Recently, the world mourned the passing of Scott Walker, one of the most brilliant yet confounding pop musicians of all time. His most beloved records arrived at the end of the Walker Brothers, four self-titled affairs ranging from Scott to Scott 4, released between 1967 and 1969. Lushly orchestrated, Walker’s heavenly singing voice stood in sharp contrast to the dark and bleak lyrics that often dealt with death. In his passing, the four Scott records have been rightly hailed as unique masterpieces. Yet we couldn’t help but notice that numerous articles and tributes erroneously made the claim that the music Scott Walker made had no contemporaries. That most certainly was not the case; as original as those four albums were, they were merely highlights from an obscure and brief baroque pop scene. Come Join My Orchestra: The British Baroque Pop Sound 1967-73, a recently released three CD box set, serves as an excellent examination of this lesser-known scene.
Baroque Pop groups and artists may have been somewhat influenced by The Beatles, but the Baroque style seemingly comes from an American influence. While it is certainly true that the Fab Four’s mid-1960s records found them experimenting what orchestral arrangements, much of the sound you hear on this compilation owes its inspiration equally from West Coast bands such as the Beach Boys and The Association, producers such as Phil Spector, as well as the writing team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. (Interestingly enough, one could equally count the Walker Brothers as an influence, for although the trio found great success in England, they were in fact an American creation.)
The amounts of absolutely fantastic music on this set leaves one spoiled for choice in terms of picking out highlights. Though a few of the usual suspects are here––The Zombies, The Move, Grapefruit––for the most part the selections are either relatively unknown, or more obscure cuts from well-established acts. Some of the acts here would find success much later, and often different forms; the dreamy hippie folk of Genesis’ “Am I Very Wrong” is far removed from what the rock superstars would become, the awkward pop of Gilbert’s “Disappear” is light and breezy compared to the depressing tone of future hit “Alone Again (Naturally)” while The Humblebums’ “Rick Rack” is an enjoyable excursion from future solo stars Billy Connolly and Gerry Rafferty.
Yet it is the obscure and rare tracks that offer the sweetest reward. Fickle pickle’s “Saturday” sounds so familiar, you’ll swear you’ve heard it before. The Regime’s “Dear Amanda” and The U-No-Who’s “Strange People” are two excellent numbers that bizarrely gathered dust in record label archives before finally seeing the light of day decades later. Julian Brooks’ “Justine” is a potent proto-glam number that sounds like a pseudonymous David Bowie release. (It isn’t, sadly.) Then there’s Bill Fay’s gorgeous “Doris Comes Today,” a cut from a young artist whose career seemed short-lived until the arrival of the Internet, where his albums were finally heard by a wider audience, leading him to relaunch his career to great critical acclaim.
Come Join My Orchestra: The British Baroque Pop Sound 1967-73 is a superb collection of gorgeous melodies and dreamy lush arrangements. It’s a nearly four-hour time trip into a scene and a sound that has never lost its magic a half century on.