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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Piece of My Heart

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Piece of My Heart Bryan Ferry (cover version, These Foolish Things, 1973)
Piece of My Heart Erma Franklin (original, written by Jerry Ragovoy/Bert Berns, 1967)
Piece of My Heart Big Brother & The Holding Company (cover, Cheap Thrills, 1968)

Bert Berns – one of the greatest songwriters of all bloody time, it’s as simple as that!

Keith Richards

By the time Bryan Ferry recorded Jerry Ragovoy and Bert Berns’ ‘Piece of My Heart’ in 1973 the song was already a classic – producing hits for Erma Franklin (Aretha’s sister), Dusty Springfield and Janis Joplin. Taking on a woman’s song can never be easy, especially when one version – Joplin’s – is probably the defining track of a short career – but Ferry may have felt he could deliver a more soulful version than the throw-away delivered by Scottish all-male group Marmalade in 1968 (he could, and he did). By the time Sammy Hagar covered ‘Piece of My Heart’ in 1981, the legacy of Erma, Dusty and Janis were calling for a moratorium on men covering the song (Marmalade fared better their mega #1 hit cover of The Beatles Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. So much for originality in pop in 1969!).

Ferry does a surprisingly excellent version of ‘Piece of My Heart’ on his first covers album These Foolish Things – surprising in that, negating the quirks of his quavering vocal style, he sweetens his voice to a degree that releases him from the narrow vocal canvas of Roxy Music and points the way towards the fuller sound heard on Stranded and 1974’s solo hit ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’. Certainly, the opening line of ‘Piece of My Heart’ is stunning in its affectation as Ferry allows himself to be close-miked and vulnerable (hear the echo of the studio standing between him and the words):

Didn’t I make you feel (pause) like youuuu (hold) are the on-ly (hold) one (hold)?

Ranking as some of the best phrasing of his career to date, Ferry’s vocal is so considered and melodic in these opening lines that you, the cruel lover, cannot doubt the sincerity of the question being asked regarding actions towards the tender and broken heart. From here though, the success of Ferry’s recording really depends on how you feel about the song, for the upcoming shift in mood relies on the sudden call-to-arms of the jilted lover, an approach most successfully realized by Janis Joplin’s raspy and impatient ‘Co-o-ome on, come on, COME ON, co-o-o-ome on and TAKE IT!/Take another little piece of my heart now, baby‘. Suddenly ‘Piece’ shifts from imploring sweetness – which suits Ferry’s delivery to a tee – to brokenhearted antagonism, a style better suited to Joplin’s in-your-face Texas blues, and a reason surely why Joplin’s version is the standard for the song and not Erma Franklin’s more sombre (even glum), take. To my ears ‘Heart’ loses melody and purpose at this point, and Ferry’s version does little to change the outcome. Similiar to that perennial yet irritating 60s chestnut ‘Take a Load Off Fanny‘, you can either live with it, or you can’t. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Designing his version of the song to be more Erma Franklin than Janis Joplin, Ferry has in the end to deal with the legacy and weight of the Joplin version. In order to do so he applies a three-prong attack: beef up the female contingency via the all-girl harmony group The Angelettes – who do a fantastic job on ‘Hard Rain’ and indeed on the entire album (see entry ‘Hard Rain‘); beef up the horns – courtesy of Average White Band founder Roger Ball, a multi-talented composer, saxophonist, keyboardist, songwriter and arranger; and be sure to beef up Ferry’s vocal reach and range of expression – listen to the line ‘You’re out on the street (looking good)/And you know deep down in your heart that it ain’t right‘ at 23-32s and you’ll see that performing other people’s songs gives Ferry an opportunity to have some fun and stretch his range outside of the classic Roxy Music mold, with the benefit that he returns to the Roxy state of mind rejuvenated and focused.

All the same, none of this handsome attention to detail and fine vocal delivery really gets to the heart of the song – nor does it add much to the song’s presence in the world. Part of the reason is that the origin and history of ‘Piece of My Heart’ carries a heavy burden of illness and breakdown – the song’s key associations stemming from composer Bert Berns traumatic physical heart ailment that killed him at age 38 and Janis Joplin’s traumatic emotional life that killed her at 27. Too young, in both instances.

For many people The Beatles ‘Twist and Shout’ is a Lennon/McCartney number, famously belted out by a flu-struck John Lennon to complete the legendary twelve hour recording of The Beatles debut album Please Please Me. Yet it was Bert Berns who co-wrote the song with Phil Medley (Berns later credited as “Bert Russell”) and was originally a hit for the Isley Brothers in 1962. A monumental track in the Beatles catalog – performed at the critical Sunday Night at the London Palladium and Royal Command performances (“the rest of you just rattle your jewellery”), and for the February 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show – this brush with Beatles mega-fame was not the only example of Bert Berns originality. Bert created Bang Records in 1965 with Atlantic music giant Ahmet Ertegün (Ray Charles, Stones, Zeppelin) Nesuhi Ertegün and Jerry Wexler.  At Bang Berns wrote and produced a string of influential hit records, including ‘I Want Candy‘, ‘Hang on Sloopy‘, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ (Van Morrison’s first single), and other Van Morrison/Them hits like the amazing riff-heavy ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, and ‘Here Comes the Night‘. As the movie tie-in proclaims – “Though not as widely known as his contemporaries, Bert Berns ranks among the most significant and influential of his generation” (Wiki) hardly sounds like an exaggeration.

Despite the success, Berns life was marked by frail health: as a teenager he suffered from a rheumatic fever so virulent he was left with a permanently weakened heart: he was told he would not live to be 21 (HoF). When he died of heart-attack at 38 years old on  December 30, 1967, he was building a house for his family, and it is here that the emotional weight of ‘Piece of My Heart’ can be found both in song title and the weight of its compelling history. As metaphor, ‘heart’ plays a significant role in Berns writing, particularly the love songs that evoke tender emotion – titles such as ‘Cry to Me‘, ‘Everybody Needs Somebody to Love‘, ‘Cry Baby‘, and of course ‘Piece of My Heart’ – all speak to a melancholy and sensitivity sometimes lacking from other song-writers of the era (see: Gerry Goffin, ‘Don’t Ever Change‘). ‘I cry all the time‘ Berns writes in ‘Piece of My Heart’ and it feels like time is closing in, unmistakably love-lorn and companionless: When you’re all alone in your lonely room/Don’t ya feel like cryin’, don’t ya feel like cryin‘ (‘Cry to Me’). Overtly sensitive, Berns played the music game like he was short on time, clock ticking, combining both hit-making savy with feelings of approaching loss and melancholy.

In general terms then, much of the Bert Berns catalog requires a degree of emotional weight in order to be told with insight and sincerity – the performer does not necessarily have to have a life of discord and strife – certainly Bryan Ferry would presumably not have too much to complain about as his career rocketed in those few short years between 1971-1973 – but the ability to get inside a crying Bert Berns song with the necessary gravitas is crucial. This is where Janis Joplin scored so highly with her cover of ‘Piece of My Heart’ – taken from the band’s album Cheap Thrills, their version peaked at No. 12 on the U.S. pop chart, but the song became associated with Joplin long after the pop charts lost their relevance. By the time it was a hit for the hippie generation Berns was dead, and Joplin was beginning her very brief fifteen minutes in the limelight. Janis Joplin adopted ‘Piece of My Heart’ like it was her own off-spring: a wounded heart-sick woman who had only three years to live from the day of the song’s release.

In David Hepworth‘s book “Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of The Rock Stars” Hepworth provides an extremely sad set of details chronicling Janis Joplin’s life: she came from hard working class environment in Texas. Puberty – especially the torments of acne – produced a self-conscious sensitivity about her looks, a wound she spent the rest of her life trying to shake. One student University poll cruelly called her the “ugliest man on campus”. On route to fame, she drank too much and became addicted to heroin (“I wanted to smoke dope, take dope, lick dope, fuck dope”). In spite of her fame, she never stopped trying to get acceptance and validation from those who had hurt her back in her home town. In 1970, she received an invitation to attend her high school reunion. Announcing her intention to attend on the Dick Cavett show (no less) she told the nation-wide television audience “They laughed me out of class, town, out of State, so I’m going home.” On another occasion: “Man these people hurt me…It makes me happy to know I’ve made it, and they are just still plumbers like they were” (Washington Post).

Unsurprisingly, it was not a good home-coming, doing little to settle old grudges. She clashed with the towns folk, who did not take kindly to being slagged on national TV. She clashed with siblings. Her parents left town to go to a wedding. She even volunteered to the television crew filming the event to re-visit the most painful incidents of her teenage years. “By the end of the visit,” Hepworth writes, “when the booze and pills had worn off, she looked broken and heart-sick. No vindication. No triumph of life over the little people.” (Hepworth). Two months later she was found dead in a Hollywood hotel room, alone, victim of a heroin overdose.

Heart-sick is the primary metaphor for the two people most closely associated with ‘Piece of My Heart’, writer Bert Berns and singer Janis Joplin. Other singers – notably Erma Franklin and Dusty Springfield – have gotten close to the emotional pulse of the song, but did not bring the ultimate sadness that the tune seems to demand of its singers. For Ferry, it was a genre piece – much loved and respectfully rendered – but his version is, by design, all dressed up and professionally delivered, drawing its strength and interest as much from a wish to acknowledge the great songwriting factories of the Sixties (Goffin/King; Leiber/Stoller) as opposed to portraying an emotional impact per se. This is of course in keeping with the stylistic and ironic distance found in the songs of Roxy Music. And while the solo covers & standards albums provide an opportunity to claw in the distance with a knowing wink, Ferry does have to deal with the fact that the passage of time renders the anthems of the 60s golden oldies (after all).  Ferry re-invented ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall’ and delivered ‘River of Salt’ straight, and produced credible, enjoyable successes. When it came to ‘Piece of My Heart’ though the song stood before him like a slab of unbearable sadness, unmovable, beyond reach.

Recorded: AIR Studios, England June 1973.

Credits: Poster for the stage musical The Bern Berns Story: Piece of My Heart; roxymusicsongs photo-composite left to right – BB in the studio/BB with Van Morrison/poster for the film Bang! The Bert Berns Story/BB with singer Solomon Burke; Pearl album cover out-take, Janis Joplin photographed by Barry Feinstein in Hollywood, Los Angeles in 1970; Janis foreign film poster for Janis: Little Girl Blue, 2015.

Next: Ferry takes on Elvis with ‘Baby I Don’t Care’ – and nary a karate chop in sight!


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Don’t Ever Change

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Don’t Ever Change Bryan Ferry (cover version, These Foolish Things, 1973)
Don’t Ever Change The Crickets (original, written by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, 1961)
Don’t Ever Change The Beatles (cover version, 1963)

Few people outside of New York or the music business have heard of the Brill Building. Located at 1619 Broadway in New York City, just north of Times Square, the Brill was the place a great chunk of American pop music was written, arranged, recorded and sold, including ‘Don’t Ever Change‘ written by (Gerry) Goffin & (Carole) King, recorded by The Crickets (sans Buddy) in 1961, providing a Top 10 hit in the UK. ‘Don’t Ever Change’ confirms Bryan Ferry’s assertions that These Foolish Things was intended as a break from For Your Pleasures darker themes and mood. Having cracked ‘Hard Rain‘ and the rare ‘River of Salt‘ (“I’m probably the only person in England with a copy of that”), Ferry decided next to go to the Classic Songwriter’s Songbook and pull down a cut from the famous writing team of Goffin & King – the jaunty ‘Don’t Ever Change’ comes up next and it’s a nasty piece of work, despite its early 60s jaunty beat. The music suggests sunny optimism but the lyric delivers tyrannical rule.

‘Don’t Ever Change’ was written on the top floors (“on the roof”) of the The Brill Building, a stunning art-deco masterpiece that stretched along Broadway between 49th and 53rd streets. A mecca for songwriting talent, the Brill contained 165 music businesses at its peak in 1962. The songwriters worked to order, crafting melodies and lyrics that would define the late 50s and 60s: “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” (Phil Spector, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil); Don’t Be Cruel (recorded by Elvis, written by Otis Blackwell); Do You Know the Way to San José? (the brilliant Burt Bacharach/Hal David); and so many more. Before Carole King become the mega-selling Carole King of ‘Tapestry’ (and the subject of the Broadway show Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) she was the teenager Carol Klein, married at 17 to 20-year-old lyricist Gerry Goffin. They got their break through their connection with Neil Sedaka, who knew Carole at High School and, in a last-ditch attempt at writing a hit before he was dropped from his contract, had composed and recorded a song called “Oh! Carol” (desperate, Sedaka studied the top singles of the day, mapped their melody, chord progression, lyrical styles and developed the ingredients of a hit single – he nailed it). Soon Goffin & King were writing compact, minor-miracle songs that sold by the truck-load – “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (The Shirelles); “The Loco-Motion” (Little Eva); “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (Aretha Franklin), and the fantastic “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (The Monkees).Screen Shot 2019-04-02 at 3.47.02 PM
In 1963, at the beginning of The Beatles rise to fame, John Lennon was quoted as saying that he and Paul McCartney wanted to become “the Goffin-King of England.”

‘Don’t Ever Change’ is one of Goffin & King’s lesser known songs, made to order like egg salad sandwiches at the local deli. Lesser-known in both status and (to be honest) tunefulness – The Crickets version did not chart in the USA – the song is nevertheless an interesting selection by Ferry who, presumably, had the budget and freedom to choose other Goffin & King songs, say, ‘On the Roof’ or ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ (but not, thankfully, ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’). Choosing to cover ‘Don’t Ever Change’ makes good sense in terms of These Foolish Things – it’s a breezy sing-along three tracks in – but there is something wrong with the song at root that Ferry cannot fix. His version is faithful to the original, with the benefit of being better recorded with deeper, fuller sound, but it neither detracts or adds to the original. The problem is not with Ferry’s take but the dishonesty of the song itself – ‘Don’t Ever Change’ pretends to be upbeat and idealist, but in truth it’s a mean song hiding behind a breezy disguise.

Carole King wrote in her memoir that her ex-husband Gerry Goffin – who she divorced in 1969 – suffered from mental illness following ingestion of LSD, eventually undergoing treatment with lithium and electroshock therapy, and later diagnosed with manic depression. Post-marriage Carole wrote her own lyrics, of which the mega-hit ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ (1971) is in character with her thoughtful and warm work. Contrast this with ex-hubby Goffin’s lyrical mauling of male/female relationships and you get the sense that long-term matrimony wasn’t in the cards, not with Goffin writing songs like ‘He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)’ or ‘Chains’ or even the party-ending ‘Everybody Go Home’.  Goffin was talented, to be sure – his writing on the number 1 hit “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” show a sensitivity to the complications of sexual maturity, and ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ has a killer lyric (“The local rock group down the street/Is trying hard to learn their song/They serenade the weekend squire/Who just came out to mow his lawn”) – but lyricist Goffin typically informs his songs with a controlling hand that sets an uneasy tone that ‘Don’t Ever Change’ cannot escape and Ferry does little to interfere.

The premise of the ‘Don’t Change’ reminds us of ‘Chance Meeting‘ – male menace thinly disguised. You never wear a stitch of lace, we’re told – And powder’s never on your face / You’re always wearing jeans except on Sunday – you’re a tomboy in other words. Oh please don’t ever change, he continues, I kinda like you just the way you are. The narrator ‘kinda’ likes you, so be sure to swear allegiance to his idealized view of you for all eternity.

You don’t know the latest dance
But when it’s time to make romance
Your kisses let me know you’re not a tomboy  

In other words, I like you to be uninformed, awkward and sexually unthreatening – except when I’m having sex with you. And the final kicker: I know you would rather die than ever hurt me. ie. I know you would rather slit your wrists and bleed out instead of telling me what a jerk I am. And less we think that picking on songs written in the late 50s/60s is easy targets in 2019, we can hardly avoid the fact that the final sentiment of the song as a declaration of ultimate control. And for the tune itself – it would take the edge off perhaps if the music provided some respite from the high-handed rhetoric, but instead of sweetening its chorus, ‘Change’ hangs its hook on the descending riff “Sooo pleassse don’t everrr chaaange” that is in the chord of C#minor which in music theory contains the harmonic characteristic of despair, wailing, and weeping: “A passionate expression of sorrow and deep grief. Full of penance and self-punishment” (Ledgernote). Isn’t this supposed to be a love song? Run a mile girl, and then run another mile.

The Beatles recorded ‘Don’t Ever Change’ as part of a BBC session in 1963, and was not released until 1993 (just as Anthology was being compiled and the insatiable appetite for all things Fab Four was gaining force). Instantly forgettable in the Beatles catalog, ‘Don’t’ is notable only for the fact that it takes a rare Harrison/McCartney lead vocal. Perhaps we can see the song as an influence to solo-Lennon ‘Jealous Guy’, with its frank recognition of the failings of its controlling author John Lennon, and which Ferry, much to his credit, made his own in 1980 (“I guess I can relate to it”). You could never see the narrator of ‘Don’t Ever Change’ admitting that he never meant to hurt you, never meant to make you cry.

What is intriguing about ‘Don’t Ever Change’ is its pedigree as a production from the golden-age of late 50s early 60s song-writing partnerships. While ‘Change’ may not be the best of the Goffin & King canon – compare it to the uplifting ‘One Fine Day‘ – its appeal to Ferry during the selection process, in part, may be attributable to it being a part of America’s legendary Brill Building productions, and the idea of song-writing as craft, as a specialized art that required an apprenticeship and learned expertise.

Below Carole King describes the atmosphere at the “Brill Building” publishing houses of the period, a world perhaps that Ferry obviously wanted to acknowledge, promote, and – in contrast to his own brilliance-at-the-last-minute writing practices (see: ‘Mother of Pearl’ / ‘Love is the Drug’) secretly yearned for a Tin Pan Alley discipline of craft and professionalism that had been lost in the individualism of the singer/songwriter 1960’s and early 70s. ‘Don’t Ever Change’ – by the very nature of its title – may be a plea to never change, to return to a level of discipline that focused on the art of manufacturing hits for the youth market, a value and enterprise that Ferry himself discovered in 1973 with These Foolish Things and is still very much with us today as he recorded Bitter-Sweet (2019) with the Bryan Ferry Orchestra, an album that re-makes Roxy and solo Ferry songs in a style that re-creates the nostalgia of the past in a manner that makes it feel ever more potent in the present:

Every day we squeezed into our respective cubby holes with just enough room for a piano, a bench, and maybe a chair for the lyricist if you were lucky. You’d sit there and write and you could hear someone in the next cubby hole composing a song exactly like yours. The pressure in the Brill Building was really terrific—because Donny (Kirshner) would play one songwriter against another. He’d say: “We need a new smash hit”—and we’d all go back and write a song!

Carole King

Recorded: AIR Studios, England June 1973.

Credits: Brill Building drawing, New York Times; Goffin & King songbook/Brill Building exterior and interior; Goffin & King at the office, early 60s; Beatles and Crickets tackle ‘Don’t Ever Change’

Next: Ferry shoots for a Janis Joplin classic ‘Piece of My Heart‘ – you can’t fault him for brave choices!


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River of Salt

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River of Salt Bryan Ferry (cover version, These Foolish Things, 1973)
River of Salt Ketty Lester (original, You Can’t Lie to a Liar b/w ‘River of Salt’ )

One of the lesser-known cuts on Bryan Ferry’s first solo album These Foolish Things,River of Salt‘ was an obscure B-side single sung by American singer and actress Ketty Lester, written for her by Bernard Zackery, Irving Brown, and Jan Zackery. Never released on an album or as a single in its own right, ‘River of Salt’ is a miniature miracle that never found the audience it deserved. Lester had hit gold previously with the brilliant ‘Love Letters‘, a song that went to the top of the charts in both the US and the UK in 1962 (and one that David Lynch picked up for Blue Velvet). Chasing another hit single, Lester recorded and released three more ballads in 1962 but failed to repeat the success of ‘Letters’. That such a fine song as ‘River of Salt’ could be buried and forgotten as a B-side is testament to the quality of Lester’s output.

In choosing ‘River of Salt’ for the album, Ferry was in many ways drawing attention to his skills and appreciation for pop as a continuum, similar to the Art world reaching back into the (not so) distant past for its raw materials. Choosing well-known tunes was one thing – every one knows The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin – but branching out into jazz and Motown, and giving the nod to artists like Nat King Cole, Ketty Lester, and Smokey Robinson was risky, especially for a working-class English boy from Newcastle. Expressing his love of the form, Ferry had very distinct ideas and tastes about music pre-rock: “The difference between then and now is that where you once had two almost clearly defined categories –  singers and songwriters – you now have a situation where all song-writers have to be performers … and sometimes it doesn’t work very well” (BF, 76). While rock-stars enjoyed referencing their rock roots – David Bowie’s Pin Ups/John Lennon’s Rock ‘n’ Roll – Ferry was reaching back to an earlier musical milieu. While not exactly singing The Great American Standards yet (that would come next in Another Time, Another Place) there was nonetheless an emphasis on classic singer/songwriter partnerships juxtaposed against the titan and preeminent standard These Foolish Things which, by choosing it to title the album, provided Ferry with a new mask: that of the lounge-lizard Romantic, the unrequited lovelorn personality whose confessions are framed by a writer’s self-conscious awareness of his own misery (and charm). A cigarette that bares a lipstick’s traces..

After the literary maelstrom that is Bob Dylan’s highly allusive and poetic ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall‘, Ferry pulls a fast one and gives his audience a 1 minute 48 second love ballad. As metaphor, ‘River of Salt’ is as basic as it gets:

River of salt
Flowing from my eyes
Seems as though
I can’t realize
My love is gone
She’s left this town
River of salt
Keeps flowing down

Metaphors can be exaggerated so much they become comical (as in, “Her tears were a river flowing down her cheeks and beyond”), but ‘River of Salt‘ has an innocence similar to Ferry’s cover of ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes‘ with its root metaphor of a lovely flame that dies, creating smoke, then tears (They said someday you’ll find/All who love are blind). In ‘Salt’ the bereaved lover also sheds unending tears while mourning the absent sweetheart. Although simple, the lyric may be onto something – there are no pure salt rivers in the world (according to Earth Science) and so the song taps into the Romantic idea of a bitter loss stretched across eternity, the Artist (hand on brow) writing reams of poetry à la climbing mountains, swimming oceans, walking thousands of miles to prove nothing less than everlasting love and commitment. Ferry knows the pulse of the song is earnestness tinged with a knowing wisdom and delivers it as such.

The musical set-up on ‘River of Salt’ is fantastic, and the track can be seen as a breakthrough in romantic sincerity for Ferry, a writer who in his own work prefers distance and irony to get to the heart of the matter. Richly recorded, bass and drum set the pace and are framed by a lovely electric piano chord introduction, laid down by professional session player Dave Skinner (who played for Roxy on the 1979 ‘Manifesto’ tour and solo Manzanera and Ferry records). By contrast the Ketty Lester recording is a bit stiff in these opening bars, with the double bass prominent but not particularly well-recorded, and the corresponding drum accompaniment sounding like it is being played with cutlery. In contrast, Ferry’s cover version is like hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire and white tiger rug. His vocal is (almost) stripped of its trade-mark quiver, and is delivered straight: Bryan Ferry the lounge-lizard/troubadour is born here, in this track, and in under two minutes he has set the stage for the appearance of his white tux and dickie-bow, glitter eye-liner be gone.

In most respects These Foolish Things is a love album. Songs like ‘Tracks of My Tears’; ‘Don’t Ever Change’; ‘Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever;’ ‘Don’t Worry Baby’; ‘River of Salt’ strive to capture and represent love’s sentiments in all its various colors and Ferry is keen to present them to a young 70s audience.  What is telling is that he tackles these originals from a vantage point of sincerity and eagerness to please, as if covering a track like ‘River of Salt’ note-for-note is the purest form of flattery. After dealing with love as a postmodern game of signs and signifiers – ‘Re-Make/Re-Model’; ‘Ladytron’;Editions of You‘ – Ferry shifts his writing towards regaining (or finding) love in its full range of emotions. He does so from two directions: writing his own songs and covering the songs of others. While For Your Pleasure is cold to the touch, purposely distancing love in favor of a blow-up sex doll or bogeyman sex, These Foolish Things tackles love as an emotion lived and experienced by other people – in its 1 minute plus Ketty Lester’s ‘River of Salt’ has all the emotion it can handle – and so in his musical arrangement Ferry chooses not to mess too much with the established formula, as if by not doing so he might spoil a song that had once provided a lifeline to his personal feelings and experiences. For Ferry, Foolish Things was only “half successful” (NME) because he felt he did not experiment enough on the source material. If he had done so with ‘River of Salt’ it is very likely that the Third Roxy Music album Stranded would have been a very different recording – mature, yes, but insulated and aloof, instead of warm and tropical, full of emotional heat. Without ‘River of Salt’ it’s possible we might not have had ‘A Song for Europe’ … and where, dear friends, would that have gotten us?

It often seems that Ferry is using his music, not as an end in itself, but as an attempt to create an identity for himself, a reality beneath all the style.

Allan Jones

blue ferry
Next: The template for ‘Every Breath You Take’: Ferry covers ‘Don’t Ever Change‘, the same team that brought you hits from The Partridge Family, The Hollies, The Cookies, and Rod Stewart – Ladies and Gentlemen, Gerry Goffin and Carole King!

Recorded: AIR Studios, England June 1973.

Pics: Detail of the 1672 sculpture Entombment of Christ, showing Mary Magdalene crying; RMS composite, ‘River of Salt‘ original pressing & original Love Letters LP; signed BF Foolish Things; below, it’s tough to make a living in the music business: Ketty Lester in Blacula (1972).

Til next time!
ketty


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A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall

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A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall Bryan Ferry (cover version, ‘These Foolish Things’ 1973)
A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall Bob Dylan (original, ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ 1963)

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?

I. Where Have You Been?

There is a moment at the beginning of Ken Burns heart-rending documentary The Vietnam War when Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall provides the soundtrack to a chilling and moving prophecy: something dreadful and abhorrent is on its way, and the blue-eyed sons of a generation are going somewhere they may never return from, and if they do return, they may never be the same again.

Another blue-eyed son – Bryan Ferry – takes Dylan’s anti-war anthem and turns it inside out, downplaying and de-emphasizing the poetry while heightening the music and tunefulness of the original. It’s a fair trade, and one that still stands as an astonishing cover version of a folk classic Strikingly original and as tuneful as hell, Bryan Ferry chose to re-record the song as the lead track on his first solo album These Foolish Things, and in doing so scored a surprise hit, reaching number 10 in the UK charts in October 1973 (Viva). Success came at a price however: the single was controversial for its stomping (literally) on sacred ground, and it also created a schism in Bryan Ferry’s writing – a trend towards  minimizing lyrical density in favour of cover songs and a heightened mainstream sensibility  – an inclination, thankfully, still far away on the horizon as 1973 unfolded, they year that delivered two classic Roxy Music albums (For Your Pleasure, Stranded) and a surprising, even innovative, “one-off” solo release in These Foolish Things. As Ferry drily noted, 1973 “was some year of work.”

As Brian Eno left the band in July 1973 (see ‘Pleasure’ Part 2), the Roxy Music band-members felt the pain of losing their original line-up and their hard-earned musical identity. Andy Mackay felt angry enough to come close to quitting Roxy and joining Mott the Hoople (with whom he had played on their single ‘All the Way to Memphis‘ during the recording of For Your Pleasure). The saxophonist even insisted on creating a solo personae in the vein of a Ziggy Stardust alter-ego, as if to hedge bets for the future. (“I’m changing my name to Eddie Riff,” he told the NME in the same issue that Eno’s departure was announced). Phil Manzanera recalls the period as being, understandably, highly contentious and difficult: “When Eno left we were in danger of imploding completely” (Rigby, 86). After some breathing space and tempered negotiations – Manzanera and Mackay would receive writing co-credits on future Roxy Music recordings – the band decided to continue, Manzanera for one observing that “I hadn’t had my fill of being in a pop band yet” (Stump, 99). Band members also felt that doing solo albums would be a good way to relieve creative tension and so followed the two Brians on their solo album path, while retaining the Roxy Music brand as their raison d’être:

What’s interesting about Roxy is that most people in bands don’t do solo albums until they’ve been together for years. We all started doing solo albums almost immediately. We always had our own agenda, and as long as there was enough common ground we stayed together. There was always a possibility I could have left when Brian Eno did. I felt very loyal to him.

Andy Mackay

For his part, Bryan Ferry still felt that Roxy Music was the main thing, yet considered the Roxy ‘state of mind’ as malleable and applicable to other art projects. So he set upon the idea of recording an album of pre-written “ready-made” songs, some standards, some well-known classics, all of them personally important to Ferry as they spanned several decades from the 1930s through the 1960s, re-creating in spirit the set-list of his previous R ‘n’ B band The Gas Board.  Confiding to Melody Maker that “The people who did the best songs were pre-Beatles” Ferry was keen to surprise his audience, so much so music writer Hal Norman maintains that by its very contradictory nature These Foolish Things “remains as much of a revolution in the head as the great LPs of ’67 or ’77.” While this errs on the side of hyperbole – The Beatles and Sex Pistols be damned! – there is little doubt that Ferry was in new territory in 1973: for the post-60s generation originality was King, and anything less than an artist writing, recording and playing songs of striking originality was met with suspicion. Covering other people’s tunes demonstrated a lack of talent, a throw-back to Frank Sinatra‘s generation and the jazz standards of the 50s. No matter that John Coltrane had savaged the old Broadway chestnut ‘My Favourite Things‘ to create a be-bop revolution, the current thinking was that a Neil Young or a James Taylor wrote from their own observations  – meaning and expression was a gift to the audience by Artist, who toiled in everyday experience to bring the fruits of their insight to the masses.  Even Ferry was initially cautious in his ambition. “It wasn’t that I wanted to have another career,” he explained,  “I saw it as a one-off album”:

I must have been encouraged to do [a solo album] by Mark and David [Enthoven]. I thought it would be great to do a different kind of album to For Your Pleasure, one which wasn’t as dark and had a lightness in the way sinartrathat, say, Picasso does ceramics which are fun, and also does dark and mysterious work as well. I’m sure the album had good and bad repercussions. It opened Roxy Music up to a more mainstream audience. On the other hand, I might have pissed off the purists.

Bryan Ferry

Moving fast then – ‘Foolish Things’ was recorded in June 1973, with single and album released in September and October (at the same time Roxy went into the studio to record ‘Stranded‘), Ferry wisely stayed within his comfort zone by working with the members of the established Roxy Music machine – Paul Thompson was invited to play drums; Phil Manzanera played guitar on the Beatles cover of ‘You Won’t See Me’; For Your Pleasure musician and friend John Porter played bass and co-produced with Ferry; AIR Studios was re-booked; John Punter was back for co-production and engineering assistance; and as per the previous two Roxy albums, cover design was by Nicholas De Ville and photography was by Karl Stoecker. Andy Mackay and Brian Eno did not participate – which should come as a surprise to absolutely no one given the subterfuge and fall-out of the summer.

Utilizing Marcel Duchamp‘s idea of ready-mades or ‘found-objects’ – a pop-art trick Roxy Music had used so well on ‘Virginia Plain‘ and ‘Editions of You‘ – Ferry was keen to stick to mentor Richard Hamilton’s credo that art should be “Popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business” (Hamilton). This opened the way to throw another brand into the mix – that of the solo star, a beefcake teen idol called “Bryan Ferry”. The message to his audience and fellow Roxy band-members was clear: damn the torpedoes, I have ideas to burn, I can make it on my own. In doing so Ferry hit the nail on the head: the record sold by the bucket-load.
Screen Shot 2019-03-06 at 7.04.53 AMII. Who Did You See?

‘Hard Rain’ starts with the plaintive and familiar sound of Bryan Ferry’s electric piano tapping out a D-chord intro: it’s telling that the rhythm is slightly choppy, irregular, a human touch  – until four short seconds in, when the sound of violins slowly creep into the mix, precise, panning across both speakers. Ferry takes a breath at .09 and the voice is introduced, mid-range. Paul Thompson kicks in at .16 with a deft double-stroke roll and we’re off to the races, the rhythm catching fire for an extremely original and entertaining 5.19 minutes of pop perfection.

The introduction and selection of ‘Hard Rain’ for this, the opening cut on Bryan Ferry’s first solo album, is inspired and provides context for much of what follows for Ferry and Roxy Music in the 70s. Take innovative song selection and album sequencing for starters: in its original format Dylan’s track is a brilliant, if musically repetitive, question-and-answer poem that was ten minutes+ plus live, and six minutes fifty-five recorded – influenced by French Symbolists Arthur Rimbaud, Stephane Mallarme, and others, Dylan took the question and response format from multiple sources, some religious, one of them in the style of a centuries-old Scottish border ballad called “Lord Randal” with its question-and-answer format: “Oh where have you been, Lord Randal, my son; And where have you been my handsome young man” (FT). All sources helped imbue his song with striking images of conflict and apocalypse. The effect was a rain-driven “surrealistic downpour” (Riley) that became increasingly important and prescient for a country who, in 1963, was incubating hostility in Vietnam. (In another world, in some faraway galaxy, it is nice to imagine a society that heeds the warnings of the poets and assigns the Generals and war-mongers the noble job of grocery shopping and child-rearing). Intensely cinematic, Ferry’s choice is inspired – so wrong it’s right – and the sequencing on the record surprises as we move from ‘Hard Rain’s five minutes plus (the longest track on the record) to Ketty Lester‘s ‘River of Salt’ (the shortest).

The first few moments of ‘Hard Rain’ also introduce a significant moment in the history of Roxy Music: the debut of new band member, the fantastic and compelling multi-instrumentalist Eddie Jobson.
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“Who can replace Brian Eno?!”
Andy Mackay fumed to the NME when the split was announced to the music papers in July 1973. The answer to Andy’s question is, Eddie Jobson can.. Or, to be more precise, no one can. But Eddie Jobson was not a replacement for Brian Eno – he wasn’t hired to mix sound at live concerts, or manipulate Phil Manzanera’s guitar in the studio; he wasn’t hired to provide theories of being in a rock band or explain the role of ‘non-musician’ – quite the opposite, the gifted and multi-instrumentalist Jobson was hired to enhance and strengthen the musicianship of Roxy Music, to provide a wide breadth of support for live concerts, where keyboards, synth, violin and more could be supplied as the songs required, while Bryan Ferry took center-stage as singer and centerpiece of the live Roxy line-up. This view of Roxy as a professional and much sought-after viable recording & live music entity was what had kept Bryan Ferry awake at nights during the writing and recording of For Your Pleasure. Now the message had clarity – the goal of all marketing initiatives –  resulting in no audience confusion on how to receive and enjoy the b(r)and. Glamour. Style. Pop and rock perfectly captured and presented – the best integrated guitar, drums and saxophone in England, and not an earthworm in sight. Now the parts were in place, Ferry began to extract the spoils of war and put the (very young) 18-year-old Eddie Jobson to work.

“Did you know I was the entire orchestra on Bryan’s first album?”

Whether by grand design or sheer luck – Bryan Ferry was familiar with Eddie Jobson via a close family connection, both men hailing from North England, County Durham – Jobson was an incredible find for Roxy Music, enhancing the band’s sex appeal via his youthful presence (he was eighteen when he joined Roxy) and musical skill, topped off with a visually arresting translucent plexiglass violin that was as thrilling to look at as it was to listen to. Screen Shot 2019-03-17 at 9.43.54 AMMoreover, Jobson contributed immensely in the studio, not only honing and applying an exquisite taste in musical embellishment, but also bringing his creativity and skill to some of Roxy’s best recordings (‘Song for Europe‘, ‘Out of the Blue‘ and ‘Sunset‘ among many). And so too is the case with Ferry’s first solo outing – if you ask most people about Ferry’s cover of ‘Hard Rain’ it is the strident and multi-layered strings that are most remembered. “I came up with the choppy strings,” Jobson recalled of the sessions:

My credit on [These Foolish Things] casually says “strings” but I don’t think people realize that I not only wrote all the string parts, but I individually over-dubbed the violins, violas and cellos until my fingers were blistered. I also added the double bass parts by playing them on viola at double speed and then slowing down the tape (Jobson, 141).

The intensive string over-dubs changed the music beyond recognition – the Dylan original was a classic finger-picked ballad/protest ballad in the vein of folk icon Woody Guthrie (with whom the unknown 19-year-old Dylan visited regularly during the famous folkie’s final years).  The finger-picking style – with thumb picking out the base line and middle fingers picking out the rest of the chord – is a great vehicle for writer/poets who prefer to place emphasis on sound and alliteration, the steady rhythm serving to unclutter the poetry and message. John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero‘ is a classic of the genre, where the beat is steady and simple throughout, yet the message is barbed and to the point. In this regard, Dylan’s ‘Hard Rain’ is designed to be listened to. Indeed, Dylan took the question and answer format in part from the sacred text Child Ballad No. 12 Lord Randal and it does carry a sense of religious fervor that one suspects Ferry responded to – he didn’t care much for the political aspects of the song (“I can’t be bothered with all that Cuba Crisis stuff” (Viva)), but the devotional format would have made sense with Roxy recording the evangelical ‘Psalm‘ from Stranded almost concurrently with ‘Hard Rain’s’ release.

Lyrically, Ferry largely keeps to Dylan’s word choice, dropping only the repeated personal pronoun – instead of I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains, Ferry’s version go straight to the verb form as in “stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains”/crawled on six crooked highways and so on. These minor edits keeps each line moving at a fair clip. Ferry’s cover of ‘Hard Rain’ also adopts the Q&A format, with each verse the narrator asking a specific question, with answers coming from the young son. Verse 1 asks Where have you been? (Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?/Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?). Verse 2 asks What Did You See? Verse 3 asks What Did You Hear? 4 asks Who Did You Meet? And the final verse asks the most important question What Will You Do Now? Ferry used this call-and-answer format to maximum effect in his famous (and very early) promotional video for the single: sitting at his Grand white piano, squeezed between the instrument’s cover and soundboard, Ferry looks directly to his viewers and asks his questions. A separate camera picks up the dialog as he turns his head dramatically to answer and describe what he sees/hears/meets (Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter/Met a young woman whose body was burning/Saw a etc). An important aspect of Dylan’s song is retained and dramatized in the promo video as we, the audience, become the ‘blue-eyed’ son making our way through this tangle of poverty, ignorance and violence.Screen Shot 2019-03-17 at 9.36.29 AM
III. What Did You Hear?

By the time the first verse is underway, Ferry, Jobson and Thompson are inter-locked, moving swiftly towards twelve misty mountains and six crooked highways. At .44 we hear the winning sound of The Angelettes affirming Ferry’s conclusion that it’s a hard (hard!) hard rain’s a-gonna fall.” The Angelettes – Pat, Jan, Sue and Julie – were a harmony girl-group from Manchester, and along with Eddie Jobson, serve as a North England talent coup for Ferry, as he hired them for the AIR studio recordings and for his (now lost) appearance of the song on Top of The Pops. This is the first instance in a long career that Ferry uses female singers for vocal accompaniment – an attribute used extensively for future solo and Roxy Music recordings. While the commercial fortunes of The Angelettes never matched their skill for harmony and innovation, the fact that they contributed so much to ‘Hard Rain’ is often over-looked due to the humorous rag-tag chorus of the promotional video (complete with cross-dressing Coronation Street alumni), yet they shine on the album, particularly on ‘Hard Rain’ and the successful Beach Boys cover, ‘Don’t Worry Baby
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If Verse 1 sets the ball rolling with heavy rock, strings and dynamic drumming, then Verse 2 builds the sound picture with the introduction at 1.05 of John Porter’s guitar. In an effort to paint pictures in words and music, the guitar is the first instrument that sonically responds to the horror of the lyric, recoiling with a shake and a twang at I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’ (1.21). Intending the song to be heard (before it was seen) Ferry applies sound-effects liberally: “The sound of a thunder” produces thunder-claps at 2.02;  “Heard the roar of a wave” and we hear the sound of waves crashing at 2.08; Heard many people laughin’ brings forth studio laughter (2.17) and so on. In fact, it may be the effects and laughter that got up the noses of hardcore Dylan fans and critics – how can laughter be appropriate in such an apocalyptic song? – but this is both the attraction and ultimate success of this cover version – it’s grand, crass, pompous (in the best 70s sense), ironical, inspired, and above all, reverential. Taking on the mantle of the poet who “died in the gutter” new poet Ferry assumes the role of Dylan the Clown (who cried in the alley) only to be mocked by the chorus – announcement of his death is met with a sarcastic “awwww” at 2.21. Sounds like everyone in the control room – including the Angelettes – had fun with that one.

Over the course of the five verses in this six minute song, music and effects are carefully added to build a tapestry of ominous visual images and puns. The question and answer effects continue (black dog: “howwwl“/rainbow: “sprinkkkle”), yet there is a sense at the half-way point that we could conclude here and all would be fine, slow fade. A good cut for the BBC and the singles market.  But the story is not over: we have been, seen and heard, but have yet to absorb the lessons of human history, so the young one volunteers to “a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’.” Ferry is up for a-goin’ back out, and carries the second half by beefing up the instrumentation and vocals for the remaining two minutes 40 seconds of the song.
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Facing an emotional challenge – the young son will most certainly face death if he goes back out into the black forest (Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden) – the chorus and guitar build their lines to a harmonious climax. But the song is designed for Ferry by Ferry, the new solo star, so he creates room in the final verse to highlight his vocal performance and power, raising his naturally odd inflections across several closing lines:

Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten

Ferry sings brilliantly here as he spits out Where the people /Where the pellets/Where the home/…/ culminating in a fantastic staccato rhythm that requires an (audible) sharp intake of breath to get through the climax:

And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it

Here Ferry declares his right to sing Bob Dylan’s ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall‘ and re-interpret this classic folk song, turning it away from its acoustic roots to the world of foot-stomping teenage-rampage Glam. It matters not a wit, the message is the same: he will tell it, speak it, and continue to breathe it, for truth never goes out of style. A song re-made without compromise, Ferry gives a giant to-hell-with-you to the snobs and critics, and climbs to the top of the mountain streamline as a beacon of light, a reflector of the new modernity.

In Memoriam: To all the men, women and children killed and injured in New Zealand, March 2019. To the families of those left behind, we are sorry for your loss.

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You may have chosen us but we utterly reject and condemn you.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Next month: Brian tackles a sad-song metaphor – ‘River of Salt’

Recorded: AIR Studios, England June 1973. Various different versions of ‘Hard Rain’ release potent emotional energy – The Staple Singers engage in a powerful 1968 call-and-response that maintains a steady beat, and intensifies before the final verse; so too with Joan Baez, her unmistakable voice holding us in rapt attention. By far the most emotionally charged and profound take on the song, building to tears by the final verse, is Patti Smith‘s Bob Dylan’s acceptance speech at the 2016 Noble Peace Prize. At 1.54 Smith completely freezes (her word), and there is stunned silence from the Nobel crowd as she tries to get back to the verse lines. With a disarming “Sorry…I’m sorry.. Can we start that section.. I’m sorry…I apologise.. I’m so nervous” and a wide smile, she gains a well-earned round of applause. Emotion and good-will fill the room. It’s a profoundly moving moment, and Smith tackles the tough last verse cleanly with her frailty acknowledged and her humanity intact.

Pics: BF close-shot cover These Foolish Things; RMS composite Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Bryan Ferry (in studio recording TFT); various editions of the single; Eddie Jobson; EJ and BF making boogie at the old Grand piano; RMS composite from ‘Hard Rain‘ promo video plus some Bob Dylan shots pinched from the internet; RMS composite the magnificent Angelettes; RMS composite official BF ‘Hard Rain’ promo vid.

RIP Mark Hollis (1955-2019)
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It’s my life, don’t you forget
It’s my life, it never ends (It never ends)

Talk Talk


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For Your Pleasure – Part 2

eno costume
History… it’s out of date
Brian Eno

For Your Pleasure – Part 1
For Your Pleasure (1973)

One of the people saying goodbye (“ta-ra”) at the end of For Your Pleasure was Brian Eno, who quit the band in a hail of rubber bullets and bad vibes in July 1973 (Viva). While the subterfuge surrounding his exit makes for endless good copy – Eno’s super-hyped sex life was one highly quoted justification for getting the boot; his enjoyment of interviews and grabbing attention, another – but anyone with even a passing knowledge of Eno’s solo career knows intuitively that the obligations to a successful touring band would pall quickly beside the endless experimentation available within the confines of a modern recording studio. This is a man, after all, whose favourite word is “interesting” – and you’d have to go a long way to call an extended rinse-and-repeat World Tour interesting – fun maybe, boisterous, probably, but hardly interesting: “We’re not the kind of band to find a formula and then stick to it. That’s deathly!” (Williams). The quote is, tellingly, by Bryan Ferry, not Brian Eno. Why Brian Eno left Roxy Music is not really the question then, nor is it particularly interesting – ideas change, people change – what is interesting is what came after. Now that’s a story.

Roxy Music really was Bryan’s band, it was his vision … The whole construction was his in conception…It wouldn’t have been as interesting a band if I’d have been able to co-opt to go in my direction.
Brian Eno

For Your Pleasure remains one of Roxy’s most critically acclaimed albums, loved by fans, critics, and band members alike. The striking originality of the record still holds today. It was sexy, dark, mysterious, odd at times, musically inventive, lyrically potent – ‘In Every Dream Home a Heartache‘ was pop song as novel – and, as Roxy cultural critic Michael Bracewell succinctly put it, the album was “as hard rocking as it was culturally knowing” (Bracewell). Contemporary reviews were ecstatic, the NME proclaiming the record “a staggering fine piece of work, easily outstripping the first album” (Shaar Murray), while contemporary views continue to rate FYP as the best of Roxy’s career: PopMatters likens it to a “music supernova”; Morrissey insisted it was the “only truly great British album”(Wiki); Soundblab reckoned “For Your Pleasure has few rivals”; Diffuser ranked it as #1 in the Roxy canon and so on. The band also highly regards the sophomore recording – Paul Thompson felt “that album was better than the first one…sonically better” (PT). And as recently as 2018, Bryan Ferry posited that he and Brian Eno had “stopped on a very high note. Our second album, For Your Pleasure, was one of my favorite ones” (Consequence of Sound). Released on March 23rd 1973, For Your Pleasure hit number 4 during a 27 week run on the UK album charts (Viva) and it’s sold steadily ever since, influencing scores of musicians, writers and, of course, visual artists and fashion designers.

Musically, the band were delivering the goods both in the studio and in concert – one critic described the Roxy live experience as “demonic, sinister, apocolayptic, monstrous, dazzling, flashy” (Palmer). Major tours were launched on the back of the album’s release, their first headlining tour (with Chris Spedding‘s The Sharks supporting) took in both the UK and Europe, the opening dates of which had Amanda Lear dressed in full black leather gear viz ve the For Your Pleasure cover (no reports on whether the panther was in tow).  By now Roxy had developed a large and excitable European following with live appearances increasing sales in every city they visited, gigs rolling across England, Scotland, France, and the Netherlands like fashion parades. The band had become immensely popular style icons, promising their fans a glamour experience, a state of mind that coveted taste, refinement, adventure, and above all, escape.  The buzz on that first headlining tour was such that the “European Roxy mania would be an experience the group would never forget” (Rogan). The itinerary was long (see John O’Brien’s excellent Roxy site Viva for tour details) and the reviews spectacular, with one journalist noting that musically, “it’s drummer Paul Thompson and guitarist Phil Manzanera that came over best.” Of course they did – by this juncture Roxy were morphing into a hard-touring rock band and Paul and Phil were the heavy fuel needed for the six week, thirty-four date tour. By the end of the trek however, Brian Eno had had enough of the touring life, and Bryan Ferry was fed-up with Eno – the man the press were calling “the major visual phenomenon of ’73” (Guardian).

screen shot 2019-01-06 at 6.46.32 amFor Your Pleasure was a dark and important album for me to make –  it cleared the air of all that angst.
Bryan Ferry

Clearly Bryan Ferry was working through some thorny problems while writing the lyrics on For Your Pleasure, and much of it appeared to congregate on the problem of the direction Roxy Music should take. “I’d been nursing the idea for Roxy since 1964-65,” Ferry told the NME in 1973, “The actuality of Roxy is frighteningly close to what I wanted. Thank God it is – I’m very pleased with the way it’s worked out” (NME). As “chief architect” of the group, Ferry became increasingly alarmed as Eno started to obscure the hard-won vision of Roxy Music as an art-project and a successful band:

[Eno] loved doing interviews…And I sometimes thought that maybe he was taking credit – not wholly intentionally – for some of the things that I was doing. I didn’t want to be perceived as just the singer. I had written, and was the primary arranger of, the songs on the records. I felt that I was the main architect of everything, and I didn’t want to let go of that recognition. It was important to me. It was all I had. I was very proud of it, and I wasn’t very good at sharing.
Bryan Ferry

Taking his concerns to management as early as December 1972, Ferry was writing words and music that expressed anxiety and guilt, analyzing his personal insecurities while reviewing his future options.  “I didn’t really like the interview process,” he admitted, “I used to be really tongue-tied. I guess that’s what made me a singer; it’s a way of overcoming this verbal insecurity, verbal shyness… Brian of course had confidence in spades. He could give a lecture; stand up in front of any number of people about anything” (Buckley, 130). As an album defined by the “cloak of evening shadow” we cannot help but feel the personal turmoil:

Strictly Confidential‘ situates the anxiety –

Rolling and turning
How can I sleep?

And the agonizing internal dialog –

Haunting me always are the voices
Sometimes I wonder if they’re real

While lifting wording from music press interviews such as “tongue-tied” –

Tongue-tied the thread of conversation
Weighing the words one tries to use

And the possible feelings of guilt for actions that need to be taken to move Roxy Music forward –

Could it be evil thoughts become me? /
Guilt is a wound that’s hard to heal

The Bogus Man‘ struggles too with language –

Focused his mind on something he cared about
But it came out a shout just like before

As does the narrator in ‘For Your Pleasure‘ –

The words we use tumble/…
Gravel hard and loose

But the presentation of “such extremes” also provides a way forward, the undefined issue thoroughly investigated and fretted over, the author a shy and sensitive man who is a fighter at heart (“my work has to stand for everything I’m about really”) –

Getting older
But you’ll wake up soon and fight
In the morning
Things you worried about last night
Will seem lighter
I hope things will turn out right

And by album close the solution has been found – through every step, a change.

We feel you’re ready for a solo career
EG Records drops the hint to Brian Eno

The emphasis on the in-fighting between the two Bryan/Brians obscures a critical aspect of the Roxy Music story: namely, the presence and contributions of the rest of the group – Phil Manzanera, Paul Thompson and Andy Mackay. It is no coincidence that the For Your Pleasure album sees a brilliant advance on the musicianship and creative input of the Roxy band-members, with Brian Eno providing an equal share, yet no more important or transformative than the others. Indeed, critics and writers have often over-stated Eno’s contribution to Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure in particular, and in doing so have done a disservice to Thompson, Manzanera, Mackay, and even Bryan Ferry’s honest and original writing. “Eno’s stamp is all over the record” (BBC), is a common pronouncement made by critics and some fans, yet in point of fact producer Chris Thomas‘ stamp is all Screen Shot 2019-02-15 at 11.30.21 AMover the record, deploying the classic techniques he learned from working with The Beatles and also his contemporaneous co-mixing work on Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon. The warmer more “organic” sound of the album is an outcome of Thomas’ production, and suits perfectly the Gothic countryside, night-time voices and haunted corridors that blanket the album.

Another popular misconception is that Eno was responsible for every “weird” sound on Roxy Music and FYP, and had more a hand in the studio manipulating sound effects then he actually did (a misconception that Tony Visconti endured under Bowie/Eno for Low, Heroes, et al – the subject of a hilarious cartoon here). The suggestion that Eno wanted “to move toward texture and Ferry want[ed] to stay in more conventional rock territory” (allmusic) is easy journalism: that Eno wanted to push for a move towards texture is true, but he did not want to do so within the confines of a modern touring band such as Roxy Music. Indeed, it was the recording of For Your Pleasure that enabled Eno to familiarize himself with the studio environment and the technology within it, learning the possibilities of sound manipulation: “I was completely comfortable in the studio. I was very at home there and in fact it seemed to me that I had finally found my instrument” (Eno, 2009). Eno saw the potential, freedom and opportunities while learning from Chris Thomas and the crack engineers at George Martin’s AIR studios. Indeed, his production skills were still raw and underdeveloped several months after the split when he produced the fantastic Here Come the Warm Jets his first proper solo album and a record that hearkens directly back to rough and ready, punkish recording of Roxy Music. Recorded in twelve days in September 1973, Warm Jets sounded very much like the experimental style of Roxy Music, an album described as sounding like a “half-a-dozen separate bands clamoring for attention” (Chapman). Warm Jets was a cheap album to make and utilized most of the Roxy team – Mackay, Manzanera, Thompson and Thomas – sans Ferry – as Eno needed the help and support. As Eno biographer David Sheppard points out, Eno was “still a relative greenhorn when it came to twenty-four track recording” (Faraway Beach, 150). One engineer on the album stated flatly: “Brian didn’t know what he was doing – didn’t have a clue” (ibid). Chris Thomas’s job was to organize Eno’s “clamorous multi-track master tapes on which so many of the instrumental overdubs were doubled or trebled, injecting some clarity into what was in places a wall of opaque noise” (ibid).

The point being made is not to dismiss Brian Eno or his contribution to For Your Pleasure but to see the split of July 1973 for what it was: inevitable (for starters) but also the beginning of an expanded Roxy Music, whereby the white-hot talents of Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay and Paul Thompson achieve greater heights as Roxy re-configures after the hand-wringing angst of FYP, kick-starting solo careers that cross and conquer musical genres and influence new trends and generations of young people entering rock, music, art and television. Comments like “When Eno left the band it was all down hill from there” (Martyn Ware, Human League) needs reassessment and even challenge, for the art-project that was defined as “Roxy Music” had many more features than just glamour and irony – the nucleus of Mackay, Manzanera, Eno and Thompson performed across a number of musical and mass media platforms: books and television shows were written (Andy Mackay’s Electronic Music and hit TV series Rock Follies); production assignments included John Cale, Nico, Godley & Creme, Split Enz (Manzanera), Ultravox, Talking Heads, Devo (Eno); and inter-band collaborations included epoch defining records by David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Robert Fripp, 801, Talking Heads (again), Cluster, Bryan Ferry, and more. All the while they co-wrote, recorded, and co-produced four more brilliant 70s Roxy Music albums. And we haven’t even mentioned the solo records, many of them – particularly by Manzanera and Eno – are as good as the heights achieved by Roxy (Diamond Head, Another Green World, Music for Airports). In short, Roxy Music did not nose-dive after Brian Eno left the band in that hot summer of 1973 – a new and expanded ‘state of mind’ was just beginning:

What’s interesting about Roxy is that most people in bands don’t do solo albums until they’ve been together for years. We all started doing solo albums almost immediately. We always had our own agenda, and as long as there was enough common ground we stayed togetherAndy Mackay

roxy music family tree
Usually people think that it is the musicians who create the music, but in fact it is music who creates the musicians
Robert Fripp

Credits:

Eno feather “theater” suit (’72-73) currently in storage at the Victoria and Albert museum (V&A), by Carol McNicoll; Japanese For Your Pleasure poster; stock photo Ferry/Eno; 2001 Re-union Tour brochure, courtesy John O’Brien’s vivaroxymusic archive; FYP US DJ copy; Roxy producer Chris Thomas; the Roxy Music New Musical Express Rock Family Tree

Next, March 2019: “Make me a deal”: Roxy Music solo careers kick off with Bryan Ferry’s These Foolish Things. Hard rain falls but Roxy keep it together.


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For Your Pleasure – Part 1

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For Your Pleasure (1973)
For Your Pleasure (Live, 1975)
For Your Pleasure (Live, 2001)

It’s good to have your private obsessions
Bryan Ferry

For Your Pleasure ends on a high note, though you would be forgiven for missing it. The namesake track of the album starts like a funeral march, Paul Thompson’s sombre drum roll signals the beginning of the procession towards the cemetery or crematorium. Our host and author the Implied Bryan Ferry has come to bury something here, put to rest the tormented personae and characters that have been haunting him and his listeners for the past forty-two minutes. He has taken it far enough. He has opened up his psyche and thrown open each layer to let it run free, seeing what it would reveal and where it would go. The confession is as real and as affecting as any modern pop star has allowed  – more revealing than John Lennon at his lowest ebb; more affecting than Bob Dylan at his most poetic; more theatrical than David Bowie speaking in tongues. “For mood, style, and substance” notes one scribe, “this is a Roxy pinnacle” (jazzshelf).  This is a song of endings on an album of endings: Brian Eno will be gone before the next record. The Bogus Man will be gone too. The play has been performed, the denoument is here. The For Your Pleasure funeral procession gathers, those myriad voices, characters, and agents of darkness stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the pallbearer, the ferryman of Hades. Our destination is the River Styx, the underworld, the place that divides the world of the living from the world of the dead.  For your pleasure in our present state, Ferry writes, part false part true, we present ourselves.
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Stanza I. The Words We Use

For your pleasure in our present state
Part false part true like anything
We present ourselves
The words we use tumble
All over your shoulder
Gravel hard and loose
There all night lying
With your dark horse hiding
Abhorring such extremes

There is an extraordinary moment during the final concert of Roxy Music’s highly praised 2001 reunion tour. The venue is the Hammersmith Odeon (ne. Apollo); the show is being filmed for a live DVD (Live at the Apollo). The concert is over a 100 minutes in and it’s time to close out: the encore has been played (no surprises: ‘Do the Strand‘/’Love is the Drug‘); the audience is going nuts. And then the opening roll of Paul Thompson’s tom-toms and we are stunned to hear the opening bars of ‘For Your Pleasure‘. Roxy haven’t performed the song live since 1975. Ferry is deep into it. Thompson is solid, bold yet gracious (he knows it’s his song also). Manzanera and Spedding trade lines; Spedding smiles, no doubt surprised again at the simplicity of the notes but genuinely moved by the effect it has on an audience. At 1.44 the focus shifts center stage to Ferry (“Your rubbing shoulders…”). The eyes close (“Getting older…”). He appeals for daybreak, a way out of the worry, the torments. And at that moment you realize the audience is not only quiet but actually holding its breath. Will he..? (Would you..?). The voice cracks on cue – what was once the lyric of a young man singing to himself as an old man has now become the old man singing at us, his audience: part false part true, we present ourselves (2.22). The meta-textuality boomerangs around the hall as we look towards our younger selves singing back at us, and the key line is delivered, voice cracking, the defining Roxy Music moment: “Old man…Through every step a change…You watch me walk a-way…” His microphone traces a imaginary tear on his sweat-lined face and he leaves the stage. Ta-ra. Not a dry eye in the house (at least not in my house) as the rest of the band exit one-by-one, leaving Paul Thompson alone on the drum stool, proudly re-creating his finest moment, the audience reveling in the opportunity to tell him how great he really is.

It is an interesting characteristic of the track ‘For Your Pleasure’ that the word “present” is used twice in the first three lines (present state/present ourselves). Present in the sense of being a gift; a moment in time; a presentation or performance. In our current condition we play for you – thank you for coming to the show, buying the album, it’s been a gas. And that would be the end of it, usually, except that For Your Pleasure feels like something else, like it has staying power, like now that you’ve heard it it will be with you forever. Certainly, the journey has contained many musical twists – hard rock mixed with pantomime, balladry, doo-wop, psychedelia – and the record is great because of this, not in spite of it: you put it on when as mood strikes, for there is a tune for each mood, no matter how temperamental you might be. While the first album was a record of “chance encounters and wistful, evasive memories” (Jon Savage), the second is deeper, darker, more sexually charged (the cover alone is worth a good night on the town), but also melancholy, haunted, obsessed – by ideas, by private thoughts. The lyrics hide as much as they reveal, for Bryan Ferry applies the tools of a novelist or playwright: For Your Pleasure is an eight-act play populated by characters and personae found lurking deep within the writer’s psyche – or at least the psyche of his public persona, the Implied Author/Singer/Entertainer/Artist/Playboy/Pleasure Seeker. The author takes the fragile ball of his subconscious, his élan vital, and rubs it in his hands until the blood and sweat produce a perfect round sphere – at which point he smashes it down on the table, breaking himself into eight separate ragged stories. The results are mysterious, and a mystery to him also. But this is the journey, and, as the saying goes, all the world’s a stage, and we minions are all merely players.

The anxiety and self-analysis started with ‘Virginia Plain’, the hit single that provided lyricist and author Bryan Ferry with a vision for Roxy Music that took them beyond the avant-garde. “‘Virginia Plain’ was totally crucial for the way Roxy developed,” noted Andy Mackay in 2011. “Getting a hit single changed the perception from us being an album, art school band, to being a pop group, and then we got kids listening to us in every town in Britain, suddenly we were greeted with huge enthusiasm and warmth” (Thrill). ‘VP’ both imagines a new world of fame and, thrillingly, delivers it: “Opens up exclusive doors oh wow!” But beneath the surface there is Ferry’s desperation – “Just tryin’ to make make the big time“/ “throw me a line I’m sinking fast,” while the band clutches at straws, scrambling for a hit (“Havana sound we’re trying”).  The luster of glamour shines at each turn (“Dance the cha cha through till sunrise”), yet warning signs are everywhere: “Last picture shows down the drive in,” is both a movie title referencing the loss of independent Hollywood cinema and an ironic nod also to the demise of the American drive-in movie theater. And then there’s that sheer and chic “teenage rebel of the week” – the rebel is James Dean, the young movie-star who shot to stardom in Rebel Without a Cause in 1955 – the same year he starred in the film that made him famous, he was dead.

Antony Price designs Bryan Ferry’s ‘Virginia Plain’ Top of the Pops costume based on Max Reinhardt’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935). Oberon (“King of the Fairies”/Ferry) is played by Victor Jory.

‘Virginia Plain’ is the starting point for the discussion that will both continue into For Your Pleasure and be resolved by it. Cognizant of musical tradition and history, and aware of the seductive dangers of glamour and fame as represented by heroes such as Marilyn Monroe (suicide/’Strictly Confidential‘) and Salvador Dali (sexual, artistic impotence/’Pyjamarama‘) Roxy Music positioned themselves as postmodern, “boundary blurring, self-reflexive, both serious in an art rock vein and playful in a glam rock vein” (popmatters). Brian Eno saw Ferry’s writing and Roxy Music’s performances as a new form of honesty and revolt – as a battle between the modern pop sensibility and the “folkies” of the 60s: “Folkies saw their music as pure, socialistic, honest – belonging to a world of decent work and real values, whereas pop fans saw it as rureno duckal, hairy and irrelevant. Pop fans in turn saw their music as modern and dangerous, part of a world of malleability and revolt, but folkies heard that same music as synthetic, ephemeral and shallow” (Eno, “From Roots to Relativism”, 2006).

Emphasizing both postmodernism’s playfulness, “revolt” and honesty, ‘For Your Pleasure’ states its lyrical case in the opening line by declaring itself an object of fictional autobiography – a play or presentation:

For your pleasure in our present state
Part false part true like anything
We present ourselves

Ferry speaks to us, his audience, very clearly and directly here stating that the performance is done at our request, his fans have urged this record into being. The dictionary term “for your pleasure” tells us that “something is done because someone wants it to be done” (Webster). Ferry admits, as all postmodern writers must, that the narrative will be “part true, part false” – like all story telling – but that he and the band stand in their present state as honest as possible, naked and ready to be examined and critiqued. By defining the origins and context of this brand of entertainment the power structure is laid bare – like pulling back the curtains to find the Wizard of Oz controlling the drama. Another variant on ‘for your pleasure’ is of course “At Her Majesty’s Pleasure” – the time served in jail or prison for an indefinite period. In this meta-textual pop game, Ferry is not willing to let his audience sit back and merely throw popcorn from the stalls: on this record, his torments are the result of our demand for new product and he’s letting us know there could be blood on our hands. (Yes, fictional blood, but is this not all a game – what’s real and make belief?).

So the play is set in motion with its honesty, paranoia and dread clinging to each line:

The words we use tumble
All over your shoulder
Gravel hard and loose

Within this marvelous refrain Ferry provides a number of postmodern maxims – the slippage of language and meaning via semiotics and structuralist theories –  “the words we use tumble” – but also, crucially, references the themes presented by many of the songs on the album, in particular the haunting and haunted ‘Strictly Confidential‘.  Both ‘Strictly Confidential’ and ‘For Your Pleasure’ take place during restless nighttime (“the cloak of evening shadow”), the narrator haunted by doubt and insecurity, those moments that Ferry concedes is an important part of his creative process: “When I’m writing a song, I’m very much on my own. That first stage is a kind of lonely one, where you’re wrestling with your demons” (2012). ‘Strictly Confidential’ promises to tell us the “secrets” we must know, while ‘FYP’ asserts that words never convey the truth – “The words we use tumble/…/Gravel hard and loose.” To which ‘SC’ responds, “nevertheless communication/This is the gift you must not lose.” Communication and honesty is For Your Pleasure‘s battleground and ‘Strictly Confidential’ is such a deep and dark song that album closer ‘For Your Pleasure’ is compelled to address its power: by album close the suicide is either thwarted (“How can I sleep/Hold on till morning/What if I fall“) or the sufferer is summoned by Paul Thompson’s death-march drumming to join the funeral procession, condemned for eternity as punishment for taking your own life: the Ferryman of Hades ready to take you to The Acheron, the river of pain, the river of lost souls.

The emphasis on broken communication, isolation and loneliness was a ballsy gambit for a second album, especially in 1973, as this was a year of glitz and stardust, a time that Bryan Ferry biographer David Buckley described as “rock’s annus mirabilis: twelve months of exhilarating foolery that presented British pop at its most theatrical and its most showbiz.” (Buckley). The exhilarating foolery is evident in For Your Pleasure – tracks ‘Do the Strand‘ and ‘Editions of You‘ are rockers trying to outrun the darkness – but even the solemn death-march of ‘For Your Pleasure’ plays with our expectations as the song trips over itself with puns and allusions – “The words we use tumble” suggesting that a delight in language is not the same thing as trusting language (part true, part false). If the words we use tumble and consist of loose associations then, ergo, the play we are enjoying is unreliable and open to misinterpretation. Ferry is having fun at our expense – suggesting that the album is unreadable or has options for multiple readings – or, more tantalisingly, promises us secrets will be presented, but not necessarily revealed. Don’t ask why.

Secrets are the glue that holds together the album. The first track recorded at the For Your Pleasure sessions, ‘Pyjamarama‘ has Ferry singing “The say you have a secret life” the nameless object of desire a key motif in the Roxy catalog. Secrets shadow the darker songs: ‘Beauty Queen‘s “Valerie” transforms over the course of the song from girlfriend into a glamour model or magazine cover (your choice); while the suicidal narrator in ‘Strictly Confidential’ tells us there are secrets “you must know,” the voice ambiguous enough to be either man or woman.  The Bogus Man is a secretive and murderous tyrant who lacks the sophistication to “find out about deception,” while the narrator for ‘In Every Dream Home a Heartache’ unwittingly plumbs the depths of secret activities. Hence these aspects of the lead singer’s personality are toyed with, presented to us as the play progresses, but not confirmed in the biographical sense – no more than if David Bowie was Major Tom or Will Ferrel a real Elf from the North Pole – yet at this stage Ferry had the courage to take chances and let the mask settle a little closer to the skin without burning the flesh entirely. The slippage of signs and referents so common to Roxy (‘Re-Make/Re-Model’; ‘Ladytron’ et al) would enable Eno to theorize years later that the choice of pop band in the early 70s wasn’t just “an argument between people with different tastes, but between people who believed in quite different worlds” (2006). The concluding track of For Your Pleasure is the final working out of the Roxy Music ‘state of mind’, that new world of pleasure, sin and possibility, where glamour and style hold off the terrors of the night. With this dynamic in play the following lines are killer:

There all night lying
With your dark horse hiding
Abhorring such extremes

According to the Cambridge dictionary a “dark horse” is a person who “keeps their interests and ideas secret, especially someone who has a surprising ability or skill.” (Cambridge). Someone who keeps their interests and ideas secret…possesses a surprising ability or skill – like singing in a rock band and being hailed as a new-style savior, perhaps? There is lovely subterfuge here as the author keeps us guessing: “All night lying” is both a statement of physical pronation and not telling the truth. Nevertheless there is much honesty in that “dark horse hiding” line, admitting that you want a secret life in the face of increasing fame, while retaining the sense that you are as much a mystery to yourself as the Dream Home maniac or the womanizer in ‘Pyjamarama’ (“how could I apologise for all those lies”). Not only that, but you hope that your hidden secretive side has a moralistic backbone and that the answer to the question “could it be that evil thoughts become me?” (‘SC’) is yes, but only on the page. Yet in an act of exemplary honesty and faith, Ferry, abhorring extremes, goes in search of his dark horse in exactly the same manner he has chosen to reveal the misshapen and seedy characters in his play – he goes in search of himself.

screen shot 2019-01-30 at 7.17.32 amStanza II. Through Every Step a Change

You’re rubbing shoulders
With the stars at night shining so bright
Getting older
But you’ll wake up soon and fight
In the morning

Things you worried about last night
Will seem lighter
I hope things will turn out right
Old man

Through every step a change
You watch me walk away

Ta – ra

Rolling Stone once described the experience of Roxy Music as Ferry presenting “a cabaret for psychotics” (RS). This is certainly the case of For Your Pleasure, where the cabaret of freaks and wounded are paraded past us doing a mad dance called The Strand. Clearly a record that comes deep from within Ferry’s authorial psyche, the singer-songwriter tantalizing us with visions of “nighttime decadence” (Cope), poetic hauntings, and a “classically romantic impulse to seek moments of transcendence from the mundane and the known” (Bracewell). Within this rich labyrinth is much humor, incredible musicality courtesy of Mackay, Manzanera, Thompson and Porter (we’ll talk more about Eno in Part 2), and a sense that by the album close a problem has been overcome, the issue of communication resolved –  even though words are prone to “tumble/gravel hard and loose” he has clarity now, the morning has come: the gravel forms the path, the path provides the steps towards Stranded, The Third Roxy Music Album.

Forward moment has been critical to Roxy ever since ‘Virginia Plain’ took the band on that imaginary airplane ride down to Rio. In search of the new, author and band have had their sights set on the future while keeping one eye on the past. This dynamic created a wonderful tension of transition, of straddling multiple worlds, of what Shock and Awe author Simon Reynolds described as a “crush-collision of progressive head music and danceable pop, experimentalism and showbiz, abstraction and cliche, Europe and America, anti-commercial and commercial, irony and passion…” (Glam Rock and Its Legacy). The past and future is therefore at the core of For Your Pleasure, as Bryan Ferry invents characters that dramatize his internal worry, his refined sense of authorship and honesty providing his audience with an entertaining spectacle – record, movie or play, take your pick – that begins the moment we feel that panther’s eyes set on us.  “Every step I take/takes me further from heaven” notes the narrator in ‘Every Dream Home’, yet the central drama takes place knowing the forward movement is inevitable, even while the glamour life-style holds warnings. By album close Roxy Music will have changed: “guilt is a wound that’s hard to heal.” Is this the secret we should know?

screenshot2019-01-31at7.58.45amThey were postmodern before the word was invented
Martin Fry, ABC

As the lost souls on the album gather to take their last march – the Bogus men, the fetishists, The Sphynx and Mona Lisa, Lolita and Guernica – an extraordinary change takes place in the lyric regarding narrative point of view: not merely content to roll out his actors across the stage, Ferry decides to expose that dark horse in hiding – his own self. Throughout the song the possessive form of you has been consistently used:

Stanza I

For your pleasure/…/The words we use tumble, All over your shoulder/…/There all night lying, With your dark horse hiding.

The author stands outside himself – or if you prefer, points to us, the audience – and addresses himself as a character in the play (“your“). This continues in the second stanza:

Stanza II

You’re rubbing shoulders
With the stars at night shining so bright

The reference is ‘Beauty Queen’: those pre-fame soul ships passing on their way “to the stars in the sky.”

Getting older/But you’ll wake up soon and fight

The reference is mid-20s anxiety as highlighted in ‘Virginia Plain’ – determination, drive, ambition and no longer “sinking fast.”

In the morning
Things you worried about last night
Will seem lighter

The reference is the suicidal voice in ‘Strictly Confidential‘, the character rolling and turning, how can I sleep? Hold on till morning.

And then an important shift in narrative perspective, like the sun finally coming in those bedroom windows:

I hope things will turn out right

The subject changes from you to > I.  The dark horse has been found, unmasked, and Ferry faces himself directly in For Your Pleasure for the first time:

Old man
Through every step a change
You watch me walk away

The vocal performance is extraordinary – the timbre cracked and aged – has there ever been a more emotionally vulnerable phrase in all of popular music?

Ferry waves goodbye to this version of himself, the gravel path leading him now in a different direction, towards tomorrow and that concert hall at the Apollo.

Ta-ra

The Newcastle lad leaves the old life behind for good, evoking the Northern expression for farewell and goodbye:

Ta-ra“… “Ta-ra” … “Ta-ra” …

screenshot2019-01-31at8.33.47am

Credits:

Stock photo, black panther as Death squares off with the viewer; River Styx etching by Gustave Doré; Ferry on Top of the Pops 1972 juxtaposed with Obernon in Max Reinhardt’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935); Brian Eno poses in front of his apartment duck wall, NME 1973, Pennie Smith; ‘Isle of the Dead: “Basel” version, 1880 by Arnold Böcklin; ‘Isle of the Dead’: Third version, 1883 by Arnold Böcklin; Isle of the Dead movie with Boris Karloff (1945), directed by Mark Robson. Scary kids!

Next, February 2019: For Your Pleasure Part 2 – the music! the madness! Brian Eno leaves Roxy Music. Bryan Ferry goes solo. Phil and Andy grumble but decide to stick with it. Paul’s talent continues to bloom (or boom-boom). Roxy Music arrive on that island, stranded, and make one of the best albums of their career.

Til next time – ta-ra!


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Grey Lagoons

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Grey Lagoons (1973)
Grey Lagoons (“Bogus Man Part 2” Live 1972)

I would really be missing the point if I didn’t mention Bryan Ferry, because I thought he was the most exciting singer that I’d heard. His voice had limitations, but what he managed to do with it was beautiful, I mean, b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l. For me it covered the whole emotional spectrum, and I just couldn’t get enough of it.
Kate Bush

I’d sooner have somebody drive nails through my scrotum, generally, than play a live show
Brian Eno

Remarking on his Roxy Music and solo career to the New Musical Express in 1977, Brian Eno didn’t care very much for ‘Grey Lagoons’, citing it as “a very trivial track – our Fifties gesture type of thing.” There is some justification to this view as Roxy had already recorded a 50s homage on the first album, leading one band-watcher to remark that ‘Lagoons’ was revisionist, in both subject and execution: “it’s ‘Would You Believe?‘ all over again!” (Rigby). Certainly, the 50s revivalism in British pop music in 1973 was suffering from over-exposure –  topping the UK charts were a multitude of I-IV-V hits along the lines of ‘See My Baby Jive’, ‘Tiger Feet’, and ‘Roll Over Beethoven’. Bands like Showaddywaddy, Alvin Stardust, Mud, even the great David Bowie (‘The Jean Genie‘/’Drive-in-Saturday‘) was using the looks and hooks of 1950s rock n’ roll culture to generate sales. Yet for Roxy – who had celebrated the 50s Teddy Boy look most effectively via Andy Mackay’s heavy eye-shadow and rocker quiff – the insertion of ‘Grey Lagoons’ as the penultimate For Your Pleasure track made perfect sense: as part of the album’s conceptual song-cycle, ‘Lagoons’ provided important passage from the sleek and disturbing night-time hauntings of ‘Strictly Confidential’, ‘Dream Home’ and ‘The Bogus Man’ to the tentative optimism of 50s doo-wop cultural nostalgia as represented by grey lagoons – grey being the the transition shade from dark to light – before settling finally on album closer ‘For Your Pleasure’, the brilliant postscript track that summarizes and assesses all that comes before it, sign-posting and ushering Ferry and Roxy towards the sunnier (though still ship-wrecked) world of Stranded.

Arguably, the key to ‘Grey Lagoons’ is to hear it in the context of the overall fabric of the record and less as a stand-alone piece. While ‘Lagoons’ has sometimes been identified as the second-part of ‘The Bogus Man’  – the title ‘The Bogus Man Part 2‘ was a last minute throw-in for the BBC live performance of the song in 1972, well before the title ‘Grey Lagoons’ had been nailed down or the track even recorded. Indeed, ‘Lagoons’ had a long gestation period – it was on Ferry’s Roxy Music demo tape shoved through the letter-box of Melody Maker‘s Richard Williams in 1971 (Viva), and then it was passed over in favor of 50s pastiche Would You Believe? on the first album. Nonetheless, Ferry was right to finally include ‘Lagoons’ on For Your Pleasure, in spite of Eno’s reservations. The song provides relief from the dense and disquieting tracks that come before it, particularly the final death-sigh of ‘The Bogus Man’, as the track reaches its sordid end  and the gentle piano notes of ‘Lagoons’ are introduced. Lyrically though, events remain largely pessimistic.

Album reviewer Kevin Orton perhaps sums it best: “While the band aren’t shy about plumbing the depths of misery, they never commit the cardinal sin of being dreary” (Soundblab). Musically, the track evokes the retro sensibility of Glam by mashing up 50s rock n’ roll, blistering West Coast lead guitar, folk harmonica, and a convincing run at honky-tonk piano in the spirit of Mott the Hoople‘s ‘All the Way from Memphis‘, a track that Andy Mackay played on at AIR during the FYP sessions. (Mackay was friendly enough with Mott the Hoople to seriously consider joining the band after Eno’s departure from Roxy). The brightness of the Eno/MacKay barber-shop choir during the introduction (“Blue sunsets and grey lagoooons…”) lifts us from the conundrum of the groove-inspired yet terminally dying ‘The Bogus Man’ into a brighter world, nostalgic perhaps for a time before bogus men and dream home heartaches. Paul Thompson’s drumming is simply superb as it kicks in at .23 and then maintains a typically solid yet buoyant beat throughout – a toe-tapper perfectly in time with the humorous 50s doo-wop evocation of fake alibis and morning sickness on Friday nights.

This optimism is throttled over the course of the song as Ferry uses a classic three-part dramatic structure to slowly reveal ‘Grey Lagoons’ secrets:

I)
Blue sunsets and grey lagoons
Silver starfish with honeymoons
All these and more to choose
If you

II)
Satin teardrops on velvet lights
Morning sickness on Friday nights
Heaven knows what others I might bring
To you

III)
Broken partings making strange goodbyes
Hopeless cases with fake alibis
Even hoping we’ll be there to share
With you

Blue suns and grey lagoons
Grey lagoons
Grey lagoons

There three stanzas can be said to be observations on (I) Courtship; (II) Marriage; and (III) Break-up. This can be seen if we substitute the words “marry me” after the closing phrase of each stanza:

Heaven knows what others I might bring
If you (marry me)

Heaven knows what others I might bring
To you (if you marry me)

Even hoping we’ll be there to share
With you (if you marry me)

For this vantage point context is everything: the first verse presents the lovers with the fresh optimism of Silver starfish with honeymoons; the second verse offers the sordid domestic realism of Morning sickness on Friday nights; and the third, the pessimistic and relationship-ending Broken partings and strange goodbyes: All these to and more to choose/ If you.. While he may have had aspirations to be a romantic crooner and lounge-lizard, no one can accuse Bryan Ferry of being a sentimentalist…!

The ‘Lagoons’ love story is similar to second Roxy single ‘Pyjamarama’, that entertaining domestic comedy of manners and the first song recorded at the FYP sessions, where the narrator’s declaration Oh how I’d love to hold you tight is reduced by song’s end to How could I apologise for all those lies. We hear again this apology in ‘Grey Lagoons’ where the narrator admits his alibis are fake – cover-ups, presumably, for what will be relationship-killing affairs. The narrative arc is the same as ‘PJ’ but as ‘Lagoons’ was written over a year or more earlier, Ferry was still interested in setting up a rich set of classic romantic couplets and imagery to convey the desired sense of promise followed by collapse. In ‘Lagoons’ the writer stands outside the relationship, composing for the listener the story of failed love at a distance, as a work of narrative poetry. For the next set of songs – ‘Pyjamarama’ and, say ‘Mother of Pearl’ or anything on Country Life or Siren – the writer is smack in the middle of the party, desperate to score. This is in part one of the reasons over time Ferry de-emphasized the importance of his lyrics – as his career with Roxy progressed, the initial position of being outside of events looking in (Roxy Music; ‘Virginia Plain’; FYP) gave way to him being at the center of the action (Stranded/Country Life/Siren), then somehow moving beyond it all – with no solutions found – towards the crisp idealized soundscapes of Flesh and Blood/Avalon. (Manifesto is the transition record, the shift clearly marked by its East and West sides). Too pat a summary perhaps, but the general drift away from lyrical density is clear by the time we get to Avalon.
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And so for early cut ‘Grey Lagoons’ Ferry was still interested in the tropes of romantic language, similar to those found in another early song, ‘If There is Something‘. Instead of growing potatoes by the score or swimming all the oceans blue, the singer-songwriter presents the hyper-romantic images of Blue sunsets, Satin teardrops, Velvet lights and Silver starfish, all establishing an intricate poetic scheme that paints broad strokes of blue, silver, grey, and velvet across the romance color spectrum. For Roxy Music biographer Johnny Rogan this emphasis on romantic diction in ‘Grey Lagoons’ showed Ferry at his most lyrically trite: “it certainly displayed Ferry at his most impressionistic, glibly combining meaningless couplets.” While Rogan is a welcome and intelligent critic, he’s off the mark here, as the lyric is far from glib. (Rogan is notable also for calling final track ‘For Your Pleasure’ “trivial” (56). Is he listening to the same record we are?). In fact the imagery in ‘Lagoons’ is carefully and scrupulously composed to demonstrate how romantic language can be glamorous yet contain opposite meanings – a favorite Ferry approach.

To begin with, our suspicions should be raised by a love song that sounds sincere – the music is warm and inviting after all – and by a writing style that looks like pure love poetry. Ferry intentionally selects a rich tapestry of romantic diction to put us in the context of time-honored romance balladry – there are sunsets, honeymoons, and teardrops in abundance, but they come at an odd angle – the sunsets are blue (when does that happen?) – the lagoons are grey (not emerald green?) – satin teardrops come with morning sickness and so on. Something is left deliberately amiss here, but the music is so seductive we do not catch it – the “ohhhhhhhhs” of the Eno/MacKay barber-shop choir alone are virtuous enough to put us off our guard.

The wreckage continues if you consider the meaning of the words themselves. For instance, a lagoon is a body of water separated from other bodies of water by a natural barrier. Hence, a lagoon is always stand-alone or separated or cut-off from its source, and in some instances this isolated body of water can become so self-contained that it becomes putrid due to lack of fresh water, and turns into a swamp. A grey lifeless quagmire – hardly the stuff of togetherness, courtship and romance. Indeed, the somber greys and blues in the song all serve to highlight a lack of connection or human contact: blue sunsets, for example, can actually only happen in one place – on planet Mars. (I’m not making this up!). The difference between Earth and Mars’ nightfall is due to atmospherics (see here) but while Earth traditionally has lovely red sunsets, Mars has a sunset that is truly blue. In other words, Ferry offers his lover the promise of a blue sunset but it can only be had on another world, on Mars, the red planet, the warrior planet.

two world
I don’t think a group so much into advanced music has ever used these old sources so obviously before
.
Bryan Ferry

And what about grey as a guiding metaphor: there’s those silver starfish and satin teardrops – both favored by jewelry designers across the ages as emblems of love and courtship. (Starfish tend to be necklaces, teardrops earrings). Sterling silver starfish charms, besides being aesthetically pleasing (the “star” is key), are also purchased and worn as a symbol of rebirth. The quality of rebirth is easy to understand; a starfish can easily regenerate a missing limb. But given this is a Roxy song we suspect this efficient replacement may not necessarily be a virtue – and so it turns out that we have met this narrator before, here and in other songs, particularly ‘Editions of You‘, where every new lover is a replaceable copy, endlessly substitutable like issues of a weekly magazine. This starfish will move forward alright, to live and feed, effortlessly replacing limbs at will as the need arises.

Another set of subverted romantic images comes to us courtesy of the cinema: Ferry situates the narrator and his audience within the flickering lights of the silver screen in order to tell his story of warning and vulnerability. Flush from visions of starfish and honeymoons, our narrator gushingly promises his lover Satin teardrops on velvet lights, which, all things considered, is a pretty seductive offer, as it carries with it the luxurious sensory evocations of satin and velvet to wrap our dreams in. It is interesting aspect of the song that the term “velvet lights” is emphatically cinematic – a widely Screen Shot 2018-12-26 at 7.19.16 AMread film magazine from the early 70s titled The Velvet Light Trap was essential reading for a generation of film-makers and cinema enthusiasts. The journal’s name originates from a specific part of a film camera that keeps the light out where the magazine is attached (wiki). A part of a film camera that keeps the light out – separation and concealment again as predominant image. And so too with the sweeping reference to movie-going and cinema, watching the drama of a failed romance unfold before us – the sights and sounds of Friday night’s satin tears falling against a background of flickering velvet lights before the reality of Monday morning sickness sets in. An un-love story for the ages.

The use of 50s doo-wop makes perfect sense in a song that subverts the language of romance and turns it on his head to reveal the sordid truth beneath the glamour. Ferry’s story is told by a charlatan remarkably similar to the voices we have already heard on the record – ‘The Bogus Man’ is an imposter both to himself and to others (a dangerous one at that) – the narrator in ‘Dream Home Heartache’ is an unhinged fantasizer – yet we are inclined to see the track as softer, lighter in touch as it tunefully reaches back into the past to recall an American Graffiti style idealism, an idealism recalled through our collective desire for nostalgia. Ferry’s voice cracks at the end of the song (Grey lagoons/Grey lagoons/Grey lagoon-oooun-oonanooos) sounding if he can’t really take seriously the song or story he has just told. He loves the words, loves the music – as we all do – but this is the story of a courtship gone wrong, a bill and coo designed to frighten off any potential sweetheart. The narrator starts from a position of self-loathing – or, if you prefer, personal insight – but he cannot bring himself to tell the truth to his loved one, so he tells his story the only way he knows how – through the well-worn tropes of love poetry, of romantic symbolism, of cinematic reverence. Yet all this does is demonstrate the distance inherent in language, and perhaps love itself, that unobtainable object.

‘Grey Lagoons’ belongs on For Your Pleasure alright, for it is every bit as dark and subversive as the songs that precede it, perhaps even more so, for it is presented and packaged as something it is not – like a sterling silver starfish given to a sweetheart, or a single satin teardrop shed at the movies on a lonely Friday night. To you..

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Dedicated to Director and Cinematographer
Nicolas Roeg (1928 – 2018).  “I fell in love with him then and will love him forever” – Donald Sutherland, star of Don’t Look Now.

Recorded: AIR Studios, London February 1973

Credits: Art work “B-Movie” by the brilliant John Foxx (early Ultravox), a true heir of Brian Eno’s ambient music; John Foxx again, Quite Man II; ; Two Worlds One Sun, from https://blog.briankoberlein.com/two-worlds-one-sun/; Velvet Light Trap magazine; and, keeping in theme, John Foxx’s the Projectionist 1

Next – January 2019: we come to the end of this particular journey next month with the track ‘For Your Pleasure’ – part false, part true, like anything. The culmination of this amazing record.

Happy New Year! and thank you all for continuing to support the blog and the writing – readership has increased substantially each month for the past three years, and for that I am thrilled and indebted to you. Muchas gracias!

I’d like to thank John O’Brien and his excellent site VivaRoxyMusic as the go-to place for Roxy Music news and info. A gentleman and a scholar. Cheers John.

And finally, though I never knew I cared about these things, congratulations to Roxy Music on getting into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. The email campaign was a hoot, but more importantly the recognition was good for the band, “the musicians, engineers, producers, designers and numerous people behind the scenes…and of course our loyal fans” (BF.com). Perhaps the band, after thinking they’ve been on the outside all these years, will now feel more part of it all – something we have known all along – it just took the world longer to catch up! 🙂

Goodnight 2018!