Upon the late 2012 release of Scott Walker's album Bish Bosch, U.K. newspaper The Guardian posed the question, "Were you hoping this might be the album that would see Scott Walker return to lush, beautiful balladry?" The answer: "Well, tough." Indeed, the iconoclastic singer-songwriter has pursued a defiantly singular path creating intense, nightmarish and never-uninteresting soundscapes on albums such as Bish Bosch. His work over the past two-plus decades has been removed, of course, from the pop on which he first rose to fame as a member of sixties pop sensations The Walker Brothers, and even bears little relation to the evocative, dark, Jacques Brel-influenced songs of his acclaimed, early solo work. If you're looking to revisit the resonantly-sung melodies that influenced everybody from David Bowie to Jarvis Cocker, though, you're in luck. On June 3 in the U.K. and June 11 in the U.S., Universal U.K. will issue Scott - The Collection 1967-1970, a remastered 5-CD box set containing Walker's four numbered solo albums as well as their 1970 stylistic sequel 'Til the Band Comes In. In addition, a special vinyl pressing of the box set will also be released on those same dates.
After the jump: we'll take you on an album-by-album journey through the box set. Plus, we've got full specs on the brand-new remastering, notes, packaging and more!
CD 1: Scott (Philips, 1967)
Between 1965 and 1967, The Walker Brothers (none brothers, nor born Walker!) released three LPs, 10 singles and two EPs in the United Kingdom. By 1967, Scott, John and Gary Walker had grown restless, expatriate Americans in Swinging London. Their indelible recordings often reinvented American songs with a Wall of Sound to make Phil Spector envious, and inevitably out front with his booming, emotive croon was Scott Walker. On such tracks as Bacharach and David's "Make It Easy on Yourself," Randy Newman's "I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore," Leiber and Stoller's "Where's the Girl" and most successfully, Gaudio and Crewe's pulsating "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore," Scott and the Walkers made these songs uniquely their own. But the writing bug had bitten Scott, who from the very beginning had penned songs for the Walker Brothers, including their very first B-side, "Doin' the Jerk." By 1967 his style had matured far beyond dance numbers and he was ready to make his solo debut (not counting a number of flop American singles cut as a teenager and bearing no relationship to his later work or voice).
The major influence on his songwriting was Belgian composer/lyricist/singer/actor Jacques Brel. When many of his contemporaries were writing about war, peace, the Summer of Love, or heightened consciousness, Brel's songs - with English lyrics provided by Doc Pomus' old partner, Mort Shuman - were tackling taboo subjects like whores, opium dens, homosexuality, abuse and venereal disease, not to mention one's own mortality. Scott would offer something for everybody, comprising three Brel songs, three by Walker himself (credited by his birth name of Engel) and a grab bag of interpretations. These ranged from "Angelica" by Brill Building stalwarts Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil to MOR standards like "When Joanna Loved Me" (popularized by Tony Bennett) and even Andre and Dory Previn's big showbiz belter, "You're Gonna Hear from Me." Current folk trends were even acknowledged via a cover of Tim Hardin's "The Lady Came from Baltimore." Clearly, the multifaceted Walker was out to show his versatility. Famed arrangers Wally Stott, Peter Knight and Reg Guest all contributed to Walker's debut which he called "my obsession" in the original liner notes. Clearly, the obsession paid off with this richly rewarding, beautiful and truly elegiac album. He had perfected a style of employing his expressive, deep voice (which could have given any of the era's top crooners a run for their money) to bring to life a most unusual array of songs, most outfitted with big orchestral arrangements which still sound timeless today. Only Walker could give voice to the lost souls of his own "Montague Terrace in Blue" (a story-song similar in tone to Brel's, but with Walker's abstract, impressionistic lyrics) or those of Brel's "Mathilde," described by Walker as a "sadomasochistic love song." Drawing on all of his disparate influences yet creating one cohesive album, Walker saw Scott reach No. 3 on the UK album chart.
CD 2: Scott 2 (Philips, 1968)
Like Scott, Scott 2 opened with another Brel composition, this time the stunning "Jackie," telling of "authentic queers and phony virgins." This swaggering, cocksure tune described the singer's wish of running opium dens and whorehouses, hoping he would be "cute, cute, in a stupid ass way." Perhaps unsurprisingly, "Jackie" stalled on the singles chart at No. 22 but it epitomized Brel's frequent style of marrying a jaunty melody to an ironic, even unpleasant, story. The rest of Scott 2 also included Brel & Shuman's abrasive "Next" and darkly comedic "The Girls and the Dogs." As with the first album, a number of other songwriters' work rounded out the set. A strikingly sad reading of Bacharach and David's gentle protest song "The Windows of the World" is easily one of the song's strongest renditions, while Walker imbues Henry Mancini's film theme "Wait Until Dark" with conviction.
Four of Walker's own compositions were among his finest, including the six-minute opus "Plastic Palace People." Ostensibly it tells of a child wishing to fly through the skies on a balloon, but its bizarre lyrics defy description, and they're set to a hauntingly atmospheric melody and expansive orchestration. Bolstered by the success of the non-LP single "Joanna" (written by Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent with contributions by Scott), Scott 2 reached No. 1 on the British LP chart. The mercurial Walker would later dismiss the album as "lazy" and "self-indulgent," but if it's not overall as unified as Scott, it still retains a great deal of power. As for "Joanna," it remains a singular entry in the Walker catalog. While it's unabashedly commercial pop, Hatch's beguiling melody and Trent's longing lyric find full expression in Walker's gorgeous reading. One suspects the singer had a bit of a soft spot for the romantic ballad and for the couple he described on television as his "very good friends," the hit-making composer/lyricist team of Hatch and Trent.
CD 3: Scott 3 (Philips, 1969)
Walker and producer John Franz (known for his similarly big productions for Dusty Springfield and others) tweaked the formula for Scott 3. Gone were the Mancini and Bacharach songs, however great they were. Scott 3 is the album where Walker came into his own, containing 10 of his original songs with 3 Brel songs tacked onto the end of the song cycle almost as "insurance." Walker's compositions were his most wide-ranging to date. "It's Raining Today" was more poetry set to music, a reflective, melodic journey through a sorrowful past. The Brel influence was most clear in songs like "Big Louise," about an over-the-hill transvestite or "Rosemary," about a woman trapped in her own existence. But more than just aping Brel, Walker had found his own voice. He used his theatrical croon to great effect on these movies in miniature, creating stories and conjuring feelings that lingered, growing in effect with each listen. The Brel songs, though typically incisive, felt tacked on. The almost-gentle "Sons Of," the malevolent "Funeral Tango" and the oft-recorded "If You Go Away," with lyrics by Rod McKuen rather than Mort Shuman, were all worthwhile but superfluous. Scott's own intelligent, anguished songwriting, aided by Wally Stott's sympathetic arrangements, reached its apex here, and it was rewarded with a No. 3 chart placing.
CD 4: Scott 4 - Noel Scott Engel (Philips, 1969)
Following Scott Walker Sings Songs from His TV Series (from 1969 and unfortunately not included in this box set), Walker was back on track with Scott 4, his first wholly self-composed LP. Keith Roberts joined Peter Knight and Wally Stott for arranging duties, and John Franz returned to the producer's chair for this challenging LP originally released as by Noel Scott Engel (perhaps adversely affecting its commercial fortunes). It's somewhat incorrect to say, though, that Scott 4's songs were more esoteric than those on Scott 3. The tracks here actually vary from straightforward and accessible (the wistful "The World's Strongest Man," with an orchestral backing reminiscent of Jimmy Webb's finest) to baroque ("Angels of Ashes" with attendant religious imagery) and even country-rock ("Get Behind Me" and "Rhymes of Goodbye," the furthest things Walker had recorded to date from his patented style). Walker's voice was still intact, but he was clearly exploring with different backgrounds and sounds. But with music itself changing rapidly in 1969, Scott 4 failed to chart, and it was quickly deleted from the Philips catalog.
CD 5: 'Til the Band Comes In (Philips, 1970)
This LP could be thought of as Scott 5, though such a title wouldn't have been prudent given Scott 4's commercial failure. For this LP, Scott returned to his Walker surname and enlisted the same corps of arrangers and producer that graced his previous LPs. No fewer than 10 Walker compositions graced this LP, all co-credited to one Ady Semel, then his new manager, and one featuring vocals by another Semel client, Esther Ofarim. The end result was as sporadically brilliant as its predecessors even if today, it's too often forgotten. "Little Things (That Keep Us Together)" is an ironically-titled song cataloguing mankind's greatest offenses, set to a cacophonous orchestration and resigned vocal. "Thanks For Chicago, Mr. James" is first heard on the LP as its overture-cum-"Prologue" and reprised a few tracks later with a striking lyric and typically passionate, double-tracked vocal. It hints at homosexuality telling an offbeat Western tale of a "kept cowboy." While "Joe" has a melody that is pure Jack Jones-esque MOR, no surprise given Scott's affection for Jones' casual style, it has the Walker twist in continuing his often-explored theme of aging and mortality with odd lyrical turns of phrase. "Jean the Machine" is a vaudeville-styled attempt at comedy that doesn't quite come off. The Walker/Semel song cycle concludes after all of these varied directions with "The War is Over."
But then 'Til The Band Comes In takes a different direction, and concludes with five songs that could only be considered throwbacks. Walker takes an almost-funky approach on the Classics IV's gentle pop song "Stormy," quite a jolt after the drama of the previous 10 tracks. Old favorite Henry Mancini returns with "The Hills of Yesterday," his theme to the film The Molly Maguires. Walker's take on Michel Legrand's "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?," written with Alan and Marilyn Bergman, is as strong as the renditions by Streisand, Sinatra or Jones, and Walker also tackles a song popularized by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, "Reuben James." 'Til The Band Comes In ended its mini-lounge set with Jimmie Rodgers' "It's Over," perhaps prophetically. Nobody knew then that this period of Scott Walker, Songwriter, was also over. A new Walker composition would not emerge until 1978.
Scott - The Collection 1967-1970 has been remastered at Abbey Road Studios from the original stereo tapes for each album. Packaged in a hardback box with a lift-off lid, the set also includes a 16-page booklet with extensive notes on each album courtesy Rob Young, editor of last year's No Regrets: Writings on Scott Walker. Original album artwork has been recreated for each title, as well.
In the debit column, there are no bonus tracks, even where some would have been appropriate. (The reissue of Band could have included the 1971 single of Michel Legrand's "I Still See You" b/w the Walker/Semel "My Way Home," to name one omission.) In addition, the box represents another missed opportunity to premiere Walker's never-on-CD albums in the format, although objections from the artist might indeed be the reason why Scott Walker Sings Songs from His TV Series, The Moviegoer (1972) and Any Day Now (1973) have all languished on vinyl only. Thankfully, Walker enthusiasts can still find most of those albums' contents on various compilations. (See this installment of our Back Tracks, from which the above was excerpted, for full information on those titles and indeed, Walker's entire catalogue through 2007's And Who Shall Go to the Ball? And What Shall Go to the Ball?)
June 3 (U.K.) and June 11 (U.S.) are the dates for Scott - The Collection 1967-1970 on both vinyl and CD. You can pre-order at the links below!
Scott Walker, Scott - The Collection 1967-1970 (Universal, 2013)
CD/LP 1: Scott (Philips, 1967)
- Montague Terrace (In Blue)
- The Lady Came from Baltimore
- When Joanna Loved Me
- My Death
- The Big Hurt
- Such a Small Love
- You're Gonna Hear from Me
- Through a Long and Sleepless Night
- Always Coming Back to You
CD /LP 2: Scott 2 (Philips, 1968)
- Best of Both Worlds
- Black Sheep Boy
- The Amorous Humphrey Plugg
- The Girls from the Streets
- Plastic Palace People
- Wait Until Dark
- The Girls and the Dogs
- The Windows of the World
- The Bridge
- Come Next Spring
CD/LP 3: Scott 3 (Philips, 1969)
- It's Raining Today
- Big Louise
- We Came Through
- Two Ragged Soldiers
- 30 Century Man
- Winter Night
- Two Weeks Since You've Gone
- Sons Of
- Funeral Tango
- If You Go Away
CD/LP 4: Scott 4 - Noel Scott Engel (Philips, 1969)
- The Seventh Seal
- On Your Own Again
- The World's Strongest Man
- Angels of Ashes
- Boy Child
- Hero of the War
- The Old Man's Back Again (Dedicated to the Neo-Stalinist Regime)
- Get Behind Me
- Rhymes of Goodbye
CD/LP 5: 'Til the Band Comes In (Philips, 1970)
- Little Things (That Keep Us Together)
- Thanks for Chicago, Mr. James
- Long About Now
- Time Operator
- Jean the Machine
- Cowbells Shakin'
- 'Til the Band Comes In
- The War is Over (Sleepers)
- The Hills of Yesterday
- Reuben James
- What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life
- It's Over