“The music has to be as interesting. It has to keep taking you into places that you’re at least not used to.” – Scott Walker
Scott Walker might be too much for some people, but to hell with those guys! A similar attitude was seemingly held by the man himself. He was unapologetically overblown, like some sort of sonic Greek tragedy, traversing the bravado of rock ‘n’ roll, the cinematic sensibilities of orchestral music and the literary depth of folk. Each of these influences in his grandiose welter produced an artist who could never truly be tied down to any of them—he was always, as he remains now, in a league of his own.
First booming onto the scene along with the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll in America in the late 1950s, his baritone vocal takes almost ensured that he would naturally sway towards the avant-garde front when his teen pop days were over. He eventually made this sway a full-on leap when he joined The Walker Brothers and produced a brand of pop so baroque that even the local Bingo halls were aureate by the time the brooding musical brotherhood left the stage.
Walker would later continue this trend when he blitzed even deeper into the avant-garde frontier, picking up where his hero Jacques Brel left off, with his own unwavering solo work. In turn, he would inspire future heroes himself. David Bowie once explained, “In the mid-60s I was having an on-again, off-again thing with a wonderful singer-songwriter who has previously been the girlfriend of Scott Walker. Much to my chagrin, Walker’s music played in her apartment night and day. I sadly lost contact with her, but unexpectedly kept a fond and hugely admiring love for Walker’s work.”
When we recently spoke with Dougie Payne of Travis, he also opined that Scott Walker 4 was one of the greatest records of all time. “Going back to Hunky Dory,” he explained, “One of the big things with Bowie was that he opened up pathways to other artists. He did Jacques Brel songs on his Ziggy Stardust tour, and I was fascinated by these strange songs. My brother-in-law got me a tape of Scott Walker sings Jacques Brel and I was blown away by the liquid bravado. Scott Walker, once again, is an artist who creates atmosphere and on Scott 4 his enticing cosmopolitan ways really are at the pinnacle.”
This notion of Walker inspiring what came after him is a notable part of his legacy. In his life, he may not have been a huge solo hitmaker, but once more he seemed to shrug that off in the most unfettered fashion and simply delved deeper into art, incorporating whatever he could into his work on the whim of his passions. As he once said: “I feel I’m writing for everyone. Just they haven’t discovered it yet I’ll be six feet under – but they will.”
That notion has never seemed truer. More and more new artists seem unafraid to pair strings with literally folk songs making some sort of alchemical brand of rock ‘n’ roll in the process, all for the joy of daring artistry. As he said himself, “I live the life of a recluse not out of choice or any mistaken notion that I am creating an image or sympathy for myself, but because this is the way I am.” Adding a year later, “When they throw me out on to a TV set or a stage, it’s like putting a hermit who has lived all his life in isolation suddenly in the middle of Times Square.”
While these acerbic philosophies on art might ensure that his legacy will unravel forevermore, the work itself (or at least nearly all of it) thankfully remains in one place for us to ponder. Below we have compiled every song that wonderful man offered up for us in his career—from soundtracks to Sunn O))) collaborations and his Walker Brothers classics. Enjoy the splendour…