Listen/Download – Scott Walker – Mrs Murphy
I hope all is copacetic in your little corner of the universe.
I’m coming off an excellent weekend, spent chilling with my wife and sons (it was Father’s Day after all), meeting up with some old friends and just enjoying the beginning of summertime.
You’ll notice that I didn’t say ‘summer’, since the season, and summertime are – at least in my fevered brain – two distinct things. The former rolls into New Jersey at least a month before the official date, and gets humid and sweaty very quickly. The latter is more of a mood that comes in when my wife has finished school for the year, the kiddies switch to summer mode and we can all relax a bit, sitting in the screen house out back, in the shade, enjoying the breeze off of the river.
As I sit here writing this, the very late afternoon/very early evening sun is lowering in the sky across the street, and everybody (aside from myself, natch…) is taking it easy. I’m here in the record vault, hunched over the laptop, pecking away at the keyboard.
Of course while I do this. I get to listen to one of the greatest records that the mighty Scott Walker ever recorded, ‘Mrs. Murphy’.
I’ve gone on at length in this space about my love affair with the music of Scott Walker (with and without the Walker Brothers), and the song I bring you today is one of the big reasons for it.
If you’re in any way unfamiliar with Scott’s stuff, head on over to iTunes and grab yourself a copy of ‘Boy Child’, the best single shot comp of his 67-70 solo stuff, then rent the documentary ‘Scott Walker: 30th Century Man’ and stay with it until it starts looking like East German public TV (you’ll know what I mean).
Scott was, during his few years with the Walker Brothers and for the four or five years afterward when he was creating his finest solo recordings, the very definition of a singular talent.
Though the mighty baritone was always there, it wasn’t until the very end of the Walker’s run, with tunes like ‘Orpheus’, that the Scott of the solo years would begin to emerge.
The tune I bring you today is another leading indicator thereof, written and recorded toward the end of the group’s tenure.
‘Mrs Murphy’ appeared in 1966 on one side of a split EP, very plainly titled ‘Solo Scott/Solo John’ (with tracks by John Walker on the other side). ‘Mrs. Murphy’ is a wonderful artifact of a bygone era, when pop stardom and actual musical quality were not yet mutually exclusive.
To describe ‘Mrs.Murphy’ as brilliant is too easy. It manages to excite musically, with Scott’s majestic voice alongside Reg Guest’s very cinematic arrangement, all wrapped in a wonderful tune, but once you get a chance to digest the lyrics, it takes on another dimension entirely.
Like so many of his contemporaries (though most of them were actually English) Scott was able to capture something of the ‘kitchen sink’ vibe rising from the English working class and translate it into song.
‘Mrs. Murphy’ takes place in an apartment building with a cast of characters that in a few short verses encapsulates petty (but seemingly inescapable) gossip, rumors of infidelity and questionable paternity, troubled marriage (related by members of an older generation) all while a younger man (the subject of the rumors) sits in his room, dreaming, until the other part of the infidelity equation, Mrs. Johnson, arrives at his door.
‘Mrs Murphy’ is like the skeleton of a short story, removed and set to music, and like the finest work Scott Walker would do over the next few years, practically transcendent, largely misunderstood by all but the members of his devoted cult. It is picturesque, dark and even biting.
You can currently find ‘Mrs Murphy’ included as part of a budget – and fairly comprehensive – Walker Brothers comp called ‘After the Lights Go Out: The Best of 1965-1967’ (which included all their best stuff, as well as the aforementioned ‘Orpheus’).
I hope you dig the tune, and I’ll be back later in the week.