Prom 15: The Songs of Scott Walker (1967–’70)
ON 25th July, at this year’s Proms…
the public will get the opportunity to see songs from Scott Walker’s self-titled albums performed by a host of different artists. The event is summarised like this:
“An icon of the 1960s, Scott Walker has travelled from Walker Brothers teen idol to avant-garde contemporary musician, influencing artists from David Bowie and Leonard Cohen to Goldfrapp along the way. Tonight’s Late Night Prom tribute presents tracks from his four self-titled albums with live orchestral backing for the very first time. Among the special guests are Jarvis Cocker, John Grant, Susanne Sundfør and Richard Hawley”.
I would advise people to buy tickets and get a unique insight into the best work of one of music’s truly great voice. Scott Walker is an American-born, British-based singer-songwriter and composer who has inspired musicians from his 1960s beginnings to the present-day. Whilst he is still recording music now; few would argue against those self-titled albums being his finest work. Scott arrived only six months after his third album with The Walker Brothers, Images. A mix of covers and originals; gone was the playful and more carefree artist of the band days – replaced with a serious songwriter keen to forge his own career and not hang on to the legacy of The Walker Brothers. The album was split into four categories. His own material – songs like Such a Small Love and Always Coming Back to You – sat with contemporary covers – the likes of Angelica. Movie songs such as Through a Long and Sleepless Night mixed with English-translated version of (songs from) Belgian musician Jacques Brel (My Death and Amsterdam). Scott was a huge success and proved what a striking and talented singer Walker was. Not only demonstrating his own writing skills but able to adapt other artists’ songs and make them his own.
Scott 2 followed the breakdown and sound of Walker’s début and put contemporary covers – Black Sheep Boy, for one – with Brel interpretations (Jackie, Next and The Girls and the Dogs) with film songs and original compositions – The Girls from the Streets one of the most striking and impressive compositions on the album. The music looked at decadence and sexual tribulations. Walker, when hearing the album, thought it the work of a lazy and self-indulgent artist. He was keen to, as he put it, get down to serious work and stop messing about. It seems like huge modesty from a man who created one of the finest albums of the ‘60s (1968). Scott 2 reached number one in the U.K. charts and preceded by the single, Jackie (late-1967). Looking back at the album, The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon was impressed by the daring and disturbing imagery; the lavishness and romance fused to a vocalist both stirring and mysterious. Scott 3, released in 1969, enjoyed slower sales than its predecessors and struggled to keep pace with the experimental work of his past. On the album, one could discover dense, lush strings and an, almost, Vegas-like crooner in his element. Dissonance and surreal drones went into a record that is often viewed as a fan favourite. Tracks like Copenhagen and Butterfly are some of his finest tracks and proof the innovative Walker had few rivals in the music business. Scott 4 was, actually, Walker’s fifth album (a collection of songs performed for his BBC series came before) and released in late-1969. Unlike previous albums; this was the first one to be entirely penned by Walker himself. On the back of the sleeve – a mantra of the album, it seems – appeared:
“A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened“.
The album failed to chart and was soon deleted. Walker’s decision to release the record under his birth name – Noel Scott Engel – might have contributed to the chart failure. Like many great works; Scott 4 is considered a hugely important and brilliant work – one of the most popular from Scott Walker. The likes of David Bowie and Radiohead highlighted the work as especially influential and important. Those four albums alone have made such an impact on music and compelled some of music’s current greats. It will be a thrill to see fans of Walker take to the stage and provide their version of the master’s finest moments. In recognition of that four-album span of greatness, I have compiled a playlist of the best songs from each album. If you are not a fan of Scott Walker – or never been compelled to check him out – I would urge you to do so. He has so much to teach us and remains one of the business’ greatest voices. If you can, go grab all of Scott Walker’s eponymous albums and connection with a legendary musician…
WHOSE magic will never fade.