Friday, 17 September 2010

September 2010


Clash of the titans this month, as we feature four of the most important figures in music. There is an in depth look at Scott Walker, album by album, as well as the final part of the four part look at Madonna's early UK singles from 1982 to the start of 1990.


We also start the first part of our six part look at the world of David Bowie, starting with his "pre-fame" years. And what's this? Gratuitous nudity?? No of course not - it's the original UK cover of the Jimi Hendrix Experience LP "Electric Ladyland", and a beginners guide to the man's music is offered up. To look at any of these blogs, click on the relevant tab top right.




























































"Hurry, You've Got To Get In Line - Your Nose Might Start To Shine"


The Godlike Genius Of Scott Walker


In terms of technical ability, there has never been a vocalist as good as Scott Walker. Possessed with the most brilliant and beautiful voice in popular music, Walker has made a series of records where the dramatic nature of his music, combined with his dark lyrics and those astonishing vocals, resulted in the sort of records they just don’t make anymore. I grew up with Scott Walker. Ever since I can remember, my mum played his records in the house, and when a few years ago I played “Stretch” for the first time in a long time, I immediately recognised “Use Me” from my childhood. Furthermore, my middle name is Scott, named after the great man himself, and not the black cat we used to have…

Most articles about Scott Walker combine his solo work with that of the Walker Brothers, the group with which he first made his name. And whilst we would not have had “Scott 3” were it not for The Walkers' third LP “Images”, and “Climate Of Hunter” could not have existed without “Nite Flights”, I thought it would be a bit more interesting to look at the solo records in isolation, especially when it’s generally considered that the Walkers were more “pop”, and Scott’s reputation has been built primarily on his late 60’s solo work. We shall look at the Walkers in more detail in a future blog, but for now, let’s look at Scott’s 13 solo albums. Scott is unusual, if not unique, in modern music in that whilst some of his albums have been re-released, none have had anything in the way of bonus tracks second time around, so buying a vinyl original will still give you the same material as if you bought the same record on CD. I have detailed the albums that are available on CD, whilst information about the handful of singles Scott has released as a solo singer in the UK are referred to at the relevant point in the article.

It’s often been claimed that Scott deliberately turned his back on fame, and began to make albums that he knew wouldn’t sell, but this is a rather spurious claim. The one sad fact that is true though, is that since 1969, Scott has been nothing more than a (sometimes popular) cult figure, unknown to several generations of music fans. It is heartbreaking to think that there are people on this earth who have never heard “Scott 4”. If you have had the misfortune of never having heard all of the records below, I can wholeheartedly recommend every single one of them, although even Scott misfired in terms of quality now and again. For the albums released between 67 and 84, the catalogue number relates to the vinyl pressing, for those after 85, the CD is listed, on the basis that that record was only available on a limited vinyl pressing, or maybe not one at all.


Scott
1967 LP, Philips BL/SBL 7816 (mono/stereo)

As the Walker Brothers split up amidst public disinterest and critical maulings, all three members - Scott, Gary and John - went off in separate solo directions. Scott and John had already dabbled in the world of solo work - aside from some pre-fame recordings, the two vocalists had shared a side each of the “Solo John Solo Scott” EP, released towards the tail end of the Walkers lifespan, with neither of the men appearing on the other’s “side” of the EP.

The hysteria that surrounded the band was not to Scott’s liking, and he began to write or cover songs for the band’s second LP “Portrait” that had a dark undercurrent. By 1967, and now solo, Scott simply decided to delve deeper into the darkness for his debut LP, although much of the album would still consist of cover versions, something that the Walkers had always done. The key to this album, and Scott’s career in general, was the inclusion of three songs originally recorded by Jacques Brel. There are various stories about how Scott discovered Brel - an invite to see him in concert on the basis that Scott “would like him” or dating a woman who had a series of Brel records that he happened to listen to are the two stories that have circulated. Walker was nevertheless aware of Brel when he spoke to Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, who had been handed a series of English translations of some of Brel’s songs. Scott showed interest in recording the songs in English (Brel had recorded them in French) and was given first refusal. Scott decided to record not one, but three Brel covers on “Scott”, presumably on the basis that as nobody had heard these songs sung in this way, nobody would be aware they were covers anyway. Scott was also such a fan of Brel, he saw no reason why he shouldn’t record more than one anyway. Scott would record a trio of Brel songs again on both “Scott 2”and “Scott 3”.

Whilst in the Walkers, the band had happily done things “the record company way” - a single, an EP, an album, another single, and so on. As a solo artist, Scott wanted to do things differently, and made his intentions known to the label that he wanted to be “an albums artist” and refused to release a single before the LP was due for release. Philips agreed to this - this may have been due to the fact that they weren’t sure if a Scott Walker solo record would sell that well, given that all three Walkers were popular “with the ladies”…it would have been quite feasible for Gary to have a bigger hit than Scott if record sales were to be based on “band member popularity” (I think Gary was 'big in Japan', for example). The album was issued during 1967, and came in an iconic cover with a shot of Scott, sunglasses on, looking down at the ground and not at the camera - even the Walkers had managed to look at the camera on their album sleeves, even if they did look miserable every time. The photo, in some respects, matched the feel of the album - moody, obsessed with death, and generally concerned with the darker aspects of life. But don’t let the cover make you think Scott was some suicidal grouch - outtakes from the photo session saw Scott laughing and joking in front of the lens (see the “Classics And Collectables” CD cover).

“Scott” was a huge hit - although he refused to release any singles, he happily appeared on TV shows (“Mathilde” was performed on Dusty Springfield’s “Dusty” show) to help plug the album. It maintained the “orchestral” feel of the earlier Walkers albums (as all of his albums would, in the main, until 1973), but had a more left field sound at times (especially the detuned violins droning away during the verses of “Such A Small Love”), and his own compositions were lyrically bleaker than anything he had written before. Whilst John and Gary saw their careers slide almost immediately, Scott proved to be just as popular as a solo singer as he had been as one-third of the Walkers. Of course, this continued fame would ultimately prove, in a roundabout way, to be the very thing that saw Scott sink into obscurity himself after 1970.


Scott 2
1968 LP, Philips BL/SBL 7840 (mono/stereo)

The success of “Scott” was not lost on Philips, who realised they still had a star on their label. No sooner had Scott returned to the studio, than the label asked if he had any material ready for release as a single. The likes of “Top Of The Pops” and the newly launched Radio 1 were based around singles, and if Scott didn’t release a single, he was automatically banning himself from these outlets. Scott had recorded at least two songs, his next Brel cover “Jackie” and a self penned track called “The Plague”. Neither were particularly ’made for radio’ - “The Plague” was a nightmarish vision of modern life, and “Jackie” was laden with mentions of Bordellos, Opium, and “stupid-ass” ways. Scott happily allowed Philips to release the two songs on a single, reportedly asking for “Jackie” to be the a-side as, being quite brash and upbeat, it at least sounded like a single, even if lyrically, it was unlike anything else in the charts. “Jackie”/”The Plague” (Philips 7”, BF 1628) was issued at the end of 67, and promptly upset the very people it was supposed to be pitched at - Radio 1 deemed it offensive and banned it, resulting in Scott’s manager arranging a protest of Scott fans outside Broadcasting House to try and overturn the ban! “Jackie” was regarded by some as a failure - it got no higher than the middle of the top 40, The Walkers had hit number 1 early on in their career - but I’ve often been amazed that such a daring recording could even get into the charts at all.

“Jackie” was included, as planned, on “Scott 2”, issued in 1968 after a brief Walkers reunion tour of Japan (arranged before the band split, and undertaken because Scott “needed the money”). Along with two more sprightly Brel tracks and a series of covers (including a miraculous version of “Best Of Both Worlds”, where Walker hits notes Mariah Carey can only dream of), Walker continued to develop his lyrical and musical style. “The Girls From The Streets“ scowled more than the Brel songs, a snarling funeral march in the verses, developing into a none-more-joyous Phil Spector-esque roar in the choruses; “The Bridge” was musically more genteel, but again burst into life in the choruses, whilst Scott calmly sang the startling line “her sailors stained her cobblestones, with wine and piss, and death desire” over the top; but the genius was at it’s most evident on “Plastic Palace People” - Scott’s greatest ever moment. A swirling mix of psychedelia, fairground music, orchestral beauty, and vocals that are beautiful one minute, then juddering through some sort of strange sound manipulation device the next, it’s an epic, monumental piece of work - six minutes of “hairs on the backs of your neck” moments. If it was sixty minutes long, it would still not be long enough.

“Scott 2” was a brilliant record - the fact that Scott was now starting to write songs better than his idol Brel was indicative of how ground breaking his work was starting to become. The fact that it hit number 1, Scott’s only LP to do so, was beyond subversive. Meanwhile, “The Plague” remained a great long-lost rarity - it would not re-emerge on a Scott LP until the 1990 Best-of colllection, “Boy Child”. Original vinyl copies of “Scott 2”included an art print, and copies without now tend to sell for a lot less than those with it still intact.


Scott 3
1969 LP, Philips SBL 7882

Although Scott was going further into the left field with his first two albums, he was still a fan of “easy listening” acts like Jack Jones. The cool kids who discovered Scott post-”Tilt” like to claim that the songs that Scott recorded in this style are rubbish, and that Scott did them against his will. Nonsense. Scott happily recorded a sizeable chunk of so-called “middle of the road” material, but what set Scott’s songs apart from the likes of Tom Jones, was his fantastic voice and some miraculous musical arrangements. As somebody later said, “nobody was holding a gun to Scott’s head” when he taped the likes of “Joanna”. This song, written by the same people who wrote the “Crossroads” theme (Tony Hatch & Jackie Trent - which Wings later covered, soap opera fact fans), was issued as a stand-alone 45 after the release of “Scott 2”, and was a work of such beauty, if your heart doesn’t melt when you hear it, you must be dead. It’s often been claimed that with the release of “Joanna”, Scott was starting to follow two career paths - the depressed musos were digging the albums, and the ex-Walkers fans were finding the likes of “Joanna” to be very much to their liking. After the release of the “Joanna”/”Always Coming Back To You” single (Philips 7“, BF 1662), Scott released a French only 45 with another new song on the A-side, “The Rope And The Colt”, which would not get an official release in the UK until 1990.

“Scott 3” simply took the template from “Scott 2” and expanded upon it. It came in a beautiful picture sleeve, and the original vinyl gatefold featured 10 photographic illustrations on the inside, printed on a brown background, with extracts of lyrics for each (Scott penned) song off the album - it had the feel of some kind of old manuscript, or historical document. With the exception of the three Brel covers, the entire album was self-penned - the Brel songs were all included at the end of the record, almost as an afterthought - some have claimed that “If You Go Away” had been taped some two years earlier, but left unreleased as it was ’below par’. If you have heard it, you will realise that describing it as ’low par’ is a bit like describing Olly Murs as ’good’.

Walker’s own songs, admittedly, did seem to overshadow the covers, simply because the quality of his own material was now reaching astonishing levels of lyrical inventiveness, and musical beauty - “It’s Raining Today” opened with the sound of rain lashing against a window, before Scott’s hushed vocals ushered in the tearful opening line “it’s raining today, and I’m just about to forget the train window girl”; “Copenhagen” sounded like a waltz written in some sort of dreamland, with the most stunning finale ever committed to vinyl; “Big Louise” swooped and growled with a baroque throb that sounded like the end of the world, as Scott’s vocals soared out of the speakers - “She stands all alone, you can hear her hum softly, from her fire escape in the sky”. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom - “We Came Through” stomped along at a fair old rate, noisily ending against a barrage of gunfire, whilst “30 Century Man” was nothing more than Scott and an acoustic guitar - the first vague signs of his country music obsession that would manifest itself during the seventies.

“Scott 3” sold well, but failed to hit the top of the charts like it’s predecessor. It is widely regarded as one of the three best Scott solo albums, but reportedly sold slowly because, as Wikipedia states, Scott’s audience struggled to understand the “denseness of the arrangements…the surreal drones [of sound]…[and] touches of dissonance”. But it’s far from unlistenable - it’s a towering work of beauty, an album that deserves to be in those top 100 “best ever albums” lists that are always in Q, but for some reason, remains lost on most people. You must own this album. And when you do, and after you have fallen in love with it, then you can try to fathom out why it turned out to be the last Scott Walker album to both sell large units and garner critical acclaim, given that Scott would release an arguably even better album later the same year.


Scott Sings Songs From His Tv Series
1969 LP, Philips SBL 7900

Now, this is where it gets strange. At around about the same time as “Scott 3” was issued, Scott released another stunningly beautiful stand alone 7”, “The Lights Of Cincinnati”/”Two Weeks Since You’ve Gone” (Philips 7“, BF 1793), which, like “Joanna”, did well in the charts - not surprising, given that it had the same vibe to it. But the follow up album was not, as you might expect, “Scott 4”, but a completely forgotten album titled “Scott Sings Songs From His TV Series”.

The history of this album can be traced back to 1967, following the success of “Scott”. Scott’s management wanted him to host his own TV show, a la Lulu later the same decade, on the basis that he was so popular, it would be a sure fire ratings winner. Despite Scott’s shyness and dislike of the “fame” aspect of being a popstar, there was no denying this seemed a good idea - with the exception of the first Walkers 45, everything Scott had released on Philips had been a reasonable hit. Scott was unsure, but was told that each show would be filmed beforehand, rather than be broadcast live, so that any problems could be ironed out, and if any performances were deemed to be poor, then a re-shoot could take place. Scott was interested, and thought that the show could be used to showcase his talents - he still felt that some critics deemed him to be a poorer singer than the likes of Tony Bennett, and he saw this as an opportunity to redress the balance. He agreed, and a pair of pilot shows were filmed and broadcast in 1968 - one at the start of the year, and one at the end. The green light was given, and a six show series was scheduled for filming and broadcast in March and April 1969.

Each show would follow a set format - some songs from Scott, a couple of songs from a guest musical act, then some more Scott to finish. The timing of the series coincided with the release of “Scott 3”, and several tracks from this record were to be performed during the course of the series. It’s timing seemed accidental, as at no point during any of the shows did Scott even try to noticeably promote the LP. Because the show was deemed “light entertainment”, there was some concern that Scott might alienate the TV audience if he chose to perform some of the more “gloomy” bits of his back catalogue, so the producers implemented one major demand - that each show would feature one or two ’standards’ of their choosing to ensure the show didn’t consist purely of “My Death”, “Funeral Tango” et al. Scott happily agreed to this - he believed that singing songs he didn’t know, or didn’t even like, would be a challenge - was he good enough a singer to turn something unchallenging into pure gold? The first song on each show would be an incredibly non-Scott-like upbeat, rather camp cover, before the mood would settle down into something a bit more “easy listening” for the second song. Scott did not duet with any of his guests during the actual series, although he did duet on one song with a pre-Elton John-affiliated Kiki Dee, who was the guest on the second pilot. Each show, after Scott had said his goodbyes, would see the house band play a short reprise of “Joanna” - Scott also performed the song in it’s entirety during one show.

After the series was over, Philips saw a potential marketing move. Had the show been broadcast nowadays, an accompanying DVD release of the whole series would be in the shops the next month, but it was 1969, and video recorders in people‘s homes did not exist. During the course of the series, Scott had performed over an album’s worth of “new” material - covers of songs that did not feature on any of his albums, and Philips decided that he should record twelve of these songs for a tie-in LP. Given that each show, minus the guest spots, featured about 20 minutes worth of Scott, it was decided that each side of the LP should feature, more or less, a typical sounding show (if you ignored the guest acts) - so an upbeat track kicked off both sides 1 and 2, the next song was a bit more mellow, and so on.

The album was released in July 1969, and sold quite well - again, there are claims that the people who bought this had avoided “Scott 3”, and vice versa…although my mum bought both, so that slightly distorts that claim. Compared to “Scott 3”, it was a strange listen - firmly in the middle of the mainstream, it was a pleasant enough listen, with the two openers from each side being raucous enough to make them stand out from the crowd - there are few things better in life than hearing Scott belt out the line “when Julie Christie doesn’t make me tingle; when I can’t sing in tune, or make a single” on “Will You Still Be Mine”. His take on “The Impossible Dream” is as bold, brash and exhilarating as anything on “Scott 3”, and “The Look Of Love” is as remarkably beautiful as you might think it would be.

But Scott’s own opinion on the record has long been one of dissatisfaction. Soon after it’s release, he described the album as nothing more than “an exercise”, claiming he was incredibly proud of his vocal performances, but that the music was poor, a statement which rather hurt the legions of people who had helped catapult it into the chart. Of the eight records he released on Philips, it’s one of four that have long been felt to be relatively flawed, not least by the man himself. An attempt to reissue it on CD as “Scott On Screen” in the early part of the millennium (boosted by tracks from 1972’s “The Moviegoer”) was blocked by the man himself, because he was concerned that the label would attempt to label it as a “lost classic”. And although the album was virtually ignored in the “30 Century Man” movie many years later, with this and all his 70’s albums being the records dismissed by the mis-informed hipsters, the man himself does actually have a soft spot for a sizeable chunk of the record - several tracks were included on the Scott-compiled “Classics And Collectables” CD in 2005, but the remainder can only be obtained on CD if you can get hold of the hastily withdrawn “Scott On Screen“ promo CDR. However, his comments back in 69 were taken to heart by many Scott-followers, and his near-rejection of one of his own records was seen as being a pivotal pointer towards the plunge into obscurity that would follow with his next release.

Note: It’s worth pointing out that although photographs taken on set exist, the original videotapes of the TV series have long been wiped and no footage of any of the shows exist. However, you could at least tape the audio of a TV show on a tape recorder, and people did, and bootlegs of all eight shows in their entirety have changed hands between fans over the years.


Scott 4
1969 LP, Philips SBL 7913

It wasn’t just the barbed comments about the “TV Series” record that upset Scott’s fan base - he had slowly but surely been doing and saying things that pop stars weren’t supposed to as soon as he went solo. From claiming that "Scott 2" was the work of a “lazy and self-indulgent man” on the sleeve of the record itself, to the early gigs that had seen him refuse to do Walker Brothers hits, as he concentrated purely on solo work, to the one tour where he asked the audience to remain silent during the songs, in an attempt to create an ambience that never existed during the chaotic, riotous Walkers gigs - which promptly got him slated by the critics who wondered if he had the right to tell his audience when they could or couldn’t clap, Scott was starting to damage his reputation. He also famously started playing “Joanna” and “Lights Of Cincinnati” as a shortened medley, announcing onstage the first time he did this that he was “fed up with them” and couldn’t face playing either in full - not too clever to disown two of your singles, when you’d only released three.

Now, there might have been a bit of re-writing of history after the event, but the consensus towards the end of 1969 was this - Scott was on dangerous ground, and one more mistake would be fatal career wise. And yet as Scott began work on his next record, he was preparing to push his career a long way forwards. He made the decision to include no cover versions on the next album - not even any Brel songs, despite the face that he had performed “Alone” on stage and on his TV show. He also decided to list the song writing credits under his birth name of “Noel Scott Engel”, and made no reference to “Walker” anywhere on the record - the front of the album and spine showed the album title and nothing else - was this an attempt to break away from his pop past, or did he think that he was now so famous that just featuring his face on the cover would be enough for people to know who it was? Maybe a bit of both.

“Scott 4” appeared with little fanfare at the end of the year - and flopped. It failed to even register an official chart position, sold in miniscule amounts, and was deleted within a year. The reasons for it’s failure are manifold:
- Philips did little to promote the album, and so people who wanted to buy it were unaware the record even existed
- it was the third LP by Scott in a year, so people couldn’t afford it, as there had been too much “product” in the period leading up to it’s release
- the album received some scathing reviews, with claims of it being impenetrable, dark, depressing and unlistenable, putting off potential buyers
- Scott claimed that the album, being mostly written in 3/4 time, made it ‘difficult to dance to‘, so people who did hear the record found it more awkward a listen than the previous albums, and decided against buying it.

All of this is a shame, as far from being some tuneless pile of nonsense, “Scott 4” is simply genius. In recent years, it has been rediscovered and is now regarded as the greatest Scott album. In many ways, it’s actually more accessible than “Scott 3” - in an alternate universe, “Get Behind Me” would have been pop enough to have become an enormous hit single, “Rhymes Of Goodbye” has a countrified twang that could see it slip onto Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” without too much hassle, the huge sounding “Seventh Seal”, “The World’s Strongest Man” and “The Old Man’s Back Again” could have been on any of the previous records, whilst the majestic beauty of “Angels Of Ashes” and “Boy Child” were no more “dark” than what had appeared on “Scott 3”. The main thrust of those bad reviews was that Walker’s lyrics were confusing, seemingly telling you nothing, whilst being too complex to even begin to understand. Even if this is the case, the actual music is astonishing, and the fact remains this - you need to have this album in your life.

For many years, “Scott 4” was one of the premium Scott collectibles. When Scott was in vogue again in the early 80’s, the value of the record started to rise, and even today, the original vinyl pressings will fetch a minimum of £40, despite the fact that the album has been made available on Cassette and CD via several reissues since 1992 (as have “Scott“, “Scott 2“ and “Scott 3“). The reissues are all credited to “Scott Walker”, including “Scott 4”, unlike the original release. The Shergold household's 1969 copy of this record was purchased from the now defunct Downtown Records in Romford several years after it’s release, where it appeared in the £1 bargain bin, because it came with hand-written white labels instead of proper Philips labels. Not sure if this was a test pressing, which if it was, actually makes it worth more than £40, but a quid for a work of such unquestionable brilliance? Now, that’s what I call value for money.


‘Til The Band Comes In
1970 LP, Philips 6308 035

The failure of “Scott 4” caused a headache for Philips - all of a sudden, one of their big names had fallen out of favour. Scott, too, was slightly concerned as to why such a good record had failed so monumentally. Far from being pleased that he had managed to release an album that nobody wanted to buy (he didn‘t like fame, but always wanted to make records that connected with his fanbase), he decided that maybe he had gone too far to the left to keep hold of his audience, and so decided that for his next album, he would have the songs “vetted” for commerciality by his new manager, Ady Semel - Semel would therefore get a co-credit on every Scott penned track that would appear on the LP, although how much “smoothing of the rough edges” Semel did has never been fully revealed.

And yet, at the same time as he decided to try and go a bit more “pop”, “’Til The Band Comes In” was shaping up to be Scott’s first stab at making a concept album. It was originally conceived as a record with a single theme - it had a vague anti-war message (Scott had left the US partly to avoid the draft, the Vietnam War was still dragging on), and the album would be book ended by songs that marked the start and the end of an unspecified conflict. The opening song, “Prologue” was an instrumental which segued into “Little Things”, a barn-storming romp of a song, with the refrain “little things that keep us together, while the war’s going on”. The final track was planned to be “Epilogue”, subtitled “The War Is Over”. The idea behind the interim songs was that each one would be about a different character, who all lived in a single block of flats during the conflict - “Prologue” featured the sound of a dripping tap, indicative of the urban decay of some of the poorer tower blocks you could find in the UK at the time, whilst “Long About Now”, written from the perspective of a wife awaiting the return of her husband (dead or alive) from the war, featured a female vocalist whom Scott was a fan of, Esther Ofarim.

The diversity of the material was fascinating - for every Spector-like roar such as “Thanks For Chicago Mr James” or the title track, there was a simple jazzy shuffle like “Time Operator” or “Joe” - “Jean The Machine” was a strange Cabaret-esque knees up, whilst “Cowbells Shakin‘” saw the country music influence come to the fore again.

At some point during the writing or recording process (nobody is quite sure when), the record label got involved. They had tried to reason as to why “Scott 4” had bombed, and came up with what they thought was the explanation - it had been the first Scott LP to include no covers, and the first to fail to sell. They were convinced the two aspects were linked. And so, Philips approached Scott and demanded that he include covers on the new LP, as they believed that in doing so, people would start buying his records again. Scott thought this idea was nonsensical, but those close to him advised him to agree to this, on the basis that if “’Til The Band Comes In” promptly became a hit, the label would leave him alone. Five covers were chosen, but none of them fitted into the main body of the album - and so they were dumped at the end of side 2, after “The War Is Over”, making them the first ever set of ’bonus tracks’ on an LP. The original vinyl sleeve featured the lyrics on the back cover for the Scott-penned material, but not the covers, with the song titles of these tracks and nothing else listed at the bottom right of the sleeve, giving them a feeling of complete isolation from the reminder of the record. The songs ranged from quite good, to slightly bizarre, something like “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life” sounding so laid back, it was almost as if it had been recorded by another singer, at another time, for another album. The album closer, “It’s Over”, was a heartfelt stab at a big finale, but as good as this and the likes of “Stormy” were, nothing came close to the ten tracks that preceded these oddities.

Despite the inclusion of these covers, the world did not fall in love with Scott Walker again. The album flopped, reportedly selling even less than “Scott 4”, and critics were disinterested. And yet, there are several fans (including myself) who think that the self-penned material is superb, some of the songs being amongst the best Scott ever recorded, and that the album is something of a lost classic. It’s cult status has been further extended due to it’s relative difficulty in actually tracking the album down - it was available briefly on CD in mid 90s via the Band Of Gold label, but was deleted almost immediately. A planned reissue circa 2000 was blocked, just like the planned “TV Series” reissue, by the man himself - but Japanese and US CD pressings in recent years have been allowed to be released, with the 2008 US pressing on Water Records still on catalogue. This hasn’t stopped the original LP selling for a good £50+ on the collectors market.

In a fascinating “pop art” moment, in 2001, Pulp recorded a song for their “We Love Life” LP, titled “Bad Cover Version”, the final section of which saw the band details a series of things they found to be ‘disappointing‘ in life. The section contained the brilliant lyric “like Planet Of The Apes on TV, the second side of “‘Til The Band Comes In“”. The producer of this album? One Scott Walker.


The Moviegoer
1972 LP, Philips 6308 120

Given that “’Til The Band Comes In” was supposed to be the big comeback record, when it flopped, it started a war of words between Scott and Philips. Scott claimed the album failed to sell because the quality of the album was dented by the “cornball schlock” he was forced to record for the final part of the record, Philips claimed the record would have sold better if there had been MORE covers on it. Scott happily played some of the material on stage at the time (including his cover of “Stormy”) but the relationship between artist and label was deteriorating.

The record label remained convinced that Scott doing a non-Scott penned song was the key to re-introducing the world to Scott Walker, and he was thus offered the chance to record a song called “I Still See You” for a forthcoming Julie Christie movie, “The Go-Between”. Scott agreed, but on the day of recording, reportedly turned up worse for wear, and spent the day abandoning takes, altering the lyrics, and generally causing trouble. There was only limited recording time, and in the end, the best version available was one which featured Scott singing the wrong lyrics - he changed one line to something “psychedelic”, although the song‘s writers were fuming over the line “the sunlit ghosts, to dance their hair“, claiming it made no sense at all. “I Still See You” flopped - but remains a stunning, near-bombastic, powerhouse of a tune, even though Scott seemed unhappy with having to record it in the first place. He has often seemed more at ease with it’s B-side, the country-esque “My Way Home” - the last self-penned song Scott would (officially) record until 1978, and later included on a 2003 box set in preference to “I Still See You“. It would be covers all the way now for quite some time.

With “I Still See You”/”My Way Home” (Philips 7”, 6006 168) getting nowhere near the charts, Philips decided to try another approach. If Scott couldn’t have a hit with a “new” movie song, perhaps he might fare better with some old ones, and asked Scott if he would consider recording an album full of old theme tunes. Scott, by now starting to lose interest in what he was recording post the “’Til The Band Comes In” debacle, begrudgingly agreed - he would pick the songs to record, and left the record company to sort out the musicians. Thus, “The Moviegoer” was born - seemingly recorded as quickly as possible, with Scott simply turning up to record his vocals without really even meeting the assorted players. The resultant album was a flop, and many critics have claimed it’s his worst record. But there are some unquestionable moments of genius hidden away - the versions of “Speak Softly Love” and “Glory Road” are heartbreakingly beautiful, two highlights of Scott’s entire career, but a fair chunk of the record was a bit too middle of the road, and easily forgettable.

Play this side by side with “TV Series”, and it’s the sort of record that makes sense - but when compared to “Scott 4” and the first half of “’Til The Band Comes In”, it makes for a strange listen. Was this really the same man who barely five years before had been singing “My Death” and “Plastic Palace People”? Place the record within the context of Scott the Balladeer, or Scott the Jack Jones fan, and you can understand it a bit better, but overall, it was a weaker record than anything previous, and because of this, has been much maligned by the cool kids - but bearing in mind that a bad Scott Walker album is still better than a good Robbie Williams one, then “The Moviegoer” still has something going for it.

As mentioned earlier, an attempt to put this on CD as “Scott On Screen” fell through, although again, numerous tracks have been made available on Scott-endorsed compilations over the years. It was even reissued on the Philips budget label, Contour, later in the 70’s in a different cover. “The Moviegoer” has never been released commercially in full on CD to this date, which ensures that, despite it’s poor reputation, the Scott obsessives are desperate to own a copy, and the Philips original has long been valued at £30-35 on the collectors market.


Any Day Now
1973 LP, Philips 6308 148

Scott was contracted to record one more album for Philips, but neither he nor the record company held out much hope for a return to the glory days of 1968. Scott had now gotten out of the concept of song writing, and Philips were unsure what might get him back into the charts. They decided an album of covers might do the trick, but weren’t holding out much hope, and Scott had pretty much given up on the idea of making another “Scott 3” so was happy to give the label what they wanted. But “Any Day Now” is regarded by many as an improvement on it’s predecessor - although the choice of covers seemed to be completely random, it did allow Scott to record songs by singers or lyricists that he was a fan of, and the consensus is the opportunity to record some songs that he actually had an interest in, resulted in some more spirited performances than of late. A last ditch attempt to get Scott into the singles charts, “The Me I Never Knew”/”This Way Mary” (Philips 7“, 6006 311), was released as a single to coincide, but both album and 45 flopped badly.

Like “The Moviegoer”, the album has long been dismissed by the less-hardcore Scott followers, but a sizeable chunk of the record has been made available on compilation records over the years, sanctioned by Scott. The album has never been reissued in full, and this has helped it achieve a £30+ price tag. Again, a planned reissue of the entire album in the noughties was blocked by Scott, but CDR promos exist, which feature both sides of the “I Still See You” 7” as bonus tracks. Although Scott’s post-”Scott 3” career sounds like he was having an utterly miserable time, he was far from a recluse - he continued to play live, usually playing a cabaret-style residency at selected venues, and he was about to turn his career around in such a way that it would set in stone the critically lauded Scott Walker we have today.


Stretch
1973 LP, CBS 65725

Although it is dismissed by many as simply being another of the “mediocre” albums, full of covers, “Stretch” was actually the album that reignited Scott’s love of music. You would have had no “Climate Of Hunter” without “Nite Flights”, which would not have existed without the Walkers’ 1976 record “Lines”, which in turn would not have existed without “Stretch”.

Whilst Scott’s final years on Philips were ruined by the label’s insistence on numerous covers that Scott didn’t really want to record, it was a different story (at first) at CBS. Upon signing to the label, they didn’t lay down any ground rules, and simply left Scott to get on with it - the first time he had had full creative freedom whilst making an album since 1969. Although his confidence prevented him from writing any new songs, he decided this would be a perfect opportunity to indulge in his love of country music, and promptly recorded an entire album with a series of session musicians whom had a background in the genre. The songwriter of one track on the album, “Someone Who Cared”, was credited to Del Newman, but it has long been rumoured that Scott actually co-wrote the song, but refused to be acknowledged on the record as doing so, as he was fearful that it would place an undue level of interest on a single song.

CBS issued a single from the album, “Woman Left Lonely”/”Where Love Has Died” (CBS 7”, SCBS 1795), and wrote an excitable in-house review of the record (amongst other current CBS releases) for inclusion on the inner bag of not only “Stretch” itself, but other CBS records released around the same time. However, when the album was issued, it left critics baffled - country music was no longer hip, and wouldn’t be until the likes of Shania Twain, Dixie Chicks, and American Recordings-era Johnny Cash made waves in the 1990’s, and they simply couldn’t fathom why Walker had made the record. Country purists also dismissed it, stating that because it had been taped in West London, it therefore wasn’t “Nashville” enough, but Scott remained fiercely proud of the album, stating it was his strongest record from start to finish since “Scott 4”. It’s a flawed record, with a spark to it that was sometimes missing from “Any Day Now”, but it’s very much a cult record, loved by few, and ignored by many. It flopped, and original vinyl copies are worth £30 plus, as there is a big desirability to own this record by certain parts of the Scott army. It was issued on CD many years later as a 2 on 1 CD with it’s follow up, “We Had It All”, still available on the Band Of Gold label.


We Had It All
1974 LP, CBS 80254

When I started doing this site, all of the anecdotes and stories were things that I had read about, with bits of pieces gleamed from the net. I figured that by writing about things that I remembered from my youth, the site would have a very professional look to it - an online “Record Collector”. But I’ll be honest here - the history of “We Had It All” is confusingly shrouded in mystery, and I am not sure about how the record came to exist.

This is how I think it worked - after “Stretch” had flopped, certain high-up people at CBS were slightly miffed that the guy out of The Walker Brothers had released an album that had stiffed, and began to wonder if they, like Philips had done, should advise Scott as to what to record. When Scott heard this, he refused to bow down to these demands, and “We Had It All” was issued as his farewell record to the label. Consisting entirely of country-influenced covers, half of the album was made up of songs that had appeared on a Waylon Jennings record, “Honky Tonk Heroes“, the previous year. When Scott was later queried over this strange move, he made the claim that he had “had the material before” - Jennings had not written any of the songs concerned, which meant Scott had either recorded the songs during the “Stretch” sessions, or he simply dug them out and taped them to get CBS off his back. Wikipedia claims the entire record was taped in 1974, in the same West London studios as “Stretch”, but I do wonder if “We Had It All” was actually nothing more than an album’s worth of outtakes.

Either way, there are - again - moments of sheer genius here; “Sundown” and “You’re Young And You’ll Forget” are as glorious as anything from the ‘classic albums’, and even if CBS were unsure about Scott’s country obsession, that still didn’t stop them issuing another 45 “Delta Dawn”/”We Had It All” (CBS 7”, SCBS 2521) in an attempt to try and sell the LP. It didn’t work, and “We Had It All” is another Scott LP that fetches at least 30 notes on the collector’s market.

Soon after, a series of discussions between Scott, John and Gary, resulted in a Walkers reunion - the country-esque music of “We Had It All” partly informed their comeback record, “No Regrets”, and the next few years saw Scott step away from his solo career. Five years later, everything changed again.


Climate Of Hunter
1984 LP, Virgin V2303

The final Walker Brothers record, 1978’s “Nite Flights” was a remarkable album - with the band well aware that the end was in sight, they decided to go out with a bang, making a fully self-penned record that encompassed punk, post-punk, new wave, disco, electronica and anything else that existed in the late 70’s. Lyrcially, Scott contributed four numbers, which were held up as being the best things he had ever written, strange and almost impenetrable words combined with some thrilling, sometimes terrifying, music. The album failed to sell, but it’s reputation grew in stature as the months after it’s release passed. David Bowie name checked the album, and as Scott signed a solo deal with Virgin in 79, the Walkers began to be re-discovered by a new generation of fans, and Scott’s solo records also started to get a re-evaluation.

Most of these records remained off catalogue, and the value of the rarer ones started to fetch big money. In 1981, the then-leader of Teardrop Explodes, Julian Cope, decided to compile a Scott solo LP for release on his own Zoo Records label, to try and educate the youth of the day. The album took it’s title from a lyric in “Big Louise”, and was called “Fire Escape In The Sky”, subtitled “The Godlike Genius Of Scott Walker”. Although it has been claimed that the grey abstract photo-less front cover was indicative of the bleakness of Scott’s work, the cover was originally due to feature a Scott image on the front, but was issued without one due to some sort of “technical error”. The album was a huge seller, but was withdrawn from sale after Philips claimed that Zoo were failing to pay the right amount of royalties for the material that had been licensed.

Philips, nonetheless, were now aware that Scott Walker was back in vogue, and promptly issued their own collection, “Scott Walker Sings Jacques Brel”. On the one hand, it was a bit of a cheapo set - using the same cover as “Scott”, but the decision to put the nine songs together made perfect sense. A Scott penned track, “Little Things”, was added as a bonus track, to show how Brel had influenced Walker as a lyricist. This album, too, sold well, and has been deemed important enough to be reissued on CD in recent times, albeit with “Little Things” missing, and with a new track order and cover.

The thing was, as people fell over themselves to express their love for the man, it made it harder for Scott to consider making another record. The reason “Nite Flights” turned out the way it did, was that at the time of it’s recording, nobody really cared about the Walkers, so it didn’t matter how odd the record sounded; the feeling was, hardly anybody would hear it, and as there was no big fan base to offend, even if some disliked the album, the Walkers couldn‘t sell many less records than they were actually selling anyway. But now, Scott knew that any record he put out now would be subject to major scruitinisation - and this scared him. So, he got around this by doing nothing - the rumour was that whenever Virgin contacted him to ask when the album was due, he would tell them he was ’still working on it’, when he had not actually written, let alone demoed, a single note.

During 1983, Scott realised he was going to have to record an album at some point, and reportedly wrote seven new songs for the LP in a single session. These, plus a cover of “Blanket Roll Blues”, were to form “Climate Of Hunter”. Stories regarding the recording sessions included one about Scott going into the recording booth to re-record vocals on his own because he felt he could do better with nobody watching, whilst session musicians were apparently ushered in to work on the record, but were not told whose album they were working on, to keep it all “secret”. I could have imagined these stories, but I am sure I read them somewhere!

In 1984, the album was ready for release, and Virgin issued a single “Track Three”/”Blanket Roll Blues” (Virgin 7”, VS 666) and Scott filmed a promo video for the A-side. He appeared on “The Tube”, plugging both the album and the single, and following the short interview, the clip was shown in full. “Track Three” was one of several songs that were ’named’ after the position upon which they appeared on the record - during the interview, Scott joked that he ran out of titles for the songs because of “writers block”, before explaining that the songs would have felt “lop-sided” had he then tried to name them. On the inner bag, where the lyrics were printed, the opening lines were printed in bold, and these were seen by some to be the “unofficial” titles - so “Track Five”, for example, was also known as “It’s A Starving Reflection…”.

Upon release, “Climate Of Hunter” received ecstatic reviews, but the album flopped. It fell out of the charts within a fortnight, with sales at one point estimated to be barely 15,000 copies - making it one of Virgin’s poorest selling albums, and one that had it been pressed as a limited edition, would still not have sold out. Some claimed that the album’s failure was because the album was a rush job, Scott bashing out the record to stop Virgin from giving him any more hassle, but this seems unlikely - Scott had planned to tour the record, and was unhappy when he realised how few copies it had sold, resulting in the cancellation of the tour because he believed nobody would bother to come and see him play.

Compared to his earlier work, the record is often seen as being a bit “awkward” or “strange”, but “Climate Of Hunter” is relatively accessible, it actually has a bit of an “80’s sound” to it, and there were some big names from the chart world on the album - Billy Ocean, Mark Knopfler, etc. It has been regularly available on CD, and although it has never quite been seen as being as good as the likes of “Scott 4”, it’s occasional unconventional approach has seen it being regarded as the first of a trio of “alternative” records, with subsequent releases “Tilt” and “The Drift”, featuring equally unusual recording techniques, following in it’s footsteps in the following decades.


Tilt
1995 CD, Fontana 526 859

The spectacular failure of “Climate Of Hunter” hurt Scott. Although he claimed on “The Tube” that he hoped the record would not bring him the level the fame that the Walker Brothers had experienced, he was disappointed that the record had not connected with the public, and went into semi-retirement. He apparently decided to go to college, and one story circulating during the 90s claimed that Scott was spotted turning up to a series of lectures soon after “Climate Of Hunter” had been released. He did also decide to sort of use his fame in a cheeky way, appearing in a Britvic 55 TV commercial along with other “sixties stars”, whilst a Dusty song sound tracked the ad - Scott’s role was “Man In CafĂ©”.

After a few year in the wilderness, Scott decided he couldn’t just walk away from music - and ideas for a new album began to enter his head. In 1987, he approached the bosses at Fontana, the label who now held the rights to his Philips-era material, with his plans and they agreed to sign him. The deal was two-fold - Scott would deliver his new album at a time of his choosing, but whilst waiting for the record to be completed, Fontana would have the opportunity to release new compilation albums, or re-release selected old ones.

Work on the record was slow (slow enough for the tabloids to wonder where Scott had gone to, who then got very excited when they got a shot of him on a bicycle one year) - at least one song was ready to be recorded before the year’s end, but nothing else seemed to be completed until 1990. At some point, an early recording session with U2 producer Daniel Lanois took place, but seemed to go no further than a series of unfinished instrumental backing tracks, which Scott was unhappy with - and the session was abandoned. At the start of 1991, “Tilt” was nowhere near completion.

Fontana, meanwhile, took to the reissue campaign to start to re-coup some money. 1990’s “Boy Child” gave a debut on CD to some twenty Scott tracks - concentrating purely on self penned material from “Scott” through to “’Til The Band Comes In”, and book ended by “The Plague” and “The Rope And The Colt”, the set has been deemed important enough to be reissued on at least one more occasion, although it now has an altered track listing, losing “The Rope And The Colt”, and is housed in a slightly different picture sleeve. A Walkers Greatest Hits, including “Joanna” and “Lights Of Cincinnati” was released a couple of years later, and found itself in the top three. Another Walkers collection, concentrating on album tracks and B-sides, “After The Lights Go Out”, was also issued soon after. In 1992, the four “numbered” Scott albums were reissued, as mentioned earlier, but the other Philips albums were left alone.

In 1993, seemingly out of the blue, a pair of new Scott songs surfaced on a French-only single. Scott had recorded two songs for a movie starring Isabelle Adjani, and “Man From Reno”/”Indecent Sacrifice” was issued to coincide. Scott then returned his attentions to “Tilt”, and after many years of slow, if not non-existent progress, things started to come together the following year. In 1995, “ Tilt” was ready for release.

The expectation levels regarding “Tilt” were fever-pitch, at least among Scott watchers, and Fontana even prepared a pair of promo singles to help sell the record. Scott conducted interviews for the first time in a decade, and was at one point even considering touring the record. The nearest he got to this, in the end, was a live performance of album closer “Rosary”, on ‘Later With Jools Holland’. It seems Scott had not quite got over his long time fear of live performances - although most guests on ‘Later‘ performed in front of each other inside a circular room, “Rosary” was taped in isolation, and the show was edited to try and convince the viewer that Scott had been in the room with all of the other guests on the show all along.

“Tilt” revealed that Scott’s voice had changed somewhat since “Climate Of Hunter” (it seemed more ‘fractured‘), whilst much of the album had a very “left-field” approach, that for much of the record, bore little similarity to the “lush” arrangements that had accompanied those classic 60’s albums. Repeated listens revealed the record to be a grower, full of genuine moments of beauty and genius, most notably on “Farmer In The City”, and critics fell over themselves to herald the album as one of the most important releases of the entire decade. The album is still regarded by some as one of Scott’s best, even better than the likes of “Scott 4”, but for some of the die-hards, the slightly abrasive nature of the record was off-putting - Marc Almond, who five years earlier had provided sleevenotes for “Boy Child”, openly admitted to hating the record intensely.

As good as “Tilt” is, claims that it is better than “Scott 3” or “Scott 4” are a bit wide of the mark - but what was fascinating was how a man in his fifties was making a record more “alternative” than the young whippersnappers who claimed him as an influence. If you’ve never heard “Tilt”, it’s worth investigating - but don’t let the likes of the “NME” convince you that it’s his best. It’s good, but Scott’s back catalogue was simply too good to be bettered that easily. It comes close though.


The Drift
2006 CD, 4AD CAD 2603CD

Having taken over ten years to release “Tilt”, Scott suddenly went through a relatively intense workload. In 1996, he recorded a fairly straight-ahead cover of Bob Dylan’s “I Threw It All Away” for a soundtrack, and followed this up three years later with a song for a Bond movie, “Only Myself To Blame” (for “The World Is Not Enough”). Another soundtrack album, “Pola X”, which appeared the same year, seemingly included a barrage of new Scott songs, but Scott was merely the composer, and did not play or sing on any of them (although samples from “Tilt” were included on at least one song).

In 2000, he curated the annual “Meltdown” festival on the South Bank in London - but unlike most curators, declined to take to the stage for any performances at all. It was at this point that Mercury, who now had the rights to Scott’s Philips catalogue, attempted to reissue the four “missing” Philips records, before the planned releases were blocked by Scott. In 2001, he also wrote two songs for an Ute Lemper record, but did not appear on either song.

In 2003, Scott was the recipient of a lifetime achievement award at the Q Awards, and attended the ceremony to collect his prize - the award coincided with the release of the “5 Easy Pieces” box set, which attempted to give an overview of his career from the early days of the Walkers, right through to the Ute Lemper material. Each disc was given it’s own individual title, and came housed in individual picture sleeves - disc 1, “In My Room”, finally achieved the ambition of opening and closing a Scott record with “Prologue” and “Epilogue” from “’Til The Band Comes In”. Further proof that Scott didn’t hate the material from the “wilderness years” of 1970-74 was demonstrated by the inclusion of material from “The Moviegoer” on disc 5, “Scott On Screen” - not to be confused with the never-released promo of the same name. All of the “Pola X” material made it onto this disc, and all of the new non-album material released post-Climate Of Hunter, including the “Man From Reno” single, got on here as well. “Joanna” also made an appearance, not it’s debut on CD, but it’s first appearance on a UK CD consisting exclusively of Scott material. Also included was “My Way Home” and “The Rope And The Colt”, but there was no appearance for “I Still See You”, rumoured at the time to be because Scott still deemed it inferior to it’s B-side.

When the box was first issued, disc 3 was mispressed - music only came out of one speaker. On some songs, if your hearing was as bad as mine, you might not notice too much difference, but “30 Century Man” was something else - a song consisting of Scott, an acoustic guitar, and nothing else, it was originally mixed so that the guitar came out of one speaker, and the vocals out of the other - meaning that on this disc, Scott’s vocals were completely absent, creating a unique and unplanned instrumental mix of the track! Mercury realised what had happened soon after the box had been released, and offered to send a properly mixed replacement disc upon request. These CD’s were housed in a clear plastic wallet with no picture sleeve.

The rights to release Scott’s material now passed from Mercury to Universal, and in 2004, Universal’s budget label Spectrum issued “The Collection”, notable for including “Lights Of Cincinnati”, again making it’s CD debut on a Scott-only UK CD.

In 2005, the aforementioned “Classics And Collectables” set was released - broadly split, as the title suggested, between famous material from the “classic” albums on CD1, with the second CD devoted to material from the “TV Series” record, “The Moviegoer” and “Any Day Now” - 23 tunes in all. CD1 also included a pair of songs from “’Til The Band Comes In”, including the title track. It was originally planned to include three outtakes taped for Scott’s debut LP on the second disc, but this was vetoed by Scott at the last minute. I have heard rumours of a promo edition of the set circulating which includes these songs, but I can’t confirm such a release exists. The set was notable for also including “I Still See You”, following it’s non-appearance on “5 Easy Pieces”.

By now, Scott had signed to 4AD - there was new blood in the Universal Records set up, and when rumours of new Scott material started to circulate, the powers that be had a listen to “Tilt” and promptly decided Scott was too left field to stay on the label. “The Drift” appeared in May 2006, and took the basic principles of “Tilt” , and pushed them a bit further left-field. Like “Tilt”, the critics tried to out-do each other in terms of how many superlatives they could heap on the record; like “Tilt”, it was a good record, but still not quite as good as “Scott 4”; like “Tilt”, there is much to recommend the album, and it has to be said, it was certainly proof that Scott, unlike some “heritage” acts, was not prepared to rest on his laurels.

Again, there was no tour forthcoming - although Scott did organise the “Tilting And Drifting” show some time later, where various guest vocalists sang songs from the two albums. Another “Scott” record appeared in 2007, “And Who Shall Go To The Ball And What Shall Go The Ball”, but this, like “Pola X”, was an instrumental piece upon which it’s composer did not appear. You can understand why 4AD were more than happy to release it as a “Scott Walker” record, but it’s really only of interest to the completists.

To coincide with “The Drift”, a movie about Scott, “30 Century Man”, was released. Produced with help from the man himself, it detailed Scott’s recording career to date, and also featured footage of Scott and his band working on “The Drift”, revealing some unusual recording techniques - hitting a dead pig’s carcass with a big stick being the highlight. Various celebrities were interviewed, all explaining how much they loved the man, but those 70’s albums were skipped over rather too quickly for my liking. The film was issued on DVD soon after, with copies sold via HMV coming in a unique sleeve.



The Romantic Scott Walker…and other earlier collections

Aside from the “essential” best of sets mentioned above, there have been several other compilations in the UK released since the 60s - although in this CD age, most of them were unsurprisingly deleted many years ago.

The first such collection, “The Best Of Scott Walker” (Philips LP, SBL 7910), was a fair cross-section of material from the first five albums, plus “Joanna”. However, with Scott‘s failure to hit the charts proving to be a financial hardship on Philips, they decided to release “This Is Scott Walker“ (Philips LP, 6382 007) in 1971, a sort of “album tracks best of“ consisting of songs from the first two records. A “Volume 2” (Philips LP, 6382 052) issued in 1973, was a slightly more haphazard set, covering material from “Scott 2” through to “’Til The Band Comes In”, with a mix of Brel, good Scott and not so good Scott compositions in the mix.

In 1973, Philips released the truly bizarre “The Romantic Scott Walker” (Philips LP, 6850 013) - housed in the same sleeve as “Scott” (only the album title was changed, the sleeve was even the same colour), side 1 featured the first half of the “TV Series” LP, side 2 featured the first half of “Scott”. To be fair, this is not the first such album to cobble together two halves of two albums (see also “Electric Jimi Hendrix”, “Who Did It”, etc) but that doesn’t make it’s existence any more explainable.

In 1975, Contour issued another “Best Of Scott Walker” set (Contour LP, 6870 679) - although both this and the original release started with “Joanna”, and both included “Lights Of Cincinnati”, that was as far as the similarities went - the Contour release came in a completely different cover, and the remainder of the track listing differed. In 1976, Philips did however release a fairly impressive double album called “Spotlight On Scott Walker” (Philips 2xLP, 6625 017). With the exception of “The Plague”, it included all four of the remaining non-album tracks released in the UK up till that point, and although there were some foreign best-of’s in subsequent years, it would be the last Scott comp in the UK until “Fire Escape In The Sky”.

There have been numerous other foreign only releases more recently, the most notable of which seems to be the US only “It’s Raining Today”, whilst there have been several Walker Brothers collections, padded out with Scott (but not John or Gary) solo material. We shall look at these in a future Walkers blog.

What next?

Well, although Scott has claimed he would like to release records on a regular basis, he states that his labels in recent years have shown little interest in releasing lots of product, and when that happens, he drifts out of the business until another label shows some interest. However, given that Scott has at least managed to release an album every decade, means we should get something before 2019.

I simply cannot stress enough how much you need to own the records listed above - when these records hit their respective heights, the sound that comes out of the speakers is phenomenal. Scott Walker remains somebody who is still making interesting music, and during his past, has released some of the most brilliant, stunning music of all time. If you don’t know who Scott Walker is - where have you been since 1964?

Scott Walker Collectors Page: http://147mark.tripod.com/
Japanese Scott Page with sleeve scans: http://scott.sakura.ne.jp/

Monday, 6 September 2010

Bowie on on Vocalion, Parlophone, Pye, Deram, Philips, Mercury and B&C

As David Brent would say, Fact - David Bowie remains the single most important musician of all time. The sheer quality and breadth of the material he has recorded, especially during that golden period in the 70s, remains unmatched by anybody else. There may have been better singers quality wise (current world number one - Scott Walker), and he may not have released the best single ever (“Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen, in case you were wondering), but overall, the heights Bowie has hit have been way beyond most artists. It’s shocking to think that, incredibly, there are some people on this planet who do not actually own a David Bowie LP. Presumably, these are people without ears - otherwise, there is no excuse not to own “Diamond Dogs“ or "Low" or "The Buddha Of Suburbia".

For his first decade in music, Bowie failed to do much commercially. It was only after he signed to RCA in 1971 that he finally started to sell records. 1969’s “Space Oddity” may have gone top 5, but it was very much a one-off, and it was followed by a string of flop records. In this blog, the first of six Bowie articles due in the coming months, we shall look at the records Bowie released before he signed to RCA. To keep things simple, we shall also look at some of the releases from these labels that appeared after he became famous - the success of the “Ziggy Stardust” LP in 1972 was a perfect excuse for these labels to offer up this material to the new wave of fans Ziggy helped bring to Bowie’s work.

Bowie’s early years fall into two periods - the pre-Space Oddity years and the post-Space Oddity years. The rights to re-release the post-Space Oddity material eventually fell into the hands of RCA, which helped put a divide between the two - which goes some way to explaining why Bowie released not one, but two self-titled albums in the 60s. But that doesn’t tell the whole story - so how did this happen?

The Early Years

Whilst still plain old David Jones, Bowie’s first involvement in a band was as Saxophonist, and occasional backing singer, in a group called The Konrads. They played live extensively during 1962 and 63, but with little sign of a prospective record deal on the table, Bowie left at the end of 1963 to forge his own solo career as a lead vocalist (The Konrads did secure a deal a year or so later). He formed a band called Davie Jones With The King Bees, who in 1964, released a 45 called “Liza Jane” on the Vocalion Pop label. It flopped. The band split, and Bowie was dropped from the label. He then joined an already existing group called The Manish Boys, and with them got his first real taste of fame. Although The King Bees did make at least one TV appearance plugging their single, The Manish Boys managed to make waves on both TV and in the papers thanks to their “long haired look”. They released a single called “I Pity The Fool”, which flopped. Bowie jumped ship, and the band disintegrated soon after.

Now a solo act, it was as Davy Jones that he released a second single for Parlophone in 1965, “You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving”, although he was technically backed by a new group called The Lower Third. It flopped. Bowie was dropped from the label. With a more famous David Jones now in existence as part of The Monkees, David Bowie was born. Although promo copies were shown as a solo Bowie release, his next 45, on Pye, was credited to “David Bowie With The Lower Third”, and was titled “Can’t Help Thinking About Me”, released in 1966. It flopped. However, Bowie was contracted to a three single deal so was not kicked off the label this time.

Bowie’s backing band changed at this point - he formed a new band called The Buzz, but they were not credited on the next single. This was the first of several points in Bowie’s career where the band were billed on posters for live concerts but not on record (see also The Hype, and of course, The Spiders From Mars). The second Bowie single on Pye, “Do Anything You Say”, was issued later in 66,and flopped. A third 45, “I Dig Anything”, was for some reason, recorded with Bowie and a group of session players, despite the fact that The Buzz were still playing with him at that point - but it didn’t help sales. It flopped.

The Deram Years

With Bowie no longer on Pye, he decided to take his career in a different direction. Whilst his singles up to this point had been heavily indebted to The Who and early Rolling Stones, he would now be influenced by the more music-hall/cockney/orchestral stylings of Anthony Newley - and his next set of recordings showed this quite openly. Now signed to Deram, he entered quite a prolific period in which he would record no less than three singles and an album, as well as recording a handful of tracks that would actually fail to get a release at the time. Of the three singles he released, two of them would appear in alternate form on his 1967 debut LP “David Bowie”- the tracks concerned, “Rubber Band” and “Love You Till Tuesday” were released before and after the LP respectively. The other single, the infamous “Laughing Gnome”, was not included on the LP, but became the most famous of the pre-Space Oddity recordings after it was reissued by Deram post-Ziggy.

If you are unaware of the “David Bowie” album, then hearing it for the first time could be a shock. I can only describe it by saying that it was very similar in feel to the music being made by another Deram artist at the same time, Cat Stevens, who would also later reinvent himself in the 70’s, as a folky acoustic troubador - both of their 1967 debuts were recorded with an orchestra, rather than with a standard “rock” band. But this change of style did not turn Bowie into a star, and by 1968, he was off the label.

What happened next is a bit confusing. Bowie decided to leave behind the Newley style, and began to write songs that were veering back in a more “rock and roll” direction. He had also been discovered by the BBC, who invited him to record numerous sessions for Radio 1, and Bowie found himself performing Deram era material alongside new unreleased songs, that bore little resemblance to that first LP. He made a movie, “Love You Till Tuesday”, which was designed to showcase his music, acting and mime talents to any prospective labels, but at the same time, seemed to be toying with the idea of abandoning a solo career, having taped a demo with childhood friend John Hutchinson, in which they shared the vocals and instrumentation. It was this demo that caught the eye of Philips, although by this time, Hutchinson had decided against a career as half of a Simon And Garfunkel style-duo, and thus Bowie was signed to Philips as a solo artist. The material that appeared on his 1969 LP was a world away from the 1967 LP, with only a few whimsical, orchestral sections paying homage to his past, and this, combined with the fact that the album technically started life as a non-solo album, go some way to explaining why the Philips album was also called “David Bowie” - it was as if the first LP was by a different Bowie, a more ‘Pop’ one. When Bowie eventually started to sell records, the early years of his career were so obscure, they were almost written out of history by default.

The Philips/Mercury Years

The Philips “David Bowie” was promoted, singles-wise, by the first track on the LP, “Space Oddity”. It was a monumental leap forward from the Deram records, an epic, psychedelic powerhouse of a song, but on first release, failed to do anything. However, when the moon landing took place later in 69, “Space Oddity” was seen as the unofficial soundtrack to the event, and the 45 started to sell. “Space Oddity” would eventually hit the top 5, but it was to be a one-off - Bowie would not have another chart hit for three years, and it failed to generate any interest in the accompanying LP. Often overlooked is the fact that the song was slightly edited for the 7”, with both the intro and outro being shortened - this mix is available on the 1980 compilation LP “The Best Of Bowie”. There would be no more Bowie records on the Philips label.

Bowie then signed to Mercury, for whom he would record another LP and three more singles. Interestingly, most of the tracks that appeared on those singles would either be re-recorded later in his career, or were re-recordings themselves of older songs. The first single, “The Prettiest Star”, featuring a pre-Glam Marc Bolan on guitar, would later appear in a more “Ziggy-fied” form on 1973’s “Aladdin Sane”. The B-side, “Conversation Piece”, was re-recorded in 2000 for the “Toy” project - an unreleased album that would have consisted mostly of re-recordings of “Pre-Ziggy” tracks. It eventually surfaced on the limited edition double-disc edition of the miraculous 2002 record “Heathen”.

Single number 2 was a re-recording of the Philips “David Bowie” album closer, “Memory Of A Free Festival”. The track was too long to fit onto one side of a 7”, so it was split into two halves, one on each side. In 1971, after Bowie’s third LP had been issued, Mercury released “Holy Holy” - later re-recorded during the Ziggy Stardust album sessions, and eventually surfacing as the B-side to 1974’s “Diamond Dogs”. The B-side, “Black Country Rock”, had appeared in 1970 on album three, “The Man Who Sold The World”.

Far noisier and heavier than the Philips “David Bowie”, “The Man Who Sold The World” was first issued in a famous sleeve depicting Bowie wearing a dress - making the album musically, and socially, the potential starting point of “Ziggy”. Bowie’s band at the time, The Hype, also featured future Spiders From Mars. The album is now a big collectable, but not because, as was once thought, that the LP was withdrawn from sale because of the cover - but simply because nobody bought the album during the two years in which it was on sale. In 1971, Mercury dropped Bowie from their roster.

Bowie had one last stab at fame before signing to RCA, where things would start to fall into place. He formed a side project band called Arnold Corns, which ended up being nothing more than a front for a Bowie solo-esque project. It was on B&C Records that a pair of later-taped-for-the-Ziggy-LP tunes, “Moonage Daydream” and “Hang On To Yourself”, were released on a 7”- which flopped. During the Arnold Corns period, Bowie continued to perform live, and billed as “David Bowie & Friends”, did a live Radio 1 gig where new material such as “Almost Grown” and “Looking For A Friend” were showcased. When Bowie signed to RCA later that year, neither track made it onto his RCA debut “Hunky Dory”, but another track performed that day, “Kooks”, did make it onto the record - and the Superstar Years began.

After Bowie became famous, B&C issued “Hang On To Yourself” as an A-side, with a new track called “Man In The Middle” on the flip - this 45 failed to sell, and even the 1974 reissue on the Mooncrest label failed to chart. “Man In The Middle” was not sung by Bowie, but another member of Arnold Corns, Freddie Burretti.

What Happened Next

Possibly because the early singles had surfaced on a myriad of labels, there was no single reissue LP of this material during the 70s or 80s. “Liza Jane” was reissued on 7” by Decca in 1978, whilst the two Parlophone singles were compiled on a 4-track EP a year later. This EP has been reissued a couple of times, even getting a CD release in 1990 on the See For Miles label. The Pye tracks appeared in 1981 on the 6 track mini album “Don’t Be Fooled By The Name”, housed in a sleeve which looked a lot like the 1978 LP “Stage”, presumably to actually get people to be fooled by the name enough to buy it.

The Deram “David Bowie” was not reissued as such in the 70s - instead, the label issued a compilation record called “The World Of David Bowie” which cobbled together album tracks, single material, and a trio of previously unissued songs - “Karma Man”, “Let Me Sleep Beside You” and “In The Heat Of The Morning”. What was more or less an expanded version of this record, “Images”, was first issued in the US in 1973. This featured all of the “David Bowie” LP, plus all of the B-sides from the period and the “new” songs from “The World Of…”. All of Bowie’s Deram A-sides were included, but to avoid repetition, it was the album mixes of “Rubber Band” and “Love You Till Tuesday” only that were included. The album was, sort of, in chronological order - the first 45 opened the LP, the “new” tracks appeared at the end, and it was a B-side, “The London Boys”, that appeared at the end just before the new songs. Deram even released “The London Boys” as a single in it’s own right in 1975.

In 1984, that slightly surreal video “Love You Till Tuesday” appeared on VHS and Betamax. Consisting of a series of old and (at the time) new Bowie recordings, it was effectively a series of promo clips for songs that, in an alternate universe, might have been issued as singles. Two of them actually had been, but these clips had of course been made after Bowie had left Deram. An accompanying soundtrack LP, consisting of material from the film plus selected older Bowie tracks, was issued to coincide.

In 1972, RCA acquired the rights to release the Philips and Mercury material, and Bowie’s second album was subsequently reissued as “Space Oddity”, in a new Ziggy-esque sleeve, which didn’t quite give a true indication as to the rather fey nature of some of the songs contained therein. For some reason, the track “Don’t Sit Down” was removed from this, and all following pressings, up until 1988. “The Man Who Sold The World” was reissued in a new cover, an impressive black and white photo of Bowie doing a quite nifty high kick, which actually WAS more indicative of the loud nature of the music, more so than the “Dress” cover was.

The Subsequent Reissues

In 1991, Rhino Records in the US released the excellent “Early On” set, which compiled everything Bowie released before signing to Deram. It also included five previously unissued songs from the same period. For some reason, the Manish Boys tracks appeared in alternate mixes, meaning the only way to get hold of the original mixes is to either buy the original 7”, or the See For Miles “Parlophone” CD Single. Vinyl copies of “Early On” featured three less tracks than the CD.

In 1999, Castle released “I Dig Everything”, a 6 track mini album featuring all of the Pye material. As well as being issued as a standard album, a 3xCD Single Box Set was also issued, with each single coming in it’s own picture sleeve, which is certainly a cheaper way of owning the 45’s than if you were to buy the Pye originals. Curiously, the mix of “Do Anything You Say” was different to any previously released.

The Deram “David Bowie” was issued briefly on CD in the 80s, but was deleted soon after, and for most of the time that followed, it was easy to get Bowie material from this period, but not necessarily in the form in which it originally appeared. In 1992, Pickwick reissued “Love You Till Tuesday”, and replaced several of the unique mixes from the soundtrack with album versions. However, the version of “Space Oddity” that appeared here was a longer version to that released on the film/LP, and another track “Ching A Ling” was also extended - but given that Bowie only does backing vocals on this song, I wouldn’t get too bothered about that.

Quite a few Deram era compilations exist, many of them offering up a lot of the material from this period, but not all. Spectrum’s “London Boy” is notable for featuring the full length “Space Oddity”, but only includes two of the three “new” songs from “The World Of David Bowie” whilst 1997’s “The Deram Anthology” is possibly the pick of the bunch, putting on a single CD the LP, the A and B sides of all the singles, plus the “new” songs and mixes from “Love You Till Tuesday” and “The World Of David Bowie”. The “long” version of “Space Oddity” however, is missing.

The Deram “David Bowie” finally got a reissue again on CD in 2010. Whether or not one of Bowie’s more flawed albums deserves such an honour is questionable, but there was obviously some demand for a reissue, and if you’re going to reissue an album, you may as well do it properly. CD1 includes the LP in both mono and stereo, CD2 has a barrage of previously unissued mixes and radio recordings.

In the late 80s, all of Bowie’s RCA catalogue (including the Philips and Mercury years) was reissued by EMI, and “Space Oddity” was the first to be treated in 1989. It restored “Don’t Sit Down” to the running order, and included three bonus tracks from the period - although they were in fact all songs recorded after Bowie swapped labels from Philips to Mercury - “Conversation Piece” and both sides of the “Memory Of A Free Festival” 7” were the tracks concerned. In the US, the album was pressed on clear vinyl, with the extra tracks on a 1-sided 12”, but the UK edition was pressed on black vinyl and featured the whole expanded album on a single disc - meaning that some of the material previously at the start of side 2, was now at the end of side 1. “The Man Who Sold The World” was reissued in it’s original ’Dress’ cover, and added four bonus tracks - both sides of the 1971 Arnold Corns single, a previously unreleased track called “Lightning Frightening” and “Holy Holy” - the original plan was to include the 1971 Mercury single mix, but Bowie vetoed this decision, apparently because he was unhappy with the original recording, and so the “Ziggy” remake was included instead. A box set issued about the same time, “Sound And Vision”, included other rarities from the period - the original Bowie/Hutchinson demo of “Space Oddity”, the 1970 single version of “The Prettiest Star”, and an acoustic version of “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud”, originally on the second LP, but this version lifted from the B-side of the “Space Oddity” 45. To this date, the Mercury version of “Holy Holy” is still only available on the original single or on bootleg.

In the late 90s, Bowie was signed again to the EMI/Virgin conglomerate and to coincide with the release of 1999’s “Hours”, all of Bowie’s albums from 1969 to 1987 (covering material from Philips, Mercury, RCA and EMI America) were reissued - but for some reason, the bonus tracks were removed. “Space Oddity” was strangely issued in it’s original 1969 sleeve, but retained it’s 1972 title, making it an instant collectable. “The Man Who Sold The World” appeared in the ’Dress’ sleeve again, but shorn of it’s bonus tracks, it was a pointless exercise. In 2009, a 40th Anniversary edition of "Space Oddity" appeared, in it's original sleeve and now called “David Bowie” again, and this included a second disc full of various rarities and unreleased versions, with the three bonus tracks from the 1989 edition included again. Three of the four bonus tracks from “The Man Who Sold The World” later resurfaced on the 2002 reissue of “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars”, but “Lightning Frightening” remains unavailable on a current Bowie record.

The "Early Years" Discography

Listed below is a select choice of Bowie records from this period of his career. I have listed the original singles released from 1964 to 1971, along with any other “new” releases on those labels that took place thereafter. Any “early years” singles re-released after this period, but on a different label, are not listed, athough some of these are of interest if you like EP’s in picture sleeves - there are links below to the Bowie Singles website which goes into greater detail.

I have also listed details of Bowie’s original albums from the period, with interesting editions of each shown. I have not listed any re-pressings that offer nothing of interest to anybody other than the “completists”. What is interesting about this period, especially the pre-Space Oddity years, is that for many years, Bowie himself failed to really acknowledge any of these records, presumably thinking that if he started playing them on stage, nobody would know what he was playing. But in 1999, he began playing a handful of these songs on stage, prior to the abandoned "Toy" project. Several songs re-recorded for that record later appeared as b-sides, and we shall look at these reworkings in a future blog.

ORIGINAL “PRE-RCA” 7” SINGLES 1964-1975

Liza Jane/Louie, Louie Go Home (7”, Vocalion Pop V9221)
I Pity The Fool/Take My Tip (7”, Parlophone R5250)
You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving/Baby Loves That Way (7”, Parlophone R5315)
Can’t Help Thinking About Me/And I Say To Myself (7”, Pye 7N 17020)
Do Anything You Say/Good Morning Girl (7”, Pye 7N 17079)
I Dig Everything/I’m Not Losing Sleep (7”, Pye 7N 17157)
Rubber Band (Single Mix)/The London Boys (7”, Deram DM 107)
The Laughing Gnome/The Gospel According To Tony Day (7”, Deram DM 123)
Love You Till Tuesday (Single Mix)/Did You Ever Have A Dream (7”, Deram DM 135)
Space Oddity (Edit)/Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (Acoustic) (7”, Philips BF 1801)
The Prettiest Star/Conversation Piece (7”, Mercury MF 1135)
Memory Of A Free Festival (Part 1)/(Part 2) (7”, Mercury 6052 026)
Holy Holy/Black Country Rock (7”, Mercury 6052 049)
Moonage Daydream/Hang On To Yourself (7”, B&C CB149)
Hang On To Yourself/Man In The Middle (7”, B&C CB189)
The London Boys/Love You Till Tuesday (7”, Deram F13579)

ORIGINAL ALBUMS AND NOTABLE REISSUES

David Bowie (1967, LP, Deram DML1007)
David Bowie (1967, 2010 2xCD reissue, Deram 5329086, Stereo/Mono mixes plus 25 extra tracks)

David Bowie (1969, LP, Philips SBL 7912, “Don‘t Sit Down“ and “Letter To Hermione“ appear listed and pressed as a single track)
Space Oddity (1969, 1989 CD reissue, EMI 79 1835 2, “Don’t Sit Down” and “Letter To Hermione” now separate tracks, in “Ziggy” sleeve with 3 extra tracks)
Space Oddity (1969, 1999 CD reissue, EMI 7243 5218980, in original 1969 sleeve but with no bonus tracks)
David Bowie (1969, 2009 2xCD reissue, EMI DBSOCD 40, with 15 extra tracks)

The Man Who Sold The World (1970, LP, Mercury 6338 041)
The Man Who Sold The World (1970, 1972 LP reissue in “Kick” p/s, RCA LSP 4816)
The Man Who Sold The World (1970, 1990 CD reissue in original p/s, EMI CDP 79 1837 2, 4 extra tracks)

SELECTED COMPILATIONS

The World Of David Bowie (1970, LP, Decca SPA 58, includes previously unissued tracks)
Images (1973, originally US only but issued in UK in 1975, 2xLP, Deram DPA 3017/8, includes entire “David Bowie“ LP)
Early On (1991, US only, CD, Rhino R2 70526, includes new mixes of “I Pity The Fool“ and “Take My Tip“ and both sides of the Vocalion and “You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving” singles)
London Boy (1995, reissued in 1998, CD, Spectrum 551 706-2, with extended mix of “Space Oddity” and all A and B sides from the Deram 45‘s)
I Dig Everything (1999, CD or 3xCD Box Set, also on vinyl, Castle ESB07 765, with unique mix of “Do Anything You Say“)
Love You Till Tuesday (2004, DVD, Universal 0602498233603, reissue of 1984 Video, bonus feature includes previously unavailable 1970 material, 1984 soundtrack LP features same mixes)

Next month, we shall look at Bowie’s “classic” 1971-1980 period - the single most important collection of music ever released by anybody in the history of sound. Until then, I suggest you check out the websites below, which go into greater detail about this fascinating part of Bowie's career.

Further reading:
Bowie 7" Single Discography: http://www.bowie-singles.co.uk/Site/David_Bowie_7_Inch_Singles_Discography_Home_Page.html
The Illustrated DB Discography: http://www.illustrated-db-discography.nl/About.htm