The Infinite Jukebox: three by The Walker Brothers

The Infinite Jukebox is well aware that a lot of Sixties love songs sound a little dodgy in the more egalitarian world of the Twenty-First Century. Sixties pop is very chauvinist in many respects, not least the idea that everything revolves around how the man treats the woman. As long as he ‘treats her right’, i.e., doesn’t lie, cheat, hit her, takes her out to nice places and pays for her, she’s his, and she has no excuse for not loving him.
What the woman might feel in such a situation, is really not the issue. As long as he’s treating her right, she’s got no excuse for not loving him.
Three very big exceptions to this ‘rule’ happened one year for The Walker Brothers. The year was 1965/6 and it was to be their Wunderjahr. There were minor hits before and after, in Britain, which took them to its heart in the way their homeland didn’t, but in this year they scored two Number Ones with a Number Two between them, and each of these songs were classics, perfect examples of how ‘manufactured pop’ can also be high art.
The first of these was ‘Make it easy on yourself’. The song’s by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, the melody’s wide and gorgeous, a soaring orchestra above a simple, easy-paced, initially piano-based rhythm, a chorus backed by a wordless choir. It’s smooth, it’s sweeping, it’s an echo of the Phil Spector Wall of Sound and it creates an atmosphere of drama, as John Walker (John Maus in real life: the Walkers were neither Brothers nor named Walker) raises his clear tenor across the sound to create three minutes of magic.
He loves the girl. She used to love him, but that’s not the case any more: there’s someone else. We know nothing about this other guy, who he is, what he’s done to win her love, but it doesn’t matter. He still loves her, loves her so much that her happiness is the only thing he will take into account. If you really love him, he says, and there’s nothing I can do, don’t try to spare my feelings, just tell me that we’re through.
Because he still loves her, but it’s her feelings that matter most. It’s her happiness that is important, above everything. And if she does love this guy more than him, then it’s simple: go to him. Breaking up is a shitty thing for both of them, but he is determined to shoulder as much of the pain as he can, so that she is not hurt.
Once again, and in words that are a self-lacerating confession no lover ever wants to make, even to themselves, he addresses the heart of things. If the way I hold you can’t compare to his bliss, no words of consolation will make me miss you less.
He tells her to run to the other guy, run and don’t look back, because as soon as she’s gone, he’s going to break, but there’s no reason she should be made to break too. He will take it all upon himself, in a moment of pure self-sacrifice, and self-abnegation that is almost spiritual.
Make it easy on yourself, he pleads. He doesn’t want her to see him crying, now out of some stupid issue of machismo, but because he doesn’t want it to make her cry as well.
And the music soars and swells and shapes itself around the titanic sound of the Walkers’ voices, fading away into the oblivion the singer has assumed for himself, all for the love of another.
‘My Ship Is Comin’ In’ was another matter. It’s the same mid-paced ballad, the piano leading in, the orchestra, more distinctly divided between horns and strings, surrounding the singers, but this time it’s Scott Engels’ richer, deeper voice pulling the story along. From the very first, it’s to and of his girl that he sings, his first words to say how good she’s been to him. It’s a song, a testament of faith and gratitude and love.
He hasn’t treated her right. No, he hasn’t lied, cheated, hit her, anything like that. But he’s never been able to do for her the things he wanted, give her the things he believes that she deserves. There have been bad times for him, nothing but bad times, struggles and wants and deprivations. He’s had nothing to give her but himself and her love and she’s stayed by his side, because that’s what she wants of him: his love.
But from now on, it’ll all changes. The things he’s been working towards, the battles he’s fought, to live, to thrive, to change that bad fortune, they’re coming good. It’s going to happen. His ship is coming in, like they used to in the merchant days, and it’s loaded with good things, and he’s going to be loaded. His dreams are coming true.
And what matters most to him about all this? Not his own riches, not the freedom and liberty it gives him, but what it means for her. Her faithfulness, her loyalty all these years, and at long last he can treat her as he believes she should be treated. At long last he can fill her life with wonderful things, he can give her good times as she’s never had, and that means more to him than anything he will gain for himself.
Perhaps there’s an air of relief about it, perhaps some pride is tangled up in this, relief from the shame of not being ale to give his girl what other men could, though she’s never showed any signs of resenting him for it. But in the end, what he sings of is his love, and that she is what gives his fortune, his fast-approaching ship any true meaning.
And then there was ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’. Last and greatest of these three songs, this song takes hold of love from a similar angle to ‘Make It Easy On Yourself’, but from further on. She’s gone now, gone to him, to indifference, perhaps to death, maybe she never ever loved him and all he did was look from afar, it really doesn’t matter. She’s gone, but love remains. And he remains.
Once again, it’s Scott who sings, and it really couldn’t be anyone else. Though this is a Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio song, a Frankie Valli solo, it can only be Scott Walker, with that simultaneous richness and deepness in his tones that can conduct into this place, this land where those who love and who have lost can only exist, in darkness, of the eyes, of the heart, of the soul.
Loneliness, Scott sings, is a cloak you wear. A deep shade of blue is always there. The song has started on a strong, almost marching rhythm, a beating drum, a shaken tambourine, a prominent, melodic bass. Horns accompany that near-martial intro, but it’s almost a shock to realise that in this big, overpowering sound, the instrumentation is so sparse, only the percussion supporting Scott’s voice, alone in a big space.
There’s a drift of sound, distant strings, and then the horns play out a melody over that simple lament, all the more powerful for being such a plain statement of fact. The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore. The moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky. The tears are always cloudin’ your eyes, when you’re without love.
It isn’t even a complaint. It’s what it is, it’s knowledge, true knowledge, and it can’t be unlearned. From here, in the midst of this empty land, a very long way from anywhere else, there is nothing but to be. Nothing to lose, but no more to win.
That love may return, may be found with someone else, that the sun might indeed shine again are thoughts that have no place, as Scott and John’s voices come together, sharing pain, alternating, moving ever deeper inwards in this place of no light.
Love is a strange and powerful thing, and it’s a dangerous creature in the wrong hands. In the year of their glory, The Walker Brothers explored corners of it that many chose not to approach. These songs always play in sequence on the Infinite Jukebox.

Make It Easy On Yourself

My Ship Is Coming In

The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore


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