“Oh, breaking up is so very hard to do,” breathed Scott Walker on The Walker Brothers’ 1965 number one hit, “Make It Easy on Yourself”, his voice a strangulated throb. Over Burt Bacharach’s lush strings, he paused, collected himself, and delivered a heroically selfless kiss-off to his departing inamorata:
“If you really love him, and there’s nothing I can do / Don’t try to spare my feelings, just tell me that you’re through / And make it easy on yourself…”
Before he reinvented himself as an auteur of fractured, avant-garde art-pop, Walker, who died in March, was a visceral, honey-voiced interpreter of cinematic love songs. His rich baritone, stentorian yet bruised, burrowed deep into the heft and sinew of heartbreak.
And with “Make It Easy on Yourself”, he had quite the song to work with. Even in Bacharach and Hal David’s peerless canon of eulogies to heartache, this was something else: an abandoned lover, in an act of superhuman sympathy, reacting to his loss not with anger or recrimination but… forgiveness.
Walker’s visceral sadness was raw. “My darling, if this is goodbye,” he sighed, his voice a molten sob, “I just know I’m gonna cry. So run to him, before you start crying too…” Pitched beyond mere pop sorrow, his self-sacrificing grief sounded truly Shakespearean.
It was a masterclass in abject yearning — and yet Walker’s definitive take on the song was not the first. Writing it in 1962, Bacharach and David hired a tyro Dionne Warwick to sing vocals on the demo. Her cloth-eared label boss rejected it, so instead it became a US top 20 hit for Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield’s original co-singer in The Impressions.
When Bacharach broke the bad news to Warwick that she could not release it as a single, she famously snapped at him: “Don’t make me over, man!” — thus inspiring the title of her own debut hit. Her live take on “Make It Easy on Yourself” remains glorious.
Walker and Warwick’s readings were way more resonant than that of comedian and crooner Kenny Lynch, who sang it in a supper-club style as he supported The Beatles on tour in 1963. Covering it three years later, a strident Cilla Black sounded less forgiving of her exiting lover than inclined to give him a good slap.
Sarah Vaughan fared better, wrapping her formidable pipes around the tune live at the 1971 Monterey Jazz Festival. Long John Baldrysounded duly heartbroken. Ironically, Bacharach’s own versionof the song was a let-down: as a singer, he is no great shakes.
“Make It Easy on Yourself” soon became a staple for light entertainers who raised their games to do it justice. Tony Bennett dialled down the schmaltz in 1970, as did The Carpenters a year later. Johnny Mathis’s soulful warbleinduced goosebumps.
The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon put his droll indie Noël Coward act on hold in 1997 to throw himself into the song’s exquisite ache. It will surprise many to learn that Rick Astley’s 2005 take was genuinely fervent, like a great lost Motown acetate.
But even the greatest songs are unable to withstand acts of wanton vandalism. In 2007, Michael Ball’s tremulous mugging belonged in a cruise-ship cabaret. Bacharach’s own involvement on the 2011 When Ronan Met Burt album couldn’t stop Ronan Keating chewing it into cheesy karaoke. In 2015, indie duo Slow Club turned it into a tedious half-speed plod, as they do to everything.
It’s Scott Walker’s radiant reading that remains the gold standard for this timeless classic. In later years, as he turned to cerebral art-rock, Walker hoped his music could “say the unsayable”. Yet it was “Make It Easy on Yourself”, decades earlier, that was his true inarticulate speech of the heart.
What are your memories of ‘Make It Easy on Yourself’? Let us know in the comments section below.
‘The Life of a Song Volume 2: The fascinating stories behind 50 more of the world’s best-loved songs’, edited by David Cheal and Jan Dalley, is published by Brewer’s.
Music credits: Mercury Records; TP4 Music; Reborn recordings; Parlophone UK; RE Musik und Media; A&M; Columbia; Columbia/Legacy; Universal Music TV Campaign Division; Polydor Ltd
Picture credit: CA/Redferns