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


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A Song For Europe

A Song for Europe (Ferry/Mackay), 1973
A Song for Europe, lyric

‘Stranded’ moved us into different territory.
Phil Manzanera

In early Fall 1973, just before the recording of The Third Roxy Music Album Stranded, the members of Roxy Music were reviewing career options: continue working under the successful group banner (highly recommended), or disband and pursue solo careers (recommended only if your name is Bryan Ferry). Phil Manzanera voted to continue (“I hadn’t had my fill yet of being in a rock n roll band yet”). Andy Mackay was skeptical and considered joining Mott the Hoople (not recommended). Bryan Ferry knuckled down and said Roxy would only continue “on his terms” (“I’d been nursing the idea for Roxy since 1964-65,” he told the NME, confirming authorship). The outcome was a mix of compromise and creative fiscal necessity: management pointed the lads in the direction of Brian Eno and Basing Street Studios in order to kick-start solo careers (Mackay didn’t waste a second, recording In Search of Eddie Riff at the studio with Paul, Eddie, Phil and Eno). They were also encouraged to work with Ferry on composing and recording the new Roxy album. Manzanera offered the music for ‘Amazona‘ and received a co-credit and solid reviews. Mackay offered the music for ‘A Song for Europe‘ and created an instant Roxy Music classic. (Oh, and a co-credit too). Compromise, evidently, had worked.

During our review of ‘Serenade‘ we noted how, without a vocal, melody line or lyrics to play to, the typical Stranded backing track of drums, bass and keyboards was carefully layered and recorded by producer Chris Thomas (“we’d build up these backing tracks to flesh it out, and that was always tremendous fun. Then Bryan would come in at the end and put his vocals on”). Imagine then Andy Mackay offering up the music for Song #6 (original working title for ‘A Song for Europe’), and Ferry jotting down impressions and ideas on first hearing: “Andy came to me with the basis of ‘Song For Europe’. It’s so much more musical than any of the things that I’ve written” (Ferry). And while the music sounded “very European” to Ferry, the resulting track is less a direct ode to the city and more about the sensory impact of Andy’s original music: in short, ‘A Song for Europe’ is Ferry’s lyrical expression of love to the beautiful composition that Andy Mackay had presented to him.

I. Moments Lost in Wonder

Scratching the idea of logical narrative such as had been seen in ‘In Every Dream Home‘ or even ‘Serenade‘, Ferry chooses to tell a different story in ‘A Song for Europe‘, one that is self-consciously sensual and direct. With its elegant piano and haunting atmospherics, ‘Europe’ defined for audiences the template for the Roxy Music ‘State of Mind’. A marked shift from the more difficult (for some) and esoteric aspect of the Roxy canon – as found in ‘The Bogus Man‘ or ‘For Your Pleasure‘ –  ‘Europe’ neatly dove-tails Ferry’s ground-breaking recent solo work – most notably the jazz-tinged lounge lizard treatment of ‘These Foolish Things‘ – into a more accessible and inviting (warm, romantic) elegant musical tapestry.

Musically, ‘A Song for Europe’ is built on the European folk tradition of sentimental crowd-pleasing ballads and, at face value at least, presents a conventional song structure. Indeed, in his excellent book on Roxy Music, “Unknown Pleasures”, Paul Stump identifies the track’s structural pattern as the typical ABABCB (verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus). Yet if you read the full lyric (posted in its original 1973 format at bryanferry.com) and recall your own experience of the track, you may agree that ‘A Song for Europe’ is in fact more nuanced this. Based on a i–ii dim–V–i  chord progression, and set in the key of A-minor (musical characteristic: “tender, plaintive, graceful in character, capable of soothing”), ‘Europe’s structure is closer to Ferry’s verse-only preference for songs that contain a build-and-release strategy, with the release – when it comes – typically coming from Manzanera and Mackay band solos (with heroic efforts from Eno on earlier Roxy recordings). Bearing this in mind, ‘Europe’s structure therefore contains a typical Roxy bait-and-switch maneuver, closer to an irregular AAB-C-ABAA structure:

Verse I (A): Here as I sit at this empty cafe, Thinking of you
Verse II (A): Though the world is my oyster, It’s only a shell full of memories
Chorus I (B): Now only sorrow no tomorrow, There’s no today for us nothing is there
Bridge (C): [instrumental]
Verse III (A): These cities may change but there always remains, My obsession
Chorus II (B): I remember all those moments, Lost in wonder that we’ll never find again
Verse IV (A), Latin: Ecce momenta Illa mirabilia/Quae captabit In aeternum
Verse V (A), French: Tous ces moments perdus dans l`enchantement, Qui ne reviendront jamais

In short (if we’ve got this right), the AAB-C-ABAA structure provides tension but no relief sing-along chorus as in ‘Hey Jude‘s fade-out). No resolution then for the considerable build-up of emotional angst, so distraught in memory that the English language cannot express the intensity of the emotion expressed. Andy Mackay does justice to his composition by wailing acute pain on saxophone, responding in kind to the heightened emotion, forever trapped in time like the Napoleonic palaces of Paris or the ancient cobbled streets of Rome. Not exactly conventional as advertised (typical Roxy), but certainly attractive and inviting nevertheless.

While Andy composed the music, the band justifiably cited Eddie Jobson as a key contributor to the ‘A Song for Europe’s success (really, a perfect blending of Mackay, Ferry, Thompson and Jobson’s peak-Roxy musical skill and taste). Ferry’s judgement of Jobson‘s musical skill as a replacement for Eno cannot be faulted (despite the cloak-and-dagger drama of his replacing Eno), as it is the classically trained Jobson who provides the symphonious attention to detail needed to pull off the conservative yet keenly felt film-noir atmospherics of ‘Europe’, a fact duly noted by Roxy Music band members:

Eddie Jobson did a great job, playing synths, violin, and even some piano, bringing a different kind of musicality to the project – for instance, his superb, classical-style piano-playing on ‘A Song For Europe’.
Bryan Ferry

You know, Eddie’s a very good musician, obviously things like ‘Song For Europe’ benefited hugely from having Eddie play keyboards on it.
Andy Mackay

You know, having Eddie Jobson was fantastic, so we were sort of stretching our musicality and of course, ‘Song For Europe’, now that’s the sort of track that couldn’t have been done in the previous years.
Phil Manzanera

And Jobson‘s own recollection of the performance provides insight into the measure of importance he brought to ‘A Song for Europe’s birth and recording:

I played the piano alone. Everything else was overdubbed to the piano, including the drums, timpani, and the electric piano, which I also played. Andy came up with the basic chords. Phil added some nice George Harrison guitar. The piano approach was European classical mixed with a little Charles Aznavour lounge. Remember, this is only two years after I was a strictly classical player: I hadn’t quite figured out how to play rock yet.

Eddie Jobson

Roxy Music has constructed the modern English equivalent of the wall-of-sound. Added to the thick mix is the unique voice of Bryan Ferry, who sounds alternately tormented (“Psalm”), frantic (“Street Life”)… He delivers his consistently clever lyrics in the most disquieting baritone in pop.

Paul Gambaccini, Stranded’ Review, Rolling Stone

II. The World Is My Oyster

Roxy songs are not easy to cover” said Andy Mackay with typical insight in 2012. “Whether that’s because we make them very distinctive and there’s nothing left for people to sort of drag out of them, or whether it’s because Bryan’s lyrics are kind of so wonderful and sort of important, without Bryan singing them, maybe they just don’t work.” Wise words indeed. If you did want to cover a Roxy track, ‘A Song for Europe‘ would seem a safe bet: the pacing and sentiment welcomes the jazz lounge guitarist or the pub playing piano populist, allowing lots of room for emotion, vocal emphasis, for expression of personality. Until you get to the drama. And the angst. And the poetic exaggeration (“and the bridge.. it sighs”), the French, the Latin … And then you realize you better have some heft, some balls, to pull it off (so you choose to play ‘Yesterday’ instead).

In sharp contrast to the freaks and schizophrenics presented on previous album For Your Pleasure (‘Strictly Confidential‘/ ‘Dream Home‘/ ‘Bogus Man‘), with ‘A Song for Europe’ Ferry jumped at the chance to fully inhabit a character that was graceful, stylish and elegant, manifesting an erudite sensibility that was comfortable with cultures from around the world and great architectures from the past. As a result, the world of ‘Europe’ is instantly attractive to the listener even though the narrator is consumed by romantic despair. The first twelve seconds of the song introduce a new mood and setting for Roxy Music listeners – “Here as I sit at this empty cafe / Thinking of you” –  the musicianship is gentle and precise, haunting and haunted (0.0-0.12)

The musical expressiveness of these opening bars (beautifully played by Jobson) is matched by a stirring yet world-weary vocal introduction by Ferry, who establishes himself one of the greatest pop baritones of his generation – a Matt Monroe or Frank Sinatra – and also one of the finest English lyricists working in England in the 1970s (a remarkable achievement for the time as few popular singers also wrote their own material. See: ‘These Foolish Things’). With a ‘A Song for Europe’ Ferry paints a picture as vivid as it is unbearable:

Here as I sit at this empty cafe
Thinking of you
I remember all those moments
Lost in wonder that we’ll never
Find again

The feelings are sober and clear (“empty cafe”) and the emotional state is underlined by the phonetic stumble on “Thin-k-ing”, while the yearning is conveyed by the consonant stretch in “rememmber”, “momments”, “wonnnder” and “nevvver”. From cold introspection to astonishment (“lost in wonder”) to despair and back again – all executed in five concise and perfectly chiseled lines. (“The best lyricist in Britain,” said producer Chris Thomas of Ferry. “I’m certain of it, I mean who else is there?”). And who are we to argue..

Though the world is my oyster
It’s only a shell full of memories
And here by the Seine Notre Dame casts a long
Lonely shadow

Now only sorrow no tomorrow
There’s no today for us nothing is there
For us to share but yesterday

The enunciation and expression of each word is teased out by Ferry and dramatized to fully capture every drop of hard-won emotion. “Lonely shadow” paves the way for the internal rhymes of “sorrow” / “tomorrow” while other verses rely on a two syllable emphasis (“to-day” / “noth-ing“) before resolving to a dramatic three syllable punchline, such as the classic “but yess-ter-daaaaaiiy” – which Ferry knows is so good that he uses “yesterday” twice to conclude two different verses, as the memory soars into the lonely shadows, with no one to hear the emotion but us listeners, the fully engaged audience. 


Since the age of 10 I had loved music so much, and had absorbed so many influences from so many genres, that I was bursting with ideas, and now I felt I had an audience who was willing to listen to them.
Bryan Ferry

“I often see a song in the same kind of structure that one sees a drawing,” Ferry explained to interviewer David Tipmore in 2019, drawing shapes in the air by way of example. “Our first single, ‘Virginia Plain,’ was based on a watercolor I once did. Ideas for songs come very quickly to me, very easily. The thing that takes all the time is refining the idea.” (Village Voice). Upon hearing Andy Mackay‘s chord structure for ‘A Song for Europe‘, the ideas clearly came thick and fast for Ferry. On the one hand there was the jokey idea of Old Europe as portrayed by the  balladering pop stylings of Charles Aznevour (“France’s Frank Sinatra”), a singer who had considerable success in the UK for the song “She” (which enjoyed a head-shaking fourteen week run in the charts). With typical dry wit, Ferry was also calling out a major TV show of the times – The Eurovision Song Contest (Concours Eurovision de la chanson) – a yearly held music competition whereby European regional juries decided a song and performance winner from entries across Europe. The punchline for Roxy fans was that in its early incarnation the show was known as “A Song For Europe“. In addition, Britain was considering membership into the European Market around the same time (a membership that was recently just given away on a whim) so punning on songs about Europe was particualry au courant.  It would take Bowie a further three years to state that the “European canon is here” (1976), but Roxy were already projecting (and playing up) the European zeitgeist in 1973/4.

It also made sense to pay homage to the locals as Roxy Music enjoyed a large and loyal following in Europe (see: Roxy Mania), having failed in their early days to secure an audience in the American market. As Andy Mackay later observed: “Roxy always were and to a large extent still too weird for mainstream American touring…We chose to make things happen in Europe where we built big following really quickly and spent our time there” (Quietus). By 1973 Roxy had already toured Germany, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, France and England with only a few dates in the USA. (E.G. records founder David Enthoven: “the Americans didn’t fucking get it at all”). 

More compelling as a source of European influence for Roxy Music is the fact that that Mackay‘s chord progression provoked a typically artisan response in Ferry, inspiring an outpouring of European cultural influences and moods. Roxy observer Michael Bracewell cites this approach as the “musical and stylistic epitome of modern cool – the term ‘cool’ being used here in its old jazz sense as the possessor and purveyor of a personal style” (Bracewell). Thus Ferry hears Mackay’s chords and melody and conjures the image of an ex-pat American in Paris and in doing so retraces the steps of his heroes, the American jazz legends of the 1950s – Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sony Rollins, Art Blackey, Ella Fitzgerald – all of whom gained regular employment in Europe when Chicago and New York couldn’t always pay the bills – and who recorded some of their greatest live recordings at European venues such as the famous Club Saint-Germain and the Paris Olympia Theatre. To our ears ‘A Song for Europe‘ conjures the mood of Miles Davis’ classic Kind of Blue, or more specifically – the 1957 Miles Davis French recording Ascenseur pour l’echafaud (Elevator to the Gallows), where, in the words of jazz critic Michael G. Nastos, the recording strives to evoke the smokey haze and “Sensual nature of a mysterious chanteuse and the contrasting scurrying rat race lifestyle of the times, when the popularity of the automobile, cigarettes, and the late-night bar scene were central figures.”

The words ‘automobile’, ‘cigarettes’ and ‘late-night bar scene’ had better strike a chord with Roxy Music listeners or we’ll send you directly back to Spandau Ballet starting school. And so Ferry invites us into this jazzy European milieu and does not let go:

Though the world is my oyster
It’s only a shell full of memories
And here by the Seine Notre Dame casts a long
Lonely shadow

My ‘oyster’ (cunnilingus in all but name), enables Ferry to give shape (head?) to his “shell full of memories” while Notre Dame – the ‘Lady of Paris’ – sits eternal and stony faced, surrounded by her fortress of crypts, bells, clocks and gargoyles, overseeing the endless inadequacies of her city’s inhabitants. This striking metaphor – one of Ferry’s best – provides ‘A Song for Europe‘ with a shot of gothic darkness – a throwback to the darker corners of  For Your Pleasurethat ultimately saves the song from falling into cheap melodrama, as Ferry equates the failed romance of “no tomorrow” with spiritual and creative death. Charles Aznavour, take note..

For all of its hip puns and cultural references, mood-making and film noir atmosphere, ‘A Song for Europe’ is, in effect, a gift for the fans. Yes, the song and the Stranded album overall established Ferry’s career image as a man who personified “the classic European notion of the doomed romantic” (NME) and who perfected the “elegant…seductive croon” (Allmusic) that would ultimately lead to the global success of Avalon and the singles  ‘More Than This’, ‘Take a Chance with Me’ and the title track ‘Avalon’, with its pop video farewell to grand European eloquence, the white tux and Roxy Music itself.

What makes ‘A Song for Europe’ so special for the Roxy Music fan-base, though, is this sense of the track being a gift, a shared experience – and a farewell to the first phase of the band’s development. Working towards their first co-credit, Ferry listened to the music Andy Mackay composed and in turn painted for us his own private movie. The objective – as always with Roxy – was fantasy projection: you see on the picture screen a fantasy of your grander self and your engagement with the sensations of your stylized, heightened emotions. “Here as I sit in this empty cafe” you fantasize, for this is your story, your own projected self flushed with emotional sensitivity, exaggerated romantic despair (“And the bridge, it sighs..”), as you become the poet you always knew you would be…

I remember all those moments
Lost in wonder that we’ll never
Find again

On a final note it is worth noting that the “we” in the second line is important: Ferry often gets knocked for avoiding emotional depth due to his work being filtered through an ironic set of signifiers, allusions and puns. Be that it may, he is also brilliant emotional dramatist who takes pride in reflecting back to us our own greatest desires, moments, and failures. And he gets it right too: when my own failures stare me in the face I seek out an alternative world, a world of heightened emotion and drama, for in my loneliest moments I too am dying of endless, eternal heartbreak – in Latin and French, of course..

Next: Party time! Peak Roxy and ‘Mother of Pearl

Credits: Firstly, a big thank you to Fly Garrick over @ glamazonaroxymusic for applying just the right amount of red tinge to our gargoyle friend over at Notre Dam; Stranded promo; a song for europe art and music exhibition curated by Thibaut de Ruyter, designed by Büro Otto Sauhaus in Berlin (see the exhibition’s song listing below); Eddie Jobson 1974 with uncredited photo Notre Dam; sheet music shot ‘A Song for Europe’; amazing uncredited picture found at BableColour (will track that down and provide more details); old Eurovision Song contest poster BBC; nightshot Notre Dam with Miles Davis and the cover for Ascenseur pour l’echafaud

‘A Song for Europe’ exhibition tracks:

– Holly Johnson, Europa (Spoken Word), 2014
– Kraftwerk, Europe Endless, 1977
– Steve Reich, Different Trains: Europe During the War, 1989
– Asia, Countdown to Zero, 1985
– David Sylvian, Café Europa, 1999
– Phantom/Ghost, My Secret Europe (Piano Version), 2003
– Kate Tempest, Europe Is Lost, 2016
– Allen Ginsberg, Europe! Europe!, 1959
– Serge Teyssot-Gay – Georges Hyvernaud, Leur Europe, 2000
– Nena, Das Land der Elefanten, 1984
– Randy Newman, Political Science, 1972
– Gianna Nannini, Ragazzo dell’Europa, 1983
– Europe, The Final Countdown, 1986
– Noir Désir, L’Europe, 2001
– Max Richter, Europe, After The Rain, 2002
– Roxy Music, A Song for Europe, 1973


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Serenade


Serenade (1973)
Serenade lyric (November 1, 1973)

I. Open Engagement

‘Serenade’ announces its arrival with a groundswell of energy, like a train speeding through a tunnel that pulls you into darkness. Indeed, “darkness falls” is the first line of this superb Stranded second side opener, but that is as bleak as ‘Serenade’ gets – it’s a recovery song, a recovery that kicks in within less time than it takes to sing the first verse..

Darkness falls around your window pane
A light still burns but just a smouldering flame
Is it the end of another affair?
An open engagement with gloom
Or will you be smiling
When the sun conjures up?
A broken spell au clair de lune

We move from darkness to light, to smouldering flame, to smiling sun and back again by the light of the moon (“au clair de lune”), all within the space of seven lines, with Ferry layering on the painterly chiaroscuro, applying deft brushstrokes of light and dark to his canvas. The painting metaphor is apt, as the mise-en-scene draws attention to itself as Portrait of the Artist at work, providing the clearest articulation yet of a life lived as theater: in ‘Serenade‘ everything is staged – the romance, setting, delivery and the emotion. Moving promptly to the second verse (the track moves at a fair clip), Ferry retains the chiaroscuro motif (“Silhouette as you draw the shade”) and presents the slightly ridiculous concept of a man imagining a woman imagining her most idyllic romance scenario:

Silhouette as you draw the shade
Cloak of night you know it’s tailor-made
G-Plan gymnastics
By an everglow fire
Could never mean the same
As summer enchantment
By an old mill steam
From courtly love to costly game

The male narrator is relentless, the imagination charged: night is “tailor-made” for love and sex (“G-plan gymnastics”). He invokes an “everglow fire” for her winter nighttime trysts. And when warmer weather arrives with its inevitable “summer enchantment” what better idea than to lie down by the “old mill stream” for picnic and sport. Consequences will follow (“from courtly love to costly game”), but it hardly matters anymore: When love is this good, why spoil the movie.

‘Serenade’ teases us with cues from Shakespeare and Thomas Hardy‘s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (sub-title: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented). Nevertheless Shakespeare is the dominate force here: ‘all the world’s a stage’ was a key idea for Bryan Ferry’s 1973-4 persona, so why not crib from the Bard’s greatest romance, Romeo and Juliet – the play that cemented for contemporary audiences the iconic image of a man with a lute singing beneath the lover’s balcony (see also: Shakespeare in Love, Wide Side Story, Tangled (!)). When it comes to Shakespeare, Ferry may also have been influenced by the goings-on in Twelfth Night (male/female cross-dressing romance with twins and a shipwreck); or the comic Much Ado About Nothing (extreme sassiness in the Italian countryside). Is love a tender thing? Only in art..


II. Play On

“If”, as the quote goes, “music be the food of love, play on” (Twelfth Night), then Roxy Music step up to the challenge on ‘Serenade’. Having just come off an extensive 1973 Fall/Winter Tour, the band were well-rehearsed and excited to be in George Martin’s AIR Studios accompanied by the talented and experienced producer Chris Thomas.

Chris Thomas plays a major role on Stranded and he should take the credit for that the record still sounds rich and adventurous today (a candidate for the 5.1 surround sound treatment). A talented musician himself (Thomas had an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Music before his teens), the engineer/producer had the necessary know-how to converse and interact with Roxy Music as fellow musicians, and could pick up the slack or change approach when needed (for example, Thomas plays bass on ‘Street Life’). His many recordings are noted for their depth and warmth, layering instruments and building up the backing tracks one by one. Thomas explains his approach:

When we did Stranded, the way we worked mostly was first we just put down backing tracks of keyboards, bass and drums. ‘What’s this one called?’ ‘Number 3.’ ‘Oh, okay, that’s inspirational!’ Half the time there were no lyrics written for these songs. Then, Phil would go in and put guitar parts down, and that actually was the point for me where the songs would turn into something. Then we’d build up these backing tracks to flesh it out, and that was always tremendous fun. Then Bryan would come in at the end and put his vocals on.
Chris Thomas

One of the great Roxy Music production effects is the opening moments of ‘Serenade‘ (0:1 to 0:7) where the lead vocal is multi-tracked, built-up meticulously, creating the sound of a night train ripping through the tunnel before landing evenly and thrillingly on the first line: “Darkness falls..”  It’s an impressive start to the second side, the band and production team keen to bring us back from the sedate (yet rousing) eight-minute pulpit-thumping ‘Psalm‘. (At at live Musikladen performance the band fluffs the opening to ‘Psalm‘ (Jobson’s timing is off), and the group laughs cheerfully as Ferry dead-pans “here’s a real chart-buster…”).

The Chris Thomas/Roxy Music working relationship ran from For Your Pleasure to Viva! with a  return for the aborted 2007 album with the original five Roxy Music members. “Not one single molecule in that studio had changed in 30 years” Brian Eno noted in amazement. In addition to Roxy, Thomas worked with The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Sex Pistols, Chris Speeding, solo Bryan Ferry, The Pretenders, David Gilmour (with Phil Manzanera), and Pulp.

III. Now’s the Time

Given the Roxy Music practice of recording the melody line and vocals last (“Half the time there were no lyrics written”) Chris Thomas used the time to listen to the band’s ideas and build and record the understructure of the song. With this in mind, try listening to ‘Serenade’ just as a backing track (drums, bass and guitars) and you see the success of the song is placed in the band’s hands, sharing credit with Ferry and Thomas for creating a pulsing and efficient rock n’ roll statement that actually swings.

The additional kick that ‘Serenade’ has for its listeners is due to the song’s arrangement, an outcome that you sense was derived during the composition and build-up of the backing track. To that end, there are two musical and lyrical patterns that are repeated in each verse, divided by the first two lines of each section:

These first two lines shift between two sympathetic and warm F and C chords while Andy Mackay plays a seductive romantic line that is sensitive to Ferry’s vocal while the lyric mourns a romantic loss by shutting out the light (“Darkness falls/Cloak of night”).

In both instances the music and voice do a neat trick of bouncing back, almost giddy, for lines 3-7 & 3-9 repeated, moving through the more solid G to C:

“Is it the end of another affair?” our smirking troubadour asks, knowing full well the hurt won’t outlast a night’s decent sleep, the spell inevitably broken as we dust ourselves off to play again, “from courtly love to costly game”.  Andy‘s oboe is still in the mix but he shifts to a jocular, animated soloing – like some darting sparing love-bird (0:22 to 0:41/ 0:56 to 1:10) mirroring the change in Ferry‘s temperament and vocal. Andy is sensational here and provides exactly what ‘Serenade‘ needs – the application of his taste and woodwind flair that makes Roxy Music so remarkable.

This lesson in band synergy isn’t done yet however: Phil Manzanera brings it all together by exploding onto the track at the conclusion of the second verse with a beautifully textured guitar re-run of what we just heard: two verse melody and vocal line, mirroring Mackay, mirroring Ferry. It’s another fantastic solo – meticulously constructed and executed by Manzanera and brilliantly recorded by Thomas – yet it somehow sounds effortless, capturing perfectly the sunny optimism of the song, a yearning for the possible before it all turns sour.

IV. Don Juan

Motoring along on ‘Serenade‘s chorus-less locomotive (see also: ‘Virginia Plain‘), Manzanera‘s solo ushers in a typically manic musical bridge that expands the narrator’s finger-wagging by turning the subject “You” into the subject “I”:

Maybe I’m wrong for seeming
Ungrateful, unforgiving
Oh how it hurts now you’re finally leaving
I couldn’t take anymore

It has been suggested that the word ‘camp’ derives from ‘se camper’, meaning ‘to posture boldly’ (Bekhrad) and here Ferry’s delivery is intentionally extravagant and comically artificial, both in sentiment and intent. Conjuring the fickle nature of the love object, creating a canvas of love scene scenarios, the narrator completes the kiss off with dollops of insincerity – “ungrateful, unforgiving”/”Oh how it hurts now you’re finally leaving” – and delivers the last line with comic spite:  “I can’t take any-muh-uhhh“!  Indeed.

We hit the gas again in the final verse and hurtle towards yet another doomed love affair (“Now’s the time! Let’s hide away”). Ferry continues to ham it up (“Boo-hoo willows weep around you still”) and the nature of this particular serenade becomes clear:

Mirror reflections of dew
But waterfall pages of an open book
Could shower new horizons soon
Call the tune will you swoon
As I croon your serenade?

“Mirror reflections” implicates both lover and narrator who endlessly chase a romantic literary/cinematic ideal of courtship that is artificial and unattainable. “Waterfall pages” contains the Rolodex of past lovers, looking towards those highly anticipated  “new horizons” of courtly engagement and disappointment. The song that is sung – this ‘Serenade’ that we are listening to – is delivered by a modern Don Juan, a rock star troubadour and absurd hero who maintains a reckless abandon in his approach to love, projecting onto the love object a shared cynicism for courtship and the seductive lifestyle.

The inauthenticity of this modern ‘Serenade‘ is concluded by Ferry in his hilariously crafted car-crash at the end of the song as the serenading balladeer piles up the end-rhymes “soon”, “tune”, “swoon”, “croon”. It’s a lost battle to in the name of love, and certainly a slaughter to the English language as Ferry delivers his best line: “But waterfall pages of an open book/Could shower new horizons soon/Call the tune will you swoon/As I croon your serenade?”.  A favorite moment indeed for all who love Roxy Music’s (underrated) comic sensibility.

The shortest track on Stranded at under three minutes (2:59),  ‘Serenade‘ prepares us for what comes next – glamorous parties and long walks down European streets, the next bleary-eyed morning and the wasted day’s inevitable sunset. ‘Serenade‘ (innocently, it must be said), even directs us towards the self-obsessed soft-porn decadence of Country Life. You wouldn’t know it though: this under-performed (unloved?) classic only wants us to have fun, spell unbroken, au clair de lune.

Credits: dancers Ted Shawn & Ruth St. Denis (1916) re-presented by the fantastic work of Stuart Humphrey’s at BabelColour; Shakespeare sketch; The Serenade 1629 Judith Leyster; Chris Thomas 1970s; visions of Andy Mackay, 1974; a wonderful composite by Fly Garrick @ https://www.facebook.com/groups/GlamazonaRoxyMusic. Great work Fly!

 
 


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Psalm – Part 2

Psalm – Part 1
Psalm (1973)

I. The Beautiful Idea

In The Red Hand Files Issue #130 (January 2021), Nick Cave provided insight into his personal connection between religion and creativity:

William Blake said ‘Jesus is the imagination’ and these words have always resonated with me. They have bound together the notion of Jesus and the creative act, and lifted it into the supernatural sphere.

A large part of the process of songwriting is spent waiting in a state of attention before the unknown. We stand in vigil, waiting for Jesus to emerge from the tomb — the divine idea, the beautiful idea — and reveal Himself.

One day, you will write a line that feels wrong, but at the same time provides you with a jolt of dissonance, a quickening of the nervous system…This is the idea to pay attention to, the difficult idea, the disturbing idea, shimmering softly among all the deficient, dead ideas, gently but persistently tugging at your sleeve — the Jesus idea.
Nick Cave

Much of Bryan Ferry’s writing occupies the same territory, anticipating the ‘jolt of dissonance’ that accompanies the appearance of the ‘beautiful idea’ – that mysterious and hard-won insight that begs for inclusion in a song. (Ferry: “I believe each line must have a punch of some sort and that, strategically, certain lines should give the listener a specific jolt”). The selection of material and subject is vital to Ferry, but the singer also presents in his work a humility at the mysteriousness of writing and creating. Just as we can locate Jack Torrence’s writer’s block as the true terror in Kubrick‘s The Shining (“all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play…”), so too Ferry delights in describing the terror of the blank page, of not finding the right words at the right time (see: The Bogus Man), of not being articulate or insightful, of having to wait on an artistic revelation before the deadline, of not receiving the beautiful idea, the Jesus idea.

Question [Interviewer]: What sorts of things guide your songwriting? And are you a disciplined writer, or . . .

Answer [Ferry]: Oh, I have to be dragged to it by wild horses; I find it very painful, very hard work. The tunes tend to come much more readily than the words; the words are a bit of torment, ’cause I’m quite particular about words, and I love words.

Haunting me always are the voices
(Tell us are you ready now?)
Sometimes I wonder if they’re real
(Ready to receive you now)
Or is it my own imagination?
(Have you any more to say?)
Strictly Confidential

Discussing ‘Strictly Confidential’ in June 2018, we tracked the Bryan Ferry persona across the first three Roxy Music records and two non-album singles:

I. (Roxy Music/’Virginia Plain‘): The dream and drive for Fame. The mask is donned for the first time. You become someone else. Many possible futures.

II. (‘Pyjamarama‘/For Your Pleasure): Fame arrives. The effects, shocking. Audiences love you (UK). Promoters hate you (US). You arrive at your Hollywood Promised Land and experience disillusionment. The constructed Roxy state-of-mind – the dream mask – is becoming real, attaching itself firmly to the surface of your skin, like fingernails digging into flesh. There is a mix of happiness, anticipation and pride – and also fear and uncertainty about future outcomes. Decisions are made.

III. (Stranded): “Roxy Mania” takes hold in Europe. The mask settles, inseparable from your own skin now. Human relationships disappoint. All that remains is aesthetics, the striving for the perfection in art that you cannot find in life. You reach for another cognac, stranded.

While an over-simplification, the journey above tracks decently enough as narrative, bringing us squarely to ‘Psalm’, the last song on the original first side of Stranded. The end-stop is fitting as ‘Psalm’ feels like a culmination of sorts: just as For Your Pleasure closes on goodbyes (“ta-ra”), ‘Psalm’ is a set-piece designed to rid its author of the rigors and stress of intellectual analysis and art theory in favor of harnessing a greater range of musical and emotional expression in his work.

As a result, the first set of songs on Stranded are obsessed with the subjects of change and transformation. Street Life announces “now I’m blinded, I can really see”; “this brave new world’s not like yesterday”; “back to nature boys/Vasser girls too”. While Romantic classic Just Like You is concerned with “shifting planets”; “alchemy iron turns gold”; “chameleon color”, “seasons change”; “everything changes” and so on.

And then Amazona turns up, the no-zone that serves as a holding place, where “everything is nice”, contains no fear, “no doubt”, “no fall-out”. The literary academics call this the liminal space – the “space where you have left something behind, yet you are not yet fully in something else. It’s a transition space”. Ferry opens the first side of the album with a warning – “you may be stranded if you stick around” – and closes it with an invitation for him (and us) to transcend our condition, to join him in a leap of faith:

“Why don’t you step through the mirror and see?”

Amazona
Getting closer
Soon you’ll see
Journey’s over
We’re almost there!

So many questions: Where is there? Paradise? Heaven? (“Is there a heaven?/I’d like to think so”). Or is this an attempt at epiphany (“now I’m blinded I can really see”), a leaving behind of the tortured thinking soul in return for a glimpse of Jesus emerging from the tomb. Does ‘Psalm’ attempt to harness and re-create the beautiful idea, the “universal, eternal Mind, or Spirit” that William Blake called the Imagination? If so, then ‘Psalm’ is the destination, and you and I are almost there..

II. Believe in Me

Retaining a typically warm ambience that is so common to Stranded, ‘Psalm’ starts calmly enough with church-style organ and a pleasant eight note refrain in the key of F Major (musical characteristic: “Controlled calmness/religious sentiment”) provided by the ever-tasteful and talented Eddie Jobson. Emerging from the shadows, Ferry’s sunken vocal begins with:

Try on your love like a new dress
The fit and the cut your friends to impress
Try on your smile square on your face
Showing affection should be no disgrace

Ferry pitches tone and diction perfectly for the Sunday pulpit: clarity of language (“love/smile/affection”) is backed with simple rhyming couplets (“dress/impress”; “face/disgrace”). As a result, both narrator and Roxy Music create an atmosphere of inclusion and calm: The church organ soothes and oscillates within the hall. The congregation assembles, eyes focused on the televangelist out front: this is more of a rock star performance than is usually given credit for (a connection that clearly pique’s Ferry’s interest), as the televangelist (“tele” = television/ “evangelist” = preacher) combines the classic TV / glamour / commercial motifs that are the foundations of the Roxy Music aesthetic. David Bowie turned the rock star pulpit into a display of fascistic power and influence (“This ain’t rock n’ roll – this is genocide!”) whereas Ferry sees the power opportunity as a pull towards existential questions of how to live our lives in this new age (“Penthouse perfection/But what goes on/What to do there/Better pray there”). No matter: this was brave new world thinking in 1973 and neither glam superstars or the public knew where it was going to end up. (At a guess, somewhere around 2020).

Having honed his writing style across two albums, Ferry presents a favorite narrative point-of-view technique in the first stanza, addressing someone off-screen in the second person (You): “your love”, “your smile”, “your friends”, “your face”. For today’s sermon, the girl from ‘Amazona‘ is in attendance (“Sometimes paradise around your corner lies”). The man at the pulpit may be calm and welcoming in tone, but he engages in a brittle attack, disapproving of the appropriation of love and religion as a fashion statement (“try on your love/like a new dress”), identifying this church-goer as little more than a devotional groupie seeking attention and admiration like those fashion house ladies from ‘Just Like You’ chasing “last year’s fab-rave” (JLY).

Try out your God hope He will send
Kindness from strangers on whom you depend

This is delicious stuff, as Ferry recreates the stock-in-trade Roxy Music male persona – men who are calm and seductive on the surface but stick the knife in for the romantic kiss-off: “I’ll move up close to you/I’ll use you and I’ll confuse you//Still you won’t suspect me” (Ladytron). “As destiny wills it so seasons will change/Just like you.” (JYL). In the end justice usually prevails as the male protagonist is left in the cold with his stylish suits, wall-coverings and G-Plan apartment.

“Believe in me”
Once seemed a good line now belief in Jesus
Is faith more sublime

“Believe in me” contains multitudes: it’s the end-game to the arguments the heated lovers always have; it’s the televangelist’s call to his obedient and willing congregation (arms raised – “believe in me!”); and it is one of the key tenets of Christian thought, the sum of the teachings of the Gospel:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16

The phrase is also a signal of change: One of the fun aspects of Ferry’s writing is that he enjoys teasing the reader with diverse persona and different narrative points-of-view. In Roxy Music, narrators are typically unreliable (‘If There is Something‘/’Chance Meeting’), and shift and turn and reveal secrets over the course of a song. The male narrator will dig in by scolding the love object (“Try on your love like a new dress”) yet by song’s end he often appears foolish (“I may seem a fool to you”) and winds up castigating his own self (“I can’t see the Lord short of perfection/I’ll try to be good”).

In this regard, ‘Psalm’ replicates the narrative design of ‘Pyjamarama‘ (Roxy’s second Top 10 single) wherein Ferry stages a Noel Coward comedy of manners in the same spirit of the play Private Lives. Jealousy, envy, lust, (maybe) love, retribution and punishment are doled out over several verses as we witness a subtle but gradual shift from female to male incredulity. (“They say you have a secret life”/”I may seem a fool to you”). 

And so, shifting focus, in the fourth stanza the girl from ‘Amazona‘ is practically forgotten:

“Believe in me”
Once seemed a good line now belief in Jesus
Is faith more sublime Head in the clouds
But I can’t see the Lord short of perfection
I’ll try to be good

“I’ll try to be good” is cute (and funny), yet more compellingly, it also reveals a considerable shift in perspective. Earlier in the sermon our Evangelist had taken a hearty crack at the ex-lover (“Try out your love/Try out your God”) yet by the fourth stanza he is gradually turning the gaze inward, beginning to recognize his own failings (“I can’t see the Lord”). A transformation is taking place – a conversion if you like – a movement towards that “faith more sublime.”

There could be a question mark here (“Is faith more sublime?”) in order to support the previous album’s key existential consideration “Is there a heaven?” (In Every Dream Home). The poetic notion of the Sublime is extremely important in this verse, as Ferry and writing partner Simon Puxley (PhD in Literature and Philosophy) understand and apply the concept of The Sublime to their religious poem ‘Psalm’.

The ‘Sublime’ has three distinct connotations: i) as adjective, sublime identifies “excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe”. ii) As verb, sublime occupies a chemical process “of a solid substance change directly into vapor when heated, typically forming a solid deposit again on cooling.” iii) As archiac term, sublime “elevate to a high degree of moral or spiritual purity or excellence.

By asking is “faith more sublime” Ferry uses one of the key concepts of English poetry and delivers neatly in one package the three key themes of the Stranded triptych: Beauty. Transformation. Perfection.

III. Hanky Panky

In a July 1974 interview with New Musical Express  journalist Nick Kent, Bryan Ferry commented on his admiration for religious poets and their artistic intensity:

It’s strange how the most degenerate kind of characters can flirt with religion… What’s always interested me is the gradual process of a lot of poets and the phases they go through. Like intense love poetry, over 20 years or so it can become stranger and stranger, and more introspective, until it reaches this amazing religious intensity. John Donne, for instance, was always the most amazing one for me.

Bryan Ferry

When considering an artist’s work, it pays to take note of their heroes: for Ferry, Richard Hamilton and Marcel Duchamp provided the pop-art ambition and technique for Roxy Music, ‘Virginia Plain’ and ‘Do the Strand’; the Hollywood glamor of Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart and Greta Garbo were the inspiration for a new rock n’ roll  ‘cinema’ music, and so on.

“When writers are mentioned,” Kent writes, “[Ferry] names Proust and F.Scott Fitzgerald. His favorite poets appear to be T.S. Eliot and Sylvia Plath, with John Donne taking pride of place”.  And so we map these influences in the work:

  • Proust: Monumental, difficult, stream-of-consciousness (see: ‘Song for Europe‘);

  • F.Scott Fitzgerald: Gatsby, America, the New World. Adjective; meaning excessively extravagant, cool, stylish. (See: um, BF’s entire career).

  • T.S Eliot: Modernist. The Waste Land. ‘April is the cruelest month.’ (see: ‘Just Like You‘).

  • Sylvia Plath: Confessional poetry. American. Alienation. Self-destruction. Suicide. (see: ‘Strictly Confidential‘).

Kent continues: “His admiration of the metaphysical strain made me remember a conversation I once had with Eno, when the latter stated his contention that our Mr F. would reach a peak of creativity and then crack and become totally committed to some organised religion”. 

Ferry replies: “I could see myself perhaps falling into that.”

Kent continues:  “Ferry after all could be seen as a direct inheritor of the whole John Donne school of hedonistic wit which consequently turned to religious fanaticism as the years took their toll.”

Ferry replies: “It’s a very interesting process isn’t it? All these gay blades getting up to the incredible hanky panky when they were young – but who at the same time wrote very moving love poetry until they ultimately approached religion with the same fanatical zeal.”

Ferry’s hero John Donne was a metaphysical poet of considerable intellect and passion, but the pull for modern audiences (and Ferry) is the peculiar juxtaposition of the profane and the secular. Biographers tell us Donne’s life had a painful trajectory: “frustration in hopes for courtly preferment, an intense love life with some rough patches, and at last settling into the godly role he played so well as a prominent minister in the Anglican Church. In short, Donne went from sinner to near-saint.” (Sense Sublime).

The “amazing religious intensity” that Ferry so admires in Donne is presented in ‘Psalm.’ Moving through the song, His Eminence The Most Reverend Ferry gains increasing ecclesiastical emotion and energy:

I’ll stand at His gate
I’ll wait for His sign then I’ll walk in his garden
When it’s my time

No longer preoccupied with previous concerns (no withering ‘Just Life You’ failed romance; no Church girl’s Sunday fashion pose) the narrative becomes pure Southern rock n’ roll – the Reverend shares the pulpit with Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Elvis.

Nearing death’s vale
He’s here by my side
He leads me to paradise
A mountain so high

The change is startling: you find yourself rooting for the great dirty rock n’ rollers of old – those degenerates that “flirted” with religion and genuinely feared the consequences of having lived a life of sin. Jerry Lee went to Memphis after being booted out of Bible school for boogy-ing up a hymn during worship services (The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1). At 14 he was called The Killer. At 22 he took a took a shine to his future teen bride Myra Gale Brown, first cousin removed, marrying her at 13 (while he was still married to someone else). Jerry Lee occupies a world of “snakes and swamps, sweltering heat, Pentecostal Christianity and fear of sin” (The Guardian). This too is the world of ‘Psalm‘: swampy, stranded, awaiting rescue – just like the girl on the cover. The degenerate sings the Lord’s praises in an attempt to avoid the clutches of hell..

Don’t be afraid just treasure His word
Singing His praises I know that I’ll be heard



Ferry clearly identifies with these rascals, the pulpit poet John Donne (“the most amazing one for me”), and Elvis (“I was, and always will be a fan”). The fact that Ferry uses ‘Psalm’ and religious hymn as a continuation of the rock n’ roll spirit (“I’m always juxtaposing contrary elements. It’s kind of a perverse streak in me”) is at the heart of where Stranded‘s experimentation stands.

In 1970, Jerry Lee was served with Myra Gale Brown’s divorce papers. In a last-ditch attempt to bring her back, The Killer went to her church, Brother E.J. Davis’ Church on Highway 61 South in Memphis, and played an hour’s worth of gospel, having announced that he was giving up on worldly music, and was embracing the Lord:

Forget all your troubles you will feel no pain
He’s all that you need He’s your everything
When I’m feeling all at sea deliverance is that distant shore
I will not be worried someday His house will be my home

This is the story ‘Psalm’ tells: From disdain (“Try out your God”), to self-realization (“I can’t see the Lord short of perfection”), to full-blown belief (“His quiet waters will never run dry”), to final break-through, religious epiphany (“for evermore”) – the degenerate’s transformation is complete. No longer stranded, but transformed – as William Blake was, as John Donne, Jerry Lee  – from sinner to near saint, The Reverend is also saved, in art at least, For evermore…

For evermore for evermore for evermore for evermore
For evermore for evermore for evermore for evermore
For evermore for evermore for evermore for evermore

Part IV. I Would Like to Be a Saint

A large part of the process of songwriting is spent waiting in a state of attention before the unknown. We stand in vigil, waiting for Jesus to emerge from the tomb — the divine idea, the beautiful idea.
Nick Cave

To discuss ‘Psalm’ in terms of irony, or its opposite, is reduce the song to its formal properties: the track is, after all, a religious psalm, both in form and intent. That’s the gag. Or that’s the earnest struggle. Either way, ‘Psalm‘ (like all great Roxy songs) accommodates your personal preference.  Not so much a ‘message’ song as a revelation song, ‘Psalm’ traces and re-enacts the discovery and arrival of the beautiful idea, words captured in time, for evermore. (Words that will outlive it’s creator). John Coltrane did the same thing with A Love Supreme – his hymn to God and Spirit. On a 1966 tour of Japan, Coltrane was asked what he wanted to be in 10 years. He replied, “I would like to be a saint.” And so they built a church for him in San Francisco (that is still open). The Church of St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane (www.coltranechurch.org).

Nick Cave too sought the same engagement with Jesus and the Imagination as Coltrane. On Cave’s beautiful ‘O Children‘ the horrors of the Gulag are detailed for the (now) old men who perpetuated the original crimes. “Forgive us now for what we’ve done/It started out as a bit of fun.” Children are taken by train to the concentration camps to be gassed. On the terrible journey Cave urges them to sing, sing:

O children
Lift up your voice, lift up your voice
Children
Rejoice, rejoice

And lo and behold a conversion takes place – “We’re happy, Ma, we’re having fun!” as Cave imagines them away onto a different train, away from this hell. Saved for evermore in song.  “Is that such a stretch of the imagination?” Cave asks, and we dare not argue.

Conversion, change, self-invention, frustration (“stranded”): no one would make an argument for a fully conceived, unified concept in Stranded, but there is an ambience and mood that yolks the disparate elements together. Endlessly fascinated by modes of perception, Ferry delights in showing us how different characters (bogus men, creeps, poets, lovers) process information through their ragged, even sleazy, version of the world. Just as a playwright lays down multiple versions of themselves, Ferry adopts a religious persona for ‘Psalm’ that teases out connections between faith and fashion, propaganda and pop, between those lacking conviction, between the faithful and the faithless. There is existential angst to be sure – the peering towards the threshold (“far beyond the pale horizon”), is tantalizing, but the way forward is unclear, no closer to resolving the problem of being “stranded between life and art” (Gestrandet an Leben und Kunst”: from the German stanza of Bitter Sweet).

And so ‘Psalm’ ends the first glorious period of Bryan Ferry’s writing. After ‘Psalm’ we get a song-cycle less concerned with dreams turning to reality, dream homes turning to heart ache, or questions regarding the existence of heaven. Instead there is a reduced scope, with Ferry narrowing his concerns down to – in the words of Roxy artist and friend Nick de Ville: “I’ve got this problem. I’m writing this pop song”. The bright lights and the harassing phone calls are now a fact of life: the pale horizon has been crossed over. The state of being stranded between life and art is grudgingly accepted. Art, life, religion – offer no escape. As a result, there is less to say and – by the time of 1982’s Avalon – lyrics are largely superfluous, the music having to bear the weight of the Imagination.

‘Vigil’ implies watchfulness. Anyone trying to attain perfection is faced with various obstacles in life that tend to sidetrack him. Here, therefore, I mean watchfulness against elements that might be destructive-from within or without.

St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane

Next: post-conversion blues: The end of another affair? Serenade

Credits: The Church of John Coltrane; Jesus steps from the Tomb, Red Hand Files Issue #130 (January 2021); tranquil Ferry, Amsterdam 1974; ‘Veiled Virgin’, Giovanni Strazza ; fellow degenerates John Donne, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Bryan Ferry seek salvation.

Titbits

Jerry Lee didn’t write Great Balls of Fire (Otis Blackwell did) and nor did he want to record the song. According to Ed Ward, on the eve of the recording, a drunken Lee became convinced the song’s title was sending him a message of hell’s damnation, and that his degenerate recordings (“Whole Lotta Shakin'”) had brought about the wrath of God, inciting those great balls of fire hurtling towards the recording studio. “Man I got the devil in me!” he was reported to have said (and they should know, the incident was recorded).
 
The great icons of Rock n’ Roll – Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis – were all obsessed that their rock n’ roll lifestyle was going to send them to hell for their sins.  Jerry Lee even counseled Elvis on the subject:
 
“I said, ‘Elvis, I’m going to ask you one thing before we part company here. If you die, do you think you’d go to heaven or hell?’ … He got real white in the face, and he said, ‘Jerry Lee, don’t you ever say that to me agin.’ I said, ‘Well, I won’t even say it to you again.’ Hahahaha!…He was very frightened.”
 
 


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Psalm – Part 1

Psalm (1973)
Psalm (Live, 1974)

Once I get on stage I throw myself totally into it and when I get off I’m drained. That’s what any emotional kind of singer ought to do anyway
Bryan Ferry

I. Stars on Sunday

A serious contender for the strangest Roxy Music track in the band’s catalogue, ‘Psalm‘ is both epic in its formal construction (i.e., “a long poem, typically one derived from ancient oral tradition”); its length (8 minutes plus), and its sheer gall and inspired frazzle: at the height of 1973’s pop music explosion, the high-priests of Glam concluded the first side of their #1 chart-topping album Stranded with a Church-going, preacher-waving, God-fearing sermon.  The result – depending on who you ask – is classic Roxy Music, delivering an authentic band performance that manages to be both ironic, unironic, moving, inspired, and downright frustrating all in one go.

Legend it that ‘Psalm’ is the one of the “first things” that composer Bryan Ferry wrote, but this isn’t quite true: ‘Psalm’ was considered for Roxy Music, but did not make the cut. (Ferry: “‘Psalm’ was one of the songs I’d started on during the making of the first Roxy Music album but had never finished”). In addition to, presumably, the matter of those “12 different futures” (Eno) already being defined and sequenced to satisfaction. Next record For Your Pleasure already had a monster track that took up a quarter album (‘The Bogus Man‘ at +9 minutes). And so it was left to the time-pressured Stranded sessions for ‘Psalm’ to finally find a home.

Within the context and aural soundscape of Stranded, ‘Psalm’ is a success, appealing to both head and heart both as formal prototype (musical psalm) and as a vehicle of emotional transcendence (church prayer). Last month (Dec 2020) we discussed the jungle-heated track ‘Amazona‘ and noted that Stranded was as every bit as experimental as Brian Eno’s first solo recording Here Come the Warm Jets (Eno even using five of six members of the early Roxy Music team). Admittedly, it’s difficult to imagine a more staid musical event than a ‘Stars on Sunday’ church sermon and call it experimental, and many critics certainly were underwhelmed by the inclusion/intrusion of ‘Psalm’ on an otherwise successful rock record:

Psalm’ is a very odd liturgy with its Blackpool pier organ and doctored harmonica sound, but it’s hard to sustain interest over eight minutes on the strength of bizarre-ness alone (Melody Maker / Watts).

Psalm’, a protracted prayer of sorts that, along with ‘Sunset’ on Side two, provide the lower points on the album (Shakin’ Street Gazette / Sperrazza).

Psalm’, Ferry’s contribution to God-Rock, is the most obscure nine minutes on the album, building inevitably through a never-ending sequence, collecting heavenly choirs, weirdly-filtered violin, and a couple of Andy MacKays en route, but without reaching, a convincing resolution. (New Musical Express/ Ian MacDonald)

Yet including ‘Psalm’ on Stranded makes sense, as Roxy at this point were making bold choices: Stranded is wonderfully inventive in its presentation of a variety of musical forms – from cod-reggae (‘Amazona‘), to romantic ballad (‘Just Like You‘), hard rock (‘Street Life‘), ambient folk-song (‘Sunset)’ – all wrapped in a rich, beautifully recorded ambience. Michael Bracewell (Re-make/Re-model: Becoming Roxy Music) confirms for us Bryan Ferry’s observation that “Roxy Music did not possess a particular ‘style’; but rather, in their mix of music and the visual imagery, bring together many different styles into a new synthesis(Bracewell). In short, ‘Psalm’ is not so far from Brian Eno’s insanity music as contemporary writers would have supposed – you just had to live with it a bit.

II. My Sweet Lord

This idea of merging religion and pop music was well established by 1973: famously, George Harrison had a huge hit with my ‘My Sweet Lord‘ three years previously in 1970 (which, unfortunately, culminated in the humiliating spectacle of Harrison peddling the song on acoustic guitar in a packed London courtroom to disprove a plagiarism charge (Lennon: “He walked right into it. He knew what he was doing”)). Before ‘My Sweet Lord’ there was ‘Can I Get A Witness’ by Marvin Gaye (At 16 weeks, “Can I Get a Witness” lasted longer than any other Marvin Gaye entry on the Hot 100 during the 1960s); as had ‘People Get Ready‘ by The Impressions’; ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ by Bob Dylan, and so on. After ‘My Sweet Lord’ there was Talking Heads (‘Take Me to the River’/’Heaven’); Talk Talk (‘Spirit of Eden’/’I Don’t Believe in You’); and lots and lots more Bob Dylan (‘Blood on the Tracks’/etc). There was also the ‘Book of Moses’ by Tom Waits, and, my own personal favorite, ‘Let Jesus Make You Breakfast’ by BR549. Make that two eggs sunny-side up, please.

And Ferry too had flirted with the sacred in his music: ‘If There is Something‘ uses devotional prayer – heightened and exaggerated – as the narrator raises his arms to the heavens: “I would do anything for you/I would climb mountains/I would swim all the oceans blue/I would put roses round our door/Sit in the garden/Growing potatoes by the score”. Devotion mixed with humor; ironic in a way that ‘Psalm’ would never be – sitting in the garden, the poet sees himself magnified, a modern Adam courting his Eve. To seal the deal, the voice cracks, bursting with Evangelical passion:

Shake your hair girl with your ponytail
Takes me right back (when you were young)
Throw your precious gifts into the air
Watch 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 we 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)

A very beautiful sequence that carries the scent of the sacred about it, especially so if you have been with an audience during a live performance, hands in the air, remembering when the hills, trees, and grass were higher, taller, greener.


III. Is There a Heaven?

Ferry’s next ecclesiastical outing was ‘In Every Dream Home, A Heartache‘, an altogether more creepy examination of the crippled modern psyche and its relationship to spirituality. Our narrator is the hypothetical ‘man who has everything’ – opulent home, private swimming pool, the must-have inflatable doll (“lover ungrateful”). The four-bar chord progression is replete with church cinema organ and ominous overtones. The voice is reverent, the confession modern:

In every dream home a heartache
And every step I take
Takes me further from heaven
Is there a heaven?
I’d like to think so

Explicitly theological in his outlook, the narrator moves past a belief in God (“Is there a heaven?”) towards secular living, the new god of materialism. What is interesting is that Ferry positions the religious question in the very first stanza – acknowledging not so much a personal view (though this might have been the case) but certainly a musical one: the Hippies and Haight Ashbury had reached their zenith and were on decline by 1969, and Jesus had become a post-Woodstock pop character in the counterculture scene, peaking with the commercial Jesus Christ Superstar (musical, double-album, film. Over a quarter $ billion sold). Three years later, Roxy Music occupied the void left behind by flower-power, incense, and ‘Spirit in the Sky’, injecting a much needed dose of sleazy realism and salacious decadence into the question of personal worship:

The cottage is pretty
The main house a palace
Penthouse perfection
But what goes on
What to do there
Better pray there

No lines better describes modern times than this: the citizens of our age, seeking pleasure at the expense of intellectual and emotional growth, pray to false Gods, or fail to pray to any god, believing instead in fool’s gold (“the main house a palace”), and technological and consumer advances (“penthouse perfection”). The ominous “but what goes on?” chills us in the age of Trump and Jeffrey Epstein as we lack the imagination to find anything of substance to do in our palaces – and so we lash out in boredom and anger. The narrator suggests we “better pray”, for he senses a world of pain approaching on the horizon (and boy, did it land in 2020). The need to worship is embedded in the human psyche, Ferry seems to say, but what now, “What to do there?” This vision predates by nearly fifty years the super-slick television narrative ‘American Gods‘ – an entertainment that revels in the theological and mythic, honing in on the “really modern, occasionally very tacky, underbelly” of the West. Pleasure/Stranded-era Roxy Music, you might say, in a nutshell.

IV. Believe in Me

From ironic to demonic, Ferry’s lyrical intent with the ‘Psalm‘ feels like a movement away from character portrait (‘If There is Something) and heavy messaging (‘Dream Home), towards the purely musical. Yes, there’s a televangelist power statement bubbling beneath the surface – “look Ma! I can make them dress up and dance and sing and listen to church hymns!” – but really ‘Psalm’ is less a statement of ego or intellect and more a summons to experience the transformative power of music.

As was the case with previous album For Your Pleasure, the themes of transformation and perception continue into Stranded, furthering the idea that nothing engages our senses more than the age-old practices of sex, drugs, music, cinema, the church, and art. Stranded presents for its audience a brave new world of possibility and change: the Roxy Music state-of-mind as prophesized in ‘Virginia Plain‘ has arrived. During ‘Street Life‘ our sketchy tour guide (“come on with me cruising down the street”) has an epiphany of such force that it borders on the religious (“now I’m blinded I can really see”). ‘Just Like You‘ uses the language of alchemy to woo the fickle “quicksilver” lover, but she’s having none of it. Like the weather, everything changes – iron turns to gold, hot turns to cold, beauty turns to dust, and courtly love achieves levels of Shakespearean pathos. The playful ‘Amazona‘ turns from funk-fest to put-downs, feeling like a heroin buzz might, with its “no doubt/no fall-out” dream state. “Is something wrong?” our tour guide asks, ridiculing our dreams and delusions of paradise (“Castles in Spain”). We are stranded between life and art – death chomps at our heels (“the bell-tower rings/tolls a hollow sound”). We long for life everlasting. We long for evermore. Is there a heaven? The tour guide takes our hand: “Why don’t you step through the mirror and see?”

Getting closer
Soon you’ll see
Journey’s over
We’re almost there!

Amazona

We are ready then – if we so choose – to take the necessary leap of faith across the pale horizon. And so we arrive at the Church doors, ready for observance and change, ready for a new idea, a new thrill, lover, experience. (“Try out your God…”).

Believe in the artist. Believe in the art.

Next:Psalm – Part 2′:  precisely drawn and transformative, ‘Psalm’ marks the beginning of a change in Ferry’s writing, a change that will lead us from the dense lyrical conceits of Stranded towards the condensed word pictures of Avalon

Credits: Bryan with a little Brian on his shoulder, https://www.mlinehamart.com/product/saint-bryan-ferry-roxy-music; sleeve for Impressions single ‘People Get Ready‘; Bryan Ferry with Roxy Music, ‘Psalm’ live, 1974; Satan, as drawn by Gustave Doré, in John Milton‘s Paradise Lost; ‘Sinners Welcome’: title credits American Gods, artist Patrick Claire

Coda: 3 Psalms, by Andy Mackay.

In 2017, Roxy Music saxophonist (solo artist, producer, educator and author) Andy Mackay was diagnosed with throat cancer. He had been suffering low-level discomfort for some eighteen months, until one horrible day he coughed up blood – a terrifying moment that eventually brought him to St. Mary’s Hospital, London, to undergo robotic cancer treatment (transoral robotic surgery) and remove the tumor from the middle of his throat (Mackay/IPH). The experience lead the multi-talented Roxy Music co-founder to complete the solo work 3 Psalms, a three-movement symphony he had begun working on over 20 years previously in the mid-90s, “a time in the world, and in my personal life, of a lot of change and turmoil” (Churchtimes).

At the time that ‘Psalm’ was written circa 1971 by Bryan Ferry, Mackay and Ferry shared a flat in London, plotting together the Roxy Music manifesto, recruiting new members (Eno, Manzanera, Thompson) and dreaming together a possible future in music. A year later both men were on their way to achieving their goals. And while Bryan Ferry took the lion’s share of exposure and solo recognition during Roxy’s first magnificent phase (1972-1975),  it was Andy Mackay that served – you felt – as the quality control lead of the band. This has nothing to do with religion or the definition and sharing of song-writing credits: Mackay’s slightly dour but prescient insights into the band revealed him to be the George Harrison of the group – massively gifted but endlessly oppressed by the shining brilliance of the band’s main headliner(s), rendered grumpy by the perverse reductionism of the press, of management, of the superficiality of a rock-star life that was blind to spiritual expression and truths.

Watching the clip of Psalm performed by Roxy Music on Musikladen in 1974, you feel Andy Mackay’s musical taste and sensitivity in full reveal, as he plays the keyboards and oboe, and contributes the feel and tone of the piece, like a guiding hand. This nurturing is all over Stranded – calm and attentive, culminating in the exquisite ‘Song For Europe’.

Please take a moment to give 3 Psalms a listen: Andy’s solo work links to the themes and musical freedoms of Roxy Music: exploring, taking chances, never settling.

3 Psalms Links:

https://www.andymackay.co.uk/3psalms

Andy Mackay on Roxy Music and his proggy new solo album

Andy Mackay talks religion, life & music

3 Psalms: A Conversation with Andy Mackay


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Amazona

Amazona (Ferry/Manzanera)
Amazona (Live 1974)
Needles in the Camel’s Eye (Eno/Manzanera)
Cindy Tells Me (Eno/Manzanera)

People are going to realize how much he’s given the records. I really think Phil’s given an awful lot to both the Roxy albums that I’ve worked on.

Chris Thomas, Roxy Producer, 1974

Having our own studio, and the method of layering, having time to do it, not all going in and playing together, and using the desk as an instrument, with the evolving technology, meant that we started evolving a different kind of music.

Phil Manzanera

For twelve days in September 1973, Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera would complete his 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. The temperature in London that September set records that would last for 43 years, so it is unsurprising that Manzanera‘s playing and writing that month produced the funky jungle-fever rhythms of ‘Amazona‘ and the heated guitar shimmer (and co-author credit) for Eno’s ‘Needles in the Camel’s Eye‘ and ‘Cindy Tells Me.’

Though Manzanera had recently contributed ‘Hula Kula‘ for the B-side of Roxy’s ‘Street Life’ (recorded at the Stranded sessions), ‘Kula’ was nevertheless an intentional throw-away, a singles-only offering for a series of  “miniature pop experiments” with contributions coming from all members of the band (including, intriguingly, Paul Thompson. See Tony Barrel, ‘Train Reaction’). ‘Amazona‘ was another animal entirely and was a significant milestone in the band’s career: as Roxy re-established their working relationship after the loss of Brian Eno in July, the band agreed to a song-credit review and consideration process. To that end, ‘Amazona‘ marks the first co-credit with Bryan Ferry on any Roxy Music album to that point:
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     Buckley, pp 91/99.

Keeping within the lines of Ferry’s stated Roxy quality-control policy, ‘Amazona‘ does not detract from the sequencing or logic of the album. Indeed, Roxy fans had come to expect a variety of musical forms from the band they had first heard on Roxy Music (1972). The difference now was the production and the musicianship had improved, taking listeners into a richer studio ambience supported by the increasing experience and creativity of the band. Indeed, ‘Amazona’ is notable for its (intentionally) rich soundscape and crackles with Manzanera’s musical synthetic energy and resonance.

Stranded producer Chris Thomas agrees: “The way we did that was we recorded all the backing tracks, which was basically piano, bass and drums. And Phil would listen, take the tape home and work out his guitar part, and he would transform those tracks so much, it was totally amazing.”

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“Transformation” is a key word in the Roxy lexicon, and the idea of transcendence and change is essential to the songs of Stranded. It must be said that during the past four years we have focused largely on the Bryan Ferry/Brian Eno axis of musical development and influence. Yet by the time of the Stranded recordings in the Fall of 1973, Roxy Music had become a collective of self-directed creative partners where Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay and Paul Thompson followed Brian Eno and established their own musical identifies outside of the group, branching out into television, film soundtracks, and session work – with Phil Manzanera in particular establishing a magnificent solo career as a producer, world music promoter and facilitator.

These are the threads that define the Roxy musical path in the 1970s as Phil Manzanara grows his personal musical identity while significantly contributing to the sound and purpose of Roxy Music (Chris Thomas: “People are going to realize how much he’s given the records”). At the same time the guitarist struck up a parallel and distinguished recording career, with highlights including Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy (with Eno); his first solo album Diamond Head (home of the divine ‘Miss Shapiro’), 801’s Listen Now, and K-Scope – all peerless and essential recordings. For our money, ‘Amazona‘ is where this expansion kicks off, and surprisingly, it is more experimental in tone and intent than the two co-credits Manzanera received for the simultaneously recorded Here Come the Warm Jets.

“From Arizona to Eldorado sure is a mighty long way”: the journey from Roxy’s AIR Studios to Eno’s Majestic Studios, early 70s. I wonder did Phil and the boys share cab fare?

And so, with four of five Roxy team members seeking refuge/insanity/a decent pint on Clapham Road, you’d be forgiven for thinking the intention was to enhance the weirdness factor with a cast of fellow musicians (16 of them, by Eno’s count). Brian Eno, after all, was regarded as the “Mad Mekon of the Moog” (Disc). Yet it’s hard to imagine a more peculiar set of songs than those presented on Roxy’s Stranded when you consider the drunk reggae funk of ‘Amazona‘ or the evangelical Stars on Sunday mysticism of ‘Psalm‘ (sung by a rock star in a white tux no less). ‘Psalm‘ runs for eight minutes and is delivered so straight that its selection on the album tips Roxy into neo-insanity territory almost single-handedly. And ‘Amazona‘ sounds like a Roxy song in search of a Roxy song – clutching at ideas until it becomes over-heated and irritable, finally achieving lift-off on Manzanera‘s guitar break like a Formula One race-car, all V8 and horsepower, higher RPM and shades of “but these go to 11.”

Writing in the New Musical Express, November 1973, Ian MacDonald observed, “”Amazona‘, Phil’s first composition for the group, brings a welcome transfusion of funk to Roxy, slammed home immaculately all the way by The Great Paul Thompson.” And how right he is: from the off we can hear this is a different kind of Roxy song by way of an exaggerated John Gustafson plump bass line and a string “pluck” (and response) at 0.4-6s that reminds us of an amateur reggae band tuning up (a bit stoned, it must be said). Formally a work of cod reggae (cod=”fibbing”/”lying”), the track comes hot on the heels of the hard-rock exhilaration of ‘Street Life‘ and the classic Romanticism of ‘Just Like You‘ (surely both as formally different as can exist in rock music), and stops you in its tracks with its humour and difference. ‘Amazona‘ is a fictional construct, slipping into multiple identities, punning on its many geographical locations – ‘Amazon’; ‘zone’; ‘Arizona’ – fictionalizing our expectation of the song as a place firmly situated in so-called reality (say, unlike the strong sense of place in ‘Song for Europe’).

In this regard the track is Son of ‘Do the Strand’ – a fictional trip to another (not so green) world. We catch singer Bryan Ferry having fun with his exaggerated pronunciation of “ama-ZONE-a”/”ZONE-where” and we notice the complete lack of pretense: in the world of Amazona, there is no classic Implied Bryan Ferry character – no Poet Prophets, no dances through history, no trench-coated Lonely Men wandering rain-soaked European streets. In fact the music sounds intentionally free of airs, almost clumsy: ‘Amazona’ is cod-reggae seeking shape, willing to play, unpretentious and in high spirits. Only Paul Thompson holds it together, which, at this stage of the Roxy Music story, should come as no surprise to our readers.

Interviewed in 2011, Phil Manzanera acknowledged that “Everybody expects something new and innovative from a new album” (Manzanera). And in this regard ‘Amazona‘ provides a platform for some singular Manzanera guitar skullduggery: The swampy treatments start around the .34-36 – if electric and water could co-exist, this is what it would sound like – and we move swiftly into the realm of the psychedelic, both sonically and thematically. Manzanera takes up the story of how he came to the treatment and effects:

Eno had just left and the opportunity arose for me contribute to some music for the first time. It turned out to be my first recorded track on an album and I was very proud of it. I had this riff and a bit in 7/8 time signature, which was very unusual for Roxy…I used a specially built guitar version of the VCS 3 synthesizer that Eno had been using and I only really got it to work once and the result is on this track. It created a rather underwater sound and I think it is rather unique. When I finished recording the guitar part I remember everyone cheering in the control room.

Phil Manzanera

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And with this experimentation we bear witness to a truism that Roxy die-hards already know: that Roxy Music do psychedelia really well (see: In Every Dream Home, A Heartache). And so, adopting the modus operandi of band recording in late 1967, Ferry invites Manzanera to mess with the texture and fabric of the song, as the narrator enters Alice in Wonderland territory, imploring his love interest to “Why don’t you step through the mirror and see?”:

Amazona is a zone where
There is no doubt
No more fall-out
Why don’t you step through the mirror and see?
From Arizona to Eldorado
Sure is a mighty long way

This is where music and theme are linked and the co-credit between Ferry and Manzanera is imminently justified: Manzanera flushes the sonic landscape with swampy, skeletal guitar ambience, and in doing so creates the musical space for Ferry’s darker lyrical portent:

Hey little girl is something wrong
I know it’s hard for you to get along
The bell-tower rings
It tolls a hollow sound
But your castles in Spain
Still maybe realized
And longings more profound
You see, every cloud has a silver lining
And sometimes paradise around your corner lies
In Amazona everything is nice
Little one, come take my hand
I’ll try to help you there
I’ll take you there

After he left Roxy, Eno proudly observed that the early version of the band “juxtapos[ed] things that didn’t naturally sit together” (Stump, 103). This is certainly true of Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure, yet Stranded is also marked by incongruities and formal collisions – look at the striking differences in the (original) first side sequence of songs – ‘Street Life‘/’Just Like You‘/’Amazona‘/and ‘Psalm‘. Moreover, with ‘Amazona’ there is menace behind the amiable cod-reggae: “Hey little girl,” Ferry deadpans, “Is there something wrong?” – as Manzanera’s guitar answers with blasts of distortion and reverb. This kind of peril has its antecedents in previous Roxy tracks ‘Chance Meeting‘ and ‘The Bogus Man’ – two character extremes for Ferry, a man who can play bitterness, horror and grit as well as anyone British rock ever created.

For his part though, Ferry sounds a little confused on ‘Amazona’, as if not quite knowing what to make of it, or where he can (or should) fit in, careful, perhaps, not to step on any eggs for the sake of band harmony (and tight studio deadlines). And so he gives it his best shot, as his lyric and performance breaks into two distinct patterns: baritone dub verse and prophetic troubadour chorus (while Manzanera is like a kid in a candy-store throughout, a Tasmanian Devil swiping bon-bons and gorging on Mars bars). Naturally, the singer finds an angle and sticks to it, but it ain’t pretty –

I know it’s hard for you to get along
The bell-tower rings
It tolls a hollow sound

The menace is real as Bad Ferry gradually peels open the girl’s character (“I know it’s hard for you to get along”) and spooks her (and us) with intonations of death and emptiness (“The bell-tower rings/It tolls a hollow sound”). Yet what chance do you have when the bogus man asks you, “Little one, come take my hand/I’ll try to help you there/I’ll take you there”. This is the central riddle of ‘Amazona’ – is it sanctuary or trap? I’ll take you there, we are told – but where is “there”?

There’s a nice play on words here and a hint of some real band closeness as Ferry punningly and playfully references Manzanera’s South American background: the journey “from Arizona to Eldorado” can be seen on as a metaphor for a hard physical cross-country American trek for any aspiring rock band. But the same trek from Arizona (“Amazona”) to El Dorado (‘Gilded Man’ or ‘Golden One’) is also a reference to the mythical tale of legendary kings, the Muisca (or Chibcha) people, an indigenous group of Colombians who belonged to the lost golden city of El Dorado, where Conquistadors “heard these incredible tales of a city paved in gold they tried every means possible to find it” (ancient.eu).

Phil Manzanara, of course, is well known for his South American/Columbian associations, a man proud of his cultural heritage and musical background, as his website attests: “Manzanera, born to a British father and Colombian mother, has always taken a global approach to his music making, collaborating with musicians from South and Latin America, South Africa, Cuba and continental Europe” (manzanera.com). Knowing that his co-composer spent most of his childhood in different parts of the Americas, including Colombia and Cuba (Wiki), ‘Amazona’ becomes both a launching pad and a tip-of-the hat to Manzanera, as Ferry inducts his co-composer’s cultural backdrop into the song while identifying – with typical Ferry maladjustment – the hubris and vanity behind any search for lost gold.

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In this regard the reference to “Castles in Spain” in the song is telling, for Ferry continues on Stranded to rely heavily on literary allusion – and sun, gold, and pearl precious object transformations – extending his For Whom the Bell Tolls reference (Hemingway), to the Geoffrey Chaucer-era (1350) poem The Romaunt of the Rose:

Thou shalt make castles than in Spaine,
And dreame of joy, all but in vaine,
And thee delighten of right nought,
While thou so slumbrest in that thought,
That is so sweete and delitable,
For which in sooth n’is but a fable.

The phrase to build castles in the air, or in Spain, means to form unattainable projects” (Word Histories). In short, your dream of joy will be in vain; your desires are little more than a fable, a fictional story. Amazona then is a tall tale, a “fable”, a myth. A “zone-where” of illusion and mirrors containing what Simon Puxley liked to call the “effable” and the “indefinable” (Do The Strand Explained). Ferry again adopts the role of the Siren on a Roxy Music track (“Little one, come take my hand”), seducing his audience and young traveller with enchanting music and song (“In Amazona everything is nice”), moving closer to those dangerous cliffs and ragged shores that will leave the girl and his audience beach-wrecked and vulnerable. We listen to the music and recall for the moment the cover of Stranded – the woman, the heat, the “longings more profound,” the swampy Manzanera soundscape, the impracticality..

Amazona‘ was very well-accepted by reviewers and critics of Stranded, some citing the cut as their favourite on the album: Roxy observer Paul Stump raved that “Amazona [is] one of the band’s most outstanding tracks” and a “first class” collaboration between Manzanera and Ferry. (Stump). “Blazing, thrilling” noted Barney Hoskyns; “entrancing” said Ken Barnes in Phonograph Record. For critic Simon Firth, ‘Amazona’ was a choice example of giving the band gravitas – or, as he like to put it – “unfakeble guts.” The track certainly stands out, but is that the same thing as saying that ‘Amazona’ is a Stranded stand-out?

so help me, so many questions? & are the answers naked to the eye – or ear? or are they undercover?
Simon Puxley, Roxy Music inner sleeve notes (1972)

I’ll try to help you there
I’ll take you there

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Credits: Palm trees alight, California Fires 2020; multi-Manzanera I (1973 w Roxy live); AIR and Majestic Studios (Majestic courtesy “Collage pictures”). Yeh, the Sex Pistols recorded there too (and with Chris Thomas no less); screen captures with Manzanera recording with Eno during Warm Jets sessions (from, Eno, 1973 – trying to find the copyright as this was a by-chance encounter on youtube since taken down); A Muisca tunjo or votive offering, 1200-1600 CE, picture by Ignacio Perez; multi-Manzanera II (1973, inner sleeve Stranded).

Next: Celebrate the holiday season with ‘Pslam’!


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Just Like You – Part 2

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Just Like You, ‘Stranded’ (1973)
Just Like You – Part 1

Time may change me
But I can’t trace time

David Bowie, ‘Changes

Thought patterns hazy
This auto-style age
Will lady luck smile old and sage

Bryan Ferry (lyric), ‘Just Like You

There has always been a wonderful longing at the heart of Bryan Ferry‘s writing, and his credentials as a writer of considerable skill and talent – rare in the rock world – do not need to be repeated here. (If you have the time, go to our first entry and start with ‘Re-Make/Re-Model‘). A reflexive personality tinged with a melancholic temperament is a great character trait for a writer, and Ferry’s skill was honed to even greater heights on The Third Roxy Music album Stranded, based in part on changing life experiences – fame brought more choice, greater artistic freedoms, new people, new ideas.  In contrast, the songs on previous album For Your Pleasure were songs of darkness and Poe – “rubbing shoulders/with the stars at night shining so bright” (‘Pleasure‘). The horrors of For Your Pleasure are the horrors of the mind – self-analysis, schizophrenia, suicide, mental illness, the burden of doing the right thing. Not so with Stranded: the view is outward looking, street lights and relationships, cities, parties, sunsets. And this difference requires a higher degree of engagement with the physical, an appeal to get out of your head and engage directly with the cosmos (you can see where the comedy in this stuff comes from).

In ‘Just Like You’, time conquers innocence and destiny renders us mortals puny beneath the heavens: “Time conquers innocence/Pride takes a fall/In knowledge lies/wisdom/That’s all.” With the punchline delivered so early in the song, we might be rightly bummed by the prospect of suffering through pages of poetry written along the line of Shelley’s Ozymandias (“Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”). Thankfully, Ferry’s approach in ‘JYL’ is designed to delight and surprise, providing us with a collision of styles and ideas, no less sparkling in their own way than the pop art of ‘Virginia Plain‘ or ‘Do the Strand‘, but more reflective and mature – and very much sly, playful and entertaining. 

The triumph of time and nature over human tyranny” is how The Guardian described the Great Themes of the Romance Poets – Blake, Shelley and Keats. And keeping with the tone of Stranded’s early mood (“wish everybody would leave me alone, yeh”), Ferry is a bit grumpy about this state-of-affairs, commenting through gritted teeth:

Everything changes
Weather blows hot or cold
Through alchemy iron turns gold
Quicksilver baby
So hard to pin down
Oh when are you coming around

As a formal solution to the problems presented in ‘Just Like You’ – the search for love, the passing of time, the loss of innocence and the hard won knowledge that comes with experience – Ferry protects his song with the armour of Romance poetry’s greatest conceit:  the poet as Visionary Seer. In A Defence of Poetry (1821), literary titan Shelley defined the poet’s job as measuring “the circumference and sound the depths of human nature with a comprehensive and all-penetrating spirit…”. In her article Discovering Literature: Romantics & Victorians, literary critic Stephanie Forward argues that the Poet Prophet stood alone in their ability to interpret reality: “The Romantics highlighted the healing power of the imagination, because they truly believed that it could enable people to transcend their troubles and their circumstances” (Forward). 

Having finally arrived to a position of status and influence in late 1973, Ferry was broadening his tastes in art and music while expanding his social networks and experiences. As a writer, he was keen to continue creating characters and situations that captured the emotional and provocative impacts of those experiences. After the original batch of early songs was used up on Roxy Music, Ferry’s writing took a turn towards the dark and introspective on second album For Your Pleasure. For follow-up Stranded Ferry (largely) abandoned the darkness but keep the shadows, preferring cities at night, rain-swept streets and melancholic melodies (Ferry: “I find it much easier to write sad things”). Ferry also began to write in the character of a Brill Building songsmith (see: ‘Don’t Ever Change‘), using the base materials of words and music to forge and create as a modern craftsman might: if I’m sad, I’ll write a modern ballad. If I seek epiphany I’ll write a modern Psalm. If I’m looking for sex I’ll bubble-up bubble-up a modern dance number. If I’m writing a song about a lost love I’ll reach back to the past and adopt and present for modern audiences the themes of Literary Romanticism..

I mean I do love Fitzgerald, he was a huge influence on me, but I love the Romantic Poets as well.
Bryan Ferry

An intuitive and gifted writer, it is unclear if Ferry studied English Literature or merely had the sensitivity of an artist who read for pleasure and absorbed the themes of Romanticism naturally (you know, while chasing down the next party at the “Belgravia mansion of some profligate crypto-financier”..). Certainly Ferry’s friend and confidante (and Roxy Music PR man) Simon Puxley was a key literary influence, holding doctorates in both Philosophy and English literature: 

[Simon] was a big part of my life in music: he wrote the sleeve notes on the first Roxy Music album cover…He was like the fifth Beatle: a part of Roxy Music who was always there. He was a beautiful writer, a doctor of philosophy and of English literature. He worked with me every day

Bryan Ferry, 2001

It is clear now that Bryan Ferry was close to many extraordinary artistic talents in the creation of the Roxy Music aesthetic – Antony Price, Karl Stoecker, Nick de Ville are universal life forces in these pages – and we know that Simon Puxley represented the literary arm of the Roxy Machine. Producing both sleeve and song notes (Roxy Music/’Do the Strand Explained‘), in addition to being Bryan Ferry’s ghost-writing biographer (Rex Belfour/The Bryan Ferry Story), Puxley was already on record for having made significant contribution to Stranded’sMother of Pearl‘ (taking nothing away from Ferry’s composer credit) and in similar manner Puxley will have contributed or edited ‘Just Like You‘ as a matter of course, as a friend and confidante, providing the Roxy front man the scholarly grounding to his tale of lost love and adherence to the themes and tropes of Romantic poetry.

Dr. Puxley would have been intimate with the key motifs of English literature, confirming for Ferry that the poets of the Romantic period (1800-1850) saw Nature as a source of purity and truth, regarding the natural world as a window into the mutability of time, physical change and the passing of the seasons. One of the most famous works of Romanticism is John Keats’ To Autumn (1820):
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Compare to Ferry’s song of spring:  

Buttercups daisies and most anything
They wither and fade
After blossom in Spring
Time conquers innocence
Pride takes a fall
In knowledge lies wisdom
That’s all

Melancholy is another key feature of Romanticism, usually seen as a reaction to human frailty or failure, such as a broken romance or the recognition of a misspent youth. In ‘Just Like You‘ Ferry adopts (again) the role of The Lonely Man (see original: ‘Do the Strand‘), a cool Frank Sinatra film-noir-inspired character we will meet once more in Stranded (‘Song for Europe’/’Sunset’): 

Hopelessly grounded
I walk through the streets
Remembering how we spent time

Similarly, overt melancholy and dramatic introspection is the approach of Percy Bysshe Shelley in A Lament:
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And so Ferry offers his own version of introspection, inquiry and release:

Hopefully yearning that someday we’ll meet
But when will we, how could we, why? Oh my!

A dissatisfaction with the present is the engine that drives Romantic poetry, as the truths of life – our human insignificance in the grand scheme of things – can only be addressed via the heightened emotions and intellectual clarity brought forward by the Poet Prophet. A true Romantic troubadour during this period in Roxy Music’s development, Ferry portrays himself both as victim (“wish everyone would leave me alone”) and the visionary who stands outside of it all: 

Thought patterns hazy
This auto-style age
Will lady luck smile old and sage

For the Implied Bryan Ferry (Rock God, Lonely Man), the modern age presents a lack of intellectual rigour (“thought patterns hazy”) and modern glamour is seen – ironically, as it is the engine of Ferry’s own success – as an aesthetic dead-end (“this auto-style age”). The warnings contained in ‘Virginia Plain‘ (Last Picture Shows and Teenage Rebels of the Week) are coming home to roost: 

Fashion houses ladies
Need plenty loose change
When the latest creation
Is last year’s fab-rave

Yet Ferry stands readily atop an industry built on the fickle desire for novelty and the next new thing (ie., a famous dance craze, The Strand). In this regard ‘Just Like You’ continues the conversation started on ‘Street Life‘, only in different temper. Stranded opens with anticipation and excitement laced with cruelty: the phone rings endlessly (“When I pick it up there’s no one there”). Public relations is little more than a tool of oppression (“The sidewalk papers gutter-press you down”). People are fickle and cruel (“All those lies can be so unkind.”) Which leads to a state of mental anguish and disarray (“They can make you feel like you’re losing your mind”).

Contradictions in experience is Ferry’s late 1973 conundrum – the numerous Roxy/Ferry personas are responding to multiple layers of stimuli but are unable to identify a clear path forward. Ferry recognizes he embodies the multiplicitous and contradictory nature of his times and his songs push this confusion to the forefront: at one moment he is “blinded” but “can really see.” This glamorous “brave new world” takes him “higher than the milky way”, yet the experience leaves him alone, “feeling blue”.

Screen Shot 2020-11-17 at 3.49.45 PMIn order to make sense of his predicament – and to communicate honestly with his audience – Ferry draws attention to the act of writing itself (“I scratch away for hours, like an old-style lyricist”) and bakes the theme of change and transformation into the very fabric of his song, reaching back to the ancient arts for alchemic redress and remedy: 

Everything changes
Weather blows hot or cold
Through alchemy iron turns gold
Quicksilver baby
So hard to pin down
Oh when are you coming around

Here in his modern romance ballad, Ferry highlights the old practice of alchemy (“Through alchemy iron turns gold”): Alchemy is the medieval forerunner of chemistry, and was an early pseudoscientific attempt to benefit from the process of transformation, turning worthless objects such as tin into gold or silver. According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, alchemy was a “seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination.” This aspect of thought corresponds to the older tradition of astrology: both representing the attempt to discover the relationship of humanity to the cosmos. Ferry goes for the intellectual deep dive, and has enough confidence in his audience to take them with him. Here we find him quoting and referencing the alchemic arts in an attempt to change (or outwit) his fate:

Through alchemy iron turns gold
Quicksilver baby
So hard to pin down
Oh when are you coming around

Ferry situates the process of change and transformation into the very narrative of his song: Iron is one of the seven metals of alchemy (along with gold, silver, mercury, copper, lead, iron & tin). The symbol for iron is traditionally used to represent the planet Mars in astrology – ergo, male strength, war, dominance. Gold, of course, represents the perfection of allScreen Shot 2020-10-13 at 6.45.16 AM matter on any level, and is the motivational objective of any alchemic process, adding highest value to the basest of materials. In ‘Beauty Queen‘, Valerie is that “gold number.” In ‘Just Like You’ it is Ferry who wishes to move from ordinary to extraordinary – changing tin into gold – and he’s working out ways to take the prize. 

Conversely, Ferry identifies his ex-lover as the “quicksilver baby”: Quicksilver being another alchemic symbol. Webster Dictionary describes the quicksilver character as “cool and willful at one moment, utterly fragile the next.” Ferry has fun here as his description of the love-object (“Quicksilver baby/So hard to pin down”: ‘erratic’, ‘fickle’, ‘changable’) becomes both pun, sexist observation and an alchemic object subject to change.

The use of quicksilver and alchemy in a modern pop songs serves to map Ferry’s frustration with modern science and knowledge, equating elemental processes like the weather blowing “hot or cold” in the same manner a Screen Shot 2020-11-16 at 6.22.07 AMwoman might be fickle and unmovable (to his mind). Within this poem of memory and retribution, Iron (man) turns to Gold (sun), while the Quicksilver (female) ex-lover is seen as unpredictable, erratic, an unreliable object of emotionalism and mercurial change. Seen in this context, ‘Just Like You’ is a Noel Coward comedy-of-manners set against the ancient arts and sciences, a product of the “hazy thinking” of modern times – a ‘Pyjamarama‘ for the masses. 

This is a marvellous joke on Ferry’s part: conjuring the ancient arts to resolve romance problems leaves him just as confused and floundering as does the so-called “wisdom” of his brave new world. In ‘Just Like You’ there are no absolutes, or tested ancient truths, man does not turn from tin to gold through alchemy and Lady Luck remains indeterminate, a fictional muse that this “hazy” thinker cannot be bothered to change, edit, or re-write:

She knows that never again, no
Will I give up my heart
To gamble with fate is my crime
Nevertheless love, it’s all here in my book
I’d write it but don’t have much time

Resolution turns to retribution. The poetics of Romantic poetry fail to provide insight or relief. The Poet Prophet‘s human laziness outstrips wisdom and knowledge (after all), and the passing of the seasons wins again: “Nevertheless love, it’s all here in my book/I’d write it but don’t have much time“. The “hazy thinking” of our own auto-style age is let down by the modern writer, no better off than any other generation to defeat or befriend Fate, get the girl, or avoid an inevitable decline.

And to underline the point – and as a petulant final gesture to cap his ill-temper at the beginning of the album – Ferry and Puxley dump on the very idea of knowledge – ancient, modern, or otherwise – by designing their poem in the shape of an upside-down pyramid, snubbing the early assertion that “in knowledge lies wisdom/that’s all”. If you run your eye across the lyric you’ll notice the first stanza is seven lines long; the second stanza is six lines; the third is five; fourth is four; third is three. This pattern presents a set of stanza-by-stanza diminishing returns in a poem that places its hopes on experience and knowledge (aka “maturity”) as a solution to our problems. By song’s end, however, knowledge has not produced the way forward. Hopelessly grounded again. To age and die is our collective fate. Stranded in life until death, just like you (dear reader): 

As destiny wills it
So seasons will change
Just like you
Screen Shot 2020-11-17 at 6.04.02 AM

Next: Another set of brave new worlds in ‘Amazona’!

Credits: Our man gets too close to gold/sun/knowledge: Icarus” (1887) by Sir William Blake Richmond (not Willam Blake, the poet); brilliant visual artist, Bill Viola, Woman (Ocean without a Shore) and Man (Chris); Simon Puxley photo montage – credit unknown, pinched from Roxy Music; “You’re Never Alone with a Strand“: Ferry chooses the name of the most disastrous cigarette advertising campaign in British history for his fictional dance ‘Do the Strand’ (see our entry, ‘Do the Strand’ for this fascinating punning story); another Bill Viola, The Raft; alchemical symbol for iron (male)/quicksilver (woman) and old engraving of alchemical event, complete with symbols for iron, quicksilver and gold in background; The Great Pyramid of Giza, Ivan Aivazovsky 

Titbits: ‘Just Like You’ is so successfully composed and written that Ferry’s achievement created a template for the many pop poets that would come after him – Nick Cave and Morrissey in particular. Indeed, The SmithsGirlfriend in a Coma‘ and ‘Cemetery Gates’ provide an example of literature as blood sport, as Morrissey sets up a battle between Romantic vs. Aesthetic poetry (Keats & Yeats vs. Oscar Wilde). (With typical wit, Morrissey games the process by warning of the dangers of plagiarism, all the while lifting phrases from such notables as Kaufman & Hart and Shakespeare). Similarly, ‘Just Like You’ is a hoot and Ferry lays the ground for the next generation of pop literates by staging a Cole Porter performance of satirical English Poet-as-Prophet egoism, all the while freely admitting to being steeped in, and unable to escape from, the English Literary Romantic tradition (or the harsh realities of life). 

The Queen is Dead Tour Poster (1986)


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Just Like You – Part 1

Just Like You, ‘Stranded’ (1973)

Buttercups daisies and most anything
They wither and fade
After blossom in Spring
Time conquers innocence
Pride takes a fall
In knowledge lies wisdom
That’s all

I. Everything Changes

I’m trying to avoid your question as best I can. I don’t know anything about love at all.

Bryan Ferry

‘Just Like You’ marks the beginning of Bryan Ferry’s career as a classic romance troubadour and poetic songsmith, capitalizing on the recent experience of recording his first solo covers album These Foolish Things and the musical focus brought about by the exit of Brian Eno and the on-boarding of multi-instrumentalist Eddie Jobson with Roxy Music.  Just Like You also marks for the first time Ferry attempts to formally replicate the themes of English Romantic poetry as exemplified by William Blake, John Keats and P. B Shelley, and pack it into the cement mixer with a 20th century pop sensibility. The result is a song of the highest musical and lyrical power – a tall order indeed.

Musically, ‘Just Like You’ finds the Roxy Music band members expanding their professional chops at an impressive rate, shifting from “inspired amateurs” to sonic specialists in less than two years, adding to their music a touch of restraint and grace that is extraordinary considering the glam buffoonery that was selling like hot cakes in 1973 (see: Street Life Part 1). Arguably, these delicate qualities were never to be bettered: ‘Just Like You‘,  ‘Song for Europe‘, ‘Mother of Pearl‘, and ‘Sunset‘ are exquisite examples of a musical maturity that was nevertheless recognized within the band as both a career requirement and an experimental hindrance. 

A few months after ‘Stranded‘s release in November ’73, Roxy co-founder Andy Mackay addressed the issue of the band’s musical development. Still smarting from Eno’s departure, Mackay was simultaneously chasing an Eno-inspired Country & Western project (“I don’t want to use old-fashioned session musicians who just play the notes, but work more as Eno did, with whoever turns up” Disc) and embracing the prospect of a long-running career with Roxy Music. With typical hauteur (and cheekiness) Mackay was frank in his assessment of the changes the band had undergone: “I think ‘Stranded’ is a very cautious album,” he told Disc magazine. “I don’t think it breaks very much new ground… Strangely, as you improve as a band – and we have – you do become more cautious, without noticing it”). For his part, Eno was (famously) gracious about Stranded, citing it as Roxy’s “best” record to date, but lacking “insanity.” Even Ferry noted that the album “lost a bit of edge” over the more freer experimental records. “But it gained other, more musical things” (Mojo).

And on this point, Ferry is spot on. As Roxy re-modelled themselves in the Fall of 1973, new agreements had to be forged, both internal and musical: from here songwriting credits would be shared (albeit sparingly); image and brand would consolidate towards a new centralized focal point (Ferry); song-writing craft would be emphasized (‘Just Like You’/’Song for Europe’); and professional musicianship would trump over avant-garde performance in the hope (since materialized) of securing a long-lasting musical career. From here on in, no member of Roxy Music would be able to describe themselves as a “non-musician” and insanity music would be left for solo records or live concerts (Phil Manzanera, in particular, was listening). Yet none of these musical changes would hinder the Roxy brand one bit: of all the things Stranded actually is, ‘cautious’ is not one of them. 

After I started with my solo career, doing classic songs written by other people, I think that had a lot of influence on my work. I became more interested in songwriting as opposed to making records.

Bryan Ferry

Brian Eno (again, famously) described the first record Roxy Music as containing “12 different futures” (Eno). While not a work of certifiable insanity, Stranded is nevertheless bold, unsettled, romantic, disruptive, formally diverse, and delivers its 12 different futures in a well-constructed 8 track all-styles-served here format. Stranded sings best when its diversity is taken as a key to its architecture, as the album delivers an impressive array of musical forms, from hard-rock (‘Street Life‘); to ballad (‘Song For Europe’); religious hymn (‘Psalm‘); psychedelia (‘Amazona‘); love poem (‘Just Like You‘); and star-crossed twilight serenade (‘Serenade‘). Adding to the diversity, the album presents the experiences of modern life encountered during a full day’s 24-hour cycle, beginning with the anticipation of an evening of bright lights and glamour (‘Street Life’); through to late-night party-time wasting (‘Mother of Pearl‘); to the melancholy conclusion at party’s end for ‘Sunset‘ (“Why are you sad – do you disapprove?/How we’ve wasted our time). Indeed, if there is a central theme in Stranded, it would be the idea of transformation and change over the course of time, recognizing that experience necessitates the loss of innocence, bringing with it the opportunity to gain wisdom and knowledge, a view that ‘Just Like You’ succinctly serves to capture and reflect.

Screen Shot 2020-09-20 at 4.55.00 PM

II. Innocence

The lyric of ‘Just Like You’ is blatantly romantic, hesitant, heart-felt, but also self-conscious and acutely aware of its status as love poetry. Perhaps more than any other popular entertainer at the time, Bryan Ferry, through his love and knowledge of music and culture, and his art school exposure to postmodern theory (not to mention the extraordinary influence of Roxy Machine members Price, De Ville, Stoecker, and Puxley), understood that his mission as a modern pop singer and composer was to resolve a key  challenge: how to take the products of art and music history, absorb their influences, build on their teachings, and remodel and remake the ideas for modern audiences, all-the-while retaining distance, humor, a sense of absurdity and swashbuckling adventure, and – in practical terms – ensure the result was popular enough to earn a living.

Irony, pastiche and camp were of course the answer, but Ferry’s reverence for old forms would not allow mockery or being dismissive towards say, Cole Porter, the Mona Lisa or even John Donne‘s Holy Sonnets. Instead, Ferry adopted the language and forms of art and literature and used them – as his hero Bob Dylan had done – as both weapon and shield, presenting his ideas in a moving and emotionally rich dialect while simultaneously creating a self-aware and ironic distance between his art and process of its creation. With Stranded, in the thick of the teenage Glam revolution, Ferry infused the bright emotionalism of Romanticism with the cold intellectualism and ironic humor of modern art-school education and practice, and ‘Just Like You‘ was the song that introduced the public to the next phase of Roxy Music’s development.

I studied art, I had a band at college, I felt I was in two parts of myself. One was the physical thing, the emotion, when I was singing and there was a passion about it. The art side was more thoughtful, to do with reasoning things out. But when I combined the two, it was incredible. This is what I was meant to do.

Bryan Ferry, 2020

That’s the trouble with you. You always want the best of both worlds

Simon Puxley, 1995.

Just Like You‘ opens on the plaintive and (for some) pessimistic observation that all livings must live, decay and die:  “Buttercups daisies and most anything/They wither and fade/After blossom in Spring.” Ferry’s approach to the problem is, typically, charming, a little sentimental and honest. He presents artistic stoicism in the form of a play with words and voice – demonstrating bravery in the face of the wretched truths of the universe: we are not in control of our destiny; we want everything to go our way (no exceptions); we want to love, live, and prosper (take no prisoners); and we do not want to die. Ever. And we don’t want our loved ones to die either.

Time conquers innocence
Pride takes a fall
In knowledge lies wisdom
That’s all

This fragile sentiment and vocal melody is supported by the first of Eddie Jobson‘s tasteful musical textures added to this, his first Roxy Music album. We were introduced to Jobson‘s musical gifts initially on Ferry’s solo record These Foolish Things (see: ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall‘) and Stranded‘s opening cut ‘Street Life‘, but for my money it is with ‘Just Like You’ that Jobson’s contribution to the Roxy Music sound really takes hold. His violin synthesizer is applied left-channel at 0.16, providing a cushion to the early punchline that “in knowledge lies wisdom/that’s all” – the weary “that’s all” serving to both distance and safeguard the writer from further pain (or scrutiny). If it was practical (and Eno was still in the band) the song could have ended right there, so succinctly do the opening lines define the theme and sentiment of the track. But the listener is further charmed by the introduction of Paul Thompson‘s well-recorded drums center frame, a warm timpini roll that underlines the reflective mood but also moves us on with minimum fuss to the next verse at .28s.

Everything changes
Weather blows hot or cold
Through alchemy iron turns gold
Quicksilver baby
So hard to pin down
Oh when are you coming around

Capturing the burden of experience and keen to highlight the gravitas of the lyric, Ferry sings the verses in a clipped question-and-response format, locking onto a stubborn catechism that attempts to fly but keeps returning to earth with a thud:

  1. “Time con-quers inn-o-cence/Pride takes a fall”
  2. “Quick-silver ba-a-by/So hard to pin down”
  3. “Oh when are you co-m-ing around?”

The effect is both astute and comic, the lines an intriguing hybrid of heightened artistry undercut by  the reality of everyday experience. When Ferry pouts during “Oh when are you coming around?” it’s hilarious, yet ‘JLY’ never slips into parody, in spite of all its talk about buttercups and daisies. The emotional weight of the song is supported by the decision to track the vocal closely to the melody line. As a result, the opening bars are as elegant and ethereal as anything the singer has ever attempted. Indeed this is something of a best-ever vocal performance for Ferry, as he rises to the challenge of singing near the top of his range in the key of ‘B’. (Phil Manzanera: “People used to think Bryan was singing like that as a joke or something, but it wasn’t done on purpose — that was the real thing” Press).

The previous year Ferry had strained magnificently on ‘Strictly Confidential’ but not so this time. “Butter-cups da-ii/-sies” can be found in the same ghostly and hushed modulations of “Before I die I’ll write this l-ee/-tter”, only now Ferry is more in control of the soundscape, the intonation is deeper, the language and tone warmly romantic. It’s a challenging track: ‘Just Like You’ was not performed live by Roxy Music until 2011 (Viva), thirty-five years after it was recorded in 1973 and one suspects it was the demand of that vocal that kept it off the play-list for so long. A shame, as ‘JLY’ has a gorgeous melody and would have made a great live ballad. 

Screen Shot 2020-09-30 at 6.00.43 PM

III. Experience

Roxy Music critic Johnny Rogan found ‘Just Like You‘ to be hackneyed, citing the “themes of lost love and retrospection” (90) to be uninspiring and familiar. (Though he does give credit to ‘Song For Europe’ for focusing on the same themes, just with more ingenuity and imagination). To reduce ‘Just Like You’ to a song about lost love however is to rob Ferry of the artistic progress he had made since the first album Roxy Music the previous year (1972). The love-struck narrator in ‘If There is Something‘, for instance, self-consciously dabs his forehead with the back of his hand, climbing mountains, swimming oceans blue (I would do anything for you/ I would put roses round our door/sit in the garden/Growing potatoes by the score). The effect is Romantic (and comic) yes, but as we noted during our previous deep dive into the song: “Our man is deep in his head again, imagining himself as the Byron poet declaring his love with offers of traversing endless oceans instead of actually getting down and dirty with the potatoes.”

Yet by the time of Stranded mere irony could no longer hold the sum of Ferry’s writerly ambitions:

I often wonder how I could have produced so much work in 1973. I can only assume that I’m one of those people who thrives on approval, and the instant success of the first Roxy Music album in 1972 had been a great shot in the arm for me. Since the age of 10 I had loved music so much, and had absorbed so many influences from so many genres, that I was bursting with ideas, and now I felt I had an audience who was willing to listen to them

Bryan Ferry

No longer writing from the perspective of an unknown musician and entertainer, the stories and observations of 1972 begin to turn in Ferry’s writing, as experience begins to draw lines on the writer’s world-view. No longer does the narrator court a woman in the hope of securing her love by swimming all the oceans blue (how quaint!), nor does seeing the love of his life from a restaurant window change his pop-art decision to write about her car license plate number (CPL593H – how ironic!). From Roxy Music to Stranded, we observe how Ferry’s writing and world-view changes, traversing from naïveté to wisdom, from innocence to experience:

Roxy Music (1972). The search is on..

If there is something that I might find
Look around corners try to find peace of mind,
I say Where would you go if you were me?
If There Is Something

I tried but I could not find a way
Looking back all I did was look away
Next time is the best time we all know
But if there is no next time where to go
Re-Make/Re-Model

First single ‘Virginia Plain’ (1972) famously articulates (and makes real) the unrealized dream that is Roxy Music. Within each line there is youthful bravado glazed with a hint of dread, wishing for an answer. Take me… take me…

Take me on a roller coaster
Take me for an airplane ride
Take me for a six day wonder

So me and you, just we two
Got to reach for something new

Far beyond the pale horizon
Some place near the desert strand
And where my Studebaker takes me
That’s where I’ll make my stand …

Before ‘Virginia Plain’ the future lay way “beyond the pale horizon”. After  ‘VP’ becomes a Top 10 hit, Ferry is catapulted directly to the horizon’s edge, where nothing, not even light, can escape.

For Your Pleasure (1973). There is increasing confidence now, embracing art-making, creativity, the attainment of dreams and the power of the new.. 

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

Our soul ships pass by solo trips to the stars in the sky
Gliding so far that the eye cannot follow
Where do they go? We’ll never know
Beauty Queen

Old Man
Through every step a change
For Your Pleasure

Screen Shot 2020-10-26 at 9.46.38 AM

In a very short period of time (72-73) Ferry accomplishes the dream that was Roxy Music, and makes some hard decisions on how to keep it going (Ferry: “Either Roxy doesn’t exist anymore or else it redefines itself in my terms.”). The shift into self-confidence – confirmed by high Roxy Music and solo album record sales – produces a clear mandate for the new album Stranded:

I mean, I was there learning all these songs — songs by composers I’d always admired like Cole Porter, Smokey Robinson, etcetera and it made me want to be able to master the art of writing a good melody. (I’m still trying!)… Because these people in fact had a far more direct effect on me than the so-called avant garde. So straight after Foolish Things — which I now actually consider the third Roxy album in a way due to the influence it had on my writing — I made a very conscious attempt to compose conventional but strong, classy songs. ‘Just Like You‘ was certainly written in that style. The whole album was, in fact.  (NME, Nick Kent, 1979)

‘Just Like You’ disposes of the idea of the future in its few first compact lines, ridding Ferry of the need to re-capture or articulate the move towards the dream that was Roxy Music: he’s already there. Time has passed. Decisions have been made. The blossom in spring has come and gone. With a firm handle on his subject and backed with a working-class understanding for value, Ferry begins the next stage, anticipating the fickleness of time and passing fads, of which he and his band may well become a casualty:  

Fashion houses ladies
Need plenty loose change
When the latest creation
Is last year’s fab-rave

As far as the author is concerned, The Strand’s new sensation/fabulous creation has a limited shelf-life. Everything changes. “Weather blows hot or cold”. A key member of the Roxy machine and confidante of Ferry – Simon Puxley – reminds us in his notes on Do the Strand, Explained: “in the dictionary ‘strand’ can mean ‘walk’ (verb), a place to walk, a stretch of beach, or ‘to leave high and dry’

To leave high and dry: Stranded

But that’s the awful thing about growing up. You can improve your craft as years go by, but there’s nothing like being new.

Bryan Ferry

Next: Just Like You – Part 2. Everything changes: Roxy Mach II takes shape! 

Credits: the beautiful picture included in this entry is by Xany Rudoff and is available for sale @ https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-Stranded-Roxy-Music/20527/1094276/view. The cropping and fiddling however is a product of roxymusicsongs.com

http://www.readysteadygone.co.uk/farewell-charlie-harcourt/

In memorandum. The nature of fame presents a wall between performer and audience that is sometimes real (‘The Wall’, Pink Floyd), or broken down as an ode to communication and physical contact (“Lay Your Hands on Me”, Peter Gabriel). On some very rare occasions you get an entertainer or musician who bridges the gap between performer and audience because of who they are and how they function: a no-bullshit presence that gets the job done, who knows that when they go home at night, all beings are created equal, and fame and wealth is a temporary shield from the realities of birth, life, liberty, and death. Paul Thompson, the drummer for Roxy Music, is one of those people. Generous, talented, and honest, Paul is the heart of Roxy Music, its anchor and its shield.

We here at roxysmusicsongs.com would like to take a moment to recognize that Paul has encountered several losses over the past months that are painful and cannot be dismissed easily, certainly not through a simple mention on social media or a music blog. Nevertheless, please join us in recognizing that two good souls (among many) have left us recently. Let’s take a moment of our time to think of that loss and its impact on their family and friends. And let’s think of our own family and friends, those close to us, and those that have felt like family for as long as we have had hearts to feel and ears to listen.

To Malcolm Hooper (Smokestack) and Charlie Harcourt (Lindisfarne), friends from afar, RIP.


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Just Like You: ‘Stranded’ Cover Art – Part 2

Screen Shot 2020-08-15 at 7.28.37 AM We were interested in glamor, inauthenticity and the idea of adopting personas, the idea that those personas could change. They’re called fluid identities nowadays, aren’t they?

Nick De Ville

I. Playboy

1973’s Stranded cover sleeve is the last of Bryan Ferry’s 70s pin-up girl parodies, and when you read the various histories of album cover art, is the most overlooked entry in the Roxy Music canon. This is a bit of a shame, for the conception, design snd photography are all splendidly executed by Roxy machine team members Antony Price, Karl Stoecker, Nicolas De Ville, and Bryan Ferry, and the image is a logical extension of the discourse started with Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure. While the first two records delivered a startling contrast between light and dark moods, Stranded removes its subject further from 50s beauty queen glamour of Roxy Music and places our heroine in a scene born of cinematic narrative, a 60s spy adventure, “heavy with sultry drama and febrile languor” (bryanferry.com):

A barely clad model … lying full length on what appeared to be the jungle floor, a fleshy white blossom lying beside her and her luxuriant hair spread out to one side. Her expression is imploring, her sensuality stylised and stressed by the tropical setting and the exaggerated abandon of her pose.

Michael Bracewell

The design and composition of the Stranded cover was the fourth product of Ferry’s ‘Roxy machine’ design team and the last to be photographed by Karl Stoecker (see Stranded Cover Art – Part 1). Thus this sense of an ending with Stranded is very real, as the Roxy sleeves had served to chart Ferry’s sense of himself as persona-in-development, from outsider fan-boy (Roxy Music) to rock star contender (For Your Pleasure), to full-blown in-demand (and harassed) UK superstar, a narrative that the music and lyrics of Stranded served to address, substantiated by the sleeve’s languid loss-of-innocence, lost in the jungle, pose. While on For Your Pleasure Amanda Lear held back a severely irate black panther in anticipation of full audience assault, Stranded’s “barely clad” Marilyn Cole instead holds near a crumpled white lily at her side – the lily a symbol, for many (at weddings and funerals at least) of purity in passing:

Buttercups daisies and most anything
They wither and fade
After blossom in Spring
Time conquers innocence
Pride takes a fall
In knowledge lies wisdom
That’s all

Just Like You, ‘Stranded’ (1973)

Screen Shot 2020-09-02 at 11.12.21 AMOne of the principles in rock is that it’s the person himself expressing what he really and truly feels – and that applies to a lot of artists. But to me it doesn’t. It never did. I always saw it as a theatrical experience.
David Bowie

I always wrote as a character.
Bryan Ferry, 2020

Probably one of the least appealing characters to come out of Bryan Ferry’s theatrical kit-bag was the singer’s metamorphosis in late 1973/early 1974 to become UK’s answer to the American Playboy magnate Hugh Hefner, minus, possibly, the pipe (and definitely the mansion). Ferry’s public persona had exploded at the time of Stranded’s release, creating a Screen Shot 2020-08-21 at 6.16.48 PMmaelstrom of newspaper, magazine and television exposure for the singer and for Roxy Music as a band (see: Roxy Mania). There was an interesting incongruity at play during this high-water period that played into Roxy Music’s failure to crack the lucrative overseas market – many audiences did not know, literally, what kind of band Roxy were supposed to be. The music just released on Stranded was arty, melodic, contemplative, classically and unapologetically European. Yet the image projected in the press and TV – as far as Ferry was concerned – was pure James Bond: white tuxedoed, dark-haired, suave, handsome, jet-setting, packed with a musical license to thrill. Rock music never had a Bond-riffing front man before and in this regard Ferry was an easy sell.

We return then to The Bryan Ferry Story, the biography/dossier written by Simon Puxley as Rex Balfour (Ferry no doubt giggling in Puxley’s ear), a brilliantly funny take on the Bond myth. Whether the boys were being serious – well, that is for you to decide, dear reader..

[Enter 007 theme]:

There were the girls too. Often fashion models and always beautiful…He would escape from this ever-churning vortex of his own making and drive up Screen Shot 2020-08-20 at 7.51.02 PMto Oxford, into a different world, for [an] absurdly extravagant garden-parties on a college lawn… But then feel impelled to return to the city before night, pushing the black Daimler to its limit, to end up in the early hours at yet another exotic haunt: a wild party in the Belgravia mansion of some profligate crypto-financier, or the high-strung tension barely controlled beneath the plush aristocratic ambience of a Mayfair gaming club. (92/93).

Ian Fleming could not have done a better job. And to be fair, one gets the sense that the whole scene is written as a send-up of all things we desperately desired in contemporary Britain in 1973 (but were afraid to ask): sex, glamour, and taste of the life-styles of the rich and famous. (One assumes in 2020 though that we’ve had enough of that old ummagumma?). Roxy Music were designed, among many things, as a brand that sold dreams, that answered essential coming-of-age questions Ferry presented for himself and his audience: “You see I started life with nothing,” the singer explained. “So there really is no place for me to go but upwards” (Rogan). The Roxy ‘state of mind’ translated into a fantasy ideal for young men, an idea key to the projection of the playboy persona in 1973/74: “Women are not aware of Roxy Music in the way that men are,” noted fashion designer and friend Antony Price. “It’s a man’s band. It’s always been a man’s band. And he (Ferry) is a man’s idol. the young men have always admired him, he’s what they aspire to, to have taste like that” (Price).

The persona of the suave jet-setting playboy was reflected in Ferry’s shift from live support lead and singer – sharing stage equally with Brian Eno and Andy Mackay – to focal lead and visual centre of Roxy Music: “Perhaps the most striking feast for the eye,” observed Roxy biographer Paul Stump, “was Ferry himself, or more specifically, his stunning new white tuxedo”:

Ferry’s associative visual conception of himself as a performer of classic songs such as ‘These Foolish Things’ influenced his persona as Roxy Music’s leader. Ferry, a born role-player, had found a new niche, and would cling to it with unusual fervour.

Paul Stump

It seems very much of its time now, and explaining the mechanisms of white male privilege from where we sit in 2020 does not sit easy, but for that moment in 1973 Bryan Ferry fit the male fantasy role to a tee: if he was not rock music’s James Bond, then who was?

II. Playgirl

Just like a rollin’ stone
I’m outside lookin’ in
But if your chance came would you take it
Where on earth do I begin
I’m Mandy fly me
10cc

And so for every spy movie, for every playboy chasing in the night towards the Belgravian mansion of some profligate crypto-financier, there has to be a cinematic damsel in distress, a Cinderella seeking her Prince Charming; a Jane awaiting rescue by her Tarzan. And so, British born fashion and glamour model Marilyn Cole was commissioned to become the new Roxy Girl, accepting the assignment without knowing the band or the cultural excitement generated by the previous Roxy Music album sleeves:

It was at a tiny studio, somewhere off the Edgware Road in London. I’d never even heard of Roxy Music. I very soon understood that I was in safe hands, among some very talented people… They stuck me on this big log and explained I was supposed to be stranded in a jungle, and then they started spraying me; they sprayed my hair gold, and there was a whole mist coming over me and the dress was getting wet in all the right places.

Marilyn Cole, quoted in Tony Barrell – ‘Cover Stories’

Ferry’s selection of Marilyn Cole was both a coup and a marketing master-stroke: Cole was internationally famous at the time of Stranded’s release, having been named Playboy’s magazine’s January 1972 Playmate of the Month, as well as their 1972 Playmate of the Year, the only Briton to hold that title (Wiki).  Growing up in Portsmouth (see Playboy interviews) Cole, like many in her generation, left school at 16. “In my family,” she explained,  “it was tradition to work for either the Civil Service or the bank—a respectable office job. I went into the Ministry of Defense and worked in the dockyard as a clerk and then at a bank. Then I broke the family mold. A friend had moved to London. She said, ‘There’s this place called the Playboy Club. All you have to do is smile and you make lots of money!'” Cole was singled out in a line-up by her future husband, Victor Lowes, who insisted she test for Playboy and earn $5,000 per photograph. “That was it for me. I wasn’t stupid. I knew Playboy magazine and knew I’d been singled out” (Cole).

To provide some context for the kind of impact the Roxy designers were seeking, it would be hard to imagine a more famous, contemporaneous and ebullient choice for the cover of The Third Roxy Music Album than Playboy model Cole, yet she has been given short shrift in the Roxy Music story: band biographer Johnny Rogan was quick to call out her “extraordinary narcissism”, scolding her social climbing and sleeping with Playboy boss Hugh Hefner to get ahead. “Her next port of call,” notes Rogan dismissively,  “was the former boss of Playboy’s London empire, Victor Lowes, with whom [Cole] established a surprisingly long term relationship lasting all of 20 months” (94). In fact, Lowes and Cole were married for thirty-three years until the time of Lowes death in 2017.

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From top left: Cole/Ferry; Cole, Playboy photo 1972; Simon Puxley gets awkward; Cole with her Dad; Cole on one of the ‘Top of the Pops’ album sleeves, 1973.

Ferry’s decision to use Marilyn Cole on the cover of Stranded satisfied several thematic and strategic goals. For starters, there was a rather fine gag that looked to the history of pin-ups past for inspiration. The Queen of cinematic glamour in the 50s, Marilyn Monroe, had appeared nude in the first issue of Playboy, December 1953. The publication of (previously-shot) nude photos created a sales “sensation” and launched the Playboy empire. (Screen Shot 2020-09-02 at 7.09.57 AMBiography). Though Hefner never met Monroe personally (Monroe: “I never even received a thank-you from all those who made millions on [my] nude photograph”), the Playboy founder nevertheless spent $75,000 to be buried beside Monroe in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles – literally, crypt-to-crypt! (see inset, above). Playboy hit newsstands in 1953 with a price tag of 50 cents, a black and white photograph of a smiling, fully dressed Monroe on the cover, and a promise to readers for one “FULL COLOR” nude photo of the actress inside for the “first time in any magazine” (Biography). 

Bryan Ferry, like many men of his generation, was obsessed with Marilyn Monroe (Tim Clark: “I’m not sure what Bryan thought his roots were, but they probably had more to do with Marilyn Monroe than with any musical influences”). When time came to design his own sleeve creations, Ferry had absorbed Monroe’s classic iconography (see entry Strictly Confidential – Part 2), citing particularly the Vargas-inspired post-cards and Playboy’s monthly calendars as inspirations.  Just as Ferry had recently riffed on Elvis Presley for the cover of his own album These Foolish Things (see Influences, below), he and Antony Price searched for a suitable image that would reference, celebrate and update the famous covers from the Playboy archives, but place them in a modern context, and within a modern cinematic drama. Steeped in pop culture, Ferry would have considered Monroe’s iconic Playboy shots, but decided to pass over Monroe (on the original magazine cover she was sitting on an elephant, after all), for what was widely considered the second most famous Playboy cover model of all time: Monroe’s friend and confidante, fellow actress and glamour model Jane Russell.

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III. Outlaws

The dress is red and torn, one shoulder bear, the pose either intimidating or inviting, dependent on who you are and the sum of your personal experiences. The hair is brunette and flows past her shoulders, melting into her surroundings. In both shots the breasts are full and accentuated, arm placed overhead in posed abandonment. She is either ready for a role in the hay or laying supine on a log. In both cases, she is the sum of the puns placed upon her. In one shot she holds a gun, the mark of encroaching male arousal. In the other, she holds a crushed white lily, suggesting purity, chastity, virtue, or the just the opposite – post-coitus loss-of-innocence. Before Marilyn Cole there was Jane Russell, Hollywood movie star of the 40s and 50s, original glamour Bond-girl.

Jane Russel’s first film, The Outlaw (1941), was produced and directed by the original American playboy, inventor, and billionaire Howard Hughes. Infatuated with Russell, and with a marketing verve that Hugh Hefner would market a generation of playgirl “bunnies” a decade later, Hughes was “determined to extract the maximum publicity from Russell’s cruel mouth, defiant sexuality, and above all, her eye-popping figure” (Guardian). “We’re not getting enough production out of Jane’s breasts!” the billionaire complained to his Outlaw cinematographer, Gregg Toland (Hunt). Hughes wanted to prominently display Jane’s breasts, but didn’t want to see any evidence of structural support so he designed a bra for Russell to wear (“He could design planes,” she later wrote, “But a Mister Playtex he wasn’t”).

The censors slammed The Outlaw and refused to release the film. A decade later the censors tried the same with Playboy. A decade after that Stranded flirted dangerously close with what InsideHook magazine called “a soft-core response to hard-core pornographic imagery that started filtering out from seedy theatres after 1972’s Deep Throat achieved international fame”. Then Country Life cover was banned and/or altered in the United States, Spain, and the Netherlands (Wiki). The US censors summary of offence reads like a condemnation of the Roxy Music covers of 73/74: Joseph Breen’s March 1941 memo to his boss, Will Hays, made the issue clear: “In my more than ten years of critical examination of motion pictures, I have never seen anything quite so unacceptable as the shots of the breasts of the character of Rio,” he wrote. “Throughout almost half the picture, the girl’s breasts, which are quite large and prominent, are shockingly emphasized, and in almost every instance are very substantially uncovered” (quoted in Hunt).

The Outlaw was exploitative and cheap, and sounds offensive. Howard Hughes was a creep (see: Karina Longworth, “Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood”). Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe had their biggest hit when they co-starred in Gentleman Prefer Blondes, a fun film that, despite its attempt to put women in strong male roles, does have the cringe-inducing line (spoken by Monroe): “I can be smart when it’s important, but most men don’t like it” (quoted by Susan Doll). Jane Russell left the movies to go into business, supporting and promoting her political and social beliefs, leading a full and varied life. Marilyn Monroe continued to make films and was a much sought-after glamour star. Unhappy and depressed, drug addicted, she died by suicide at the age of 36.

Screen Shot 2020-09-05 at 9.24.53 PMIs my identity something I can manipulate, and can I change identities at will? I think we were all very interested in that.

Nick De Ville

At a narrative level, Ferry’s sleeve design was clearly cinematic, executing on a twin narrative of male/female desire as seen in the films of old Hollywood and Playboy magazine in the 1950s. For Ferry, the outcome of this strategy was a career of unwanted type-casting.  Friend and fashion designer Antony Price put it at it best when he said, “[Ferry’s] tuxedo became an insignia, like Madonna’s cone tits. The white tuxedo is what did it for Bryan. That’ll be the image on his gravestone”. Riffing on influences, providing audiences with a new hip reading of idolized glamour and art-making was clearly a successful strategy for Ferry and Roxy Music. As a result Stranded generated enough marketing heat to ensure the record went to straight to number 1 in the UK chart – a feat not repeated until again until 1980’s Flesh and Blood.

Playing with constructed identities and presenting them to the public for fun and profit had been formalized as a Roxy Music manifesto on previous album/track ‘For Your Pleasure’: For your pleasure/In our present state/Part false part true/Like anything/We present ourselves – and play-acted through to that record’s stunning conclusion. Changing identity in order to enact a new life path, Ferry calls to his original destined older self and bids farewell (Old man/Through every step a change/You watch me walk away). With Stranded, Ferry fully assumed the persona of his new character (every bit a shape-shifter as David Bowie, just less make-up) – the doomed romantic, playboy, thrill-seeker – stepping off the page to become a central character in his own story. The results were spectacular, and this was a very powerful idea, at first. Speaking on myth-building and the self as a work of art, cultural critic Susan Sontag wrote “To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater.”

That Bryan Ferry went beyond the act of looking and actually slept with the glamorous women on the cover of his records was an essential part of Roxy Music myth-building: he had successfully delivered in the flesh the wish-fulfillment dream of his (largely) male audience. Packaged as product – sex sells, Joni Mitchell tell us – the consumption of the glamour dream gains extra sweetness by knowing that an ordinary working class guy (Implied Northerner Ferry) can complete the deal by attesting personally to the quality and experience of the product (Implied Playboy Ferry). This was a trippy idea in the early 70s – a liminal shift between personas and identities, and maybe even reality itself. Was this entertainment – or something much more? What was it like to make love to Playgirl playmates such as Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell or Marilyn Cole? Were they ordinary mortals, and if not, did exclusivity and money bring happiness? The more you looked at the album cover, the more you read the gossip papers, the less you knew..

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I tend to think that everything we do is an extension of our previous creations.

Bryan Ferry

IV. Coda

There is a fascinating out-take from the Stranded cover sleeve photo sessions (there aren’t many) that shows Bryan Ferry lying beside Marilyn Cole on the cold make-shift log of Edgeware studios in London. We imagine fashion designer Antony Price fussing with clothes, a tear here, a tear there, misting Cole’s hair, this way, maybe that. Glamour photographer Karl Stoecker climbing the ladder, framing the shot, stepping down, re-placing the ladder, re-framing the shot, expressing inwardly delight or dismay at this new move towards cinematic glamour. Nicolas De Ville would be pacing, as usual, fretting the details. And Cole, no doubt physically uncomfortable but happy to be there (“I understood I was in safe hands”), yet stranded on that fake log as the men above her fussed, content in the knowledge of her recent success, her rise to fame and the prosperity hard won in two short years (71-73), coming from the working class factories of England to International Playmate of the Year, her life forever changed.

Swaying palms at your feet
You’re the pride of your street

Beauty Queen

Surveying the same scene, Ferry lies beside Cole on the same cold studio floor that he has commissioned to look like the environs of a hot tropical jungle. There’s something odd here though – the music of Stranded sounds nothing like the heated rhythms of the jungle. This is more like the fake palm-trees of a 1950s beauty contest. Ferry confirms: “There’s something removed from reality about the girls on the covers.” (Medium). Naturalism is not the end-goal for the Roxy record sleeves, and so, as if to prove the point, Ferry allows his face to be painted just like Marilyn’s: thick off-colour make-up applied by Pierre Laroche, the artist who painted the face of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane for David Bowie. Ferry’s eyes become heavy with the same blue-gold eye-shadow that Playboy model and future love-interest Cole is wearing. The set-up feels like an idea in progress, like appearing on the back-cover of For Your Pleasure in disguise, dressed as someone else, a driver, twin, or lover. A day or so later Ferry sees the proofs, contemplates the highly glamorized, contorted, unrealistically posed, impossibly realized image of the woman. He sees in his mind the record’s advertising campaign with this image being emblazoned down the entire length of London buses…

“I was born in a Coronation Street house,” Cole explains, looking up through the fake misty tropical air. “Two up, two down, outside lav.”

In the end Ferry chooses not to include himself in the Stranded cover: he realizes, after all, he’s already there.

Screen Shot 2020-08-06 at 9.01.13 PMHaving grown up with his words and images for a good part of my life, I think his intent has been, not necessarily to market to us, but to communicate with us, to provoke, to seduce, to complement his music.

Definitions aside, there’s no denying the visual impact his work has had. And isn’t that where art starts?

 

Credits

Marilyn Cole Stranded out-take; Amanda Lear ‘Siren’ – both photos by Karl Stoecker; Various Ferry PR hand-outs from the period, the Playboy shot is from manzanera.com (archives) and is quoted “Bryan celebrated [Roxy] success with typical style. Under the headline ‘Ferry Merry Christmas’ – and sporting a very fetching matching Danimac and Daquiri – he was to be found snuggling up to some Bunnies of the Hefner variety. Hard work has its rewards”; magazine Ferry tux; Bond logo, http://www.007.com; Prosperity Street appreciation page; Roger Moore 007 PR shot; Cole/Ferry; Cole, Playboy photo 1972; Simon Puxley gets a hand on Cole (ouch); Cole with her Dad; Cole on one of the ‘Top of the Pops’ album sleeves, 1973; Playboy shots with side-by-side Monroe/Hefner crypt shot; Jane Russell publicity shot “Outlaw”/MC by Karl/Jane Russell Playboy cover; Rent-a-Man Chicago; Rock Art memorabilia; BF/Cole, Stranded out-take, Karl Stoecker.

Titbits

Inspiration: Ferry’s riff on the Elvis cover ‘Loving You’ soundtrack, brought to you by the Roxy machine.

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Influence: We didn’t get a chance in these cover art entries to discuss the influence of Alberto Vargas on the Roxy machine’s design strategy. Here’s some food-for-thought on the Vargas influence, master of the glamour pin-up image. (Note, the Cars cover is a riff on Stranded, which is in turn a riff on the original Vargas paintings. And so it goes – doing the Strand never really stops (if you’re doing it right).

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Fare Thee Well: Stranded was Karl Stoecker’s last album cover for Roxy Music. He went on to do more photography, for a a few years at least, but mostly he went on to do more beach-combing. Thank you Karl for your time in our narrative. Your story continues towards a life well lived as told by those that love you best – your family.


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Just Like You: ‘Stranded’ Cover Art – Part 1

Screen Shot 2020-04-26 at 8.59.33 AMStranded (1973), featuring Marilyn Cole, photography by Karl Stoecker, fashion by Antony Price, cover design by Nick de Ville, cover concept Bryan Ferry.

She’s a model and she’s looking good
Kraftwerk

Karl Stoecker photographed the first three Roxy Music album covers then disappeared, seeking a quieter life in South Beach, Florida. “I mean, taking photographs is fine,” Stoecker told the Miami Times,  “I think now I only want to be a beachcomber. That’s what I want to be for my prime occupation if I can figure it out.” Unwilling to engage in the game of rock photography as played by his contemporaries Mick Rock (Lou Reed, Bowie, Queen) and Brian Duffy (Swinging Sixties, Bowie), the handsome beach-boy Stoecker preferred to shun the limelight. “He is the worst at being a businessperson, calling people back, arranging situations,” says his wife, fashion designer Patti Stoecker. You get a sense Patti is smiling when she says this, both she and Karl working off the grid, carefree outsiders, enjoying a life they created for themselves and their children away from London into open waters and light blue surf.

Of course, each member of the Roxy machine team (Antony Price, Karl Stoecker, Nick De Ville, Simon Puxley and Bryan Ferry) were non-conformists, outsiders who rebelled against norms of acceptance, sexuality and artistic expression. And indeed this is the hub of Bryan Ferry’s genius and achievement with Roxy Music: while band politics and arguments produced wounds that would never fully heal (Eno’s departure; the loss of earnings from shared song-writing credits; the desire to record solo albums), Ferry focused on his vision, very carefully and strategically injecting himself intoScreen Shot 2018-04-09 at 7.13.14 AM the underground art and fashion world, making close friendships with many of London’s most innovative artists, creating and expanding the Roxy Music brand through art, design, fashion, photography, and image-making. While the musical muscle of Roxy Music was dependent on MacKay, Manzanera and Thompson, there is little evidence to suggest that anyone other than Ferry and the Roxy machine were accountable for the stunning design and brand marketing that enabled Roxy to achieve its goal of being “cinematic” music for the masses.

Antony Price was the key image-maker and stylistic guru of Roxy Music, a man of great intellect and kindness (Ferry: “He is one of the most remarkably gifted people I have ever met, and an authority on a bewildering range of subjects”). Price is extremely important to the Roxy Music story and we covered his influence in some depth for our entries Beauty Queen: Cover Art, a look at the ground-breaking art work Price did for For Your Pleasure. It is also worth reading the in-depth review of the fashion and art-school influences that helped define and shape Roxy Music, Michael Bracewell‘s excellent Re-Make/Re-Model: Becoming Roxy Music, and also the well-compiled primer on the stylistic trends that defined early 70s music and fashion, Glam: The Performance of Style. With Price’s influence and these other inputs being well-documented, we move then, for this entry, to another member of the Roxy machine: American photographer Karl Stoecker.

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Karl Stoecker // early 70s

I. Locating the Past

Karl Stoecker knew and worked with Antony Price as a member of the ‘Notting Hill crowd’ of artists and designers that shared similar ideas and assignments as they worked together in the London arts world of the early 1970s. Influential swinging sixties Notting Hill painter, draftsman, printmaker, stage designer, and photographer David Hockey: “You didn’t let commercial side interfere with things, in film, music, painting, fashion. It was energy driven by the bohemian  world.” These were talented, young people, well-paid and in demand, highly educated (Royal College of Art), plugged in (Richard Hamilton, Malcolm Bird, Ossie Clark), and endlessly inventive: “We didn’t want to be couturiers…We were about the street. Anything Establishment had to be challenged” (Price). Interestingly, and tellingly if we consider the angle from which Roxy Music‘s Stranded was written, recorded and performed, it was the past that was plundered as a means of re-writing the present.  The was a strong interest in the retro glamour of Art Deco, and also of early American Hollywood cinema, films Footlight Parade (1933), I’m No Angel with Mae West, “images shimmering with a brittle brilliance” (Style).

Antony Price met Roxy Music models Kari-Ann Mueller (Roxy Music) and Amanda Lear (For Your Pleasure), and future Roxy machine photographer Karl Stoecker through the Notting Hill connection. While working with the materials of the past – Price particularly liked Max Reindhardt’s Midsummer’s Night Dream – a look that would influence directly Bryan Ferry’s ‘Virginia Plain’ outfit on Top of the Pops – the young artists acknowledged the influence and stylizations of old style Hollywood glamour, while re-making and re-modelling the present in order to create the look of the future.

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The whole glamour thing of the 1930s was what influenced us
Ossie Clark

For his part, Stoecker moved to London in 1966 and stayed there until 1975 before returning to the United States. His keen eye and obvious love for women and glamour earned him commissions with many of premier fashion magazines of the day. His photographs for British Vogue captures the early style, unambitious yet focused, free of movement, selling product and make-up tips, as seen below in this Hair Now article (Vogue, 1972).

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The dynamic in this shot is expressed mostly in the lighting, but captured in those eyes is the same hint of danger that would attract Stoecker to a more off-beat territory: using the essential ingredients of Hollywood glamour, Stoecker moved towards highlighting glamorous women in new and ultra-modern glamour poses, cheeky imagery with a hint of beneath-the-surface kink, a sure-fire win for Bryan Ferry‘s concept of Roxy Music as a slightly down-stream “sleazy” art project.  The movement from the magazine shots of the late 60s with its still-frame emphasis on hair and make-up soon shifts to a gaze that interrogates and emphasizes the pin-up moment, as in the following sequence that establishes Stoecker’s move in 1972 from magazine glam (Club International) to fashion glam (Bubbles):

Here we see the development of Stoecker’s style as he moves toward the Roxy Music album cover assignment. The new ingredient Stoecker insists on is providing a white-drop background for the subject to disappear into, removing any superfluous information that would shift focus away from the glamorous foreground – the clothing, the model, the pose. In that same year, 1972, Bryan designer Antony Price introduced Bryan Ferry to the in-crowd:

I was a rising star behind Ossie [Clark], so I had met all of his models…Some of them – like Kari-Ann and Amanda Lear – ended up on the Roxy Music album sleeves. I was also working with the photographer who shot those covers too – Karl Stoecker. And Bryan would have met all of these people through me.

Antony Price 

The outcome of this meeting was the photo session that created the iconic photo for the cover of the first Roxy album, Roxy Music, a sleeve commissioned, designed, and photographed before the band even had a recording contract. Note the influence of Stoecker’s style on the composition of the shot: white background, wildly separated colour, pin-up girl caught in a swirl of glamorous self-consciousness…Screen Shot 2020-08-02 at 8.17.23 PMII. Locating the Future

Stoecker took the band photographs on the inside cover of Roxy Music also, and for several years took most of the Roxy group photographs, including the brilliant peacock feathered suit shot of Brian Eno (below), caught in cock-rock pose, taken at the same photo session that produced the For Your Pleasure inner sleeve essay of the band. Again, Stoecker centers the subject by creating a white-backdrop that is seductive and original, emphasizing the fiction of the rock pose, teasing out the collapse of gender distinctions as the heavily made-up, wonderfully androgynous Eno offers sex as guitar and welcomes us to take part in the Roxy Music dance.

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Karl was from Brooklyn, New York and went to art school at Syracuse University, where he co-founded a literary/art zine with Lou Reed. With the Lou Reed connection – and Antony Price’s innovative street-wise stylizations – Stoecker shot the brilliant back cover for Reed’s Bowie produced Transformer, now presenting his subjects against a night-time black curtain, a stylistically riskier mise-en-scene that, if you were not careful, tended to hide the subject instead of emphasizing it.

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Screen Shot 2020-08-03 at 9.04.03 AMMusically and visually, the classic Transformer album was produced by a talented collective of early 70s bright lights: Mick Rock took the iconic front cover shot of Lou Reed (hauntingly recreated for Lou’s 1982’s The Blue Mask); and for the back cover, Antony Price dressed and designed model Gayla Mitchell and roadie Ernie Thormahlen (he complete with plastic banana in his jeans). Karl Stoecker composed the scene and took the photos. Karl’s wife Patti recalls the album’s quality and considered the import of her husband’s contribution to the startling images:

The whole thing with he was a she…I had this album the day it came out, when I was a kid. I would even think, was this the same person? You know, when you’re a kid and you stared at a record cover for ten hours, you thought, was that the message? Is that him as a girl?

Patti Stoecker

The move from hair and make-up shots to a new kind of pin-up glamour sexuality that oozed of artifice and decadence ensured that both the covers of Transformer and Roxy Music would spark notoriety and much discussion of whether “he was a she” or “she was a he” (some people thought the first Roxy cover was Bryan Ferry in drag!) which suited perfectly Reed and Ferry’s idea of a new kind of street life, one of ambiguity and unsettled intent: mix it up, make it new, keep ’em guessing (Price: “Everyone thought [Gayla Mitchell] was a drag queen… I was working that hot-biker look way before everyone else got it!”). And so it was the same black night back-drop that defined the second Roxy Music cover For Your Pleasure as Stoecker, De Ville, Price and Ferry experimented with a more dangerous confection: the pin-up femme fatale, tripping on her heels towards us, ready to entrance and ensnare, death held back on a leash, for the moment, at least.
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III. Locating the Present 

The headline in the local Miami Times is not very flattering – ‘Photographer for Roxy Music and Lou Reed Found Living in Semi-Obscurity in South Beach’. But looking at the pictures on Patti Stoecker’s instagram page tells a very different story. ‘Man Returns Home. Lives in Tropical Paradise. Never Looks Back.’

When the Roxy machine geared up for Stranded, the new assignment presented a challenge for Stoecker, one that he did not necessarily take a liking to – a bleeding away of the subject into the background, a movement away from the pin-up glamour image towards narrative and cinematic story-telling: plane crash, jungle, film noir in red monochrome. ‘You may be stranded if you stick around’ sings Ferry on the new album opener, and you have to wonder if Stoecker, while making his way across the sweaty jungle carpet to take his final Roxy album cover shot, was thinking much the same thing..

Next: Stoecker photographs Bryan Ferry as Marilyn Cole in “Just Like You: ‘Stranded’ Cover Art – Part 2″ August 2020.

stoecker cafe

Credits: Nearly every photo in this piece is shot by Karl Stoecker. See http://www.karlstoeckerphotos.com.

Stranded (1973) original cover photograph, featuring Marilyn Cole, photography by Karl Stoecker, fashion by Antony Price, cover design by Nick de Ville, cover concept Bryan Ferry; Roxy machine group shot (clock-wise, Ferry, Stoecker, Puxley, Price, De Ville); Karl Stoecker, early 70s; Mae West and uncredited; Stoecker Vogue; Stoecker evolution (credited inline); Roxy Music cover; Eno by Stoecker; Transformer/For Your Pleasure Stoecker mash-up.


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Street Life – Part 3

Street Life – Part 1
Street Life – Part 2
Street Life (1973)

I. The Prince Charming of Sleaze

It was with a swift one-two punch that the Roxy machine delivered their latest single to the UK’s massive television audience:  “the ideological wing of the movement, Roxy Music stunned the Top of the Pops audience with a hyper-intense lip synch of their manic hit ‘Street Life’ …” recalled Glam-fan Jon Savage. Yet if you were watching carefully, you would notice competing tensions both in the music and in the image: Ferry had dropped the glitz and glitter and medallions of ‘Virginia Plain‘ and ‘Pyjamarama‘ and was dressed instead in a non-glam white tuxedo, finger-clicking with an insolent and disaffected swagger, like he was singing in the shower, or running through a set-list he knew would blow the audience to smithereens. The finger-clicks provided the intentional reproduction of a pop cliche, the idea that fashion was comprised of a set of ritualistic motifs, recognizable and identifiable, and therefore reproducible. In this Ferry beat David Bowie‘s ‘Fashion‘ by six years, and the idea was important enough that Ferry produced an entire song of finger-clicking menace, ‘The In-Crowd‘ (spending cash, talking trash!), a song that provided the singer with his next (solo) Top 20 hit in June 1974, six short months later.

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Now I’m blinded I can really see, yeah
No more bright lights confusing me, no

Don’t ask me why I’m feeling blue
Because loving you is all I can doooo

Hey good-looking boys gather around
The sidewalk papers gutter-press you down
All those lies can be so unkind
They can make you feel like you’re losing your mind

Street life, Street life, Street life, What a life
Street life, Street life, Street life, That’s the life

We knew that you had to try to be different after every album.
Phil Manzanera

“For the Roxy Music tour that Autumn,” wrote Simon Puxley, writing Bryan Ferry’s 1976 biography – straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were – “Bryan wore a white tuxedo and bow tie sartorial elegance at its most refined.” The tux was met with little fanfare at the first concert of the Stranded tour, on October 14 in Bath, England. NME scribe Nick Kent attended a show a few weeks later and was unimpressed, declaring that Ferry had stolen the tux from the “dead body of Johnny Ace…” 

Long gone is the old snake-eyed armadillo glamour: Bryan Ferry ’74 is a whole different barrel of monkeys, one minute crooning like a dissipated lead from The Desert Song, the next sashaying across the stage like El Supremo, the Prince Charming of Sleaze. And the real clincher is – he’s the first real rock ‘n’ roll star you could ever imagine regularly playing Russian Roulette alone in his hotel room after a gig.

Nick Kent

“We had to change – all those glitter groups sprung up and debased the look,” explained Ferry, responding to the glam-scene he saw around him, one that Roxy had influenced,Screen Shot 2020-06-14 at 6.21.09 PM shaped, and ultimately, with the release of Stranded, rejected. The black boa-feathers and glitter of the Brian Eno-era was gone: “I mean, I felt we had to drop all the overt glamour image mainly because all these other groups were starting to jump on the band-wagon and blow it out of all proportion.” Adding, tellingly, “Now, for me, it’s the Casablanca look, which I feel much better in anyway.” (Balfour).

In this regard ‘Street Life’ serves as an advertisement for the return of a new Roxy Music, a brand aimed at the demographically young and hip, audiences with disposable income for clothes, make-up, (Roxy) records and (Roxy) concerts. Keen to continue fulfilling the promise of “all styles served here,” Stranded arrived in new luxurious packaging and was presented as a new kind of Roxy movie. Back in the saddle was the same team that brought you the previous two successful albums – “Roxy Hair” by Smile; Fashion by Antony Price; Cover Design by Nicolas de Ville; Majordomo (whatever that is) did something; the Roxy gal was back, as was the reliable yet slightly menacing franchise promise “Stranded – The Third Roxy Music Album”. No wonder the record went to #1: the re-modelled Roxy came with all the flash and excitement that consumer advertising can bring – a visceral rush as strong as the best of a movie blockbuster experience: the opening credits, the dive from the cliff, the music, visuals, the golden girl..

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In order to seal the deal and get the audience on side, ‘Street Life’ adhered to the increasingly regimented requirements of glam-rock: gimmicky, sparkly, effervescent sex-music, dosed with a the promise of secret knowledge – street stories, hustlers, contraband exchanges.  Ferry claimed he wasn’t interested in feeding the singles market – “We’re not a singles band, really – I don’t want to find myself sliding down the Slade/T. Rex corridor of horror”. This, in spite of the fact that ‘Street Life’ was holy grail to the singles buying public, a Top 10 stunner that sent the album Stranded to Number 1 in the UK charts. Yet the singer was not necessarily being disingenuous: the goal was to create an effect (Puxley: the “all-embracing focus”) that promised inclusivity and hyper-modernity, while remaining typically, stubbornly, retro-subversive.

Audience expectation meant that Roxy Music would resume their reputation as cultural seers and arbiters of good taste, keeping an aesthetic promise to their fans to inform and help make sense of what was happening on the charts, on television and the streets no matter how marginalized or messed up the night might become. ‘Street Life’ offers the chance to cruise for sex (“come on with me cruising down the street…”). There is street prostitution (“Continental-style strasse girls…”) and frank acknowledgement on a pop record that the purchase of sex could was part of an evening’s entertainment (“who knows what you’ll see/who you might meet”). There was innuendo and smutty word play: “Back to nature boys” (being both a Nat King Cole song and an obvious call to, eh, arms). There were “Vassar girls too” – Vassar being the private women’s college in New York where, according to Urban Dictionary, “incredibly well educated woman who always gets their way, mostly by being on top all the time and telling the guy to shut up”. This was equal opportunity in the age of Lou Reed‘s Transformer and ‘Walk on the Wild Side‘.

‘Street Life’ sounds like it was fun to write – it certainly is fun to listen to, providing Ferry opportunity to plunder present-day street narratives, name-check influences and contemporary entertainers and mine them for laughter and innuendo (“Your jet black magic helps you celebrate, woo!”). Yet while the song was designed to play to its strengths, there is a melancholy within the the lyric that contradicts the outward swagger and gregariousness.  “Don’t ask why I’m feeling blue,” we are told, so we take the advice and don’t ask, but in truth this sense of ‘feeling blue’ hardly registers with the listener, so caught-up are we in this fun-time romp with tour guide Ferry. 

The conflicted emotional states that run through ‘Street Life‘ not only speaks to Ferry’s gifts as a writer (Paul Thompson: “Some of the lyrics aren’t obvious, you know, they’re clever but kind of hidden and a little bit subtle”), but also the cool effect that is generated by juxtaposing two opposing or contradictory ideas together. Roxy Music relish presenting elements from different eras, fashion trends, musical styles – “things being combined with a sense of irony and collage” (Reynolds). In this world the high art of the Mona Lisa is juxtaposed beside low art TV, magazines, advertising and pop music; the pink flamingo high life competes with street life  (“back to nature boys“); white tuxedoes replace glitter and glam; elegance and style (Roxy Music album covers), are set beside sleazy glamour (Roxy album covers!), and so on. 

Roxy biographer Michael Bracewell observed that “Many of Ferry’s greatest compositions describe the fate of the lonely, isolated romantic – always on the outside, even at the heart of the grandest party or the most exotic city. Ferry has said of himself, ‘I feel always to be on the inside looking out, or the outside looking in -‘  – the classic situation of the artist”. Inside, looking out. Outside, looking in. When Roxy landed their greatest glamour hit in the winter of 1973 Ferry had been at the party for over a year, and was now making preparations to leave, eager to find a way out, or – with the help of new material – find a new way in.

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II. Blinded by the Light 

‘Bryan Ferry’ is kind of boring really.
Bryan Ferry

The news comes in the form of brightness, like that rare treasure in ‘Beauty Queen’ – a quality Bryan Ferry and Simon Puxley call the buzz, the action, the centre, the energy. “The all-embracing focus, past present and future, the ineffable.” No star is shining brighter than Ferry in late 1973, yet he’s harassed, irritable: “wish everybody would leave me alone, yeh.” He needs to clear his head, get away from the fame, and the game of fame. New opportunities await – the buzz, the action:

Now I’m blinded I can really see, yeah
No more bright lights confusing me, no

There are two extraordinary double-takes in ‘Street Life’ and “now I’m blinded/I can really see” is the first of them. In keeping with the aroused state of the narrator, there’s a sex pun lurking within – historically the teenage masturbator had been warned not to have a wank should he end up going blind – and of course “blinded by the light” is a figure of speech that uses deliberate exaggeration or overstatement, which suits the song to a tee. And here is Ferry’s combo trick again – opposites placed back-to-back in a light/ darkness fusion (blinded/see), a common device in novels that map the hero’s journey towards enlightenment or epiphany (as in Joyce’s Ulysses and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, not to mention ‘For Your Pleasure‘  and ‘Virginia Plain’). There is the sense in ‘Street Life’ – and throughout Stranded – of a striving towards rapturous transformation – something we’ll see most clearly expressed in ‘Psalm‘.

As a single, ‘Street Life’ promotes and entertains, but as album opener the song provides additional insight into Ferry’s situation: with Roxy’s two hit albums, two hit singles, combined with his own solo hit album and single, Ferry is, as the new year 1974 approaches, “undeniably a star” (Balfour), “recognized as a leader of fashion,” harnessing an allusive charm, distant, yet “undeniably glamorous”. Listen to Puxley and Ferry work the PR:

“Bryan always travelled alone, though there were numerous adoring females who would have moved heaven and earth – sometimes almost did – to accompany him. But at concerts especially, Bryan demanded of himself, for both personal and professional reasons, an absolutely isolated concentration”.

The Bryan Ferry Story

To be sure, this type of male celebrity-mongering is cringe-worthy, but for its time, it got the job done. This image of an all-round personality (“he made it the year of the tuxedo”) who was Britain’s answer to Hugh Hefner (“There were the girls too. Often fashion models and always beautiful…”) delivered a new kind of rock star to the European public, one defined as much by the movies (Bond and Bogart), as by pop music. Writing as if he’d wandered into an Ian Fleming pot-boiler, Puxley turns the “rather boring” Bryan Ferry into the Implied (i.e., fictional) Bryan Ferry, the suave jet-setting bachelor who, when he is not wrestling sharks, drives to Oxford to “escape the ever-churning vortex of his own making”, ruthlessly “pushing the black Daimler to its limit, to end up in the early hours at yet another exotic haunt, a wild party in the Belgravia mansion of some profligate crypto-financer, or the high-strung tension barely controlled beneath the plush, aristocratic ambience of a Mayfair gaming club.” Phew.

Roxy fashion designer Antony Price nails the appeal and the public relations strategy along gender lines:

Women are not aware of Roxy Music in the way that men are. It’s a man’s band. It’s always been a man’s band. And he (Ferry) is a man’s idol; the young men have always admired him, he’s what they aspire to, to have taste like that, to be in the rock business but still have taste and credibility, which is very thin on the ground in the rock business, darling, let’s face it.

Antony Price

And so, Puxley and Ferry create a great Friday night movie, a rock-star secret agent who dabbles in pop music and sings the classics of the Great American Songbook. His cultural popularity is confirmed when he appears on TV doing a duet of ‘It’s My Party‘ with Cilla Black on her highly watched variety hour, the Cilla Black show. Electronics giant Phillips even creates a Bryan Ferry inspired record player called “The Shooting Star

Screen Shot 2020-04-26 at 9.47.36 AMThe designers of the Roxy machine (Price, Ferry, de Ville) delighted in gloriously artificial image making: “our currency was fantasy and glamour, with nothing left to chance” (Price).  Yet encoded in that engagement and harnessing of male glamour was a concern about the “boomerang” – the inevitable downslide – the trap of the ordinary and a deepening attention to, and concern for, the value of the work:

The sidewalk papers gutter-press you down
All those lies can be so unkind
They can make you feel like you’re losing your mind

Ferry presents a spiffy picture of the glamorous life while conversely (comically) giving it a kick to the stones. His fans want a piece of him (“wish everybody would leave me alone“). The press are relentless and critical (“All those lies can be so unkind”). During the 1973 Roxy tour Ferry dresses like a classic male snob, perfecting his acting repertoire (the Ferry duck-wobble, the Romantic croon). To promote ‘Street Life’ on television he sneers blankly at the camera while finger-clicking in time, like a senior member of the in-crowd delivering orders to the Friday night contingent:

Week end starts Friday soon after eight
Your jet black magic helps you celebrate

Your charm and bewitching “jet black magic” are the tools of your trade, your celebrity and your glamorous attraction (see ‘glamour’ word origins in Scottish witch-lore, Beauty Queen Cover Art). You are a glorious idea, but are feeling tormented, misunderstood  (“don’t ask why I’m feeling blue“). Taking note of the glam hang-over taking root in late 1973, Simon Reynolds describes the situation Ferry himself warned of in ‘Virginia Plain’:

Sophisticates are too clever to fall for the illusion any more, but secretly wish they could be fooled. What tantalizes is the remembrance of a long-gone possibility of absolute enchantment and entrancement.

Simon Reynolds

We choose then to file Ferry’s condition under the heading ‘Loss of Innocence’, exemplified by the the Stranded cover girl clutching a stem of Oriental white Lillies, a symbol for purity, sympathy, and innocence. And we see too that there has been a thematic consistency in Ferry’s writing to date, a desire to define the moment as honestly as possible: Roxy Music/’Virginia Plain‘ described the dream and the drive for fame.  ‘Pyjamarama‘/For Your Pleasure described the first wave of popularity. A mask was adopted, a persona to deal with the attention and the tensions (“I always wrote as a character” Ferry, 2020). With each new success the mask attaches itself more firmly to the surface of the skin, like fingernails digging into flesh. There is fear and uncertainty about future outcomes. Decisions are made. The band re-makes and re-models:

We were very conscious of not repeating ourselves. So after the first two albums [Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure], we needed to expand and do something different. Because we had a very different way of some writing, that’s why those tracks ended up the way they did because it wasn’t like conventional songwriting.

Phil Manzanera

Street Life‘/Stranded gives way to “Roxy Mania”. The mask settles, inseparable from your own skin now. Human relationships fail. All that remains is art and aesthetics, the striving for the perfection of art.  You reach for another cognac, stranded.

You may be stranded if you stick around

This is the second notable double-take on ‘Street Life’. Describing the Stranded tour, Puxley/Ferry observe “The tropical ambience of the stage-set arose from the new album art … a girl collapsed on the floor of the jungle .. the title describes her as ‘Stranded’ – which was also a double-edged allusion to the enigmatic concept the previous album’s most popular song [‘Do the Strand’], and furthermore appeared in the last line of a song on this new album ‘Street Life’: “you may stranded if you stick around.”

The continuation of the theme of the ‘strand’ through For Your Pleasure (‘Do the Strand’) and Stranded suggests that this search for change or enlightenment – or just new material – was, at this pivotal moment in Ferry’s career, still attainable. No matter that Stranded is the album that best describes the Ferry’s attempt to “escape the ever-churning vortex of his own making” – it is only when we arrive next year at the Weimar tainted decadence of Country Life that the Roxy front man finally admits defeat – stranded, between art and life, “Gestrandet an Leben und Kunst” (from the German stanza of Bitter Sweet).

And that’s really something..

Credits: Stranded close-up; credits Stranded back-cover; Stranded promo; 1972 advertisment for the “new”; Ferry cartoon promo 1973; Phillips “shooting star” promo, 1973/4; visions of Stranded – the brilliant Karl Stoecker cover photography center; some additional images, author not credited, the net.

Next: Just Like You: Stranded Cover Art.