Roxy Music were loved by the punks – Steve Jones, John Lydon, Siouxsie and the Banshees – but it was Brian Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets LP that was allowed to stand proudly on record store shelves beside Never Mind the Bollocks, Spiral Scratch, The Clash. Released at the beginning of 1974 while ex-band members Roxy Music were peaking with new album Stranded, there was something subversive and slightly menacing about the Warm Jets package, with its dirty pics, dead flowers, and Captain Eno staring out of the sleeve like a demented glam drill instructor.
For the man the press were calling “the major visual phenomenon of ’73” (The Guardian), 1973-74 was a time of self-examination, off finding a way to move forward in music and the music biz. Eno‘s time with Roxy had come to its natural conclusion (see: For Your Pleasure – Part 2) and, responding to Roxy management’s advice (“We feel you’re ready for a solo career…”) Eno recognized that his options were split into two distinct categories: experimental or avante-garde activities (“I need insanity”), or rock music, that 20th century cultural phenomenon that provided the bread-and-butter of most working musicians. Having been released from his Roxy contract $30,000 in debt (Sheppard), Eno faced the harsh reality of how to make a living – good press was one thing, but how exactly did it translate into paying the bills. The truth was that by late 1973 – three months after leaving Roxy – Brian Eno was not living a glamorous life – interviewers showed up at his London apartment to find a gregarious intellectual surrounded by cockroaches and hampered by poor diet (on the floor and walls were porn polaroids, letters from fans, and girlfriend Cassandra simulating S&M poses for visiting journalists).
There was pressure, then, from managers and audiences for Eno to define his post-Roxy persona and set up a musical image the record industry come to grips with (Create. Market. Sell. Repeat). The immediate result was the cheaply made but well-supported first solo recording Here Come the Warm Jets, recorded in September 1973 (made in parallel with Roxy Music’s Stranded. See: ‘Amazona’) and released January 1974. The period was a difficult one for Eno as he tried to satisfy the demands of making a hit record and touring, only to fall flat on his face – they way we all do when we try to apply ourselves to tasks or careers we don’t believe in. But more of that later: for the moment Eno had bills to pay and an album to record, so he called in Roxy associates Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay, Phil Thompson, John Wetton, and Chris Thomas while neglecting, presumably, to inform Bryan Ferry he was picking up the slack, creating a new ‘cinema music’ for bedrooms, airports and bondage enthusiasts.
We saw that Brian Eno could have been as big a solo star as Brian Ferry if he wanted to be, but that wasn’t what he wanted to do musically…He simply wasn’t interested in the great flog of being on the road all the time.
David Enthoven, E.G. Records and Management
Legend has it that Brian Eno started writing Here Come the Warm Jets the day he left Roxy Music.”I remember the day of the final showdown in the E.G. offices in the Kings Road” Eno recalls in David Sheppard’s biography, On Some Faraway Beach: The Life and Times of Brian Eno:
I left feeling totally liberated. I was in debt, and had no sure future, and felt as free as a bird. I ran down the road, jumping for joy. I think it was good for everybody that I went my own way: the band went on to make several great records, and I went on happily to pursue my own path(s).
For twelve days in September 1973, Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera and saxophonist Andy Mackay would complete their Roxy Music Stranded recording duties at AIR Studios, Oxford Street London, and take the twenty minute drive across town (over the Thames) to the cheapest 24-track studio in London at the time, Majestic Studios, 146 Clapham Street London, to assist with the guitar duties on Brian Eno‘s first solo album Here Come the Warm Jets, an influential and much-loved LP cut in twelve days for a reported 5,000 pounds (approx $10,000).
The opening to Warm Jets – and the first cut of Eno‘s solo rock career – is the bubbly and catchy ‘Needles In The Camel’s Eye‘ – a tune co-written with friend and ex-Roxy Music band-mate Phil Manzanera. It’s easy to hear why Manzanera got the co-credit, as the song gets its legs from an energetic run through the every guitarist’s favorite key of E major (E/A/B), with a few tweaks to D/A to resolve the verse.
Re-visiting the spirited yet amateurish first Roxy album Roxy Music, Eno has Manzenera creating riffs that sound fresh and a bit bonkers, as the guitarist cuts free from the more concise lines of Roxy Music and enjoys being a kid again. This giddy optimism is likely the reason that Todd Haynes used ‘Camel’s Eye‘ to open up his much-aligned glam film Velvet Goldmine. (A series of fun shots shows a line of teenagers trying to run in their glam boots).
This idea of ‘inspired amateur’ is certainly true of ‘Camel’s Eye‘ as the barrage of guitars are tweaked and modulated to sound de-tuned or slightly drunk – the opposite of the cool professionalism as demonstrated par excellence on Roxy’s Stranded. This approach is due no doubt to the parcity of the recording budget, but also for Eno’s liking for spontaneity and “insanity” (Melody Maker). That spontaneity is reflected in the balance between punkish immediacy and harmonic awareness. Presenting a gorgeous top-line melody against the thrash of Manzanera‘s garage rock, Eno conceives a fantastic hook and won’t let go: “And you go” he sings, like he didn’t have a care in the world, “and you go oh, oh, oh, oh!” This is joyous stuff – the first sign of Eno’s commercial potential (either as composer or producer). Example in point – I’ve been humming the damn tune all week: “Naaa-na-na-aaaa. Naaa-na-na-aaaa. Do-do-doo do do do do do doooo-oo-ooo-ooo-ohh-ohh. Naaa-na-na-aaaa“. Repeat. Repeat again. And then again. Until your loved ones disown you.
II. Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire
Wholly lacking prejudice in its intent and approach, ‘Camel’s Eye‘ sounds like just one of the twelve possible futures Eno could now take as a solo artist – let’s call this one Happy Eno. In contrast, next cut ‘The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch‘ is an introduction to Weird Eno – a fan favorite for those that like their pop music with a liberal dose of send-up and piss-take. This is Eno out-camping even Bowie at his most over-the-top, hamming it up while telling the strange tale of a Mr. A. William Underwood, a late 19th century African American from Paw Paw, Michigan who was able to produce fire from his mouth without the aid of artificial accelerants “He will take anybody’s handkerchief, hold it to his mouth [and] immediately it bursts into flames.” (Wiki). Unsurprisingly, this did not help Mr. Underwood on kissing dates.
Written in the same key as ‘Camel’s Eye‘ and with the same chords E-A-B swapped around (E-B-E-A) the first songs of ‘Here Come the Warm Jets’ feel like a freak show circus, with those weird bibical camel’s eyes and Paw Paw’s fire-breathing protagonists – like something Captain Beefheart might conjure up, or Frank Zappa with his Cruising with Ruben & the Jets idea: a 50s doo-wop parody-slash-concept album, constructed from an original idea called No Commercial Potential. This sounds decidedly Eno-like, ramping up the satire and entertainment while torturing his management company with little chance of making any real money. (Eno’s pre- ‘Warm Jets‘ idea for bringing in some cash – as writer David Sheppard delightfully describes – was to create “a bizarre, fetishistic fantasy” pop group called Luana and The Lizard Girls. “The Girls would consist of an assortment of musical eccentrics and dancers… Luana lifts the whip …” And so on. (“The dancers in the Lizard Girls could also be wired up to my new instrument…”).
The first minute of ‘Paw Paw’ starts as a direct offshoot of the mocking comedy of Zappa and Robert Calvert‘s Captain Lougheed and the Starfighters (a record Eno contributed synthesizer effects to in early 1974), but begins to change shape and mood as it moves along. First up is the instrumental break as delivered by Eno’s trademark burp and fart synthesizer, originally heard on Roxy Music‘s ‘Virginia Plain‘ and ‘Editions of You‘ (the break is genuinely funny, capturing the speech of two nattering robots while taking morning tea). The electronic chatter gives way to Manzanera‘s guitar rattling across the speakers @1:32, while Chris Spedding is added to the sonic mix, trading lines and fret-board effects. If you haven’t heard ‘Paw Paw‘ in a while, it is striking to hear how well arranged this song actually is. Moving towards his preferred mode of insanity, Eno increases the tempo and tension:
Send for an ambulance or an
He’s breathing like a furnace …
Guitars and synths replicate the sounds of ambulances and sirens while flaming hyperboles are piled on (He’ll set the sheets on fire/Mmm, quite a burning lover/Now he’ll barbecue your kitten). Suddenly Mr. A. William Underwood’s unfortunate fire-breathing condition becomes a metaphor for failed romance or performance anxiety – most likely the latter, given Eno’s pornographic imagination.
Writing on an Eno web discussion (songmeanings.com), one fan remarks “Every time I hear this song, it always sounds to me that it starts like a Steely Dan-ish tune and then melts down and rocks out into that wonderfully noisy conclusion that segues into ‘Baby’s on Fire'”.
Indeed the agitated ‘Baby on Fire‘ synth riff appears on ‘Paw Paw‘ @ 2:55 (just after “Now you’ll have to make the choice between the Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch and meeee…”) and if you turn up the volume you hear the hammer run of notes in their unadorned state: both songs bleed effortlessly into each other, and we recognize that ‘Paw Paw‘ has been laying the sonic foundation for the best cut on the album and one of the great classics of Eno’s rock career: ‘Baby’s on Fire‘
Better throw her in the water
Look at her laughing
Like a heifer to the slaughter
Baby’s on fire
And all the laughing boys are bitching
Waiting for photos
Oh the plot is so bewitching
Next: the classic ‘Baby’s on Fire’!
Credits: Here Come the Warm Jets sleeve (ILPS 9268) November 1973; Eno publicity photo (uncredited) circa early ’74; Todd Haynes used ‘Camel’s Eye‘ to open up his much-aligned glam film Velvet Goldmine; published score ‘Camel‘; Frank Zappa and Eno go 50s (separate photo shoots) Cruising with Ruben & the Jets sleeve shots; a threaded Camel (doncha know); Eno, same session uncredited publicity photo circa early 74.