Buttercups daisies and most anything
They wither and fade
After blossom in Spring
Time conquers innocence
Pride takes a fall
In knowledge lies wisdom
I. Everything Changes
I’m trying to avoid your question as best I can. I don’t know anything about love at all.
‘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.
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.
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
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.
Weather blows hot or cold
Through alchemy iron turns gold
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:
- “Time con-quers inn-o-cence/Pride takes a fall”
- “Quick-silver ba-a-by/So hard to pin down”
- “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.
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.
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
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
Through every step a change
For Your Pleasure
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.
Next: Just Like You – Part 2. Everything changes: Roxy Mach II takes shape!