No Regrets - the Walker Brothers
Best listened to loud for full effect.
After almost a week of Scott Walker obscurist tracks, my little chillikins have been running up to me saying "Uncle Stylus, Uncle Stylus, how come everyone's going on about Scott Walker just because he's died and no-one ever listened to his records before and we never knew he existed until now? Why are people making such a fuss about him?" And these are fair questions. "Well, he is mainly famous" I say "because he was the lead singer in a group called the Walker Brothers that were big in the sixties". "Oh really?" they reply, "when in the sixties, because we've never heard of them?" "Well" I say again, "in 1965 and 1966 they had six top twenty UK singles including 2 number ones" - "oh so they were British" - "no, actually they weren't, they came from America, but came over here when they hadn't made it there" "oh, now we're confused" they finish peevishly.
And they are quite right to be confused. Looking back, it doesn't add up. Unless you know what was happening in pop music at that time.
In 1964 the American charts had been completely invaded by British groups, nice (and maybe not so nice) white guys who had appropriated America soul and blues music and sold it back to the US as good wholesome pop and rock. Among of the few Americans who were able to ride this storm and keep making hits were Phil Spector and Motown, both of whom had their own particular sound, which the UK beat groups found it hard to emulate: they weren't black or were the funk Brothers as were Motown, and they found it hard to emulate the Spector "Wall of Sound". In 1964, Spector had a massive worldwide hit with his big production number "You've lost that Loving Feeling" by the Righteous Brothers, a great ballad with power rock backing, delivered by a coupe of blue eyed white boys who sounded - let's face it, in those days - black.
Cut to the UK in the sixties, which was until 1967 a country dominated by one legal popular music radio station, BBC's "Light programme" that played pop for young people when they could fit it in between the middle-aged and housewife orientated stuff by the likes of Jimmy Young, Englebert Humperdinck and the racy Tom Jones. In the charts the Beatles and Stones were consequently rubbing shoulders with some distinctly paunchy middle-aged stuff, Val Doonican, Ken Dodd et al. So someone had the bright idea to put this all together: the appeal of a young, (very) good looking white group, who sang with the American soulfulness of the righteous Brothers, backed by big production orchestration and a rock beat, singing slow ballads and weren't too challenging. For a moment then, this worked a treat, they had Beatles-style hoards of teenage girls screaming at their concerts, while the Mums (and even the odd Dad) could hum along to their platters from their arm chairs too.
I have a Walker Brothers Greatest Hits album from the sixties, and I never play it: it's mostly a load of middle of the road crap, salvaged only by Scott's majestic vocals. Nowadays listening to the production is like wading through syrup dressed only in your father's reject underpants. I occasionally listen to "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" to get a quick musical sugar kick but it hardly ever lasts till the end of the song. The album should have been called "Greatest Hots". Soon everyone got wise, the girls grew up, and the housewives went back to their hotpoints or their husbands and the group went their solo ways. Scott, the best looking one also blessed with the best voice, went onto have three massive hit albums of cover songs and be given his own tv show while the others disappeared from view. Hence he moved from being a pop heartthrob, to being the nice young singer that you would let into your home every Saturday night. The Saturday evening slot was such a cosy unchallenging family affair, that hardly anyone noticed that Scott was pushing the musical agenda, introducing songs by the avant garde Belgian (is this an oxymoron?) Jaques Brel and soul and country 'n' western songs. Anyway, we needn't have worried. The worst bit of his career, the bit where he produced his most hackneyed, predictable music was already over with the demise of the Walker Brothers.
But......they did get together again. They reformed in 1975, and, as was the vogue at the time, went progressive and began recording songs that they had written themselves, but the more they did, the less successful they became, losing their old audience, while not attracting a strong enough following amongst more discerning listeners. This is their only chart hit from their second phase, and it's better than anything on their aforementioned "Greatest Hits" album. Just listen to Scott's amazing voice and wonderful vocal, sung with such an intonation of despair and sadness which gives the lie to the words he is singing. Which is what makes it the greatest Walker Brothers recording. It's a heartbreaking line, every time he sings
"I've no regrets
no tears goodbye
Idon't want you back
we'd only cry again
say goodbye again."
And there I am, weeping with the schoolgirls and the housewives. It does it every time. And that's why they were really big for just a moment back in the sixties kiddiwinkies. Sniff.
Oh yeah they weren't brothers. Neither were the Righteous Brothers for that matter.
Oh dear, they're all asleep.