Table of Contents
- 1. Scott Engel – “The Livin’ End” (Meet Scott Engel, 1958)
- 2. The Walker Brothers – “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” (single, 1966)
- 3. Scott Walker – “Montague Terrace (In Blue)” (Scott, 1967)
- 4. Scott Walker – “Jackie” (Scott 2, 1968)
- 5. Scott Walker – “Big Louise” (Scott 3, 1969)
- 6. Scott Walker – “30 Century Man” (Scott 3, 1969)
- 7. Scott Walker – “The Seventh Seal” (Scott 4, 1969)
- 8. Scott Walker – “Duchess” (Scott 4, 1969)
- 9. Scott Walker – “Thanks for Chicago Mr. James” (‘Til the Band Comes In, 1970)
- 10. The Walker Brothers – “No Regrets” (No Regrets, 1975)
Scott Walker was a legendary singer-songwriter who made a significant impact on the music industry with his unique style of music. His songs were known for their deep lyrics and haunting melodies that often explored the darker aspects of human experience. He started his career in the late 1950s as a member of The Walker Brothers, but it was his solo work in the 1960s and 1970s that cemented his place in music history. Over the course of his career, Scott Walker released 14 solo albums, each of which showcased his remarkable ability to blend different genres of music seamlessly. Some of the best Scott Walker songs of all time are timeless classics that continue to inspire generations of musicians and fans. From his early work with The Walker Brothers to his later solo albums, his songs were marked by his distinctive baritone voice and his ability to evoke complex emotions with his lyrics. Some of his most popular songs include “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore,” “Jackie,” “30 Century Man,” and “The Seventh Seal.” These songs remain popular to this day and are frequently covered by other artists. Scott Walker was a true visionary who pushed the boundaries of popular music and inspired countless musicians with his unique style. His songs are a testament to his talent and creativity and continue to be celebrated by music lovers around the world. In this article, we will take a closer look at some of the best Scott Walker songs of all time and explore the reasons why they continue to be so popular among fans and critics alike.
1. Scott Engel – “The Livin’ End” (Meet Scott Engel, 1958)
Born Noel Scott Engel in 1943, Walker wasted no time getting a music career off the ground, appearing on Broadway and issuing singles as “Scotty Engel” before he was 14. After moving to Los Angeles with his mother in 1957, Eddie Fisher took him under his wing, prepping him for success as a pop idol. By his mid-teens, Engel was working as a session bassist and releasing ballads and occasional rave-ups, including “The Livin’ End”. It’s an early entry in his catalog, but there are hints of the deep, sturdy voice that would later define him. There’s also a suggestion of an Elvis Presley obsession that makes for some insight into the lyrics of 2006’s “Jesse”, in which Walker elliptically makes a connection between Presley’s feelings for his unborn twin brother and the collapse of the World Trade Center.
2. The Walker Brothers – “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” (single, 1966)
In 1964, Engel joined John Maus and Gary Leeds to become the Walker Brothers, with Engel adopting “Scott Walker” as his permanent professional name. All Americans, the trio relocated to London the following year, and Walker has lived overseas ever since. Working in a broadly emotional, orchestrated sound not unlike the Righteous Brothers’ Phil Spector-era material, the Walker Brothers scored a number of UK hits, including the definitive recording of this Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio tune (originally recorded by Frankie Valli a year earlier), also the trio’s highest-charting U.S. single. Miles away from the teenage tenor of “The Livin’ End”.
3. Scott Walker – “Montague Terrace (In Blue)” (Scott, 1967)
Although all of the Walker Brothers’ hit singles were written by outside songwriters, by the time the band had broken up in 1967, Scott had contributed some promising album tracks and b-sides. When he struck out on his own, he still relied heavily on a superbly varied taste in cover material ranging from Tim Hardin to Weill/Mann to André Previn, but his own writing was also evolving, becoming darker and more complicated. On the verses of “Montague Terrace (In Blue)”, he lays out the squalor of a shabby apartment house in fine detail, a “bloated, belching” man in the room above and a jaded prostitute across the hall. On the chorus, though, he lets loose with that soaring croon, hoping for a brighter future for him and his lover that’s vague and likely illusory, but moving nonetheless.
4. Scott Walker – “Jackie” (Scott 2, 1968)
Walker songs like “Montague Terrace (In Blue)” probably wouldn’t exist were it not for Scott Walker’s late ’60s fascination with Belgian composer Jacques Brel, through whose chansons Walker learned to marry romantic drama to the grimiest of life’s realities. Walker was the first performer to record Mort Shuman’s English translations of Brel (later featured in Shuman’s revue Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris), and he included three Brel songs each on Scott, Scott 2, and Scott 3. Brel’s “Jackie” opens Scott 2 with a fanfare befitting the wild aspirations of the narrator — to drunkenly mingle with café eccentrics and to become a proto-Ice-T, pimping out “authentic queers and phony virgins” while “selling records by the ton”.
5. Scott Walker – “Big Louise” (Scott 3, 1969)
Walker has often been quick to dismiss his past work, but he threw Scott 2 under the bus almost immediately after its release, calling it “the work of a lazy, self-indulgent man”. That’s a touch overly critical, but with his next move being the even better Scott 3, perhaps it’s best to not let the man cut himself any slack. By 1969, he could channel his talent for people-pleasing interpretations of middle-of-the-road ballads into his short-lived TV show and was free to make Scott 3 the vehicle for his artier impulses; aside from the three Brel covers relegated to the end of the album, all of the songs are Walker originals.
With heavy orchestration still a defining element of his music and Walker’s croon as out of style as could be in the year of Led Zeppelin and Let It Bleed, parts of Scott 3 could still be mistaken for easy listening.
6. Scott Walker – “30 Century Man” (Scott 3, 1969)
Scott 3 doesn’t remain in orchestral mode throughout. “30 Century Man”, one of Walker’s most popular tracks (perhaps due to the Catherine Wheel cover or its appearance on the soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic), is just four chords on an acoustic guitar in one channel and Walker’s voice in the other. The lyrical idea behind it is simple, if high-concept, for Walker’s ’60s work — what kind of self-importance would drive a man to freeze himself to see the future? Walker mocks the ambition of this immortality seeker by throwing in references to “Saran Wrap” and the ludicrous notion of “shaking hands with Charles de Gaulle”, because, naturally, all Great Men will recognize each other as such once they’re unthawed.
7. Scott Walker – “The Seventh Seal” (Scott 4, 1969)
While Scott 3 was Walker further exploring the visionary side he’d shown glimpses of on his first two solo albums, the entirely self-penned Scott 4 was him giving full attention to his experimental side. Technically his fifth solo album (a fourth consisted of covers recorded for his TV show), Scott 4 makes no bones about its aspirations to capital-A Art, with a Camus quote on the sleeve, a musical caution against neo-Stalinism, and this song, a straightforward retelling of the Bergman film of the same title. It’s an album that dares you to hate it for taking itself so damn seriously. To Walker’s immense credit, none of this comes across as pretension. His esoteric interests read as entirely sincere, and the free-wheeling arrangements make this his most musically varied collection of the time, with nods to folk rock, country, and Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores. The knight in the “The Seventh Seal”, doomed as he is, strides to Death’s game of chess with Clint Eastwood cool.
8. Scott Walker – “Duchess” (Scott 4, 1969)
Despite the existentialist and political threads woven throughout Scott 4, Walker could still break your heart with a masterful love song. But where his older songs often gave a clear, intimate picture of a relationship on the rise or collapse, “Duchess” is unmoored yearning. The flashes of detail are so specific as to be meaningless on the whole (“It’s your bicycle bells and your Rembrandt swells”), the terms of the relationship ill-defined (“With your shimmering dress / It says no, it says yes”), and even the singer’s reliability questionable (“I am lying / She is crying”), but there’s unmistakable passion in his plea to “put the love back in me”.
9. Scott Walker – “Thanks for Chicago Mr. James” (‘Til the Band Comes In, 1970)
Some Walker fans draw a line after Scott 4, marking it as the end of his early essential period before losing his way to drink and uninspired cover albums. Even if The Moviegoer (1972), Any Day Now (1973), Stretch (1973), We Had It All (1974), and the first two Walker Brothers ’70s reunion albums are heavy on phoned-in soft rock ballads and country pop, Walker the songwriter still had half an album’s worth of creative energy left in him after Scott 4, before disillusionment and flailing attempts at keeping his career afloat knocked him off track. When Walker produced Pulp’s We Love Life decades later, he apparently had no problem with Walker fanatic Jarvis Cocker lumping “the second side of ‘Til the Band Comes In” with other infamous letdowns on “Bad Cover Version”, but note the specificity in that lyric.
10. The Walker Brothers – “No Regrets” (No Regrets, 1975)
Here’s the thing about Scott Walker’s so-called “wilderness years” — as poorly as these releases stack up against the best of the Walker Brothers’ ’60s material, his early solo work, and the ever-evolving music he’s put out since the late ’70s, they’re not all equally bad. Even when he wasn’t songwriting, Walker still possessed one of popular music’s most distinctive voices that could, on occasion, elevate even the sappiest material. In 1975, the Walker Brothers reunited for a trio of albums, the last of which would revitalize Scott Walker’s career entirely. The first two, No Regrets and Lines, are often viewed primarily as a steady continuation of Walker’s solo slump, but they actually represent an upward trend, even yielding some lost gems like a take on Boz Scaggs’ “We’re All Alone” that easily matches the Scaggs original and Rita Coolidge’s hit version.