For Your Pleasure

Roxy Music and the 70s

If There is Something – Part 2

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Shake Your Head Girl

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 8.09.09 AMFelicity Jones (Ruth) //Flashbacks of a Fool//2008

Think Roxy girl…  I’m gonna be Bryan.
Baillie Walsh

If you’re going to be Bryan, Ruth, you better be able to hit the high notes!  Ferry’s narrative exaggerations and declarations of love fill the ear and mind with wonderful images of Romantic Love and turbulent raw emotion. The song is clearly a quest narrative (if there is something/that I might find?), setting forth in vivid poetic language the signs and symbols that represent our idea of love and human connection, while simultaneously articulating the writer’s struggle to find the right words, feeling and emotion (if there are many meaning the same/Being specific is just a game).  Throughout, the narrative voice and vocal performance is wracked, raw, blissful, operatic, and aware of itself as performance. This finds its epiphanic conclusion in the final stanza, but to sweeten the deal we need first a musical bridge to take us there – a guided path to arrive satisfactorily to the conclusion of Ferry’s 4-act play. Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera respond with a perfect musical link that builds on the band interplay already established on  Re-Make/Re-Model and Ladytron, with the added bonus of introducing a third musical bedrock to the Roxy Music listening experience – The Great Paul Thompson.

roxy label
Friendly Yellow Lights

Brian Eno’s drafted, never-used stage directions for ‘If There is Something’ provide ample insight on band intent for the song:

Friendly yellow lights – cf ‘Oklahoma’
‘I would do.’ – dark and more dramatic
occasional reds in torrid section
grand purple guitar arpeggios – lights on player
Sax solo – fade to morose deep green and violet
‘Shake your head girl’ – pink spot on Bryan
2nd verse spot on Andy and Eno
guitar solo

The beautiful melody refrain backed by chord progression Cm/Bb/Ab/G at 1.39 will ring through the grand purple guitar arpeggios and assure there  is a light is shined on the players. Ferry’s outburst I would do anything for you! delivers the emotional cracked-voice intensity, and ushers in at 2.40-5.05 an instrumental section of some of the most sublime music Roxy ever put to vinyl.

The Bridge: Deep Green and Violet
2.39-2.50: The musical motif is repeated by piano, guitar, but is given full breath by Andy Mackay’s soprano sax, building on the notes until he hits a split (cracked) note clearly heard at 2.45. This is significant as it highlights the avant-garde sensibility and influence of John Coltrane‘s playing on Mackay’s style, a fairly brave move that was new to rock (no cracked notes on Dark Side of the Moon, for example).

2.51-3.26: We hear a rolling barrage of saxophone notes as Mackay repeats the melody motif until it tumbles back onto itself; the ear at this point is now picking up Ferry’s piano, mirroring the same pattern with his signature rhythmic drive. At 3.30 there is a distinct chance that Mackay shifts (with production edit assist?) from soprano to tenor saxophone as he now blows shimmers of wind through the instrument as the tune dives and turns bird-like over and under the signature motif.

3.27-4.44. From this moment on we witness the sublime slow build of the already accomplished horn solo as it pans across the speakers and builds in style similar to elegiac and slow tempi works such as Gorecki’s  Symphony No. 3. Between 4.24-4.39 there is a single-breath sustained note executed with breath-taking skill and emotion, finished with a splinter note at 4.44 to conclusion. If this was a jazz club the applause would leave stand-up room only.

john coltrane oboe
John Coltrane // ‘My Favourite Things’// (1961) | Open Culture

4.44-5.04. As the wind instrument dies and the sound disperses, we are aware of the steady even-handed 4/4 time drumming of Paul Thompson. We recognize the pinched but solid beat has not overwhelmed the soundscape, but rather, has been there all along, sensitive in tone and touch. Producer Pete Sinfield must have realized this for he gives the music room to breathe: drum and piano  syncopate as the song coils towards it final stanza conclusion. Heady stuff, and an absolute shining moment for the drummer Bryan Ferry would henceforth introduce to live audiences as “the Great Paul Thompson.”

paull t
The Great Paul Thompson

If it hadn’t been for Paul Thompson, Roxy Music would have have just been another art rock band
Brian Eno

If There is Something’ has become a strange creature. It’s modified into something else completely…It’s Grand Music, if you know what I mean, it’s got a feeling of grandness about it.
Brian Eno 

Grand Music: Pink Spot on Bryan
In live performance and on record Ferry’s voice cracks as it implores his girl/wife/ /youth/memory to shake it one more time. We have been lifted so far by the glorious music presented by the band, and we are glad to be here. The track has fulfilled the early Roxy promise of presenting rock as artifice: mashed up and hybrid musical stylizations (vaudeville/hillbilly/prog/jazz); narrative perspectives (me/she looking at me/you looking at us); and vocally wrought performances that mimic country stylizations and poetic flights of angst. Now Ferry brings the musical and vocal performance to a religious climax – the message is rapid, repetitive, the delivery is evangelical, sacred even – this is  Psalm 2 years ahead of its release:

Shake your hair girl with your ponytail
Takes me right back (when you were young)
Threw your precious gifts into the air
Watched them fall down (when you were young)
Lift up your feet and put them on the ground
You used to walk upon (when you were young)
Lift up your feet and put them on the ground
The hills were higher (when you were young)
Lift up your feet and put them on the ground
The trees were taller (when you were young)
Lift up your feet and put them on the ground
The grass was greener (when you were young)
Lift up your feet and put them on the ground
You used to walk upon (when you were young)

The shifting of viewpoint and tense is all over the place here, echoing the same strategy of displacement we have seen throughout the song. This does not make for a straight-forward reading or a hymn to innocence lost, as Jonathan Rigby suggests with his nostalgic Ferry  “mourning a ponytailed lost love…commemorating lost youth”(34). Acts 1-3 have demonstrated a shifting perspective on identity and character, and here the trend continues as the pose shifts into meta-analysis, provoked into being by the same kind of epiphanic moment seen in Re-Make/Re-Model – license plate CPL593H and ponytail serve the same function: they produce the emotional reaction that enables the song to be written.

Shake your hair girl with your ponytail – Writer evokes image
Takes me right back Writer indulges nostalgia
Threw your precious gifts into the air “Threw” is interesting; past tense; subject shifting to self?
Watched them fall downRegret 
Lift up your feet and put them on the groundEvokes Self to write a decent song
You used to walk upon – The way is intuitive, natural; the Romantic Ideal
Lift up your feet and put them on the groundAmen!
The trees were taller Obstacles were great
Lift up your feet and put them on the groundAmen!
The grass was greener – Experience was deeper
Lift up your feet and put them on the groundAmen!
You used to walk upon Get Back to the Garden.

There is something very Deliverance about the song as it cycles from hillbilly country yokel, to growing potatoes by the score, through mellotron prog, jazz, back to evangelical fervour, but Ferry and the band are absolutely right in their understanding of emotional nuances, and their powerful music and lyrical congregation produce, as Brian Eno observed, Grand Music in the Oklahoma way.

Recorded: 17 March 1972, Command Studios, London

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 8.08.44 AM
Joe remembers to write the letter..//Flashbacks of a Fool//2008

Postscipt: Flashbacks of a Fool. The film, a vanity for project for chums Daniel Craig and Baillie Walsh, uses the song to drive its central narrative and emotional focus. This in itself is a delight for Roxy fans who usually have to suffer through misfired duffs like Velvet Goldmine (a story about David Bowie without any David Bowie songs, told with Roxy Music songs because Bowie wouldn’t let them do David Bowie songs). Thankfully Walsh’s film is a genuine attempt to capture what the song means to him and his era. We salute you Baille and Daniel – seriously, cheers – the sequence of Felicity Jones (Ruth) with young Joe Scot dancing to ‘If There is Something‘ is absolutely brilliant and highlights the elements that make Roxy Music so exciting. (Baille is better anyway with the shorter sequences; cutting his teeth making high profile rock classic videos for Massive Attack and Oasis will have helped). Speak with any artsy younger person about Roxy Music and there is a very good chance that this song and sequence is their reference point for the band. Wait til those young ‘uns see ‘Virginia Plain’ on Top of the Pops!

Titbits

philmanzanera.com
Still Talking. A nice bit of musical interplay between Andy and Phil 40+ years on.

Roxy Music - Viva!
Viva! We’ll review the live Roxy Music album when we crash, chronologically speaking, into its August 1976 release date, but this incredible version of  “If There Is Something” captured at Newcastle City Hall, 27 or 28 October 1974, is well worth calling out. Go on, give it a spin – the sirens are calling.

goreci
Symphony No. 3 (Górecki)
The saddest record ever made.

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