In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
When Scott Walker passed away last month, the pieces written in tribute to his work mentioned the splash he made with the Walker Brothers, the Jacques Brel influence in his first few solo records, and his move into avant-garde music. One era of his was rarely mentioned – the early ’70s, which Walker described as his “wilderness years.” Adrift with little to say, dealing with drug and alcohol issues, pressured by his label to put out product, Walker lapsed into a series of albums that focused on covers of pop songs. The albums sold poorly, the critics were unkind, and Walker was content for them to stay out of print when the CD era arrived.
Here’s the thing – when you have a voice and a talent like Walker’s, you can’t help but lift the songs you sing to a better place. Many’s the person who said they would listen to Scott Walker singing the phone book, and songs from the likes of Burt Bacharach, Gordon Lightfoot, and Bill Withers are already several steps past 202-727-9099.
Here are some of Walker’s valleys, which so many others would have loved to claim as their peaks…
Scott Walker – The Look of Love (Burt Bacharach cover)
Walker was already professionally familiar with Burt Bacharach’s work; his “Make It Easy On Yourself” was a hit for the Walker Brothers back in 1965. Four years later, Walker had a TV series called Scott, and an album consisting of songs he sang on the series (studio recreations, not the TV songs themselves). One was Bacharach’s “The Look of Love,” only two years old but already recorded by everyone from the Delfonics to Nina Simone to Andy Williams. Walker’s version has a semi-schmaltzy arrangement, but his rich croon serves the song well.
Scott Walker – Come Saturday Morning (Liza Minnelli cover)
Walker’s 1972 album The Moviegoer consisted entirely of movie theme songs, delivered with a middle-of-the-road gloss. The idea was to appeal to the listeners who’d not be inclined to join Walker in following his muse, but who liked their pablum sweetened with rich golden honey. Too bad it didn’t work; listeners and critics alike turned away. One of the songs they gave the air to was “Come Saturday Morning,” from the Liza Minnelli movie The Sterile Cuckoo.
Scott Walker – Use Me (Bill Withers cover)
Walker’s not the first guy you think of to deliver a Bill Withers lyric, and the karaoke funk of “Use Me” doesn’t do him any favors. But the man had a lot of soul in his voice, and that’s enough to carry this cover to good places. He does an even better job on his “Ain’t No Sunshine” cover, which has the decency to change the arrangement a little.
Scott Walker – If (Bread cover)
Allmusic.com pulls no punches in its description of Walker’s 1973 album Any Day Now. They say that “this album practically screams ‘contractual obligation.’ This is lazy music that aims to satisfy only the lowest common denominator.” They also ask, “Really, what possessed the man who wrote ‘Plastic Palace People’ to cover Bread’s saccharine ‘If’?” Well, perhaps the man saw that he could strip away that saccharine and bring a new feeling to a song, and really, what more can a good cover ask for?
Scott Walker – Any Day Now (Burt Bacharach)
The title track to Any Day Now is another Burt Bacharach song, one that took more than twenty years before it reached its chart peak (thanks to Ronnie Milsap). In between, Elvis Presley, James Brown, and many more took a crack at “Any Day Now.” Walker proves worthy of this company, clinging to the song’s speculative sorrow like a rock in a stormy ocean.
Scott Walker – Delta Dawn (Alex Harvey cover)
To me, it always seemed like “Delta Dawn” was missing a third verse. Did Miss Dawn’s paramour deliberately jilt her? Seems like something a “man of low degree” would do. Walker provides his own answer as a tag to the second verse, and it gives a new perspective to the song. The rest of the song sounds like a game attempt to make sure the song is a story worth telling.
We’ve got a few covers of Scott Walker originals in our archives.