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

Editions of You

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Screen Shot 2018-07-28 at 11.58.51 PMEditions of You (1973)
Editions of You (Live, 1973)
Editions of You (Live, 2001)

Gentlemen take polaroids
They fall in love, they fall in love
Gentlemen Take Polaroids, Japan (1980)

I: The Perfect View

Muscular and intense, the fourth cut on For Your Pleasure, ‘Editions of You’ releases the pent-up energy wrought by deep cuts ‘Beauty Queen’ and ‘Strictly Confidential’ while continuing the interrogation of paranoid fame, artistic authenticity, and the role and effect of glamour on the modern world. Bryan Ferry’s over-phlanged electric piano catches the ear immediately as it pounds out the same chords used by Beethoven for his Eroica Symphony – Eb being the “heroic key, extremely majestic” – and the cheeky ‘mmmmm‘ invites the listener to the first good party of 1973 (come with me walking down the street from ‘Street Life’ is the second). John Porter’s meaty bass line establishes the groove, and the band join in and deliver a high-voltage proto-punk classic. And boy, do they deliver: this is a band performance, stunning in its intensity – particularly during the solos – with Eno, Mackay, Manzanera, Ferry and Thompson all delivering the goods in style with synth, sax, guitar, piano and drums all thrash-out in blistering precision. First played live by Roxy on March 28, 1973 at Sheffield City Hall, Sheffield, England,Editions of You‘ is still in circulation 45 years later with Bryan Ferry even playing the song as recently as June 11 2018. The song has been covered by bands as diverse as Men Without Hats, Mudhoney, R.E.M’s Peter Buck and others, yet the performance by Roxy as recorded at AIR Studios in February 1973 has, to these ears, never been bettered.

air
After the fantastic Ferry/Porter intro (0.-016), Paul Thompson kicks off the party with a machine-gun bash on the toms and we’re off for three verses of uninterrupted pummeling before the instrumental break: Well I’m here looking through an old picture frame …

Just waiting for the perfect view
I hope something special will step into my life
Another fine edition of you
A pin-up done in shades of blue

Sometimes you find you’re yearning for the quiet life
The country air and all of its joys
But badgers couldn’t compensate at twice the price
For just another night with the boys oh yeah
And boys will be boys will be boys

They say love’s a gamble hard to win easy to lose
And while sun shines you’d better make hay
So if life is your table and fate is the wheel
Then let the chips fall where they may
In modern times the modern way

One of the extraordinary things are about the ‘Editions’ lyric is that it takes an exact U-turn from the lyrical density we have experienced from Ferry up to this point – gone are the multiple literary allusions, narrative voices, carefully considered metaphors of Roxy Music/’Virginia Plain‘ et al – and in its place are slick surfaces, throwaway conceits, and above all, the first song perhaps (intentionally at least) entirely composed of clichés.

The dictionary defines a cliché as a phrase or opinion that is “overused and betrays a lack of original thought” – hardly a candidate for a classic Roxy Music track. Clichés are so often used in every day conversation and media that they go unnoticed –  how often have you heard phrase “old as the hills” or “diamond in the rough” or “calm before the storm” or “gangs of roving youths” – this is journalism as marketing and/or novelists meeting deadlines. Extraordinary then that just about every line of ‘Editions’ contains a clichéd zinger:

  • yearning for the quiet life
  • country air and all of its joys
  • boys will be boys
  • while sun shines you better make hay
  • let the chips fall where they may

And so on. In some quarters (see: Martin Amis, The War Against Cliche) the use of well-worn phrases by writers using language and metaphors that are as old as the hills (cough) is a sign of laziness and lack of imagination – but in the case of ‘Editions‘ the use of cliché presents a perfect blend of form and function: the song is a celebration of the new, using the existing “ready-made” materials of the modern age. Ferry is audacious in this one, funny and postmodern to boot. Let us count the ways..

II: Modern Times the Modern Way 

Thematically, ‘Editions of You’ is an attempt to answer the question first posited in ‘Virginia Plain‘: So me and you, just we two/Got to reach for something new. What exactly is the “new” and what kind of new band or movement did Roxy represent? Seven months on from the summer 1972 hit, the time had come for Ferry to engage and identify what this “new” thing actually was. A tricky proposition given that Roxy were not a political or socially conscious band in the same way that, say, solo Beatles or The Who, or even a Bowie struggling with his own dystopian vision on Diamond Dogs. As always, Ferry ruminated on his answer, creating a diverse and multifarious response across the span of For Your Pleasure, answering the question more for himself than for any audience demands. He first sent up the very idea of sloganeering and pat answers with ‘Do the Strand‘ (and later during the punk years, with ‘Manifesto‘). ‘Strand‘ was an homage to political, personal and aesthetic energy via the dance floor, a kind of ‘Its the End of the World of the World As We Know It‘ fourteen years ahead of its time. Do the Strand, we are told, when you feel love/It’s the new way. Love is the way, say Roxy, as did the Beatles before them, but here the message was a conflation of seriousness (the meaning of life) juxtaposed with the trivial (a dance craze), laid down with pizzazz, fun, wit, frivolity and some sweat.

Beauty Queen‘ provided its answer by shifting the content away from conventional memory to the memory of youthful infatuation with Hollywood pin-ups and magazine layouts – so deep is the process of recollection for the narrator (see also: Re-Make/Re-Model) that the pin-up images influence and define his future plans and dreams (All of my hope and my inspiration/I drew from you). And so it is with ‘Editions of You‘: our man sits waiting for the perfect view, not a flesh-and-blood lover, but a pin-up done in shades of blue, and relates to her solely in the language of young moderns – as a magazine edition, a replaceable, disposable, glossy, sexy facsimile of the real thing (another fine edition of you. *Note the punning “addition” / “edition“). Replace Ferry’s print media with Instagram or Tinder, and you have in 1973 the beginnings of postmodern culture: popular, transient, and infinitely expendable.

It just seemed like an amazing piece of pop art had come to life and sort of was performing on your television.

Michael Bracewell, The Story of Roxy Music

Pop art is: Popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business.

Richard Hamilton, Collected Words

If cliché is the language of the commonplace, the familiar and the over-used, why not use cliché to generate a song that celebrates modernity and its devil-may-care “who knows what tomorrow might bring” sensibility. Once again, Ferry turned to the influential and ground-breaking work of his mentor and teacher, pop-art painter and collage artist Richard Hamilton for inspiration. By creating paintings or sculptures of mass culture objects and media stars, Hamilton’s Pop art movement aimed to blur the boundaries between “high” art and “low” culture. As Philip Yenawine wrote in his 1991 classic How to Look at Modern Art, Pop art’s “appropriations examine the look, content, and effect of ‘pop culture,’ including package design, celebrity watching, and advertising.”  It is hard to think about Roxy Music without these central pop art qualities of design, glamour and advertising, so easily do the band abide by the key concepts of pop art:  Popular(FYP album Top 5 BBC charts); transient (27 weeks in top 50); expendable (“teenage rebel of the week”); “low-cost(less than a month’s recording); mass-produced(a million copies needed sold to get in the the Top 10 in 1973);young(yes);witty(very); “sexy(immensely);gimmicky (undoubtedly);glamorous(in spades); andBig Business(with Avalon at least, see platinum).

Pop art was a sensation for the very reason Roxy Music was a sensation: the artists worked in the expectation of change and wanted to communicate to as wide and as young an audience as possible. Like most art movements, Pop art in both Britain and America was a good 15 years ahead of the pop music business, so there was an opportunity that Ferry recognized and acted on as he searched for an audience. As the (possibly) female narrator states in ‘Strictly Confidential‘ “communication is the gift you must not lose.”  For Hamilton, the quest for communication was a search for what is epic in everyday objects and attitudes. For Ferry this meant composing a song from the everyday language of cliché (learn from your mistakes/too much cheesecake too soon, etc). For Hamilton‘s mentor Marcel Duchamp, this meant seeing a toilet bowl as a piece of art. And so it is with Ferry, applying considerable energies to receive, replicate and deliver the pop art manifesto within the context of a rock group. In writing songs, Ferry was keen to use the materials and commonplace objects of everyday life, utilizing modern mass media to elevate popular culture to the level of fine art: magazines, advertising, television, pop music and cinema. In this manner, Ferry saw infinite possibilities in pop music, as American critic recently noted in his 40th Anniversary review of first album Roxy Music: “and while the Beatles and David Bowie got there before him in terms of layering rock with irony, ambiguity, theatricality and alter-egos, [Ferry] brought a formidable intellect and subversive sensibility that stamped Roxy Music as innovators” (Tribune).

Screen Shot 2018-08-22 at 7.49.35 AM
The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)
, 1915-23, oil, varnish, lead foil, lead wire, dust, two glass panels, 277.5 × 177.8 × 8.6 cm © Succession Marcel Duchamp (Philadelphia Museum of Art).

This kind of high-concept, sleazy equivalent of found objects helped change pop audience’s relationship to art and what could be seen as art, and it also changed the audience’s relationship to how it situated itself in a constantly evolving world. In this view, our everyday experience is interrogated or “defamiliarized” and made new, seen in a different way because we are conscious of the act of framing. Ferry highlights this sensibility in the very first line of the song:

Well I’m here looking through an old picture frame
Just waiting for the perfect view

Like a pop art object by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, or Richard Hamilton, the first subject in ‘Editions’ is vision, what we are looking at and how we are looking at it. The narrator looks through an “old” picture frame (old art) that actually no longer provides him with useful information or guidance – the old frame holds no picture or content – therefore he must create the content (waiting for the perfect view). However, if  you look at an empty picture frame you inevitably look through it towards reality or the real – Ferry literally suggesting the perfect view can only exist if constructed or framed, placed in an aesthetic context. This brings to the fore the pop art idea that there is no unmediated access to anything, be it the natural world, the self, or a constructed or built environment. Meaning comes from aesthetic engagement: a key Roxy Music concept.

The found-object, “mass-produced” aspect of ‘Editions’ comes rather obviously in its magazine influenced title and key line: I hope something special will step into my life/Another fine edition of you. The idea is intriguing for it has both aesthetic and real-life implications: in every day reality the “something special” that the narrator hopes for is another relationship, shockingly similar to his previous relationship (another fine edition), which is a bit crazy, for we all know the oft-repeated quote that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again. Moreover, this guy is not actually desiring a real flesh and blood person but a fabricated, fantasy woman, whether she be a clone of a magazine shoot or an actual pin-up done in shades of blue. As in ‘Beauty Queen‘ the import and emphasis is on mass media content and assimilation, with the caveat that, as in the Pop art world, the content of magazines, newspapers, and television is so real in our lives – has real impact – it is no less important for having come from Hollywood or any other constructed, mediated entertainment. Like Andy Warhol‘s soup cans, the repetition and uniformity of every day experience – including the search for new relationships – is replicated endlessly across our individual time-span, targeting each time a fresh individual canvas, perhaps tainted with the same forlorn, unsatisfying or merely safe and comforting outcome. “I used to drink it,” Warhol famously said of the soup, “I used to have the same lunch every day, for 20 years, I guess, the same thing over and over again.”

Screen Shot 2018-08-21 at 8.36.30 AM
Campbell’s Soup Cans
Andy Warhol, (American, 1928–1987) 1962. Synthetic polymer paint on thirty-two canvases, Each canvas 20 x 16″ (50.8 x 40.6 cm). Overall installation with 3″ between each panel is 97″ high x 163″ wide.

When I started writing music I found it was like pop art. I was using images… like in the lyrics, throwaway cliches and amusing phrases that you found in magazines or used in everyday speech… stylistic juxtapositions…But you have to do it properly, you can’t just throw them together at random.

Bryan Ferry

III. Boys Will Be Boys

Sometimes you find you’re yearning for the quiet life
The country air and all of its joys
But badgers couldn’t compensate at twice the price
For just another night with the boys oh yeah
And boys will be boys will be boys

They say love’s a gamble hard to win easy to lose
And while sun shines you’d better make hay
So if life is your table and fate is the wheel
Then let the chips fall where they may
In modern times the modern way

When Richard Hamilton contributed to the ground-breaking exhibition This is Tomorrow in August 1956, his section was designed so that entering it would feel like stepping into a fun house. And so too with ‘Editions of You‘ – built on the incessant drive of a classic I-IV-V chord sequence, Pop art’s found-object/”ready-mades” idea applies here as the track follows the template and reproduces the formula of E/A/B rock n’ roll classics such as Twist and Shout, La Bamba, Louie, Louie and Wild Thing. From Roxy Music through to For Your Pleasure, Roxy continued to draw on various rock templates  – blues, rockabilly, doo-wop – to create what Brian Eno had referred to as “about 12 different futures.” (He was only slightly exaggerating). In a sense, there was no way around it, for the most progressive glam stars – Bowie and Roxy – were both creator and consumer of their own products. Bowie’s smash Jean Genie was Bowie-doing Howling Wolf, and ‘Editions of You’ was Roxy doing Velvet Underground doing Eddie Cochrane. Indeed, when ‘Editions of You’ was finally issued as a UK single in 1978 (B-side to ‘Do the Strand’), AllMusic‘s Dave Thompson noted the musical potency of the release: “Even at the height of punk’s metamorphosis into the seething trickery of the looming, post-Low electro scene, ‘Editions of You’ tore every other contender to shreds.”Screen Shot 2018-07-27 at 11.37.40 PM
The solo breaks in ‘Editions’ comprise a statement of compressed modernity
defined by the found objects of pop music and as heard in the rock n roll classic chord sequence E/A/B. Roxy had played with the forms of pop before, most notably in Re-Make/Re-Model, referencing The Beatles (Day Tripper); Eddie Cochrane (C’mon Everybody); and Wagner (Ride of the Valkyrie). Roxy quote and pay homage to the past, the band thrilled to play an ever-increasing role in the greatest show on earth. Even Eno, a man for whom musical experimentation was the norm, understood the concession to popularity and the every day, commenting,  “Avant-garde music is sort of research music. You’re glad someone’s done it but you don’t necessarily want to listen to it.” So the twelve possible futures had limitations and, recalling Pop art’s central requirements that art should be popular, mass-produced, sexy, and big business, the Roxy roadmap was defined by the driving rhythms of ‘Virginia Plain‘ and ‘Do the Strand‘, building on the competing requirements of melody and noise towards the insanity music of ‘Editions‘ and its gone-to-ground instrumental breaks (1.11-2.23).

At 1.11 into the track, Ferry’s brings in the band with an infectious introduction – in modern times the mod/ern way-a-hay-a-hay-a-hay-eh-hay-eh-hayhayhay! – and Andy Mackay is first up at bat with a break that, when performed live, had him doing a Chuck Berry duck walk across the stage (“It got so I slightly dreaded that part of the show”). In sharp contrast to the plaintive oboe line in previous track ‘Strictly Confidential’, Andy attacks ‘Editions’ with a saxophone solo that starts on a raw blues-influenced timbre, and ends with a tremolo strike at the top of his range that segues into the musical insanity of Eno‘s VCS3 solo. Throughout the instrumental passages this “passing the baton” between soloists highlights their musical empathy, both as musicians and as friends, giving each other the room needed to shine without minimizing their own time in the spotlight.

Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 10.04.10 AM

Next up at 1.30 is Brian Eno’s crazed synth jumping into the song like it’s on a bender, applying no brakes to stop the approaching carnage. The VCS3 is on an elevator ride that cannot decide which floor to land on, bouncing up and down along the chordal E/A/B axis, dropping and climbing, pushing the tune past its origins and up, up out into the future. Texture is the thing with Eno: the VCS3 solo on ‘Virginia Plain‘ maintains simple playing but is imaginatively applied to bend the sound, fill the track with synthetic presenceEno is a brilliant artist, as much a master of ambient as heavy metal – is there anyone else out there like him? – and his ‘Editions’ passage points to his future solo musical assaults on the ears (‘Baby’s on Fire’; ‘Wire Shock‘; ‘Third Uncle’). Up and down we go for several gravity-defying seconds, the mad synth hitting the visceral cortex like all the best rock music can – nestling in your bones, leaving you hungry for more.

nun

‘Editions’ is about what all the best rock songs are about: release. There is an evangelical dedication here to getting out of your head, this “crazy music drives you insane” as the party stays rooted in the city, eschewing the country life and its badgers in favour of another night with the boys. The band is drunk on the music and there’s a sense of demented possession, particularly with Eno pushing the buttons on the tone-deaf elevator. There are two halves to the Eno solo, the first at 1.30-1.47, is the unaccompanied sonic attack, until something really special happens at 1.48, where Eno takes his foot off the gas a little to give some space. For the second half, Phil Manzanera‘s guitar is brought into the mix, foreshadowing one of his best solos with the band. One more climb up before Eno hits the top floor and jumps off, hands the keys to Manzanera, who catches Eno’s final notes on a nest-bed of perfectly sustained feedback at 2.03-2.07.  A sublime Roxy Music moment.

Phil Manzanera has made original guitar solos part of his considerable appeal with Roxy and as a solo artist. It is little wonder that he and Eno have enjoyed successful collaborations on some of the best records of the 70s – Diamond Head, Another Green World – for they share the same interest in sonic manipulation and texture – in Manzanera‘s hands the guitar can be an instrument of startling precision, killer lines and tone poems, yet fierce when needed – look no further than his solo collaboration with Eno on the track ‘Miss Shapiro‘ (1975) – at 3.36 a blistering over-heated note shakes the foundations and pulls Eno’s vocal back in. And you hear the same feedback note on ‘Editions’ before Manzanera takes complete hold and riffs way wonderfully through the solo (2.03-2.23). John O’Brien (VivaRoxyMusic) calls this “one of Phil Manzanera’s finest guitar breaks,” and who are we to argue.

Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 10.05.25 AM

 IV: Stay Cool is Still the Main Rule

And as I was drifting past the Lorelei
I heard those slinky sirens wail, ooo!
So look out sailor when you hear them croon
You’ll never be the same again, oh no
Their crazy music drives you insane, this way

So love me, leave me, do what you will
Who knows what tomorrow might bring
Learn from your mistakes is my only advice
And stay cool is still the main rule
Don’t play yourself for a fool
Too much cheesecake too soon
Old money’s better than new
No mention in the latest Tribune
And don’t let this happen to you

Coming off the solos at 2.23, Paul Thompson re-introduces Ferry by bashing the skins – typical Paul, condensed, precise, powerful – and Ferry comes back in, barely catching his breath for the funniest line of the song – And as I was drifting past the Lorelei/I heard those slinky sirens wail, ooo! We are in Siren territory here folks, the Lorelei is a 132 m (433 ft) Screen Shot 2018-08-25 at 8.21.08 AMhigh, steep slate rock on the bank of the river Rhine in Germany.  A statue has been erected that describes a mermaid-type siren who, sitting on the cliff above the Rhine and combing her golden hair, unwittingly distracts shipmen with her beauty and song, causing them to crash on the rocks (Wiki). The Sirens of Ulysses is a favourite theme of Ferry’s, as we noted when discussing Roxy Music‘s Ladytron: “‘Ladytron’ is the first entry in the canon of Ferry’s Greek Odysseus siren theme of dangerous yet beautiful women who lure sea-fearing sailors (read: lost men) to shipwreck and ruin with their haunting music.” High and low art combined – Ulysses meets rock n’ roll. Mission accomplished!

Throughout ‘Editions’ the Implied Author Bryan Ferry has been discussing his own experiences, his own needs and desires (Well I’m here looking through an old picture frame/Just waiting for the perfect view) but by the time the solos have delivered their feverish lunacy, the narrative shifts to one of good-natured advice, warning his sailor brothers of the dangers of the countryside and glamorous women waiting to ground you on the rocks. The hedonism of lust and music is made explicit here, and the Roxy manifesto becomes more solidified (“I always thought of Roxy as sex music ” BF) – hilariously, moving past those slinky sirens, ooo! –  as the musical croon is enough to drive you insane – this way.

Ferry joins the other band members, fully infected and intoxicated himself now and lets rip on a slightly wobbly, slightly sinister keyboard solo that replicates the verse melody – not as psychotic as Eno, but melodic, joyful, happy, in tune with the rest of the song – as he turns to address the girl that has now finally stepped into that old picture frame:

So love me, leave me, do what you will
Who knows what tomorrow might bring

Let fate wash over you, let the chips fall where they may. This is modernity so take pleasure in the dance, even though it may be civilization’s last chance. Replication and duplication may be the status quo, but do not repeat the same mistakes each time. Be smart about it. Stay cool is still the main rule. And somewhere at this point we realize a shift has taken place, the object in the picture frame has momentarily changed, and a familiar singer’s face fills our field-of-view:

Don’t play yourself for a fool (there’s only one chance – better get this right)

Too much cheesecake too soon (fame is a powerful drug but too much too soon will derail you. Don’t end up like Marilyn, James Dean).

Old money’s better than new (a notable shift from the first line “old picture frame” – a nod and concession to the old world, or a nod to future state desires – a wish to become part of the establishment, or a seeking of merging the new with the old to make something more solid and long-lasting).

No mention in the latest Tribune (a social-climbers’ worst nightmare)

And don’t let this happen to you (the punchline: you only exist if you are in the latest edition…)

 

The artist in twentieth-century urban life is inevitably a consumer of mass culture and potentially a contributor to it.

Richard Hamilton

That was the band that broke so many barriers – they were poncy, pontificating, absurd, over-melodramatic, and absolutely adoringly excellent live. They way they would draw us in, all our different elements socially, it was the most intriguing period. And I don’t see too much of that in the modern field of music – you don’t have that sense of fun, drama, tease, and – hell – bloody good song-writing!

John Lydon

Recorded: AIR Studios, London February 1973

Credits: Richard Hamilton, “Self-portrait,” produced by Richard Hamilton and used as cover image for Living Arts, 1963; AIR studios advertising brochure; FYP collage: Japanese FYP/famous female editions/Monica Bellucci FYP cover tribute; The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915-23, Marcel Duchamp; Campbell’s Soup Cans Andy Warhol, (American, 1928–1987); Do the Stand/Editions UK 12″ vinyl single, 1978; Andy live; EMS advertisment; Phil live; Lorelei montage: mermaid observing sinking sailors at Sankt Goarshausen in Germany/BF tries to avoid the inevitable outcome.

Dedicated to Lindsay Kemp, 1938-2018

An innovator, essential to the artistic development of art-rock pioneers David Bowie and Kate Bush and so many more.  From Kate’s website:

A Message for Lindsay:

The world has lost a truly original and great artist of the stage. To call him a mime artist is like calling Mozart a pianist. He was very brave, very funny and above all, astonishingly inspirational. There was no-one quite like Lindsay. I was incredibly lucky to study with him, work with him and spend time with him. I loved him very much and will miss him dearly. Thank you, dear Lindsay.   Kate Bush

Next: ‘In Every Dream Home, A Heartache’ – September 2018.

Happy final days of summer everyone!

 

 

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