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Scott Walker, born Noel Scott Engel on January 9, 1943 is an American singer-songwriter, musician, record producer, and the former lead singer of The Walker Brothers. Despite being American born, Walker's chart success has largely come in the United Kingdom, where his first four solo albums reached the top ten. Walker has lived in the UK since 1965. He continues to release solo material and is currently signed to 4AD.
Originally championed by Eddie Fisher in the late 1950s, Scott appeared several times under his real name on Fisher's TV series as a teen idol in the vein of Fabian or Frankie Avalon. Walker was among the first to adopt the electric bass guitar, mastering it to a proficiency to win regular session work in Los Angeles studios while still in his teens.
After playing in many bands, he eventually joined with John Maus and Gary Leeds to form The Walker Brothers in Los Angeles in 1964. Leeds had recently toured the United Kingdom with P.J. Proby and was the catalyst to their relocation to London.
The Walker Brothers arrived in London in early 1965 and attained worldwide popularity with pop ballads. Their first single, "Pretty Girls Everywhere", with John Maus as lead singer, crept into the charts. It was their next single, "Love Her", with Scott's deeper baritone in the lead, that hit the British charts and executives at Philips, their UK record label, noticed the rangy émigré Americans.
The Walker Brothers' next release, "Make It Easy on Yourself", a Bacharach/David ballad, swept to No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart (#16 on the U.S. charts) on release in August 1965. After hitting again with "My Ship Is Coming In" (#3 UK), their second No. 1 (#13 U.S.), "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore", shot to the top in early 1966 and their popularity and fan base is said to have exceeded The Beatles in the UK and Europe. The Walker Brothers, especially lead singer Scott, attained pop star status.
Finding suitable material was always a problem. The Walkers' '60s sound mixes Phil Spector's "wall of sound" techniques with symphonic orchestrations featuring Britain's top musicians and arrangers. Scott Walker claimed authorship of this sound in recent interviews.
Many of their earlier numbers had a driving beat, but by Images, their third album, ballads predominated. John Maus's musical influence had waned by this time, despite featuring in a solo of the standard "Blueberry Hill" and an original composition.
Artistic differences and the stresses stemming from overwhelming pop stardom led to the break-up of The Walker Brothers in 1967, although they reunited briefly for a tour of Japan the following year. Upon their UK return, Scott produced a solo album for the tour's musical director and guitarist Terry Smith. The Walker Brothers' last two singles, "Stay with Me Baby" and "Walking in the Rain", struck fans and critics alike as retro, dated choices, harking back to earlier pop. Their failure to reach the top ten provided Scott with the necessary trigger for the split. It is noteworthy then that producer Johnny Franz and John Walker were keen to release the upbeat "Everything Under the Sun" as the single from Images, but Scott Walker "put his foot down", he later confessed, and scored another miss.
Scott Walker shed The Walker Brothers' mantle and began a solo career in a style clearly glimpsed in Images, the Walkers' last album. To this, he added risqué recordings of Jacques Brel songs, translated by Mort Shuman (who was also responsible for the hit musical Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris). The influence of Brel is important as regards Walker's songwriting but should not be over-stated. His vocal style remained consistent throughout this period. Walker's own original songs of this period were influenced by Brel as he explored European musical roots while expressing his own American experience. He was also reaching a new maturity as a recording artist.
In 1968 Walker threw himself into intense study of contemporary and classical music, which included a sojourn in Quarr Abbey, a monastery on the Isle of Wight, to study Gregorian chant. His own songs gradually coursed into Lieder and classical musical modes.
Scott Walker's early solo career was successful in Britain; his first three albums, titled Scott (1967), Scott 2 (1968) and Scott 3 (1969), all sold in large numbers, Scott 2 topping the British charts. There were also early indications that this concentrated attention was not conducive to Walker's emotional well-being. He became reclusive and somewhat distanced from his audience. During this time, he combined his earlier teen appeal with a darker, more idiosyncratic approach that had been hinted at in songs like "Orpheus" on the Images album. Walker drove a fine line between classic ballads, his own compositions, and Brel covers.
At the peak of his fame in 1969, he was given his own BBC TV series, Scott, featuring solo Walker performances of ballads, big band standards and introductions of his own and Brel compositions. Footage of the show is currently very rare, as recordings were not archived. Walker's fourth solo album was an LP of songs from the TV series entitled Scott: Scott Walker Sings Songs from his TV Series.
Walker released his fifth solo LP, Scott 4, in 1969. This was his first to be made up entirely of self-penned material, as the 'standards' and Brel covers were gone. The album failed to chart and was deleted soon after. It has been speculated that the decision to release the album under his birth name Noel Scott Engel contributed to its chart failure. All subsequent re-issues of the album have been released under his stage name.
In recent interviews, Walker has suggested that by his third solo LP, a self-indulgent complacency had crept into his choice of material. Starting with 'Til the Band Comes In (1970) - specifically the latter half of the album, which featured original material on side A and covers on side B - the early '70s saw Walker revert to cover versions of popular film tunes and a serious flirtation with the country and western scene. The Moviegoer (1972), Any Day Now (1973), Stretch (1973), and We Had It All (1974) feature no original material whatsoever. In the 2006 documentary Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, Walker describes these as his "lost years", creatively.
Perhaps for mutual protection, The Walker Brothers reunited in 1975 to produce three albums. Their first single, a cover of Tom Rush's song "No Regrets", from the album of the same title climbed to #7 in the UK Singles Chart. However, the parent album only reached #49 in the UK Albums Chart. The follow-up singles, "Lines" and "We're All Alone", from the second 1970s album Lines, also failed to chart. Walker regards "Lines" as the best single the Walkers released.
With the imminent demise of their record label, the Walkers collaborated on an album of original material that was in stark contrast to the country-flavoured tunes of the previous 1970s albums. The resulting album, Nite Flights, was released in 1978 to similar poor sales figures. Critically, it was received warmly, especially Scott's contributions. The brothers each wrote and sang their own compositions. The opening four songs were Scott's, the final four John's, while the middle pair were by Gary. Scott's four songs – "Nite Flights", "The Electrician", "Shut Out", and "Fat Mama Kick" – were his first original compositions since 'Til the Band Comes In (released in 1970). They represented his first steps away from the MOR image and sound he had cultivated since the commercial failure of Scott 4. The extremely dark and discomforting sound of Scott's songs, particularly "The Electrician", was to prove a forerunner to the direction of his future solo work.
The group split once more after their sixth album in 1978.
Walker's recording activity has been sporadic since the late 1970s. He has released three albums since 1980: Climate of Hunter in 1984, Tilt in 1995 and The Drift in 2006. Critical acclaim for The Drift placed it as high as No. 2 on the Metacritic chart on release in June 2006. It was still listed at No. 12 at the end of September 2006.
Walker has spoken about his lyrical technique; he compares his technique of assembling images that are sometimes seemingly disparate from each other and unconnected into short blocks of text to that of "a general, assembling troops on the battlefield". The Wire has noted that the short blocks of white-on-black text presented in the CD insert is reflective of this. The roots of this compositional technique are apparent as early as the Scott Walker tracks on Nite Flites - the lyrics insert for the album clearly features the technique, albeit with a black text on a white background.
In tangential developments, in 1993 Walker co-wrote and co-performed (with Goran Bregović) the single "Man from Reno" for the soundtrack of the film Toxic Affair. In 1996, he recorded the Bob Dylan song "I Threw It All Away" under the direction of Nick Cave for inclusion in the soundtrack for the film To Have and to Hold. Three years later, he recorded the David Arnold song "Only Myself to Blame", for the soundtrack of the Bond film The World Is Not Enough. That same year, he wrote and produced the soundtrack for the Léos Carax film Pola X, which was released as an album. Scott Walker wrote and produced two songs for Ute Lemper the following year, and went on to produce Pulp's 2001 album We Love Life (whose track Bad Cover Version includes a mocking reference to Walker's poor covers on "The second side of 'Til The Band Comes In").
Walker has been a continuing influence on other artists, in particular The Last Shadow Puppets, Marc Almond, Douglas Pearce of the band Death in June, Billy MacKenzie of The Associates, David Sylvian, David Bowie, Radiohead, and the Divine Comedy/Neil Hannon. In 2000, he curated the London South Bank Centre's annual summer live music festival, Meltdown, which has a tradition of celebrity curators. He did not perform at Meltdown himself, but wrote the music for The Richard Alston Dance Project item Thimblerigging.
In October 2003, Walker was given an award for his contribution to music by Q magazine. This was presented by Jarvis Cocker of Pulp, and Walker received a standing ovation at the presentation. This award had been presented only twice before, the first time to Phil Spector, and the second to Brian Eno. The release of a retrospective box set, 5 Easy Pieces, comprising five themed discs spanning Walker's work with The Walker Brothers, his solo career (including film soundtrack work), and the two pieces composed for Ute Lemper, followed soon after.
The British independent label 4AD Records signed Walker in early 2004 and his first album in 11 years, The Drift, was released on 8 May 2006 to strong reviews. In recent interviews, he appears more at ease with media attention. He reveals a wish to produce albums more frequently and hints at significant changes in material if and when it suits him. Walker mentioned the possibility of touring again with a compact, five-piece band in an interview with The Wire in 2006.
In June 2006, Mojo and radio honored Scott Walker with the MOJO Icon Award: "Voted for by Mojo readers and Mojo4music users, the recipient of this award has enjoyed a spectacular career on a global scale". Phil Alexander presented it.
A documentary film, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, was completed in 2006 by New York film director Stephen Kijak (Cinemania and Never Met Picasso). Interviews were recorded with David Bowie (executive producer of the film), Radiohead, Sting, Gavin Friday and many musicians associated with Walker over the years. The World Premiere of Scott Walker: 30 Century Man took place as part of the 50th London Film Festival. When The Independent released its list of "Ten must-see films" at the 50th London Film Festival, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, was among them. A documentary on Walker containing a substantial amount of footage from the film was shown on BBC1 in May 2007 as part of the Imagine... strand, presented by Alan Yentob.
Walker released "Darkness" as part of Plague Songs, an album of songs for the Margate Exodus project, a re-telling of the Book of Exodus, the story of Moses and his search for the Promised Land. Ten singer-songwriters were commissioned by Artangel to write and record a song inspired by one of the ten biblical plagues. Walker's evocation of "Darkness" appears as the ninth.
On 24 September 2007, Walker released And Who Shall Go to the Ball? And What Shall Go to the Ball? as a limited, never-to-be-re-pressed edition. The 24-minute instrumental work was performed by the London Sinfonietta with solo cellist Philip Sheppard as music to a performance by London-based CandoCo Dance Company. The recording is currently available.
From 13 to 15 November 2008, Drifting and Tilting: The Songs of Scott Walker was staged at The Barbican, in London. It comprised eight songs, two from Tilt – "Farmer in the City" and "Patriot (a single)" – and the rest from The Drift: "Cossacks Are", "Jesse", "Clara (Benito's Dream)", "Buzzers", "Jolson and Jones" and "Cue". Each song was presented in a music-theatre manner, with the vocal parts taken by a number of singers, including Jarvis Cocker, Damon Albarn and Dot Allison.
Walker collaborated with Bat for Lashes on the song "The Big Sleep" from her 2009 album Two Suns.
Walker will write the score for the ROH2 production of Jean Cocteau’s 1932 play Duet for One which will be staged in the Linbury Studio in June 2011.
Scott Walker's track "Sons Of" plays a prominent part in the Daniel Craig film Flashbacks of a Fool. The song, an English version of Jaques Brel's "Fils de...", was originally released on Scott 3. A segment of Walker's song "30 Century Man" appears in the 2007 animated feature Futurama: Bender's Big Score, in which a short animated sequence illustrates Walker's lyric "shakin' hand with Charles de Gaulle." "30 Century Man" also appears in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou directed by Wes Anderson.