Scott Walker: 1943-2019 [part 1]

Scott Walker © Jamie Hawkesworth

In the last obituary here, regarding Mark Hollis, I invoked Scott Walker just three weeks ago when using him in a comparison of artistic temperament to Hollis. Just last night, around midnight, my friend JT emailed me the news while I was asleep. I saw it first thing this morning. The difference between Walker and Hollis is that while Walker was capable of a decade or more of silence between projects, he did not ever fully retreat from producing his art as Hollis did. Both were uncompromising in their pursuit of it.


Zoo Records | UK | LP | ZOO TWO | 1981

Being an American of a certain age, the music of both Scott Walker and the Walker Brothers were unknown to me until 1981, when Julian Cope curated the compilation “Fire Escape In The Sky: The Godlike Genius Of Scott Walker.” A title like that certainly grabbed one’s attention! That record emerged at a time when Scott had been resonating with a new generation of British performers ready for the combination of his sweeping baritone and his adult take on richly orchestrated pop music. He had been the voice of the Walker Brothers, but I had never heard them in America. Instead, the pop combo were the expat toast of England in the Swinging Sixties. Not America. Their Spector-like takes on the Bacharach songbook had made them superstars in England, but I never heard the tunes at the same time on US pop radio as I would have of, The Four Seasons, for example.

I had read a review of the Cope compilation in Trouser Press at the time, but never saw the album in stores. It had too low a profile. At best, I recall someone talking about the album in Vinyl Fever during my first trip there in 1985 and I could discuss the gist of it with the fellow shopper, but that was it. I did not hear any music of Scott Walker until David Bowie recorded cover version on his 1993 “Black Tie, White Noise” album. The song “Nite Flights” was amazing; by far the best thing on the album, and yet it was a cover version of a song by a guy named Engels, according to the credits. It was not until I got the laserdisc of “Black Tie, White Noise” that helpfully had Bowie discussing the genesis of the songs he had sung on the album that I realized that this was Scott Walker. And yet, the material was awfully scarce on the ground. CDs of the “Nite Flights” album didn’t exist. And LPs were simply not in Florida where I lived.

Fontana ‎| UK | CD | 842 832-2 | 1990

 

It remained until 1998 until I actually heard the music of Walker with “Boychild: The Best of 1967-1970,” another compilation drawn from his seminal first four solo albums. By the mid 90s I had begun to read many references to Walker in music writing. He seemed to be an éminence gris that had influenced most of my favorite artists. Bowie. Ferry. Big players. He was the meta-influence behind most of my already meta-influential artists. I had read many references to him in things like Q Magazine that I had actually been reading in the early 90s. I began to get curious, and it was during a road trip from Cleveland to Chicago to see Kraftwerk with a friend of a friend, that I got roped into a conversation with the gent I was riding with about Scott Walker. He did me an extreme service when after we had seen Kraftwerk with commenter JT. He took the step of sending me the “Boychild” compilation CD as seen above. That changed everything. The coin dropped and I worked my way back through solo albums Scott I-4 as I appreciated the explorations of a man obviously influenced by Jacques Brel and driven to explore an Anglicized approach to that kind of vivid guttersnipe chanson. No wonder they got Marc Almond to write the liner notes!

Drag City ‎| US | CD | DC134CD | 1997

But by 1998, Walker had already broken the 12 year silence that had remained in the gulf between his only 80s album, “Climate Of Hunter,” and “Tilt,” his return to music from 1995. But “Tilt” was still a rare bird where I traveled. I kept an eye out and finally found the 1997 US edition on Drag City when in Atlanta in… was it 1999 when we saw Link Wray? Possibly. At any rate the sounds that awaited my ears on that one were nothing short of an existential deep space probe into the heart of darkness surrounding the horror of the human condition. The juxtaposition of abrasive blocks of orchestral sound and unresolved chords with Walker avoiding his patented baritone entirely for a strangulated, deliberately thin vocal that reflected the emotional and intellectual contents of the songs.

Next: …Deeper, Further, Blacker

About postpunkmonk

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12 Responses to Scott Walker: 1943-2019 [part 1]

  1. Echorich says:

    To this day, I am completely floored by the work of Scott Walker. His was the template for a Pop Music Artist following his own vision. My first exposure to his work was Scott 3. It was among a collection of records which a friend of my mother gave me when her son, just 15 years older than me passed away at just 30 years old. To this day, It’s Raining Today ranks among the most beautifully dark songs I know.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Why are you commenting and not driving to the RONIN show? Yeah, it’s an hour away. I only insist because they are SPECTACULAR.

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      • Echorich says:

        As enticing as seeing Ronin may have been, I was coming down from 5 amazing days a the Miami Open tennis tournament. I am a tennis geek in almost the same way I am a music geek. But I separate music and tennis, even if there is a fantastic band by the name of Tennis…my tennis high was too enjoyable to switch gears and I had driven for way to many hours to get back in the car and drive again.

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  2. Tim says:

    There were a few songs by the Walker Brothers and early Scott solo that were part of the sonic backdrop of my childhood in Wisconsin, although like a lot of it I didn’t know who it was, it was just music of another flavor. I don’t mean that to carry any denigration, I grew up hearing everything from Hee Haw to Lawrence Welk to Elvis to Kiss, Scott Walker songs would have fallen into a category of adult music that I wasn’t really showing up on my radar aside from part of the menu of omnipresent music that i largely took for granted.
    I didn’t know who he was until Marc Almond’s Jacky, and then I realized I had the Bowie and the Midge Ure covers. I wasn’t able to really start exploring until the whole file sharing thing blew, even where I lived when I discovered who he was you couldn’t really find cds by him (or used vinyl). They say home taping and file sharing kill music, my experience has been it kills my wallet.

    Early 90’s Q was such a read, I really enjoyed it for a few years before it fell into a common model of magazines remaking themselves ala Details, lots of photos, more ads and very little text.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – I also grew up hearing everything that TV and radio would play but Walker Brothers were simply not in the mix. Not in Los Angeles as a small child on the “pop” [not Top 40] stations my parents listened to. Certainly not in Orlando in the early 70s as a school aged youngster. I stopped buying Q when the cover price topped $4.95. Better to buy music with that much money! I remember the dumbing down of magazines! I loved Spy when it was chock full of tiny text all over the place. Then it made the text larger and my interest wavered. It was specifically the density of information that appealed the most to me!

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  3. diskojoe says:

    “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” was a big enough hit (#13), so that I remember it being played in the local (Boston) oldies stations. My introduction to Scott Walker was a Razor & Tie complilation CD called It’s Raining Today which has many of the songs from Boy Child, but for some reason I prefer it. I just played it in my car as a matter of fact.

    I used to buy MOJO from 1995-2005, when it got too expensive & space consuming. I read it & other magazines these days w/a Frappacunio @ my local B&N. I traded in my MOJO collection for a Doors & Burt Bacharach box sets.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      diskojoe – Well, that clinches it. I never listened to any oldies station. If it was #16 in ’67, that is around the dawn of my music consciousness, and I can’t remember it on the radio. I sure remember other things like “Strangers In The Night” or “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” though. I wish I had not thrown away my Q collection when I moved in 1993! A few years later and I could have unloaded them on eBay [back when it was fun].

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      • Tim says:

        The Sun song and My Ship is Coming In were the big ones from when I was a kid.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Tim – Apart from watching “30th Century Man,” I have still not really heard The Walker Brothers! Apart from buying “No Regrets” as a DL to compare with Midge Ure’s [very faithful] cover version.

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          • Tim says:

            I recently bought an out of print 2cd set from Germany used from a Goodwill somewhere in America (Amazon find, paid more in shipping than I did for the discs), it’s got quite the array of stuff on it. I don’t have a lot of Walker Brothers stuff which is odd because I quite like what I do have.

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            • postpunkmonk says:

              Tim – There is a complete Walker Brothers box that I have had on my want list for ages. It may be the only way to get “Nite Flights” on CD without paying a fortune. Though I see a new 2017 CD had been released.

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