For Your Pleasure

A song-by-song analysis of the lyrics and music of Roxy Music and the solo work of Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera in the 1970s


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Just Like You – Part 2

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Just Like You, ‘Stranded’ (1973)
Just Like You – Part 1

Time may change me
But I can’t trace time

David Bowie, ‘Changes

Thought patterns hazy
This auto-style age
Will lady luck smile old and sage

Bryan Ferry (lyric), ‘Just Like You

There has always been a wonderful longing at the heart of Bryan Ferry‘s writing, and his credentials as a writer of considerable skill and talent – rare in the rock world – do not need to be repeated here. (If you have the time, go to our first entry and start with ‘Re-Make/Re-Model‘). A reflexive personality tinged with a melancholic temperament is a great character trait for a writer, and Ferry’s skill was honed to even greater heights on The Third Roxy Music album Stranded, based in part on changing life experiences – fame brought more choice, greater artistic freedoms, new people, new ideas.  In contrast, the songs on previous album For Your Pleasure were songs of darkness and Poe – “rubbing shoulders/with the stars at night shining so bright” (‘Pleasure‘). The horrors of For Your Pleasure are the horrors of the mind – self-analysis, schizophrenia, suicide, mental illness, the burden of doing the right thing. Not so with Stranded: the view is outward looking, street lights and relationships, cities, parties, sunsets. And this difference requires a higher degree of engagement with the physical, an appeal to get out of your head and engage directly with the cosmos (you can see where the comedy in this stuff comes from).

In ‘Just Like You’, time conquers innocence and destiny renders us mortals puny beneath the heavens: “Time conquers innocence/Pride takes a fall/In knowledge lies/wisdom/That’s all.” With the punchline delivered so early in the song, we might be rightly bummed by the prospect of suffering through pages of poetry written along the line of Shelley’s Ozymandias (“Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”). Thankfully, Ferry’s approach in ‘JYL’ is designed to delight and surprise, providing us with a collision of styles and ideas, no less sparkling in their own way than the pop art of ‘Virginia Plain‘ or ‘Do the Strand‘, but more reflective and mature – and very much sly, playful and entertaining. 

The triumph of time and nature over human tyranny” is how The Guardian described the Great Themes of the Romance Poets – Blake, Shelley and Keats. And keeping with the tone of Stranded’s early mood (“wish everybody would leave me alone, yeh”), Ferry is a bit grumpy about this state-of-affairs, commenting through gritted teeth:

Everything changes
Weather blows hot or cold
Through alchemy iron turns gold
Quicksilver baby
So hard to pin down
Oh when are you coming around

As a formal solution to the problems presented in ‘Just Like You’ – the search for love, the passing of time, the loss of innocence and the hard won knowledge that comes with experience – Ferry protects his song with the armour of Romance poetry’s greatest conceit:  the poet as Visionary Seer. In A Defence of Poetry (1821), literary titan Shelley defined the poet’s job as measuring “the circumference and sound the depths of human nature with a comprehensive and all-penetrating spirit…”. In her article Discovering Literature: Romantics & Victorians, literary critic Stephanie Forward argues that the Poet Prophet stood alone in their ability to interpret reality: “The Romantics highlighted the healing power of the imagination, because they truly believed that it could enable people to transcend their troubles and their circumstances” (Forward). 

Having finally arrived to a position of status and influence in late 1973, Ferry was broadening his tastes in art and music while expanding his social networks and experiences. As a writer, he was keen to continue creating characters and situations that captured the emotional and provocative impacts of those experiences. After the original batch of early songs was used up on Roxy Music, Ferry’s writing took a turn towards the dark and introspective on second album For Your Pleasure. For follow-up Stranded Ferry (largely) abandoned the darkness but keep the shadows, preferring cities at night, rain-swept streets and melancholic melodies (Ferry: “I find it much easier to write sad things”). Ferry also began to write in the character of a Brill Building songsmith (see: ‘Don’t Ever Change‘), using the base materials of words and music to forge and create as a modern craftsman might: if I’m sad, I’ll write a modern ballad. If I seek epiphany I’ll write a modern Psalm. If I’m looking for sex I’ll bubble-up bubble-up a modern dance number. If I’m writing a song about a lost love I’ll reach back to the past and adopt and present for modern audiences the themes of Literary Romanticism..

An intuitive and gifted writer, it is unclear if Ferry studied English Literature or merely had the sensitivity of an artist who read for pleasure and absorbed the themes of Romanticism naturally (you know, while chasing down the next party at the “Belgravia mansion of some profligate crypto-financier”..). Certainly Ferry’s friend and confidante (and Roxy Music PR man) Simon Puxley was a key literary influence, holding doctorates in both Philosophy and English literature: 

[Simon] was a big part of my life in music: he wrote the sleeve notes on the first Roxy Music album cover…He was like the fifth Beatle: a part of Roxy Music who was always there. He was a beautiful writer, a doctor of philosophy and of English literature. He worked with me every day

Bryan Ferry, 2001

It is clear now that Bryan Ferry was close to many extraordinary artistic talents in the creation of the Roxy Music aesthetic – Antony Price, Karl Stoecker, Nick de Ville are universal life forces in these pages – and we know that Simon Puxley represented the literary arm of the Roxy Machine. Producing both sleeve and song notes (Roxy Music/’Do the Strand Explained‘), in addition to being Bryan Ferry’s ghost-writing biographer (Rex Belfour/The Bryan Ferry Story), Puxley was already on record for having made significant contribution to Stranded’sMother of Pearl‘ (taking nothing away from Ferry’s composer credit) and in similar manner Puxley will have contributed or edited ‘Just Like You‘ as a matter of course, as a friend and confidante, providing the Roxy front man the scholarly grounding to his tale of lost love and adherence to the themes and tropes of Romantic poetry.

Dr. Puxley would have been intimate with the key motifs of English literature, confirming for Ferry that the poets of the Romantic period (1800-1850) saw Nature as a source of purity and truth, regarding the natural world as a window into the mutability of time, physical change and the passing of the seasons. One of the most famous works of Romanticism is John Keats’ To Autumn (1820):
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Compare to Ferry’s song of spring:  

Buttercups daisies and most anything
They wither and fade
After blossom in Spring
Time conquers innocence
Pride takes a fall
In knowledge lies wisdom
That’s all

Melancholy is another key feature of Romanticism, usually seen as a reaction to human frailty or failure, such as a broken romance or the recognition of a misspent youth. In ‘Just Like You‘ Ferry adopts (again) the role of The Lonely Man (see original: ‘Do the Strand‘), a cool Frank Sinatra film-noir-inspired character we will meet once more in Stranded (‘Song for Europe’/’Sunset’): 

Hopelessly grounded
I walk through the streets
Remembering how we spent time

Similarly, overt melancholy and dramatic introspection is the approach of Percy Bysshe Shelley in A Lament:
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And so Ferry offers his own version of introspection, inquiry and release:

Hopefully yearning that someday we’ll meet
But when will we, how could we, why? Oh my!

A dissatisfaction with the present is the engine that drives Romantic poetry, as the truths of life – our human insignificance in the grand scheme of things – can only be addressed via the heightened emotions and intellectual clarity brought forward by the Poet Prophet. A true Romantic troubadour during this period in Roxy Music’s development, Ferry portrays himself both as victim (“wish everyone would leave me alone”) and the visionary who stands outside of it all: 

Thought patterns hazy
This auto-style age
Will lady luck smile old and sage

For the Implied Bryan Ferry (Rock God, Lonely Man), the modern age presents a lack of intellectual rigour (“thought patterns hazy”) and modern glamour is seen – ironically, as it is the engine of Ferry’s own success – as an aesthetic dead-end (“this auto-style age”). The warnings contained in ‘Virginia Plain‘ (Last Picture Shows and Teenage Rebels of the Week) are coming home to roost: 

Fashion houses ladies
Need plenty loose change
When the latest creation
Is last year’s fab-rave

Yet Ferry stands readily atop an industry built on the fickle desire for novelty and the next new thing (ie., a famous dance craze, The Strand). In this regard ‘Just Like You’ continues the conversation started on ‘Street Life‘, only in different temper. Stranded opens with anticipation and excitement laced with cruelty: the phone rings endlessly (“When I pick it up there’s no one there”). Public relations is little more than a tool of oppression (“The sidewalk papers gutter-press you down”). People are fickle and cruel (“All those lies can be so unkind.”) Which leads to a state of mental anguish and disarray (“They can make you feel like you’re losing your mind”).

Contradictions in experience is Ferry’s late 1973 conundrum – the numerous Roxy/Ferry personas are responding to multiple layers of stimuli but are unable to identify a clear path forward. Ferry recognizes he embodies the multiplicitous and contradictory nature of his times and his songs push this confusion to the forefront: at one moment he is “blinded” but “can really see.” This glamorous “brave new world” takes him “higher than the milky way”, yet the experience leaves him alone, “feeling blue”.

Screen Shot 2020-11-17 at 3.49.45 PMIn order to make sense of his predicament – and to communicate honestly with his audience – Ferry draws attention to the act of writing itself (“I scratch away for hours, like an old-style lyricist”) and bakes the theme of change and transformation into the very fabric of his song, reaching back to the ancient arts for alchemic redress and remedy: 

Everything changes
Weather blows hot or cold
Through alchemy iron turns gold
Quicksilver baby
So hard to pin down
Oh when are you coming around

Here in his modern romance ballad, Ferry highlights the old practice of alchemy (“Through alchemy iron turns gold”): Alchemy is the medieval forerunner of chemistry, and was an early pseudoscientific attempt to benefit from the process of transformation, turning worthless objects such as tin into gold or silver. According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, alchemy was a “seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination.” This aspect of thought corresponds to the older tradition of astrology: both representing the attempt to discover the relationship of humanity to the cosmos. Ferry goes for the intellectual deep dive, and has enough confidence in his audience to take them with him. Here we find him quoting and referencing the alchemic arts in an attempt to change (or outwit) his fate:

Through alchemy iron turns gold
Quicksilver baby
So hard to pin down
Oh when are you coming around

Ferry situates the process of change and transformation into the very narrative of his song: Iron is one of the seven metals of alchemy (along with gold, silver, mercury, copper, lead, iron & tin). The symbol for iron is traditionally used to represent the planet Mars in astrology – ergo, male strength, war, dominance. Gold, of course, represents the perfection of allScreen Shot 2020-10-13 at 6.45.16 AM matter on any level, and is the motivational objective of any alchemic process, adding highest value to the basest of materials. In ‘Beauty Queen‘, Valerie is that “gold number.” In ‘Just Like You’ it is Ferry who wishes to move from ordinary to extraordinary – changing tin into gold – and he’s working out ways to take the prize. 

Conversely, Ferry identifies his ex-lover as the “quicksilver baby”: Quicksilver being another alchemic symbol. Webster Dictionary describes the quicksilver character as “cool and willful at one moment, utterly fragile the next.” Ferry has fun here as his description of the love-object (“Quicksilver baby/So hard to pin down”: ‘erratic’, ‘fickle’, ‘changable’) becomes both pun, sexist observation and an alchemic object subject to change.

The use of quicksilver and alchemy in a modern pop songs serves to map Ferry’s frustration with modern science and knowledge, equating elemental processes like the weather blowing “hot or cold” in the same manner a Screen Shot 2020-11-16 at 6.22.07 AMwoman might be fickle and unmovable (to his mind). Within this poem of memory and retribution, Iron (man) turns to Gold (sun), while the Quicksilver (female) ex-lover is seen as unpredictable, erratic, an unreliable object of emotionalism and mercurial change. Seen in this context, ‘Just Like You’ is a Noel Coward comedy-of-manners set against the ancient arts and sciences, a product of the “hazy thinking” of modern times – a ‘Pyjamarama‘ for the masses. 

This is a marvellous joke on Ferry’s part: conjuring the ancient arts to resolve romance problems leaves him just as confused and floundering as does the so-called “wisdom” of his brave new world. In ‘Just Like You’ there are no absolutes, or tested ancient truths, man does not turn from tin to gold through alchemy and Lady Luck remains indeterminate, a fictional muse that this “hazy” thinker cannot be bothered to change, edit, or re-write:

She knows that never again, no
Will I give up my heart
To gamble with fate is my crime
Nevertheless love, it’s all here in my book
I’d write it but don’t have much time

Resolution turns to retribution. The poetics of Romantic poetry fail to provide insight or relief. The Poet Prophet‘s human laziness outstrips wisdom and knowledge (after all), and the passing of the seasons wins again: “Nevertheless love, it’s all here in my book/I’d write it but don’t have much time“. The “hazy thinking” of our own auto-style age is let down by the modern writer, no better off than any other generation to defeat or befriend Fate, get the girl, or avoid an inevitable decline.

And to underline the point – and as a petulant final gesture to cap his ill-temper at the beginning of the album – Ferry and Puxley dump on the very idea of knowledge – ancient, modern, or otherwise – by designing their poem in the shape of an upside-down pyramid, snubbing the early assertion that “in knowledge lies wisdom/that’s all”. If you run your eye across the lyric you’ll notice the first stanza is seven lines long; the second stanza is six lines; the third is five; fourth is four; third is three. This pattern presents a set of stanza-by-stanza diminishing returns in a poem that places its hopes on experience and knowledge (aka “maturity”) as a solution to our problems. By song’s end, however, knowledge has not produced the way forward. Hopelessly grounded again. To age and die is our collective fate. Stranded in life until death, just like you (dear reader): 

As destiny wills it
So seasons will change
Just like you
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Next: Another set of brave new worlds in ‘Amazona’!

Credits: Our man gets too close to gold/sun/knowledge: Icarus” (1887) by Sir William Blake Richmond (not Willam Blake, the poet); brilliant visual artist, Bill Viola, Woman (Ocean without a Shore) and Man (Chris); Simon Puxley photo montage – credit unknown, pinched from Roxy Music; “You’re Never Alone with a Strand“: Ferry chooses the name of the most disastrous cigarette advertising campaign in British history for his fictional dance ‘Do the Strand’ (see our entry, ‘Do the Strand’ for this fascinating punning story); another Bill Viola, The Raft; alchemical symbol for iron (male)/quicksilver (woman) and old engraving of alchemical event, complete with symbols for iron, quicksilver and gold in background; The Great Pyramid of Giza, Ivan Aivazovsky 

Titbits: ‘Just Like You’ is so successfully composed and written that Ferry’s achievement created a template for the many pop poets that would come after him – Nick Cave and Morrissey in particular. Indeed, The SmithsGirlfriend in a Coma‘ and ‘Cemetery Gates’ provide an example of literature as blood sport, as Morrissey sets up a battle between Romantic vs. Aesthetic poetry (Keats & Yeats vs. Oscar Wilde). (With typical wit, Morrissey games the process by warning of the dangers of plagiarism, all the while lifting phrases from such notables as Kaufman & Hart and Shakespeare). Similarly, ‘Just Like You’ is a hoot and Ferry lays the ground for the next generation of pop literates by staging a Cole Porter performance of satirical English Poet-as-Prophet egoism, all the while freely admitting to being steeped in, and unable to escape from, the English Literary Romantic tradition (or the harsh realities of life). 

The Queen is Dead Tour Poster (1986)


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Just Like You – Part 1

Just Like You, ‘Stranded’ (1973)

Buttercups daisies and most anything
They wither and fade
After blossom in Spring
Time conquers innocence
Pride takes a fall
In knowledge lies wisdom
That’s all

I. Everything Changes

I’m trying to avoid your question as best I can. I don’t know anything about love at all.

Bryan Ferry

‘Just Like You’ marks the beginning of Bryan Ferry’s career as a classic romance troubadour and poetic songsmith, capitalizing on the recent experience of recording his first solo covers album These Foolish Things and the musical focus brought about by the exit of Brian Eno and the on-boarding of multi-instrumentalist Eddie Jobson with Roxy Music.  Just Like You also marks for the first time Ferry attempts to formally replicate the themes of English Romantic poetry as exemplified by William Blake, John Keats and P. B Shelley, and pack it into the cement mixer with a 20th century pop sensibility. The result is a song of the highest musical and lyrical power – a tall order indeed.

Musically, ‘Just Like You’ finds the Roxy Music band members expanding their professional chops at an impressive rate, shifting from “inspired amateurs” to sonic specialists in less than two years, adding to their music a touch of restraint and grace that is extraordinary considering the glam buffoonery that was selling like hot cakes in 1973 (see: Street Life Part 1). Arguably, these delicate qualities were never to be bettered: ‘Just Like You‘,  ‘Song for Europe‘, ‘Mother of Pearl‘, and ‘Sunset‘ are exquisite examples of a musical maturity that was nevertheless recognized within the band as both a career requirement and an experimental hindrance. 

A few months after ‘Stranded‘s release in November ’73, Roxy co-founder Andy Mackay addressed the issue of the band’s musical development. Still smarting from Eno’s departure, Mackay was simultaneously chasing an Eno-inspired Country & Western project (“I don’t want to use old-fashioned session musicians who just play the notes, but work more as Eno did, with whoever turns up” Disc) and embracing the prospect of a long-running career with Roxy Music. With typical hauteur (and cheekiness) Mackay was frank in his assessment of the changes the band had undergone: “I think ‘Stranded’ is a very cautious album,” he told Disc magazine. “I don’t think it breaks very much new ground… Strangely, as you improve as a band – and we have – you do become more cautious, without noticing it”). For his part, Eno was (famously) gracious about Stranded, citing it as Roxy’s “best” record to date, but lacking “insanity.” Even Ferry noted that the album “lost a bit of edge” over the more freer experimental records. “But it gained other, more musical things” (Mojo).

And on this point, Ferry is spot on. As Roxy re-modelled themselves in the Fall of 1973, new agreements had to be forged, both internal and musical: from here songwriting credits would be shared (albeit sparingly); image and brand would consolidate towards a new centralized focal point (Ferry); song-writing craft would be emphasized (‘Just Like You’/’Song for Europe’); and professional musicianship would trump over avant-garde performance in the hope (since materialized) of securing a long-lasting musical career. From here on in, no member of Roxy Music would be able to describe themselves as a “non-musician” and insanity music would be left for solo records or live concerts (Phil Manzanera, in particular, was listening). Yet none of these musical changes would hinder the Roxy brand one bit: of all the things Stranded actually is, ‘cautious’ is not one of them. 

After I started with my solo career, doing classic songs written by other people, I think that had a lot of influence on my work. I became more interested in songwriting as opposed to making records.

Bryan Ferry

Brian Eno (again, famously) described the first record Roxy Music as containing “12 different futures” (Eno). While not a work of certifiable insanity, Stranded is nevertheless bold, unsettled, romantic, disruptive, formally diverse, and delivers its 12 different futures in a well-constructed 8 track all-styles-served here format. Stranded sings best when its diversity is taken as a key to its architecture, as the album delivers an impressive array of musical forms, from hard-rock (‘Street Life‘); to ballad (‘Song For Europe’); religious hymn (‘Psalm‘); psychedelia (‘Amazona‘); love poem (‘Just Like You‘); and star-crossed twilight serenade (‘Serenade‘). Adding to the diversity, the album presents the experiences of modern life encountered during a full day’s 24-hour cycle, beginning with the anticipation of an evening of bright lights and glamour (‘Street Life’); through to late-night party-time wasting (‘Mother of Pearl‘); to the melancholy conclusion at party’s end for ‘Sunset‘ (“Why are you sad – do you disapprove?/How we’ve wasted our time). Indeed, if there is a central theme in Stranded, it would be the idea of transformation and change over the course of time, recognizing that experience necessitates the loss of innocence, bringing with it the opportunity to gain wisdom and knowledge, a view that ‘Just Like You’ succinctly serves to capture and reflect.

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II. Innocence

The lyric of ‘Just Like You’ is blatantly romantic, hesitant, heart-felt, but also self-conscious and acutely aware of its status as love poetry. Perhaps more than any other popular entertainer at the time, Bryan Ferry, through his love and knowledge of music and culture, and his art school exposure to postmodern theory (not to mention the extraordinary influence of Roxy Machine members Price, De Ville, Stoecker, and Puxley), understood that his mission as a modern pop singer and composer was to resolve a key  challenge: how to take the products of art and music history, absorb their influences, build on their teachings, and remodel and remake the ideas for modern audiences, all-the-while retaining distance, humor, a sense of absurdity and swashbuckling adventure, and – in practical terms – ensure the result was popular enough to earn a living.

Irony, pastiche and camp were of course the answer, but Ferry’s reverence for old forms would not allow mockery or being dismissive towards say, Cole Porter, the Mona Lisa or even John Donne‘s Holy Sonnets. Instead, Ferry adopted the language and forms of art and literature and used them – as his hero Bob Dylan had done – as both weapon and shield, presenting his ideas in a moving and emotionally rich dialect while simultaneously creating a self-aware and ironic distance between his art and process of its creation. With Stranded, in the thick of the teenage Glam revolution, Ferry infused the bright emotionalism of Romanticism with the cold intellectualism and ironic humor of modern art-school education and practice, and ‘Just Like You‘ was the song that introduced the public to the next phase of Roxy Music’s development.

I studied art, I had a band at college, I felt I was in two parts of myself. One was the physical thing, the emotion, when I was singing and there was a passion about it. The art side was more thoughtful, to do with reasoning things out. But when I combined the two, it was incredible. This is what I was meant to do.

Bryan Ferry, 2020

That’s the trouble with you. You always want the best of both worlds

Simon Puxley, 1995.

Just Like You‘ opens on the plaintive and (for some) pessimistic observation that all livings must live, decay and die:  “Buttercups daisies and most anything/They wither and fade/After blossom in Spring.” Ferry’s approach to the problem is, typically, charming, a little sentimental and honest. He presents artistic stoicism in the form of a play with words and voice – demonstrating bravery in the face of the wretched truths of the universe: we are not in control of our destiny; we want everything to go our way (no exceptions); we want to love, live, and prosper (take no prisoners); and we do not want to die. Ever. And we don’t want our loved ones to die either.

Time conquers innocence
Pride takes a fall
In knowledge lies wisdom
That’s all

This fragile sentiment and vocal melody is supported by the first of Eddie Jobson‘s tasteful musical textures added to this, his first Roxy Music album. We were introduced to Jobson‘s musical gifts initially on Ferry’s solo record These Foolish Things (see: ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall‘) and Stranded‘s opening cut ‘Street Life‘, but for my money it is with ‘Just Like You’ that Jobson’s contribution to the Roxy Music sound really takes hold. His violin synthesizer is applied left-channel at 0.16, providing a cushion to the early punchline that “in knowledge lies wisdom/that’s all” – the weary “that’s all” serving to both distance and safeguard the writer from further pain (or scrutiny). If it was practical (and Eno was still in the band) the song could have ended right there, so succinctly do the opening lines define the theme and sentiment of the track. But the listener is further charmed by the introduction of Paul Thompson‘s well-recorded drums center frame, a warm timpini roll that underlines the reflective mood but also moves us on with minimum fuss to the next verse at .28s.

Everything changes
Weather blows hot or cold
Through alchemy iron turns gold
Quicksilver baby
So hard to pin down
Oh when are you coming around

Capturing the burden of experience and keen to highlight the gravitas of the lyric, Ferry sings the verses in a clipped question-and-response format, locking onto a stubborn catechism that attempts to fly but keeps returning to earth with a thud:

  1. “Time con-quers inn-o-cence/Pride takes a fall”
  2. “Quick-silver ba-a-by/So hard to pin down”
  3. “Oh when are you co-m-ing around?”

The effect is both astute and comic, the lines an intriguing hybrid of heightened artistry undercut by  the reality of everyday experience. When Ferry pouts during “Oh when are you coming around?” it’s hilarious, yet ‘JLY’ never slips into parody, in spite of all its talk about buttercups and daisies. The emotional weight of the song is supported by the decision to track the vocal closely to the melody line. As a result, the opening bars are as elegant and ethereal as anything the singer has ever attempted. Indeed this is something of a best-ever vocal performance for Ferry, as he rises to the challenge of singing near the top of his range in the key of ‘B’. (Phil Manzanera: “People used to think Bryan was singing like that as a joke or something, but it wasn’t done on purpose — that was the real thing” Press).

The previous year Ferry had strained magnificently on ‘Strictly Confidential’ but not so this time. “Butter-cups da-ii/-sies” can be found in the same ghostly and hushed modulations of “Before I die I’ll write this l-ee/-tter”, only now Ferry is more in control of the soundscape, the intonation is deeper, the language and tone warmly romantic. It’s a challenging track: ‘Just Like You’ was not performed live by Roxy Music until 2011 (Viva), thirty-five years after it was recorded in 1973 and one suspects it was the demand of that vocal that kept it off the play-list for so long. A shame, as ‘JLY’ has a gorgeous melody and would have made a great live ballad. 

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III. Experience

Roxy Music critic Johnny Rogan found ‘Just Like You‘ to be hackneyed, citing the “themes of lost love and retrospection” (90) to be uninspiring and familiar. (Though he does give credit to ‘Song For Europe’ for focusing on the same themes, just with more ingenuity and imagination). To reduce ‘Just Like You’ to a song about lost love however is to rob Ferry of the artistic progress he had made since the first album Roxy Music the previous year (1972). The love-struck narrator in ‘If There is Something‘, for instance, self-consciously dabs his forehead with the back of his hand, climbing mountains, swimming oceans blue (I would do anything for you/ I would put roses round our door/sit in the garden/Growing potatoes by the score). The effect is Romantic (and comic) yes, but as we noted during our previous deep dive into the song: “Our man is deep in his head again, imagining himself as the Byron poet declaring his love with offers of traversing endless oceans instead of actually getting down and dirty with the potatoes.”

Yet by the time of Stranded mere irony could no longer hold the sum of Ferry’s writerly ambitions:

I often wonder how I could have produced so much work in 1973. I can only assume that I’m one of those people who thrives on approval, and the instant success of the first Roxy Music album in 1972 had been a great shot in the arm for me. Since the age of 10 I had loved music so much, and had absorbed so many influences from so many genres, that I was bursting with ideas, and now I felt I had an audience who was willing to listen to them

Bryan Ferry

No longer writing from the perspective of an unknown musician and entertainer, the stories and observations of 1972 begin to turn in Ferry’s writing, as experience begins to draw lines on the writer’s world-view. No longer does the narrator court a woman in the hope of securing her love by swimming all the oceans blue (how quaint!), nor does seeing the love of his life from a restaurant window change his pop-art decision to write about her car license plate number (CPL593H – how ironic!). From Roxy Music to Stranded, we observe how Ferry’s writing and world-view changes, traversing from naïveté to wisdom, from innocence to experience:

Roxy Music (1972). The search is on..

If there is something that I might find
Look around corners try to find peace of mind,
I say Where would you go if you were me?
If There Is Something

I tried but I could not find a way
Looking back all I did was look away
Next time is the best time we all know
But if there is no next time where to go
Re-Make/Re-Model

First single ‘Virginia Plain’ (1972) famously articulates (and makes real) the unrealized dream that is Roxy Music. Within each line there is youthful bravado glazed with a hint of dread, wishing for an answer. Take me… take me…

Take me on a roller coaster
Take me for an airplane ride
Take me for a six day wonder

So me and you, just we two
Got to reach for something new

Far beyond the pale horizon
Some place near the desert strand
And where my Studebaker takes me
That’s where I’ll make my stand …

Before ‘Virginia Plain’ the future lay way “beyond the pale horizon”. After  ‘VP’ becomes a Top 10 hit, Ferry is catapulted directly to the horizon’s edge, where nothing, not even light, can escape.

For Your Pleasure (1973). There is increasing confidence now, embracing art-making, creativity, the attainment of dreams and the power of the new.. 

There’s a new sensation a fabulous creation
A danceable solution to teenage revolution

Do the strand love when you feel love
It’s the new way and that’s why we say
Do the Strand

Our soul ships pass by solo trips to the stars in the sky
Gliding so far that the eye cannot follow
Where do they go? We’ll never know
Beauty Queen

Old Man
Through every step a change
For Your Pleasure

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In a very short period of time (72-73) Ferry accomplishes the dream that was Roxy Music, and makes some hard decisions on how to keep it going (Ferry: “Either Roxy doesn’t exist anymore or else it redefines itself in my terms.”). The shift into self-confidence – confirmed by high Roxy Music and solo album record sales – produces a clear mandate for the new album Stranded:

I mean, I was there learning all these songs — songs by composers I’d always admired like Cole Porter, Smokey Robinson, etcetera and it made me want to be able to master the art of writing a good melody. (I’m still trying!)… Because these people in fact had a far more direct effect on me than the so-called avant garde. So straight after Foolish Things — which I now actually consider the third Roxy album in a way due to the influence it had on my writing — I made a very conscious attempt to compose conventional but strong, classy songs. ‘Just Like You‘ was certainly written in that style. The whole album was, in fact.  (NME, Nick Kent, 1979)

‘Just Like You’ disposes of the idea of the future in its few first compact lines, ridding Ferry of the need to re-capture or articulate the move towards the dream that was Roxy Music: he’s already there. Time has passed. Decisions have been made. The blossom in spring has come and gone. With a firm handle on his subject and backed with a working-class understanding for value, Ferry begins the next stage, anticipating the fickleness of time and passing fads, of which he and his band may well become a casualty:  

Fashion houses ladies
Need plenty loose change
When the latest creation
Is last year’s fab-rave

As far as the author is concerned, The Strand’s new sensation/fabulous creation has a limited shelf-life. Everything changes. “Weather blows hot or cold”. A key member of the Roxy machine and confidante of Ferry – Simon Puxley – reminds us in his notes on Do the Strand, Explained: “in the dictionary ‘strand’ can mean ‘walk’ (verb), a place to walk, a stretch of beach, or ‘to leave high and dry’

To leave high and dry: Stranded

But that’s the awful thing about growing up. You can improve your craft as years go by, but there’s nothing like being new.

Bryan Ferry

Next: Just Like You – Part 2. Everything changes: Roxy Mach II takes shape! 

Credits: the beautiful picture included in this entry is by Xany Rudoff and is available for sale @ https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-Stranded-Roxy-Music/20527/1094276/view. The cropping and fiddling however is a product of roxymusicsongs.com

http://www.readysteadygone.co.uk/farewell-charlie-harcourt/

In memorandum. The nature of fame presents a wall between performer and audience that is sometimes real (‘The Wall’, Pink Floyd), or broken down as an ode to communication and physical contact (“Lay Your Hands on Me”, Peter Gabriel). On some very rare occasions you get an entertainer or musician who bridges the gap between performer and audience because of who they are and how they function: a no-bullshit presence that gets the job done, who knows that when they go home at night, all beings are created equal, and fame and wealth is a temporary shield from the realities of birth, life, liberty, and death. Paul Thompson, the drummer for Roxy Music, is one of those people. Generous, talented, and honest, Paul is the heart of Roxy Music, its anchor and its shield.

We here at roxysmusicsongs.com would like to take a moment to recognize that Paul has encountered several losses over the past months that are painful and cannot be dismissed easily, certainly not through a simple mention on social media or a music blog. Nevertheless, please join us in recognizing that two good souls (among many) have left us recently. Let’s take a moment of our time to think of that loss and its impact on their family and friends. And let’s think of our own family and friends, those close to us, and those that have felt like family for as long as we have had hearts to feel and ears to listen.

To Malcolm Hooper (Smokestack) and Charlie Harcourt (Lindisfarne), friends from afar, RIP.


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Just Like You: ‘Stranded’ Cover Art – Part 2

Screen Shot 2020-08-15 at 7.28.37 AM We were interested in glamor, inauthenticity and the idea of adopting personas, the idea that those personas could change. They’re called fluid identities nowadays, aren’t they?

Nick De Ville

I. Playboy

1973’s Stranded cover sleeve is the last of Bryan Ferry’s 70s pin-up girl parodies, and when you read the various histories of album cover art, is the most overlooked entry in the Roxy Music canon. This is a bit of a shame, for the conception, design snd photography are all splendidly executed by Roxy machine team members Antony Price, Karl Stoecker, Nicolas De Ville, and Bryan Ferry, and the image is a logical extension of the discourse started with Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure. While the first two records delivered a startling contrast between light and dark moods, Stranded removes its subject further from 50s beauty queen glamour of Roxy Music and places our heroine in a scene born of cinematic narrative, a 60s spy adventure, “heavy with sultry drama and febrile languor” (bryanferry.com):

A barely clad model … lying full length on what appeared to be the jungle floor, a fleshy white blossom lying beside her and her luxuriant hair spread out to one side. Her expression is imploring, her sensuality stylised and stressed by the tropical setting and the exaggerated abandon of her pose.

Michael Bracewell

The design and composition of the Stranded cover was the fourth product of Ferry’s ‘Roxy machine’ design team and the last to be photographed by Karl Stoecker (see Stranded Cover Art – Part 1). Thus this sense of an ending with Stranded is very real, as the Roxy sleeves had served to chart Ferry’s sense of himself as persona-in-development, from outsider fan-boy (Roxy Music) to rock star contender (For Your Pleasure), to full-blown in-demand (and harassed) UK superstar, a narrative that the music and lyrics of Stranded served to address, substantiated by the sleeve’s languid loss-of-innocence, lost in the jungle, pose. While on For Your Pleasure Amanda Lear held back a severely irate black panther in anticipation of full audience assault, Stranded’s “barely clad” Marilyn Cole instead holds near a crumpled white lily at her side – the lily a symbol, for many (at weddings and funerals at least) of purity in passing:

Buttercups daisies and most anything
They wither and fade
After blossom in Spring
Time conquers innocence
Pride takes a fall
In knowledge lies wisdom
That’s all

Just Like You, ‘Stranded’ (1973)

Screen Shot 2020-09-02 at 11.12.21 AMOne of the principles in rock is that it’s the person himself expressing what he really and truly feels – and that applies to a lot of artists. But to me it doesn’t. It never did. I always saw it as a theatrical experience.
David Bowie

I always wrote as a character.
Bryan Ferry, 2020

Probably one of the least appealing characters to come out of Bryan Ferry’s theatrical kit-bag was the singer’s metamorphosis in late 1973/early 1974 to become UK’s answer to the American Playboy magnate Hugh Hefner, minus, possibly, the pipe (and definitely the mansion). Ferry’s public persona had exploded at the time of Stranded’s release, creating a Screen Shot 2020-08-21 at 6.16.48 PMmaelstrom of newspaper, magazine and television exposure for the singer and for Roxy Music as a band (see: Roxy Mania). There was an interesting incongruity at play during this high-water period that played into Roxy Music’s failure to crack the lucrative overseas market – many audiences did not know, literally, what kind of band Roxy were supposed to be. The music just released on Stranded was arty, melodic, contemplative, classically and unapologetically European. Yet the image projected in the press and TV – as far as Ferry was concerned – was pure James Bond: white tuxedoed, dark-haired, suave, handsome, jet-setting, packed with a musical license to thrill. Rock music never had a Bond-riffing front man before and in this regard Ferry was an easy sell.

We return then to The Bryan Ferry Story, the biography/dossier written by Simon Puxley as Rex Balfour (Ferry no doubt giggling in Puxley’s ear), a brilliantly funny take on the Bond myth. Whether the boys were being serious – well, that is for you to decide, dear reader..

[Enter 007 theme]:

There were the girls too. Often fashion models and always beautiful…He would escape from this ever-churning vortex of his own making and drive up Screen Shot 2020-08-20 at 7.51.02 PMto Oxford, into a different world, for [an] absurdly extravagant garden-parties on a college lawn… But then feel impelled to return to the city before night, pushing the black Daimler to its limit, to end up in the early hours at yet another exotic haunt: a wild party in the Belgravia mansion of some profligate crypto-financier, or the high-strung tension barely controlled beneath the plush aristocratic ambience of a Mayfair gaming club. (92/93).

Ian Fleming could not have done a better job. And to be fair, one gets the sense that the whole scene is written as a send-up of all things we desperately desired in contemporary Britain in 1973 (but were afraid to ask): sex, glamour, and taste of the life-styles of the rich and famous. (One assumes in 2020 though that we’ve had enough of that old ummagumma?). Roxy Music were designed, among many things, as a brand that sold dreams, that answered essential coming-of-age questions Ferry presented for himself and his audience: “You see I started life with nothing,” the singer explained. “So there really is no place for me to go but upwards” (Rogan). The Roxy ‘state of mind’ translated into a fantasy ideal for young men, an idea key to the projection of the playboy persona in 1973/74: “Women are not aware of Roxy Music in the way that men are,” noted fashion designer and friend Antony Price. “It’s a man’s band. It’s always been a man’s band. And he (Ferry) is a man’s idol. the young men have always admired him, he’s what they aspire to, to have taste like that” (Price).

The persona of the suave jet-setting playboy was reflected in Ferry’s shift from live support lead and singer – sharing stage equally with Brian Eno and Andy Mackay – to focal lead and visual centre of Roxy Music: “Perhaps the most striking feast for the eye,” observed Roxy biographer Paul Stump, “was Ferry himself, or more specifically, his stunning new white tuxedo”:

Ferry’s associative visual conception of himself as a performer of classic songs such as ‘These Foolish Things’ influenced his persona as Roxy Music’s leader. Ferry, a born role-player, had found a new niche, and would cling to it with unusual fervour.

Paul Stump

It seems very much of its time now, and explaining the mechanisms of white male privilege from where we sit in 2020 does not sit easy, but for that moment in 1973 Bryan Ferry fit the male fantasy role to a tee: if he was not rock music’s James Bond, then who was?

II. Playgirl

Just like a rollin’ stone
I’m outside lookin’ in
But if your chance came would you take it
Where on earth do I begin
I’m Mandy fly me
10cc

And so for every spy movie, for every playboy chasing in the night towards the Belgravian mansion of some profligate crypto-financier, there has to be a cinematic damsel in distress, a Cinderella seeking her Prince Charming; a Jane awaiting rescue by her Tarzan. And so, British born fashion and glamour model Marilyn Cole was commissioned to become the new Roxy Girl, accepting the assignment without knowing the band or the cultural excitement generated by the previous Roxy Music album sleeves:

It was at a tiny studio, somewhere off the Edgware Road in London. I’d never even heard of Roxy Music. I very soon understood that I was in safe hands, among some very talented people… They stuck me on this big log and explained I was supposed to be stranded in a jungle, and then they started spraying me; they sprayed my hair gold, and there was a whole mist coming over me and the dress was getting wet in all the right places.

Marilyn Cole, quoted in Tony Barrell – ‘Cover Stories’

Ferry’s selection of Marilyn Cole was both a coup and a marketing master-stroke: Cole was internationally famous at the time of Stranded’s release, having been named Playboy’s magazine’s January 1972 Playmate of the Month, as well as their 1972 Playmate of the Year, the only Briton to hold that title (Wiki).  Growing up in Portsmouth (see Playboy interviews) Cole, like many in her generation, left school at 16. “In my family,” she explained,  “it was tradition to work for either the Civil Service or the bank—a respectable office job. I went into the Ministry of Defense and worked in the dockyard as a clerk and then at a bank. Then I broke the family mold. A friend had moved to London. She said, ‘There’s this place called the Playboy Club. All you have to do is smile and you make lots of money!'” Cole was singled out in a line-up by her future husband, Victor Lowes, who insisted she test for Playboy and earn $5,000 per photograph. “That was it for me. I wasn’t stupid. I knew Playboy magazine and knew I’d been singled out” (Cole).

To provide some context for the kind of impact the Roxy designers were seeking, it would be hard to imagine a more famous, contemporaneous and ebullient choice for the cover of The Third Roxy Music Album than Playboy model Cole, yet she has been given short shrift in the Roxy Music story: band biographer Johnny Rogan was quick to call out her “extraordinary narcissism”, scolding her social climbing and sleeping with Playboy boss Hugh Hefner to get ahead. “Her next port of call,” notes Rogan dismissively,  “was the former boss of Playboy’s London empire, Victor Lowes, with whom [Cole] established a surprisingly long term relationship lasting all of 20 months” (94). In fact, Lowes and Cole were married for thirty-three years until the time of Lowes death in 2017.

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From top left: Cole/Ferry; Cole, Playboy photo 1972; Simon Puxley gets awkward; Cole with her Dad; Cole on one of the ‘Top of the Pops’ album sleeves, 1973.

Ferry’s decision to use Marilyn Cole on the cover of Stranded satisfied several thematic and strategic goals. For starters, there was a rather fine gag that looked to the history of pin-ups past for inspiration. The Queen of cinematic glamour in the 50s, Marilyn Monroe, had appeared nude in the first issue of Playboy, December 1953. The publication of (previously-shot) nude photos created a sales “sensation” and launched the Playboy empire. (Screen Shot 2020-09-02 at 7.09.57 AMBiography). Though Hefner never met Monroe personally (Monroe: “I never even received a thank-you from all those who made millions on [my] nude photograph”), the Playboy founder nevertheless spent $75,000 to be buried beside Monroe in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles – literally, crypt-to-crypt! (see inset, above). Playboy hit newsstands in 1953 with a price tag of 50 cents, a black and white photograph of a smiling, fully dressed Monroe on the cover, and a promise to readers for one “FULL COLOR” nude photo of the actress inside for the “first time in any magazine” (Biography). 

Bryan Ferry, like many men of his generation, was obsessed with Marilyn Monroe (Tim Clark: “I’m not sure what Bryan thought his roots were, but they probably had more to do with Marilyn Monroe than with any musical influences”). When time came to design his own sleeve creations, Ferry had absorbed Monroe’s classic iconography (see entry Strictly Confidential – Part 2), citing particularly the Vargas-inspired post-cards and Playboy’s monthly calendars as inspirations.  Just as Ferry had recently riffed on Elvis Presley for the cover of his own album These Foolish Things (see Influences, below), he and Antony Price searched for a suitable image that would reference, celebrate and update the famous covers from the Playboy archives, but place them in a modern context, and within a modern cinematic drama. Steeped in pop culture, Ferry would have considered Monroe’s iconic Playboy shots, but decided to pass over Monroe (on the original magazine cover she was sitting on an elephant, after all), for what was widely considered the second most famous Playboy cover model of all time: Monroe’s friend and confidante, fellow actress and glamour model Jane Russell.

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III. Outlaws

The dress is red and torn, one shoulder bear, the pose either intimidating or inviting, dependent on who you are and the sum of your personal experiences. The hair is brunette and flows past her shoulders, melting into her surroundings. In both shots the breasts are full and accentuated, arm placed overhead in posed abandonment. She is either ready for a role in the hay or laying supine on a log. In both cases, she is the sum of the puns placed upon her. In one shot she holds a gun, the mark of encroaching male arousal. In the other, she holds a crushed white lily, suggesting purity, chastity, virtue, or the just the opposite – post-coitus loss-of-innocence. Before Marilyn Cole there was Jane Russell, Hollywood movie star of the 40s and 50s, original glamour Bond-girl.

Jane Russel’s first film, The Outlaw (1941), was produced and directed by the original American playboy, inventor, and billionaire Howard Hughes. Infatuated with Russell, and with a marketing verve that Hugh Hefner would market a generation of playgirl “bunnies” a decade later, Hughes was “determined to extract the maximum publicity from Russell’s cruel mouth, defiant sexuality, and above all, her eye-popping figure” (Guardian). “We’re not getting enough production out of Jane’s breasts!” the billionaire complained to his Outlaw cinematographer, Gregg Toland (Hunt). Hughes wanted to prominently display Jane’s breasts, but didn’t want to see any evidence of structural support so he designed a bra for Russell to wear (“He could design planes,” she later wrote, “But a Mister Playtex he wasn’t”).

The censors slammed The Outlaw and refused to release the film. A decade later the censors tried the same with Playboy. A decade after that Stranded flirted dangerously close with what InsideHook magazine called “a soft-core response to hard-core pornographic imagery that started filtering out from seedy theatres after 1972’s Deep Throat achieved international fame”. Then Country Life cover was banned and/or altered in the United States, Spain, and the Netherlands (Wiki). The US censors summary of offence reads like a condemnation of the Roxy Music covers of 73/74: Joseph Breen’s March 1941 memo to his boss, Will Hays, made the issue clear: “In my more than ten years of critical examination of motion pictures, I have never seen anything quite so unacceptable as the shots of the breasts of the character of Rio,” he wrote. “Throughout almost half the picture, the girl’s breasts, which are quite large and prominent, are shockingly emphasized, and in almost every instance are very substantially uncovered” (quoted in Hunt).

The Outlaw was exploitative and cheap, and sounds offensive. Howard Hughes was a creep (see: Karina Longworth, “Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood”). Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe had their biggest hit when they co-starred in Gentleman Prefer Blondes, a fun film that, despite its attempt to put women in strong male roles, does have the cringe-inducing line (spoken by Monroe): “I can be smart when it’s important, but most men don’t like it” (quoted by Susan Doll). Jane Russell left the movies to go into business, supporting and promoting her political and social beliefs, leading a full and varied life. Marilyn Monroe continued to make films and was a much sought-after glamour star. Unhappy and depressed, drug addicted, she died by suicide at the age of 36.

Screen Shot 2020-09-05 at 9.24.53 PMIs my identity something I can manipulate, and can I change identities at will? I think we were all very interested in that.

Nick De Ville

At a narrative level, Ferry’s sleeve design was clearly cinematic, executing on a twin narrative of male/female desire as seen in the films of old Hollywood and Playboy magazine in the 1950s. For Ferry, the outcome of this strategy was a career of unwanted type-casting.  Friend and fashion designer Antony Price put it at it best when he said, “[Ferry’s] tuxedo became an insignia, like Madonna’s cone tits. The white tuxedo is what did it for Bryan. That’ll be the image on his gravestone”. Riffing on influences, providing audiences with a new hip reading of idolized glamour and art-making was clearly a successful strategy for Ferry and Roxy Music. As a result Stranded generated enough marketing heat to ensure the record went to straight to number 1 in the UK chart – a feat not repeated until again until 1980’s Flesh and Blood.

Playing with constructed identities and presenting them to the public for fun and profit had been formalized as a Roxy Music manifesto on previous album/track ‘For Your Pleasure’: For your pleasure/In our present state/Part false part true/Like anything/We present ourselves – and play-acted through to that record’s stunning conclusion. Changing identity in order to enact a new life path, Ferry calls to his original destined older self and bids farewell (Old man/Through every step a change/You watch me walk away). With Stranded, Ferry fully assumed the persona of his new character (every bit a shape-shifter as David Bowie, just less make-up) – the doomed romantic, playboy, thrill-seeker – stepping off the page to become a central character in his own story. The results were spectacular, and this was a very powerful idea, at first. Speaking on myth-building and the self as a work of art, cultural critic Susan Sontag wrote “To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater.”

That Bryan Ferry went beyond the act of looking and actually slept with the glamorous women on the cover of his records was an essential part of Roxy Music myth-building: he had successfully delivered in the flesh the wish-fulfillment dream of his (largely) male audience. Packaged as product – sex sells, Joni Mitchell tell us – the consumption of the glamour dream gains extra sweetness by knowing that an ordinary working class guy (Implied Northerner Ferry) can complete the deal by attesting personally to the quality and experience of the product (Implied Playboy Ferry). This was a trippy idea in the early 70s – a liminal shift between personas and identities, and maybe even reality itself. Was this entertainment – or something much more? What was it like to make love to Playgirl playmates such as Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell or Marilyn Cole? Were they ordinary mortals, and if not, did exclusivity and money bring happiness? The more you looked at the album cover, the more you read the gossip papers, the less you knew..

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I tend to think that everything we do is an extension of our previous creations.

Bryan Ferry

IV. Coda

There is a fascinating out-take from the Stranded cover sleeve photo sessions (there aren’t many) that shows Bryan Ferry lying beside Marilyn Cole on the cold make-shift log of Edgeware studios in London. We imagine fashion designer Antony Price fussing with clothes, a tear here, a tear there, misting Cole’s hair, this way, maybe that. Glamour photographer Karl Stoecker climbing the ladder, framing the shot, stepping down, re-placing the ladder, re-framing the shot, expressing inwardly delight or dismay at this new move towards cinematic glamour. Nicolas De Ville would be pacing, as usual, fretting the details. And Cole, no doubt physically uncomfortable but happy to be there (“I understood I was in safe hands”), yet stranded on that fake log as the men above her fussed, content in the knowledge of her recent success, her rise to fame and the prosperity hard won in two short years (71-73), coming from the working class factories of England to International Playmate of the Year, her life forever changed.

Swaying palms at your feet
You’re the pride of your street

Beauty Queen

Surveying the same scene, Ferry lies beside Cole on the same cold studio floor that he has commissioned to look like the environs of a hot tropical jungle. There’s something odd here though – the music of Stranded sounds nothing like the heated rhythms of the jungle. This is more like the fake palm-trees of a 1950s beauty contest. Ferry confirms: “There’s something removed from reality about the girls on the covers.” (Medium). Naturalism is not the end-goal for the Roxy record sleeves, and so, as if to prove the point, Ferry allows his face to be painted just like Marilyn’s: thick off-colour make-up applied by Pierre Laroche, the artist who painted the face of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane for David Bowie. Ferry’s eyes become heavy with the same blue-gold eye-shadow that Playboy model and future love-interest Cole is wearing. The set-up feels like an idea in progress, like appearing on the back-cover of For Your Pleasure in disguise, dressed as someone else, a driver, twin, or lover. A day or so later Ferry sees the proofs, contemplates the highly glamorized, contorted, unrealistically posed, impossibly realized image of the woman. He sees in his mind the record’s advertising campaign with this image being emblazoned down the entire length of London buses…

“I was born in a Coronation Street house,” Cole explains, looking up through the fake misty tropical air. “Two up, two down, outside lav.”

In the end Ferry chooses not to include himself in the Stranded cover: he realizes, after all, he’s already there.

Screen Shot 2020-08-06 at 9.01.13 PMHaving grown up with his words and images for a good part of my life, I think his intent has been, not necessarily to market to us, but to communicate with us, to provoke, to seduce, to complement his music.

Definitions aside, there’s no denying the visual impact his work has had. And isn’t that where art starts?

 

Credits

Marilyn Cole Stranded out-take; Amanda Lear ‘Siren’ – both photos by Karl Stoecker; Various Ferry PR hand-outs from the period, the Playboy shot is from manzanera.com (archives) and is quoted “Bryan celebrated [Roxy] success with typical style. Under the headline ‘Ferry Merry Christmas’ – and sporting a very fetching matching Danimac and Daquiri – he was to be found snuggling up to some Bunnies of the Hefner variety. Hard work has its rewards”; magazine Ferry tux; Bond logo, http://www.007.com; Prosperity Street appreciation page; Roger Moore 007 PR shot; Cole/Ferry; Cole, Playboy photo 1972; Simon Puxley gets a hand on Cole (ouch); Cole with her Dad; Cole on one of the ‘Top of the Pops’ album sleeves, 1973; Playboy shots with side-by-side Monroe/Hefner crypt shot; Jane Russell publicity shot “Outlaw”/MC by Karl/Jane Russell Playboy cover; Rent-a-Man Chicago; Rock Art memorabilia; BF/Cole, Stranded out-take, Karl Stoecker.

Titbits

Inspiration: Ferry’s riff on the Elvis cover ‘Loving You’ soundtrack, brought to you by the Roxy machine.

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Influence: We didn’t get a chance in these cover art entries to discuss the influence of Alberto Vargas on the Roxy machine’s design strategy. Here’s some food-for-thought on the Vargas influence, master of the glamour pin-up image. (Note, the Cars cover is a riff on Stranded, which is in turn a riff on the original Vargas paintings. And so it goes – doing the Strand never really stops (if you’re doing it right).

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Fare Thee Well: Stranded was Karl Stoecker’s last album cover for Roxy Music. He went on to do more photography, for a a few years at least, but mostly he went on to do more beach-combing. Thank you Karl for your time in our narrative. Your story continues towards a life well lived as told by those that love you best – your family.


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Just Like You: ‘Stranded’ Cover Art – Part 1

Screen Shot 2020-04-26 at 8.59.33 AMStranded (1973), featuring Marilyn Cole, photography by Karl Stoecker, fashion by Antony Price, cover design by Nick de Ville, cover concept Bryan Ferry.

She’s a model and she’s looking good
Kraftwerk

Karl Stoecker photographed the first three Roxy Music album covers then disappeared, seeking a quieter life in South Beach, Florida. “I mean, taking photographs is fine,” Stoecker told the Miami Times,  “I think now I only want to be a beachcomber. That’s what I want to be for my prime occupation if I can figure it out.” Unwilling to engage in the game of rock photography as played by his contemporaries Mick Rock (Lou Reed, Bowie, Queen) and Brian Duffy (Swinging Sixties, Bowie), the handsome beach-boy Stoecker preferred to shun the limelight. “He is the worst at being a businessperson, calling people back, arranging situations,” says his wife, fashion designer Patti Stoecker. You get a sense Patti is smiling when she says this, both she and Karl working off the grid, carefree outsiders, enjoying a life they created for themselves and their children away from London into open waters and light blue surf.

Of course, each member of the Roxy machine team (Antony Price, Karl Stoecker, Nick De Ville, Simon Puxley and Bryan Ferry) were non-conformists, outsiders who rebelled against norms of acceptance, sexuality and artistic expression. And indeed this is the hub of Bryan Ferry’s genius and achievement with Roxy Music: while band politics and arguments produced wounds that would never fully heal (Eno’s departure; the loss of earnings from shared song-writing credits; the desire to record solo albums), Ferry focused on his vision, very carefully and strategically injecting himself intoScreen Shot 2018-04-09 at 7.13.14 AM the underground art and fashion world, making close friendships with many of London’s most innovative artists, creating and expanding the Roxy Music brand through art, design, fashion, photography, and image-making. While the musical muscle of Roxy Music was dependent on MacKay, Manzanera and Thompson, there is little evidence to suggest that anyone other than Ferry and the Roxy machine were accountable for the stunning design and brand marketing that enabled Roxy to achieve its goal of being “cinematic” music for the masses.

Antony Price was the key image-maker and stylistic guru of Roxy Music, a man of great intellect and kindness (Ferry: “He is one of the most remarkably gifted people I have ever met, and an authority on a bewildering range of subjects”). Price is extremely important to the Roxy Music story and we covered his influence in some depth for our entries Beauty Queen: Cover Art, a look at the ground-breaking art work Price did for For Your Pleasure. It is also worth reading the in-depth review of the fashion and art-school influences that helped define and shape Roxy Music, Michael Bracewell‘s excellent Re-Make/Re-Model: Becoming Roxy Music, and also the well-compiled primer on the stylistic trends that defined early 70s music and fashion, Glam: The Performance of Style. With Price’s influence and these other inputs being well-documented, we move then, for this entry, to another member of the Roxy machine: American photographer Karl Stoecker.

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Karl Stoecker // early 70s

I. Locating the Past

Karl Stoecker knew and worked with Antony Price as a member of the ‘Notting Hill crowd’ of artists and designers that shared similar ideas and assignments as they worked together in the London arts world of the early 1970s. Influential swinging sixties Notting Hill painter, draftsman, printmaker, stage designer, and photographer David Hockey: “You didn’t let commercial side interfere with things, in film, music, painting, fashion. It was energy driven by the bohemian  world.” These were talented, young people, well-paid and in demand, highly educated (Royal College of Art), plugged in (Richard Hamilton, Malcolm Bird, Ossie Clark), and endlessly inventive: “We didn’t want to be couturiers…We were about the street. Anything Establishment had to be challenged” (Price). Interestingly, and tellingly if we consider the angle from which Roxy Music‘s Stranded was written, recorded and performed, it was the past that was plundered as a means of re-writing the present.  The was a strong interest in the retro glamour of Art Deco, and also of early American Hollywood cinema, films Footlight Parade (1933), I’m No Angel with Mae West, “images shimmering with a brittle brilliance” (Style).

Antony Price met Roxy Music models Kari-Ann Mueller (Roxy Music) and Amanda Lear (For Your Pleasure), and future Roxy machine photographer Karl Stoecker through the Notting Hill connection. While working with the materials of the past – Price particularly liked Max Reindhardt’s Midsummer’s Night Dream – a look that would influence directly Bryan Ferry’s ‘Virginia Plain’ outfit on Top of the Pops – the young artists acknowledged the influence and stylizations of old style Hollywood glamour, while re-making and re-modelling the present in order to create the look of the future.

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The whole glamour thing of the 1930s was what influenced us
Ossie Clark

For his part, Stoecker moved to London in 1966 and stayed there until 1975 before returning to the United States. His keen eye and obvious love for women and glamour earned him commissions with many of premier fashion magazines of the day. His photographs for British Vogue captures the early style, unambitious yet focused, free of movement, selling product and make-up tips, as seen below in this Hair Now article (Vogue, 1972).

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The dynamic in this shot is expressed mostly in the lighting, but captured in those eyes is the same hint of danger that would attract Stoecker to a more off-beat territory: using the essential ingredients of Hollywood glamour, Stoecker moved towards highlighting glamorous women in new and ultra-modern glamour poses, cheeky imagery with a hint of beneath-the-surface kink, a sure-fire win for Bryan Ferry‘s concept of Roxy Music as a slightly down-stream “sleazy” art project.  The movement from the magazine shots of the late 60s with its still-frame emphasis on hair and make-up soon shifts to a gaze that interrogates and emphasizes the pin-up moment, as in the following sequence that establishes Stoecker’s move in 1972 from magazine glam (Club International) to fashion glam (Bubbles):

Here we see the development of Stoecker’s style as he moves toward the Roxy Music album cover assignment. The new ingredient Stoecker insists on is providing a white-drop background for the subject to disappear into, removing any superfluous information that would shift focus away from the glamorous foreground – the clothing, the model, the pose. In that same year, 1972, Bryan designer Antony Price introduced Bryan Ferry to the in-crowd:

I was a rising star behind Ossie [Clark], so I had met all of his models…Some of them – like Kari-Ann and Amanda Lear – ended up on the Roxy Music album sleeves. I was also working with the photographer who shot those covers too – Karl Stoecker. And Bryan would have met all of these people through me.

Antony Price 

The outcome of this meeting was the photo session that created the iconic photo for the cover of the first Roxy album, Roxy Music, a sleeve commissioned, designed, and photographed before the band even had a recording contract. Note the influence of Stoecker’s style on the composition of the shot: white background, wildly separated colour, pin-up girl caught in a swirl of glamorous self-consciousness…Screen Shot 2020-08-02 at 8.17.23 PMII. Locating the Future

Stoecker took the band photographs on the inside cover of Roxy Music also, and for several years took most of the Roxy group photographs, including the brilliant peacock feathered suit shot of Brian Eno (below), caught in cock-rock pose, taken at the same photo session that produced the For Your Pleasure inner sleeve essay of the band. Again, Stoecker centers the subject by creating a white-backdrop that is seductive and original, emphasizing the fiction of the rock pose, teasing out the collapse of gender distinctions as the heavily made-up, wonderfully androgynous Eno offers sex as guitar and welcomes us to take part in the Roxy Music dance.

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Karl was from Brooklyn, New York and went to art school at Syracuse University, where he co-founded a literary/art zine with Lou Reed. With the Lou Reed connection – and Antony Price’s innovative street-wise stylizations – Stoecker shot the brilliant back cover for Reed’s Bowie produced Transformer, now presenting his subjects against a night-time black curtain, a stylistically riskier mise-en-scene that, if you were not careful, tended to hide the subject instead of emphasizing it.

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Screen Shot 2020-08-03 at 9.04.03 AMMusically and visually, the classic Transformer album was produced by a talented collective of early 70s bright lights: Mick Rock took the iconic front cover shot of Lou Reed (hauntingly recreated for Lou’s 1982’s The Blue Mask); and for the back cover, Antony Price dressed and designed model Gayla Mitchell and roadie Ernie Thormahlen (he complete with plastic banana in his jeans). Karl Stoecker composed the scene and took the photos. Karl’s wife Patti recalls the album’s quality and considered the import of her husband’s contribution to the startling images:

The whole thing with he was a she…I had this album the day it came out, when I was a kid. I would even think, was this the same person? You know, when you’re a kid and you stared at a record cover for ten hours, you thought, was that the message? Is that him as a girl?

Patti Stoecker

The move from hair and make-up shots to a new kind of pin-up glamour sexuality that oozed of artifice and decadence ensured that both the covers of Transformer and Roxy Music would spark notoriety and much discussion of whether “he was a she” or “she was a he” (some people thought the first Roxy cover was Bryan Ferry in drag!) which suited perfectly Reed and Ferry’s idea of a new kind of street life, one of ambiguity and unsettled intent: mix it up, make it new, keep ’em guessing (Price: “Everyone thought [Gayla Mitchell] was a drag queen… I was working that hot-biker look way before everyone else got it!”). And so it was the same black night back-drop that defined the second Roxy Music cover For Your Pleasure as Stoecker, De Ville, Price and Ferry experimented with a more dangerous confection: the pin-up femme fatale, tripping on her heels towards us, ready to entrance and ensnare, death held back on a leash, for the moment, at least.
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III. Locating the Present 

The headline in the local Miami Times is not very flattering – ‘Photographer for Roxy Music and Lou Reed Found Living in Semi-Obscurity in South Beach’. But looking at the pictures on Patti Stoecker’s instagram page tells a very different story. ‘Man Returns Home. Lives in Tropical Paradise. Never Looks Back.’

When the Roxy machine geared up for Stranded, the new assignment presented a challenge for Stoecker, one that he did not necessarily take a liking to – a bleeding away of the subject into the background, a movement away from the pin-up glamour image towards narrative and cinematic story-telling: plane crash, jungle, film noir in red monochrome. ‘You may be stranded if you stick around’ sings Ferry on the new album opener, and you have to wonder if Stoecker, while making his way across the sweaty jungle carpet to take his final Roxy album cover shot, was thinking much the same thing..

Next: Stoecker photographs Bryan Ferry as Marilyn Cole in “Just Like You: ‘Stranded’ Cover Art – Part 2″ August 2020.

stoecker cafe

Credits: Nearly every photo in this piece is shot by Karl Stoecker. See http://www.karlstoeckerphotos.com.

Stranded (1973) original cover photograph, featuring Marilyn Cole, photography by Karl Stoecker, fashion by Antony Price, cover design by Nick de Ville, cover concept Bryan Ferry; Roxy machine group shot (clock-wise, Ferry, Stoecker, Puxley, Price, De Ville); Karl Stoecker, early 70s; Mae West and uncredited; Stoecker Vogue; Stoecker evolution (credited inline); Roxy Music cover; Eno by Stoecker; Transformer/For Your Pleasure Stoecker mash-up.


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Street Life – Part 3

Street Life – Part 1
Street Life – Part 2
Street Life (1973)

I. The Prince Charming of Sleaze

It was with a swift one-two punch that the Roxy machine delivered their latest single to the UK’s massive television audience:  “the ideological wing of the movement, Roxy Music stunned the Top of the Pops audience with a hyper-intense lip synch of their manic hit ‘Street Life’ …” recalled Glam-fan Jon Savage. Yet if you were watching carefully, you would notice competing tensions both in the music and in the image: Ferry had dropped the glitz and glitter and medallions of ‘Virginia Plain‘ and ‘Pyjamarama‘ and was dressed instead in a non-glam white tuxedo, finger-clicking with an insolent and disaffected swagger, like he was singing in the shower, or running through a set-list he knew would blow the audience to smithereens. The finger-clicks provided the intentional reproduction of a pop cliche, the idea that fashion was comprised of a set of ritualistic motifs, recognizable and identifiable, and therefore reproducible. In this Ferry beat David Bowie‘s ‘Fashion‘ by six years, and the idea was important enough that Ferry produced an entire song of finger-clicking menace, ‘The In-Crowd‘ (spending cash, talking trash!), a song that provided the singer with his next (solo) Top 20 hit in June 1974, six short months later.

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Now I’m blinded I can really see, yeah
No more bright lights confusing me, no

Don’t ask me why I’m feeling blue
Because loving you is all I can doooo

Hey good-looking boys gather around
The sidewalk papers gutter-press you down
All those lies can be so unkind
They can make you feel like you’re losing your mind

Street life, Street life, Street life, What a life
Street life, Street life, Street life, That’s the life

We knew that you had to try to be different after every album.
Phil Manzanera

“For the Roxy Music tour that Autumn,” wrote Simon Puxley, writing Bryan Ferry’s 1976 biography – straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were – “Bryan wore a white tuxedo and bow tie sartorial elegance at its most refined.” The tux was met with little fanfare at the first concert of the Stranded tour, on October 14 in Bath, England. NME scribe Nick Kent attended a show a few weeks later and was unimpressed, declaring that Ferry had stolen the tux from the “dead body of Johnny Ace…” 

Long gone is the old snake-eyed armadillo glamour: Bryan Ferry ’74 is a whole different barrel of monkeys, one minute crooning like a dissipated lead from The Desert Song, the next sashaying across the stage like El Supremo, the Prince Charming of Sleaze. And the real clincher is – he’s the first real rock ‘n’ roll star you could ever imagine regularly playing Russian Roulette alone in his hotel room after a gig.

Nick Kent

“We had to change – all those glitter groups sprung up and debased the look,” explained Ferry, responding to the glam-scene he saw around him, one that Roxy had influenced,Screen Shot 2020-06-14 at 6.21.09 PM shaped, and ultimately, with the release of Stranded, rejected. The black boa-feathers and glitter of the Brian Eno-era was gone: “I mean, I felt we had to drop all the overt glamour image mainly because all these other groups were starting to jump on the band-wagon and blow it out of all proportion.” Adding, tellingly, “Now, for me, it’s the Casablanca look, which I feel much better in anyway.” (Balfour).

In this regard ‘Street Life’ serves as an advertisement for the return of a new Roxy Music, a brand aimed at the demographically young and hip, audiences with disposable income for clothes, make-up, (Roxy) records and (Roxy) concerts. Keen to continue fulfilling the promise of “all styles served here,” Stranded arrived in new luxurious packaging and was presented as a new kind of Roxy movie. Back in the saddle was the same team that brought you the previous two successful albums – “Roxy Hair” by Smile; Fashion by Antony Price; Cover Design by Nicolas de Ville; Majordomo (whatever that is) did something; the Roxy gal was back, as was the reliable yet slightly menacing franchise promise “Stranded – The Third Roxy Music Album”. No wonder the record went to #1: the re-modelled Roxy came with all the flash and excitement that consumer advertising can bring – a visceral rush as strong as the best of a movie blockbuster experience: the opening credits, the dive from the cliff, the music, visuals, the golden girl..

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In order to seal the deal and get the audience on side, ‘Street Life’ adhered to the increasingly regimented requirements of glam-rock: gimmicky, sparkly, effervescent sex-music, dosed with a the promise of secret knowledge – street stories, hustlers, contraband exchanges.  Ferry claimed he wasn’t interested in feeding the singles market – “We’re not a singles band, really – I don’t want to find myself sliding down the Slade/T. Rex corridor of horror”. This, in spite of the fact that ‘Street Life’ was holy grail to the singles buying public, a Top 10 stunner that sent the album Stranded to Number 1 in the UK charts. Yet the singer was not necessarily being disingenuous: the goal was to create an effect (Puxley: the “all-embracing focus”) that promised inclusivity and hyper-modernity, while remaining typically, stubbornly, retro-subversive.

Audience expectation meant that Roxy Music would resume their reputation as cultural seers and arbiters of good taste, keeping an aesthetic promise to their fans to inform and help make sense of what was happening on the charts, on television and the streets no matter how marginalized or messed up the night might become. ‘Street Life’ offers the chance to cruise for sex (“come on with me cruising down the street…”). There is street prostitution (“Continental-style strasse girls…”) and frank acknowledgement on a pop record that the purchase of sex could was part of an evening’s entertainment (“who knows what you’ll see/who you might meet”). There was innuendo and smutty word play: “Back to nature boys” (being both a Nat King Cole song and an obvious call to, eh, arms). There were “Vassar girls too” – Vassar being the private women’s college in New York where, according to Urban Dictionary, “incredibly well educated woman who always gets their way, mostly by being on top all the time and telling the guy to shut up”. This was equal opportunity in the age of Lou Reed‘s Transformer and ‘Walk on the Wild Side‘.

‘Street Life’ sounds like it was fun to write – it certainly is fun to listen to, providing Ferry opportunity to plunder present-day street narratives, name-check influences and contemporary entertainers and mine them for laughter and innuendo (“Your jet black magic helps you celebrate, woo!”). Yet while the song was designed to play to its strengths, there is a melancholy within the the lyric that contradicts the outward swagger and gregariousness.  “Don’t ask why I’m feeling blue,” we are told, so we take the advice and don’t ask, but in truth this sense of ‘feeling blue’ hardly registers with the listener, so caught-up are we in this fun-time romp with tour guide Ferry. 

The conflicted emotional states that run through ‘Street Life‘ not only speaks to Ferry’s gifts as a writer (Paul Thompson: “Some of the lyrics aren’t obvious, you know, they’re clever but kind of hidden and a little bit subtle”), but also the cool effect that is generated by juxtaposing two opposing or contradictory ideas together. Roxy Music relish presenting elements from different eras, fashion trends, musical styles – “things being combined with a sense of irony and collage” (Reynolds). In this world the high art of the Mona Lisa is juxtaposed beside low art TV, magazines, advertising and pop music; the pink flamingo high life competes with street life  (“back to nature boys“); white tuxedoes replace glitter and glam; elegance and style (Roxy Music album covers), are set beside sleazy glamour (Roxy album covers!), and so on. 

Roxy biographer Michael Bracewell observed that “Many of Ferry’s greatest compositions describe the fate of the lonely, isolated romantic – always on the outside, even at the heart of the grandest party or the most exotic city. Ferry has said of himself, ‘I feel always to be on the inside looking out, or the outside looking in -‘  – the classic situation of the artist”. Inside, looking out. Outside, looking in. When Roxy landed their greatest glamour hit in the winter of 1973 Ferry had been at the party for over a year, and was now making preparations to leave, eager to find a way out, or – with the help of new material – find a new way in.

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II. Blinded by the Light 

‘Bryan Ferry’ is kind of boring really.
Bryan Ferry

The news comes in the form of brightness, like that rare treasure in ‘Beauty Queen’ – a quality Bryan Ferry and Simon Puxley call the buzz, the action, the centre, the energy. “The all-embracing focus, past present and future, the ineffable.” No star is shining brighter than Ferry in late 1973, yet he’s harassed, irritable: “wish everybody would leave me alone, yeh.” He needs to clear his head, get away from the fame, and the game of fame. New opportunities await – the buzz, the action:

Now I’m blinded I can really see, yeah
No more bright lights confusing me, no

There are two extraordinary double-takes in ‘Street Life’ and “now I’m blinded/I can really see” is the first of them. In keeping with the aroused state of the narrator, there’s a sex pun lurking within – historically the teenage masturbator had been warned not to have a wank should he end up going blind – and of course “blinded by the light” is a figure of speech that uses deliberate exaggeration or overstatement, which suits the song to a tee. And here is Ferry’s combo trick again – opposites placed back-to-back in a light/ darkness fusion (blinded/see), a common device in novels that map the hero’s journey towards enlightenment or epiphany (as in Joyce’s Ulysses and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, not to mention ‘For Your Pleasure‘  and ‘Virginia Plain’). There is the sense in ‘Street Life’ – and throughout Stranded – of a striving towards rapturous transformation – something we’ll see most clearly expressed in ‘Psalm‘.

As a single, ‘Street Life’ promotes and entertains, but as album opener the song provides additional insight into Ferry’s situation: with Roxy’s two hit albums, two hit singles, combined with his own solo hit album and single, Ferry is, as the new year 1974 approaches, “undeniably a star” (Balfour), “recognized as a leader of fashion,” harnessing an allusive charm, distant, yet “undeniably glamorous”. Listen to Puxley and Ferry work the PR:

“Bryan always travelled alone, though there were numerous adoring females who would have moved heaven and earth – sometimes almost did – to accompany him. But at concerts especially, Bryan demanded of himself, for both personal and professional reasons, an absolutely isolated concentration”.

The Bryan Ferry Story

To be sure, this type of male celebrity-mongering is cringe-worthy, but for its time, it got the job done. This image of an all-round personality (“he made it the year of the tuxedo”) who was Britain’s answer to Hugh Hefner (“There were the girls too. Often fashion models and always beautiful…”) delivered a new kind of rock star to the European public, one defined as much by the movies (Bond and Bogart), as by pop music. Writing as if he’d wandered into an Ian Fleming pot-boiler, Puxley turns the “rather boring” Bryan Ferry into the Implied (i.e., fictional) Bryan Ferry, the suave jet-setting bachelor who, when he is not wrestling sharks, drives to Oxford to “escape the ever-churning vortex of his own making”, ruthlessly “pushing the black Daimler to its limit, to end up in the early hours at yet another exotic haunt, a wild party in the Belgravia mansion of some profligate crypto-financer, or the high-strung tension barely controlled beneath the plush, aristocratic ambience of a Mayfair gaming club.” Phew.

Roxy fashion designer Antony Price nails the appeal and the public relations strategy along gender lines:

Women are not aware of Roxy Music in the way that men are. It’s a man’s band. It’s always been a man’s band. And he (Ferry) is a man’s idol; the young men have always admired him, he’s what they aspire to, to have taste like that, to be in the rock business but still have taste and credibility, which is very thin on the ground in the rock business, darling, let’s face it.

Antony Price

And so, Puxley and Ferry create a great Friday night movie, a rock-star secret agent who dabbles in pop music and sings the classics of the Great American Songbook. His cultural popularity is confirmed when he appears on TV doing a duet of ‘It’s My Party‘ with Cilla Black on her highly watched variety hour, the Cilla Black show. Electronics giant Phillips even creates a Bryan Ferry inspired record player called “The Shooting Star

Screen Shot 2020-04-26 at 9.47.36 AMThe designers of the Roxy machine (Price, Ferry, de Ville) delighted in gloriously artificial image making: “our currency was fantasy and glamour, with nothing left to chance” (Price).  Yet encoded in that engagement and harnessing of male glamour was a concern about the “boomerang” – the inevitable downslide – the trap of the ordinary and a deepening attention to, and concern for, the value of the work:

The sidewalk papers gutter-press you down
All those lies can be so unkind
They can make you feel like you’re losing your mind

Ferry presents a spiffy picture of the glamorous life while conversely (comically) giving it a kick to the stones. His fans want a piece of him (“wish everybody would leave me alone“). The press are relentless and critical (“All those lies can be so unkind”). During the 1973 Roxy tour Ferry dresses like a classic male snob, perfecting his acting repertoire (the Ferry duck-wobble, the Romantic croon). To promote ‘Street Life’ on television he sneers blankly at the camera while finger-clicking in time, like a senior member of the in-crowd delivering orders to the Friday night contingent:

Week end starts Friday soon after eight
Your jet black magic helps you celebrate

Your charm and bewitching “jet black magic” are the tools of your trade, your celebrity and your glamorous attraction (see ‘glamour’ word origins in Scottish witch-lore, Beauty Queen Cover Art). You are a glorious idea, but are feeling tormented, misunderstood  (“don’t ask why I’m feeling blue“). Taking note of the glam hang-over taking root in late 1973, Simon Reynolds describes the situation Ferry himself warned of in ‘Virginia Plain’:

Sophisticates are too clever to fall for the illusion any more, but secretly wish they could be fooled. What tantalizes is the remembrance of a long-gone possibility of absolute enchantment and entrancement.

Simon Reynolds

We choose then to file Ferry’s condition under the heading ‘Loss of Innocence’, exemplified by the the Stranded cover girl clutching a stem of Oriental white Lillies, a symbol for purity, sympathy, and innocence. And we see too that there has been a thematic consistency in Ferry’s writing to date, a desire to define the moment as honestly as possible: Roxy Music/’Virginia Plain‘ described the dream and the drive for fame.  ‘Pyjamarama‘/For Your Pleasure described the first wave of popularity. A mask was adopted, a persona to deal with the attention and the tensions (“I always wrote as a character” Ferry, 2020). With each new success the mask attaches itself more firmly to the surface of the skin, like fingernails digging into flesh. There is fear and uncertainty about future outcomes. Decisions are made. The band re-makes and re-models:

We were very conscious of not repeating ourselves. So after the first two albums [Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure], we needed to expand and do something different. Because we had a very different way of some writing, that’s why those tracks ended up the way they did because it wasn’t like conventional songwriting.

Phil Manzanera

Street Life‘/Stranded gives way to “Roxy Mania”. The mask settles, inseparable from your own skin now. Human relationships fail. All that remains is art and aesthetics, the striving for the perfection of art.  You reach for another cognac, stranded.

You may be stranded if you stick around

This is the second notable double-take on ‘Street Life’. Describing the Stranded tour, Puxley/Ferry observe “The tropical ambience of the stage-set arose from the new album art … a girl collapsed on the floor of the jungle .. the title describes her as ‘Stranded’ – which was also a double-edged allusion to the enigmatic concept the previous album’s most popular song [‘Do the Strand’], and furthermore appeared in the last line of a song on this new album ‘Street Life’: “you may stranded if you stick around.”

The continuation of the theme of the ‘strand’ through For Your Pleasure (‘Do the Strand’) and Stranded suggests that this search for change or enlightenment – or just new material – was, at this pivotal moment in Ferry’s career, still attainable. No matter that Stranded is the album that best describes the Ferry’s attempt to “escape the ever-churning vortex of his own making” – it is only when we arrive next year at the Weimar tainted decadence of Country Life that the Roxy front man finally admits defeat – stranded, between art and life, “Gestrandet an Leben und Kunst” (from the German stanza of Bitter Sweet).

And that’s really something..

Credits: Stranded close-up; credits Stranded back-cover; Stranded promo; 1972 advertisment for the “new”; Ferry cartoon promo 1973; Phillips “shooting star” promo, 1973/4; visions of Stranded – the brilliant Karl Stoecker cover photography center; some additional images, author not credited, the net.

Next: Just Like You: Stranded Cover Art.


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Street Life – Part 2

Screen Shot 2020-04-23 at 6.59.23 PMStreet Life – Part 1 
Street Life (1973)

Rock n’ roll was real. Everything else was unreal.
John Lennon

Roxy and Glam – 1: Sign of the Times

When Todd Haynes tried to capture the characters and music of the UK Glam scene in 1973 with his film Velvet Goldmine, he failed, according to the film’s un-cooperative  subject David Bowie, because Haynes missed entirely the innocence of the times, underplaying the fun, silliness, and fantastic “shopping” the period offered. Though Glam may have been a youthful response to a good number of serious societal issues –  “Glam was finally some kind of free expression of male homosexuality in popular culture” (Jon Savage) – it was silliness and frivolity that defined the movement, and, like many good-time relationships, it started to peter and die when it became formulaic, losing its zest and sparkle and sense of fun, say, around mid-1974 (about the time Bowie flashed his man-mutant genitalia to the world).

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Known to the band as “Song 1” during recording sessions for the new Roxy Music album Stranded  – indeed all the tracks had numbers – “Song 2”, “Song 3” (can you imagine a time when ‘Song for Europe‘ was known as “Song 6”?..) – ‘Street Life’ was always seen as a forerunner for the singles charts (“I do remember approaching it very much as a potential single” recalls Manzanera), having arrived with all ingredients intact: robust and insolent energy; dense, hard-rocking instrumentation; camp delivery; and, just to be sure, white-knuckled finger-clicking. In discussing ‘Street Life‘ for an article in Uncut (2012) Bryan Ferry observed: “I wanted it to be a high-energy, fun song – buzzy and vibrant”. Indeed, ‘Street Life’ is the track you hold up to Roxy nay-sayers as evidence that the band possessed a formidable muscular sound that went beyond the hype of fashion models and white tuxedos. (If you still find yourself arguing the point, put on ‘Editions of You‘ and demand the foe get the next round of drinks in).

Born in the pressure-cooker of the new – new album, new single, new band member (on salary, mind), new golden age (ah hem), and absolutely no new demos or written songs before entering the studio – ‘Street Life’ succeeds in spite of its hasty creation, with band members Thompson, Manzanera, Mackay and Jobson laying down their claim as vital and equal creators of the Roxy sound. With its camp dramatic lyric and vocal delivery a career win for Ferry, ‘Street Life’ is nevertheless a noticeably coherent group recording that lays down Roxy’s musical template for the rest of the 70s. At this juncture, each member, previously side-lined by the hoopla of the Ferry/Eno axis, gains considerable strength and confidence as solo musicians and as members of the insuppressible Roxy machine. From here on, the story is less about Bryan Ferry as Gatsby, and more about Roxy Music as a band.

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Written and performed in the key of Eb Major, ‘Street Life’ epitomizes the associated Eb musical characteristic of Cruelty and Harshness (wish everybody would leave me alone), Yet Full of Devotion (loving you is all I can do). It’s a neat trick, this tension between opposites, and explains why critics often use contrasts in describing the band’s music (my own favourite is Gary Sperrazza‘s description of ‘Street Life’ as “punk-rock in space”). Yet musically it feels like there is little musical ambiguity in the song at all. In fact, it’s pure punk, right from the start, with its highway-star drum intro courtesy of Paul Thompson, and grinding over-dubbed guitars and killer 6-note hook by Phil Manzanera. 

‘Street Life’ bleeds intensity, honesty and wit. For Ferry, the single was another stunner in a line of exciting, dramatic productions. In the same stylized manner of ‘If There is Something’ and ‘Strictly Confidential’, the song delivers a swinging performance, the singer acting out – petulant, inflated – the life of a put-upon rock star. Wish everybody would leave me alone, yeah. It’s a good gag – Ferry was white hot during this period, so why not write a tantrum overture composed entirely of talent, nerves and self-doubt:

Wish everybody would leave me alone, yeah
They’re always calling on my telephone
When I pick it up there’s no one there
So I walk outside just to take the air

With new-found fame came troubles, and Ferry was in fact getting harassed during this period: two teenage fans, Denise and Jackie, would camp outside the singer’s Redcliffe Square apartment, and make calls from a red telephone-box across the road, and watch intently as “Ferry would move past the window to answer the phone, and then would hang up” (Buckley, 152). Ferry’s solution to these intrusions on his privacy was to escape, and escape is exactly what we come to Roxy Music for. When Bowie decides to get some action he self-consciously “yawns” as he breaks up his room and “runs to the centre of things” (‘Sweet Thing’). Ferry on the other hand neither breaks up his room nor yawns: he hits the street with all the pent up desire of a druggie on the prowl for an eagerly anticipated dose of sex and drugs (and we all know where that leads – another top 10 hit single!). Stuck in the house, pacing back and forth, genuinely hemmed in, Ferry declares it’s time to get out, find a party, spend some cash, and if you, dear and loyal listener, want to come along for the ride, then all the better. Come on with me cruising down the street, we’re told and so we join the superstar on an updated version of the ‘Virginia Plain‘ rollercoaster ride.  I like tacky things and low life as much as high life” Ferry confessed in 1973 and, just like the black panther that susses our lurid intent on the cover of For Your Pleasure, we are caught staring with Eveline and Constanze into the blaring headlights:

Come on with me cruising down the street
Who knows what you’ll see, who you might meet
This brave new world’s not like yesterday
It can take you higher than the milky way

There’s genuine excitement here, not a yawn or histrionic gesture to be seen or heard. If part of the Roxy promise is to take us closer to the thrill of it all, this is Ferry’s first opportunity to dance the cha-cha from a position of real advantage and knowledge. The British Roxy Music Winter tour of 1973 – rolled out after the recording of Stranded, but before the album’s release – was so successful it had proceeded around the country like a “tremendous triumphal march” (Balfour). Ferry was white hot both as solo artist and Roxy front-man. Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure had been big sellers, and the solo release These Foolish Things was extremely profitable – staying in the charts long enough to still be selling when his second solo album Another Time, Another Place placed in the charts. The clarity of celebrity experience is made manifest by the time ‘Street Life’ is recorded and released: we are invited to taste and experience the flavours of the mountain streamline for ourselves with the added bonus that our the Implied Bryan Ferry is acting as tour guide. The listener is summoned: Come on with me cruising down the street, and we do not hesitate. This brave new world’s not like yesterday we are told. We are all stars now. Take my hand: Who knows what you’ll see, who you might meet. And we’re off, the boys and girls of the suburbs fleeing the hum-drum days of school or the Industrial revolution, like some re-enactment of a Joycean epiphany, on a mad journey heading for Nighttown in Ulysses.

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If ‘Stranded’ was Roxy Music’s Goldfinger moment – a critical and popular work that influenced culture, shifted taste and fuelled high sales of future releases – then ‘Street Life‘ was the blockbuster teaser trailer for the film, cut to reflect the sign of the times as they appeared in the grey and drab early 70s. By the winter of 1973, Ferry delivered what he had prophesied a year previously in ‘Virginia Plain‘: a new movie for new times, a cinematic art-project that brought together sex, glamour, luxury and irony as a stylistic device, authenticity through the pursuance of sex and glamour. “From one hotspot to another,” noted Simon Puxley, ghost-writing Ferry’s biography in 1976, “til dawn if need be, to locate the true experience.” Oh, that sounds like fun, and at the time of ‘Street Life’s release, the county needed it. Movie critic Tim Blanks describes the landscape of the times:

One of the things that struck me most about the 2011 movie version of John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was how dismal its depiction of early-70s London looked. But it was set just when Bowie was unleashing Ziggy Stardust, and Ferry was launching Roxy Music. Somewhere other than MI5’s grey, grim world, a new breed of glamorous young nightcrawlers was exploding into life.

Tim Blanks

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Roxy and Glam – 2: The Strange Case of Adrian Street

The groundswell of circumstances that created Glam and its glamorous young nightcrawlers have been well documented (Reynolds/Savage), yet, for our money, the most interesting sign of the times is the example of the coal-miner-turned-professional wrestler Adrian Street, the man who, in the laddish days of 1973, was one of the first fighters to put on make-up, boa-feathers, platforms and glitter – and bring it all into the bloke-culture of British wrestling. The son of a Welsh miner, Street went down the coal-pit at 15, following in the footsteps of his Dad and his brother.  A year later – as they say in the movies – “Adrian decided that this was not the life for him” (ProWrestlingStories).  He came back to the surface, shed his filthy clothes and made for London, emboldened with velvet goldmine self-belief – he came back to Wales a known commodity: a TV star (the b/w photos above and below is Street visiting his Dad at the pits after his success). “There’s nothing I like more than somebody telling me I can’t do something,” said Adrian of the photo, “I was saying, ‘F-U, bastards!’ It was very, very satisfying.”

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Street’s influence on musicians in the early 70s was duly noted by the press. Marc Bolan of T-Rex was asked where he got his ideas for his makeup and his costumes, and he said “from watching Adrian Street on television.” Street sold himself as a brand, and understood the music business and professional wrestling had a lot in common:

Interviewers would ask if I invented glam rock. I’d always say, ‘I didn’t invent it, though we sure borrowed a lot from each other.’ But I often wonder if Ziggy  Stardust wasn’t a direct copy of what I was doing at the time.

Whether by accident or gleeful intent, Ferry conjures up Adrian Street‘s zeitgeist in ‘Street Life’ if not by name (though I reserve judgment) then by Roxy Music’s association with a movement in full swing, at that time influencing every corner of British life. This brave new world’s not like yesterday, Ferry tells us, as if speaking to Street and the other thousands of kids looking to escape their “no future” fate. By referencing Aldous Huxley‘s famous novel of down-trodden dystopia, Brave New World, Ferry sets the scene for a guided tour through the new reality, authentic and gritty, yet blessed with a touch of magic.

Screen Shot 2020-06-08 at 12.10.15 PMI was really trying to give you a shot of the street.
Lou Reed 

I like tacky things and low life as much as high life.
Bryan Ferry 

Street life, Street life, Street life, What a life
Street life, Street life, Street life, That’s the life

Roxy and Glam – 3: Walk on the Wild Side

The idea of portraying a ‘street life’ in all its gritty filth and colour can be seen as products mostly of America – or, at least, the America that had the greatest impact on Brits musicians such as David Bowie, Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno. For many, The Velvet Underground (1964-73) were the pioneers of what The Guardian called the ability to put “drugs, fetishism, infidelity and heartbreak into song.” As we know, by 1967 the musical landscape was defined largely by the escapism offered by the The Beatles and Procol Harum singles, positing that drugs, sex and transcendence were a path to the doors of perception. Formed in the same milieu that created the Jefferson Airplane,  the scruffy Velvets (they “looked like the Addams family”, noted Iggy Pop), didn’t buy into this message – “I fucking hated hippies” said drummer Maureen Tucker while Reed later observed that “flower-power … was a nice idea but not a very realistic one.” For the Velvets, and Lou in particular, the strength of the new openness provided the opportunity to write about REALITY, no matter how sordid: “The ability to shock with taboo subjects such as buying drugs has waned today, but until 1967’s I’m Waiting for the Man, music was devoid of an overtly decadent tale such as this”. (Guardian).

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The Brits had plugged into the idea of American street-wise authenticity and coupled it with the emerald Isle’s natural tendency for camp, wit, play-acting, and a piss-take culture that did not allow to take yourself too seriously (they frequently turned on their heroes. See: Bryan Ferry solo career 1975-1979). American rockers generally liked their realism straight-up, as in Iggy Pop‘s ‘Down on the Street’ (floatin’ around/I’m a real low mind), to the spectacle of Lou Reed and John Cale busking in 1965, offending New York’s lunch crowd with:

Heroin
It’s my life
And it’s my wife

‘Heroin’, (quoted in Wyman).

And, let’s not forget one of the more subversive yet popular street-wise rock songs: Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side, a perfect encapsulation of where the artistic sentiment was on other side of the Atlantic:Screen Shot 2020-05-03 at 3.05.38 PM

Candy came from out on the Island
In the backroom she was everybody’s darling
But she never lost her head
Even when she was giving head


She says, “hey baby, take a walk on the wild side”
Said, “hey babe, take a walk on the wild side”

And the colored girls go …

In stark contrast to America in the early 70s, the Brits were living in the Dark Ages – a three-day work-week was imposed by the Government to save on electricity due to an angry and heart-breaking miners strike; a rapid crippling of the economy was brought on by rampant inflation and the slow but inevitable closure of the once-glorious smokestak industries. There was, it could be said, a self-consciousness built into the times: a sense that lives and times were changing. Sexual identity rights were, albeit haphazardly and with a hint of ridicule, at the forefront of what ordinary people were talking about, expressing at least a fascination or repulsion for the difference and change that was taking place around them. David Bowie was wearing a dress. Freaky Brian Eno was getting all the girls. The yobs and cavemen were still out there, but now they were dressing like Kubrick‘s Clockwork Droogies – and in between the violence and mayhem the Droogies were watching television, and had opinions too. 

Screen Shot 2020-06-08 at 8.17.49 PMBritain in 1973 had three TV channels (BBC 1, BBC 2, ITV). The population of the country was 54 million, and 93% of which were able to watch programmes (BBC).  One episode of Coronation Street – where Valerie was electrocuted by a faulty hairdryer (!) –  had over 18 million people watch her death and subsequent funeral. Top of the Pops had 15 million viewers on a typical Thursday night –  that’s 15 million people watching Roxy’s “hyper-intense” performance of ‘Street Life’ and the latest glam sensations and outfits. The same massive audience gave Sweet three hit singles in 1973 – Blockbuster (Jan); Hell Raiser (April); Ballroom Blitz (Sept) – and it wasn’t just the kids buying the records. Many of us have memories of mums dancing in diminutive living rooms to Cum on Feel the Noize by Slade (“We get wild, wild, wild!”). Jon Savage confirms this sense of national pride in the art of silliness (The Goodies, Monty Python), as glam was about getting out there and having fun: “I think it’s been undervalued critically because it didn’t appear to take itself too seriously. It had that horror of pomposity. But it wasn’t like some little ghetto. It was full of vigour and full of life, and it bossed English pop music for two or three years” (Savage).

The Manhattan sleaze of Lou Reed and Iggy and the Stooges, dressed itself up in glitter, but only after it had visited and recorded in Britain. Contrasting sharply with Iggy Pop’s Detroit blitzkrieg approach (We are the street-walking cheetahs with hearts full of napalm), David Bowie sold back to the Brits their fondness for tacky street sex and faded glamour when he materialized from another planet (courtesy of Doctor Who’s Tardis) in the shape of Ziggy Stardust.  Yet Ziggy himself struck a pose that was pure street-level rent-boy availability, mixing Bowie’s love of street-smart Velvet Underground with a sci-fi rock ‘n roll sensibility that gleefully drew attention to itself in a self-mocking and ironically distant manner.  My set is amazing, Bowie told the faithful, It even smells like a street. And who were we to argue?

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I’m up on the eleventh floor and I’m watching the cruisers below
Bowie, ‘Queen Bitch’

Roxy Music were having none of it though. By the time the band released ‘Street Life‘ in December 1973 they were onto something entirely different, a twisted yet utterly  convincing commitment to change…

See you in a few weeks for Street Life – Part 3

I hope you are all keeping well, are safe, and are being kind to yourself and others. We have lost so many friends and loved ones in the past months, and we continue to struggle across our world to recognize the strength of compassion and the senselessness and waste of poverty and violence.

Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth. William Faulkner

To glam star Steve Priest of the Sweet, Rest in Peace (23 February 1948 – 4 June 2020). Thanks for the memories.

 


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Street Life – Part 1

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 8.57.37 AMStreet Life (1973)
Street Life (wiped Top of the Pops performance)

We are the street-walking cheetahs with hearts full of napalm.
Iggy and the Stooges

Street Life‘ starts agitated and stays that way for three minutes and twenty-six seconds. There is congestion, a need to break free of the crowd. Simulated traffic horns sound off, overlap, warning us to stand clear, imminent danger. The song begins with a “cacophony of traffic noise,” Bryan Ferry tells us, “played by (Eddie) Jobson on synthesiser and Andy Mackay on sax, mingled with real sounds of the street – car horns  – and then the vocal enters” (Uncut). But Andy reckons it’s a Mellotron, not a synthesizer. Paul Thompson reckons it’s the sound of a pre-recorded Moroccan market, not a Mellotron. The listener doesn’t know what to make of it. New boy Eddie Jobson‘s presence is keenly felt, a statement of intent as he holds down unapologetic, dissonant chords. Get out of the way, he says, here we come. (“That’s the sort of thing Eddie would get up to,” recalls Phil Manzanera fondly, “he was very young and you couldn’t control him”). As usual, it is Paul Thompson that signals the break-out, the clearing from the crowd. He executes a drum-skin pounding of staggering power and we’re off – wish everybody would leave me alone – yeah!”

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Peak Glam 

Sticking to their strategy of opening albums with hard-driving rock songs (Re-Make/Re-Model; Do the Strand), Roxy Music returned to the UK pop limelight with an exciting appearance on Top of the Pops on Thursday November 22nd, 1973, to promote their new single ‘Street Life‘ – their third straight UK Top 10 hit single, and the first track taken from the new LP, The Third Roxy Music album Stranded, strategically released one day after the TOTP appearance. Stranded was the band’s first Number 1 record – an accomplishment that would not be repeated in the UK for another seven years until 1980s Flesh and Blood.

These were heady times and an important commercial peak for Roxy in the 70s: a term was coined by the mainstream press to capture the hysteria that followed band appearances – “Roxy Mania” (for shits and giggles check out a glossary of all-things “mania” here). In these heady days of peak Glam, the band and its off-spring were everywhere: Bryan Ferry was still occupying the chart with These Foolish Things (and would do so for another 42 weeks, still in the charts by the time of his second solo release Another Time, Another Place, and even holding on (by one day) when The Fourth Roxy Music album Country Life was released a year later). A ‘Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall‘ was still selling and remained in the singles charts after a run of 9 weeks (finally dropping out two days after the ‘Street Life’ Top of the Pops appearance). Ex-band member Brian Eno had released an album – the collaboration No Pussyfooting with Robert Fripp – on November 3rd 1973. Eno’s first proper solo release Here Come the Warm Jets – recorded with 3/4s of the Roxy line-up, Paul, Andy, and Phil – was already in the can. And to top it off, Roxy Music had been on tour for six weeks before the public had a chance to hear Stranded or ‘Street Life’. “Looking back,” Ferry would recall years later, with some understatement,  “it seems like a whirlwind of events” (Uncut).

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When Bryan Ferry took his trip down the mean streets of London in the Fall of 1973, he was a rushed and frantic man, having to navigate the recent surge of critical and commercial success. It was the height of Glam, but Roxy were already changing: Stranded marked the first group recordings without Eno. (The reasonable and pragmatic Eno had uncharacteristically lost his cool and quit Roxy Music, pinned down by the passive-aggressive Ferry and a willing management team, who had a different vision for the band). Replacing Eno, the young teenager and accomplished musician Eddie Jobson was drafted in for keyboards and strings (and anything else musical – tin box, broken flute – the guy could play anything). Two bassists replaced the talented John Porter: John Gustafson was hired for recordings and Sal Maida for live work. Chris Thomas no longer shared co-producing credits with John Anthony, but instead was given control of the new album, even adding to the list of Roxy’s bass players by playing the (un-credited) bass on ‘Street Life’. And Bryan Ferry had waltzed into the BBCs Top of the Pops studios to mime and finger-click in a very un-Glam white tuxedo..

Wish everybody would leave me alone, yeah
They’re always calling on my telephone

When I pick it up there’s no one there
So I walk outside just to take the air

You’d be hard pressed to recall a hit single or album opener wanting its audience to fuck off, yet ‘Street Life’ holds its irritability like a key, a point of reference.  “It wasn’t the happiest time in Roxy’s history” recalled Andy Mackay, reflecting on the ill-feeling surrounding Eno hasty departure. The band were reeling from losing one of their original members and an important ally and friend, while solo Ferry was creating headlines with his mash-ups of Dylan and ‘These Foolish Things.’ “There was something of a battle going on between Bryan and everyone else,” Mackay noted, “Bryan’s solo success was threatening to blur the line between Roxy and him. Bryan definitely felt that Roxy was his band and he could push it in the directions he wanted. He didn’t realize that your best work tends to come from a bit of struggle, rather than having things all your own way.”
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Keep the Chocolates

In spite of his success, Bryan Ferry was having to adapt to new realities:  ‘Take me on a roller coaster/Take me for an airplane ride’ he’d sung on Top of the Pops in 1972, but a short year later he realized that the roller coaster he’d dreamed of was travelling at peak velocity while taking sharp corners. “To counter the encroaching adulation,” Max Bell observed during a Melody Maker interview at Ferry’s apartment, “he has been forced to change his phone number (“Wish everybody would leave me alone”) and install an Ansafone which, when played back, revealed a mixture of bone fide messages and very silly crank calls.” Two teenage fans had taken to observing Ferry in his upper flat from the vantage point of an outside telephone box, making calls and hanging up when the singer answered, taking great at delight at his arm-waving frustration. (One journalist remarked, That’s what you get for labelling your doorbell “FERRY,” in black felt-tip capitals). The fraught artist told journalist Bell: “Since I give about twenty-four hours a day to the public, they should leave me alone the rest of the time. The worst aspects are when one is virtually imprisoned in a hotel or leaving concerts. That can be frightening.”

Just as the narrator of ‘Virginia Plain‘ sings his cautionary tale while luxuriating in the imagined roller-coaster ride of bright lights and pink flamingos. ‘Street Life‘ provides us with an update on fame – or, at this early stage – the rapid arrival of heightened experience, something that Ferry likens to an epiphany:  “now I’m blinded I can really see“. Throwing off the cloak of irritability (for the moment), Ferry frames  the circumstances of the au courant modern pop star in order to launch a spectacular walk through this “brave new world,” an experience so audacious it juxtaposes the mean streets of Iggy Pop and Lou Reed with a very funny roll-call of best-selling milk chocolates: Take you higher than the milky way/Weekend starts Friday soon after eight/Your jet black magic helps you celebrate .. 

‘Street Life’ follows previous album front-runners Re-Make/Re-Model and Do the Strand as fresh statements of intent – this is where we are taking our stand, this time. The close of For Your Pleasure plays out the burial of a tongue-tied, schizophrenic persona, while Stranded, with its metallic, rattling ultra-modernity (the sound at the beginning of ‘Street Life’ is an Eno quote, no debate), signals a new manifesto, a new potency and energy – hell, a new line-up – that is just as muscular as the one before it.  On a roll, and game for a dare, Roxy step up by releasing one of their finest singles and in doing so declare war on their peers – so you want to take a walk on the wild side? – get a load of this. The band’s performance to promote ‘Street Life‘ on Top of the Pops acknowledges yet conquers the tropes of high Glam, announcing the movement effectively dead – replaced, naturally, with a new dance. “I wanted it to be a high-energy, fun song – buzzy and vibrant,” said the finger-clicking Ferry in 2009. “I hope the words convey some of that joie de vivre”. To be sure, Ferry was writing at his peak, the words and attitude an epitome of cool. But it wouldn’t have worked – not one bit – if the music put down by the members of the band was not as every bit as powerful and ballsy as the swagger and intent of the lyric.

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The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance

Allan Watts

Next – ‘Street Life Part 2’the sidewalk papers gutter-press you down!

Credits: Ferry gets blinded, courtesy Village Voice; montage courtesy of Top of the Pops Glam camera-man, lovingly screened and captured by RMS; original single, 1973; original promo poster, found on e-Bay; the brilliant inner sleeve, Stranded.


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These Foolish Things – Part 2

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These Foolish Things,
Bryan Ferry, These Foolish Things, 1973
These Foolish Things – Part 1

Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.
Jane Austen

After I started with my solo career, doing classic songs written by other people, I think that had a lot of influence on my work. I became more interested in songwriting as opposed to making records.
Bryan Ferry

In October 1973, the two brightest pop stars of the day both released covers albums a mere fourteen days apart from one another. David Bowie’s Pin Ups (October 5th) and Bryan Ferry’s These Foolish Things (October 19th) entered the UK charts on the same day on November 3rd, 1973. Legend has it that Ferry threatened lawsuits and injunctions against Bowie’s management. Ferry later confirmed the truth was less dramatic – that Bowie “cheerfully” rang him one day and said “Just to let you know, I’ve just done an album like yours.” No law suits, injunction, no bad feelings (we presume). For Bowie, his covers LP was a lark, an excuse to slow down for a few weeks, put out new product with minimal effort – keep the punters happy. But Ferry was going for greater spoils: the death of the cult of originality. Part false part true, it was time to present to his new young audience the idea that the modern personae was a creature defined – formed and informed – by books, poetry, cinema, movies, art, music, magazines, tabloid newspapers, clothes, language and style: “for me,” said 50s pop icon Frank Sinatra, capturing and reflecting the desires of post-war American society  – “a tuxedo is a way of life.”

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In February 2020, Bryan Ferry released Bryan Ferry – Live at the Royal Albert Hall, 1974 an album of solo selections containing nine of fourteen tracks from These Foolish Things. By the time of the live concert in December 1974 Ferry had (co-)written and released Roxy Music’s Stranded and Country Life, and recorded another album of (mostly) standards with Another Time, Another Place, delivering its sublime versions of ‘The In-Crowd‘ and ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes‘. The fact that the Foolish Things material was obviously important to Ferry – and still is, given that the Albert Hall album had plenty more live tracks to choose from – its heavy inclusion in the set confirms Ferry was willing to forge a parallel career path that looked self-consciously to the past (Foolish Things), in order to create a fresh European sound that provided a roadmap to the future (Stranded). Whether this corresponds to a demise – or a “dilution” of the Roxy aesthetic (as Phil Manzanera put it), is entirely up to you, reader, and your discerning taste and preferences.

Reviews for this month’s release of Live at the Albert Hall have been very strong, which is surprising considering the camp nature of much of the material (viz ve ‘It’s My Party‘, ‘Sympathy for the Devil‘) and the sense of the album as a you-had-to-be-there keepsake. (For a great read of happy reminiscences of those who attended the concert in ’74, see the VivaRoxyMusic forum discussion here). Echoing widespread raves for the release, Pitchfork declared that Albert Hall “captures the prolific Roxy Music leader in top form.” Spill Magazine gave the album a high 4.5/5 rating; and Rolling Stone enthused that the concert “is a must-hear snapshot of one of the Seventies’ finest artists on an absolute tear.”

The Royal Albert Hall solo show was an important gig both strategically – The Royal Albert Hall of the early 70s didn’t put on many rock shows (Pink Floyd were banned in 1969 for shooting off cannons) – and it was a big deal musically, with a large cast of Roxy and solo supporting players to make it all work (“Basically, I’m using the people who played on the albums,” said Ferry at the time, “including the orchestra, that’s 55 people”).  The concert also marked an important transition milestone for Ferry: by the time he had put on the now-famous formal dinner jacket and bow tie for the show, the look was already over a year old, the singer having slipped into its skin a year previously as part of another genre-busting visual shift with prime project Roxy Music, away from the strategic glittery appropriation of Glam (1971-72), and into the ‘Gentleman of Style’ formal classicism as demonstrated by the music on The Third Roxy Music Album and the 1973-74 Stranded Tour.

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Pitchfork summarized Ferry’s appeal and public personae in 1974 as “being Bob Dylan in 1965, Clark Gable in 1939, and Oscar Wilde in 1895…He commanded his space, he bulldozed the rickety fence between sincerity and irony for a generation of acolytes, and his hair was fabulous.” The hair was fabulous alright, and so was the exquisite taste – Ferry could not put a foot wrong in 1973-74, relying on his brilliant capabilities in art and design to dress and present himself to the public as his own argument for success.

His ambition was, as usual, to get to the kernel of pop-cultural sensibility,” writes Roxy cultural critic Paul Stump when coming to grips with the Bryan Ferry persona in 1973. Yet ambition only partly reveals the complete absorption of Ferry’s life into his art, for, in spite of the pink flamingos and good taste, at heart of the Roxy machine there is an essential weirdness of presentation, a filtered condition of an artistic sensibility applying English tropes to American ideas and images.

Take, for instance, the beef-cake picture of 1960s hot-rod boy toy Bryan Ferry, tee-shirted, gold-chained, dark-haired and daring. Ferry goes into this pose as a statement ofScreen Shot 2020-02-28 at 7.02.08 AM independence: this clearly isn’t Roxy Music (Roxy’s covers are cinematic scenes as sleeve art), this is Bryan Ferry as Elvis or Brando – a solo star performing the standards for you, dear audience, updated with a just a hint of something new to keep you interested.  The moment Ferry slipped into the skin of his record though, it changed the trajectory of his career (“through every step/a change”). Absorbing the language and structure of classic pop and the Great American Songbook served to heighten Ferry’s musical sense of himself and what he could perform. “I was there learning all these songs by people I’d always admired like Cole Porter, Smokey Robinson, etc. and it made me want to master the art of writing a good melody,” before adding  – “these people had in fact more influence on me than the so-called avant-garde” (NME, May 79).

The stage was set then: in October 1973 Ferry started his solo career wearing the skin of a 1950s pin up model who had been invited to partake in the creative spoils available within the New York City Brill Building hit-making factory to absorb the nuances of melody and composition as written by the great pop composers of the mid-20th century: Goffin & King; Leiber & Stoller; Lennon & McCartney. By the time Ferry got to the end of the recording sessions he had increased in confidence and was ready to move into his real zone of interest: the great jazz standards of the 20th Century – in particular, the Stachey & Maschhwitz 1935 classic These Foolish Things.

Frank Sinatra had covered ‘Foolish Things’ on his last album for Columbia Records,  Point of No Return. Ella Fitzgerald covered the song, adding additional lyrics for good measure.  Billie Holiday covered it. Nat King Cole cut a splendid version that has never been bettered. Sam Cooke covered it. So did the giants of bop and post-bop jazz – John Coltrane. Charlie Parker. Chet Baker… You can almost see Ferry in AIR Studios salivating at the chance to record the song, the buzz of being in the same company as his musical heroes (“Opens up exclusive doors oh wow!“), gleefully fussing with his new musical prodigy Eddie Jobson over the details – tone, musical arrangement, performance. (“I was the whole orchestra” noted Jobson on those early sessions,  “because Bryan couldn’t really afford an orchestra back then”). Taking the arrangement for ‘Foolish Things’ that Jobson and Paul Thompson had so carefully and expertly worked up, Ferry approached the microphone to perform his take on a timeless classic, slipping into the skin of Sinatra as he did so. Finding his form in the first few lines, his enunciation affected and clear, Bryan Ferry transformed himself into an interpreter of standards, an arbitrator of taste for a generation.

Q: On a long-term basis, the idea of doing standards, being a modern Sinatra, is intrinsically appealing?

AThere are many beautiful songs I’d like to do – so why limit oneself?

Bryan Ferry, NME, December 1974

Ferry had two promotional films made in support of the two best cuts on These Foolish Things: ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’, and title track ‘These Foolish Things‘. ‘Hard Rain’ is genuinely exciting, filmed with energy and verve, with a keen eye on making the Thursday night slot on Top of the Pops, while ‘Foolish Things’ is the unloved and glum double. It’s a matter of form and function: we are in forlorn, emotive territory after all. Broken romance. Fleeting memories. Self-conscious performance, hand-on-brow: “Oh, will you never let me be?/Oh, will you never set me free?”

Ferry not only sings ‘Foolish Things’, he performs it:

The smile of Garbo and the scent of roses
The waiters whistling as the last bar closes
The song that Crosby sings
These foolish things
Remind me of you

On stage at that Albert Hall concert in December 1974, you can hear the audience howl with excitement the moment Ferry adopts his Sinatra persona for concert closer ‘These Foolish Things’. The audience enthusiasm is not based on the song, necessarily, but the opportunity for their hero to step out of his rock star role and act like an actor and matinee idol while performing a scene from what has become one of their favorite television films: the ‘Foolish Things’ promo. Ferry cheerfully collapses the difference between rock star and actor as part of his natural art-background modus operandi, earning the credit bestowed on him by cultural observer Michael Bracewell as being in the “the presence of an entirely postmodern sensibility at work.” True to form, NME scribe Max Bell was at the gig that chilly December night and describes the encore: “Ferry comes back to croon one more number,  ‘These Foolish Things’, cigarette drooping Sinatra style. Jobson tinkles the piano in the next apartment while Ferry sings about Crosby singing.” In short, to wrap his show, Ferry performs for his audience a cover version of a song that re-enacts the film he made of himself performing a cover version of the song, which inScreen Shot 2020-03-01 at 6.41.27 AM itself is a enactment of the moment of the song’s composition. (Phew!). Postmodern sensibility indeed.

Clocking Bing Crosby as one of many singers of ‘These Foolish Things’ and also a referenced character in its story (the song that Crosby sings), Ferry invites visions of old Hollywood into his performance, re-creating a popular continuum of male celebrity across the ages – Astaire, Crosby, Bogart, and Sinatra. In the promotional clip Ferry serves up a white piano set against a background of pink flamingo shade. An unscrewed and half empty whiskey bottle sits open beside a burning cigarette. The mood is sombre but heated, the shadow of tropical plants paint prison bars on Ferry’s face, who, deep in performance, raises his eyes to the heavens, chasing down memories that will not settle. He smokes. He drinks. He emotes. The pianist plays the song that Crosby sings. We’re in Casablanca, and we are in Casablanca.

Today, if you feel so inclined, you can visit a simulacrum of Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca city (it is simulacrum, for Rick’s Cafe is neither film set or real historical location). The description in the tourist blurb reads like the interior set-direction for Ferry’s promotional film:

curved arches, a sculpted bar, balconies, balustrades as well as beaded and stencilled brass lighting and plants that cast luminous shadows on white walls

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Ferry did Bogart in 2HB, but the homage was based on literary allusion, while the clothes were still razzle dazzle Glam. Ferry did the cigarette smoking Lonely Man in Do the Strand, but he was standing left-of-stage, while on the other side of the room the jukebox sang Sinatra, not Ferry. And then Eno left Roxy Music and the band re-calibrated into something stronger, not better necessarily, but more musical, fulfilling the prophecy at the close of For Your Pleasure: “Through every step, a change/You watch me walk away.” Foolish Things was a surprise hit and Ferry took command of center stage. (“It was a weird situation to be in, two gold albums which were selling without live promotion”).

Buoyed by the success, but ever loyal to Roxy Music – snapping at one reporter, “You’re assuming that my solo career is more important than Roxy, which is not in fact the case” (Sounds) – Ferry was nevertheless fundamentally changed by the recording of his first solo album. “I consider ‘These Foolish Things‘ to be the third Roxy Music album due to the influence it had on my writing” (2009).

Ferry went into 1973 as a rock futurist, the leader of a demented band of musical personalities and collisions, and came out the end of it as the new superstar of male classicism, the embodiment of new money, a style icon for thousands of kids who understood intuitively that it was all showbiz, a con against authenticity, a kick-in-the-balls against seriousness in a world were a heightened cinematic and a musical self-identity was all that mattered. Ferry went through Alice’s rabbit-hole knowing he was being watched, which was the only way to go, for if you weren’t being watched, you were nothing. This was social life as arch spectacle and love as a foolish thing, mediated through showbiz and presentation, a re-telling of the story of your life in the only manner you felt comfortable with  – as a consumer. Ferry capitalized on this zest for distance and irony and, for those that were watching, marketed his image as a man living outside of the narrative of emotion and sentiment, yet yearning for an authentic life lived, just like his heroes Bogart and Sinatra.

FERRY: (Singing) A cigarette that bears a lipstick’s traces, an airline ticket to romantic places – and still, my heart has wings. (NPR, ‘Live At The Royal Albert Hall, 1974‘).

The Royal Albert Hall places Ferry center stage. He sings the same songs that Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald once sang. He stands under those kleig lights, in the spotlight, on no less a stage than the prestigious Royal Albert Hall.

Ferry appears to be acting a role within the often impressionistic narrative of the songs – and yet the acting of each role is already in itself a stylised caricature.
Michael Bracewell.

I love that mohair suit in the spotlight business. [Frank Sinatra] has an immaculateness which I admire. His best stuff is like this … the sort of thing you put on when you get home in the rain. Pour a couple of martinis, sling it on the phonogram, kick off your shoes, put your feet up, and survey your G-Plan furnished apartment.
Bryan Ferry

‘These Foolish Things’ was not a celebration of rock but a subversion of it.
Simon Reynolds

Stranded: left without the means to move from somewhere (Oxford Dictionary).

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Titbits: An extra this month for fans of The Albert Hall gig. The original NME review by Max Bell, printed a week or so after the event. Enjoy!

Bryan Ferry: Royal Albert Hall, London

Max BellNew Musical Express, 28 December 1974

THE ALBERT HALL is teeming, brim-full with the beautiful awaiting the first solo airing of his master’s voice in the Capital.

Onstage an electric-acoustic seven-piece, Bugatti and Muskett, are performing a pleasant warm-up set. Although the material isn’t exhilarating, and definitely sub-Byrds, the playing presence of B.J. Cole on pedal steel and Barry De Souza (drums), establishes their credentials.

The audience are pleased but concentrating on other things. At ten to nine, there’s a momentary hush as the lights dim, then a huge roar announces the emergence of the Group and Orchestra, the former resplendent in tuxedos and looking distinctly self-conscious.

But just as you’re musing the wisdom of that venture, eyes left while a huge spotlight follows the evening star across the marble. Ferry, formally smart in dark dinner suit, and patent leather hair, swaggers to a centre microphone and introduces himself with ‘Sympathy For The Devil’.

Behind him Jobson fiddles and John Porter’s guitar works intermittently though everyone is watching Bryan.

When he reaches those lines about the Kennedys, a werewolf grimace twists his face bringing out the full menace of the lyric.

Straight into ‘I Love How You Love Me’, Manzanera carrying the lead part until Jeff Daley’s alto sax rips a hole in the melody. Ferry’s voice is excellent. Notice how he’s dropped the vibrato now, concentrating on emphasis and tone for vocal effects.

He has maybe the most distinctive white male sound of the moment and adapts it accordingly so that, although he’s an idiosyncratic singer, he isn’t an annoying one.

Time for a quick “Hello, how are you?” and then virtuoso John Wetton trundles the crazy rocking bass into ‘Baby I Don’t Care’. Bryan hangs on to the final phrase, just like Presley, sashaying gently until a right hand cuts the air. End of song.

Porter’s guitar is functioning properly for ‘It’s My Party’, he and Manzanera interlocking neatly on the rhythm parts. Any chances of this being a fag song are wiped out by the butch brass and Ferry’s sardonic gestures on the tear-jerking lines.

It’s obvious that no chances have been taken tonight, everything is polished to a degree, very tight and precision timed.

Martyn Ford, Bryan’s arranger and conductor, brings the strings into action for an exactly faithful ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’, sung to a background of muted feminine squeals. The climax of this number is superb live, with Wetton and Thompson rapping out the heart beat under a fading vocal.

‘Don’t Worry Baby’ is a minor disappointment, missing the “wall of sound” drumming which is almost made up for by Porter’s stylish solo. His guitar work improves steadily after the initial mishap, switching to slide for ‘Another Time Another Place’ after which Ferry gives him a name check.

There’s a momentary lapse in the atmosphere with an average rendition of ‘Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever’ which lacks the frenzy of the original and is unfortunately followed by a plodding ‘You Are My Sunshine’, spoilt by the girl singers being a shade too raucous and the trumpets not raucous enough.

However, Bryan catches the fervour on the upsurge with a very hot ‘Finger Poppin”, removes the mike for the first time, sweating under the lights. Ford twists in time to the tempo and Chris Mercer stands up to blow a turbulent tenor solo. Up-roarious reception.

‘Tracks Of My Tears’ is introduced as one of Ferry’s all-time favourites and he sings like he means it. The girls are good, too, especially on the oo-oo’s, not The Miracles, but good.

The hall is charged now. It’s already a success and getting better.

‘You Won’t See Me’ and ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ keep it simmering, ‘A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’ takes it to boiling point. Ferry needs the lyric sheet for the plethora of verses, but gets away with that by whipping a real fervour into the sentiment, assisted by the power house Paul Thompson.

The first genuine surprise of the night’s entertainment comes with the decision to do ‘A Really Good Time’ from Country Life which is followed by a tremendous ‘In Crowd’ in which Manzanera pulls out all the stops and slicks off his best Sterling Morrison riffs.

Exit Ferry with the band still on, pandemonium down front and a foot-stomping demand for an encore.

He returns to croon one more number, ‘These Foolish Things’, cigarette drooping Sinatra style. Jobson tinkles the piano in the next apartment while Ferry sings about Crosby singing.

Nelson Riddle would approve, and probably Cole Porter, too.

© Max Bell, 1974

 


4 Comments

These Foolish Things – Part 1

Screen Shot 2020-01-26 at 5.14.10 AMThese Foolish Things, Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson, original written by Eric Maschwitz and Jack Strachey, 1936
These Foolish Things, Billie Holiday/Teddy Wilson & Orchestra, 1936
These Foolish Things, Turner Layton, 1936
These Foolish Things, Benny Carter, 1936
These Foolish Things, Benny Goodman/Helen Ward, 78RPM, 1936
These Foolish Things, Nat King Cole, Nat King Cole at the Piano, 1947/50
These Foolish Things, Billie Holiday, Solitude, 1956
These Foolish Things, Ella Fitzgerald, Ella in Rome: The Birthday Concert, 1956
These Foolish Things, Etta James, These Foolish Things, 1960-65
These Foolish Things, Frank Sinatra, Point of No Return, 1962
These Foolish Things, Sam Cooke, Mr. Soul, 1963
These Foolish Things, Bryan Ferry, These Foolish Things, 1973

I put this moment here
I put this moment – over here

Kate Bush

The song that stabilized Ferry’s reputation as a dependable hit-maker was ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’. The song that stabilized Ferry’s reputation as a durable, old-style matinee idol was These Foolish Things.  An extremely important song in Bryan Ferry’s lexicon, These Foolish Things cemented the two key strands of the singer’s career and subsequent image – one, as crooner and leading man, an interpreter of the Great American Songbook, and the other as postmodern stylist, using the tricks of performance and entertainment to present a European Cabaret rock fantasy, replete with music, theater, dance and the promise of a front seat at the Kit Kat Klub. Beneath both images was the unifying image of wrecked love contemplated and lost – remembered – over a gin martini and a pack of Gitanes cigarettes.

‘These Foolish Things’ is positioned at the close of the album These Foolish Things, providing the concluding moment to a record that has history and human activity as its central guiding principle. Opening with Bob Dylan’s mythological epic ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall‘, we listen as the poet-mind observes and recites for us the trauma of human experience across the ages:

I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard

Ferry sweetens the message by turning the folk song into a stomping glam-epic, rousing the troops with an archness and gaiety that resulted in the music critics seething with anger in 1973 (“I can’t really understand what all the fuss is about,” Ferry said. “I really can’t”). The songs that follow are tender and lighthearted: having provided a view of human history on a grand scale, we then are presented with the ordinary, observing the tug and drama of human love in all its tatty glory as demonstrated in the selection and presentation of River of Salt, Don’t Ever Change, Piece of My Heart, Baby I Don’t Care, It’s My Party, and Don’t Worry Baby.

Keen to maintain his structural framework, Ferry presents additional allegorical context by sequencing Sympathy for the Devil at the beginning of the second side of the original LP – a strategically placed doubling of Dylan’s mythological odyssey, only this time  we are lead across those sad forests and dead oceans by old saucy Lucifer, who is busy getting off on his crucifixions, revolutions and blitzkrieg. What follows next is chaos theory, but on a very human, mundane level – the minutia of the every day, the froth of love as seen through the sixties pop machine: The Tracks of My Tears, You Won’t See Me, I Love How You Love Me, Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever.
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Then Ferry drops a (structural) bomb: until this point These Foolish Things has selected tracks from the 1960s – eleven of thirteen songs are from 1961-1967 – an important period for Ferry:  “[Foolish Things] reminds me of when I used to be in Gas Board in Newcastle – in fact, the whole LP does!” (Ferry). In a sense, Foolish Things is Gas Board’s first release, the record that never was. Just as Roxy Music‘s For Your Pleasure was a chronicle of the dark strategizing of an ambitious mind (through every step/a change), Ferry uses Foolish Things to consider his options and take a moment to pull back into his recent past, square up his influences, and digest and strategize on the kind of artist he is going to be moving forward. He then takes an intuitive leap and lands a career defining moment every bit as encompassing as Virginia Plain: he chooses a song largely forgotten by modern audiences, the classic, These Foolish Things.

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II. These Foolish ThingsScreen Shot 2020-01-30 at 10.40.11 PM

A cigarette that bears a lipstick’s traces
An airline ticket to romantic places
And still my heart has wings
These foolish things remind me of you

For sheer hairy yarbles, in-your-face daring, no song on Ferry’s first solo album has more visceral impact than These Foolish Things. Recorded in 1936 – the oldest tune on the record by a good few decades – ‘Foolish Things’ was originally added (late) to the set-list of a London revue titled Spread it Abroad, written by songwriters lyricist Eric Maschwitz and composer Jack Strachey and performed on stage by Dorothy Dickson.  This is the version most critics cite as the one Ferry emulated (“Bryan Ferry covered the Dorothy Dickson version of the song for the title track of his first solo album…” Wiki). Yet this is unlikely, as no recorded version of Dickson’s song exists. Instead, Ferry’s adaptation most resembles the version recorded by the man who first made the tune a hit – Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson, the famous West Indian-British cabaret star of the 1930-40s. Visiting lyricist Maschwitz’s studio one afternoon hunting for songs, Hutchinson saw the unloved ‘Foolish Things’ manuscript sitting on top of the studio piano. The Great American Songbook quotes Maschwitz in his autobiography:

“What’s this?” he [Hutchinson] asked.

Maschwitz explained it had not been picked up by any publisher.

Hutch placed the music on the rack, played and sang the song right through.

The Moment he had finished, he turned to Maschwitz and said: “I have a recording session in two days’ time. May I use it?”

May I use it? Talk about being at the right place at the right time. Hutchinson recorded his version and it was an immediate hit in the UK. After Hutchinson’s success, a further five other covers charted the same year, 1936: Benny Goodman (# 1), Teddy Wilson with Billie Holiday (# 5), Nat Brandywynne (# 6), Carroll Gibbons (# 8), and Joe Sanders (# 17). Between 1936 and 1963 the song continued its massive popularity, being covered by many of the great musical talents of the twentieth century – in addition to Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra, there was Nat King Cole, Etta James, and Sam Cooke. The track also became a favourite of the bop and post-bop jazz giants, with versions recorded by John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Lester Young, Red Garland, Johnny Hartman, Dave Brubeck, Art Pepper, and Chet Baker – the seductive lyric an invitation for embellishment via saxophone, trumpet, or piano.

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‘These Foolish Things’ is known as a “list” or catalog song, and is one of the very earliest examples of narrative cataloging in pop music, capturing, in particular, the virtues or vices of a spurned or absent lover (The Great American Songbook is now full of them: All the Things You Are, Thanks for the Memory, and The Way You Look Tonight). Maschwitz knew he wanted to write a song in the vein of Cole Porter’s You’re the Top – a hit two years previously, in 1934 –  in which Porter lists the many amusing qualities about his sweetheart. Maschwitz created a moody epic, lingering on such timeless images as The sigh of midnight trains in empty stations/Silk stockings thrown aside, dance invitations, adhering to a poetic sensibility with just a hint of flirtatious sex. Music critic Robin Miller comments in his 1963 article, that it is quite possible that a certain kind of songwriting success is no longer possible because “The great songs of the 1930s were written by adults for adults. People with experience of life and love, who could appreciate wit and were not afraid of sentiment. And sentiment, of course, is what is revealed by Screen Shot 2020-01-31 at 7.08.12 AMevery line, every note of ‘These Foolish Things’.”

Not surprisingly, given the evocative and sensual lyric of the song, the public was fascinated by who Maschwitz might have had in mind while writing ‘These Foolish Things’. True, Maschwitz was romantically linked to the Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong while working in Hollywood during the early thirties, but The Great American Songbook tells us the lyricist himself “does not mention this.”


The far more interesting story
is that ‘These Foolish Things’ is a song inspired by Jean Ross, British writer, activist, film critic and the role-model for Christopher Isherwood’s ‘divinely decadent’ Sally Bowles in Goodbye to Berlin, later adapted into the long-running stage musical and film, Cabaretstarring Liza Minnelli as Sally/Jean. According to the research, “most sources, including the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, posit cabaret singer Ross, with whom Maschwitz had a youthful romantic liaison, as the Screen Shot 2020-01-26 at 5.36.52 AMmuse for the song” (Ross). The implication then, is that the dark and decadent Berlin Weimar Republic years of 1931 are the inspiration for one of the twentieth centuries most popular romance songs. I wonder if Michael Buble knows this?

This darker undertone would appeal to the cheap and vulgarity loving Ferry, shedding a bit of light on the reason why he selected the song – you can safely say ‘Foolish’ being out of style with the young teen fans he had converted with Roxy Music’s early singles. On on the one hand, the possibilities of seductive interpretation certainly appeal to any singer who tackles ‘Foolish Things’ – Hutchinson (stoic); Sinatra (self-absorbed); Ella Fitzgerald (emotive, insightful). To his credit Ferry chooses to play it straight, respectful, yet laced with dollops of camp and ironic awareness – this is the movies, after all. He nails the lyric by getting inside the seductive element of the song, not once flinching over the innate high-style Romanticism of the tune (think Morrissey dreading another sunny day) and never once backing down from such ironic, poor-taste pearls as Gardenia perfume ling’ring on a pillow/Wild strawb’ries only seven francs a kilo. Respected as a man who knows his stuff, Ferry is to be credited for keeping the original lyric, including the opening stanza “Oh will you never let me be?/Oh will you never set me free?” – even the song’s originator Leslie Hutchinson didn’t include that one. And Ferry didn’t add new verses or change lines lines, like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald did – indeed, Ella added whole new verses, but it’s Ella – so who cares?

We’ll look at the fantastic filmed promotional clip for ‘These Foolish Things’ in part two of this entry, but it is enough to say for now that Ferry’s vision for the piece was interesting, choosing to stage the song for cinema, contrasting sharply with ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall‘s pure (and funny) Top of the Pops band-in-action clip. When Ferry stages ‘Foolish Things’, he does so in pink flamingo shadows, an opened, half empty whiskey bottle sitting open beside a burning cigarette. The mood is sombre but heated, the shadow of tropical plants paint prison bars on the singer’s face. He looks up and around (a little awkwardly, it must be said) chasing down the memory.

Knowing the song is inspired by fashion model cabaret rebel Jean Ross, and bearing in mind his own taste for decadent Weimar imagery – Country Life is full of it, the track ‘Bitter-Sweet‘ in particular (years before Bowie and Iggy descended on Berlin) – we can posit that Ferry’s promotional movie is actually a re-staging of ‘These Foolish Things’ moment of composition, the point in time Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson discovered the battered manuscript on top of the piano, and he and the love-torn Maschwitz worked out the song between plentiful sips of “vodka and coffee”. Screen Shot 2020-01-31 at 9.02.13 AMFerry replaces the West Indian-British cabaret star Hutchinson with a gorgeous African-American pianist, who is smiling up at the singer, but somehow distant, out-of-frame, yet responsive to the changes in Ferry’s phrasing and vocal enunciation. Ferry’s performance is almost diabolical in its seriousness, pushing through to a point where some viewers want to snigger, others simply laugh out loud at how odd and different the whole thing is. A little, perhaps, like Sally Bowles herself.

She had a surprisingly deep, husky voice. She sang badly, without any expression, her hands hanging down at her sides – yet her performance was, in its own way, effective because of her startling appearance and her air of not caring a curse of what people thought of her.

Christopher Isherwood

Credits
Great articles at The Cafe Songbook provide the historical context for this entry; as do clips from Ferry’s ‘Foolish Things’ film; with the web providing great shots of Leslie Hutchinson, Jean Ross, Ana May Wong, Hutch’s These Foolish Things, original release; and of course the brilliant movie poster art for Cabaret – not Bob Fosse’s best film necessarily (that distinction goes to All That Jazz), but any Fosse film is worth more than most.

Titbits
Not convinced by the Weimar Republic connection to ‘Foolish Things’? – no problem – enjoy instead Bryan Ferry‘s cameo doing Roxy Music‘s Bitter-Sweet on the television series Babylon Berlin. The woman watching is the flawed and lovely Weimar character Charlotte Ritter, police clerk by day, cabaret star by night..

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Next: These Foolish Things – Part 2!


2 Comments

Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever

Screen Shot 2019-12-31 at 8.21.54 AMLoving You Is Sweeter Than Ever, Bryan Ferry (These Foolish Things, 1973)
Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever, The Four Tops, (Ivy Jo Hunter/Stevie Wonder, 1966).
Club a’Gogo, Eric Burdon and The Animals (Animal Tracks, 1965)

My baby found a new place to go
Hangs around town at the Club-a-gogo
Takes all my money for the picture show
But I know she spends it at the club-a-gogo

Eric Burdon and the Animals, 1966

Written in typically optimistic fashion by Stevie Wonder (You Are the Sunshine of My Life/Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing) Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever is a wonderful Four Tops recording released by Motown in 1966, reaching #45 on the Billboard 100. The Four Tops original is so bright and assured that most of 70s rock royalty have added it to their reportoire – The Band, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins – failing in all instances to re-capture the sprightly bounce of the 1966 Motown release. Only Marvin Gaye comes close to the original by re-thinking the music and applying his typical pixie dust to the recording. Bryan Ferry and his magic band of John Porter, Eddie Jobson and Phil Thompson come close to the mark – the backing track is a percussive and funky wonder – but unfortunately the Ferry trademark vocal style interrupts the beat of the song, deflating it of its attractive innocence.

‘Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever’ continues Ferry’s fascination with the hit-making factories of 50s and 60s America, in this instance foregoing New York’s Brill Building hit-factory in favour of Detroit City’s Motown Records (the name Motown a mix of motor and town, the nickname for Detroit, and significantly, the location of the world’s first stage dive by Iggy Pop – it’s amazing what you can find at detroithistorical.org!).

The pull to Motown was significant for Ferry, for, growing up in Washington, County Durham during the 1950s, like many young people he needed a lifeline and an inspiration: “I loved American music,” he told Jon Savage in 2018. ““From the age of about 10, every week you’d discover somebody new. I was very much into jazz. You know how English people are; there’s a certain amount of musical snobbery. I mean, I loved Little Richard and Fats Domino, but when I heard Charlie Parker for the first time, this was something I really loved, and nobody else who I knew knew anything about him.” (Guardian).

Jazz came first (“In 1955, I also started listening to jazz – I became obsessed”), followed by R n’ B, Stax & Motown, soul – female singers, in particular, caught his ear: “I love women’s voices, actually – I haven’t got much time for men’s voices…But Billie Holiday is probably my favorite singer ever because she was so inventive, and soulful, and just so cool” (Pitchfork).

I. West Side
What is interesting is that the absorption of American influences and styles would produce such as European, neo-futurist, and often very weird sound with Roxy Music, a compositional blueprint that would eventually morph into the softer, restrained and more soulful sound of Manifesto (“West Side”), Flesh and Blood, and Avalon. Coming off an interview with Ferry in 2013, journalist Lindsay Zoldaz is impressed with how closely Ferry studies the form of song and performance – in this case, Prince on YouTube during a George Harrison tribute (“Ferry studies the screen like a quarterback taking mental notes on a rival’s game”) – and goes on to say, significantly:

From the innovative pastiche of Roxy Musics earliest records to his best solo albums– which feature wildly imaginative covers of Dylan, Otis, and Lesley Gore, to name just a few– [Ferry’s] career has played out like one prolonged, well-informed, and often-exclamatory conversation with popular music.

Lindsay Zoladz, Pitchfork, 2013

As musician and music theorist, Andy Mackay has identified the process of Ferry absorbing musical influences and turning it into a sound that was so successful for Roxy Music, while also recognizing the “tremendous influence” Ferry’s vocal style had “on people who perhaps wouldn’t have been confident in going out and becoming singers, because they didn’t sound enough like soul or rock singers or whatever. And then they heard Bryan…”:

The band he [Ferry] was in before, The Gas Board, was basically a soul band; and it’s very interesting that as soon as he got the chance to launch his solo career […] with These Foolish Things, he immediately did covers of all the songs by singers who he admired – which were soul songs. I think he thought he was singing one thing, but because he was English, it came out differently.

Andy Mackay, 1997

Screen Shot 2020-01-01 at 6.16.40 PMThe Gas Board // Bryan Ferry (r)

While I was at university I put together my own band called The Gas Board and we played a lot of clubs in the area. None of the material we performed was original – it was mainly R ‘n’ B covers. But two of the musicians from that band – Graham Simpson and John Porter – were later to play with me in Roxy Music, so as you can imagine this was a very important time for me.

Bryan Ferry, 2009

The Gas Board was formed in the latter half of 1965 and included a three piece horn section (which, a bit surprisingly, included future film-maker Mike Figgis). American Screen Shot 2020-01-02 at 9.48.58 AM.pngSoul was popular in the UK charts in the 60s, with Motown stars The Four Tops (Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever); The Temptations (My Girl); The Supremes (Baby Love); and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles (Tears of a Clown) having big hits in the country, instigating a move away from classic Rhythm & Blues towards Soul.

Knowing which side their bread was buttered, this is the direction the Gas Board decided to take, with Ferry covering as best he could quintessential 1960s Stax and Motown hits of the day. “In my college band, I had been imitating whichever song I was singing.” Around the same time he hitchhiked to London to see the Stax Roadshow featuring Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and Sam and Dave. This was the singer’s ‘Road to Damascus moment’: “I’d been nursing the idea for Roxy since my last band [the Gas Board], since 1964-65. Obviously, when I stopped with the other band I was still thinking about music, but in more creative terms” (Ferry). With the concept and idea firmly in his mind, Ferry started to plan the mixing of “black soul music and the art school influence” to create a new hybrid European sound.

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II. Devil With a Hatchet
The cross-pollination of styles and collisions in Bryan Ferry’s musical output was due in part to the location and heritage of his hometown – the unglamorous working-class industrial city of Newcastle Upon Tyne (specifically, Washington, County Durham), in North East England. Against a backdrop of Newcastle’s typical cobblestoned, coal-dirty streets Ferry took in the visual influences of architectural marvels Penshaw Monument and the Central Arcade (see: The Track of My Tears), Newcastle also provided access to American Jazz in the 50s, R n’ B, Soul, and high-pedigree rock in the 60s. An early home for jazz in the city in the 50s, The Newcastle Jazz Club was followed by The New Orleans Club, and The University Jazz club – the latter owned by Michael Jeffery (probably best known as the man who managed the Animals and Jimi Hendrix) and also as the future founder and owner of the Club a’Gogo.

The Club a’Gogo was great. That was near the bus station. You’d go up these stairs, past all these bus drivers and bus conductors who had a tea room or office there, and the club was at the top. Later I saw all sorts of people there: Cream, the Spencer Davis Group, Wilson Pickett, Captain Beefheart – I was DJ at the club the night Beefheart played there.

Bryan Ferry, 2008

The significance of the Club a’Gogo was to provide a place where art, commerce, and music could meet.  In the latter half of 1961 Mike Jeffery and and his partner Ray Grehan had gone ahead with the purchase of a site above the Handyside Arcade on Percy Street. According to the excellent online series of articles on gigging in the North East (Ready, Steady, Gone), the expectation for Jeffrey was that the club be the “best in the city”. As well as live Jazz and Latin American music, there was to be a games room with roulette, meals and a late drinks license. Mike Jeffery targeted the youth and older crowds –

“by splitting the Club A’Gogo into the two discrete venues. The club consisted of two rooms either side of a landing. On the right was the licensed ‘Jazz Lounge’. On the left was the unlicensed ‘Latin American Lounge’, later to be renamed the ‘Young Set’”.

Roger Smith, 2013

Screen Shot 2020-01-01 at 9.31.40 PM

John Lee Hooker: ‘You ever hear’a Newcastle’?
Interviewer:Newcastle, Mississippi?’
John Lee Hooker: ‘Newcastle in Britain. Newcastle . . . boy, that was rough. There was a bar I played every night. It was rough.’

Like many Northern music venues, the club had a violent reputation. Gambling and late night drinking were a problem. Eric Burdon and The Animals were the house band during some of the club’s most influential years (even recording a song called Club a’Gogo) and the influx of music styles and cast of characters made it an exciting place:

The ClScreen Shot 2020-01-02 at 10.11.10 AM.pngub a Go-Go was a shining star of the northern British club world, which meant it also had to be a den of iniquity. It’s where the North East mob was born – they ran several clubs in the area. It was a mixture of teen heaven, with the devil running loose wielding a hatchet. It was the only place outside of one club in London that actually had a full-on gaming licence. It was very clear that the mob from London would take interest, as gaming back then was strictly controlled in England and only one club in London’s West End had been allowed the game of roulette. I have many great memories from Club A Go-Go.

Eric Burdon

My baby found a new place to go
Hangs around town at the Club-a-gogo
Takes all my money for the picture show
But I know she spends it at the club-a-gogo
Let’s go babe, let’s go, I love you, come on, yeah!

It’s one of the coolest spots in town
You take too much tho’ it’s bound to get you down
She’s got a boy-friend they call Big Joe
He’s a big shot at the club-a-gogo
Babe, come on, let’s go, let’s go babe, yeah!

Now they play the blues there every day and every night
Everybody monkeys and they feel all right
Ask my friend, Meyer he’ll tell you so
That there ain’t no place like the club-a-gogo
Let’s go babe, ah let’s go, come on it’s all right, s’all right, s’all right
Yeah!

I guess I can’t blame her for goin’ up there tho’
The place is full of soul, heart and soul, baby
It’s all right dad, John Lee Hooker, Jerome Green,
Rolling Stones, Memphis Slim up there, Jimmy Reed too baby,
Sonny Boy Williamson baby

Eric Burdon and The Animals, Club a Go-Go, 1966.

From Burdon’s description and lyric it is safe to say Club a’Gogo provided Ferry with access to music of some considerable variety and character, introducing an explicitly Roxy Music sensibility born of trampy, stylish decadence – the sleazy scene depicted on the cover of For Your Pleasure coming alive in its high-heeled glory – girls, clothes, dirty deeds done dirt cheap – as Ferry confirms: “Some quite hard men used to go there – like gangsters; dressed in mohair suits, with beautiful girls – the best looking girls in Newcastle; quite tarty. It was really exciting – it felt really “It” to go there. Beautiful girls …” (Ferry). And Ferry connects the dots of his flash American fantasy to the style and attitudes of the American bands – “the Stax label and Motown, they were into presentation and show business, mohair suits, quite slick. And the cover art…was a bit off-kilter as well; there was something a bit strange about it, futuristic as well as retro” (Guardian).

A bit off-kilter, something a bit strange, futuristic as well as retro: as if to seal his concept for the Roxy machine and his solo career, Bryan Ferry would recall that one of the large walls in the Club a’Gogo Jazz Lounge had a large day-glo mural of the New York skyline. Ferry assisted in painting the mural, applying his musical and artistic signature to the interior design of a club that brought him soul and excitement in equal measure. The primary artist of the piece – the flamboyant poet and writer David Sweetman – went on to became a life-long friend of Ferry – their common interests of art, music and writing outliving the typical life-span of a city nightclub, with its final claim on our memories, and all of our times and places.

Screen Shot 2020-01-01 at 6.32.38 PMIt was by far the greatest club in the UK, even the planet for that matter and that’s an understatement!

Alan Brack, Club a’Gogo patron, 2013

The Club a’Gogo closed its doors in June 1968. To quote the Newcastle Live newspaper: “The whole 1906-built building, including the Handyside Arcade was, to the despair of many, demolished in the late 1980s to make way for the new Eldon Garden shopping mall.” (Maybe City Council will recognize the mistake, and like Liverpool’s Cavern, have to painstakingly re-build the club with its original bricks).

Postscript: It was nice to read this past week that plans are being made to resurrect Club a’Gogo in January 2020 (“Newcastle’s legendary 1960s Club a’Gogo is set for a regular revival night).” We wish the owner much success, and will keep an eye on events and information as it becomes available: Club a’Gogo 2020 Facebook.

Happy New Year!

Screen Shot 2020-01-03 at 7.26.36 AMCredits: many thanks to the excellent info compiled at Ready, Steady, Gone – the brilliant site that reviews gigging in the North of England, late 60s/early 70s.

Photos: Gas Board original promo (Ferry in tie); Billie Holiday; Gas Board promo; Stax/Volt Road Show poster (Norway); Club a’Go-go logo; Club opening night; Animals recording of Club a’Go-go; Club a’Go-go exterior and interior shots; Club New York skyline mural by David Sweetman, assisted by Bryan Ferry.

Next: Triumph in Endings: closing out with ‘These Foolish Things’!