Monday, October 8, 2018

The Genius Of Scott Walker

Before his slapping frozen meat for percussion and making questionable and unlistenable recordings for the past four decades Ohio's favorite melodramatic singer/songwriter U.K. transplant cut some of the most brilliant, wonderfully orchestrated pop melodramas of the 60's (and 70's). I decided to chronicle my favorites. Enjoy! All releases are UK pressings unless otherwise noted.

1. "The Plague" B-side Phillips BF 1628 1967
The flip of Scott's solo debut 45, a reading of Jacques Brel's "Jackie" was this dark, original composition (no doubt influenced by the Camus novel of the same name). With it's Ladybird's type "la la la" backing vocals it would've been just another late 60's pop record but with it's almost way out  screeching guitars, doom ladden strings and Scott's trippy lyrics it's the closest he ever came to psychedelia.

2. "Montague Terrace (In Blue)" LP track "Scott" Phillips SBL 7816 1967
The strongest cut from Scott's untitled debut album (cheekily titled "Aloner" in the US!) is yet another of his archetype voyeuristic/people watching song-essay that sees him crooning in observation of his neighbors and their comings and goings while Wally Stott's beautiful orchestration wraps it up as the perfect melancholy parcel it is.

3. "The Rope And the Colt" French single Phillips B 370.780 F 1969
By far one of the most unique Scott solo tracks was this tune composed for a spaghetti Western flick of the same name (released in English speaking countries as "Cemetery Without Crosses"). Scott croons (not unlike Jack Jones!) about all things cowboy and blazing guns and riding trails that end in death while backing vocalists reminiscent of The Jordanaires croon over some very tight musical orchestration. And there's a simple Spanish guitar solo to add to the Morricone feel of it all.

4. "The Amorous Humphrey Plugg" LP track "Scott 2" UK Phillips SBL 7840 1968
One of the most powerful solo Scott tracks for my money is this cut from his second album "Scott 2" (yes his first 4 solo long players were all numbered). Once again in his favorite musical mode of social observation Scott chronicles the day of the everyman dad as he daydreams his evenings away imagining that he is a dashing ladies man, a Walter Mitty Casanova as Reg Guest's brilliant musical backing creates a lush texture for it to lay on.

5. "Mrs. Murphy" E.P. track "Solo Scott/Solo John" Phillips BE 12597 1966
Scott spent most of 1966 swatting away rumors, conjecture and suggestions that he should ditch Gary and John and go solo. The pages of British music weeklies in 1966 were full of them making one wonder did "NME", "Disc & Music Echo" and "Record Mirror" cause the Walker Brothers break up? The fuel was already there and this E.P. was the match that lit the Walker Brothers funeral pyre. Part of what I like to call Scott's "tenement trilogy" (along with The Walker's reading of "I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore" and Scott's later "Montague Terrace") , "Mrs, Murphy" is a brilliant study (again) on human relations and follows all the gossip of an apartment building as told via a conversation between Mrs. Murphy and Mr. Wilson ("I hear that the Johnsons had a baby Mrs Murphy is that true? Why yes, but it's rumored that the little tot's real daddy, lives in 22...") . Neatly tied up with beautiful orchestration again by arranger Reg Guest.

6."Thanks For Chicago Mr. James" LP track "'Til The Band Comes In" UK LP Phillips 6308 035 1970
For me "Til The Band Comes In" was always the weakest of Scott's early solo long players and his last album I paid any attention to (I always call it "Scott 5"). Track for track it seems to lack the requisite number of heavy hitters of his first 4 solo albums, at least in my estimation.  There are exceptions though, "Thanks For Chicago Mr James" is among them. Scott's vocals are great but it's Wally Stott's brilliant arrangements and the lovely chorus of backing vocals that give it a campy variety show feel that thanks to Walker's oblique delivery actually works.

7."Orpheus" LP track The Walker Brothers "Images" Phillips BL 7770 1967
The template for Scott's solo career began with "Mrs. Murphy" (see above) and continued with this tune on what would be the final Walker Brother's album of the 60's, "Images". "Orpheus" would not have been at all out of place on any of Scott's first 3 solo albums with it's verdant orchestration and dark lyrics. "Orpheus" is without a doubt one of the bleakest things he ever wrote, and it's quite hard to effectively portray a narcissistic Lothario any better than this, from his own point of view nonetheless.

8. "30th Century Man" LP track "Scott 3" Phillips SBL 7882 1969
Possibly the shortest track of Scott's 60's career and certainly it's his most musically sparse one (it's only musical accompaniment is an acoustic guitar and a wind up music box at the end) "30th Century Man" is an interesting jab at consumerism ("Play it cool and Saran Wrap all you can...") and no doubt futuristic with talk of being frozen ("I'll save my bread and take it with me.."). The lyrics make very little sense but that's what I like about it. It was fittingly chosen as the title for the highly recommended 2006 Scott documentary.

9. "On Your Own Again" LP track "Scott 4" Phillips SBL 7913 1969
Bordering on an almost Gordon Lightfoot feel, "On Your Own Again" is one of the finest tacks on "Scott 4" (which died a death upon release). It's magic lies in the simplicity that sees Scott singing through the first half backed only by an acoustic guitar before the shimmering string arrangements sweep in. Lyrically one is tempted to see some autobiographical slant to it all.

10. "The Old Man's Back Again (Dedicated The The Neo-Stalinist Regime)" single Japan Phillips SFL-1248 1970
Culled from his 1969 "Scott 4" album in Japan, where all things Scott AND Walker Brothers were hugely successful, Phillips saw fit to release this as a single track on the flip of it's LP companion "The Seventh Seal". On top of a funky, fluid beat Walker sings from varying perspectives of citizens in the Soviet Union: the woman who's husband was taken away (presumably by the secret police), people queuing in breadlines, and a young soldier standing guard in the rain while backing vocals that sound like a disembodied Soviet Men's Airborne Chorus dart in and out of the film soundtrack strings and Scott even scats towards the fade-out.


Bluegeo64 said...

Thanks for pointing me in the direction of a couple Scott songs I wasn't aware of though I am a big fan of his self titled albums. What a talent!

Bluegeo64 said...

Thanks for pointing me in the direction of a couple of songs I hadn't heard. Orpheus is sublime.