a Japanese live album, and a load of singles/EP's containing a stack of exclusive tracks. After the band split for the second time, both their former labels issued a single each using an A-side never before issued as an A-side in the past. Get the 2006 box set, and you will get everything (bar “Don’t Fight It”) that the band taped in the studio.
Then there is the more complex version. Greatest Hits albums with songs missing, a 1990 "alternate" best of, reissues of old singles in different packaging, the amount of Walkers releases that exist is quite substantial for a band who only issued six studio albums.
I have listed below a sizeable chunk of the band’s UK releases, although only selected “Best Of” collections are shown. Many of the band’s A and B sides had surfaced on these before the expanded reissues of the three Philips albums in 1998, and I have detailed which tracks turned up on which collection. They are - I think - in release date order, so you can sort of see how each album was released to try and “fill the gaps”.
Unless stated, all releases are UK pressings. The singles that were re-issued after the band’s first split in 68 (using A-sides that had already been A-sides in a former life) are listed separately, but may not be a complete list. Also listed are details of the two Cassette EP’s the band issued at the end of the 60’s (or thereabouts).
ORIGINAL STUDIO/LIVE VINYL ALBUMS
Take It Easy With The Walker Brothers (Mono LP, Philips BL 7691)
Portrait (Mono LP, Philips BL 7732, includes free art print)
Images (Mono LP, Philips BL 7770)
In Japan (Japanese 2xLP, Philips SFL 9046/7)
No Regrets (LP, GTO GTLP 007)
Lines (LP, GTO GTLP 014, includes free art print)
Nite Flights (LP, GTO GTLP 033, gatefold sleeve)
ORIGINAL UK 7” SINGLES
Pretty Girls Everywhere/Doin’ The Jerk (Philips BF 1401)
Love Her/The Seventh Dawn (Philips BF 1409)
Make It Easy On Yourself/But I Do (Philips BF 1428)
My Ship Is Coming In/You’re All Around Me (Philips BF 1454)
The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore/After The Lights Go Out (Philips BF 1473)
The Big Four EP: My Ship Is Coming In +3 (Philips “Various Artists” EP, BE 12593, p/s)
I Need You EP: Looking For Me/Young Man Cried/Everythings’s Gonna Be All Right/I Need You (Philips BE 12596, p/s)
Baby You Don’t Have To Tell Me/My Love Is Growing (Philips BF 1497)
Another Tear Falls/Saddest Night In The World (Philips BF 1514)
Deadlier Than The Male/Archangel (Philips BF 1537)
Solo John Solo Scott EP: Sunny/Come Rain Or Come Shine/The Gentle Rain/Mrs Murphy (Philips BE 12597, p/s)
Stay With Me Baby/Turn Out The Moon (Philips BF 1548)
Walking In The Rain/Baby Make It The Last Time (Philips BF 1576)
No Regrets/Remember Me (GTO GT 42)
Lines/First Day (GTO GT 67)
We’re All Alone/Have You Seen My Baby (GTO GT 78)
The Electrician/Den Haague (GTO GT 230, p/s)
The Walker Brothers EP: Shutout/The Electrician/Nite Flights/Fat Mama Kick (GTO GT 295, p/s)
First Love Never Dies/The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore (Philips IPS 001, p/s)
Hits Of The Walker Brothers (Philips MCP 1002, plays “Another Tear Falls“, “Summertime“, “The Sun Ain‘t Gonna Shine Anymore“, “Make It Easy On Yourself“)
Hits Of The Walker Brothers And Dusty Springfield (Philips MCP 1004, 2 tracks by Walkers, 2 by Dusty)
SELECTED REISSUE/COMPILATION ALBUMS ON VINYL AND CD
The Fabulous Walker Brothers (1967, LP, Wing WL1188, includes the entire “Solo John Solo Scott” EP, all of the “I Need You“ EP except the title track, “Deadlier Than The Male” and “After The Lights Go Out”)
The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore Baby, You Don’t Have To Tell Me (1967, US LP, Smash MGS 27082, Stereo version also available [SRS 67082], includes “Don‘t Fight It“)
The Immortal Walker Brothers (1968, LP, Contour 6870 564)
The Walker Brothers Story (1968, 2xLP, Philips 6640 001, includes “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”, “I Need You”, “My Ship Is Coming In”, “Archangel”, and “Stay With Me Baby”, gatefold sleeve, labels show different catalogue number DBL 002)
Greatest Hits (1975, 2xLP, Philips 6640 009, includes “Doin’ The Jerk”, “Pretty Girls Everywhere”, “Love Her”, “The Seventh Dawn”, “Baby You Don’t Have To Tell Me”, “Another Tear Falls” and “Walking In The Rain”, gatefold sleeve)
Hits (1982, LP, Philips PRICE 37)
In Japan (1987, 2xLP, Bam Caruso AIDA 076. Different sleeve to original LP. Bootleg CD copies exist, original later reissued on CD in Japan only in 2007)
The Walker Brothers Greatest Hits (1988, CD, Duchesse CD 352025. Expanded reissue of “Hits” using same picture sleeve)
After The Lights Go Out (1990, CD, Fontana 842 831-2, includes “Saddest Night In The World”, band interviews and first time on CD for numerous recordings)
No Regrets (1992, CD, Fontana 510 831-2)
The Walker Brothers Collection (1996, CD, Spectrum 550 200-2)
Collection (1997, CD, Spectrum, 554 151 2)
Take It Easy With The Walker Brothers (1998, CD, Mercury 558 179-2, expanded edition)
Portrait (1998, CD, Mercury 558 180-2, expanded edition)
Images (1998, CD, Mercury 558 181-2, expanded edition)
The Singles + (2001, Dutch 2xCD, BR Music BS 8122-2, includes all of the A-sides from 64 to 78, plus selected EP and solo songs)
If You Could Hear Me Now (2001, CD, Columbia COL 503302 2)
In 5 Easy Pieces (2003, 5xCD Scott Walker Box Set, Universal 981 044-2. Includes several Walkers tracks. Early copies were mispressed, with disc 3 featuring music coming out of one speaker only, this disc includes therefore a unique mix of “Lines”)
Classics & Collectables (2005, Scott Walker CD, Mercury 9828473, includes several Walkers tracks qith alternate mix of “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”)
Everything Under The Sun (2006, 5xCD Box Set, Mercury 9839844, includes all UK studio recordings and bonus tracks)
The Best Of (2006, CD, Universal 9839598)
3 Original Album Classics (2010, 3xCD Box Set, Columbia 88697 62589 2, includes reissues of the three GTO albums)
NOTABLE REISSUE SINGLES 1971-2011
Love Her/The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore/Make It Easy On Yourself (1971, 7”, Philips 6051 017)
The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore/Make It Easy On Yourself/Stay With Me Baby (1976, 7”, Philips 6160 050)
The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore/My Ship Is Coming In (1985, 7”, Old Gold OG 9474)
No Regrets/We’re All Alone (1985, 7”, Old Gold OG 9557)
Make It Easy On Yourself/First Love Never Dies (1988, 7”, Old Gold OG 9779)
The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore/First Love Never Dies/Jackie/Joanna (1991, CD, Fontana WALKC1, p/s. Last two tracks are Scott solo, other formats available with less B-sides)
No Regrets/Boy Child/Montague Terrace In Blue (1992, CD, Fontana WALKC2, p/s. Last two tracks are Scott solo, other formats available with only “Boy Child” on b-side)
The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore/After The Lights Go Out/Make It Easy On Yourself/Baby You Don’t Have To Tell Me (2006, CD, Philips 9836919, p/s. 7” in Philips bag also released with mono version of A-side, and “After The Lights Go Out” on B-side)