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?
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.
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
Just Like You, ‘Stranded’ (1973)
One 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.
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 maelstrom 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 to 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.
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?
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
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.
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. (Biography). 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.
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.
Is my identity something I can manipulate, and can I change identities at will? I think we were all very interested in that.
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..
I tend to think that everything we do is an extension of our previous creations.
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
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.
Having 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?
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.
Inspiration: Ferry’s riff on the Elvis cover ‘Loving You’ soundtrack, brought to you by the Roxy machine.
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).
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.