David Bowie introduced me to Scott Walker in 2003.
We were punching cones and watching Koyaanisqatsi when there was a knock at the door and in walked Scott. ‘This is Scott,’ said Dave. ‘I told him to drop by for a mix.’ Sadly, this isn’t true, but Bowie did turn me on to Scott Walker through a 2003 Vanity Fair interview in which he confessed to being Scott’s biggest fan. Based on that endorsement, I bought Scott’s first solo album, Scott (1967), and was completely blown away. The dude was a bona fide genius.
Scott was a member of The Walker Brothers, the 60s pop group who brought you ‘Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine’. The Walker Brothers disbanded in 1968, but by then Scott was already onto his second solo album. He went on to release 18 solo albums in total (19 if you include his work on the soundtrack to Vox Lux), and his sound grew weirder and darker with each new record. By the time I reached his 12th album, 1995’s Tilt, I had to pull the pin. It was just too crazy.
I’ve selected five songs from Scott’s discography that I love, and two songs I don’t love because they freak me out (the last two on the list). This is barely a snapshot of Scott’s enormous output—and it’s definitely not his greatest hits—but I think it’ll give you an idea of what this guy was all about. I strongly recommend you check out everything else, and read about Scott’s life. He was a brilliant man.
‘My Death’ from Scott (1967)
Scott covered a bunch of translated songs by the Belgian singer, songwriter Jacques Brel (definitely check him out), including ‘My Death’, a song that was later covered by David Bowie when he killed off Ziggy Stardust at London’s Hammersmith Odeon in 1973. I don’t know who paired this song with a clip from the 1956 short Design for Dreaming, but they deserve an award.
‘Plastic Palace People’ from Scott 2 (1968)
A bigger music nerd could pinpoint the exact moment Scott started getting weird (‘Such a Small World’ from Scott was pretty quirky), but this is the first song that made me go ‘huh?’ and lean closer to the stereo. It opens with what would become Scott Walker’s signature unsettling orchestral strings (check out ‘It’s Raining Today’ for more of that).
‘Sons Of’ from Scott 3 (1969)
Again, the music nerds will shake their heads and say ‘Sons Of’ isn’t the best track on Scott 3, but this is my list, music nerds, so bugger off. Scott 3 is a complex album, and you can definitely hear Scott circling some of the ideas he would explore extensively on future recordings (the sinister vibrations of ‘It’s Raining Today’). But it’s still a very listenable record, and I think my favorite.
‘Boy Child’ from Scott 4 (1969)
Scott 4 is great but a little meh here and there. I could be wrong, but it sounds like he’s pumping the breaks on his weirdness a little (perhaps the record company was on his case). The track ‘Boy Child’ is a revelation though, and a song only Scott could write. I can’t articulate the feeling I get from this song, but I like it. After this album, Scott released ‘Til the Band Comes In, which I never really connected with on account of the country vibes he was flirting with.
‘The Electrician’ from the reunited Walker Brothers’ album Nite Flights (1978)
In late 1974, the Walker Brothers reformed and released three albums over four years. For their last album, Nite Flights, The WBs each contributed individual songs. Naturally, Scott’s tunes are the standouts, and this one in particular, ‘The Electrician’, is the beautiful, odd, and deeply unsettling standout for me. Your brain will say, ‘I don’t like it,’ but I promise it’ll get into your bones and you won’t be able to leave it alone.
‘See You Don’t Bump His Head’ from Bish Bosh (2012)
The album before this one, 2006’s The Drift, is eldritch as a motherfucker (yes, I said eldritch), but 2012’s Bish Bosh makes it look like Scott 2. This record is too strange, too disturbing, and far too Scott for me. That’s not to say it isn’t an amazing record—it totally is. But I don’t like the place it delivers me too, which is a dark and unfriendly place, and the opening track ‘See You Don’t Bump His Head’ puts you there in about eight seconds. Genius, but too much for this yellow-belly.
‘Bull’ from Soused (2014)
Scott and experimental metal spooks Sunn O))) got together and created the evilest album ever. Soused makes Gorgoroth look like Stryper, if you know what I mean (you know what I mean). This record is difficult. It’s not arduous difficult, just emotionally draining difficult. It drags you to the outer suburbs of the dark place I mentioned, and then it shoots you up with K and throws you down a well. This track, ‘Bull’, is the sonic equivalent of having your soul raked with Satan’s nit comb.
Anyway, I hope you found this illuminating, and I hope you remember the time I introduced you to Scott Walker. Because I did. I totally turned you on to Scott Walker just now. You’re welcome.
Rest in Peace, Scott.