Friday, April 18, 2014

New Nordic Americana

For some reason I don't seem to be able (or willing?) to follow current music anymore but I certainly wouldn't miss the release of Ochre Room's second album Box, Bar & Diamond. I saw the band live for the first time last September (Small Houses was also performing) and was immediately very impressed. Ochre Room represents americana, and folk rock, and there is also a clear presence of northern melancholy. The band hails from Tampere, Finland, my very home town, which of course adds to the band's significance.

There is actually even more to Tampere folk rock than Ochre Room. Another group Hi-Lo & In Between, that has been mentioned in this blog before, has already released three full albums. Named after an album by Townes Van Zandt, they follow a path fairly similar to Ochre Room. Their latest album came out in 2011.

Even while I don't consider myself a major consumer of americana music at this point, I highly appreciate the efforts of these bands. I enjoy seeing them live and overall hearing the music.

Check out a wonderful song called Other Side of the Town from Ochre Room's new album, and why not other stuff too.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Story of a Memphis Band

It was shown on TV and it also became available via the Internet, so I finally got round to watching a documentary about the makers of some of the best music ever. This full-length documentary was called Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.

The documentary was technically well constructed and there were lots of very good pictures and even some video from the recording sessions. Still, I wonder if the availability of visual material affected the way the documentary was balanced. To me, It seemed like the focus was very strongly on a more general view of the circumstances around Big Star such as the Memphis music scene and record companies in the early 1970s. A fan like me would have liked to hear more stories about the music itself, making of it and the personalities behind it. At times it felt like Big Star played a supporting role in the film.

Many important people appear in the film, and the material as a whole is impressive. I particularly enjoyed hearing about Alex Chilton's career after Big Star. Also some thoughts and feelings behind the creation of Chilton and Chris Bell's music were depicted nicely. However, I occasionally found the narrative and rhythm of the documentary diffuse making it difficult to determine the cause and effect of things.

There is always the question of what kinds of issues a music documentary should cover and which audience it is aimed at. Perhaps this particular documentary was mostly intended for those without much prior experience of Big Star. In that case a more general view of the background and surroundings of the main topic may be quite justifiable. In any case, different people are interested in different things and it is difficult to serve everybody.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Look at the Hollies

I seem to be getting more and more excited about the Hollies. Therefore I decided to watch a DVD called Look Through Any Window 1963–1975. I got this DVD years ago but noticed that I never actually watched it from beginning to end with all the interviews and stuff. This is part of the British Invasion series, although this one wasn't shown on TV at least in Finland.

The DVD is a nice cross-section of the Hollies style and TV live performances from the early days of channeling the Everly Brothers to their last major hits such as Long Cool Woman and The Air That I Breathe in the 70s. Some of the most interesting footage includes Clarke, Hicks and Nash doing three-part harmonies in the studio, apparently captured by George Martin's film crew.

Clarke, Hicks, Nash and Elliott give wonderful interviews in which they describe the joy, creativity and innovativeness of the Hollies, and how fantastic songs they wrote and realized in the studio and live. The self-praise is clearly justified. The Hollies wrote songs for instance about people they met (Stop Stop Stop), women they adored (Carrie Anne), and sometimes beautiful words would just magically appear out of nowhere (Wings). In the arrangement section the Hollies were always trying to come up with something different, otherwise they would have gotten bored. The guys didn't even regard material such as King Midas in Reverse as “pop” which reflects the ambition of pushing the boundaries of their music.

The guys also give a rather positive impression on Nash's sad departure from the band in late 1968 and how the change after all turned out for the best for everybody. Nash found his place among Crosby, Stills & Nash and the Hollies continued their streak of hits (including no less than the overwhelming beauty of He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother, 1969) with Terry Sylvester replacing Nash.

All in all, a very nice DVD, even though many of the songs aren't actually played live. The guys do look like they are having fun (even though the following video is of more serious character).

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Staying with the Hollies

My fondness for the Hollies seems to develop in stages. I started by listening to a greatest hits collection many years ago and later moved on to some whole albums. The current situation involves a rather comprehensive view of the Hollies' early years.

It wasn't quite yesterday but when I heard about a new Hollies box set Clarke, Hicks & Nash Years (The Complete Hollies April 1963 - October 1968) I just had to get it. The box contains probably every song recorded during this time period, also conveniently including rarities released throughout the years on different compilations. Despite being very compact the box set includes nearly 160 songs and there are not all that many misses. I have been listening to this set for months and there are still lots of songs that deserve more attention.

The Beatles were the first through the door and they opened up the door for us and every other band to run through” (Graham Nash in an interview for the box set)

There is no big mystery behind the Hollies concept. Like many others, Clarke, Hicks and Nash had done their homework on American rock & roll and soon they were “selling [the music] back to the Americans as the British invasion”. The Hollies wrote many of their hit singles and stood out from the rest with their merrily sounding unique three-part harmony. The presence of the happiest vocal trio of all time often added with Allan Clarke's lead vocals makes for something really special. And as we know, the Hollies were also very skilled musicians in other areas than singing.

There is a very strong r & b presence especially in the earlier material. Little by little the blues seems to subside giving room to other kinds of nuances, including experimentations on different arrangements and orchestrations, and psychedelia. In any case the songwriting trio was amazingly prolific right from the start, even though “there was never any time put aside purely to write songs” as Nash states in the same interview. That is just incredible.

Most often I find myself listening to the first couple of CD's because they are generally the most energetic ones, radiating both primitive energy and good cheer. Moving on to the other CD's, there are always surprises and many interesting things to hear, and music on Stay with the Hollies (1964) is definitely different from the music on Butterfly (1967). This kind of a complete chronological set is great exactly because you can notice the overall high quality of the work: the Hollies weren't just a singles band but put a lot of effort to all of their songs. There must be a reason to why record companies don't release similar complete sets from all bands!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Comeback of Folk Rock

A few years ago I got so fond of the Association that I still get a warm feeling just by thinking about the group's music. Even though I wasn't then swept away by much any other folk rock group, familiarizing myself with another California music entity has recently created a fairly similar experience.

The Grass Roots (also referred to as the Grassroots) were originally a title that songwriters P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri used while hoping to score folk rock hits. After a couple of albums Sloan moved on to other projects while Barri stayed. From the early days to the latest performances a few years ago, including the Happy Together tour, the Grass Roots have undergone so many personnel changes that I am not even going to try to make sense of it all. Sufficed to say, the popular early member Rob Grill still performed with the band's latest incarnation but unfortunately died in 2011.

I have mostly been focusing on the earlier material on the 1960s albums, although moving to the 1970s and to a more blue-eyed soul style the Grass Roots surely sounded great as well. Released already in 1968, a real white soul classic Midnight Confessions was the band's biggest hit by far. I think the song is so catchy that I still tend to listen to it at least twice in a row. If I wasn't so lazy I would also definitely practice the horn parts on my alto sax!

So, what is it that makes the Grass Roots so awesome? There are obviously fantastic jangly, sometimes psychedelic folk rock sounds. Also, it probably comes as no surprise that I very much enjoy P.F. Sloan's vocal renditions of I've Got No More to Say, Lollipop Train (You Never Had It so Good), and Only When You're Lonely.

Actually, I had pretty much no idea who P.F. Sloan was until I heard a great song called P.F. Sloan performed by the Association a few years ago. By now I have certainly become aware of Sloan being responsible for a multitude of 1960s classic songs performed by my favorites such as Herman's Hermits, The Searchers and The Mamas & the Papas.

When I first heard Let's Live for Today I thought it was the greatest song I had heard in quite some time. Then I found out that it had already been performed before by another band with different lyrics. The main chorus melody was even originally plagiarized from the Drifters! With all this said, the Grass Roots version is still fantastic, and really dramatic. At first it sounds like a very classy carpe diem song, but towards the end there is kind of a fascinating manic twist.

The Grass Roots represent so many of the greatest aspects of 1960s pop. Just listen to Wake up, Wake up and notice the awesome acoustic guitar, jumping harpsichord, melancholic yet hopeful mood, encouraging lyrics, soul-soothing vocal harmonies and a punchy chorus. Much the same can be said about Here's Where You Belong. Another huge favorite is Melody for You, which was written by Sloan (the other two by Sloan & Barri).

For a while ago there was a time when I couldn't stop listening to the Grass Roots. But that is what happens with this kind of music.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tampere Beatles Happening 2014

I must be getting old because I considered for a second not going to Tampere Beatles Happening 2014. However, the second the first band of the Beatlemania show began to play I was so moved by hearing wonderfully melodic 60s music that I knew I had come to the right place. It was time to listen to some of the coolest Beatles and 60s tribute bands.

The first group were the Brothers from Germany. They performed Beatles numbers with both original and new arrangements with absolute skill and dedication. Their strength was in a balanced sound and the most beautiful vocal harmonies and a cappella. The Brothers also apparently have released original music. I think I may check it out.

Jay Goeppner was the most energetic performer of the evening. He was accompanied by the domestic Urban Crow who you might call the host band of the festival. Goeppner attracted most of the attention for being such a happy, brightly American who moves around a lot and shares good spirit to everyone. Focusing on John Lennon songs, Goeppner performed anything from early Beatles numbers to Lennon's most intensive solo material.

The most innovative performance was given by (perhaps the slightly unfortunately named) Russian Puttin' on the Beatles Style who played a really fast-paced set of three-accordion instrumental versions of Beatles songs accompanied by traditional rock band instruments. The virtuosity was amazing. It was easy to recognize the melodies, yet there was plenty of room for improvisation as well.

Then, there was a performance by the Overtures who were once again great but they played the exact same set as a few years ago. A long-standing Beatles and 60s tribute band, their performance is always really professional and they don't follow the original arrangements too strictly, but next time I would appreciate hearing different songs, and, generally speaking, maybe some more interesting choices than Light My Fire, You Really Got Me, and I'm a Believer.

The concluding act was Jiri Nikkinen The Beatles Tribute Band. Jiri Nikkinen is Finland's official Beatles fan and his set included some really interesting rarities. Jiri is such a classy guy.

The Beatles don't seem to attract young people like they used to, but there were indeed some people (like me) whose parents had barely been born when there was a band called the Beatles. The Beatles Happening is a real high-energy event, the most joyful and melodic festival in the whole country. You can't go wrong with that concept.

After five and a half happy (yet physically a bit painful...) hours of partying, it was time to pick up a free copy of a Beatles magazine and go home.

Still Alive

The thoughts on melody are back after a long break.

As for the reason for this silence, I wasn't in an optimal position in my personal life for a while. I had also been developing certain writing standards that were getting too high in my mind. I am not a native English speaker and the language will therefore always be what it is but this is not a scientific language blog. I hope it might be closer to a microsociological music blog: a blog about how music influences a person's everyday life.

Music means communication between the artist and the listener as well as between music fans. There might also be some interesting factors in the process of making music, group dynamics etc. However, I don't plan to write comprehensively but perhaps focus on some things I find interesting.

For enthusiasts like me music is not just something you casually listen to. Instead, music affects our perception of the world and some of our choices. People usually act with free will and music is a factor that people use to actively construct reality for themselves. Music is of course used in many ways and for many purposes but I intend to focus mainly on the personal experience, as I have done before.

There is one problem, still. During the past year or so I have hit a wall many times trying to discover new favorites. I used to have a new favorite almost every week or month in the past but now it seems that discovering new music is becoming a bit more like an unpleasant chore. So, usually it is most profitable to follow the path of your old favorites.

Most importantly, now I feel like writing about music again. Writing often inspires deeper reflections than a conversation, and therefore you might capture something you otherwise wouldn't.

One last thing. Whenever I ask people, what new music they would recommend, they don't seem to have any idea, even though they definitely have strong opinions about music and many favorites. Perhaps someone here on the Internet might have an idea.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Scott on TV

After the Walker Brothers' success, Scott Walker had become such a popular artist in the UK that he was granted a TV show of his own. Scott surely hesitated because singing other people's songs didn't really fit his artistic ambition that kept growing. Despite being hungry for getting to present his own compositions and lyrics Scott agreed to do the show. He saw it as a way to challenge himself as there were many songs he hadn't sung before.

Scott: Scott Walker Sings Songs from His TV Series was released in July 1969 being his fourth solo album release. The songs on the album are studio re-recordings of the same songs Scott performed live on TV, consisting of big band numbers, ballads, and film music.

At the moment the album is not officially available on CD, thanks to having being blocked by Scott himself. However, most of the songs can be heard on various CD compilations. The rest can be heard through unofficial channels, such as YouTube. Despite the difficulties in availability, the album itself just might be worth hearing if you happen to enjoy Scott Walker singing any kind of good music (and not just self-penned material).

My personal experience with this album has been quite interesting. Knowing Scott and his artist persona, him singing something like Will You Still Be Mine was very bizarre at first. However, those kind of cheery big band numbers didn't sound so strange too long – Scott does a fantastic job throughout the album – even though his version of Look of Love isn't as good as Dusty Springfield's.

In any case, many of the songs on the TV show album are melancholic ballads (which you could definitely expect from Scott) and Scott's renditions are impeccable. You can hear how he took the challenge seriously. The orchestrations are very pleasant thanks to Peter Knight's work as music director.

Wish to hear more of Scott's standards, tender ballads or jazzy numbers? Don't underestimate the power of Scott's TV show music!

P.S. Unfortunately, the actual TV show is gone, thanks to BBC overwriting the tapes. The audio was salvaged, though, which is a good thing even though the quality isn't superb. Search for "Scott Walker BBC TV show".

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Bringing Back the Good Times

On Thursday night, I witnessed the spectacle that was a concert from Sweet Jeena and Her Sweethearts' record release tour. What an evening it was, despite the fact that most of the audience seemed to have decided to stay at home. The rest of us were indulged by plenty of entertainment in the form of live music, rock'n'swing dance and burlesque art.

Sweet Jeena (Jeena Rancken) is a fantastic, talented singer who has been performing and making records with a few different backing bands. Jeena's repertoire with the Sweethearts consists of old classics and original music ranging from americana and rockabilly to country and funk, influenced by ”everything that swings and bangs”.

This time, we got to hear real treats such as Pretty Little Angel Eyes and I Feel Good, as well as some originals: Rock'n Roll Picnic, Spare Parts, and How Much Longer to Las Vegas. The musical variety truly acts as a strength: every song, no matter the genre, fits together turning Jeena and her band's perfomances into joyful, energetic dance parties.

Sweet Jeena and Her Sweethearts are definitely not just a cover band – they also perform catchy original material, give their all on stage, dress up for the occasion, and bring some burlesque dancers with them, as well as the band's own 60s-style go-go girls. Jeena and her band are also followed by Swing Team, the most talented and dedicated rock'n'swing dancers in the country. Sounds like a scene from Happy Days? It is pretty much like that.

All in all, the concept shows deep appreciation towards the old times music. For instance, it is not often that you hear old doo wop songs performed live (at least in Finland). Jeena and the Sweethearts do some quite impressive multipart harmonies. In fact, another project from Jeena includes performing fantastic doo wop with UK group the Roomates. That is something special!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Something to Be Proud of

Elephants into Swans, the long-awaited new album by the Sun Sawed in 1/2 has been around for some time now. After a lot of listening, analyzing and thinking I can't find anything to criticize!

As a manifestation of creativity the album succeeds in every way: it contains impeccably performed and mixed, fascinating, catchy pop songs. In my opinion, Elephants into Swans is also a mediator of positive energy and positive thoughts, even though the emotional scale of the music is of course multidimentional and open to different interpretations.

Thematically, the album focuses on the positive sides of love and relationships. Elephants into Swans also clearly embraces the beauty of new-found love. Tim Rose's lyrics are as playful as ever: wordplays, metaphors and double entendres (similar to 1960s bubblegum music lyrics) add to the linguistic richness.

When it comes to the arrangements, everything is really well-thought and professional. The traditional rock band instruments are often accompanied by piano/organ, horns and sometimes strings. Everything is so carefully designed that I still probably haven't noticed all the details – some of the spices have basically been hidden to the mix (Brittle Star can sound rather different with headphones!).

The piano, organ and synth elements deserve a special thanks. Meanwhile, electric guitars are often used like a percussion, leaving room for other instruments (such as piano). In addition, Matt Martin's drum work has always been one of my favorite elements on Sun's albums – an element that seems to get more and more interesting on each new Sun album! So, there is a lot to pay attention to but the mix is elegant and natural and therefore free of heavy compression.

Still my favorite vocalist, Mr. Doug Bobenhouse just keeps getting better. On this album his singing sounds more powerful than ever. Besides the distictive sweetness, you have to admire how he puts his soul into each song.

Tim Rose has stated that he is very satisfied with his songwriting on this album. You can say that the quality control has indeed been rigorous. It is, in fact, quite difficult to pick any special favorites – every song is really good! I enjoy the mysteriously sweet atmosphere of Elephants into Swans as well as the discreet melancholy of Nowhere Fast. This Girl's My Lullaby might be the most easy-going song on the album, and the topic is fantastic. She Offers Her Heart, on the other hand, expresses utter joy and Waltzing in Clover pretty much does the same.

If I had to choose only one favorite song, I would definitely choose You're Getting Warm. The psychedelic flanger heaven is followed by really satisfying beatle riffs and some magical developments. Multiple lead singers is a unique one-time solution on the whole album, and it reminds me of the early Sun. To cut a long story short, the song starts very nicely, turns into real gold and pretty much builds up to ecstatic greatness (those drums)!

Despite the geographical challenges (band members living very far from each other), The Sun Sawed in 1/2 is back and hopefully making many excellent records in the future as well. Elephants into Swans is a fantastic album – something to enjoy countless times and to be truly proud of.

The Sun Sawed in 1/2 on Bandcamp

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Glorious Buckinghams

Well well well.. I wouldn't have thought the Buckinghams belong to the sunshine pop genre. Although this is of course only what Wikipedia states on the matter. I first started listening to the Buckinghams due to recommendations. Their music can be described as classic late 60s American pop music and it does sound a lot like sunshine pop. There are definitely baroque pop elements, such as a strong presence of horns.

Musically, the Buckinghams could be placed somewhere between the Four Seasons and the Beatles, with some sunny gentleness added to the mix. The whole concept of one man singing lead and the rest of the guys doing multipart harmonies resembles the Four Seasons concept quite a bit. Carl Giammarese does a great job with the lead vocals. He may not perform with a distinctive falsetto like Frankie Valli but there is a lot of gentleness and bubblegum sound in Giammarese's voice. He also gives nicely rocking performances when needed.

The Buckinghams wanted to identify with the success of British Invasion groups. Therefore they chose a British-sounding name, dressed up in suits and even recorded music from the Beatles (I Call Your Name). They had several hits in the States and their version of Mercy, Mercy, Mercy was the most successful version of the song.

It is cool that the the Buckinghams are still performing and sounding really good. Giammarese and bassist Nick Fortuna were even recently featured on the big Happy Together tours. I can't get enough of their music!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Kiki Dee's Soul

Recently, I have been listening to quite a lot of music that could be described as blue-eyed soul, or white soul. Why white soul, you ask. It might have originated from my fascination towards 60s and 70s bubblegum music which sometimes has a very close connection to soul and/or funk.

It seems that ever since there was gospel, jazz and rock'n roll, white people have adopted the same styles and even identified very strongly with some genres – all of which were originally based on African rhythms. Even today, certain singers reach popularity very much due to sounding black despite being white. And even if all soul singers don't sound black, soul music has come to stay.

In any way, the concept of me listening to white soul is not entirely new. I came across an English singer called Kiki Dee through Scott Walker and Dusty Springfield, both of whose music I recently had become very fond of. Kiki once performed on Scott Walker's TV show, and Kiki Dee also sang background vocals for Springfield who was a soul music singer. Even Scott Walker sometimes flirted with soul.

I practically only needed one song to get impressed enough to purchase a compilation called I'm Kiki Dee: The Fontana Years 1963-1968. What a fantastic voice Kiki has! Even forgetting the voice, it is extremely easy to like her music. Almost everywhere you hear big arrangements with strings and/or horns. There are even some jazz elements present. It is all very, very carefully arranged and professional. However, you could say that a few songs in the beginning of the compilation represent a slightly more primitive sound (and I like those songs too) but the rest perfect in all possible ways.

Kiki's voice is bright, yet suitable for any big heartbroken ballad. Dusty Springfield is a fairly good comparison even though the overall impression you get from Kiki's voice is surely different, gives different vibes. There is an element of delicate sensitivity in Kiki's voice but also many other different nuances. Many of the songs are ballads. Kiki performs sad ballads (Excuse Me, Patterns), happy ballads (Sunshine, We've Got Everything Going for Us), songs that are playful (Doctor in Clover) or bitter (Running out of Fools), and groovy dance numbers (Take a Look at Me, He Was Really Sayin' Somethin'). She also gives a great version of Can't Take My Eyes off You.

Despite having performed very similar and equally good music, Kiki Dee is not as well-known as Dusty Springfield. Kiki didn't have any big chart hits in the UK in the 60s. However, she was apparently the first white artist to be signed by Motown. She has had a long career and I really only have scratched the surface. At least check out the 60s material!

Not many songs on YouTube, try Spotify instead. Here is one, though.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

It's Here!!!

If you haven't noticed, Elephants into Swans by The Sun Sawed in 1/2 has now been mixed, mastered, released and is available on iTunes and Bandcamp. Go get it now!

I got the album immediately when I found out about the release. However, I decided to wait for the perfect moment to listen. So, I just listened to the whole thing and it was fantastic. My first reaction was something like this: very balanced sound, catchy songs, countless fascinating details... The music gave a peaceful feeling even though there were some quite intense emotions. And as always, the lead vocals were also really cool.

Also check out the SS1/2 Facebook page to discover some cool stuff.

P.S. There have been some major developments in my life lately, so the blog has been quiet for some time. Now with a lot of time in my hands I hope to become a more active music blogger.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Walkermania! Part Three

I will now conclude Walkermania by talking about the Walker Brothers' second and third album released in the UK, Portrait (1966) and Images (1967). These weren't obviously their last albums, as the Walkers returned in the 1970s with three more albums. I might cover them some time later.

Whereas Take It Easy.. was relative cheerful and uptempo, on Portrait and Images the basic concept has been turned upside down. This means that there are now only a couple of uptempo songs per album and the rest is ballads or at least very peaceful and slow songs. Both albums are really good and even though Portrait was more successful back then, I personally prefer Images.

After the debut album and number one hits Make It Easy on Yourself and The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore, the Walkers were household names in the UK. They were on top of their fame even though they never had another number one hit single again. Their music was becoming even bigger and more dramatic than before. There was also an increasing number of songs that were very intimate or jazzy. In my opinion, some of the most quiet numbers weren't able to capture their best qualities. Still, the Walkers obviously didn't lack ambition rendering songs like Just for a Thrill, Old Folks and Once upon a Summertime.

The Walker Brothers were at their most glorious when performing dramatic, grandiose songs that had almost a gothic quality to them. When I say ”The Walker Brothers” it is in fact often more like ”Scott, big choir and big orchestra”. John got more room on these albums and sang really well but he was obviously destined to remain in Scott's shadow all the way. Not only was Scott the most celebrated Walker brother, he was also beginning to show major signs of great songwriting skill. He wrote or co-write and sang on such amazing classics as Archangel, Deadlier Than the Male, Orpheus, and Genevieve. Scott wrote both very dramatic and gentle songs – it can be said that most of his material from this period is, in fact, focused on exploring the opposites. In addition to Orpheus and Genevieve, some of his more gentle songs included I Can See It Now, Experience, and Mrs. Murphy, the latter of which was released as a solo single.

Some of the best ”quiet and intimate” songs on Portrait and Images include No Sad Songs for Me, I Will Wait for You, I Can't Let It Happen to You (written by John, presented with an atypical arrangement including organ and no strings), as well as Where's the Girl, a song that once again captivated the amazing emotional quality of Scott's voice. And of course, there is a stunning version of Summertime, with a great jazz sax solo and all. Curtis Mayfield's gospel People Get Ready is also really fantastic whereas Living Above Your Head almost sounds out of place with a sunshine pop choir singing ”ba bop bop baa”. Still, it is really catchy, just like Walking in the Rain, a song made famous by the Ronettes.

There were indeed so many great songs that I am finding it difficult to mention all of them without sounding like a list. The main reason why I prefer Images is probably that it is a bit more lively as a whole. There is, for example, Everything Under the Sun, a midtempo happyish song that has a lot of kick and the kind of uplifting quality that is present in many of my favorite Walker Brothers songs. It Makes No Difference at All is also one of my most cherished favorites: a hearbreaking ballad with Scott singing in the lowest range of his voice. Just Say Goodbye is a somewhat similar experience, but it has an even more fantastic and subtle soundscape outside the massive chorus.

It goes without saying that the Walker Brothers were definitely not just any ”boy band” of the 60s!

Check out some music:

Friday, October 12, 2012

Walkermania! Part Two

Take It Easy with the Walker Brothers came out in December 1965. However, I now intend to talk about the Walkers' music from that period in general, based on CD 1 of the box set Everything Under the Sun (which I felt compelled to buy).

Given that the Walker Brothers were mostly famous for big ballads, the music on their first album is not very much dominated by ballads. There are actually only a couple of songs that are clearly ballads. Mostly it is comprised of midtempo songs that aren't even particularly gloomy despite Scott Walker singing lead almost all the time. The Walker Brothers' music comes across as very classy, aurally massive, a bit melancholic but definitely more uplifting rather than dark.

The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore was originally performed by Frankie Valli without any huge success. The Walkers version could have suffered the same fate if Scott hadn't demanded it to be recorded once again after the first attempt. The end result was a huge classic, a track to cherish from now to eternity. Despite being rather dark in the lyric section, the overall feel you get from it is something completely different. It is a great song, great arrangement and performance by both Scott and the studio band.

Randy Newman's I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore is one of Scott's most fantastic vocal performances. It seems almost unbelievable that with this kind of power, style, emotion and flawless phrasing he is still pretty much a self-learned singer. And even though Scott is just as great as he is, he also sounds fantastic when singing together with John Walker. John's background vocals appear in many songs, and the lovely female choir also plays an important role. Therefore, don't forget to check out the Walkers' take on the Everly Brothers song the Seventh Dawn which was the b-side of the Love Her single. There we have probably the most heavenly, uniquely beautiful harmony ever recorded by Scott and John. And speaking of great harmonies, also check out their version of Bob Dylan's Love Minus Zero!

Even though Scott sang lead on almost anything, John got one lead vocal on the debut album. His performance on Dancing in the Street may sound even a bit too cool but is in fact very good. John's talents were at this point largely overshadowed by Scott's amazing performances on songs like The Girl I Lost in the Rain (chilling!), There Goes My Baby (probably Scott's best uptempo number here) and, obviously, Make It Easy on Yourself. One Engel composition is even included on the debut album, You're All Around Me. More of his compositions appeared on b-sides.

An interesting thing is that at times the Walkers seemed to be very much drawn towards soul and funk music. However, when it comes to the funk part, the results rarely were very commendable. Songs like Tell The Truth and Everything's Gonna Be Alright were great live numbers but not really Scott's strongest area. Land of 1000 Dances was included on the debut album and was also a very popular song but I think it just sounds bizarre when Scott Walker sings it – especially when you think about what was to come.

Take It Easy with... was certainly a worthy debut but if you're interested in hearing the singles and b-sides, which are all very, very good and not included on the album, I recommend checking out the extended version as a whole. You don't want to miss the uplifting beauty of songs like I Need You, After The Lights Go Out, and Young Man Cried. One of my personal favorites is My Ship Is Coming in, which will probably always amaze me. Scott and John make quite a theatrical opera duo!

Here are some samples:
The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore (promo video - now that's what I call Marketing! And by the way, can you imagine they also performed it live)