Scott Walker was born Noel Scott Engel, in Hamilton, Ohio. A former child actor, he left his career as a singer to become a session bassist. In 1965 Walker moved to London with his band The Walker Brothers. Scott became the focal point of the trio, fronting the number one hits ‘Make It Easy on Yourself’ and ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’. The trio were vastly popular, reportedly enjoying a larger fan club than The Beatles at their peak.
When The Walker Brothers broke up in 1967, Scott Walker launched a solo career. Although he had the voice of a baritone crooner, his records became increasingly experimental. Walker blossomed as a writer – 1969’s excellent Scott 4 was entirely self-penned. When Scott 4 bombed, Walker reverted to safer territory. Struggling with alcohol, he recorded covers albums like The Moviegoer and rejoined The Walker Brothers.
Walker reignited critical acclaim with his dark, intense songs on The Walker Brothers’ 1978 album Nite Flights. He dived into avant-garde through albums like 1995’s Tilt and his collaboration with experimental metal band Sunn O on 2014’s Soused. Walker passed away in 2019, his legacy secure with his ability to succeed both as a crowd-pleasing crooner and an experimental maverick.
Walker’s influence can be heard in artists like David Bowie and Soft Cell. Walker and Bowie were mutual influences throughout their careers. Bowie was introduced to Walker’s work when he dated Walker’s ex-girlfriend. She preferred Walker’s music to Bowie’s and played his albums constantly. Bowie’s Berlin period is a clear influence on Nite Flights. In return, Bowie named a 1979 track ‘African Night Flight’, and later covered ‘Nite Flights’.
I’m covering all of Walker’s solo albums on this page. There’s a disparity, however; I’ve owned key albums like Scott 4 and Tilt for years yet I’m covering his 1970s covers albums based on a couple of spins on Youtube.
Scott Walker Album Reviews
Scott | Scott 2 | Scott 3 | Scott: Scott Walker Sings Songs from his T.V. Series | Scott 4 | ‘Til the Band Comes In | The Moviegoer | Any Day Now | Stretch | We Had It All | Shutout (Walker Brothers EP) | Climate of Hunter | Tilt | The Drift | Bish Bosch
Scott Walker’s solo debut was released six months after The Walker Brothers’ final album. It was immediately successful, reaching #3 on the album charts with its blend of mainstream tunes and edgier songs from Jacques Brel and Walker himself. Over the course of his four self-titled records in the late 1960s, Walker evolved from crooner to auteur. His music became more idiosyncratic and rock-oriented. Accordingly, I find his debut the least interesting of his first four records. Walker’s vocals here are accompanied by the orchestrations of Angela Morley, Reg Guest, and Peter Knight.
Walker adored the theatrical songs of Belgium’s Jacques Brel. He was often the first to record the English translations of Brel’s songs, and his early solo work is closely associated with Brel. Brel’s compositions appear at key points on Scott – the LP opens with Brel’s classic ‘Mathilde’ and closes with the edgy ‘Amsterdam’, while ‘My Death’ closes the first side. Along with Brel’s songs, Walker’s moody ‘Montague Terrace (In Blue)’ is the standout on Scott. Among the covers of movie songs, I appreciate Walker drawing attention to Tim Hardin, covering ‘The Lady Came From Baltimore’.
Scott successfully established Walker as a solo artist, but he’d become more interesting over the remainder of the decade.
On Scott 2, Walker doubles down on the strongest aspects of his first album. The Jacques Brel covers are even more risqué, while Walker’s own compositions are more numerous and stronger. The arrangements are more daring. Even though the Brel-penned single ‘Jackie’ was banned from radio, Scott 2 topped the UK charts. The liner notes, penned by Jonathan King, quote Walker describing the album as the “work of a lazy, self-indulgent man.”
The dramatic introduction of ‘Jackie’ opens the record – Walker’s able to squeeze all the potential theatrics from lines like “then I would have my own bordellos.” ‘Next’ is an even more provocative Brel song, with Walker singing of his “first case of gonorrhea”. The best of Walker’s originals is ‘Plastic Palace People’, a multi-part composition with a psychedelic edge otherwise missing from Walker’s early records. There’s also another Tim Hardin cover – ‘Black Sheep Boy’ is one of the record’s best songs.
Scott 2 has a better hit rate than the debut, an excellent sophomore record from Walker.
Scott Walker had a difficult relationship with fame. In 1968 he spent time away from the limelight, in Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight, studying Gregorian Chant. Scott 3 reached #3 on the UK charts, but Walker was starting to shed the mass audience he’d enjoyed with his early solo work. There are no easy listening favourites on Scott 3 – it was entirely written by Walker and Brel, with Walker contributing the first ten songs and ending with three Brel covers.
This division of material makes the pacing of Scott 3 confused – much of Walker’s material is languid and sophisticated, while Brel’s energetic ‘Sons Of’ and ‘Funeral Tango’ are at the backend of the record. Better sequencing would have made for a stronger record. Walker’s songwriting is impressive, however – sophisticated and idiosyncratic on tracks like ‘Copenhagen’ and ‘Big Louise’. Key tracks include the opening ‘It’s Raining Today’ and the brief, guitar-driven ’30 Century Man’, a rare early Walker song without orchestration, which would later provide the title of a Walker documentary.
Scott 3 would have been improved by better sequencing, but it’s a fine showcase for Walker’s songwriting talent.
Scott: Scott Walker Sings Songs from his T.V. Series
Walker released three albums in 1969. Two represent Walker letting his muse roam free, exploring his songwriting potential and expressing his inner turmoil. In contrast, Scott Walker Sings Songs from his T.V. Series is a safe middle-of-the-road record. It presents songs that Walker performed in his short-lived TV show Scott, a conventional selection of songs that present him as a successor to Frank Sinatra or Andy Williams.
Like his subsequent 1970s records with no originals, Songs from His T.V. Series has remained out-of-print – Walker was reportedly dissatisfied with them and refused to reissue them. Walker’s vocals are reliably excellent, but these cover albums aren’t on the same level as his more adventurous work. These songs are studio versions of songs featured on his TV series – a 2019 box set, Live On Air 1968-1969, features live songs from the show, including material from his previous solo catalogue.
Because it’s out of print it’s hard to review a coherent copy – I’ve listened to a playlist on YouTube, which is a mix of live and studio versions. But these schmaltzy, orchestrated songs represent the least interesting facet of Walker’s work. They don’t have the undercurrent of darkness that makes his best work compelling. The best songs dial back the cheese a little and let his vocals shine. His cover of Kurt Weill’s ‘Lost in the Stars’ is my favourite track here, along with Richard Farnon’s ‘Country Girl’.
Walker’s a fine singer, but if you’re interested in his career as an auteur and songwriter you can safely skip this record.
Other artists that I’ve covered on this site – Creedence Clearwater Revival and Fairport Convention – also released three albums in 1969. All of them saved their best work for last – Scott 4 is Walker’s masterpiece. In a 2006 interview, Walker told The Guardian’s Alex Petridis that he wrote the songs for Scott 4 in a few weeks.
“I seem to remember when I was writing it things really coming on and I just couldn’t stop them” – but these days, the songs can take years to agonisingly construct: “Years ago, I was dealing in more conventional melody and stuff, you had parameters, but this is a completely different ball-game.”https://www.theguardian.com/music/2006/may/05/popandrock1
Scott 4 seems like the ideal Scott Walker album for 1969 – the strings are toned down, and most songs use a rock rhythm section. All ten songs are written by Walker. But it bombed upon release, a failure that’s blamed on Walker’s decision to release the album under his birthname, Scott Engel. Subsequent reissues are credited to Scott Walker.
‘The Seventh Seal’, based on the Ingmar Bergman movie of the same name, is a terrific opener, dramatic with hints of Ennio Morricone. Walker sounds great exploring a rock-adjacent sound on ‘The Old Man’s Back Again (Dedicated to the Neo-Stalinist Regime)’ and ‘Hero of the War’. There are more shades of folk and country than before – ‘Duchess’ sounds like a companion piece to Dylan’s ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’. ‘Get Behind Me’ and ‘Rhymes of Goodbye’ both dip into country.
Scott 4 is a career highlight, in an impressive yet erratic discography.
‘Til The Band Comes In
Scott Walker’s discography is filled with odd turns, so it’s hard to single this one out. But even by Walker’s standards, ‘Til the Band Comes In is a singular record. Walker explores a jazzy big band sound, where the first ten tracks are originals. The superfluous series of covers at the end of the record mark Walker’s transition into a largely directionless body of work for much of the 1970s. It’s more light-hearted than his self-titled records, but it’s still idiosyncratic and fascinating. Walker’s new manager Ady Semel was credited as a co-writer on the originals. Walker explained that “he acts as my censor, vetting all my lyrics and striking out the words likely to harm old ladies”.
The original tracks are strong – notable songs include ‘Thank You for Chicago Mr James’, a gorgeous piece of pop balladry, while the title track has a terrific chorus. The acoustic ‘Cowbells Shaking’ is impressive while ‘Time Operator’ features sampled voices and is haunting and affecting. Walker’s unexpected twists are entertaining – Israeli vocalist Esther Ofarim does a great job on the gorgeous melody of ‘Long About Now’, possibly a little too Broadway for Walker to sing. Walker’s humour is spotlighted on the swinging ‘Jean the Machine’.
There’s enough great material for ‘Til the Band Comes In to rank proudly alongside Walker’s self-titled records. It would be more highly regarded if it didn’t end limply with a series of covers. Walker’s vocal is enjoyable on the lush Mancini tune ‘Hills of Yesterday’, but generally the covers pale in comparison with Walker’s vibrant originals.
If you enjoyed Walker’s body of work in the 1960s, you’ll probably enjoy this too – just switch it off after the tenth track.
The record company called me in [following the commercial failure of Scott 4] and carpeted me and said you’ve got to make a commercial record for us… I was acting in bad faith for many years during that time… I was trying to hang on. I should have stopped. I should have said, ‘OK, forget it’ and walked away. But I thought if I keep hanging on and making these bloody awful records… this is going to turn round if I just hang in long enough, and it didn’t. It went from bad to worse…Scott Walker, The Guardian, 2012
Scott Walker’s lost period started on the second side of ‘Til the Band Comes In. The Moviegoer is the first of four consecutive low-effort albums from Walker, with no original compositions. Walker was allowed creative input on The Moviegoer, selecting tunes from some of his favourite movies.
Despite Walker’s input, the material’s hit-and-miss. I could live without Walker’s country/gospel take on Charley Pride’s ‘All His Children’. But The Moviegoer does boast Walker’s best-loved song from his lost years, his cover of Joan Baez and Ennio Morricone’s ‘The Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti (Here’s to You)’. Walker’s vocal is committed, and the arrangement with acoustic guitars and sweeping strings is beautiful.
If you’re interested in Walker as an auteur The Moviegoer isn’t essential, but ‘The Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti’ is a rare highlight from the era.
Any Day Now
On the second album from his wilderness years, Walker tackles contemporary pop songs. He’s working with Johnny Franz, who produced The Walker Brothers’ mid-1960s hits. There’s little at stake, and Any Day Now is decidedly a mixed bag. The album’s never been released on CD, although many of the tracks have slipped out on compilations.
Tellingly, three of these songs have never been reissued and they’re the low points. Walker’s dramatic style doesn’t suit the intimacy of Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ or Bread’s ‘If’, while his fake accent on the cover of Caetano Veloso’s ‘Maria Bethania’ is a career low. But his takes on adult pop tunes are worthwhile – Jimmy Webb’s ‘If Ships Were Made to Sail’ and ‘All My Love’s Laughter’, Barry Mann’s ‘When You Get Right Down To It’, and Randy Newman’s ‘Cowboy’ all sound great.
Like his other records from his wilderness years, Any Day Now is inessential, but the strong tracks are worthwhile.
Unlike Walker’s earlier cover albums, Stretch was honoured with a CD reissue, on a twofer with We Had It All. It’s like a refined version of Any Day Now, with a strong selection of mature songs from writers like Randy Newman, Mickey Newbury, and Jimmy Webb. Producer Del Newman contributed ‘Someone Who Cared’, the only previously unrecorded track here. Stretch is the least embarrassing record from Walker’s lost era, aside from the tacky cover photo.
As strong as Walker’s vocals here, his versions of ‘Just One Smile’ and ‘No Easy Way Down’ don’t measure up to Dusty Springfield’s takes on Dusty in Memphis. The arrangements and playing are a little anemic, even though his take on Bill Withers’ ‘Use Me’ has some grit.
Stretch is a little too sedate, but it features a strong and classy selection of songs.
We Had It All
Walker’s tenth solo album was coincidentally his final solo album for ten years. He embraces a country sound, recording at Nova Studios, London. He’s indebted to Waylon Jennings’ acclaimed 1973 album Honky Tonk Heroes – five of the songs here previously appeared on that record, including four tracks penned by Billy Joe Shaver. He also covers tracks from the Eagles and Gordon Lightfoot. Walker’s rich voice works for country music, even though it feels like he’s dabbling; not a committed country outlaw like Jennings. We Had It All is a respectable country album, but Walker’s still in cruise mode here.
The reinvention of Lightfoot’s ‘Sundown’ in a more mellow and piano-centric arrangement is the record’s highlight. It’s also fun hearing Walker croon his way through ‘Delta Dawn’. I’m not familiar with Billy Joe Shaver, but on the basis of his four songs here I should become acquainted with his work.
After We Had It All failed, Scott reformed The Walker Brothers.
The Walker Brothers reunion initially continued in the same vein as Scott’s 1970s work. Struggling with alcohol and tranquilisers, Walker later told The Guardian; “I think I did temporarily go crazy, because I don’t remember the period at all very well”. But on The Walker Brothers’ final album, 1978’s Nite Flights, Walker rediscovered his creative mojo. Inspired by Joni Mitchell‘s work, Walker started writing songs again, and he brought a copy of David Bowie’s Heroes into the studio as a “reference album” for the engineer.
The other Walker Brothers also wrote songs for Nite Flights but they’re deeply mediocre. Thankfully, Scott’s four Nite Flights tracks were reissued as the Shutout EP in 1981. All four tracks are stunning, but ‘The Electrician’ is a career highpoint. As with a lot of Walker’s best work, ‘The Electrician’ is dark – unsettling strings underscore Walker’s tale of a CIA torturer. The influence of Bowie’s Berlin records is clearer in Walker’s other work – the funky and weird ‘Nite Flights’ and ‘Fat Mama Kick’.
Nite Flights was The Walker Brothers’ final album, but it reignited Walker’s career. He’d only record infrequently after this but he’d successfully reinvented himself as an avant-garde composer.
Climate of Hunter
Scott Walker’s only recording of the 1980s was Climate of Hunter. He embraces 1980s trends – there’s prominent fretless bass – but at the same time it’s very much a Scott Walker album. Continuing from where Nite Flights left off, Walker’s moving away from conventional songwriting. At the same time, moments of Climate of Hunter are the closest to rock music that Walker ever came – ‘Track Three’ and ‘Track Seven’ are both guitar-oriented. It’s notable for prominent guest stars – Mark Knopfler and Billy Ocean both appear. Half of the tracks are titled by their track number – Walker told a TV show that giving the songs titles might ‘lopside’ or ‘overload’ them.
Climate of Hunter does feel overly brief, especially given that it’s the only full album of Walker originals between 1969’s Scott 4 and 1995’s Tilt. But it’s diverse and full of ideas. The most unique tracks are Walker’s forays into rock music – ‘Track Three’ is one of Walker’s most memorable tunes, with some searing lead guitar and Ocean on backing vocals. Opener ‘Rawhide’ resembles Joni Mitchell’s late 1970s fusion records, although the weird strings take the end of the track in another direction. Other tracks are spartan and minimal – ‘Six’ surrounds Walker’s voice with unsettling synth, while the record ends with a cover of Tennessee Williams’ ‘Blanket Roll Blues’, with Knopfler on guitar.
Climate of Hunter was Walker’s only record of the 1980s, and it’s worth tracking down. It’s fascinating hearing Walker’s idiosyncratic muse in a 1980s context.
Walker was dropped by Virgin Records after the commercial failure of Climate of Hunter. He spent the late 1980s away from the music industry. In the 1990s, his music began to be reappraised, with his early solo albums appearing on CD, while David Bowie covered ‘Nite Flights’. Tilt was Walker’s most avant-garde record yet – Mojo described it as “an anti-matter collision of rock and modern classical music”. But Tilt is approachable – there’s a solid groove behind the title track, and Walker’s vocals are still sumptuous.
‘Farmer in the City’ is a terrific opener, meandering and impressionistic, but held together by an excellent Walker vocal. My favourite track, though, is ‘Bolivia ’95’, held together by a lovely guitar lick. While some of the material like ‘Bouncer See Bouncer’ and ‘Patriot (A Single)’ is sparse, other tracks like ‘Manhattan’ and ‘Tilt’ are rhythm-based and energetic.
Tilt is Walker’s late-period masterpiece, his avant-garde leanings still relatively accessible.
With The Drift, Scott Walker effectively reached the end of the journey he’d been working on since Nite Flights, his music becoming more experimental and further from conventional music forms. It took Walker a decade to compose, and seventeen months to record. The Drift is Walker’s darkest and most oppressive work. Oddly, my CD copy of The Drift is a review edition that I liberated from a cutout bin – it lacks individual tracks, all running as one lengthy song. With such a homogenously dark album, this isn’t ideal.
To go with the dark and fragmented music, the subject matter is also disturbing – ‘Clara’ is written about Clara Petacci, Mussolini’s mistress, while ‘Buzzers’ is written about the Srebrenica massacre in the Balkan Wars. Opener ‘Cossacks Are’, with the imagery of cossacks charging in fields of white roses, stands as the most accessible piece.
If you enjoy Walker at his most disturbing, you’ll probably adore The Drift – in my opinion, he perfected the approach of Tilt.
Walker’s final studio album is a successful bounce-back after the oppressive darkness of The Drift. This time around, Walker pairs dark music with playful lyrics – one particularly memorable couplet reads “I’ve severed my reeking gonads/Fed them to your shrunken face”. It’s a successful combination – it allows Walker to explore dark musical territory without becoming overwhelmingly glum.
Even so, the longer tracks can still drag – ‘SDSS1416+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)’ runs for more than 20 minutes and it’s only partially successful, Walker recounting the story of Zercon, the court jester of Atilla. The punchier tunes are more fun – ‘Epizootics!’ features the tubax, a tuba/saxophone hybrid, while Walker sings lines like “Chirp chime clambaked cups/Don’t step on that rotting tartare/Just might bust your conk.” ‘Corps De Blah’ and ‘Phrasing’ feature tougher guitar than almost anywhere in Walker’s catalogue.
The collision of silly lyrics and dark music works on Bish Bosch, making it a fine swansong for Walker.
Soused (with Sunn O)
2014, not rated
Scott Walker collaborated with experimental metal band Sunn O for 2014’s Soused. Walker wrote demos for Sunn O to layer guitar drones over. I’m a little burned out on Walker after covering 14 of his albums, but might come back and review this sometime.
10 Best Scott Walker Songs
The Seventh Seal
The Old Man’s Back Again (Dedicated to the Neo-Stalinist Regime)
30 Century Man
Plastic Palace People
The Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti (Here’s to You)
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