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Music / Scott Walker

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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

are you
Six feet
flung at
in the
— "Jesse", 2006

Scott Walker (born Noel Scott Engel, January 9, 1943 - March 22, 2019) was 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 '50s as a teenage pop singer, then became a session musician. In The '60s he relocated to London and became the lead singer of a three-man Teen Idol group with fellow singers John Maus and Gary Leeds. This group was called The Walker Brothers, although the members weren't brothers and none of them were really named 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-strange albums (creatively-titled Scott, Scott 2, Scott 3 and, yes, Scott 4). He developed a love for the music of Jacques Brel, and made several memorable cover versions of Brel's work. Scott 1 through 3 each reached the British Top 5, but his growing 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 later admitted 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 without any restrictions. This prompted Scott to return to songwriting and record his darkest and most experimental music up to that point. These comprised the first four much-acclaimed tracks to the Walker Brothers album Nite Flights, which went on to influence everyone from David Bowie to Ultravox ("Vienna" can be directly linked to Nite Flights' "The Electrician"). Bowie named Scott Walker as one of his main influences and biggest idol, and nearly went to pieces when Walker recorded a personal greeting for his 50th birthday.

In 1981, Walker's reputation received an additional boost with the successful release of the tribute 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. Walker went on to release increasingly disturbing but rather brilliant albums at occasional intervals, his last being 2012's Bish Bosch. Walker also began to make a name for himself scoring the music to avant-garde films, and even recorded an album with drone metallers Sunn O))), which was his final release.

In 1970 he took out British citizenship and moved to England, where he lived for the rest of his life. 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 entitled Scott Walker: 30 Century Man. On March 25, 2019, Walker passed away at the age of 76.

Not to be confused with the former 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 in the U.S.
  • Images (1967)

Going Solo:

  • Scottnote  (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)

Nightmare Music:

  • Climate of Hunter (1984)
  • Tilt (1995)
  • Pola X (1999) - Film soundtrack
  • The Drift (2006)
  • And Who Shall Go to the Ball? And What Shall Go to the Ball? (2008)
  • Bish Bosch (2012)
  • Soused (2014, collaboration with Sunn O))))

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.
  • Animal Motifs: Clara Petacci is associated with swallows in "Clara".
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The title character in "SDSS 14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter") tries to do this. He ends up becoming a dying brown dwarf star instead.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Nearly all of his output between Scott 4 and the Walker Brothers' reunion has been omitted from reissues and compilations due to poor reception from critics, fans, and Scott himself alike. The lone exception is Til the Band Comes In, which was rereleased on CD along with his first four solo albums and has been included in box sets and compilations of his career.
  • Careful with That Axe: Walker pulls this off surprisingly well during "SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)".
  • Cool Shades: One of the few constants throughout his lengthy career was his tendency to wear these in photoshoots and public appearances.
  • Cover Version:
    • The majority of his recordings in The '60s were covers of Pop standards, including The Walker Brothers' best known songs: "Make it Easy on Yourself" and "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore". Most significantly, his first three albums had several Jacques Brel songs on them, including "Mathilde", "Jackie", "Amsterdam", "Next", "If You Go Away"...
    • Every album from The Moviegoer through We Had It All was comprised of covers, the former being of film theme songs.
  • Darker and Edgier: Each Scott album was darker than the one before, and then this trope hit full throttle after the late-1970s.
  • Death Song: He liked writing these. "Farmer in the City" seems to be one for Pier Paolo Pasolini, while "Clara" is about the death of Benito Mussolini's mistress Clara Petacci, partially sung from him to her while their bodies are hanging upside-down from a gas station.
  • Drone of Dread: Used frequently starting with Scott 3 and usually dissonant. Taken to its logical conclusion in his 2014 Drone Metal collaboration with Sunn O))), Soused.
  • Epic Rocking: His songs stretch to as far as 9 minutes on Tilt and 12 on The Drift, culminating in the 21½-minute "SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)" on Bish Bosch.
  • Everything Is an Instrument: His albums from Tilt-on have rather... interesting choices for instruments — machetes, ball bearings, garbage cans on top of crates, and a side of pork for his percussionist to punch to get the right sound for a corpse being beaten with a stick.
  • Face on the Cover: Scott's face is featured on the covers of all of his solo albums from Scott through Climate of Hunter.
  • Genre Shift: From mainstream Baroque Pop and Chanson in the '60s, through country-rock in the 70s and dissonant New Wave electropop balladry in the '80s, to unclassifiable Chanson From Hell ever since the mid-'90s.
  • Horrible History Metal: A surprising amount. "The Electrician" is about American torturers working for Pinochet during the 1970s, "Farmer in the City" is probably about the assassination of Pier Paolo Pasolini, "The Day the 'Conducator' Died" is about the execution of Nicolae Ceaușescu, and "Clara" is about the doomed mistress of Benito Mussolini and her execution alongside him at the end of World War II.
  • Human Popsicle: "30 Century Man" provides the page quote.
  • Jump Scare: Happens almost once a song on The Drift, most notably with the terrifying orchestral drops in "Clara" and the out-of-nowhere pig squeals on "Jolson and Jones."
  • Lighter and Softer:
    • 'Til the Band Comes In. Co-writer Ady Semel 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 in comparison, such as with the farting section in "Corps De Blah" and the vaudevillian insult jokes in "Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter".
  • Literary Allusion Title: "Orpheus", "The Seventh Seal"
  • Loudness War: With the exception of Soused (which comes in at a borderline DR7), he has consistently averted this trope throughout his career.
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • "30 Century Man" is a cheery little ditty about being cryogenically frozen because you can't handle the complexities of modern life.
    • "Hero of the War" is a jaunty tune about a woman whose husband and son were both crippled at war.
    • Often goes the other way: the music's intensity gives new weight to lines like "I brought nylons from New York."
  • Madness Mantra: "I'm the only one left alive!" at the end of "Jesse", repeated several times completely a capella so that it sounds like Scott is screaming into the void.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art:
    • Scott 1, 2, and 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.
  • The Movie Buff: Scott was a lifelong cinephile, and many of his songs were based on movies or direct covers of film soundtracks. Later on he would score several avant-garde films.
  • New Sound Album: His first four solo albums were darker, more ambitious and less romantic than the stuff he did with the Walker Brothers, but Scott 4 saw him start moving away from the elaborate traditional pop orchestral arrangements of the earlier albums into something more Folk Music and Rock-inspired. However, 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.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: He liked to do this with closing tracks. After the lavish, complex arrangements that comprise the bulk of the albums, Climate of Hunter, Tilt, and The Drift end with simple, minimalist guitar ballads (for lack of a better word) that somehow sound more threatening than the audio barrages that preceded them.
  • Obligatory Bondage Song: "Brando", from his collaboration with Sunn O))), is about the punishment Marlon Brando took on-screen and how it could act as fetish appeal. The line "A beating would do me..." is repeated, and a cracking bullwhip is one of the percussive elements.
  • Pop-Star Composer: For Pola X and The Childhood of a Leader, though his pop star days were long behind him when he composed those soundtracks.
  • Protest Song: "Hero of the War" protests Vietnam, albeit rather indirectly.
  • Scary Musician, Harmless Music: Inverted since the 1990s. Walker himself came across as charming, soft-spoken and rather shy, but since Tilt his music was the stuff of nightmares.
  • Scatting: Lots of examples on Scott 4.
  • Stage Names: Scott's real name was Noel Scott Engel, usually shortened to Scott Engel, but he took on Scott Walker as his stage name when he was in The Walker Brothers.
  • Survivor's Guilt: "Jesse" is about Elvis experiencing this in a moment of cocaine fueled despair and isolation in his hotel room, feeling waves of guilt about outliving his stillborn twin brother and trying to communicate with his spirit.
  • Take That, Audience!: "SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)" is loaded with vaudevillian insult jokes directed at the listener. 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: Averted, despite his long career: he didn't tour after the Walker Brothers split and recorded albums at a sporadic pace in his later years, and the resulting lack of strain on his voice meant that he could still do whatever he wanted with it. Bish Bosch showed in a couple tracks that, despite sticking to a medium-low register for his last few decades, he could still hit some higher notes quite easily.
  • War Is Glorious: "Hero of the War" is a sardonic attack on this trope, showing the emptiness of this kind of rhetoric next to the actual effects of war.
    He's a hero of the war
    All the neighborhood is talking about your son
    Mrs. Riley get his medals, hand them round to everyone
    Show his gun to all the children in the street
    It's too bad he can't shake hands or move his feet
  • Word Purée Title: "SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)". Explanation: SDSS14+13B (short for SDSS J141624.08+134826.7) refers to a binary star system made up of brown dwarfs (failed stars). The song relates a show being put on by the Moorish dwarf Zercon (pun almost certainly intended), although it's mostly a trading of insults between him and the audience, and as he fails to escape the cruelty of Attila the Hun's court, he compares himself to a dying star.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: He was prone to it for much of his career, but really started tossing those salads with Climate of Hunter. You get the impression on that record that Scott's getting at something, but it's so abstract that what it means will be unique to each listener. His later "nightmare music" albums also featured this in large quantities, but featured just as many songs that told coherent (albeit severely disjointed and surreal) stories.
  • 0% Approval Rating: The titular figure recalled in "The Day the 'Conducator' Died": Romanian Communist head of state Nicolae Ceaușescu, who was overthrown and executed on Christmas Day 1989.

"Play it cool
And saran wrap all you can"