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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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.

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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. 

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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

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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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Bitters End

roxy_debut

The hybrid of styles and musical backgrounds of the band members created a blend of music that was like nothing that had gone before in music. This made a huge impact on the music scene in 1972 and is seen as one of the most exciting and innovative debut albums ever.
– John O’Brien, archivist/author (vivaroxymusic)

Roxy Music was recorded at Command Studios, a refurbished studio formerly owned by the BBC (Piccadilly 1) in central London. Command lasted for only a few years and was beset by management rows and technical troubles (the train noise from the Piccadilly tube would spill into recordings). Nevertheless even though the studio didn’t last long, in its short span it was responsible for capturing some killer sessions: Brian Eno’s  No Pussyfooting; King Crimson’s Lark’s Tongue in Aspic; and Slade Alive! (don’t laugh, Jimi Hendrix manager Chas Chandler set up a Slade fan club concert in Command’s large studio that by all accounts was riotous.  The subsequent album launched Slade’s commercial career – three singles went straight in at No 1, one of them selling half-a-million copies in its first week). Command Studios also gave us, of course, the debut Roxy Music album.

Roxy Music was recorded and mixed in less than a month for a modest sum (£5,000). Peter Sinfield’s production of the album has been criticized over the years, and while there is no doubt that the thin sound and high-pitch tremolo of Bryan Ferry’s vocals do take some getting used to, it is the context and circumstance that serves to define the sound of the first album. The producer and the studio were not a fault – Sinfield did record Virginia Plain a few months later at Command Studios, and no way can anyone say that classic single does not jump out of the speakers! The issue, if any, is the fact that the mandate for the first Roxy Music album was to be different, to try different styles and moods, to upset or stretch expectations about what pop could do. And this meant sounding different, and getting under the skin with something we hadn’t heard before.screen-shot-2016-05-08-at-7-39-02-pm
The first record was really exciting to make, because it had so many different flavours.
– Bryan Ferry, interview, Bracewell

Bitters End is the last cut on a musically diverse album. The lyrics are largely throwaway, though of course Pale fountains fizzing forth pink gin is a direct sign-post to the pink colour-assortment of the (soon-to-be) famous album cover. The image of decadent luxury, and old Brit cultural snobbery is embedded in the song, rife with doo-wop singers, a quivering Noel Coward vocal delivery, and some nifty sax. It’s a tuneful song, highly listenable with a subject matter and lightness close to The Beatles ‘Savoy Truffle (Creme tangerine and montelimar/A ginger sling with a pineapple heart). The party laughter and clinking of drink glasses that opens the album has its closer here, and with a wink and a nod Ferry summarizes the completion of the album – a celebration for the band – and its delivery, perhaps, to the unsuspecting record company:

Give now the host his claret cup
(the host of this party, Island Records owner Chris Blackwell)

And watch madeira’s farewell drink
(British cocktail: In a 2-oz. sherry glass, stir madeira with bitters and Campari. Serve)

Note his reaction acid sharp
(host’s unfavourable reaction to the album’s diverse contents)

Should make the cognoscenti think
(the intelligensia or ‘smart’ people to whom the record’s stylistic and lyrical pastiches and irony was aimed).

The record did appeal to the cognoscenti, and many more listeners besides: an immediate critical and commercial hit (16 weeks in the UK charts, with a high of #10). Roxy Music launched the careers of the band and its members, and influenced countless others, divided critics created who debated whether Roxy were a “real” band or just a bunch of art students taking the piss. The first single Virginia Plain would cement the band’s success and demonstrate that the group were more than just a gimmick. The following album, For Your Pleasure would deliver the first masterpiece.

Much happiness and health to you and yours – see you again in 2017!

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Recorded: Command Studios, London, March 1972
Pics: Roxy Music album art, John O’Brien (http://www.vivaroxymusic.com/albums_1.php); Roxy Music publicity shot (www.bryanferry.com/roxy-music-history-tab/#history); Command studios (www.gearslutz.com/board/so-much-gear-so-little-time/346235-1972-command-studios-piccadilly-england-what-gear.html); David Enthoven (www.theguardian.com/music/2016/aug/12/david-enthoven-obituary)

In Memory

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David Enthoven (1944 – 2016), former co-manager, Roxy Music

Roxy Music were not to everybody’s taste…they were taking good, straight forward songs and treating them, and doing something quite madly avant-garde with them…It was “fun” music…so fresh and new.

David, interview, Bracewell

Graham Simpson (1943-2012), Roxy Music co-founder and bass player

Roxy Music were not so much a hybrid of musicians with different influences but were independent musicians with their own individual voice that work well together

Graham, interview, bryanferry.com

Graham Simpson was a founding member of Roxy Music with Bryan Ferry, and was an excellent bass player and contributed much to the first Roxy album (listen particularly to the amazing bass work in Sea Breezes). In 1972, Graham lost his mother to cancer and he was depressed. The life-style and pressure of being a member of an up-and-coming band did not alleviate his increasing mental health problems, and unfortunately, Graham had to leave the band in April 1972, after the first album and his wonderful contributions were recorded.

The Bryan Ferry website has an excellent page dedicated to Graham. (http://www.bryanferry.com/graham-simpson-1943-2012).  Please visit as often as you can, and be sure to check out the excellent short film called Nothing But The Magnificent which explored the disappearance, re-emergence and ultimate path to redemption of Graham Simpson.

 


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Sea Breezes – Part 2

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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 (72)

The first Roxy album asks questions, and offers answers grudgingly, undercover often, and for the ear mostly. The 2nd half of Sea Breezes makes an abrupt break with the tone and mood of the music that came before it. What is cool and interesting is that the objectivity of the piece shifts to a mind mediating on what that experience is. Breaking down the track we can read it as follows:

Waves (0.1-0.37)
Eno sets the scene with a mellotron seascape (It’s the first thing anyone does when they get a synthesizer, makes the sound of waves with it – BE). For him, the instrument is a pun, a fake form of emotional rendering. This is our first entry into the song.

Been Thinking (0.38-2.07)
We’ve been running round in our present state
Hoping help would come from above
But even angels there
Made the same mistakes in love
In love, in love, in love

The young Romantic poet takes to the beaches to console himself, offering up his suffering (his sensitivity) as a work of art in its own right. The North East England coast has never been so rain swept beautiful and, lest we forget, alone. This loss and loneliness is augmented by a stunning oboe accompaniment by Andy Mackay that later bleeds cross-purpose into Phil Manzanera’s guitar. Musically, the first verses are in the key of B minor, with shifts to A, G, and Em throughout. The harmonic characteristic of Bm is often expressed as one of patience, of calm awaiting ones’s fate and of submission to divine dispensation. There can be hardly a more accurate summary of the narrator’s stance in the first verses: terribly affected, awaiting divine judgement, the distant speaker eventually drifting away, drowned in love in love in love. 

Echoes (2.05 – 3.32)
A tiny chime bell at 2.05 signals the start of an understated instrumental section, the kind of unfolding that, like the Pink Floyd at their best (Meddle, 1971) allows the music to grow from minimal information, taking the time to explore little sonic clusters and ideas. Andy Mackay plays the verse melody with a gentle line as Bryan Ferry’s electric piano carefully plucks the verse notes. Phil Manzanera’s guitar lines provide a mournful counterpoint, a sadness washed up on the tide of Eno’s mellotron seascape. This is a Roxy moment of extreme beauty and sublime interaction between the musicians that, for many fans, has never been bettered. The instrumental dissolves at 2.49, and then re-starts, mocking the anticipation of an ending. This time Mackay contributes more complex and uplifting lines. Manzanera says goodbye on a sustained root note, and then there is an abrupt change – like a windy slap in the face.

rm-72

Sea Breezes (3.33-6.12)
With as little as a few piano notes to warn us, we are thrown into a very discordant, abrupt rhythm. In come two key musicians that have been waiting on the sidelines: drummer Paul Thompson and bassist Graham Simpson. Paul’s drumming is avant garde jazz splutter, and Graham’s hesitant halting bass is as discordant as Bryan Ferry’s choke-on-an-apple vocal delivery. What happened to the lush musical landscape? Now that we are lonely/Life seems to get hard. Indeed, the life message here is delivered like a bracing wind and, just as a sea breeze brings in cold air from the ocean, the impact on the music is unequivocal, like a Samuel Beckett play where language, pace, rhythm, and delivery turn into something colder and self-analyzing:

Thought-train set in motion
Wheels in and around
Express our emotion
Tracks up then it cracks down, down, down, down, down

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The internalization of thought is explicitly summoned here, tongue in cheek perhaps (motion is the key to this stanza: train/wheels/express/tracks) yet serious about what the experience of thought or thinking feels like. If the process of thought is captured as the movement of (fake) seashore waves, then a burst of cold insight comes like a punch to the gut: the narrator recognizes that to express our emotion with sensitivity and feeling is poetically admirable (Tracks up) but the down side is vulnerability and, in this case, depression or melancholia (Then it cracks down, down, down, down, down). The whole temper of the track shifts, and a gnarly solo from Phil confirms the bad tempered nature of this cold wind. We have moved, musically, from the divine calm waiting in the key of B minor to the sudden shift coming ashore in the form of D flat major. As musicologist Christian Schubart points out: [Db is] a leering key, degenerating into grief and rapture. It cannot laugh, but it can smile; it cannot howl, but it can at least grimace its crying. Consequently only unusual characters and feelings can be brought out in this key.

Help from Above (6.13-7.05)
This view offers up our narrator’s fate: from a patient, calm poet awaiting divine judgement (along with the angels, presumably), to a leering breakdown of a man degenerating into grief and rapture, marveling at his cleverness and way with language, exposed and raw, the endless torment of the suffering creative artist. Bryan Ferry and the band have fun with this one and the outcome is as hollow as Eno’s counterfeit mellotron waves: the singer re-states the original verses and theme (Hoping help would come from above), but no knowledge has been gained. This sea breeze has passed.

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Recorded: Command Studios, London, March 1972
Pics: Sea Breeze pinball,
homemade; Roxy Music (72)http://www.bryanferry.com/roxy-music-history-tab/#history; First Edition Waiting for Godot, Samuel Becket; all aboard for Whitley Bay, British Railways.

Titbits

banshees

Susan Janet Ballion (ne. Siouxsie Sioux) was such a fan of Roxy Music that she named her band Siouxsie and the Banshees after Bryan Ferry’s formative pre-Roxy group the Banshees. Siouxsie has always worn her influences on her sleeve and in 1987 recorded an album of covers that included the Roxy Music track Sea Breezes. Though the Looking Glass tackles an excellent set of artists (John Cale, Iggy Pop, Kraftwerk, the Beatles) with exciting and mixed results in equal measure (though a UK top 3 hit was enjoyed with “Dear Prudence”). Looking Glass came at the tail end of a remarkable set of post-punk albums (Juju in particular still sounding fresh and accomplished), and Siouxsie herself can be seen on the Roxy Music documentary More Than This espousing her hatred of the suburbs and her love of the glamour of Roxy. Yeah!

Her Dark Materials: great interview with Siouxsie chatting with Roxy Music biographer Michael Bracewell.

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Meddle, Pink Floyd (1971). While worlds apart, both Roxy Music and Pink Floyd were similar in that they never threw away a single idea, squeezing a piece of music until it spilled its truths and thrills. The instrumental at the heart of Sea Breezes has its antecedents in King Crimson and pre-Dark Side Floyd. Noticeably, Phil Manzanera and David Gilmour share common styles (clean tone and precise, bluesy lines). Manzanera has of course played a significant role in the latter day Floyd canon – co-producing several David Gilmour solo albums, and having significant input into the last (dreadful) Floyd album Endless River. Friends since pre-Roxy days, the pair have contributed some of the most tasteful guitar playing in rock. Echoes is essential, and never mind the stuff about the albatross.


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Sea Breezes – Part 1

hotel

Sea Breezes
Sea Breezes (John Peel Session)

Coming quickly after the Rock n’ Roll genre piece Would You Believe? Roxy Music deliver one of the album’s stand-out tracks, Sea Breezes. Recorded mid-way through the 2nd and final week of recording at Command Studios, the track delivers as a real group effort, highlighting not only Bryan Ferry’s exquisite melody and lyrics, but also the genuine musical sophistication and interplay of Brian Eno, Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera as they shine in solo instrumentation passages, adding much-needed emotional texture to this unique and satisfying song.

I’ve been thinking now for a long time
How to go my own separate way
It’s a shame to think about yesterday
It’s a shame
A shame, a shame, a shame

We’ve been running round in our present state
Hoping help would come from above
But even angels there
Made the same mistakes in love
In love, in love, in love

Thematically, ‘Sea Breezes’ finds us on familiar ground as the narrator ponders the difficulties of love. The tone is lofty and elevated, the words used to express love are not spoken in a manner that would suggest maturity or emotional availability: for this chap, the end of love’s promise is merely a shame. In Roxy Music, love is always spelled with a capital L and is never mocked or undercut, unless purposely so (Would You Believe?). In this game the stakes are high, as love takes on a religious or artistic idealism which forms viewpoints, morals, and spiritual destinies. But what happens when love is not seen as a force of nature, a deep and lasting kinship with another person, but rather as a solipsistic way to marvel at your facility for cleverness and moral detachment? In lighter moments you might say, fine, I’ll take it, but in all likelihood that path is lonely and unsatisfying:

Now that we are lonely
Life seems to get hard
Alone what a word lonely
Alone it makes me cry

The focus on alone is so acute that the mere utterance of the word “lonely” wracks the narrator: Alone what a word lonely/Alone it makes me cry. What makes the narrator cry is not the prospect of lost love or companionship, but word choice. We’ve been here before on the album – the love object in Re-Make/Re-Model is a (witty) recollection of the license plate CPL593H, not the woman herself Throughout the ages it has been the job of the poet to discuss love, loss and loneliness with words that convey significant meaning, but that effort has meant different things over time, from Classicist ideals, to Romantic, Modernist, and Post-Modernist (and many more besides). In ‘Sea Breezes’ Bryan Ferry assumes the cloak of narratorial disguise enjoyed by the Romantic poets, in this case most associated with Lord Byron (George ‘Goodtime’ Gordon), a man who, in the words of one biographer, created an immensely popular Romantic hero — defiant, melancholy, haunted by secret guilt — for which, to many, he seemed the model. This is the narrator hero of ‘Sea Breezes’- defiant, melancholy, and guilty enough to blame everyone but himself for his predicament. This is Love as solipsistic self-analysis, and Ferry is fully aware of this narrative angle and, thankfully, plays it to the hilt.

Mad, bad and dangerous to know
Lady Caroline Lamb on Romantic poet Lord Byron

We’d often go to the seaside when I was a child…Whitley Bay or Marsden.
Bryan Ferry, before a 2016 festival gig in his hometown

Born in Washington, County Durham, England, Bryan Ferry knew the Tynemouth coastline and its windswept landscapes well. Schooled at Washington Grammar school and Newcastle University, the young man was rarely less than 25 minutes away from coastal shores and beaches. The landscape of his youth was the North England coast and weather-beaten seascapes, 7th Century monasteries, and fortified castles.

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This is Romantic territory, in landscape if not in social graces. Clearly the sea-swept ocean imagery was fertile ground for Ferry’s imagination (see the beached damsels of Stranded; the blue-stained mermaids of Siren). In lyric and in tone, ‘Sea Breezes’ revels in the Romance poet’s suffering as the heightened emotion crashes against the cold sandy Tynemouth surf. Alone! he cries – what a word lonely/ Alone it makes me cry/I’ll cry, I’ll cry, I’ll cry. The Smiths later adopted this pose too, as Morrissey held his weary hand to brow and begged to Please please please let me get what I want…/this time. Ferry is the early master of the idiom of self-obsessed or narcissistic narrator, and the real love-object of the first Roxy Music album is the self-love of the narrator as he marvels at his ability to, at any given time, associate himself with the love trials of the Epic Hero Odysseus (Ladytron);  or align himself with the Romantic poets Byron and Shelley by melancholic over-emoting (If There is Something); and even takes sides with a dangerous sociopath, seeing love first as possession and ownership (Chance Meeting).

Hardly about love at all, and ‘Sea Breezes’ is no different: if you look closely you notice that for a song that calls itself ‘Sea Breezes’ there is actually no water or sea imagery used in the lyric and certainly nothing even loosely resembling a beach, wind, salt, storm – not a word. Then there is the amazingly abrupt and odd-metered musical interruption half-way through the song. Out of nowhere the meter changes, and Ferry sounds like he has been kicked in the knees and told to keep singing  – gone is the gentle appeal to the angels, Romantic or otherwise. Why the change? Because the poet cannot help but present his greatest love: his genius. In keeping with first album’s gleeful subversion of expectation, the lyric and singer becomes increasingly self-absorbed,to the point where what we are seeing and hearing is the sound of meditation and composition, of a brain working, of the poem being written: a thought-train set in motion – words in fog being prepared for paper, hard and alone, before the crack down.

Sea Breezes – Part 2, next week.

Pics
The Rex Hotel where BF visited sea swept Whitley Bay with his parents; Lord Byron has his eye on a charming lady on beach, grabbed here; when you’re obsessed with music you Google Map your hero and the route he would have taken to the seaside as a boy  (Nabokov: be obsessed with scientific yet artistic appreciation of detail); before selfies you had to stare into the abyss for days to know your true self,  Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818.

Titbits

The Smiths, bringing literary irony and anti-glamour to the 80s.

I can only think of one truly great British album: Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure.
Morrissey

From left, clockwise:
Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now: Viv Nicholson, found fame in 1961 when she won £152,319 (roughly £3m/$6M today). She famously said she was going to “spend spend spend!” And she did, squandered it all and battled with alcoholism and 4 husbands. On the bright side, she is still with us today, 79 years old. Great Beehive Viv!

This Charming Man: Swashbuckling actor Jean-Alfred Villain-Marais, in a still from Jean Cocteau’s film Orpheus (lovers in real life, Jean Marais also starred in the Cocteau masterpiece Beauty and the Beast). Easily a contender for a never-produced picture cover of ‘Sea Breezes’.

The Queen Is Dead: Of course he isn’t – Morrissey lives on as petulant and litigious as ever. Here is another French actor, Alain Delon, taken from the 1964 noir film The Unvanquished on the cover of The Smiths masterpiece album.

It is true, Morrissey told The Observer that he could “only think of one truly great British album” and that was For Your Pleasure. He later took it back because he was pissed off at one of Bryan Ferry’s sons support fox-hunting, but nevertheless the reference does confirm Morrissey as serious contender as England’s hand-me-down rock poet laureate: ‘Cemetry Gates‘ is a re-take of Ferry’s ‘Sea Breezes’, portraying as it does the artist as young man, the self-absorbed aesthete impressed by his talent and lecturing on his art (If you must write poems/the words you use should be your own/There’s always someone, somewhere/With a big nose, who knows) and greeting the horrors of a rare sunny day in Manchester:  A dreaded sunny day/So I meet you at the cemetery gates/Keats and Yeats are on your side/While Wilde is on mine. There are no apologies for high-brow literary references or taking sides in this scenario: Keats the Romantic & Yeats the Modernist take on Morrissey & Oscar Wilde, the Comic Realists. May the best man(ic) poet win!

The record covers were stunning; this was anti-glamour. As much as Roxy Music had aimed glamour towards the seedy, The Smiths sold the forgotten sex objects of British tabloid and European film as presented them as projections of Morrissey’s fantasies. In the UK you spend a lot of time In Your Room with your posters, wet dreams and soundtracks. (Years before fame, Steven Morrissey stayed in His Room writing letters to the New Musical Express – and they got published). In the 70s Bryan Ferry projected male dissonance and sexuality with Humphrey Bogart. In the 80s Morrissey projected the same with gay French stars and kitchen sink drama queens. As in Roxy as is in The Smiths – who you watch, read and listen to is who you are.


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Would You Believe?

Little Richard

When Roxy Music recorded their first album during 14th -29th March 1972, London and much of the world’s radio-listening public was in the grip of a Rock n’ Roll revival. The Beatles and pop/rock had kicked be-bop and jazz off the world’s charts during the mid-sixties, and as beards grew longer and more unruly there was a contrarian interest in dressing up and looking smart (a trend that Roxy/Bowie/Glam capitalized on). Nowhere was the signifier of fashion more clearly felt than in the drapes n’ duds of what was to become known as the Teddy Boy style, a play on the “Edwardian” style enjoyed years before by the wealthy young men of the Brit establishment.  The younger generations of the 50s adopted the Edwardian long jackets, but added the striking tapered trousers and fancy waist coats. By the early 70s a Rock n’ Roll revival was in full swing and the Teds kept upping the ante by wearing more outlandish versions of the old idea, culminating perhaps with the addition of the most extreme shoes anyone could ever be expected to wear outside of a fancy dress ball.

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A month or so after Roxy released their first album in June 1972, The London Rock and Roll Show was held at Wembley Stadium on August 5. Bo DiddleyJerry Lee LewisLittle RichardBill Haley and His CometsChuck Berry, and others were flown in to perform an exelerating show in front of the Greasers, Teds and future punks of Londo5108g7n7k0ln. (Malcolm McLaren is shown in the concert film selling t-shirts and ‘Let it Rock’ gear five years before his own fifteen minutes of fame). Excellent performances are given, particularly by Jerry Lee and Chuck Berry, with Jerry hammering his piano keys with drop kicks and heel jabs. Watching the film gives the viewer a keen sense of London’s grit and style in the early 70’s, and reminds us of the impact Glam must have had on the collective psyche: stealing the best moves from its Rock n’ Roll masters, Glam (just rock n’ roll with lipstick! said John Lennon) was colourful, exciting, danceable and great back-drop for drinking, fighting and sex. (One supposes).

For Roxy, recording the rock n’ roll pastiche Would You Believe? and including it on the first album was just another one of their “12 different possibilities” of musical adventure. Unfortunately, doo-wop as a form is slight and repetitive and can be bit tedious after a few listens, and this track is no exception. Bryan Ferry himself did not find the rock n’ roll or vaudville styles the band were offering had much sticking power beyond the flash modernism of the first album: “What we’ll probably do is start making the changes fewer, because some people in the audience can’t really take sudden changes every 30 seconds or so. I quite like confusing people, but there are limits I suppose.”(Sounds,  July 1, 1972).

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Shackled by the form, the lyrics in Would You Believe? were intentionally written tongue-in-cheek, the rhyming scheme the poetic outcome of twelve year old girls in love:

Would you believe in what I do
When the things that I make are all for you?
Oh honey say you do
And in a while I’ll come to you
Showing showing why
What I think will all come true

And so on. Ferry is on the joke, of course, but it is clear why he and his listeners opted for the lyrical and musical possibilities of the more interesting album cuts  (Ladytron/If There is Something/Chance Meeting) to go on their journey further into the seventies. Would You Believe? was scrapped as a live staple, not performed by the band after early 1973.

Pics: Little Richard at Wembley Stadium, The London Rock and Roll Show, August 1972;  a Teddy Boy creeper shoe, courtesy EBay; film poster London and Rock and Roll Show; Andy Mackay, geezer style, cover of Best magazine, issue #65.

Titbits

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Live Peace in Toronto, Plastic Ono Band. A few years before the London Rock and Roll Show, a hastily assembled Plastic Ono band (John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman, Yoko Ono, and Alan White) played at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival in September 1969. 50s standards were played (nervous, drug-fuelled and scrappy), and the subsequent live album sold well, ensuring the street cred of the rock n’ roll revival into the early 70s.

Never Mind the Bollocks: Malcolm McLaren poses outside his shop on the King’s Road early 70s; by chance, London and Rock and Roll Show film still captures Malcolm and Vivienne Westwood selling Let it Rock gear at the Wembley Show August 1972; five years later Mr. J Rotten (John Lydon) proves that good duds never go out of style.

 


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Chance Meeting

tube_mapChance Meeting is one of the more disquieting songs in the Roxy lexicon (pre-dating the Bogus Man by eight months), Bryan Ferry creates a narrator that is at once sinister and seductive. If there is a truism that the Devil gets all the best lines, then there is indeed menace in these words, a portrayal of looming violence set against Haiku-style imagery (red dress mine) that is delivered with conviction by Ferry. The performance marries unemotional detachment with a haunting melody line, creating an incongruity of meaning and intent: is this a song of lost love, or are we witnessing something more sinister – a chance meeting of integrative menace and/or murderous intent?  Whatever the case,  you can almost see the fingers on the victim’s throat as the narrator utters “time spent well is so … rare.”

I never thought I’d see you again
Where have you been until now?
Well how are you?
How have you been?
It’s a long time since we last met

A short song (10 lines), ‘Chance Meeting’ has been seen by many observers as melodic, romantic, a gentle ballad, emotional (or “emotionally inarticulate”, p39 Rigby). For critic Paul Stump the piece is a re-visioning of the 1945 romantic David Lean film Brief Encounter. This was a view that Ferry himself held and was outlined in his working notebooks, but without sounding presumptuous, there is the sneaking suspicion that name-checking Lean’s classic film may have provided an over-simplification and a pat way into the song. Certainly, Brian Eno’s sonic treatments of ‘Chance Meeting’ was as far from classic romantic as can be imagined. And the song is based on a film alright, but Bryan Ferry’s cinematic influence is altogether more complex and sinister.

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Trevor Howard, Celia Johnson//Brief Encounter

Bryan’s Chance Meeting
David Lean’s 1945 classic film Brief Encounter was voted by a leading UK magazine as the most-romantic film ever made (despite the lack of sex or happy ending). The film is  an insightful, moving interrogation of marriage, sexual repression and self-sacrifice. The pedigree behind the production is impeccable, a masterpiece of writer-producer Noël Coward (based on his one-act stage-play Still Life) and a jewel in the filmography of director David Lean, who is no slouch when it comes to canonized classics (Lawrence of Arabia anyone?).  The film has it all: heroism, stoicism, unrequited lust, regret, sacrifice – a must-see melodrama for a 1945 war-time Britain where the guilt of living in the moment for the past six years (who can blame them) had sunk in once the Allies accepted Germany’s surrender. As we have seen here, Bryan Ferry’s key influences of cinematic romance and reverence – 2HB and its smoky nightclub situations – is highlighted in spades in Michael Bracewell’s masterwork on Roxy Music, “Re-Make/Re-Model: Becoming Roxy Music“, and here we are fortunate enough to be presented with Ferry’s working notes on ‘Chance Meeting’:

‘Chance Meeting’ (Quiet delicate simple plaintive)
voice & drama classical lovers chance meeting [inspired by the film Brief Encounter]

While Brief Encounter’s star-crossed lovers do happen to meet at a shadowy British railway station, and the unfolding events do have a classical doomed sensibility, the sensibility is nevertheless neither dark nor creepy, or even a tad bit dangerous: this is in stark contrast to the actual song we hear on the record – with its disassociated vocal and vacant lack of romance or emotion. In this case, the emotion isn’t inarticulate, it just isn’t there at all. By the time we get to Manzanera’s dissonant haunted-house feedback we are under the covers praying for daylight. Clearly, the execution of this “quiet delicate simple” piece is at cross-purposes with the romantic image that has been applied to it over the decades. It might be more useful to suggest that Ferry and Eno have been pulling the wool over our eyes, for there is a film that speaks more directly to the paranoia in the song, a film that was to introduce us to that girl in the red dress, and provide us no less with the actual title for the track,  ‘Chance Meeting’.
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Hardy Krüger, Micheline Presle// Chance Meeting (US)

Chance Meeting is a 1959 British murder mystery film by Joseph Losey, the famous political noir film-maker. Ben Barzman and Millard Lampell were nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay and it shows: the plot is layered and nuanced and pulls few punches.  Jan (Hardy Kruger) is an artist who has recently met a high society woman. (If this isn’t a Bryan Ferry reference, I don’t know what is). When he arrives at her apartment for an afternoon tryst (as one does), he calls out to his lover but gets no answer.  Two cops show up and question him. Jan is an uncomfortable position since he doesn’t want to give away the details of his affair. 1504efe10cd815cc392f5a671aae2bc8The situation worsens as he realizes his lover lies dead under the blankets on a couch: she has been murdered, and the police think it is him. The film unfolds in flashback, and we see the complications of characters who meet but barely know one another. The high-society lover turns out to be a prostitute; the artist, honest, but naive. The working class detective, noble, but ineffective.  The killer, a high-level politician, getting away with murder.  There is a relentlessness to the film that underlines the loneliness of the main characters; their disassociation from love and their desire for sex – chance meetings and encounters and secrets that lead to grim outcomes. It is to this that we should recall the tone and distance of Ferry’s vocal decision and performance; the careful enunciation and lack of emotion in the delivery; the oppressive guitar feedback 38 seconds in, relentless as it rides over top of the melody crashing down with oppressive weight.  This is different social worlds colliding, relentless chance meetings spinning out of control, while the killer remains disassociated, untouchable. In ‘Chance Meeting’ the man happens upon the woman he eventually kills. Sentence fragments are highlighted to emphasize the unnatural pacing of intonation and expression:

I ne/ver thought I’d see you/again
[relationship over] 
Where have you been /
[she: avoiding him]screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-7-48-45-pm

until now?
[he: chance meeting]
Well / how are you?
[she: good, until I bumped into you]
How have you been?/
[he: interrogation]

It’s a long time since we last met/
[he: counting the hours, days]
It seems like yes/ter/day
[she: so fresh in your memory??]
When I /first saw you
[he: obsessing]
In your red dress mine
[red: symbol of sex, lust, blood – the single use of colour imagery in the song.]
How could/ I forget that day?
[he: remembering, in great detail]
I know that time well spent is so rare
(obviously the time wasn’t well spent at all – run lady, while you still can!)

It took a while for Ferry to get the song right, but he never stopped championing the piece. A definitive live version was recorded in 1973 on Viva! (released 76); this version has a chillier delivery which emphasizes the hint of menace in the song, coupled with a sublime oboe accompaniment by Andy Mackay. Then in 1976 Ferry re-recorded ‘Chance Meeting’ (as he did with many of Roxy’s 1st album choice cuts): the sound is richer and better recorded, and has its supporters. Count me as one of them.

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Brian Eno, AIR Studios//1972

Eno’s Chance Meeting
Andy Mackay and myself may have written to one another a couple of times, but the next time we met was one of those moments in life when things could have turned out completely different than the way they did. I was waiting on Maida Vale tube station [Mackay recalls that it was Earls Court] when the train came in. I was equidistant between two carriages. But in the one I chose was Andy, and we recognized each other. He asked what I was doing and I told him that I was playing around with tape recorders.  – Eno, 2007

As a result of going into a subway station and meeting saxophonist Andy Mackay, I joined Roxy Music, and, as a result of that, I have a career in music. If I’d walked ten yards further on the platform, or missed that train, or been in the next carriage, I probably would have been an art teacher now. – Eno, 1992

Eno’s working methods, even as early as 1972, demanded a sonic aesthetic built around chance meetings. It is one of the great outcomes of this brilliant artist – clearly his legacy and influence will outlive us all – that his approach was so non-musical and so relying on “intentional” accidents, that in doing so he created some of the most pristine, beautiful and emotional music ever put to tape. What a charge!

In January, 1975, two and a half years after his split from Roxy,  Brian and his painter friend Peter Schmidt released a set of flash cards called Oblique Strategies. The Strategies were a lesson in chance meetings, as they were contradictory declarations intended to be applied to a problem, context, atmosphere, or whatever issue or item the artist wanted to address. Card descriptions included “Put in Earplugs”, “Use Filters”, “What Wouldn’t You Do?” and, famously, “Honour thy error as a hidden intention.” Eno utilized these strategies to some famous recording sessions – David Bowie’s seasoned musicians, put through the classroom broiler of pointers, white chalkboards and oblique card games almost walked out during the making of Lodger (but not before recording ‘Boys Keep Swinging’); forced to do the same, Phil Collins chucked cans of beer at the producer during the recording of Another Green World; Coldplay liked the cards (without any discernible musical advance) and R.E.M name-checked the cards on the track ‘Diminished’. And of course Oblique Strategies have informed a majority of Eno’s solo albums – masterpieces many of them – with one music production house even going as far as to promote the use of the deck as the “Ultimate Recording Tool“. A few years before in 1972, during the recording  of ‘Chance Meeting’, Phil Manzanera was one of the first to be introduced to Eno’s unique way of working:

On ‘Chance Meeting’ they wanted me to play backwards, or rather play forwards while the tape went backwards. When that failed dismally I tried feedback which meant playing so loud I couldn’t hear Bryan singing, only the chord changes. Eno likes that a lot – randomness. Taping one track and then sticking another one over the top without listening to the first one. And with Chance Meeting it was singularly appropriate. – Phil Manzanera, NME 1972

The feedback on ‘Chance Meeting‘ is as chilling as anything Roxy Music ever recorded, virtually negating the interpretation of the song as a classic romantic piece (Brief Encounter, 1945) and placing it in the vanguard of discordant, murderous narratives (Chance Meeting, 1959). With Bryan Ferry’s penchant for supplying lyrics and vocals late in the recording process (much to the frustrations of other band members – but more of that for future posts) it is enticing to think that the track may have been named by Eno, or at the very least named as a result of Eno’s recording techniques, having Manzanera load his guitar feedback sight-unseen onto unheard music, ushering in the randomness, displacement and dislocated creepiness that haunts the track, and keeps us listening so many years later for hidden intent and meaning. Time spent well is so rare…

Titbits

David Bowie, Red Money. Bryan Ferry, Sign of the Times.  The line that plays its hand in ‘Chance Meeting’ is red dress mine. The colour red is a shock, but only in hindsight, and on a close reading. This is Bryan Ferry’s Haiku moment. Haiku is a poetic device that juxtaposes two images or ideas, one of which acts as a “cutting word” or verbal punctuation mark. Red is the cutting word in this song as it comes as us with its seductive connotations of red (sex), dress (flesh), mine (possession) against a backdrop of languid melody and expression. For a period in late 1979 Bowie was intrigued with the colour red and used it as a symbol that could evoke a particular emotion, bringing together thematic ideas that were subliminal instead of explicit. In Lodger, ‘Red Sails’ closes side 1 (red sail action: wakes up in wrong town). ‘Red Money’ closes side 2 (red money, project cancelled: good bye Eno, Iggy, Sister Midnight). Not to be left out, Ferry himself returned to explicit colour imagery in the late 70s: in Red is the bloody sign of the times, he sang as the end of the decade approached. Lipstick ‘n leather, wear ‘n tear…

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Talk Talk

‘Chance Meeting’ lead to After the Flood, the 10 minute epic track on Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock album. Miles and decades apart perhaps, but the kinship between the two bands is deep and the legacy strong. After hitting it big as new wave stars in the early and mid-80s,  Talk Talk abandoned synth-pop and went experimental. Their 1988 album Spirit of Eden and its follow-up, 1991’s Laughing Stock, are brilliant cult classics, steeped in the kinds of jazz-influenced sounds that would later be known as post-rock. Feedback has never sounded so good.

Oblique Strategies, Eno/Schmidt
My own copy (2nd edition), purchased on eBay eons ago. Card just pulled: “Do Nothing as Long as Possible.” Now they tell me.
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The Bob (Medley)

St Paul's in the Blitz

War is hell, and The Bob (Medley) isn’t much better. Of its time, The Bob is another in Bryan Ferry’s first album punning titles (The Battle of Britain) and the song delivers yet another dramatic vocal performance. This one is strained though, and for the first (and thankfully rare) time on a 70s Roxy Music album, the lyrics are trite and forgettable. A year after The Bob was recorded, the band mothballed the track and never performed it again.

For all its shortcomings, The Bob did mark an important plot point for the early Roxy line-up as it was one of the songs recorded for the demo tape sent to the talented Melody Maker writer Richard Williams in 1971:

People didn’t normally send out tapes out of the blue in those days…To this day I don’t know how Bryan found my home address. But there is a note in my diary for March 1971 which states, “Brian coming in to drop off tape” – and that was Bryan. 

So I played the tape, and thought it was pretty extraordinary.
Richard Williams

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 Promotional sticker for the original Roxy Music demo tape//Malcolm Bird

Ferry’s attention to detail was exemplary (“I was quite obsessive“) as he composed the songs, compiled the tapes, ensured the artwork was striking and new, and worked the phones to get the songs in front of the right people – all this 4 months before Roxy had even played their first gig. The Bob’s heritage is marked by its inclusion as part of the early John Peel BBC sessions, first recorded in January 1972, in which the track opens with the sound of air raid sirens and Eno’s sinister pulsing VCS3. The version recorded nine months later for Peel demonstrates a tighter approach, highlighting the increasing musical confidence of the band. The music was exciting art-collage for the cognoscenti:

We’d start off with ‘Memphis Soul’ Stew, and then we’d go into ‘The Bob (Medley)’, this heavy bizarre thing about the Battle Of Britain with synths and sirens. We had everything in there from King Curtis to The Velvet Underground to systems music to ’50s rock ‘n’ roll. At the time we said this was ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and’80s rock’n’roll!
Phil Manzanera

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Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?//Richard Hamilton

The Bob (Medley) is perhaps the most succinct realization of the band’s early avant garde playbook: the track’s modernist mash-up  was central to the early Roxy sound and approach. With his principal passions in music and fine art, Bryan Ferry, post-war coal-steward’s son, 3rd in a line of 4 children, left the Northern grey skies for a study of Fine Art at the University of Newcastle. Here Ferry would study under artist guru and founder of British Pop Art, Richard Hamilton, an extraordinary and key influence on Ferry and Roxy both visually and conceptually, almost to the point where the band can be seen as an actualization and output of an art work – as banal as The Monkees, yet as deep as Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns, Warhol’s Factory. Hamilton predicted what Pop Art (Roxy Music) should be: Popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business!

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Richard Hamilton//1970

“Bryan Ferry – my greatest creation.” (Hamilton quoted in Buckley, 24).

Ferry would come to say that his earliest writings and recordings with the band were a direct attempt to combine his love of music with the creative possibilities and ideas that he had learned from fine art and the teachings of Richard Hamilton. Hamilton’s visual juxtapositions from the 1950s were at the forefront of Ferry’s mind while he composed the music for Roxy Music, with the lyrical and musical collages and collisions of If There is Something and Re-Make/Re-Model in the can, The Bob (Medley) is as arty, funny, indulgent, worthy in subject matter and approach, but not aging very well, much like early Pink Floyd epics Ummagumma (patchy) and Atom Heart Mother (wretched). The track starts with an eerie synth drone, early “madcap technophile” Eno at the helm, before crashing into Bryan Ferry’s hysterical shrill:

I dreamed last night about your face
Your star shone all night
Over the moon it shone brighter
Star shining so bright

The problem with the track is also echoed in the lyric: the ironic stance trips over itself, meta-awareness in spades from a group of art students hip to the Velvet Underground and John Cage. It was in the air: Monty Python was launched on staid BBC 2, and only co-opted in later years by BBC 1 and Hollywood. Three channels (BBC 1, BBC 2, and ITV) held a captive audience of 17-20M viewers from a population of 56M. The Blitz was common currency, Ireland was at War (Bloody Sunday, Jan 1972), the Miners were cutting off the lights, and it was all a bit cold and drab. Why not then deliver an anti-BBC version of The Battle of Britain and revel in the antiquated poetry (Over the moon it shone brighter/Star shining so bright) and chop it all up into a 6 part play. This got up a lot of people’s noses, of course, as spoofing World War 2 was seen as an easy shot, and even though Manzanera and Thompson let rip on some good rock n’ roll power chords, musically the montage just didn’t have anywhere to go.

Recorded: 22 March 1972 at Command Studios, London

Titbits
British Tommy
Trauma is passed from generation to generation. I’ve unwittingly inherited what my father experienced – Pete Townshend, 2012

war kids 2

The effect of World War 2 on a generation is expressed, in part, in those searing and best-selling double albums of the 70s – Tommy (69) and The Wall (79).  In both, murdered Fathers are the source of anger and experience is gained within an often cruel and ignorant society moving through reconstruction, suppressing emotion, engendering guilt (it’s a boy Mrs. Walker). The anger and violence is real in both: Roger Waters has recorded for you the sound of his father being killed in the first wave of fighting as the Allies attempted to secure the beach head at Anzio, south of Rome. And Tommy is rendered mute by the shock of seeing his father murdered (again) as his mother and her killer lover yell at him:

You didn’t hear it, you didn’t see it!
You never heard it, not a word of it!
You won’t say nothin’ to no one,
Never tell a soul what you know is the truth!

The war delivers a wounded legacy to its children. And be careful who you leave your kids with – teachers, bullies, uncles, aunts, cousins – it is chilling to consider that both these records have sold a combined total of 43 million copies.

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Malcolm Bird//Biba
In addition to doing early design work for Roxy Music, Malcolm Bird’s illustrations also have appeared in magazines and newspapers,  greeting cards, comic strips, and books.

//This is Tomorrow //Art exhibition, August 1956
This Is Tomorrow was a seminal art exhibition in August 1956 at the Whitechapel Art Gallery on High Street in London, UK, facilitated by curator Bryan Robertson. The show is now considered a watershed in post-war British Art and in some respects kick-started the development of the British arm of Pop Art. Richard Hamilton was part of the most remembered portion of the exhibit, Group 2, with its Op Art dazzle panels. Bryan Ferry took notes and name-checked the show twenty one years later in his single “This is Tomorrow” from the In Your Mind album.

Dad’s Army was a top show in 1972, further reducing WW2 to even greater depths of  cliche. Series 5, Ep 30, A Solidier’s Farewell: Mainwaring, unhappy because his men are not living up to his expectations and believing his leadership to be unappreciated, dreams he is Napoleon after eating too much toasted cheese. 

Above, Blitz Cinema: Daltrey, Waters, and Pink contemplate their next move.


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2HB

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//Words Don’t Express My Meaning //2HB

BF: I told Mark [Lancaster] I was writing some songs, and he said, “what are they called?” So I said that there was one called ‘2HB’, and he said “Oh that’s so great – writing a song about a pencil.” Which is a very Pop art concept really. Except that I was writing a song about Humphrey Bogart.

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//White jacket black tie wings too//Bogart//Anniversary Poster, Casablanca

Before Nothing Compares 2 U, there was 2HB, Bryan Ferry’s homage to Humphrey Bogart and Casablanca. The song is a declaration of stylistic and thematic intent and there was no pulling punches on the subject and context of his art: the 4th cut on Roxy Music was important enough to Ferry in future years that he resurrected 2HB for the B-side of his first solo single, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (1973) and on his solo album Let’s Stick Together in 1976. Stylistically,  the influence of the white dinner-jacketed Rick Blaine inspired Ferry to transpose Bogart’s Hollywood pose on the cover of his solo album Another Time, Another Place  (the title itself taken from a 1958 movie melodrama); Ferry also released the single Tokyo Joe  based on Bogart’s 1949 movie of the same name. The Bogart/cinema style obsession continued in 1999 with Ferry recording an album with the prime cut from Casablanca, As Time Goes By, of which key lines had already been taken and injected into Roxy’s masterpiece ‘Mother of Pearl’  (It’s still the same old story/Fight for love and glory).  A key influence indeed, with the white tux remaining one of Ferry’s stylistic conceits for much of mid-seventies,  the singer himself looking every inch the 40s film star. The white tuxedo eventually became a cliche, of course, trapping Ferry as much as it probably did Bogart, and later Sean Connery as an increasingly weary James Bond. But at this moment in June 1972 there was something saintly about the white dinner jacket, with the dickey bow black tie wings hinting at danger, without the bother of ever necessarily having to deliver on it. Poster - Casablanca_13
More corn than in the states of Kansas and Iowa combined. But when corn works, there’s nothing better.
– Casablanca
script writer Julius Epstein  

The plot and characterization in Casablanca is of course, sheer hokum. Shot in 1942, right in the middle of World War II,  with millions dead and no end in sight, the Allies grouped and planned Operation Torch – an invasion of North Africa to seize the key ports and airports of  Casablanca, Oran and Algiers. As a result, Casablanca was both entertainment and pure propaganda: the outcome of the war was not assured in 1942, and the melt-down showed no signs of letting up. The film put its nervous audiences in the position of making moral decisions in doomed or difficult circumstances: lust in Paris, love in Morocco, despair and fear everywhere – the film’s characters are painted on a broad moral canvas: the heroine Ilsa is horny but virtuous – she sleeps with equally horny night-club owner Rick Blaine only because she believes that her husband, a renowned fugitive Czech Resistance leader, has been killed during an escape from a concentration camp (she is mistaken). Rick on the other hand is ambivalent, content to drink heavily and run the Café Américain for the loose entertainment of others, as he tries to erase the bitter memories and feelings of his love for Ilsa. By film’s end however, Rick’s ambiguity is quashed by the heroic act of putting the needs of others before his own – guaranteeing safe passage, he saves Ilsa’s husband from certain horrific death, and in doing so provides Ilsa with the insight necessary to move on and live her life heroically, not today or tomorrow, but for the rest of her life (“Was that canon fire or is it my heart pounding?”). Rick is left behind (again) but his sacrifice changes who he is and who he has been. He moves towards a new relationship with the forces that inhabit Casablanca (“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”). 

roxy cinema
//Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine//

I started going to the pictures early on — even when I was at junior school. My dad had an allotment where he grew his vegetables, and that was right next door to the cinema — the Carlton. It was a local fleapit really; but it was my Cinema Paradiso from a very early age, because my mother used to make tea for the projectionist — cakes and scones and sandwiches. So he got these free teas, and we got free tickets. There were wooden benches that you sat on … I saw Gone With the Wind there and all sorts.
BF as told to Michael Bracewell.

Along with the Carlton, Renalto, Regal, Odeon, and Roxy, all were typical names for 20th century British cinema houses. In this regard, Roxy Music is synonymous with ‘Cinema’ Music, and throughout the band’s career the lyrical heft of Ferry’s cinematic, self-aware writing is a consistent triumph. The declaration of love for art, Bogart and cinema is unequivocal:

Oh I was moved by your screen dream
Celluloid pictures are living
Your death could not kill our love for you

It is funny that many reprinted 2HB lyrics have that line as “scream dream” which makes no sense at all given that this is Casablanca and not the Bride of Frankenstein. In any case, the stanza makes some interesting statements about the power of art to move and create an emotional connection; as is typical with Byron Ferry the Romantic, we have art as the “real thing” (Celluloid pictures are living) and the belief that art will triumph death every time (Your death could not kill our love for you).

Art, death, cinema is the subject of 2HB, and the motifs stack up like picture frames: late-night detail (Two people, romantic/Smoky nightclub situation/ your cigarette traces a ladder/white jacket black tie wings too). The imagery is straight out of a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. And direct references to the film populate the lyric:  Here’s looking at you, kid/Ideal love flies away now/You gave her away to the hero all beautifully represent the film and its final scene, the foggy airport runway denouement.

It can be argued that Roxy Music song would be complete without self-referential consideration, and 2HB is no exception: here Ferry identifies a deeper idea and encodes his own (increasing) fame and that uneasy sense a famous person must have – and maybe we all share now in this age of digital film and Facebook – that the captured moment will be seen in the future without our influence or even our actual presence. This is why David Bowie’s last album Blackstar is so spooky and unsettling: it’s not an easy subject, and Ferry admits that words don’t express his meaning: 

Here’s looking at you kid celebrate years
Here’s looking at you kid wipe away tears
Long time since we’re together
Now I hope it’s forever

The subject or character reference is ambiguous (as was also seen in the last verse in If There is Something): it can be taken as a direct reference to Rick and Ilsa in the film, their circumstances of parting and never seeing one another again. Sad, to be sure, but so is the idea that Ferry is singing his dedication to Bogart (looking at you/celebrate years); mourning his death (wipe away tears); mourning his Cinema Paradisio Bogart-watching youth (Long time since we’re together); and encoding his own death in the song towards the time when only the art will remain (Now I hope it’s forever).

Heady stuff indeed, and Ferry seems aware of the conundrum of trying to articulate this uncomfortable idea and recognizes that in a film where music is a key narrative driver – ‘As Time Goes By’ tells the story, holds the memory, divides and unites the protagonists – Ferry admits that notes could not spell out the score: neither words or music by themselves will express the meaning, but all songs can be seen as a declaration of love between composer and reader, for art is life-affirming (it lingers ever) and Ferry’s hero in 2HB is hard to forget, until, that is until his own death (at least not yet).

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2DB
2DB (1947 – 2016)

Titbits

original play w song as time goes byferry time
As Time Goes By is an incredible song, much loved and covered. Melodies like this are indeed forever. The song was written and published by Herman Hupfeld in 1931 for the Broadway musical “Everybody’s Welcome“. Bryan Ferry recorded As Time Goes By (of course he did) for his solo album of the same name.

PlayItAgainSam-Poster
Woody Allen’s Play it Again Sam was released one month before Roxy Music in May 1972. The iconography of Bogart was stronger in the early 70s than it had been at the time of his death in 1957.
Allan: If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not on it, you’ll regret it; maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.
Linda: That is beautiful!
Allan: It’s from Casablanca. … I’ve waited my whole life to say it!

His journey is complete.


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If There is Something – Part 2

Shake Your Head Girl

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 8.09.09 AMFelicity Jones (Ruth) //Flashbacks of a Fool//2008

Think Roxy girl…  I’m gonna be Bryan.
Baillie Walsh

If you’re going to be Bryan, Ruth, you better be able to hit the high notes!  Ferry’s narrative exaggerations and declarations of love fill the ear and mind with wonderful images of Romantic Love and turbulent raw emotion. The song is clearly a quest narrative (if there is something/that I might find?), setting forth in vivid poetic language the signs and symbols that represent our idea of love and human connection, while simultaneously articulating the writer’s struggle to find the right words, feeling and emotion (if there are many meaning the same/Being specific is just a game).  Throughout, the narrative voice and vocal performance is wracked, raw, blissful, operatic, and aware of itself as performance. This finds its epiphanic conclusion in the final stanza, but to sweeten the deal we need first a musical bridge to take us there – a guided path to arrive satisfactorily to the conclusion of Ferry’s 4-act play. Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera respond with a perfect musical link that builds on the band interplay already established on  Re-Make/Re-Model and Ladytron, with the added bonus of introducing a third musical bedrock to the Roxy Music listening experience – The Great Paul Thompson.

roxy label
Friendly Yellow Lights

Brian Eno’s drafted, never-used stage directions for ‘If There is Something’ provide ample insight on band intent for the song:

Friendly yellow lights – cf ‘Oklahoma’
‘I would do.’ – dark and more dramatic
occasional reds in torrid section
grand purple guitar arpeggios – lights on player
Sax solo – fade to morose deep green and violet
‘Shake your head girl’ – pink spot on Bryan
2nd verse spot on Andy and Eno
guitar solo

The beautiful melody refrain backed by chord progression Cm/Bb/Ab/G at 1.39 will ring through the grand purple guitar arpeggios and assure there  is a light is shined on the players. Ferry’s outburst I would do anything for you! delivers the emotional cracked-voice intensity, and ushers in at 2.40-5.05 an instrumental section of some of the most sublime music Roxy ever put to vinyl.

The Bridge: Deep Green and Violet
2.39-2.50: The musical motif is repeated by piano, guitar, but is given full breath by Andy Mackay’s soprano sax, building on the notes until he hits a split (cracked) note clearly heard at 2.45. This is significant as it highlights the avant-garde sensibility and influence of John Coltrane‘s playing on Mackay’s style, a fairly brave move that was new to rock (no cracked notes on Dark Side of the Moon, for example).

2.51-3.26: We hear a rolling barrage of saxophone notes as Mackay repeats the melody motif until it tumbles back onto itself; the ear at this point is now picking up Ferry’s piano, mirroring the same pattern with his signature rhythmic drive. At 3.30 there is a distinct chance that Mackay shifts (with production edit assist?) from soprano to tenor saxophone as he now blows shimmers of wind through the instrument as the tune dives and turns bird-like over and under the signature motif.

3.27-4.44. From this moment on we witness the sublime slow build of the already accomplished horn solo as it pans across the speakers and builds in style similar to elegiac and slow tempi works such as Gorecki’s  Symphony No. 3. Between 4.24-4.39 there is a single-breath sustained note executed with breath-taking skill and emotion, finished with a splinter note at 4.44 to conclusion. If this was a jazz club the applause would leave stand-up room only.

john coltrane oboe
John Coltrane // ‘My Favourite Things’// (1961) | Open Culture

4.44-5.04. As the wind instrument dies and the sound disperses, we are aware of the steady even-handed 4/4 time drumming of Paul Thompson. We recognize the pinched but solid beat has not overwhelmed the soundscape, but rather, has been there all along, sensitive in tone and touch. Producer Pete Sinfield must have realized this for he gives the music room to breathe: drum and piano  syncopate as the song coils towards it final stanza conclusion. Heady stuff, and an absolute shining moment for the drummer Bryan Ferry would henceforth introduce to live audiences as “the Great Paul Thompson.”

paull t
The Great Paul Thompson

If it hadn’t been for Paul Thompson, Roxy Music would have have just been another art rock band
Brian Eno

If There is Something’ has become a strange creature. It’s modified into something else completely…It’s Grand Music, if you know what I mean, it’s got a feeling of grandness about it.
Brian Eno 

Grand Music: Pink Spot on Bryan
In live performance and on record Ferry’s voice cracks as it implores his girl/wife/ /youth/memory to shake it one more time. We have been lifted so far by the glorious music presented by the band, and we are glad to be here. The track has fulfilled the early Roxy promise of presenting rock as artifice: mashed up and hybrid musical stylizations (vaudeville/hillbilly/prog/jazz); narrative perspectives (me/she looking at me/you looking at us); and vocally wrought performances that mimic country stylizations and poetic flights of angst. Now Ferry brings the musical and vocal performance to a religious climax – the message is rapid, repetitive, the delivery is evangelical, sacred even – this is  Psalm 2 years ahead of its release:

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

The shifting of viewpoint and tense is all over the place here, echoing the same strategy of displacement we have seen throughout the song. This does not make for a straight-forward reading or a hymn to innocence lost, as Jonathan Rigby suggests with his nostalgic Ferry  “mourning a ponytailed lost love…commemorating lost youth”(34). Acts 1-3 have demonstrated a shifting perspective on identity and character, and here the trend continues as the pose shifts into meta-analysis, provoked into being by the same kind of epiphanic moment seen in Re-Make/Re-Model – license plate CPL593H and ponytail serve the same function: they produce the emotional reaction that enables the song to be written.

Shake your hair girl with your ponytail – Writer evokes image
Takes me right back Writer indulges nostalgia
Threw your precious gifts into the air “Threw” is interesting; past tense; subject shifting to self?
Watched them fall downRegret 
Lift up your feet and put them on the groundEvokes Self to write a decent song
You used to walk upon – The way is intuitive, natural; the Romantic Ideal
Lift up your feet and put them on the groundAmen!
The trees were taller Obstacles were great
Lift up your feet and put them on the groundAmen!
The grass was greener – Experience was deeper
Lift up your feet and put them on the groundAmen!
You used to walk upon Get Back to the Garden.

There is something very Deliverance about the song as it cycles from hillbilly country yokel, to growing potatoes by the score, through mellotron prog, jazz, back to evangelical fervour, but Ferry and the band are absolutely right in their understanding of emotional nuances, and their powerful music and lyrical congregation produce, as Brian Eno observed, Grand Music in the Oklahoma way.

Recorded: 17 March 1972, Command Studios, London

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Joe remembers to write the letter..//Flashbacks of a Fool//2008

Postscipt: Flashbacks of a Fool. The film, a vanity for project for chums Daniel Craig and Baillie Walsh, uses the song to drive its central narrative and emotional focus. This in itself is a delight for Roxy fans who usually have to suffer through misfired duffs like Velvet Goldmine (a story about David Bowie without any David Bowie songs, told with Roxy Music songs because Bowie wouldn’t let them do David Bowie songs). Thankfully Walsh’s film is a genuine attempt to capture what the song means to him and his era. We salute you Baille and Daniel – seriously, cheers – the sequence of Felicity Jones (Ruth) with young Joe Scot dancing to ‘If There is Something‘ is absolutely brilliant and highlights the elements that make Roxy Music so exciting. (Baille is better anyway with the shorter sequences; cutting his teeth making high profile rock classic videos for Massive Attack and Oasis will have helped). Speak with any artsy younger person about Roxy Music and there is a very good chance that this song and sequence is their reference point for the band. Wait til those young ‘uns see ‘Virginia Plain’ on Top of the Pops!

Titbits

philmanzanera.com
Still Talking. A nice bit of musical interplay between Andy and Phil 40+ years on.

Roxy Music - Viva!
Viva! We’ll review the live Roxy Music album when we crash, chronologically speaking, into its August 1976 release date, but this incredible version of  “If There Is Something” captured at Newcastle City Hall, 27 or 28 October 1974, is well worth calling out. Go on, give it a spin – the sirens are calling.

goreci
Symphony No. 3 (Górecki)
The saddest record ever made.


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If There is Something – Part 1

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 6.31.05 PM//Flashbacks of a Fool//2008

How fantastic is this song? How could you choose between Bryan Ferry and David Bowie? They’re gods!
Baillie Walsh

Re-Make/Re-Model‘ and ‘Ladytron‘ received justified glowing attention in the Roxy Music album reviews during that “abnormally cool; generally changeable and dull” British summer of 1972.  The first two tracks were highly regarded both in the John Peel live session(s) format and as energetic studio cuts under Peter Sinfield. Strangely, the epic third track ‘If There is Something’ seemed to lose points by comparison, possibly due to its ambitious narrative structure or because of a stated overuse of that damn mellotron (“an obvious mistake,” noted Melody Maker). Roxy Music were fortunate to have signed with E.G. Records, David Enthhoven and John Gaydon’s respected management firm who’d managed to score a hit with King Crimson and their classic In the Court of the Crimson King. In doing so, Roxy joined a high-profile, high-prog stable that included King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, so barbs regarding the mellotron were to be expected (even warranted).  Writing for the NME, Tony Tyler praised the album but judged ‘If There Is Something’ to be less successful, “I wish it weren’t there because there’s too much Crimson-quoting.” (Again with the bloody mellotron!).

Over the course of four decades the song has gained in stature and power, triggering much discussion, praise, narrative analysis, and a surprising stamp of approval from the Millennials in the form of a major Hollywood movie vanity project. And who are we to argue? ‘If There is Something’ is arguably the best track on the album, delivering a sublime Ferry lyric and melody; a John Coltrane-level solo from Andy Mackay; gorgeous guitar work from Phil Manzanera, and – shake your hair girl! – the definitive introduction to the Great Paul Thompson on record. You heard it here first kids, this one has it all…

oklahomaWhat interests me, far more than ambiguity, is juxtaposing things so they shock
Bryan Ferry, 1972

Writing in his diary (‘Roxy, early, 71-72’, quoted from Brackwell),  Brian Eno designed and staged (on paper at least) his idea of how the song could be presented to a live audience:

‘If There is Something’
Friendly yellow lights – cf ‘Oklahoma’
‘I would do.’ – dark and more dramatic
occasional reds in torrid section
grand purple guitar arpeggios – lights on player
Sax solo – fade to morose deep green and violet
‘Shake your head girl’ – pink spot on Bryan
2nd verse spot on Andy and Eno
guitar solo

In this sketch we get a clear sense of sense of how the band felt about the song, how they  viewed its various components and narrative conceits. Eno’s reference to yellow lights viz ve ‘Oklahoma’ is prescient as in the opening bars we have big country music, the expanse and optimism of Old West sheen brought to us by Phil Manzanera’s good ‘ol boy scale runs and slide guitar refrain. It may not be ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin‘ but this is jocular, hillbilly music and the approach is cheeky indeed, considering contemporary critics didn’t like cheeky rock bands (see the Doors through the eyes of Lester Bangs, for instance). Perhaps this is the reason why ‘If There is Something’ did not click with some reviewers – the honkey tonk piano and twangy guitar was witty but suspect: it was either musically naive or it was taking the piss – neither of which was very cool to the musical press.  Of course it was taking the piss! (Of course it wasn’t taking the piss!).  This was early Roxy Music juxtaposition at play, and it was shocking (and funny).

Friendly Yellow Lights

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?
Try to keep a straight course not easy

After the opening coda of country guitar and drums, Ferry enters in with an Americanized strained yokel accent – I-If there is ah s-something, that ah m-might fiiindd – and we quickly recognize that our singer has kicked off a call and response here, the first and second part of the first line divided into two voices, a pattern that continues as said juxtaposed conversation between two different voices or selves throughout the first verse:

If there is something (enter wobbly country yokel) 
That I might find (enter new voice, production echo)
Look around corners (country yokel)
Try to find peace of mind (echo voice)
I say, Where would you go (yokel)
If you were me? (echo)
Try to keep a straight course not easy (yokel / echo combine)

The song is clearly a quest narrative, in this instance a quest for “peace of mind,” and it again quite uncannily captures Bryan Ferry’s key concerns, even within this early pre-fame persona: The dedication to a quest for knowledge (art school) vs. party-time wasting (rock school).  Try to keep a straight course not easy!

follow-thru 3
//Follow Thru//Lloyd Corrigan & Laurence Schwab//1930

The call and response pattern continues in the second verse but the gaze is crucially shifted from looking/seeking to being seen/sought:

Somebody spe-cial / looking at me
A certain re-action /we find what should it try to be?, 
I mean if there are many /meaning the same
Being specific is just a game

This is metafictional self-consciousness writ large: the looker now finds himself looked at (around that corner) but artfully steps outside himself to consider (construct) what his re-action should be – if many (possibilities) mean the same, then the possibility of natural Ideal Love is rendered meaningless within the slippery medium of language, awareness, and randy thought. Roxy has taken us here before: in Re-Make/Re-Model the love object is recalled through the recollection of license plate CPL593H – the cleverness of the image being the true love subject of the song!

In the first two stanzas of IT IS, Bryan Ferry expounds on the professional and personal conundrum that has provided the jet fuel of his exemplary writing and music for over five decades.  The man is, by many accounts, an obsessive possessing  an intensity of intent and work ethic coupled with a melancholy disposition (Rigby/Bracewell/Buckley). In this regard, Bryan Ferry is truly a modern Romantic thinker in the mold of a Bryon or Shelley, intellectually gifted, seeking his one natural and passionate (intuitive) Ideal, yet also slightly morose in his infatuation with the impossibility of knowledge or love in this degraded, meta-textual world. There are sublime examples of this mind-set in the Roxy albums that follow (For Your PleasureSiren) but this record, at 1.39 in,  is just finding its voice and the band have lots of space yet to deliver their extraordinary literary and muscular musical argument.

Dark and More Dramatic

The 3rd act of this 4 act play is where Ferry constructs his vision of the Ideal Love and that image is at both once profoundly touching and, let it be said, gently, intentionally,  hilarious:

I would do anything for you / I would climb mountains
I would swim all the oceans blue 
I would walk a thousand miles / reveal my secrets
More than enough for me to share
I would put roses round our door / sit in the garden
Growing potatoes by the score

What woman (or man) could resist such declarations of love?  This guy would walk a thousand miles, swim not just the ocean blue but all the oceans! This is the promise of life’s commitment to domesticity  – roses are dutifully placed round the door, secrets are revealed, and potatoes are grown by the score (this is Oklahoma after all). Look closer though, and there is doubt in the declaration, and the structural tense provides the clue: contrast the declaration of I would walk a thousand miles with I will walk a thousand miles.  Would is the past tense form of will. Because it is a past tense it is used to talk about the past, or to talk about things that are imagined rather than true. 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.  

Titbits
If There Is Something (BBC SESSION 1972)
This is an excellent BBC session recorded on 18th July 1972 at Maida Vale studios, broadcast on Sounds Of The Seventies with John Peel on August 1st.

young ferry 2

If There is Something – Memphis IndustriesScreen Shot 2016-05-08 at 8.03.54 PMA nice synthetic version with Bryan Ferry vocals evoked with taste and confidence.

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 8.07.32 PM
There is a really fun and sensitive discussion of the ‘If There is Something’ by Roxy fans on the forum at John O’Brien’s excellent Roxy Music site (http:// www.vivaroxymusic.com). The number of insights makes for fascinating reading and one can only hope that the 4-act version of the song argued here adds to the dialog.

Ferry/Shelley
The picture accompanying Dark and More Dramatic is of the great Romantic Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. As the synopsis says, regarded by many as among the finest lyric, as well as epic, poets in the English language.