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R.I.P., Karl Wallinger: Singer-Songwriter Behind World Party, Former Member of the Waterboys, Writer of Robbie Williams' 'She's the One'

Wallinger, 66, was also formative in helping to launch Sinead O'Connor's career.

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Karl Wallinger during a 2013 World Party performance in Glasgow.

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Karl Wallinger, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist behind the band World Party, has died at the age of 66.

Wallinger, whose death was confirmed by his publicist, was also a member of the Waterboys during the recording of one of their most acclaimed albums, 1985’s This Is the Sea, and later penned the song “She’s the One,” which became a chart-topping hit in the U.K. for Robbie Williams when he released it as a single in November 1999.

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Source: MEGA

Karl Wallinger during the Fifth Annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in 2006.

Although he started his music career as keyboardist for Pax, then formed the band Quasimodo with future Alarm members Dave Sharp and Nigel Twist, it was being recruited into the lineup of the Waterboys by Mike Scott which served as the significant career boost that Wallinger needed.

After touring behind the band’s self-titled debut, which had already been released before Wallinger joined, and then being involved in the recording A Pagan Place, Scott was impressed enough by Wallinger to involve him further in the recording of the band’s next album, the aforementioned This Is the Sea. The album would prove to be the Waterboys’ biggest hit to date, climbing into the top 40 of the UK Albums chart and spawning the hit single “The Whole of The Moon.” (The single actually had two chart lives, first hitting No. 26 in its initial release in 1985, then climbing to No. 3 when it was reissued as a single in conjunction with the band’s 1991 best-of collection, The Best of the Waterboys 1981-1990.) After the album’s release, however, Wallinger left for greener pastures...or at least pastures that provided more of a creative release.

“It was good, man,” Wallinger said of his time in the Waterboys in a 2022 interview with Penny Black Music. “But it just became obvious that it wasn’t going to go anywhere than where it's gone. (Mike Scott) was controlling, and that was it, he wasn’t into doing anything together. After a year of having a deal, I just left and did my own thing. Good luck to the lad!”

[Upon receiving word of Wallinger's death, Scott posted on social media, "Travel on well, my old friend. You are one of the finest musicians I've ever known."]

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Before beginning his new solo endeavor in earnest, Wallinger was asked by Nigel Grainge, head of Ensign Records, to help an up-and-coming singer record a four-song demo for consideration for the label. Wallinger agreed, and the end result led to Sinead O’Connor signing her first record deal as a solo artist, a favor she would repay by appearing on World Party’s debut album, Private Revolution. (In an additional bit of assistance, Wallinger was later credited for assisting with the arrangement of the song “Black Boys on Mopeds” on O’Connor’s second album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.)

World Party’s debut album, Private Revolution, was released in March 1987, and despite listing numerous additional musicians, it was recorded almost exclusively by Wallinger, with the majority of the names just being pseudonyms that Wallinger adopted for his amusement. There were, of course, a few exceptions, most notably O’Connor, who contributed backing vocals to the title track and “Hawaiian Island World,” violinist Steve Wickham, and Anthony Thistlethwaite, whose saxophone skills can be heard on the album’s hit single, “Ship of Fools,” which provided the band with their lone top-40 single on the Billboard Hot 100. (It topped out at No. 27.)

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Wallinger’s skills as a solo songsmith continued to blossom as World Party’s discography grew: the band’s second album, Goodbye Jumbo, found him channeling the Beatles more overtly, and the record spawned a few minor hit singles with “Way Down Now” and “Put the Message in the Box.” (It also led to the Thank You World EP, which found Wallinger delivering a cover of “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.”)

Goodbye Jumbo also found Wallinger beginning the process of turning World Party into a proper band, and by the band’s third album – 1993’s Bang! – he had a proper lineup that included guitarist Dave Catlin-Birch and drummer Chris Sharrock. Whether it was coincidence or otherwise, that album also turned out to be World Party’s biggest commercial success in the UK, climbing to No. 2 and offering the singles “Is It Like Today?” and “Give It All Away.”

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While the band’s fourth album, 1997’s Egyptology, failed to match the chart success of its predecessor, it did contain a composition that would ultimately go on to be heard by more ears that probably ever heard a World Party song: “She’s the One,” which Robbie Williams would subsequently take to No. 1 on the UK Singles chart. Wallinger originally penned the song for the Ed Burns film of the same title, but when Tom Petty - who was also the film's music supervisor - decided that he wanted to do the entire soundtrack on his own, the song ended up on Egyptology instead.

Fast-forward to when Williams was recording his sophomore album, 1998's I've Been Expecting You, and suddenly Williams is in the studio not just recording "She's the One" but, indeed, doing it with Guy Chambers and Chris Sharrock, both of whom had worked with Wallinger in the past. The whole thing rather rankled Wallinger a bit at the time, but he later came to terms with the situation, as the royalties helped him immeasurably after he had an aneurysm in 2000.

“I was so lucky that Robbie recorded ‘She's the One,’ because it allowed me to keep going,” Wallinger wrote on World Party’s official website. “He nicked my pig and killed it but gave me enough bacon to live on for four years. He kept my kids in school and me in Seaview [Wallinger's recording studio], and for that I thank him.”

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At least partially because of his disagreements with Chrysalis over the situation with “She’s the One,” World Party’s fifth album, 2000’s Dumbing Up, was a self-released affair, a situation which led to limited UK sales (it only managed a chart high of No. 64), and the album wasn’t even released in the US. With Wallinger’s aneurysm the following year, which left him unable to speak for a period, the future of World Party seemed very much in doubt, but after spend several years rehabilitating, Wallinger was able to take World Party back on the road, playing SXSW and Bonnaroo in 2006 and then opening for Steely Dan’s Australian tour in 2007.

Although World Party never released another full-length studio album, they did release the aforementioned box set Arkaeology in 2011, which included several new tracks as well as what was described by the website Slicing Up Eyeballs as an “unheard history of rare studio gems, live sessions, concert recordings, radio interviews, covers, demos, and B-sides.” There was talk from Wallinger that a new album was on target for a 2023, but as it never actually came to pass, its status currently remains unknown.

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Wallinger is survived by his wife Suzie Zamit, his son Louis Wallinger, his daughter Nancy Zamit, and two grandchildren, but it's fair to say that Wallinger would agree - as would his fans - that he is also survived by his many, many wonderful songs.

"I really believe that songs are just amazing things because they go off and they have their own life," Wallinger told The Big Takeover in 2022. "They get played at weddings and funerals and births and deaths and everything. Happy moments or moments of doubt or moments where it just seems to be the friend you want. It’s a strange thing, the way they have their own life. I love that about them.

"They’re like kids. They’ve gone off and experienced more of life, probably, than I have. They’ve been in the background when two people are making love, or they’ve been on a car journey to Alaska. All these scenarios where they’ve been experiencing our lives, as well as we are experiencing them. It blows me away. Songs are incredible things. I love them."

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