By the time Scott Walker left The Walker Brothers to go solo, the tradition of the tuxedo clad handsome man standing in front of a similarly clad orchestra singing "standards" was so all-pervasive that YOUTH REBELLED AGAINST THE VERY IDEA OF IT. It had somehow come to represent the status quo, it had taken on a political meaning, and that meaning wasn't of the forward thinking radical, it's meaning was more the cop showing up to bust the party than the party itself.
Make no mistake, Scott Walker was being groomed to follow in the footsteps of those men, of Sinatra, of Dean Martin. The success of "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" catalyzed a vast swath of teenage girls who were now as open to Walker singing softly as they were to the hip-shaking beautiful vulgarity of Mick Jagger. Whatever Walker had tapped into went very deep and the people in charge of his career smelled the proverbial blood in the water. Here was a mystery man, here was a person with the rare combination of sheer physical talent and impossible-to-quantify charisma. Add that to the strange songs of his own writing and you can see why they thought they had a gold mine on their hands.
When you say the word Sinatra, a certain style is automatically evoked in your mind. It involves red velvet walls, light glinting off ice cubes perspiring with brown liquor, evening gowns held lightly by gloved fingers to ensure that high heels don't snag, all class, all sophistication. Now, you can puncture that vision with any kind of deep gaze but Michael Buble is proof that the pudding still exists. Scott Walker's record company saw gold in them thar hills and Walker was their claim to it.
Thus, his first three solo albums are peppered with standards, with songs that wouldn't be out of place in a set by Judy Garland at The Rainbow Room, or from Sammy Davis, Jr. in the desert of Las Vegas. As that style of music must be, these recordings are immaculate. They are intricately staged set pieces of romantic imagination. Taken on their own they are some kind of pinnacle, but when paired with the OTHER work Walker was doing and would do, they become almost talismanic, they ARE the fantasy and they EVOKE the fantasy at the same time.
Watch him sing "When Joanna Loved Me" on the Dusty Springfield show. The song is from Walker's debut solo album "Scott".
The sound of this falls into some vague adult contemporary category, the world where Mel Torme and Englebert Humperdink live, the world where Steve and Edie sing the classics side by side and everyone's fears about the future are assuaged. There is no room for the radical there, the edges, the underbelly. The audience who was clinging to this type of music was desperately AFRAID of rock and roll, found it to be threatening in a fundamental way.
But Walker was a hybrid, the ultimate beatnik, a crooner who could pull off the formal emotional sweep of a show-tune like "When Joanna Loved Me" but who could also write his own material stranger than any experimental rock and roll anthem.
For a few short years, Walker seemed on the cusp of becoming a superstar combination of the two mutually exclusive genres. But the culture was rocketing away from the croon faster than Walker could work. By 1970 and the two albums that I consider to be masterpieces, he was seen as outdated, square, for parents. In a terrible perverse irony, he then spent eight years making music that was just that.
For a brief moment he'd been Sinatra in front of the orchestra. He paid for it by having to remain there as Mel Torme.