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Scott Walker (singer)

Scott Walker is the stage name of the American singer-songwriter Noel Scott Engel (born 9 January 1943 in Hamilton, Ohio). Walker has long resided in England.

Biography

Originally championed by Eddie Fisher in the late 1950s, Scott appeared several times under his real name on Fisher's TV series as a teen idol type in the vein of Fabian or Frankie Avalon.

Walker was among the first to adopt the electric bass guitar, mastering it to a proficiency to win regular session work in Los Angeles studios while still in his teens.

The Walker Brothers era

After playing in many bands he eventually joined with John Maus and Gary Leeds to form The Walker Brothers in Los Angeles in 1964. Leeds had recently toured the United Kingdom with P.J. Proby and was the catalyst to their relocation to London.

The Walker Brothers arrived in London in early 1965 and attained worldwide popularity with pop ballads. Their first single, "Pretty Girls Everywhere", with John Maus as lead singer, crept into the charts. It was their next single, "Love Her", with Scott's deeper baritone in the lead, that hit the British charts and executives at Philips, their U.K. record label, noticed the rangy émigré Americans.

The Walker Brothers' next release, "Make It Easy on Yourself", a Bacharach/David ballad, swept to No. 1 on the U.K. charts (#16 on the U.S. charts) on release in August 1965. After hitting again with "My Ship Is Coming In" (#3 U.K.), their second No. 1 (#13 U.S.), "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore", shot to the top in early 1966 and their popularity and fan base is said to have exceeded The Beatles in the UK and Europe. As lead singer, Scott attained pop star status.

Finding suitable material was always a problem. The Walkers' 60s sound mixes Phil Spector's "wall of sound" techniques with symphonic orchestrations featuring Britain's top musicians and arrangers. Scott Walker claimed authorship of this sound in recent interviews.

Many of their earlier numbers have a driving beat, but by Images, their third album, ballads predominate. John Maus's musical influence clearly wanes by the third album, despite featuring in a solo of the standard "Blueberry Hill" and an original composition.

Artistic differences and the stresses stemming from overwhelming pop stardom led to the break-up of The Walker Brothers in 1967, although they reunited briefly for a tour of Japan the following year. Upon their U.K. return, Scott produced a solo album for the tour's musical director and guitarist Terry Smith. The Walker Brothers' last two singles, "Stay With Me Baby" and "Walking In The Rain", struck fans and critics alike as retro, dated choices, harking back to earlier pop. Their failure to reach the top ten provided Scott with the necessary trigger for the split. It is noteworthy then that producer Johnny Franz and John Walker were keen to release the upbeat "Everything Under the Sun" as the single from Images, but Scott Walker "put his foot down", he later confessed, and scored another miss.

Scott Walker's emerging solo work

Scott Walker shed the Walker Brothers' mantle and began a solo career in a style clearly glimpsed in Images, the Walkers' last album. To this he added risqué recordings of Jacques Brel songs, translated by Mort Shuman (who was also responsible for the hit musical Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris). The influence of Brel is important as regards Walker's songwriting but should not be over-stated. His vocal style remained consistent throughout this period.

Walker's own original songs of this period were clearly influenced by Brel as he explored European musical roots while expressing his own American experience. He was also reaching a new maturity as a recording artist.

In 1968 Walker threw himself into intense study of contemporary and classical music, which included a sojourn in Quarr Abbey, a monastery on the Isle of Wight, to study Gregorian chant. His own songs gradually course into Lieder and classical musical modes.

Scott Walker's early solo career was successful in Britain; his first three albums, titled Scott (1967), Scott 2 (1968) and Scott 3 (1969) all sold in large numbers, Scott 2 topping the British charts. There were also early indications that this concentrated attention was not conducive to his emotional well being. He became reclusive and somewhat distanced from his audience. During this time, he combined his earlier teen appeal with a darker, more idiosyncratic approach hinted at in songs like Orpheus on the Images album. Walker drove a fine line between classic ballads, his own compositions and Brel covers, all delivered inimitably.

At the peak of his fame in 1969, he was given his own BBC TV series, Scott, featuring solo Walker performances of ballads, big band standards and introductions of his own and Brel compositions. Footage of the show is currently very rare as recordings were not archived. Walker's fourth solo album was an LP of songs from the TV series entitled Scott: Scott Walker Sings Songs from his TV Series.

Walker released his fifth solo LP, Scott 4, in 1969. This was his first to be made up entirely of self-penned material. The 'standards' and Brel were gone and the sound was pared down. The album failed to chart and was deleted soon after. It has been speculated that the decision to release the album under the name "Noel Scott Engel" rather than his stage name contributed to its chart failure.

In recent interviews, Walker has suggested that by his third solo LP, a self-indulgent complacency had crept into his choice of material. Starting with 'Til The Band Comes In (1970), the early 70s saw Walker revert to cover versions of popular film tunes and a serious flirtation with the country and western scene. Walker regards these as his lost years as an artist, though others claim the albums of this time are underrated and in fact contain several near-definitive readings of classic songs. The Moviegoer (1972), Any Day Now (1973), Stretch (1973), and We Had It All (1974) feature no original material whatsoever.

Walker Brothers reunite

Perhaps for mutual protection, the Walker Brothers reunited in 1975 to produce three albums. Their first single, a cover of Tom Rush's song "No Regrets", from the album of the same title climbed to #7 on the British charts. However the parent album only reached #49 in the UK album charts. The follow-up singles "Lines" and "We're All Alone", from the second 1970s album Lines, also failed to chart. Walker regards "Lines" as the best single the Walkers released. The group split once more after their sixth album in 1978.

With the imminent demise of their record label, the Walkers collaborated on an album of original material that was in stark contrast to the country-flavoured tunes of the previous 1970s albums. The resulting album, Nite Flights, was released in 1978 to similar poor sales figures. Critically it was received warmly, especially Scott's contributions. The brothers each wrote and sang their own compositions. The opening four songs were Scott's, the final four John's, while the middle pair were by Gary. Scott's four songs — "Nite Flights", "The Electrician", "Shut Out", and "Fat Mama Kick" — were his first original compositions since 1970's 'Til The Band Comes In. They represented his first steps away from the MOR image and sound he had cultivated since the commercial failure of the Scott 4 album. The extremely dark and discomforting sound of The Electrician forms a strong hint at Scott's future musical direction.

Return to solo works

Known for being private and reclusive, Walker's recording activity has been sporadic since the late 1970s. He has released just three albums since 1980: 1984's Climate of Hunter, the darker Tilt in 1995 and The Drift in 2006. Critical acclaim for The Drift placed it as high as No. 2 on the Metacritic chart on release in June 2006. It was still listed at No. 12 at the end of September 2006.

In tangent developments in 1993 Walker co-wrote and co-performed (with Goran Bregović) the single "Man From Reno" for the soundtrack of the film Toxic Affair. In 1996 he recorded the Bob Dylan song "I Threw It All Away" under the direction of Nick Cave for inclusion in the soundtrack for the film To Have And To Hold. Three years later he recorded the David Arnold song "Only Myself To Blame", for the soundtrack of the Bond film The World Is Not Enough. That same year he wrote and produced the soundtrack for the Léos Carax film Pola X, which was released as an album. Scott Walker wrote and produced two songs for Ute Lemper the following year, and went on to produce Pulp's 2001 album We Love Life.

Walker has been a continuing influence on other artists, in particular The Last Shadow Puppets, Marc Almond, Douglas Pearce of the band Death in June, Billy MacKenzie of the Associates, David Sylvian, David Bowie, and the Divine Comedy/Neil Hannon. In 2000 he curated the London South Bank Centre's annual summer live music festival, Meltdown, which has a tradition of celebrity curators. He did not perform at Meltdown himself, but wrote the music for The Richard Alston Dance Project item Thimblerigging. In October 2003 Walker was given an award for his contribution to music by Q magazine. This was presented by Jarvis Cocker of Pulp, and Scott received a standing ovation at the presentation. This award has been presented only twice before, the first time to Phil Spector, and the second to Brian Eno. The release of a retrospective box set, 5 Easy Pieces, comprising five themed discs spanning Walker's work with The Walker Brothers, his solo career (including film soundtrack work), and the two pieces composed for Ute Lemper, followed soon after.

The British independent label 4AD Records signed Walker in early 2004 and his first album in 11 years, The Drift, was released on 8th May 2006 to strong reviews. In recent interviews he appears more at ease with media attention. He reveals a wish to produce albums more frequently and hints at significant changes in material if and when it suits him.

In June 2006 MOJO Magazine and Radio honoured Scott Walker with The MOJO Icon Award: "Voted for by MOJO readers and Mojo4music users, the recipient of this award has enjoyed a spectacular career on a global scale". It was presented by Phil Alexander.

A documentary film, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, was completed in 2006 by New York film director Stephen Kijak (Cinemania and Never Met Picasso). Interviews were recorded with David Bowie (executive producer of the film), Radiohead, Sting, Gavin Friday and many musicians associated with Walker over the years. The World Premiere of Scott Walker: 30 Century Man took place as part of the 50th London Film Festival. Ironically, a phrase from the opening track of The Drift: “You could easily picture this in the current top ten…”, proved prophetic when The Independent released its list of "Ten must-see films" at the 50th London Film Festival- Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, was among them. A documentary on Walker containing a substantial amount of footage from the film was shown on BBC1 in May 2007 as part of their Imagine... strand, presented by Alan Yentob.

Walker released "Darkness" as part of a CD compilation of the Margate Exodus project, a re-telling of the Book of Exodus, the story of Moses and his search for the Promised Land. Ten singer-songwriters were commissioned by Artangel to write and record a song inspired by one of the ten biblical plagues. Walker’s evocation of "Darkness" appears as the ninth. Stephen Kijak's critical comment is: "I’ve just heard...DARKNESS. More like a blast of BLINDING LIGHT...Breathtaking. This is no Drift b-side, have not heard the likes of this from [Scott Walker] before."

On 24 September, 2007 Walker released And Who Shall Go to the Ball? And What Shall Go to the Ball? as a limited, never to be re-pressed edition. The 24 minute long instrumental work was performed by the London Sinfonietta with solo cellist Philip Sheppard as music to a performance by London-based CandoCo Dance Company.

Discography

The Walker Brothers

Further information see The Walker Brothers Discography.

Title Release
date
Label U.K. albums peak
Take It Easy with The Walker Brothers 1965 Philips Records 3
Portrait 1966 Philips Records 3
Images 1967 Philips Records 6
No Regrets 1975 GTO Records 49
Lines 1976 GTO Records -
Nite Flights 1978 GTO Records -

Solo albums

Title Release
date
Label U.K. albums peak
Scott 1967 Philips Records 3
Scott 2 1968 Philips Records 1
Scott 3 1969 Philips Records 3
Scott: Scott Walker Sings Songs from his TV Series Philips Records 7
Scott 4 Philips Records -
'Til The Band Comes In 1970 Philips Records -
The Moviegoer 1972 Philips Records -
Any Day Now 1973 Philips Records -
Stretch Columbia Records -
We Had It All 1974 Columbia Records -
Climate of Hunter 1984 Virgin Records 60
Tilt 1995 Fontana Records 27
Pola X OST 1999 Barclay Records -
The Drift 2006 4AD 51
And Who Shall Go To The Ball? And What Shall
Go To The Ball?
2007 4AD -

Selected solo singles

A-Side B-Side Release
date
Label U.K. singles peak
"Jackie" "The Plague" 1967 Philips Records BF1628 22
"Joanna" "Always Coming Back To You" 1968 Philips Records BF1662 7
"Lights of Cincinnati" "Two Weeks Since You've Gone" 1969 Philips Records BF1793 13
"I Still See You"
(Love theme from the film The Go-Between)
"My Way Home" 1971 Philips Records 6006168 -
"Track Three" "Blanket Roll Blues" 1984 Virgin Records VS666 -

Selected compilations

Title Release
date
Label
Fire Escape in the Sky: The Godlike Genius of Scott Walker 1981 Zoo Records
Scott Walker Sings Jacques Brel Philips Records
Boy Child: The Best of Scott Walker 1967-1970 1992 Polygram Records
No Regrets - The Best of Scott Walker and The Walker Brothers 1965-1976 Polygram Records
To Have And To Hold OST 1996 Mute Records
The World Is Not Enough OST 1999 MCA
5 Easy Pieces 2003 Mercury Records
The Collection 2004 Spectrum Music/Universal
Classics & Collectibles 2005 Universal International
Plague Songs 2006 4AD

As producer

Artist Title Release
date
Label
Terry Smith Fall Out 1968 Philips
Ray Warleigh Ray Warleigh's First Album 1969 Philips
Ute Lemper Punishing Kiss 2000 Decca Records
Pulp We Love Life 2001 Island Records

Tribute albums

Title Release
date
Label
Angel of Ashes 2005 Tansformadores

Quotation

"I've become the Orson Welles of the record industry. People want to take me to lunch, but nobody wants to finance the picture...I keep hoping that when I make a record, I'll be asked to make another one. I keep hoping that if I can make a series of three records, then I can progress and do different things each time. But when I have to get it up once every 10 years... it's a tough way to work." —in an interview for The Independent, April 1995.

References

External links

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