Feel free to skip this section if you’d like to get straight to the review. I won’t bite!
This is all going to sound quite personal, maybe even sentimental, but it is the true story of how I came to learn about Scatman John and what his music has meant to me.
I grew up in Japan. From kindergarten to grade eight, I attended public school.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that I am not Japanese. I am Canadian. But because of my early exposure to the Japanese culture, it will always be a part of my DNA.
Anyway, when I was in grade eight, an awful thing happened. My dad got into a motorcycle accident. He was in a coma for 10 days, but ultimately, he didn’t make it.
So, as a family, we decided to move back to Canada, so we could be closer to extended family. That was around 1997.
I knew about Scatman John because he was popular in Japan.
When I returned to Canada, and started listening to the radio and watching Much, I thought I would recognize some of the music. But it was all completely unfamiliar.
That’s when I reached for something that was a little closer to home. When I found the Scatman John CDs at the store, I couldn’t have been more thrilled.
In the ensuing years, as an awkward teenager in Canada, Scatman John’s music was on high rotation as I did what I did at the computer – joining chatrooms, making websites, playing video games, things like that.
In due course, I started branching out. My CD library came to include artists like Will Smith, Chumbawamba, Beastie Boys, and others. But Scatman John would always hold a special place in my heart.
Scatman’s World Track List
- Welcome to Scatland (0:49)
- Scatman’s World (3:40)
- Only You (3:42)
- Quiet Desperation (3:51)
- Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop) (3:30)
- Sing Now! (3:38)
- Popstar (4:13)
- Time (Take Your Time) (3:41)
- Mambo Jambo (3:30)
- Everything Changes (4:38)
- Song of Scatland (5:05)
- Hi, Louis (2:34)
- Sctman (Game Over Jazz) (5:03)
Scatman’s World Background
After the international success of “Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop)” and “Scatman’s World”, Scatman John went on to release a full-length album entitled Scatman’s World (affiliate link) in 1995, the subject of this review. Scatman’s World is the direct result of manager/producer Manfred Zahringer’s vision, who suggested that John try scat-singing to dance music and hip-hop beats. As a jazz musician, John was understandably skeptical. Until, of course, the first single made him a star.
John’s mastery over scatting is the product of his lifelong struggle with stuttering. His scat-singing style is indeed remarkable, and the album is worth a listen for this reason alone. To capture the true essence of the album, however, one has to delve a little deeper, because the album is composed of many layers.
Scatman’s World Concept
In the CD booklet, there’s an introduction to an imaginary and utopian world known as “Scatland”, and “Song of Scatland” is essentially an echo of that foreword. This is the loose concept that weaves its way through the duration of the album.
Themes of self-examination and utopian idealism are found throughout the disc, and while the scat-singing is the primary focus here, each song has been carefully developed with a relevant message and melodic hook. In other words, the scat-singing doesn’t dominate every second of run-time (this would be rather superfluous).
On the whole, the album has an atmospheric feel to it. “Welcome to Scatland” is a spoken introduction with a gentle piano running behind it. “Song of Scatland” is the companion song that further builds out these ideas.
Scatman does not shy away from heavier topics, either, whether it be “Quiet Desperation”, which examines life on the streets, or “Time (Take Your Time)”, which reflects on times of difficulty and addiction in his own life.
John’s writing is also tongue-in-cheek at times, as on “Popstar”, where he concludes that “A popstar isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be”.
“Scatman’s World”, and “Scatman” are still the high points of the album, though, and are the most recognizable numbers. On both singles, John spoke openly about his stuttering problem, and this offers a closer look into the man that is John Larkin.
Track by Track
In this section, I will offer an analysis of each track on the album.
Welcome to Scatland
Albums don’t open like this anymore, do they?
And, be honest, when’s the last time you listened to an entire album from start to finish?
Listening to “Welcome to Scatland” now, it makes me think of a meditation track.
“Scatman’s World” takes full advantage of a canon like chord progression, which, as we all know, is quite common practice in pop music. As they say, “why mess with a good thing?”
This song opens with John’s signature rapid-fire scatting, which has instant appeal and leaves a strong impression.
“Only You” is the epitome of 90s dance music. They don’t make it like this anymore, that’s for sure.
The song is comprised of several riffs and chord progressions, showing a degree of sophistication not seen in a lot of pop music these days.
The post-chorus scatting is the clear highlight of this tune.
A good album usually has some ebbs and flows. Quiet moments. Louder moments.
“Quiet Desperation” is one of those quieter moments. A ballad of sorts. Still a fun song, but more low key.
Not the crowning jewel of the album, but not a bad song.
What’s this if not Scatman John’s signature tune?
This song features some of Scatman John’s most impressive scatting overall, and it has a catchy, unforgettable minor-key riff too.
The utopian idealism is on full display on the frantically paced “Sing Now!” And, eerily, it could not sound more relevant than in today’s volatile political-healthcare climate (in 2021).
The album takes a bit of a jazzy / soulful turn with “Popstar.” Of course, it’s still packaged as dance music, just that it’s slower and groovier than most.
The song is full of potential hooks.
Time (Take Your Time)
If there’s a hidden gem on the album, it would probably be this, “Time (Take Your Time).”
It has an evocative, minor-key sound to it, with John’s rapping and singing taking some precedence over his scatting. Listen closely, and you will hear multiple layers of hooks.
“Mambo Jambo” is a mambo, just as you would expect, and it works surprisingly well in the dance genre.
The most impressive thing about it is the many vocal overdubs and sampling that was clearly used to create the a cappella intro.
The low-key urban-lounge vibes of “Everything Changes” draws you in and has you nodding along from the opening notes.
This song reminds us that life is all about the moment.
Song of Scatland
“Song of Scatland” is the fully fledged version of the opening “Scatman’s World,” a song rife with idealism. It features a children’s choir.
The piano riff in the verse sounds quite mysterious, almost like it belongs in a Final Fantasy game.
“Hi, Louis” is a song with some serious groove. Jazzy and funky, with a familiar 12-bar pattern.
John is fully unleashed in his scatting on “Hi, Louis” and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the takes were improvised.
Scatman (Game Over Jazz)
Although “Scatman (Game Over Jazz)” features some great piano riffs, it’s basically like a compilation or “mix” of some of the album’s signature scatting parts.
Obviously, it would be hard for me to be 100% objective about an album that has meant a lot to me over the years. But I try anyway.
For most of his career John was a jazz pianist, and at 52 came to know global success. He became a worldwide phenomenon, and was especially popular in countries like Japan. As the album cover clearly indicates, the battery-powered microphone paired with a fedora imagery would become iconic.
The combination of scat-singing and dance music works incredibly well, all told, and they obviously left some room for the album to go where it needed to go, not adhering to stringent constraints. That said, this album is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. To some degree it was written with kids in mind, and it’s probably more likely to appeal to a younger generation.
In terms of novelty, Scatman will live on as legendary.
Imagination & Creativity: 8/10
The keyboard-driven dance music that was so popular in the mid 90s takes the front seat on Scatman’s World. It does feel a bit dated (though EDM is as popular as ever), but for its time it’s still a very well-produced album.
John’s motivational message of love, hope, peace, and self-betterment are truly moving without being overly cheesy. This album is still relevant, and holds a great deal of substance compared to many releases that came out around the same time. John’s message is straightforward and convincing without being preachy.
Sound Quality & Music: 7/10
Again, this is an album with driving bass, simple synthesizer-based progressions, and all the trappings of dance music. Nonetheless, there are some great hooks and catchy melodies. The sound quality and production value of Scatman’s World is not as high as his follow-up, Everybody Jam!, however.
Writing & Premise: 8/10
On first glance, we can see that most of the lyrics are arranged into neat rhyming stanzas. This is a good indication that John and his producers indeed accomplished what they had set out to do. Moreover,
Scatman John was a man with a message, and he manages to drive many poignant points home. The album, for the most part, feels cohesive.
The two hits, “Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop)” and “Scatman’s World” are the most memorable and dance-able tracks on the album. There are several other numbers that offer up catchy pop melodies, but either they aren’t as polished, or never made it beyond the experimental stage.
Scatman’s World, though, set up Scatman John as an international sensation. And for that reason alone, it’s an important album. While his follow-ups also had something on tap, especially Everybody Jam!, they didn’t do what Scatman’s World did. To be fair, the album didn’t do what the singles did either.
But that doesn’t mean we love the Scatman any less, and he will live on in fond memories.
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