203. ‘Make It Easy on Yourself’, by The Walker Brothers

From an angst-ridden clarion call for disaffected youth, to this. We have strings! A full-blown orchestral section. The top of the charts lurch from one extreme to another, like a slightly edgier version of the Royal Variety Performance.

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Make It Easy on Yourself, by The Walker Brothers (their 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 23rd – 30th September 1965

We’re in a classy cabaret. All velvet drapes and green-shaded lamps on the tables. Where a melancholy, Spector-ish intro moves into a very melancholy opening line. Oh, breaking up, Is so, Very hard to do… A hook that we’ll keep returning to throughout the song.

If you really love him, And there’s nothing, I can do… Don’t try to spare my feelings, Just tell me that we’re through… It’s a novel twist on the break-up song – another sign that pop music is growing up – in that the singer spends the whole song encouraging his girlfriend to split up with him. And if the way I hold you, Can’t compare to his embrace… Get it over with, he says. Don’t hang around. Make it easy on yourself. He’ll feel terrible, but then breaking up is, after all, so very hard to do…

The voice is velvety, and very, very croony. Check out the O-o-o-h baby… before the final chorus. So croony that at times it sounds a little insincere. A little like he’s playing up to the cameras, like he might not really be that bothered if she goes. I like it; and I don’t like it. I’m on the fence with it. It perhaps doesn’t help that I can’t help hearing Jarvis Cocker, who has unashamedly copied Scott Walker’s singing style to great effect since the 1980s, in every line.

The Walker Brother, like the Righteous Brothers before them, weren’t really brothers. It’s a stage name, one that adds to the slightly camp, cabaret-ish feel that this record has, a feeling that this record can’t quite escape. Maybe I’m hearing it all wrong, but it’s a song that sounds as if it’s being delivered with an arched eyebrow and a knowing wink. Or maybe that’s the point. The beauty of art is in the interpretation, after all.

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It’s another Bacharach & David number, originally written in 1962. I’ve not been keeping count, but this must put them at, or very near to, the top of the #1 record writing league. And, like so many of their compositions, it’s a song that just drips with that B & D class. It’s drenched in strings and portentous drums, and is another glowing example of Baroque pop, which is fast becoming the sound of 1965. It’s a record with a great pedigree, one of the first chart appearances by a man who has left a huge mark on popular music, from Bowie to Pulp to The Arctic Monkeys, and I just wish I could like it more…

The Walkers – Scott, Gary and John – were American but, in a sort of reverse British Invasion, enjoyed quicker and longer lasting success in the UK. They will appear one more time at the top of the charts here, with a song that – if I remember correctly – is even classier and glossier than this one, and that might just help me to ‘get’ them.

My first ever exposure to ‘Make It Easy on Yourself’, though, came long before I’d ever heard of Scott Walker, or Baroque Pop, or knew what a Wall of Sound was. In 2001, the opening strings from this #1 were sampled by Ash, on their #20 hit ‘Candy’. Ash are a great pop-rock band, who have never come anywhere near topping the charts, so I’d like to take this – my one and only chance to give them a shout-out. If you’ve never heard them, check them out.

Catch up with the previous 202 number-ones here:

202. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones

You know how, nowadays, when seen through jaded 2019 eyes, ‘The Exorcist’ isn’t that scary, and ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ isn’t that shocking, and ‘Rock Around the Clock’ sounds a bit lightweight? Well, I wondered if the same might happen here. If ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, one of the angriest, most provocative singles of the sixties, might have lost its edge.

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(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, by The Rolling Stones (their 4th of eight #1s)

2 weeks, from 9th – 23rd September 1965

Press play, though, and let that jackhammer of a riff run through you. That scuzzy, incessant guitar which sounds as if it’s ripping your speakers open, that doesn’t let up right through this near four-minute song. You soon realise that this fifty-five year old song is still full of spite and aggro.

Jagger’s vocals, when they come in, are – in contrast – soft, almost whispered. I can’t get no, Satisfaction… Cos I try, And I try, And I try… But he quickly build ups to the famous shout: I Can’t Get No! It’s a statement of intent. A rallying cry. I love the fact that it knocked ‘I’ve Got You Babe’ off the top spot.

Then we get to the verses. And, again, we’re treading new ground here. This is a #1 single with an attitude, and a conscience. When I’m drivin’ in my car, And a man comes on the radio, An’ he’s tellin’ me more and more, About some useless information… It’s a critique on commercialism, and capitalism, in a pop song! Later on, Mick is watching TV, and is getting fed up with all the adverts for clothes detergent and cigarettes. It’s leaving him unsatisfied, empty. We’re a long way from ‘I’m Into Something Good’ here. Now, The Stones were no hippies. That’s for certain. They’ll try their hand at psychedelica, for a while, but their hearts won’t be in it. Yet this is definitely one of the first counter-culture, ‘stick it to the man’ hit records. Hippyish in spirit; certainly not in sound.

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However, it’s the final verse that, at the time, caused most of the controversy. ‘Satisfaction’ was either edited down, had its lyrics changed, or was simply not played at all on British radio and TV. Because suddenly Jagger’s not singing about existentialist ‘satisfaction’ – about being bombarded with advertising bullshit. He’s talking about the other kind of ‘satisfaction’. The girl reaction kind. This is The Stones, after all. And I had no idea, until it came to writing this post, that the line in which the girl turns him down due to her being on a losing streak was a reference to her having her period!

It ends, much like their previous #1, ‘The Last Time’, with a bit of a wig-out, with Jagger yelling the famous refrain out over the fade. Every time I write about a Stones chart-topper, I mention how ‘nasty’, or how ‘grown up’ they sound, in comparison to everyone else around at the time. And they are getting nastier by the record. Compare their jaunty, bluesy debut at the top – ‘It’s All Over Now’ – to this.

This might be their fourth number one, meaning that we are halfway through their chart-topping run, but you can argue that it wasn’t until ‘Satisfaction’ that The Stones truly arrived. Gone were the covers of old blues songs. Jagger and Richards were now the main song-writing duo, with Brian Jones ably assisting. This was their first US #1, and suddenly they were the (second) biggest band on the planet. And if you think that this is a nasty, cynical, rebellious piece of rock ‘n’ roll, just wait until you hear their next chart-topper, coming up very shortly indeed.