‘The ‘In’ Crowd, written by Billy Page, arranged by Gene Page (1964)
The ‘In’ Crowd, Bryan Ferry, Another Time, Another Place, (1974)
The ‘In’ Crowd, Doby Gray (1965)
The ‘In’ Crowd, The Ramsey Lewis Trio (1965)
Voice, Harmonica & Organ – Bryan Ferry
Saxophone – Chris Mercer
Trombone – Chris Pyne
Guitar – David O’List
Guitar – John Porter
Bass – John Wetton
Drums – Paul Thompson
Saxophone – Ruan O’Lochlainn
I: If It’s Square
A song so identifiable with Bryan Ferry’s aesthetic, that if he didn’t write it, he surely would have (eventually). Not quite so obvious a selection as we might assume, the original ‘In’ Crowd was written by Billy Page and performed by the Motown-influenced Dobie Gray for his dramatically titled album Dobie Gray Sings for “In” Crowders That Go “Go-Go” released in 1965. A reasonable hit – peaking in the UK charts at number 25 – Gray’s version of the The ‘In’ Crowd was quickly picked up as a jazz instrumental by The Ramsey Lewis Trio (drinking coffee in a Washington, D.C. cafe the Trio wondered what it could add to its set that evening. ‘”You guys might like this!” said the waitress, putting Dobie Gray’s version of ‘The ‘In’ Crowd’ on the cafe jukebox). The Trio took note, recorded the track live that evening and went on to have a top 5 hit, resulting in both the vocal and instrumental versions charting in the same year of 1965.
It is hard to know which of the two earlier releases influenced Ferry more – the Motown-inspired Dobie Gray version, with is sunny disposition and soulful back-up singers crooning their ooooo-s and ahhhhh-s (Ferry was a Motown freak). Or the jazzy Ramsey Lewis instrumental version, with it’s warm feel-good emotion and effortless swing, the potency of which is recognized by the cheering audience throughout the performance (Ferry was a jazz freak).
Certainly, choosing to cover a song called The ‘In’ Crowd from the vantage point of being the ‘King of Style’ in 1974 was no great stretch for Ferry, having delivered with Roxy Music a sexy, glamorous high-profile #1 hit record with Stranded, and as a solo artist recently re-conceptualizing the American Songbook to enthusiastic response (see: These Foolish Things). Ferry was on a roll in early 1974, having changed the Roxy Music line-up to align more with his original conception of the band as art-project and popular entertainment. “I was there learning all these songs by people I’d always admired like Cole Porter, Smokey Robinson, etc…These people had in fact more influence on me than the so-called avant-garde,” Ferry told the New Musical Express, defining his ambition and strategy for his later 80s work (Roxy’s Flesh and Blood, and his solo Boys and Girls).
Describing The ‘In’ Crowd as “one for the fans” Ferry recorded his second solo album Another Time, Another Place at three different studios in mid-1974 – the early 70s Roxy tripartite of Island, Ramport and Air Studios – with many of the Roxy team once again hired to support the solo project (Antony Price “Fashion”; Nick de Ville “Design”).
In a surprising move, Ferry also invited original (pre-Phil Manzanera) Roxy guitarist David O’List to play lead on what would become the opening track and first single release from the album. O’List: “I wrote Bryan a letter to say we should join forces again and make a hit record. I got a reply to turn up at a studio.” Indeed, the invitation to join forces with his old band mate paid off, as The ‘In’ Crowd hit number 13 on the UK charts in June 1974 (vivaroxy).
Notwithstanding O’ List’s advice, Ferry’s choice to re-invent a Motown and jazz hit was as inspired as was his take on Bob Dylan‘s folk poem ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall‘. While Ferry’s cover of the Dylan classic was hailed for its audacity and innovative arrangement, selecting ‘The In Crowd’ for a modern make-over was as obvious as it was necessary: there was only one person who could pull off the required cool and obligatory distance needed to carry a message of hip, modern dissonance while singing in the language Motown and Jazz. Add any name to the list of 1974 contenders – David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Lou Reed – and a cover of The ‘In’ Crowd would have been deemed too obvious, too opportunistic, and (in most cases) downright ill-advised. No, the outsider Ferry was the only contemporary popular entertainer who could deliver a song recorded and performed by the supercool, for the super-uncool. And who were we – mere mortals – to argue? Instead we gave up our valuable pocket-money and drove the song to the top of Top of the Pops, marvelling as our fantasies took shape in real-time. What’s real and make believe? No one really knew any more, or really cared. We just wanted to be a part of it.
The original warning shot was launched by Roxy Music‘s ‘Street Life‘ of course, Ferry’s frozen homage to the ultra cool and distant (“wish everybody would leave me alone, yeah”) as the singer stood center stage, fronting his hipster band, a bogus man in contrasting white tux and Brylcreemed black hair (Brylcreem: “Keeps you right on top!”), fingers snapping in mock exaggeration in what would become – for Bowie, for Madonna – the eternal image of striking the pose. (Or, if you prefer, the eternal image of Miles Davis’s 1950s The Birth of the Cool).
The absolute key to the success of the track – and surely The ‘In’ Crowd rates as one of the best covers Ferry has ever done – was the sheer intensity of the approach. Obliterating the previous Doby Gray/Ramsey Lewis Trio versions, Ferry and team choose to do it for real, presenting a version of mob mentality (“we breeze up and down the street”) absolutely straight, with no pandering to good taste. (Heaven forbid).
II. Touch of Evil
The opening chords to The ‘In’ Crowd serve as a manifesto, a statement of intent: eloquent in its sonic pose, Ferry’s Vox Continental organ seduces in the key of F major (“earnest, intense and delivered with conviction” mixedinkey) – the three-note introduction setting up an evening of possibility and menace. There is always to my (over-stimulated) mind a hint of the diabolical in this opening section, as presented by the depraved drug gang night-crawlers of Orson Welles Touch of Evil, with their film noir androgyny and wide-angle gaze. Certainly, Ferry’s opening is a call to the faithful, an invitation for all ‘In’ Crowders to make haste and assemble.
With this kind of tension and build-up (0:00-0:08), the next steps are crucial – and Ferry nails it: new boy John Wetton muscles in with gnarly and massively fuzzed ’61 Fender Precision bass, cutting through the crowd like a rumbling tank. The tone is magnificent, the attitude fearless. Next up is the cool-as-cucumber finger-snaps, chased by David O’ List’s power chords (the timing is perfect – courtesy of the precision of the Bryan Ferry/John Punter co-production team). A more audacious and ‘obvious’ rock intro could not be imagined: what happens next is one my favourite moments of any solo Roxy recording. (I don’t often get personal, but this is supreme): as Ferry, Wetton, and David O’List lay down their no-bullshit introductions, Eddie Jobson* comes in at 0:33 with a sustained string theme that just slaughters the soundscape – is it one note? is it one note sustained? tape delay? crescendo? – but for fifteen seconds this glorious sound hovers above the in crowders like a menacing fog. I’ve never heard anything like it before or since.
Ferry, of course, will not be left out, and as the cacophony of bongos, percussion and strings sustain their fearsome introduction – he sounds like he’s singing through melting rain. This is the Bogus Man, jaw tense with gesture and attitude, delivering the best lines of his solo career:
I’m in with the “in” crowd
I go where the “in” crowd goes
I’m in with the “in” crowd
And I know what the “in” crowd knows
III. The Roxy Machine
The prototype for Ferry’s cover of the ‘In’ Crowd wasn’t Roxy Music – as cool as they were – but Ferry’s art and design team, dubbed ‘The Roxy Machine’ by friend and fashion designer Antony Price.
The ‘Roxy Machine’ – from lower left, clockwise, Price, Deville, Ferry, Stoecker, Puxley, (1973).
The Machine was fashion designer’s Antony Price’s tag for what had become – by early 1974 with Roxy Music hit records and tours – big business in Europe. While the members of Roxy were the musical engine for Ferry’s concept of pop group as ‘cinema music’, it was Ferry’s friends and collaborators Antony Price (fashion), Nick De Ville (design), Karl Stoecker (photography), and Simon Puxley (PR & Scribe) who created the equally powerful visual world of Roxy and solo Ferry, creating emblematic record sleeves, sensational fashion ideas, compressing – in the words of art critic Justin Strauss – “the sentiment and mood of a culture around music, art, sex, typography and confrontation.”
The scene that Ferry had plugged into – via Antony Price – was loosely referred to as the ‘Notting Hill crowd’, artists David Hockney, Ossie Clark, and Brian Morris. Price met future Roxy Music models Kari-Ann Mueller and Amanda Lear and future Roxy Machine photographer Karl Stoecker through the Notting Hill connection and introduced them to Ferry. The scene – far removed from the traditions of rock music – was bustling and inter-connected; the mood of the designers and artists open and flamboyant.
‘Dressin’ fine, makin’ time‘, Ferry sings, biting hard on those internal rhymes (‘dressin’/’makin’; ‘fine/time’). This crowd knows the right dances, the right moves, the places to go, the places not to go (If it’s square we ain’t there):
I’m in with the “in” crowd
I know ev’ry latest dance
When you’re in with the “in” crowd
It’s easy to find romance (and we work out)
At a spot where the beat’s really hot (and we work out)
If it’s square we ain’t there
This new generation of fashion aesthetes ‘breeze up and down the street‘ soliciting ‘respect from people we meet.’ You get the feeling the spoils of glamour are hard-won (‘we make every minute count‘) and the pay-offs are the result of considerable sweat equity (‘we work out‘). Indeed, Michael Bracewell in his excellent biography on pre-Roxy London (Re-Make/Re-Model: Becoming Roxy Music), notes that the artisans and fashionistas of the Notting Hill collective were defined by the “strength of their work ethic as much as the flamboyance of their somewhat camp, almost quaintly English hedonism” (279):
At this time for us fashion and pop were all part of the same thing …What you looked like was very carefully planned…But importantly, even with all the glamour things that were going on, I always worked a 9-to-5 job as well!
Fashion designer (and Bryan Ferry manager) Juliet Mann
The idea of Glamour as a quality that you participate in even as a member of the 9-5 working crowd was punk in its aesthetic, working-class in its roots – clearly a favourite topic of Ferry’s (Street Life: ‘But the good life’s never won by degrees, no‘). This is a group drawn together through their ruddy-made and unexceptional past, cut from the same cloth and sticking together:
We got our own way of walkin
We got our own way of talkin’ (gotta have fun)
It is this idea of being self-made that provides you the credentials to become a member of The ‘In’ Crowd, not the hand-me-down corrupting wealth of the narrator of In Every Dream Home a Heartache, with his swimming pools and penthouse perfection. As Ferry has said, “Where I came from, Newcastle, is a rough part of the world with no possibility for anything but escape” (1982). And so money becomes part of the ‘In’ Crowd’s DNA: ‘Our share is always the biggest amount‘ – a share that is presented as both motive and reward. ‘Spending cash, talkin trash‘ Ferry seethes, the emphasis on trash hissing toward the line’s dramatic close.
In many respects we can see the ‘In’ Crowd as a peak – coming hot on the heels of Roxy Music‘s Stranded and the epic ‘Mother of Pearl’, the song follows the same subject matter of pleasure-seeking community (‘All the gangs here, Everyone you know, Its a crazy scene‘) and issues of destiny and merit (‘Such a bright hope‘/’Have you a future?).
If the ‘In’ Crowd, as Ferry tells us, was “one for the fans” then his shifting identities, persona playing, and hard-won evolution into a popular icon, was a sign-post and invitation for the kids and their own wish-fulfillment. If this was the subject of the first three Roxy Music albums, you can bet your bottom dollar that by the time it came to record the ‘In’ Crowd, Ferry was reaching out to his fans and summoning them to do the same thing:
Girl, I’ll show you a real good time
Come on with me and leave your troubles behind
I don’t care where you’ve been
You ain’t been nowhere till you been in with the “in” crowd
With the “in” crowd
With the “in” crowd
Next month: We’ll continue with a look at ‘In’ Crowd’s guitar-heavy conclusion as a segue to Ferry’s beautiful cover of ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes‘ – another solo career highlight.
Credits: out-take of Another Time, Another Place photo session by Eric Borman; Dobie, Ramsay and Ferry ‘In Crowd’ single sleeves; Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil; Roxy Machine self-portrait; the UK single release, Bryan Ferry The ‘In’ Crowd.
*Note: Un-credited Eddie Jobson. This is entirely a hunch. Answers on a postcard to…