"Go seek the lady who will give, not take away. Naked with stillness, on the edge of dawn she strays. Night starts to empty, that's when her song begins, She'll make you happy, she'll take you deep within."
, "Boy Child", 1969
—Scott Walker, "Jesse", 2006
Scott Walker (born Noel Scott Engel, 1943- ) is an American-British songwriter and singer. His recorded work spans six decades and exhibits such extreme genre shifts
that he's been described as "Andy Williams reinventing himself as Stockhausen
He was born in Ohio and the family settled in California. He started out in The Fifties
as a teenage pop singer, then became a session musician. In The Sixties
he relocated to London and became the lead singer of The Walker Brothers, a three-man Teen Idol
group with fellow singers John Maus and Gary Leeds (none of whom were really called Walker
.) They had a string of hit singles including "My Ship Is Coming In", "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" and "Stay With Me Baby", rivaling the Beatles in popularity with British youth. Scott still became dissatisfied with the band's sound, and he made a series of increasingly distinctive self-titled albums
, Scott 2
, Scott 3
and, yes, Scott 4
. He also developed a love for the music of Jacques Brel
, and made several memorable cover versions of his work. Scott
1 through 3 each reached the British top 5, but his increasing experimentation led to the commercial failure of Scott 4
The Walker Brothers split up in 1968. During the early 1970s Walker made a number of solo albums that skirted into Easy Listening
territory; he admits today he made these because he was in career slump and needed to make a living
The Walker Brothers briefly reunited in the mid-Seventies
and even had a hit single with "No Regrets", but they broke up again soon after. Shortly before their breakup in 1978, the band's label went under and permitted the band to record one last album with no limits. This prompted Scott to return to songwriting and record his darkest and most experimental music up to that point. These composed the first four acclaimed tracks to the Walker Brothers album Nite Flights
, which went on to influence everyone from David Bowie
In 1981, his reputation got an additional boost with the successful release of a compilation album, Fire Escape in the Sky: the Godlike Genius of Scott Walker
, featuring tracks selected by dedicated Fanboy
Julian Cope. Walker's own songwriting had been starting to sound Darker and Edgier
and his artistic output, if not his income, began to revive with the critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful 1984 album Climate of Hunter
. He didn't release another album until 1995's Tilt
, when it became apparent that a full-scale Genre Shift
had happened: in place of the sardonic/romantic tone of the 60s and 70s and the ominous electronic balladry of the 80s, Walker was now in Nightmare Fuel
territory with massively doomy strings
, disturbing Word Salad
lyrics and a new, ghostly tenor voice in place of his previous warm baritone.
Since then, he's gone on to release increasingly disturbing but rather brilliant albums at occasional intervals, most recently 2012's Bish Bosch
. 2006's The Drift
is considered one of his greatest records, and most terrifying.
In 1970 he took out British citizenship and has lived in England ever since. On receiving an award in 2003 he said of England "I couldn't have made the records I've made in any other place."
In 2006 he was the subject of a feature-length documentary by Stephen Kijak, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man
.Not to be confused with the (as of 2012) Republican governor of Wisconsin
The Walker Brothers:
- Take it Easy with the Walker Brothers (1965)
- Portrait (1966) - Not released in America
- The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore (1966) - Released in Portrait's place
- Images (1967)
- Scott (1967)
- Scott 2 (1968)
- Scott 3 (1969)
- Scott 4 (1969)
- 'Til the Band Comes In (1970)
The "Wilderness Years"
- The Moviegoer (1972)
- Any Day Now (1973)
- Stretch (1973)
- We Had it All (1974)
Walker Brothers Reunite:
- No Regrets (1975)
- Lines (1976)
- Nite Flights (1978)
- Climate of Hunter (1984)
- Tilt (1995)
- Pola X (1990) - Film soundtrack
- The Drift (2006)
- And Who Shall Go to the Ball? And What Shall Go to the Ball? (2008)
- Bish Bosch (2012)
His music is featured in the following films:
His work provides examples of:
- Added Alliterative Appeal: "Plastic Palace People"
- Angsty Surviving Twin: In "Jesse", a despairing Elvis Presley tries to communicate with his stillborn twin brother.
- Big Name Fan: He has many, including Brian Eno, Damon Albarn, David Bowie, Sting, Radiohead, Wes Anderson...
- Breakup Song: "No Regrets" - Tom Rush may have written it, but the Walker Brothers are the ones who had a hit with it.
- Cool Old Guy: He's 70 but making the edgiest and most extreme stuff he's ever made, and nobody could accuse him of being a nostalgia act or relying on his back catalogue. He himself admits that he doesn't even listen to his own music. When he won a Q magazine award in 2003, he asked somebody at his table what was the music that was playing as he was returning to his seat. It was one of his own songs, recorded only nine years earlier.
- Cover Version: The majority of his 60s recordings were covers of Pop standards, including the Walker Brothers' best known songs: "Make it Easy on Yourself", "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore". Most significantly, his first three albums had several Jacques Brel songs on them: "Mathilde", "Jackie", "Amsterdam", "Next", "If You Go Away"...
- His 1972 album The Moviegoer consists entirely of other people's film theme songs. Every album from that through We Had it All was made of covers, in fact.
- Creator Breakdown: Happened after the commercial failure of Scott 4, which was partially brought about by his increasing experimentation. He responded with the largely accessible 'Til the Band Comes In, which didn't do well either, leading him to resort to Easy Listening covers for several years. He wouldn't write original material again until 1978. He is engagingly honest about the fact that nobody forced him to record albums full of cover versions: he considers that he just had 'bad faith', for which he blames nobody but himself.
- Darker and Edgier: The arc of his entire career since the late 1970s. Each Scott album was also darker than the one before.
- Death Song: He likes writing these. "Farmer in the City" seems to be one for Pier Paolo Pasolini, while "Clara" is sung by the dead Benito Mussolini to his mistress Clara Petacci while their bodies are hanging upside-down from a gas station.
- Doing It for the Art: Having had some serious Wilderness Years by anyone's standards, he seems to be determined to keep moving on and not become a Jaded Wash Out. When he finished Tilt, Fontana's A&R man came to the studio to listen to it. It was blasting out of massive speakers in the control room and after a couple of songs the A&R man asked if he could listen to it on smaller speakers. Walker said "Actually, do you mind if we don't? Now that it's finished I'm never gonna listen to it again, so I kind of want to remember it like this."
- Epic Rocking: His songs stretched to as far as 9 minutes on Tilt and 12 on The Drift, culminating in the 21-and-1/2 minute "SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)" on Bish Bosch.
- Everything Is an Instrument: His modern albums have rather...interesting choices for instruments - machetes, ball bearings, garbage cans on top of crates, and - famously - a side of pork for his percussionist to punch to get the right sound for a corpse being beaten with a stick.
- Genre Shift: From mainstream Baroque Pop and Chanson in the 60s, through country-rock in the 70s and dissonant New Wave Music electropop balladry in the 80s, to unclassifiable Chanson From Hell ever since the mid-90s.
- Human Popsicle: "30 Century Man" provides the page quote.
- Keep Circulating the Tapes: Most, if not all, of his albums from the "Wilderness Years" are out of print and very rare.
- And Who Shall Go to the Ball? was physically released on only 2500 copies. It's still available on iTunes though.
- Lighter and Softer:
- 'Til the Band Comes In. Co-writer Andy Semal is credited for editing out anything that would "offend old ladies."
- Bish Bosch, though not as dramatically. It's more sparse and less aurally overbearing than The Drift, and it has an overall more playful feel to it (as playful as nightmare music can get). Also "Corps De Blah" has a farting section.
- Literary Allusion Title: "Orpheus", "The Seventh Seal"
- Long Title: "The Old Man's Back Again (Dedicated To The Neo-Stalinist Regime)", And Who Shall Go to the Ball? And What Shall Go to the Ball?, "SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)", "The Day the "Conducator" Died (An Xmas Song)"
- Lyrical Dissonance: "30 Century Man" is a cheery little ditty about being cryogenically frozen because you can't handle the complexities of modern life.
- It goes the other way too; often, the music's intensity gives new weight to lines like "I brought nylons from New York."
- Minimalistic Cover Art: Scott 1, 2, 4, and 'Til the Band Comes In are simply pictures of the man himself. Bish Bosch is just the album title smeared in white paint against a black background.
- New Sound Album: His first four solo albums were darker, more ambiguous and less romantic than the stuff he did with the Walker Brothers, but he then got diverted into making what amounted to MOR albums before stealthily edging his way back into darker and more ambitious territory in the 80s and 90s. By the time of 2006's The Drift he was making some of the most terrifying music ever recorded.
- Promoted Fanboy: Jarvis Cocker. Scott produced Pulp's final album, We Love Life, and Jarvis sang some of Scott's songs for the live show "Drifting and Tilting: The Songs of Scott Walker". The two are now good friends.
- Scary Musician, Harmless Music: Inverted since the 1990s: Walker himself comes across as charming, soft-spoken and rather shy, but since Tilt his music has been the stuff of nightmares.
- Something Completely Different:
- Right in the middle of the rich, string-drenched Scott 3 comes "30 Century Man", a short track with just Scott and an acoustic guitar.
- Nite Flights, with gleeful, murderous abandon. Before then Scott and the Walker Brothers were doing MOR Pop and Country music. Cue their record label going under and giving the band free reign to do what they want, thus Nite Flights' forays into Art Rock, Disco, No Wave, and dark Electronic Music.
- Take That: "SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)" is loaded with vaudevillian insult jokes. A small sampler:
"If shit were music, you'd be a brass band."
"Look, don't go to a mind reader, go to a palmist. I know you've got a palm."
"Does your face hurt, 'cause it's killing me!"
"You're so boring that you can't even entertain doubt!"
- The Trope without a Title: The third, fifth, sixth and seventh songs on Climate of Hunter are respectively titled "Track Three", "Track Five", "Track Six" and "Track Seven".
- Vocal Evolution: Surprisingly averted despite his long career: he hasn't toured in years, and the resulting lack of strain on his voice means that he can still do whatever he wants with it. Bish Bosch shows in a couple tracks that, despite sticking to a medium-low register for the last few decades, he can still hit some higher notes quite easily.
- Word Salad Lyrics: He's been prone to it for much of his career but he's really been tossing those salads since Climate of Hunter.
- 0% Approval Rating: The titular figure recalled in "The Day the 'Conducator' Died", a ruler who was uprooted and executed.
"Play it cool
And saran wrap all you can"