Cult Heroes: Scott Walker

From teen idol to reclusive producer of gloomy, avant-garde experimentalism – An introduction to Scott Walker

Cult Heroes is a 5-piece anthology detailing the musical careers of music’s greatest lesser lights. The general requirement is that the act or musician must not be general recognised by the majority of the general public. However, these acts through their music have developed a small, but fervent cult following. Each piece will introduce the reader to a number of the artist’s finest moments and acclimatise them to the artist’s sound.

Forming 50 years ago, The Walker Brothers became a huge household name in 1960s Britain. Their lead singer then took an odd path from teen idol to reclusive producer of gloomy, avant-garde experimentalism. He ultimately became a cult hero with a series of lauded, boundary pushing solo albums and a host of celebrity devotees, from David Bowie to Jarvis Cocker. Still retaining much relevance today, with the 2014 release of critically acclaimed Soused, a collaboration with Sunn O))), I introduce you to the voice and many talents of one, Noel Scott Engel, better known as Scott Walker.10265557 633996226680587 8563002498621343102 o

10) ‘Brando’ from Soused (2014) – a psychotic, schizophrenic masterpiece , Scott’s latest album saw him work with purveyors of drone metal Sunn O))). Scott screeches desperately on this cryptic and sparse track about being beaten while down on his knees by his father, while the sound of whips cascades around him. Not one for the light-hearted, Brando is a shining example of how far the 60’s teen idol has strayed from the beaten path.

9) ‘The Old Mans Back Again’ from Scott 4 (1968) – Scott Walker had swag. ‘The Old Man’s Back again’ is testament to how much swag Walker had going on. Quentin Tarrantino is missing a trick, by not having already placed this song in one of his retro-throwbacks. A killer bass line and tight drumming keep the rhythm, while weepy violins embellish Walkers cool-as-can-be vocals.

tilt 8) ‘Tilt’ from Tilt (1995) – A deeply unsettling and hypnotic track, and yet one of the only songs from Walkers recent output that has the slightest hint of a groove to it. The lyrics are far too abstract to make much sense but Walkers croon sounds otherworldly alongside a guitar solo sounding like a herd of X-wing Star fighters hurtling through out of space.

 7) ‘Jackie’ from Scott 2 (1968) – The start of Walker’s love-in with popular Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel. It’s frequent references to drugs and homosexuality caused great controversy when it was released as Walkers first single in 1967, however they make for a quite amusing, novelty listening experience now. Walker sings a tale of fame all wrapped up by a stirring, charging orchestra, including references about selling boats of opium and whiskey that came from Twickenham. Nobody quite paints a picture in their lyrics like Jacques Brel did, and all the power to Walker bringing the song to a larger audience. Brel’s influence is painted across much of Walker’s own songwriting such was the high esteem Walker held Brel.

6) ‘It’s Raining Today’ from Scott 3 (1969) – The opening track on Scott 3, starts with twinkling snowfall chimes before Walker begins his tale in his deep, resonant singing voice, “It’s raining today and I’m just about to forget the train window girl” over a surreal, gloomy landscape of lavish reverberations. Sometimes music can struggle to have the same escapist joy that the cinema can offer, but on this track Scott takes us to that moment on the train more vividly than any screen could ever achieve.

Scott5) ‘The Big Hurt’ from Scott (1967) – Originally a hit for pop singer Toni Fisher in 1959, ‘The Big Hurt’ is Walker in full on Hollywood glamour. Walker slows down the tempo, strengthening its emotive power and puts in one of his most controlled yet formidable vocal performances. Its sweeping crescendo moment is the finest example of Scott’s emotive, spine-tingling voice. Prepare for Goosebumps.

4) ‘The War Is Over (Sleepers – Epilogue)’ from Til’ The Band Comes In (1970) – Drenched in reverb, ‘The War Is Over’ sounds like its been recorded underneath the ocean and includes arguably one of the most exultant chorus’ of the 1960’s. Jarvis Cocker teases in his band Pulp’s single Bad Cover Version about the inferiority of the second side of Til’ The Band Comes In compared to the first, but ‘The War Is Over’ stands out as a second side highlight thanks to its gorgeous string arrangement and rich, sumptuous vocals.

3) ‘The Worlds Strongest Man’ from Scott 4 (1969) – Arguably one of Walkers most romantic and touching refrain’s places itself in the middle of this plush, wistful track, as Walker concedes “Didn’t you know that I’m not the worlds strongest man when it comes to you”.

2) ‘Boy Child’ from Scott 4 (1969) – A hazy lullaby to long lost childhood. Close your eyes and imagine the string arrangement playing in the background of a Terence Malick epic; such is its awe-inspiring quality. Mysterious and Luxurious, ‘Boy Child’ is a shining testament to Walkers transportive power as both a singer and composer.

1) ‘Big Louise’ from Scott 3 (1969) – If anything encapsulates Scott Walker in one song then it’s this swirling, wind-swept magnum opus that helms arguably his greatest album. Walkers voice is soft as butter, as he sings a touching lament to a lonely, aging transvestite; Shockingly explicit for it’s time, yet delicately subtle. Impossibly touching and desolate, Walker also manages to make the tale sound brave, even triumphant. The music like much of the album foreshadows some of Bowies work in the 70’s – emphasizing how much we should embellish Scott Walker’s reputation as an innovator and an artist before his time.

3 comments

  1. Just a small issue but ‘The Old man’s back again’ is from Scott 4 rather than Scott 2 :-)

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  2. Hi. Unless you mean that Scott made a musical (i.e. his interpretation) translation of Brel’s work, Jackie and several other of Brel’s compositions were translated by Mort Shuman.

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