TRIBUTE: Our favourite Scott Walker songs

TRIBUTE: Our favourite Scott Walker songs

Legendary artist Scott Walker passed away this week at the age of 76. Born Noel Scott Engel, in Ohio in 1943, his parents divorcing when he was just five years old. Later he briefly studied art at college in California before playing bass as a session musician and then going on to form The Walker Brothers. At the age of just 22, and by now Scott Walker, he lent his towering baritone to the band’s first UK No 1 with ‘Make It Easy On Yourself’ which was followed by the classic hit ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)’.

From teen idol with The Walker Brothers to a reclusive baroque singer-songwriter steeped in European culture, following the commercial failure of his masterpieces Scott 3 and Scott 4 in 1969, Walker descended into depression and a creative funk in the 1970s. He re-emerged, though, and over the next 30 years through an exploration of his “nightmarish imagination” he released a series of albums, Tilt (1995), The Drift (2006) , Bish Bosch (2012) and Soused feat Sunn0))) (2014) that would mark him as one of the most challenging, surreal and experimental of musical artists.

Scott Walker was one of the most mythologised and elusive figures in popular music and his story is entertaining, provoking and fascinating. As Julian Cope once said Scott Walker is truly ‘a Godlike Genius.’ He is a figure who will leave an indelible mark upon music, his influence is vast, his catalogue imperious, his voice and work will always have a place in people’s hearts.

Today, as a small tribute we pick some of our favourite Scott Walker tracks below.

The Walker Brothers – The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore) (1966)

Noel Scott Engel formed the unrelated Walker Brothers in 1964 in Los Angeles with singer and guitarist John Maus and drummer Gary Leeds. Moving to Britain they began to gain chart success in the UK at a time when The Beatles were at the forefront of a British invasion of the US chart.

Orginaly recorded by Franki Valli the Walker Brothers version of ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)’ was released in 1966, scaling to the summit of the UK chart. A stone-cold timeless hit seered onto the subconsciousness of music, this epic song grasps at the very essence of crushing heartbreak and the cavernous existential emptiness of living.

Draped in epic strings and with a reverb-drenched production, there’s a hunting quality to Walker’s central vocal that booms with a majestic depth that belies his thin wiry frame, the song is lifted aloft by his fellow ‘Brothers’ in this bombastic sing-a-long chorus lines, framed in the kind of grandiose production, swelling strings and pounding drums that puts it up there with Phil Spector classics like The Righteous Brothers‘You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling’. A simply stunning bittersweet pop moment in time. That Scott would shy away from this vein in future years rather than mine it to distraction like many of his contemporaries speaks to his restless artistic spirit. (BC)

The Walker Brothers – My Ship Is Coming In (1966)

Being a huge fan of The Divine Comedy, Pulp and Tindersticks in the ’90s it was perhaps inevitable that I would get into Scott Walker. He was constantly name-checked as an influence as well as being put on my radar with the release of Tilt around the time I started reading the NME and Melody Maker. I began with the four Scott Walker solo albums from the late ’60s. The widescreen production verses Scott’s curious lyrical subject made it easy to fall in love with his music instantly.

Diving further into the work he did with The Walker Brothers it was easy to see why he was pushed as the star of the group. On the follow-up to their first number one single (‘Make It Easy On Yourself’), Scott is well and truly centre-stage with one of the vocal performances of his career. He demonstrates such control over this dramatic baroque ballad until the last 30 seconds when he lets it all out as he ad-libs, “my holy ship, I’ve been waiting and it’s coming in” with such power in his voice. It’s a thrilling performance on one of their best early singles. (JW)

Scott Walker – Such a Small Love (1967)

Scott’s debut solo album only featured three of his own compositions, and when you consider that the other two were the equally brilliant ‘Montague Terrace (In Blue)’ and ‘Always Coming Back to You’, it’s clear that his craft was already well-honed by then. ‘Such a Small Love’ may stick to the Walker Brothers’ quiet-LOUD-quiet orchestral template but there’s already a lot going on lyrically, pointers to Scott’s future surreal cut-up style (“His shallow half-lit eyes, his rotted teeth grown on/On drunken madman nights ending up in jail”) as well as some of the most heartbreaking lines of his career – it’s a cold heart that can stay unmoved by lines like “Someone should have shouted you had gone in her ear” or “Someone should’ve stopped the birds from singing today”. (TR)

Scott Walker – Montague Terrace In Blue (1967)

Skip forward to 1991, and Fontana issued a joint Best Of by The Walker Brothers and Scott Walker solo. ‘No Regrets’ was re-released as a single and I bought it (this a mere 9 years after loving the song in the first place!) What blew me away though was ‘Boy Child’ on the B-side. On hearing the Best Of album, I couldn’t believe the amazing stuff on there. I had no idea of the timeline, but ‘Montague Terrace In Blue’ stood out. The arrangement, the voice, the build-up to the crashing chorus, incredible. Lyrics about the mundanities of daily life made into this remarkable mini-drama, like a film and a soundtrack rolled up into three and a half minutes. (AP)

Scott Walker – Plastic Palace People (1968)

Lifted from Scott 2, the most commerically successful of his run of four solo albums in the mid to late 1960s, and ushered in on waves of sumptuous and cinematic strings the unsettlingly yet glorious, ‘Plastic Palace People’ , is a grandly framed character study in at least four movements. Scott peering out on the city teaming with life from his window, capturing vividly shot bittersweet moments. Like a Lynch film, what is pretty on the outside hides internal darkness. Flights of unsettling imagery swirl, Billy the boy in the songs narrative floats out of reach to the horror of his mother. The tantalising melancholia of the passing of the day and the tiny often unsettling detail of the life of the everyday folk are drawn in Scott’s luxurious depth. The chorus capturing the world in freeze frame, undulating into a twinkling flute and horn braced crescendos are simply extraordinary, whirling in and out of time signatures like a Stravinsky masterpiece it mixes the avant-garde with classical and lounge music in a way that no other American songwriter ever matched. Is it a dream is it a nightmare? Possibly both, eiher way its magnificent. Scott’s glorious eye for each detail here is the aural equivalent of a complex and detailed painting. (BC)

Scott Walker – Rosemary (1969)

Scott 3 is the exquisitely drawn sound of a burgeoning Scott Walker as baroque songwriter and artistic visionary, a luxurious body of work; it’s a sound that would reverberate upon albums like Climate of the Hunter in later decades and influence the likes of Marc Almond, Jarvis Cocker and Brett Anderson to name but three. Eschewing the more bombastic string led melodrama of Scott 2, its follow-up Scott 3 marked the full emergence of his songwriting talent and draped it in a suite of lavish string arrangements provided by Wally Stott.

It’s there in Scott’s unsettling, world-weary miniature symphonies that examine characters with a poetic fine detail, given life by Walker’s by now cavernous sounding yet weighty baritone. “Voices from a photograph/Laughed from your wall/Screamed through your dreams” croons Scott, sinisterly tip-toeing over strings that stab, on the startlingly brilliant ‘Rosemary’. Each exquisite striking couplet initially endears then stings in the tail as he paints a heartbreaking narrative of a lonely young woman. It’s a gorgeous track which confirmed that not only was Walker a great singer, he was also in possession of a fearless poet’s eye. (BC)

Scott Walker – It’s Raining Today (1969)

The opening track from Scott 3 is heartbreaking yet sublimely beautiful at the same time. On the surface, it’s a ballad, yet dip just below and there’s more at play, as Scott continued to experiment even more than before. It has left the screaming fans of the Walker Brothers’ days behind and looks to a future that’s more reflective and full of unknown possibilities.

In many ways, this might be seen as the definitive Scott Walker track: aware of what’s behind him, certainly not at a crossroads but combining chamber pop and an ever more avant grade approach. This is the piece that completes the jigsaw of fifty years plus of music making. (EJ)

Scott Walker – The Seventh Seal (1969)

Confusingly Scott’s fifth solo album, Scott 4 was also his first commercial failure. Scott’s own opinions for the reasons of its failure, that the original release of it carried only his birth name and that the entirety of the album was written in 3/4, don’t necessarily hold water but whatever the reason it was more of a creative success than anything that preceded it. Nowhere is this summed up better than opener ‘The Seventh Seal’, an ode to the film of the same name that adds a Latin flair to the widescreen chamber-pop that Scott was at the time both dipping his toes into and out of. (JD)

Scott Walker – Boy Child (1969)

From Scott 4, ‘Boy Child’ is the full realisation of the promise that Scott had shown from the birth of his solo career as both a lyricist and a composer. A haunting ballad born of little more than voice and piano, its mastery of space and silence gives it more weight than any orchestra ever could. (JD)

Scott Walker – Duchess

I have the Trembling Bells to thank for reacquainting me with the wondrous delight of Scott Walker’s ‘Duchess’. The experimental Scots’ folk band performed a rather excellent cover of the song, coincidentally, at the now similarly demised The Duchess in York back in August 2012, though in truth ‘Duchess’ (the song) had never ever gone away. It was still there tucked away, quite perfectly, in the middle of the second side of my vinyl copy of Scott 4, the 1969 album that saw Walker move more markedly away from his earlier pop-star pin-up phase into one that was characterised by enduring existentialism and futuristic extravagance. (SG)

Scott Walker – If You Go Away (1969)

It turns out that Scott Walker was turned on to iconic French songwriter Jacques Brel by a girl he was dating in the ’60s, and he covered enough of his songs for them to be rounded up into a compilation, Scott Walker Sings Jacques Brel some years later in 1981. ‘If You Go Away’ is a beautifully tender song – translated from French into English, it still packs an amazing lyrical punch, and the arrangement as ever is sublime. Walker enjoyed working with full orchestras and certainly made the most of the opportunities that came his way. The song is almost unbearably poignant right at this moment. (AP)

The Walker Brothers – No Regrets (1975)

I think my first memory of anything Scott Walker related came via Ultravox frontman Midge Ure in 1982. He was having a solo hit (at the height of Ultravox’s popularity) in the Top 10 with a song called ‘No Regrets’, which I liked. I didn’t even know it was a cover at the time, let alone who by. Later I found out that it was a Walker Brothers song. I didn’t know until years later that it was the band’s ‘comeback’ single from 1975 (it hit No. 7 in the U.K. at the start of 1976). It was my first encounter with that incredible voice which was pitched so high up in the mix on top of this really lush music. It wasn’t like anything I had really heard before (I was 12) and I still love it now. (AP)

The Walker Brothers – Lines (1976)

After the commercial failure of Scott 4 and a string of equally unsuccessful albums composed mainly of covers (summarised perfectly by Scott himself as his “lost years”) the reformation of The Walker Brothers was a financial necessity more than anything else. Still, the title track of their second post-reformation album stands up to anything they (or indeed he) recorded. Scott is noted as stating this widescreen country epic to be his favourite Walker Brothers’ track, though he would never pick a number one. (JD)

The Walker Brothers – Nite Flights (1978)

The first half of the ’70s is commonly referred to as Scott’s wilderness years. After the commercial failure of his masterpiece, Scott 4 he found himself losing his character over albums full of covers that he quickly disowned. After reuniting with The Walker Brothers in ’75, they scored one hit single with, ‘No Regrets’. Again, Scott expressed his dissatisfaction with the material. For their final album, Scott finally starts to follow his own path again hinting at the experimental nature of his future works. Each member has their own section of songs and to say Scott steals the spotlight, is something of an understatement.

Whilst ‘Shutout’, ‘Fat Mama Kick’ and ‘The Electrician’ are impressive in their own unique ways, the title track remains one of the most astonishing highlights of his entire career. The cinematic soaring strings mixed with the funky bass is an incredible combination. Scott’s baritone vocal sounds tortured as he belts out, “the raw meat fist you choke has hit the bloodlight”. Unsettling lyrics like these are something he would explore later in his career. Nite Flights’ is a breath-taking and bold artistic statement that suddenly found him on a level of the people he’d influenced (Bowie, Eno, Roxy Music) after the artistic decline of the early ’70s. (JW)

Scott Walker – Rawhide (1984)

As autobiographical lyrics go, there are very few that cut to the point more than the first line from ‘Rawhide’; “This is how you disappear.” Released six years after the second death of The Walker Brothers, Climate Of Hunter (the album from which ‘Rawhide’ is taken) is both of its time and utterly timeless, with a tone foreshadowing the work of latter-period Talk Talk and many British ‘art-rock’ acts of the early 90s whilst being a product entirely of its era instrumentally. (JD)

Scott Walker – Track Three (1984)

After the brilliant reinvention of Scott’s sound on Nite Flights, it was another six years until he released anymore music. The making of 1984’s Climate Of Hunter was troublesome resulting him almost quitting the music business several times. Luckily he stuck with it and created arguably the most underrated album of his career. Whilst not as abstract as The Drift or Bish Bosch, he laid some of the groundwork for his next album Tilt on here.

Track Three‘ was the only single released from Climate Of Hunter and is a brilliant piece of dark sophisti-pop that occupies the same musical landscape as the solo works of David Sylvian and Bryan Ferry. The fretless bass and sleek production give the song a nice groove that blends with the eerie synths as Walker continues to paint more oblique images with his lyrics – “the blood of our split back without his prisoner the distance rigged in his eyes”. Unsurprisingly it wasn’t a hit, but it was the sound of Walker moving forward whilst making the music he truly believed in. Something he did for the rest of his unpredictable career. (JW)

Scott Walker – Farmer in the City (1995)

Conventional wisdom has it that 1995 comeback album Tilt is an atonal, industrial, unlistenable endurance test of a record, but that’s not strictly true – it has several moments of great beauty, most noticeably its opener ‘Farmer in the City’. The familiar strings are still in place but they’re underpinned by an ominous low drone and that once proud baritone now sounds wracked and tormented, and by the time it soars to its vertiginous climax around the five-minute mark, the listener has truly been put through the emotional wringer. The finest 7 minutes of his career. (TR)

Scott Walker – Only Myself to Blame (1999)

Walker has spent his post-70s career disowning his earlier work, quite reasonably pointing out that if anyone still wants to hear him singing ballads with a string section, there are already several albums’ worth of such material to turn to. So it was something of a miracle that, in 1999, someone managed to persuade him to record this jazzy David Arnold composition for a James Bond soundtrack – even more of a miracle that Scott throws himself into it totally and delivers one of the best performances of his late career. This is Scott enjoying himself, and possibly saying to his old-school fans yes, I can still do this, I simply choose not to. Awkward as always, even when sounding smoother than ever. (TR)

Scott Walker – Hand Me Ups (2006)

‘Hand Me Ups’ finds Scott Walker knee deep in unfamiliar territory. It is an intimidating psych-rock wall of noise, all crashing cymbals and shrieking horns that barely relent, that is as expert a mastering of maximalism as ‘Boy Child’ is of minimalism. Yet here again it is Walker’s lyrics, nay storytelling, that take pride of place. (JD)

Scott Walker – SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter) (2012)

In a manner Walker, the crooner had always been a moody sod, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Bish Bosch keeps up the pre-tense. Prone to scrupulous procrastination, his deliberated triumvirate of most abstract works (Tilt, The Drift and Bish Bosch) cemented a reputation built on the glaring poetic truths of reality. With all the semiotics and harsh historical anecdotes, Bish Bosch promises some glimmers of humour, albeit a dry one with the onus on the insulting. The twenty-minute multiple-stage epic, ‘SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)’ is a tale of two dwarfs, one the Moorish figure of jest and companion to Attila The Hun, Zercon, and the other a sub-stellar body, this coded peregrination ponderously roams through the ages. Various stop-offs along the Hun rulers empire – which stretched from the Ural to the Rhine in one direction, and the Danube to the Baltic in the other – are interspersed with Scott’s snide put-downs: “Don’t move…I want to forget you just the way you are”, “I’ve looked high and low for you, guess I didn’t look low enough.”

Metaphorically ambivalent and obscure, Zercon, the sad plaintive dwarf, is propelled forward into the 20th century with the allegorical symbolism of America’s 1930s flagpole sitting craze. In tune with Scott’s own declared pessimism, it all ends badly, just like the astral dwarf star that shares the songs title, a universal phenomenon that eventually freezes itself out of existence. (DV)

Scott Walker + Sunn O))) – Herod 2014 (2014)

Walker’s unholy union with the habit adorned disciples of hardcore drone Sunn O))), was actually a very shrewd and congruous partnership. Walker for his part lyrically less cryptic, the Sunn chaps pushed to produce one of their most poetic and nuanced beds of sustained droning yet, and on this occasion, even cracking out various wild shortened, punctuating and unyielding riffs – verging on full metal and heavy rock riffage. Letting rip with a resonant field of sustained one-chord statements and caustic stings that bend or longingly fade out into a miasma, trying to find a meaning in these drones is akin to an Auger interpreting symbols and signs from the entrails of a wretched, just slain sacrificial beast. Yet it does work, and the bare minimal, fuzzy and wrenching bed of murmuring primal guitars perfectly set up the intended atmosphere.

Biblical in more ways than one, the stand out mega-bestial centerpiece must be the harrowing ‘Herod 2014’; an atavistic disturbing chapter from the Roman occupied Middle East, it alludes to, what many historians say, is a wholly fictional tale of King Herod’s decreed infanticide of his kingdom (allowed by the Roman occupiers to reign over Judea and surrounding areas). Bathed in a sonorous reverberation of fearful discordance and a distressed unworldly cry of danger, this 12-minute opus is stalked by the harangued forces of malcontent and revved-up torturous drones. The conceptual allusions, which can’t help but echo through time to the present, are far bigger than this baby cull, the region has, after all, always been awash with both the fabled and all too real episodes of death and misery for thousands of years. Yet despite this, the song is itself one of Walker’s best and even melodically poetic; sitting happily with the material on his last two albums, The Drift and Bish Bosch.

Lyrically traumatic, but almost beautifully hewn from the English language, the opening lines bellow a nuanced scene-setting intellect, more novelistic pyschogeography than song: ‘She’s hidden her babies away. Their soft gummy smiles won’t be gilding the memory.’ In setting up the horrid event and psychological primal emotions that resonate with his audience, Walker goes on to mention two of the most famous painters to depict this crime, Nicolas Poussin and Rubens, who both fashioned their own (setting it in their own time) Massacre Of The Innocents.

Herod 2014 straddles the LP like a monolithic titan. A real horror show, both wrenching yet also surprisingly compelling. (DV)

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.