Ill-Advised Rocking Out #4: Land Of 1,000 Dances – The Walker Brothers.

When Scott Walker died earlier this year I wrote a post about his first four solo albums because, even though I don’t like everything on them, what I do like, I like an awful lot.  In that post, I also talked about a couple of Walker Brothers singles: The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore and Love Her, both of which I consider to be as representative of what I think of as the black and white 1960s.  Also, I think they’re great records, especially for maiden aunts and people who have recently been dumped and who enjoy a bit of light martyrdom to go with their misery.

They’re not the only Walker Brothers records I like though.  I have a soft spot for a few others but none of those other singles by them that I quite enjoy really break the mould of the two that I did write about.  So, having pretty much exhausted everything I had to say about big, sad sounding torch songs of the mid 1960s, including derogatory comments about their sartorial choices, I left it at that.

I’ve also written at length about The Stone Roses.  I’ve been effusive in my praise of their first album and the singles up to and including Fools Gold and I’ve been summarily dismissive about pretty much everything else they did after that.  But, to emphasise how tragic my fandom of them was, I’ve not mentioned how The Walker Brothers relate to them.  Well…  to be relatively brief, I have owned one Walker Brothers album that wasn’t a Greatest Hits, even though it is a bit and that album is their live album, The Walker Brothers In Japan.  On the whole, I don’t like live albums at all.  These days I don’t really like live music full stop because I can’t be arsed with it anymore.  I think I overdid it when I was younger, plus, having played far more gigs than I could be bothered with – even at the time – I’d happily never go and see another band ever again.  Still, I had a reason for buying The Walker Brothers In Japan and that reason was that a girl I met in Leeds in 1989 at a Stone Roses gig told me that the riff of Sally Cinnamon had been ripped off a track that appeared on that particular Walker Brothers live album.

The Walker Brothers In Japan: TL:DR – don’t bother.

I kept my eyes peeled for it and found it a couple of years later in a second hand shop in Manchester for less than a fiver.  It’s a double album and even though I was a pretty big fan of “The, er, Walker People,” as John Maus referred to them on the interview contained on the last track on this album in his enormously deep and dismissive baritone voice, it’s a dreadful, dreadful album.  In fact, it’s so bad that I took to lifting the needle and repositioning it a few millimetres towards the centre every couple of seconds and, consequently, I’ve still never heard the song that Sally Cinnamon’s riff is supposedly taken from.  Well, I might have, but if I did, I wasn’t listening.

This little series of posts about MOR acts trying on metaphorical leather trousers and rocking out quite badly was always going to contain The Walker Brothers doing Land Of 1,000 Dances because i) it’s rubbish, and ii) it’s the only song I actually heard all the way through on the entire double album because I intended to listen to the whole thing but it’s so lousy, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  As it goes, the video on YouTube isn’t even the version on the Japan album, the YouTube version is recorded ‘live’ on some German pop music programme and, despite all indications to the contrary, it’s even worse.  Or better, depending on your point of view.  The main reason it’s even worse/better is because you get to see The Walker People doing their thing and it’s a strange and wonderful thing to witness.

First, there’s Gary Walker, the drummer.  Gary Walker, like John Maus, is also interviewed on the last track on this album and, unlike John Maus, who won’t even refer to himself as John Walker, or his band as The Walker Brothers because he’s so disgusted or something, Gary retains the conceit of pretending that they’re all brothers and they’re all called Walker in the highest pitched, most excited sounding speaking voice you can imagine.  It’s certainly a world of contrasts between John and Gary.  And the spoken word interview track is also the most entertaining cut on the entire double album.  Probably.  Like I say, I’ve not actually listened to it and I don’t have it anymore.  I took it into Disc Discovery to sell – which isn’t something I’ve ever done with records and, when the owner didn’t want to buy it, I said “Fuck it,” and left it on the counter.

Gary Walker (actually Leeds) out of The Walker Brothers.  In terms of the relative depths of their speaking voices, and to utilise the characters from Goldilocks and The Three Bears, Gary is the baby bear.

I said I don’t want to buy it, mate.”  The owner said.

I don’t blame you,”  I told him on the way out, “But I’m not having that cack in my house a moment longer.”  So I abandoned it.

A couple of years later, I was fruitlessly looking for a copy of Scott 4 on record there and saw my Walker Brothers In Japan album in the racks for £20.  I didn’t say anything, but it did put me off going in there.  And he’s always had far too many Leo Sayer albums for my liking.  If he’d chucked it out on the street, I’d have had more respect for him but maybe I just don’t understand commerce.

Leo Sayer, Endless Flight.  Don’t ask me what it’s like because I’ve never heard it.  If you fancy getting hold of an over expensive copy on record, go to Disc Discovery on Spring Bank in Hull: they’v got millions of them.

Anyway, Land Of 1,000 Dances.  As a song, I quite like it.  I don’t mind it.  I don’t mind some versions of it.  I don’t mind Wilson Pickett doing it.  He’s got a punchy, tight band and he’s got the voice for it.  Which is more than you can say for Scott Walker or John Maus.

Gary Walker was the drummer in The Walker Brothers.  I say he was the drummer but I don’t think he ever actually played the drums on any of their records.  Watching him miming on German pop television might give you some idea of why that was.  Mind you, if you watch Keith Moon miming playing the drums, you might think that he never played the drums on any records by The Who and that’s definitely not the case.

Gary’s playing with brushes, which certainly isn’t representative of the sharp thwack of wood on calfskin that is playing behind him.  Maybe he played with brushes on telly because otherwise he’d be drowning out the sound of the playback.

On the other hand, he resolutely sticks to playing the hi-hat and the snare drum which, again, isn’t representative of what’s being played on the record they’re miming to.  Apart from Gary and a Vox Continental organ that doesn’t have anybody playing it at all, there are no other musicians to be seen on the film clip.

Maybe they decided to keep it between the three (non) Walker Brothers on telly, they definitely had other musicians playing on the Japan live album.  Maybe, and this is my belief, they realised that John Maus’s moves would be so astonishing that nobody would even see any other musicians.  I mean, Scott Walker’s there and he does the lion’s share of the singing, as he normally did but you could be forgiven for not even noticing him there what with John’s absolutely bizarre dancing.  Scott has a go at busting some moves too but, like Dusty Springfield, he’s just not built for fast songs.  His moves are, basically, Dusty Springfield moves and, weird as they are, he looks like Mr Normal in comparison to John.  Well, normal if you count Dad dancing as a normal thing.

John Maus, of The, er, Walker People…  waving his enormous, mystical dancing hand around, the great Herbert.  To continue the Goldilocks & The Three Bears analogy, in terms of how deep their voices are, John is Daddy Bear.

It begins with the camera on Gary who, like a bad child actor from the 1970s, can’t help but look straight into the camera while pretending he isn’t.  We can’t really make Scott out too clearly due to the camera angle, but what we can see is that John’s not singing the opening “Nah, nah-nah, nah-nah, Nah nah, nah-nah…” parts because Scott is and he’s singing “Lah, la-la, la-la…” instead anyway.  It’s not a big difference but combined with everything else that they get wrong, it just adds itself to the pile.

What John is doing at this point is warming himself up.  Not vocally, physically.  John’s going to show us his moves, that’s what’s happening here.

Second round of La, la-las and John joins in, swinging his pipe cleaner legs.  The director realises that they don’t have a shot of Scott from this angle and the camera cuts to a close up of him and he obliges with some basic Dusty hand waving in front of his face as the first verse begins.

About one and a half lines in and the director evidently realises that John Maus of The, er, Walker People is about to unleash a televisual display of such perversely arhythmic jiving that he needs John onscreen too and it cuts to both singers but, frankly, you can pretty much forget about Scott because this is all about John Maus’s preening peacock boogaloo roadshow.  I hope you’re not on drugs as you watch this because all the mental hospitals have shut down now.

Not only is John Maus’s dancing extraordinary, and not in a way that’s ever made anybody think, “I wish I could dance like that,” but his facial expression is one of a man who knows better than anybody else on the planet that what he is doing is, at least, in the top three things that anybody has ever done.  John Maus of The, er, Walker People is enormously impressed with himself, even though he tries to be cool about it, he can’t hide the satisfaction he feels about sharing his moves with post-WWII Germany.  He’s probably rebuilding Leipzig just by twitching his hips.  John Maus is one self-satisfied bastard.  And, like most self-satisfied bastards, the amount of satisfaction with himself he’s evidently feeling is in direct contrast with how good he really is.  The bejewelled twat.

Maus’s dancing consists of a very small quantity of actual movements, repeated interminably like the chorus of a song.  The first move – move ‘a’, if you like, is merely leaning back, thrusting out one of his feet, presumably to provide counterbalance.  Move ‘b’ is merely passing his microphone from one hand to the other.  It’s move ‘c’ that blows my mind though.  Move ‘c’ might be considered some sort of proto Kate Bush arm wave.  I don’t know what it means but the look of intensity on his face gives the impression that, whatever the hell it is that he’s doing, it’s pretty important.  In fact, it’s beyond importance because his facial expression suggests some sort of profound mysticism, transmitted to us in some sort of indecipherable gesticulation.  As with all three of his moves, Maus has to repeat them – strictly in order, giving the impression that he’s on a calamitous mission on which the boat’s sinking and he, as communications officer, has been tasked with sending out some repeated message for assistance.  From extra-terrestrial beings who, presumably, are capable of translating whatever the hell it is he’s doing with his arms into some form of meaning.  Again, I can’t emphasise enough that I have no idea what any of it means, but I do gather it means something important.  You know when your dog comes and stands in front of you and looks meaningfully into your eyes and makes sort of burbling noises like it’s trying to talk to you and you have no idea what it wants.  It’s a bit like that.  Maybe it’s a dance for dogs to rise up and do the watusi or something.  God only knows.

Scott Walker can’t compete with John Maus’s arrhythmic gyrating but he gives it a go.  Scott’s move – and he only really ever had one – consists of waving his hands in front of his face.  With a basic move like that, he gamely tries to wring the most out of it by sometimes only using one hand, but it’s not really very suitable for uptempo songs such as this one.

Scott Walker busting his Dusty Springfield move.  Finally, Scott’s speaking voice, in terms of the Goldilocks & The Three Bears analogy, is Mummy Bear.  There isn’t a goldilocks, but if there was, it would be Gary.

Apart from his hand waving move, Scott’s doing his best to move in time with the music which he at least makes a better job of than John Maus.  Scott’s body movement is a repeated bobbing up and down and from side to side, a bit like a puppet attached to a wheel that only rotates 180 degrees left and then moves back right again.  Like a furtive boxer who’s only just learned the rudiments of avoiding being hit and who hasn’t yet been taught how to punch.  It’s quite a strange performance but as he has John Maus’s intergalactic mime act next to him, it looks relatively normal.

Most of the records that I’ve written about in this little series have been by MOR pop stars attempting to hop onto a middle of the road bandwagon that has been dressed up to resemble rock ‘n’ roll but without any notable success.  This one is different because this isn’t rock ‘n’ roll.  This isn’t even an attempt at rock ‘n’ roll, this is an attempt at breaking up a one paced live set.  The pace of the Walker Brothers’ live set, had it consisted purely of their hits would be deathly slow.  This cover version is in the set to provide a bit of a change of pace with a fast soul song.

Unlike most of the songs in this series, Land of 1,000 Dances is a soul song, not a rock ‘n’ roll song.  In addition to that, the performance, at least in terms of the instrumentation is, at worst, adequate.  Alright, it’s not the MGs and it’s not Motown and it’s certainly not The Wrecking Crew but it doesn’t stick out as being particularly awful.

Where this performance falls down is, at least on record, the singing.  Scott Walker was a great, great singer capable of depth of feeling with his tremulous deep vibrato and control.  For songs like The Walker Brothers’ hits, he was perfect.  For soul stompers, not so much really.

But, shallow as I am, this mimed performance shows me that Scott Walker’s incongruous singing on this song is the least of its problems when you can see Gary’s inept drumming, Scott’s impression of Dusty Springfield shadow boxing and, most of all, John Maus’s profoundly weird dance moves.

Rocking out it ain’t; ill advised – in all aspects – it certainly is.

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