There’s a new sensation a fabulous creation
A danceable solution to teenage revolution
Do the strand love when you feel love
It’s the new way and that’s why we say
Do the strand
Roxy and the Punks – 1
‘Do the Strand’ is the quintessential Roxy Music song, a driving rocker and a punning literary juggernaut clocking in at a little over 4 minutes. Used to hook and engage the listener, ‘Strand’ was a killer opening for the new album For Your Pleasure, and a direct thematic descendant of the hit single ‘Virginia Plain‘. Surprisingly, the song was not released as a UK single at the time – band and management favoured the non-album track ‘Pyjamarama‘ – but it had all the makings of a major hit. A true Roxy Music “anthem” as Bryan Ferry has called it, and he should know, as the song closed the majority of Roxy shows over a period of 38 years, and is still used in the encore for his own solo shows up to the present.
What then has made ‘Do the Strand’ such a darling of fans, critics and admirers over the years? The music is great, for starters – proto-punk in its delivery, this muscular art-pop might have taken a few minutes to compose and record – hit the skins really hard Paul! – but there is complexity in the arrangement, with a dazzling delivery of contagious energy and verve that reveals how tight the band had become by the second album. Around this time Ferry switched from acoustic to over-phlanged electric piano and the white-hot keyboard sound defines the rock “thumpers” of this early period. Add Andy Mackay’s saxophone punctuation mark at the end of each line of ‘Do the Strand’ and you have one of the track’s defining characteristics and an instant classic. Yet, what ultimately holds the song down is the wink and nudge it provides its loyal fan-base (infectious pop, dangerous glam) and the message of love the song sends to all fans of pop music: you are the dance solution; you are the new sensation, the fabulous creation – make it new, make it yours, make it now, your moment has arrived.
For anyone wanting to understand the workings of the song a little better beyond its considerable infectious back-beat, there is an excellent piece of writing available: a rare analysis of a Bryan Ferry lyric by Ferry’s friend and literary guru, Doctor Simon Puxley. Puxley was responsible for the famous notes on the first Roxy Music album (“Saturday nite at the Roxy the Mecca the Ritz – your fantasies realized … “), and he subsequently penned the definitive entry on the song with ‘Do the Strand’ Explained. Puxley’s first paragraph underlines the song’s core conceits:
The Strand. First and foremost a dance, depicted as a new craze (‘new sensation’, ‘the new way’). However in the dictionary ‘strand’ can mean ‘walk’ (verb), a place to walk, a stretch of beach, or ‘to leave high and dry’. ‘Strand’ was also once a brand of cigarette. And the Strand is of course a famous London street, once highly fashionable: this is the meaning that the title immediately calls to mind, if any. BUT the Strand is none of these things. It’s without precedent and unique. It’s not even a dance-step. It is, as the lyrics demonstrate, everything; or more particularly it is – to use inadequate platitudes where it’s at, whatever turns you on. The buzz, the action, the centre, the quintessence, the energy. The all-embracing focus, past present and future, the ineffable. The indefinable. And in the context of performance the Strand is also something else the here- and-now, i.e. the song, the music and the atmosphere themselves.
Simon Puxley, Do the Strand Explained (1973).
Ferry takes an idea for a new dance – the next new “thing” – and treats us to a journey through “the indefinable” – the sensation, the buzz, the feeling – while providing a lesson in the classical and historical arts (for the crack of it). He does so with bombastic vigor – the song crashes into our listening experience to deliver the famous Roxy “collision of styles”: high style vs and low style, furs vs. blue jeans, the macro, the micro. You can do The Strand at Quaglino’s (Puxley: exclusive London restaurant with dance-floor, frequented by aristocracy); or Mabel’s (a cheap cafe or brothel…Highlife or lowlife, it makes no difference with The Strand). You might be tired of the tango (established ballroom step); or fed up with fandango (a lowly shindig). Everyone in Who’s Who is dancing The Strand, slow and gentle, sentimental or Evergreen, all styles served here. History is quoted, then obliterated by the ever-eternal energy force called the Strand: from Louis the Sixteenth (Louis Seize he prefer Laissez faire strand), to The Sphynx, Mona Lisa, Lolita and Guernica. Puxley identifies this recollection of history as “the all-embracing focus, past present and future, the ineffable.”
The Sphynx and Mona Lisa
Lolita and Guernica
Did the strand
What makes all the references more enjoyable is that ‘Strand’ presents a history where art subjects are living entities, as real as any historical figures. The song quotes Mona Lisa, for example, as having “done” the Strand. Yet, the Mona Lisa could not have done the Strand or any other dance routine, as “she” is a 16th century work of art. So too with Lolita (a novel), Gurenica (painting), and The Sphynx (statue). Beyond the undeniable enjoyment of the music, ‘Do The Strand’ presents itself is a game, demanding attention. See how it moves both past and within history, and interacts with our most fearful creations: Guernica is a painting representing the bombing of Gurenica in 1937 by Nazi Germany. Lolita is the story of the daily rape of a child by her step-father. The Great Sphinx of Giza (literally, the ‘Father of Dread’), is believed to represent the Pharaoh Khafre, a cruel and tyrannical ruler. But, as this is Roxy Music, it’s not all doom and gloom – doing the Strand is an act of emotional connection and Love. (Do the strand love when you feel love). Love may well be the answer to teenage revolution, but you have to be damn near 40 before you are mature enough to recognize it. ‘The Strand’ cannot be reduced to simple platitudes, it has bite in its bark – the song is punk in it’s outlook, even nihilistic: boredom and ennui are placed center-stage.
Had your fill of quadrilles the madison and cheap thrills
Bored with the beguine the samba isn’t your scene
‘Quadrilles‘ – a dance for squares, origin France; the ‘Madison’ a short-lived fad, America, early 60s. Dances DOA, in both instances.
‘The Beguine‘ is rhumba-like dance-step from the Caribbean that “never established itself” (Puxley). A dead dance, in other words: boredom by definition.
‘The Samba’ is a vivacious dance, lively, rhythmical, colorful, yet – not our “scene” say the kids of tomorrow.
‘Virginia Plan’ identified the the rise of youth culture by addressing teens directly: you’re so sheer/you’re so chic/teenage rebel of the week. ‘VP’ showed the teenager as representing the new future, undergoing change from childhood to adulthood, yet lacking in depth (all surface) and infinitely disposable and replaceable. This insightful but cynical view articulates both the need for change and the anxiety as to what this new thing may actually be or look like (Got to reach for something new). This was the problem Ferry was tackling in the early 70s: Roxy and Bowie were aware they were spearheading a shift in youth culture that was embracing a more open sexuality and a revolt against entrenched British norms. But of equal concern was that, after you smash it up, where do you go next, and who is going to run the show. Bowie understood the connection between power, mass communications and popular entertainment “this ain’t rock n’ roll – this is genocide!“. Ferry preferred to examine the problem of The New Order via the examples of literary Romanticism, classic art, and the lessons contained in the The Great Gatsby. Listen to Jon Savage, author of the excellent England’s Dreaming, describe the impulse of the late 70s teenage revolution and note the similarities to the milieu of Roxy’s early years:
Punk was wild, outcast, vicious and protective at the same time. It wasn’t boring…It did not, initially, reinforce the dominant values. So if you’re pissed off, you might pick up some tips. You might find a bunch of outcasts coming together curiously uplifting.
Jon Savage, interview, 3am magazine
The early 70s were kind of boring, apart from Roxy Music
John Peel, 2005
Bombed out mannequins on London streets from “In 1939, I didn’t hear war coming. Now its thundering approach can’t be ignored“; must read article from Harry Leslie Smith, a ‘survivor of the Great Depression, a second world war RAF veteran and an activist for the poor and for the preservation of social democracy.’ Thank you Harry; Great Sphinx of Giza, Guernica by Picasso, Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov; Strand cigarettes, Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci; John Lydon (Johnny Rotten)
Harnessing Strand power