I can’t get this song out of my head.
I needed to hear something familiar, so I dialed up Classic Vinyl on Sirius XM. But when I hit a clunker I switched to 60’s on 6 and heard this, which I didn’t want to listen to, because the Walker Brothers never really made it over here, but I kept listening because something deep in my memory bank told me there was an entrancing change a’ comin’, and it did!
The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore
The moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky
The tears are always clouding your eyes
When you’re without love, baby
And it’s not about the words, I don’t think I ever understood their meaning until I just wrote them down, but the sound. The way the verse segues into this release, wherein the vocalist is suddenly set free, able to reveal his innermost feelings.
Then again, there’s a scrim between you and him, it’s a Wall of Sound production even though it wasn’t produced by Phil Spector, but Bob Crewe, who got some ink upon his death back in 2014, having mostly to do with his sexual preference, which was unknown by the general public back in his heyday, but those of us who purchased 45’s knew his name, for it was all over the Four Seasons records, and as a matter of fact, Crewe cowrote this song with Bob Gaudio, and the original version was recorded by Frankie Valli the year before, ’65, after the Four Seasons had started to fade, but it didn’t quite break into the Hot 100, but when rerecorded by the Walker Brothers it went all the way to number one in the U.K., but it did not dominate in the U.S., it went to number 13, which meant it was not ubiquitous and in many markets was barely played at all, because really only a few records get spun religiously and in the days before MTV, before the codification of FM by Lee Abrams, radio was oftentimes regional, kind of like the food, I went to Park City and saw the same damn chains I see in L.A., from Subway to Burger King, and I revel in the fact that I no longer have to go blindly into some faceless emporium to eat the equivalent of shoe leather, which I remember quite vividly outside of Yellowstone Park back in ’74, they called it roast beef but it might as well have been billed Florsheim, but the point is you used to leave home and it was different, and now, statistically, no one leaves at all, they just stay where they are, not being able to afford to go where the jobs are, but the point is it used to be exciting to take a drive and listen to what was being played elsewhere before radio became homogenized and the satellite came along to save us.
And the weird thing is the Walker Brothers are American. But they had to go overseas to make it. Huge stars in the U.K. they became, and we heard their name now and again but we rarely heard their music, but tonight…
The Frankie Valli take is so out of time as to be almost laughable. You’ll hear the intro and know why this didn’t hit in the era of the British Invasion and then Frankie sings the verses like it could be the phone book, back when we had those, and then he belts the chorus in his classic way, albeit a bit reservedly, and it’s the same song but it’s completely different. You’re listening to the Valli version, but you want to know the singer of the Walker Brothers iteration, it’s all dark and mysterious.
The intro is hokey, but then it locks into a Gene Pitney feel and a deep vocal takes over akin to a Righteous Brother….
Loneliness is the cloak you wear
The scourge of life that’s somehow absent from modern art. Remember when songs were about the human condition, when you listened not to be a member of a group, but to bond with the singer in a twosome, a marriage where you felt safe and understood?
Emptiness is the place you’re in
Nothin’ to lose but no more to win
It’s when you’re stuck in neutral that life is worst. When you’re out of the game, when victory or defeat are not in the equation, only stasis.
You listen to the Walker Brothers’ recording and you visualize a whole movie. He’s lost without her, on the edge of despair, he’s got to testify, tell you, but it’s more than that, you can see through the record into the studio, a big room with everybody there at the same time, the rockers and the classicists, the electric instruments and the acoustic, the backup vocalists, the producer in a sweater.
It’s almost like a western. Something one step removed. What used to be. You’re intrigued. Deep inside there’s not only a story, but humanity.
Lonely, without you, baby
Girl, I need you
I can’t go on
The chorus is the hook, but it’s this interlude that makes the track a classic, it slows down and the truth is revealed.
And now you know what music was like fifty years ago. You couldn’t make it at home, you needed professionals in a studio, and they were shooting for the stars, doing their best to create something from heaven, that lasted forever, that would imprint itself upon listeners’ brains and make them buy it so they could hear it again and again, to get that same reflective feeling, from an era when music was totally personal, when melody was more important than the beat, when you sang along to bond yourself to the magic, when radio was a living, breathing thing and you never knew what you’d tune in and hear, when all the hits weren’t made by the same people, when every track was just a bit different, when music’s goal was to impart wisdom while at the same time taking you away, soothing you, helping guide you through life.
And the funny thing is the more they sing about the sun not shining anymore the more your own brain clears, the more optimistic you become.
That’s the power of a hit record.
That’s the power of music.