SCOTT WALKER: Outsider Composer and 60’s Icon Passed at 76
Authored by Dale Nickey:
Scott Walker (born Noel Scott Engel), American born composer and singer has passed. He was 76.
Walker has been cited as an influence by Radiohead, David Bowie and many others. Bowie repaid his artistic debt by executive producing the 2006 documentary feature “Scott Walker: 30th Century Man”. Bowie was also interviewed at length in the film about Walker and his influence.
Walker was a hero of mine. I came to his music both early and late in my life. He was American born, but had a European sensibility that would have limited his mass appeal stateside; indeed, he referred to himself as a “Continental suit-wearing natural enemy of the Californian surfer”. After brief career as a child actor and teen singing idol, Scott and his group The Walker Brothers (none of the members were related nor named Walker) worked the local club and TV circuit to little acclaim. In 1965 the group relocated to London and produced a number one hit version of Burt Bacharach’s “Make It Easy On Yourself”. After that triumph, more hits followed, including the stunning 1966 chart topper “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”.
Scott Walker was a mega Pop star in Britain during the 60’s. At one point the official Walker Brothers fan club boasted more members than The Beatles. However, despite their success and teen appeal, The Walker Brothers had a dark, noir aspect to their music that perfectly encapsulated the depressed, monochromatic landscape of post war Britain; a landscape hidden from the glare of Swinging London and the mass media spotlight. Even at its most commercial, The Walker Brother’s sound was reflective of Scott Walker’s love of European cinema and literature.
As the initial gold rush and accompanying hysteria around The Walker Brothers began to wane, Scott Walker went solo and released a string of successful albums. His first four solo efforts went top 10 in Britain and contained a heady mix of originals, Jacque Brel compositions and selected covers; Brel was a particularly strong influence and conversely, Walker’s recordings from the Brel songbook contributed greatly to Belgian tunesmith’s popularity. By the time his (all original) solo effort “Scott 4” was released, Walker was in thrall to modern classical music despite his management’s wish for him to become Britain’s version of Frank Sinatra. Indeed, his mainstream success was such that he was gifted with a BBC television special in 1969. A broadcast tragically lost to the BBC’s practice of film recycling.
However, with the release of “Scott 4”, his record company lost faith and Scott Walker lost heart. His 70’s period saw the artist floundering behind makeweight solo albums and economy driven Walker Brothers reunions, all designed to recapture the commercial magic of his 60’s period. Not only did the albums fail to deliver commercially, the artist later lamented the release of these artistically compromised works and disassociated himself from them. However, the 1978 Walker Brothers reunion release “Night Flights” contained four Scott originals that marked a bold and daring direction that was favorably received by the British Music Press.
At the dawn of the 80’s, as Walker’s life became more hermetic and isolated, his subsequent music became wonderfully strange and impenetrable. Still possessing a world class baritone voice, his compositions reflected the radical influences of Modern Classicism and the Avant Garde. In 1984, Walker released “Climate of Hunter” which marked the beginning of his third period as a solo artist. Ostensibly a “Rock” album with conventional instrumentation, melodic threads began to disappear and lyrical themes became more disturbing and literary.
In 1995 the album “Tilt” was released as Walker dove headlong into orchestral textures and invented percussion effects (which included musicians physically punching slabs of meat). The occasional music video evoked nightmarish scenes, and stark images bathed in darkness and existential pathos.
Walker continued into the new millennium with disturbing and essential works such as “The Drift”, “Bish Bosch” and “Soused”; a grand trilogy that drew only love letters from an adoring British Music press and fellow musicians.
Flash back to a day in 1965 when a guitar playing friend of my parents brought me a picture sleeve single of The Walker Brothers, “Make It Easy On Yourself”. After my initial disappointment about not receiving a Beatles record, I dutifully put the on the 45” and listened. Despite the cavernous, melancholy sound I would listen again…and again. There was something about that sound, and something alluring about the grim but charismatic trio of men with impossibly perfect hair on the picture sleeve; especially the dark blond in the Continental suit…Scott Walker. RIP