18 Mar 2018

New Horizons: Versions of 'Walk On By' by Kramer and others

From New Horizons, 5:00 pm on 18 March 2018

William Dart spends the first half of the programme on a digression about Burt Bacharach's "Walk On By", before getting around to looking at the musician called Kramer and his new album of Brill Building covers.

The Brill Building, Book Two (cover image)

The Brill Building, Book Two (cover image) Photo: Tzadik Records

Kramer (first name Mark) is one of music's indefinables. His various activities do many things for many listeners.

For some, he was the founder of the legendary, but now defunct, Shimmy Disc label, which housed artists and groups such as Shockabilly, King Missile and Daniel Johnston, not to mention Kramer's own group Bongwater.

Bongwater was centred around a partnership with Ann Magnuson, but he's hooked up with many others over the years for collaborations: Daevid Allen of Gong, Hugh Hopper of Soft Machine, and John Hall of King Missile among others.

Of his five solo albums, the latest two are devoted to a revisioning of the heydays of the Brill Building songwriting factory - the Manhattan location occupied by the likes of Neil Diamond, Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Doc Pomus, and Mort Shuman.

Kramer also contributed to a project of John Zorn's on his Tzadik label which paid tribute to the songs of Burt Bacharach. Kramer covered one of Bacharach's best: 'Walk On By'. So the first part of the programme digresses with a short exploration of a few other versions of this classic.

1. Dionne Warwick - 'Walk On By'

The original and ... well ... nobody matches it, do they?

What about this video though, produced way before music videos became a thing? Some thorny cultural aspects to unpack here I'm afraid.

2. Average White Band - 'Walk On By'

How could anyone put aside the divine Dionne for this artificially funked-up version?

3. Smokey Robinson - 'Walk On By'

Smokey gives a virtuoso vocal performance, delivered with just the right degree of sobbing vibrato and, here and there, the telling touch of a tear-like tinkle of tiny cymbals.

4. Mel Tormé - 'Walk On By'

By comparison, Tormé is super suave with little emotional engagement. In fact, by the end of the song, he sounds positively heartless.

5. Vanilla Fudge - 'Walk On By'

In order to cater to all tastes, check out these guys who turn it into a psychedelic symphony.

6. Anita Harris - 'Walk On By'

It opens in what sounds like Schoenberg Forest and there's a hint of Bernard Herrmann's Psycho violins when Anita Harris starts singing, but this is one classy arrangement and her vocal is up there with the best.

7. Kramer - 'Walk On By'

And so we get to Kramer, who, while he can't foot it with the best of the singers, creates an intricately-detailed production.

8. Bongwater - 'Decadent Iranian Country Club'

Bongwater - a collaboration between Kramer and performance artist Ann Magnuson - was active from 1985 to 1992.

Their complete recordings appear in the Box of Bongwater. It's a pretty wild few hours of listening with such tantalisingly-titled tracks as 'Ride My Seesaw', 'Dazed and Chinese', 'Psychedelic Sewing Room', 'Ill Fated Lovers Go Time Tripping', and this dream-inspired tale of being trapped in a pool at a 'Decadent Iranian County Club'.

9. Kramer - 'Do Wah Diddy Diddy'

Kramer's approach to covering the Brill Building classics is somewhat confrontational.

But his methods - sometimes scalpel, sometimes baseball bat - are fascinating and his musicianship is unquestionable.

The second album, released just this year, features the celebrity status guitarist Bill Frisell.

Not many of these songs have been loaded up to YouTube, so do listen to the complete programme from the link above.

Music Details

'Song title' (Composer) – Performers
Album title

'Walk on By' (Bacharach/ David) – Dionne Warwick
Heartbreaker: The Very Best of Dionne Warwick

'Walk on By' (Bacharach/ David) – Average White Band
Pick Up the Pieces, And Other Hits

'Walk on By' (Bacharach/ David) – Smokey Robinson
Motown Salutes Bacharach

'Walk on By' (Bacharach/ David) – Mel Tormé
Right Now!

'Walk on By' (Bacharach/ David) – Vanilla Fudge

'Walk on By' (Bacharach/ David) – Anita Harris
Everyday Valentine

'Walk on By' (Bacharach/ David) – Kramer
Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach

'Decadent Iranian Country Club' (Kramer et al) – Bongwater
Box of Bongwater
(Shimmy Disc)

'Kisses Sweeter than Wine' (Campbell/ Newman) – Bongwater
Box of Bongwater
(Shimmy Disc)

'C'est la Maison' (Allen) – Daevid Allen feat. Kramer
Who's Afraid
(Shimmy Disc)

'On Broadway' (Leiber et al) – Kramer feat. Mike Jones
The Brill Building

'My Little Red Book' (Bacharach/ David) – Mel Tormé
Right Now!

'My Little Red Book' (Bacharach/ David) – Kramer feat. Bill Frisell
The Brill Building Book Two

'Can't Get Used to Losing You' (Pomus/ Shuman) – Kramer feat. Bill Frisell
The Brill Building Book Two

'Crying in the Rain' (King) – Kramer feat. Bill Frisell
The Brill Building Book Two

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