Scott Walker and Frank Sinatra

Post image for Scott Walker and Frank Sinatra

14 August 2017
On the plane from Rome to London

(Sounds like the setting for a Bacharach/David song)

I have been listening to Scott Walker recently, having strayed across some of his recordings of Jacques Brel’s songs. His voice seems to come from the depths ‒ literally, from somewhere beneath the surface of existence. Partly this is because of the echo chamber used in his famous early recordings, and partly because the voice seems to come from the depths of my childhood; I must still have been in primary school when he had his early hits with the Walker Brothers (‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’, ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More’).

Partly, however, it is simply because of the nature of his voice, and I suspect that even a very dry recording of him singing with a very spare accompaniment would convey the same sense of subterranean agony.

It is the voice of someone fully aware of the hopelessness of his situation, who still has the energy to cry out from the depths.

This is what he shares with Brel, although Brel’s voice can be much harsher and his delivery even more dramatic. Scott Walker is telling you about himself ‒ and the distance that exists between him and the listener makes this narrative irresistibly compelling, as if his suffering were being viewed through the wrong end of a telescope.

Compare this with Frank Sinatra’s voice. Sinatra had a way of making any melody and any lyrics his own (much to the annoyance of Cole Porter, who complained that Sinatra never sang what Porter had written). He sang as if he were telling you the story of his life ‒ and recounting the story of his own life in the process. It’s the voice of someone who is sitting on a barstool next to you in a strange hotel and a strange place at one o’clock in the morning and is actually speaking sense, his words going straight to your heart through all the fog of misery and alcohol. ‘Set ’Em Up, Joe’ sets the tone, and everything follows from that.

Sinatra is the complete stranger who is more than a friend can ever be to you.

He understands you, completely, because he understands himself completely. Whereas with Scott Walker, we understand him completely – but we cannot reach him to rescue him.

Frank Sinatra

Image of Scott Walker: © License Afbeeldingen Beeld en Geluidwiki /

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