Singer / songwriter / record producer, Scott Walker, real name Noel Scott Engel, died on March 22nd, aged 76. Although born in Ohio, USA in 1943, he became a British citizen in 1970. His unique enigmatic career would span ‘60s Pop through to the Avant-Garde direction of his later recordings. In 2006 a documentary film about Walker, ’30 Century Man’, captured this extraordinary artistic journey.
Originally marketed as a teen-idol, recording as Scott Engel during the late ‘50s / early ‘60s, he came to prominence as a member of the Walker Brothers (who weren’t really brothers, nor were any of the trio called Walker), who set-up in Los Angeles in 1964, but re-located to the London the following year, achieving major success on this side of the Atlantic (though never to the same extent in their country of origin) recording for the Philips label, scoring 8 top 30 singles, including a pair of #1s, the Bacharach & David number, originally a 1962 US top 20 hit for R&B singer Jerry Butler, ‘Make It Easy On Yourself’ (’65), and the Spectoresque epic ‘The Sun Ain’t Going To Shine Anymore’ (’66), written by Bob Crewe & Bob Gaudino, who were behind numerous hits by the Four Seasons, lead singer Frankie Valli recording the original version of the song the previous year. This was also their biggest US hit, peaking at #13. Having split in 1968, the Walker Brothers would re-form between ‘75-‘78, providing a final top 10 flourish via 1975’s ‘No Regrets’.
The combination of Scott Walker’s powerful baritone crooner vocal, coupled with the group’s youthful good looks, attracted a legion of teenage fans, but Walker was a reluctant teen-heartthrob. He recalled leaving a gig in Dublin to find the van he was in mobbed by screaming girls who proceeded to rock it so forcefully that it overturned. Walker’s distaste for these consequences of stardom, not to mention the genuine fear that he might be seriously hurt due to the fanaticism of those who followed them, would lead him in a markedly different direction.
Embarking on a solo career in 1967, Walter’s unlikely muse was an unnamed German Playboy bunny, who he’d met at London’s newly-opened Playboy club the previous year. She introduced him the music of Jacques Brel, the Flemish chanteur, and Brel’s gritty and risqué lyrics made a major impression on Walker, who would subsequently record a number of Brel compositions, which had been translated into English by Mort Schuman (a compilation of which would be later released in 1981), whilst adopting Brel’s influence into his own songwriting.
The best-known of these was ‘Jackie’, Walker’s first solo hit in 1967, originally recorded by Brel as ‘La Chanson de Jacky’ in ’65. However, it was as an album artist that Walker evolved, his first 4 solo LPs all reaching the UK top 10 between 1967-69, including the 1968 #1 ‘Scott 2’, which opened with ‘Jackie’. I blogged about the track in 2011:
The BBC gave Walker his own TV show in 1969, but unfortunately they failed to archive these broadcasts, so footage is rare. Walker also felt that the commercial demands of his career were stifling his creativity, and replaced his manager, Maurice King, ahead of his 5th solo album, ‘Scott 4’ (a compilation of songs from his TV series providing the 4th release), his first fully self-penned LP. However, despite nowadays being regarded amongst his best works, the record failed to chart, as did his next 5 albums, issued between 1970-75, plunging him into a period of obscurity punctuated by the mid-‘70s Walker Brothers re-boot.
His four songs on the final Walker Brothers album, 1978’s ‘Nite Flights’, set a darker tone indicative of the direction in which his later solo work would head. His approach to music and recording becoming increasingly experimental and Avant-Garde. His music could certainly be described as challenging, to be filed under ‘not for everyone’, but his artistic integrity was undoubted as he plunged himself ever-deeper into aural expression.
In 1981 a Julian Cope compiled selection of Walker written recordings from his late-‘60s pomp was released on Liverpool-based Zoo Records, which issued the recordings of his own group, The Teardrop Explodes, and was run by Bill Drummond, later of The KLF. The album, ‘Fire Escape In The Sky: The Godlike Genius of Scott Walker’, would reach #14 on the Independent chart, illuminating Walker’s legacy to a new, more alternative audience. The album was issued in a plain grey sleeve, Cope’s intention being that rather than adorning it with a period photo, people should enjoy the album ‘without feeling they were buying into some dodgy ’60s MOR icon’.
He had a minor hit with the 1984 solo album, ‘Climate Of Hunter’, which reached #60, whilst his next LP, the long-awaited ‘Tilt’, released 11 years on, would give him his highest placing on the UK album chart since the height of his ‘60s popularity, reaching #27. Subsequent albums, ‘The Drift’ (2006) and ‘Bish Bosch’ were less successful, whilst his final chart album was a collaboration with experimental Metal band Sunn O))), ‘Soused’, which peaked at #30 in 2014. He’d continue to write film scores, his concluding work the soundtrack of the movie ‘Vox Lux’, released last year.
Scott Walker’s late-‘60s solo output was a big inspiration to David Bowie, who during that period was trying to find direction ahead of oncoming ‘70s superstardom. Jacques Brel’s lyrical breadth and both Brel and Walker’s flair for the theatrical wouldn’t be lost on Bowie, who’d subsequently perform the songs ‘My Death’ (providing a particularly poignant moment at the final ‘Ziggy Stardust’ concert on July 3rd 1973’) and ‘Amsterdam’, which would turn up on the flip side of his hit ‘Sorrow’ – both of which featured on Walker’s solo debut ‘Scott’ (1967).
Marc Almond, Radiohead, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Smiths, Jarvis Cocker and Alex Turner are amongst other recording artists influenced by Walker.
Scott Walker Wikipedia: