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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Sunset


Sunset (Ferry), Stranded Roxy Music 1973

I think it’s fair to say this album ends strongly.

Roxy Fan, Online Forum

Roxy Music’s 1973 album Stranded concludes on a tranquil and highly poetic note with the Bryan Ferry composition ‘Sunset‘. Following a long line of excellent – and sometimes overlooked – closing tracks, ‘Sunset‘ is the precursor to ‘Just Another High‘ (Siren) and the excellent ‘Spin Me Round‘ (Manifesto), both book-end songs that manage in their reflective state to sum up the themes of the album or, at the very least, give final hearing to the thoughts of the narrator and lyricist.  If the history of story-telling requires a change in character in order to resolve conflict, Ferry chooses to close Stranded with the most clear-cut, unambiguous and concise poetry of his career. To that end, it’s worth quoting the song in full at the outset:

Oh look at the sun – it’s all a-glow
Slow burning star – sinking low
Heaven knows where you go
Out of sight, out of minds eye, no

Aw such a shame – you must leave
All day long you were a friend to me
Still – the moon´s company
Until morning when larks will sing

Horizon´s appointment you´ll keep
For sunswept flamingos must sleep
Scenes like these from my dreams
Cover cutting-room floors all over …..

Warm heart we spin slowly from view
Why are you sad – do you disapprove?
How we´ve wasted our time
Sunset – end of my day – my decline

Postscript you trace colours the sky
Red-letter light fades, is filed away
Sunburst fingers you raise
One last sigh of farewell – goodbye

If you took it upon yourself to teach a poetry class, you could do no better than present ‘Sunset‘ for analysis: composed in classic format – five four-line quatrains presented in even meter – Ferry and Roxy PR man and English PhD holder Simon Puxley went for clarity of expression, inclusive imagery and straight-forward sentiment. (After five years of translating Roxy Music‘s often dense postmodern verse, I mention this with considerable relief).

A beautiful evening sunset provides a number of metaphorical opportunities for writers: it can signify the end of the day, the end of the line, end of proceedings, exhaustion, terminus – or, conversely, the promise of a new day or beginning (see: Midnight Cowboy). If this was Ernest Hemingway it would mean death. (As did just about everything). If it was Emily Dickinson, then it would mean enduring and relentless poetry – “Sunset“, “The Juggler of Day”, “The Coming of Night”, “The Sea of Sunset” – and so on.

Bryan Ferry’s favourite poets include the metaphysical John Donne and the brilliant modernist T.S. Eliot (Eliot was sharp enough to keep anyone’s attention – The Waste Land is spectacular). John Donne wrote ‘The Sun Rising’, and this may well have been an influence for ‘Sunset‘ (“Busy old fool, unruly sun“). Similarly Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock‘ looms heavy in ‘Sunset’, in inspiration if not execution. Prufrock’s world view is melancholic, funny in its darkness, anxious about aging, mortality, and how best to spend our time (“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons”). This is a favored Ferry trope and his narrators always invite the audience to listen in and share in the roguish melancholy:

Then I step back thinking of life´s inner meaning and my latest fling” (‘Mother of Pearl’);

Here as I sit at this empty cafe, Thinking of you” (A Song for Europe);

I hope something special will step into my life” (‘Editions of You‘)

“Valerie please believe it never could work out…” (‘Beauty Queen‘)

And so on.

What is notable about Ferry’s lyrics – in addition to their honesty and camp high Romanticism (“I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!” Shelley) – is their haunting atmospheres and compelling imagery. Early Roxy Music (1972-1973) was the high water mark of early Ferry lyricism, as For Your Pleasure and Stranded presented archetypal literary symbolism to convey strong feelings of emotion, like a painter choosing chiaroscuro to highlight the contrasts between light and dark. If the energy of Stranded emanates in shades of red and gold, sun-kissed glamour and slow smouldering flames, then sister album For Your Pleasure mediates on encroaching darkness, personal guilt, worry, shyness, even embarrassment (“tongue tied, the thread of conversation“). For Ferry, darkness shifts to light as a means of working through a problem:

Until the cloak of evening shadow
Changes to mantle of the dawn
Will it be sunny then I wonder?

Strictly Confidential

In the morning
Things you worried about last night
Will seem lighter
I hope things will turn out all right

For Your Pleasure

The cyclical pattern of day/night, darkness/light is utilized by the singer-songwriter with the sensitivity of a Romantic troubadour, providing compelling contrast to the pop-art sensationalism of Roxy gems such as ‘Virginia Plain‘, ‘Do the Strand‘, ‘Re-Make/Re-Model‘ or even ‘Street Life‘. Beginning with ‘Chance Meeting‘ from first album Roxy Music, Ferry delighted in taking us into those darker interior states seen on For Your Pleasure (‘In Every Dream Home’, ‘The Bogus Man’, ‘Strictly Confidential’). And while troubled ghosts still wander the corridors of Stranded, (‘Psalm’, ‘Amazona’, ‘Mother of Pearl’), it feels like we’re getting to the end of Ferry’s obsession with existential analysis – an interrogation of modernity as it relates to spiritual and moral concerns – in favor of a more self-focused scrutiny.

Essentially, by early 1974 Ferry had cracked it, had achieved his goals in terms of celebrity, influence and art – yet couldn’t quite see where to go next. The problems of living in the world – affairs of the heart, human stupidity, physical decay – were insolvable. Suicide wasn’t an option.  The cultural revolution that he, Brian Eno and Andy Mackay had given voice to in British pop music hadn’t really changed anything, except setting a higher standard for what could be accepted as ‘Pop music’ (Roxy were a brainy group; and lyrically, Ferry had introduced pop-art and literary ideas to a very wide audience). The experience of creating art remained largely schizophrenic in nature. The bright lights no longer confused, but the highs didn’t take you beyond the Milky Way either. Love and commitment did not come any easier, in fact relationships now came with risk, agendas, the possibility of public betrayal. “Don’t ask why I’m feeling blue,” Ferry asked at the beginning of Strandedyet by the close of the record he had come to recognize the truth – that he was indeed stranded: “With every goddess a let down, every idol a bring down. It gets you down.

And so, by shifting to third-person omniscient mode for ‘Sunset’ – ergo, author-as-God, creator of worlds – Ferry raises his arms to the heavens to engage with the Big Questions – destiny, morality, fate. We’ve been here before with ‘In Every Dream Home, a Heartache (“Is there a heaven? / I’d like to think so“). Similarly, in ‘Just Like You‘ the narrator wonders if Lady Luck (“old and sage“) will continue to smile down on his secular antics (“to gamble with fate is my crime“). And so too ‘Sunset‘ is designed to address questions of Universality, of inclusiveness, closing the book on the day’s events while also metaphorically bringing the Stranded album to a close:

Oh look at the sun – it’s all a-glow
Slow burning star – sinking low
Heaven knows where you go
Out of sight, out of minds eye, no


This beautiful sunset
burns brightly in its dying moments “all a-glow” as the final rupture of light illuminates the sky before nightfall. The metaphor references both our Earthly sun – that huge celestial body of hydrogen and helium – and Ferry’s own “slow burning star” – the man, the myth – as he journeys on his ‘solo trip’ beyond the stars (“Where do we go? We’ll never know“). Carefully balancing the cosmic with the personal, Ferry assures us that the sun and the bright lights will never be forgotten as long as he (and his creativity) lives: “Out of mind’s eye, no” – he says with a wink, punning on the phrase ‘Mind’s I’ – that line of philosophical inquiry that examines the nature of the Self.

This shift to the internal is intentional as the sunset settles behind the horizon and Ferry shifts his (and our) attention towards the act of authorship and the writing process:

Horizon´s appointment you´ll keep
For sunswept flamingos must sleep
Scenes like these from my dreams
Cover cutting-room floors all over …..

Those “sunset flamingos” are an important marker for the singer-songwriter, having made their first appearance in Roxy Music’s hit single ‘Virginia Plain‘ – the song that provided the template for Ferry’s persona-shifting, celebrity-crashing manifesto (“What’s real and make believe“). “Dance the cha-cha through til sunrise,” we were told with energy and bravado, an exciting future unfolding for the band (and audience): “Just like flamingos, look the same, So me and you, just we two, Got to search for something new.”

By the time of ‘Sunset’ and Stranded‘s release 15 months later, the time to retire this idea had come – the sun is shutting down, keeping its “horizon’s appointment“, and those glamorous sunswept flamingos “must sleep.” The next lines are stunning in their statement of defiant creativity, facing down an unruly and uncaring universe, the author situates himself in the work – like Rembrandt painting himself into Raising of the Cross:

Scenes like these from my dreams
Cover cutting-room floors all over …..

The cinematic aspect of Ferry’s fever-dream, the creation of Roxy Music (literally, ‘cinema music’), is made explicit with reference to scenes that litter “cutting room floors“. This is the dramatist-behind-the curtain, turning ideas into art – or better yet – chasing down the art inspiration: those flavors of the mountain streamline, the Cha-cha and sunswept flamingos. The sentiment is delicate (“Warm heart“), but also a little paranoid, fearful. Classic Ferry:

Warm heart we spin slowly from view
Why are you sad – do you disapprove?
How we´ve wasted our time
Sunset – end of my day – my decline

Postscript:

Postscript you trace colours the sky
Red-letter light fades, is filed away
Sunburst fingers you raise
One last sigh of farewell – goodbye

The beautiful ‘Sunset’ postscript concludes Stranded with a final sigh of farewell. The serene and powerful music ebbs, the production winds to a close, the author looks to the future. 1974 would be a busy year for Roxy Music and solo band projects, and Ferry would continue to chase down his experiences and share them with his audience. In this regard ‘Sunset’ marks the culmination of a period in Roxy Music’s development and output. There is much magic to come, but from here on in Ferry’s persona-shifting would settle – for better or worse – on that white tuxedo. Subject matter increasingly focuses on the myth of the newly created Idol ‘Bryan Ferry’ as told and experienced by Bryan Ferry. (Good work if you can get it).

By the close of Stranded, the author puts down his paints (“trace colours the sky“), sets aside his lyrics (“red-letter light fades, is filed away“), and waves a personal farewell to his audience in the same fading blaze of red that has dominated the album:

Sunburst fingers you raise
One last sigh of farewell – goodbye

It’s all tremendously moving. Not a simple song by any means, ‘Sunset’ makes simplicity look easy, as all sunsets must do as their power brightens before lowering inexorably towards the horizon at the end of our days.

“We were convinced that we were in pursuit of a will-o’-the-wisp, ever receding, ever changing, ever beckoning”

– Donald Baxter MacMillan on his futile search for Crocker Island, Artic Suns, Greenland (1913-1917)

Credits:  First shot, last shot: Explorer’s stunning photographs of the Arctic Sun from 110 years ago, Flashbak; Fan comment comes from Steve Hoffman forums, here; capture from Art’s Greatest Kisses, BBC; Bryan Ferry deep in thought Bournemouth beach NME 1974 (I think photo credit is Penny Smith, will check); neon pink Flamingo for sale (I quite like it – where can I buy); montage: a really fabulous American artist, Jeff Burgess – his view of the Mind’s I, artistic process (here: https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-minds-eye-jeff-burgess.html).

Special thank you for Jonathan Rigby’s excellent entry on ‘Sunset’ in his book Roxy Music: Both Ends Burning. “The lyric is one of Ferry’s best”. No argument there, Jonathan. (Though time is ripe for a reprint on your book – current price is $172 CDN!).

Next: I love Stranded even more now than when I started writing about it a year ago. The album marked the end of the high-water mark of the English literary tradition in Bryan Ferry’s lyrics, and the beginning of a harder edge glamour that fused rock spectacle with Weimar decadence. Country Life is in the mail, folks! First things first: we’ll stop by Brian Eno‘s first foray post-Roxy – the brilliant collaboration ‘No Pussyfooting’ (1973) with Robert Fripp. Let’s settle in with a little Heavenly Music Corporation for a bit. Til next time!


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Mother of Pearl – Part 3

Mother of Pearl – Part 1
Mother of Pearl – Part 2
Mother of Pearl (Ferry), Recorded September 1973
Mother of Pearl Lyric (Ferry)

Well I’ve been up all night (again?) party-time wasting is too much fun.

Mother of Pearl’ appeared as the penultimate track on Roxy Music UK #1 album Stranded (1973). Commonly recognized as one of the most assured and satisfying songs in the Roxy canon, the track concluded an LP that had already showcased some of the band’s best work including ‘Street Life‘ (UK #1 single), ‘Just Like You‘, ‘Amazona‘, ‘Serenade‘ and ‘A Song for Europe‘ before landing magnificently on ‘Mother of Pearl‘. Album closer ‘Sunset‘ would provide a stunning epilogue to Stranded, wrapping neatly Ferry’s concerns with mortality, the role of art, love and obsession, constructed identities, theatricality and camp – all designed by a newly anointed pop star ambitious to satisfy sensation-hungry audiences.

‘Mother of Pearl’ is milestone recording for Roxy Music due to its pitch perfect presentation of these ideas, delivered via a striking and original three-part structure (Party/Comedown/Epilogue) and an alternating savage/sublime arrangement composed and played by band members Phil Manzanera, Paul Thompson, and guest bassist John Gustafuson, with major contributions from producer Chris Thomas and band multi-instrumentalist Andy Mackay (who largely sits this one out). These ingredients are capped by a career-high performance by lead Roxy singer-songwriter Bryan Ferry, an artist so on his game in 1973 that he co-wrote and recorded Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure, Stranded and released his own hit solo album These Foolish Things – an astonishing work-rate that culminated in the peerless and lasting achievement of ‘Mother of Pearl’.

II. Comedown: Lyrics, Vocals

During last month’s ‘Mother of Pearl’ deep dive (ah hem) we explored the hard-rocking Party opening section (Part 1) and the sublime Comedown backing-track laid down by Roxy Music and producer Chris Thomas (Part 2). We now arrive at what many consider the key ingredient to ‘Mother of Pearl’s success: Bryan Ferry‘s lyrical and vocal performance, recorded, as legend has it, in a single take during the late hours of an unusually warm London September night. In his book Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, music journalist Simon Reynolds succinctly writes:

‘Mother of Pearl’ would be a fabulously beautiful and inventive piece of music on its own, but it would be empty without Ferry’s words and his vocal performance…

Simon Reynolds  (“Glam”, p 362).

I thought [Bryan Ferry] was the most exciting singer that I’d heard. His voice had limitations, but what he managed to do with it was beautiful, I mean, b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l. For me it covered the whole emotional spectrum, and I just couldn’t get enough of it.

Kate Bush

For the first major iteration of Roxy Music (’72-’75), Bryan Ferry‘s vocal style and on-stage persona was, as Roxy observer Paul Stump puts it, “often over-emphatic”: “When one expects a top note from Ferry it often arrives in exaggerated vibrato or in a semi-spoken form.” Ferry agrees: “I tend to be very woo woo woo!” he once admitted (humorously). Yet, as all Roxy fans know, Ferry may have a technically limited range but his ability to convey menace, wit, longing, obsession, menace (or even joy) is one of the many pleasures of listening to Roxy Music. This impressive range covers a wide span of human experience and emotion, from the icy tenor of For Your Pleasure‘s ‘Strictly Confidential‘ to the despondent hedonism of the sex doll fiend in ‘In Every Dream Home, a Heartache‘, to ‘Bogus Man‘s multi-tracked heavy-breathing predator, or pushing further on Stranded as the baleful suitor (‘Just Like You‘), laid-back hipster (‘Amazona‘), romance ballader (‘Song for Europe‘), and onto the narrative pièce de résistance of ‘Mother of Pearl‘. A truly impressive array of characters and narrative performances, particularly for rock as distributed and digested in 1973 (true, Bowie was treading similar territory at the same time, but Bowie’s take was one character per album, not necessarily one character per song). Andy Mackay once noted, due to Ferry’s persona-adopting irony-laden narratives, Roxy Music did not necessarily communicate a wide emotional range (“such as sentimentality”) – yet the opposite could also be said: to get under somebody’s skin, to inhabit who they are, to portray an emotional point-of-view within a pop music format is a sincere attempt to capture the breadth of the human experience with the bonus for the listener being highly visceral and vastly entertaining.

The heavily-stylized vibrato changed over the years of course, from the slightly hysterical pitch used Roxy Music (“shake your head girl…“), to the richer (and better recorded) vocal performances on For Your Pleasure and Stranded, in particular the rich baritone Ferry used on ‘A Song for Europe‘ (“Here as I sit at this empty cafe..”). Performing and recording provided more experience and therefore more more options and by Stranded Ferry was increasingly committed to presentation of character through vocal and lyric, adopting personas in the same manner of presenting a play or a film:

With every song you play, … you take an aspect of yourself and either simplify it or ham it up. To some extent it’s like method acting. In an hour and half show you go through a lot of different moods, one right after the other… You say to yourself, how does this song go? Oh yeah, then you get into a role for it and leave that role when the song ends.

Bryan Ferry

The 2nd splendid part of ‘Mother of Pearl’ – the Comedown – finds Ferry’s narrator in a contemplative mood: the Party is over, the girl has gone home (presumably), and the party animal contemplates his loneliness from the vantage point of success – there is no fretting over jobs, no immediate Monday morning commitments, just a philosophical, even spiritual – perhaps comically so – review of where his life is going, where his dreams have taken him, and how he’s spending his time:

Well I´ve been up all night (Again?) party-time wasting is too much fun
Then I step back thinking of life´s inner meaning and my latest fling

It´s the same old story all love and glory it´s a pantomime

Ferry amusingly quotes from Humphrey Bogart‘s classic Casablanca as Sam sings and plays sings ‘As Time Goes By‘ (“It’s the same old story/A fight for love and glory“) and it sounds like the our hero has been at the bar a lot recently. The mock-shock of “Again?” is well-positioned and hilarious, sounding like an ex-wife or trusted friend trying to tell you something that you should already know (but won’t admit). And in a sense this is what ‘Mother of Pearl’ does throughout its 6:52 duration – bouncing as it does from thrill to comedown, from comedy to despondency as we consider the contradictions of replaying those oft-repeated stories of our lives (that “same old story“).

Again?” is also the last voice we’ll hear from the opening party scene, that multi-tracked demented high society rave-up: from here on it’s all pantomime as Ferry acts out for us in the privacy of his personal drama the disappointments, the loss of innocence, the deflated sense of self in a world that contains no more heroes and, subsequently, no more starry-eyed dreams. Against this backdrop, then, the search for love is only the first in a series of disappointments:

If you’re looking for love in a looking glass world it’s pretty hard to find

In Johnny Rogan‘s salacious (and entertaining) Roxy Music biography Style with Substance there is a finger-wagging chapter called “False Images and Lost Goddesses” where Ferry is accused of having the “unfortunate habit of associating with publicity-seeking glamour girls who hardly fit the Virgin Mary image attributed to them in his songs” (ibid). Roxy girls Kari-Ann Mueller, Amanda Lear and Playmate of the Year (1972) Marilyn Cole are presumably the publicity-seeking glamour queens in question yet it’s hard to see where any of these young Roxy models could be idealized as the Virgin Mary … Certainly none of the album covers nominate them for saint-hood as they radiate desire and attraction, from Pop Confection, to Femme Fatale, to Damsel in Distress

The Roxy aesthetic has always preferred a certain sleaziness in it presentation of sex and relationships – Roxy songs are riddled with affairs, betrayal, vanity, histrionic emotion, exaggerated posturing and breakdown. With Roxy, lovers and partners are marketable and replaceable, and once spent they become destined for the scrap heap:

Just looking through an old picture frame
Just waiting for the perfect view

I hope something special will step in to my life
Another fine edition of you
A pin-up done in shades of blue

Editions of You

Career girl cover exposed and another slips right into-view
Oh looking for love in a looking glass world is pretty hard for you

Mother of Pearl

Who in this age of Tinder, Bumble, or OKCupid would not agree that this carte du jour aspect of modern dating or match-making was identified, in part, by Ferry in the early Roxy songs. “Popular, transient, expendable, low cost” was how pop-art teacher Richard Hamilton explained the packaging of desire to the eager young art student – and the student responded in kind with music that celebrated Hollywood glamour – (“take two people, romantic/Smoky nightclub situation”); the pin-up lifestyle (“oh the way you look/make my starry eyes shiver”), and irony at a very cool distance (“she’s the sweetest queen I’ve ever seen (CPL593H)“). Clearly, Ferry also nailed the second half of Hamilton’s pop-art manifesto by producing music that was “young, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business” (Hamilton).

By the time of Stranded though there is a shift away from equating romance with consumerism, as Ferry cashes in his chips and leaves the more disposable aspects of the pop-art movement behind, moving with conviction towards something classic, even heroic: ‘Just Like You‘, ‘Psalm‘, ‘Serenade‘ and particularly ‘Song for Europe‘ show increasing maturity of social observation and narrative detail, with the sense that the writing is now being composed and applied in the manner of a Romantic painter. Ferry’s theme is still his attraction to glamour and beauty (“Serpentine sleekness was always my weakness“) but just as paint is slowly absorbed into canvas, the issues of light, colour, and how one perceives and composes those elements becomes the subject of the work. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see the first glimpse into Bryan Ferry’s future solo career, with each subsequent album vying for the status of hard-won masterpiece, a prime example being the luxuriant and densely layered Mamouna – a record that took eight full years to satisfactorily get down on tape. Seductive. Addictive. And just out of reach.

Divine intervention always my intention so I take my time
I´ve been looking for something I’ve always wanted but was never mine

Divine interventionis a good gag on a track full of good gags, but the longing of “looking for something” that was “never mine” is emotionally grounded. Here we see Ferry shifting the focus away from the lover as flesh and blood subject – the magazine pin-ups of Roxy Music and ‘Virginia Plain‘ are gone, as are the women of ‘Pyjamarama‘ and ‘Just Like You‘ with their “secret lives”, and emotional detachment (“Quicksilver baby/so hard to pin down“). Instead Ferry cannot take his eyes off the real prize:

But now I’ve seen that something just out of reach – glowing – very Holy grail

Ferry uses the Grail myth to poke fun at the worth of his own obsessions (“my own predilections“) as they remain stubbornly “out of reach.” And what might those obsessions be? If women were the only problem then this would be Roxy choice cut ‘Casanova‘ (next album, next set of problems). If proving strength and heroism was the objective, then the Grail image would suffice. But there is grit in this song, a substance that Ferry is trying to get hold of in order to make something beautiful. As cultural critic Simon Reynolds observes of 20th century art, its makers and its audience:

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

Simon Reynolds

Now too clever to ‘fall for the illusion’ anymore Ferry, the craftsman, song-writer and master illusionist (“you get into a role”) is chasing down his material for Stranded, honing his craft in order to deceive and seduce, and ultimately, produce something beautiful and long-lasting.

And so what serves ‘Mother of Pearl’ so well is this focus on the powers of attraction, the bringing attention to the illusion-building process itself. Like the substance found in the natural world that gives Stranded‘s penultimate track its title, mother-of-pearl (or nacre), is a multi-coloured iridescent substance found in the internal layer of shells and oysters. This nacre stuff is secreted when grit or sand gets inside the shell. As a result, grit and dirt are the critical base materials needed to create bright shiny attractive sheen – the glamour effect. In this light (pardon the pun) we can intuit Ferry’s true intent: ‘Mother of Pearl’ does not actually celebrate the pearl, nor the diamond, nor the jewel, nor even the pin-up girl or Beauty Queen – Ferry is mesmerized by the transformative power of glamour as process: the creativity that builds beauty from grit, the craft that turns the ordinary into the extraordinary, the sweat that builds a song into masterpiece.

I don’t think there’s one spare syllable in those lyrics that Bryan wrote that he wouldn’t have been happy with

Chris Thomas

Right from the get-goMother of Pearl‘ transforms mundane reality into shimmering fantasy. We arrive at our destination having set off on the sidewalks of ‘Street Life‘ (“come with me cruising down the streets“), encountering a multitude of adventures along the way, meeting amazon beauty queens, fashion-house ladies, televangelists, even Lady Luck herself (“Who knows what you’ll see, who you might meet“), until finally we arrive at our Party destination and step into a world of physical change and thrilling action (“Turn the lights down“/”walk a tight rope“/“take a powder“). Drugs. Sex. Glamour. In an instant Ferry shifts us from dull grey to heightened effervescence – where everything is “glowing“/”lustrous“/”shimmering” – and he doesn’t stop for a breath as we move beyond ‘Virginia Plain‘s ‘Flavors of the mountain streamline’, past the stars in the sky (“higher than the milky way“) and ever upwards toward heights of luxury dreamed of by the many, yet experienced only by the few:

Fall on feather-bed quilted faced with silk softly stuffed eider down

‘Mother of Pearl’ transports us into the world of the glamorous and the very rich: Ferry’s obsession with the upwardly mobile – in particular the self-belief and posturing needed to move from working-class hero to jet-setting rock star – has been an essential Roxy trope, providing Ferry with some of his greatest insights: early cut ‘Beauty Queen‘ dazzles in its rags-to-riches story as Ferry recognizes in Valerie a mirror-image of his own dreams:

Swaying palms at your feet
You’re the pride of your street..
Gold number with neighbours
Who said that you’ll go far
Maybe someday be a star

Street Life‘ famously tells us to skip the road well travelled (“Pointless passing through Harvard or Yale/Only window shopping – it’s strictly no sale“) and throughout the Roxy canon those who scratch and claw their way to the top are given particular attention – like the dig at For Your Pleasure Roxy cover girl Amanda Lear in Pyjamarama “(They say you have a secret life/Made sacrifice your key to paradise“). Secrets around Lear’s past and sexual identity (see here) provide Ferry with-the-diamond-in-the-rough narrative so clearly influenced by his own working-class upbringing, the coal miner’s son, industrial Newcastle’s own pride of the street. (Sorry Sting, get your own fan blog).

Golden girls Valerie and Amanda aren’t the only rags-to-riches Roxy ladies Ferry draws attention to, the theme reaching somewhat of a peak on Stranded. The game is afoot for the female subject of ‘Psalm‘ as the narrator denounces the social climber for switching beliefs as easily as trying on a new pair of shoes: “Try on your love/Like a new dress/The fit and the cut/Your friends to impress“. Meanwhile the lover in ‘Just Like You‘ refashions herself – according to taskmaster Ferry – with all the skill and trickery of the seasoned alchemist:

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

Amazona‘ takes the quicksilver change a step-further as Ferry assumes the role of enchanter and magician, assisting his pupil in their desire to re-make and re-model:

Hey little girl is something wrong
I know it’s hard for you to get along…
But your castles in Spain
Still maybe realised

Castles in Spainis Fool’s Gold, a trap of false illusions. Yet Ferry presses on regardless, having been there himself, his rough exterior softening, the magician behind the curtain:

Little one, take my hand
I’ll try to help you there
I’ll take you there

Ferry then takes this glittering “jungle music” (his words) and bakes the themes of change and dream fulfillment directly onto the Stranded album sleeve itself: rags-to-riches cover girl Marilyn Cole was internationally famous at the time of Stranded’s release, having been named Playboy’s magazine’s January 1972 Playmate of the Month, as well as their 1972 Playmate of the Year, the only Briton to hold that title (Wiki). Her rapid rise to fame in two short years – 1971-1973 – mimics exactly Bryan Ferry‘s own whiplash climb to stardom as cultural icon, solo artist, and Roxy Music front-man. Ferry grew up in the “gritty North”: his father tended horses as a farm plow-man – and later, during the depression, tended to coal mine ponies. “We didn’t have a car or a telephone or a fridge…” notes Ferry. “We lived in a Coronation Street-type terraced house” (Wheels). Compare this with supermodel Marilyn Cole as she echoes in a separate interview the same humble beginnings, almost verbatim: I was born in a Coronation Street house,” says Cole, “Two up, two down, outside lav” (see: ‘Just Like You’: Stranded Cover Art).

Such a bright hope, right place, right time
What´s your number? Never you mind

By placing his female doppelganger on the cover, Ferry presents along with Cole both sides of the glamour paradox – the excitement and pull of the new generation glitterati – (“me and you, just we two/Got to search for something new“) – while simultaneously showing the same superstars as ship-wrecked, beached, inviting yet vulnerable, awaiting rescue. If you look closely you’ll see Cole holding a crumpled white lily at her side – the lily a symbol, for many (at weddings and funerals at least) of lost innocence, of purity in passing.

Take refuge in pleasure just give me your future we’ll forget your past

The grit in the shell creates a picture of dazzling glamorous seduction, an ideal of beauty created by mother-of-pearl, that strange substance that shimmers and shines in its fantastic unreality.

Virtually imperishable, nacre exists right on the edge of the organic and inorganic, the mortal and the deathless. It suggests that there is something life-denying, or at least life-freezing about glamour.

Simon Reynolds

You may be stranded if you stick around
And that’s really something

Street Life

Bryan Ferry invented the fictional dance The Strand for his fictional characters and his audience to dance to, and in doing so drew attention to the constructed (and repeatable) nature of trends, music, glamour, and ideas. Yet, the more the artist became adept at pearl making, the more he recognized he was becoming trapped by it. At the 3:18s mark ‘Mother of Pearl’ picks up some considerable musical heft as the whole business of star-making and image creation comes under blistering attack:

With every goddess a let down every idol a bring down
It gets you down

There is real hurt here as the disappointment of finally meeting his artistic and musical heroes gives way to reality – these are, after all, the beautiful people that were so critical to Ferry’s conception of Roxy Music in the first place – “I’ve always been star-struck, basically” Ferry told Rock Scene magazine in 1973, “Hollywood has always been Mecca” (Ferry). A meeting between Roxy Music and art superstar Salvador Dali in 1973 was a disaster – “Dali seems to have deteriorated into someone who hangs around with bands just to get publicity. His current output is quite meagre” Ferry noted testily at the time. (Roxy manager Mike Fenwick scribbled ‘Asshole’ on the forehead of a Dali photo that appeared in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine not long after).

This business of suffering false-idols is essential in ‘Mother of Pearl’ and throughout each stanza the lyric is saturated with the visual imagery of Gods, divinities and/or Olympians as the search for perfection goes “on and on” (and on):

Divine intervention always my intention so I take my time..

But now I’ve seen that something just out of reach – glowing – very Holy Grail ..

Thus: even Zarathustra another-time-loser could believe in you ..

You’re highbrow, holy with lots of soul melancholy shimmering...

You can see that “Holy grail” glowing like a cheap effect in a Monty Python movie – but the sentiment is real, as “Zarathustra” is deemed a loser and every goddess is labelled a “let down”, every idol a “bring down”. This is the reality. Ferry dreamed a dream called Roxy Music to get away from the dirty, gritty industrial North, and when the dream became reality it not only failed to satisfy but remained, like the Holy grail, stubbornly out of reach: “It gets you dowwwn” the singer intones bitterly – the vocal emphasis on “dowwwn” bearing the weight of the disappointment. (That’s three “downs” in two sentences!).

III. Epilogue (Acapella)

But that’s how it had to be; better to seek and not find than to not seek at all. Moreover: the search for the thrill of it all was also the artist’s search for his material.

Simon Puxley (Rex Balfour), The Bryan Ferry Story

Though often seen as a song in two parts (Party/Comedown) there is actually a third section in ‘Mother of Pearl’, though short, that is striking, even chilling, and provides a final answer to the question posed at the beginning of the song. (“Have you a future?”). Recognizing that his new found skill and craftsmanship (not to mention fame and celebrity) necessitated the forfeiture of a degree of “absolute enchantment”, Ferry bears witness to his own loss of innocence and writes it into the very fabric of Stranded. Those ‘flavours of the mountain streamline’ as dreamed of in ‘Virginia Plain‘ are past him now, the bright lights no longer confuse, and the gulf between what’s real and make-believe has narrowed, leaving less artistic freedom and, worse, the unmistakable dread of having reached an aesthetic conclusion. What next? Have you a future? (No/Yes).

The language of glamour (“glowing“/”shimmering“) is reduced by the end of ‘Mother of Pearl’ into language that is cold, sunken, lifeless: his “submarine lover” no longer shines beyond the stars or the milky way, but is caught in a “shrinking” “detached” world of “lonely dreams“. By the song’s conclusion, the seductive music is stripped out. The vocal is naked, the singer alone. Sensing the game is up, the narrator goes on and on anyway, for the obsession, the work, is all he has, is all he’s ever had.

Oh mother of pearl I wouldn´t trade you for another girl

Oh mother of pearl I wouldn´t trade you for another girl

Oh mother of pearl I wouldn´t trade you for another girl

Credits: The one-of-a-kind Mata Hari, exotic dancer and accused French spy decked in jewels and attitude (re-visited); Roxy Music PR shots; Bryan pin-up from an internet fan (he dances and sings); a mother-of-pearl watch design; shots from Ferry‘s Mamouna-era video Your Painted Smile (the obsession goes on and on). And finally Ferry as seen by Mick Rock; and Candy Darling as seen by Andy Warhol. This entry also owes much credit to Simon Reynolds and his brilliant book Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy.

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

But the search for perfection
Your own predilection
Goes on and on and on and on
..

Next: The brilliant Stranded coda – ‘Sunset‘. See you soon!


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Mother of Pearl – Part 2

Mother of Pearl – Part 1
Mother of Pearl (Ferry), Recorded September 1973
Mother of Pearl Lyric (Ferry)

II. Comedown: Backing Track, Instrumentation 

In a fun (and revealing) email Question & Answer exchange with a Detroit newspaper in July 2019, Bryan Ferry reveals that he once owned a “Psychedelic Mood Adjuster” – an early model amplifier created to enhance or “adjust” your mood. (Ferry also reveals his standard dream/nightmare scenario:  “My leg is trapped and I can’t stop the car I’m driving from hurtling forward to doom” or that he’s “in a plunging elevator …”). While we all share common bad dreams, Ferry’s mood adjuster is a wry acknowledgement of the emotional contradictions the Roxy leader had exhibited throughout his early career with Roxy Music. From the giddy highs of Roxy Music, to the turbulent, darker turmoils of For Your Pleasure, Ferry had demonstrated an honest and heart-felt desire to communicate with his audience, albeit through the intricate and knotty threads of irony, pop-art, literature, musical history and what we now call postmodernism.

By the time of the release of the Third Roxy Music Album Stranded in November 1973, the artistic moods, though still varied, had leveled out, tilting towards a more sophisticated sheen – warm, slightly nervous, romantic, opulent. The self-doubt was still evident, but the maturity expressed a new reality: “no more brights lights confusing me”. Ferry had crossed over to the other side and was now living inside the image he had once constructed as fantasy. The process and experience of this change was reflected throughout Stranded and most successfully realized in the masterpiece cut ‘Mother of Pearl’ – a song that demonstrated that perhaps the “Psychedelic Mood Adjuster” had outlived its usefulness and Ferry was now willing (and able) to get down to the only thing and subject that mattered to himself and his fans: the life and times of the modern pop star.

The scene at AIR Studios, London, September 1973 during the recording of penultimate album track ‘Mother of Pearl’ would have seen a typical late night recording – the Roxy team (sans Ferry) were working on Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets during the day and recording the Stranded album at night. According to tape box pictures ‘Mother of Pearl’ would have been Song 2″ on the roster (none of the songs had titles while the backing tracks were being cut). Late at night, the studio would have the lights turned low, a thick carpet laid out on the floor, incense lit to capture the vocal with the right atmosphere (“bollocks” says producer Chris Thomas kindly, contradicting Phil Manzanera‘s recollection). What is agreed to by all however, is the unexpected and scintillating performance delivered by Roxy lyricist and singer Bryan Ferry for the track that would become ‘Mother of Pearl’ – arguably the high-water mark in the Roxy Music canon (““How did I get this so right?” Ferry asked one interviewer in 2020. “What is it?”).

Those sessions at AIR were the days of having lots of time in the studio. We’d get there in the afternoon and maybe put down some guitar and bits and pieces. Then Bryan would come. He always liked to do vocals very late at night. We’d break for dinner, go over to Charlotte Street, then come back until about four.

Andy Mackay

Originating the song on a battered bass guitar during a Greek holiday with Roxy PR man and close friend Simon Puxley, Ferry‘s initial instructions to the group would have been threadbare, at best: provide a shimmering instrumental back-drop for a post-party come-down soliloquy. The chords – text book rock n’ roll staple D-A-E (“Polythene Pam“, Eddie Cochran, and everything written by Lou Reed), form a basic progression pattern (minor subdominant – minor tonic – minor dominant) that is as varied to the ear as it is popular with music fans. Concluding the last blast of Phil Manaznera‘s guitar solo @ 1:25 (see Part 1 for review), the feedback is faded out by producer Thomas to make way for Eddie Jobson‘s sombre piano chords, Jobson applying the classic style as a hold-over from previous track ‘A Song for Europe‘. What really establishes the groove though is Paul Thompson‘s base drum, feathered with typical taste and style, assured and patient, impeccably introduced @ 1:34. If you are in the mood for more subtlety, catch the one-note guitar over-dub just before Paul’s entry (1:33) and marvel at the beauty and detail of the backing track – a key ingredient to making ‘Mother of Pearl’ peak Roxy Music.

What the music conjures in these early stages is a languid, shoulder-swaying shuffle, infinitely dream-like for those listening at home. When playing the song live though, the track produces in Roxy Music a kind of drunken swagger, Ferry in particular adopting a peculiar – though effective – posture that comes over like a mix between the demonic Bogus Man and a pregnant duck, arse and limbs at cross-purposes while moving forward in slow motion.

Ferry’s grand entrance to his best song has clearly been carefully planned for this specific occasion, reminding us of Dean Martin tripping carefully down the staircase in front of a TV audience, drink in hand, careful not spill a drop. (Or Gloria Swanson hands coiled silent movie style in Sunset Boulevard – “Alright Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up”). Ferry’s exaggerated grand entrance is encouraged by the delicious swagger of the music, a fact that even the usually reliable Eddie Jobson also cannot resist in live settings, as he sets forth also with the shoulders and the heavy anticipation (see here and here).

‘Mother of Pearl’ live, 1974


‘Mother of Pearl’
would be a fabulously beautiful and inventive piece of music on its own, but it would be empty without Ferry’s words and his vocal performance… Every line is delivered with a deranged archness of emphasis, infusing the song with a kind of poisoned camp.

Simon Reynolds  (“Glam”, p 362).

The prerecorded group instrumental establishes the “fabulously beautiful” and “inventive” musical baseline for ‘Mother of Pearl’, but as Reynolds notes, the song would be empty without Ferry’s words and vocal performance. Bassist John Gustafson creates some of his most thoughtful work for Roxy Music on this track (see also: Love is the Drug), introducing Ferry’s vocal with a sly climb through root notes D-A-E before the singer hits the podium with the delicious confessional “Well I’ve been up all night” @ 1:42:

Well I´ve been up all night (Again?)
Party-time wasting is too much fun

The mock-shock comment “Again?” is like an ex-wife or trusted friend trying to tell you something that you should already know. The remark is funny, Ferry obviously willing to mock his Bad Boy image as much as promote it. “Again?” is also the last echo from the opening party scene where Ferry’s voice is over-dubbed, altered and multi-tracked to replicate the demented energy of a high society party in full swing: instead of taking the easy route and sing his song, Ferry decides to take on all the roles at once. Conversely, for the Comedown section we switch gears and are presented with a stunning single-take vocal performance, the stuff of legend:

Producer Chris Thomas was astonished – and so was everyone else in the studio – when Bryan came in and sang over a seemingly long instrumental track, the whole of the lyric of Mother Of Pearl from beginning to end. No-one until that moment had heard or even seen a single line of the song.

“Rex Belfour” (Simon Puxley), The Bryan Ferry Story.

[To be continued…]

Ah, summertime. Will dive into the MoP’s lyric before month’s end. In the meantime, be safe, get vaccinated, be good to others and yourself. Chow for now.

Credits: The one-of-a-kind Mata Hari, exotic dancer and accused French spy decked in jewels and attitudeFerry’s go-to amplifier,  the Psychedelic Mood Adjuster; New Musical Express covers, 73-74; shots of Bryan Ferry performing ‘MoP’ with Roxy Music, 1974. Check out the extraordinary pictures from the set here.


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Mother of Pearl – Part 1

Mother of Pearl (Ferry), ‘Stranded’ 1973
Mother of Pearl Lyric (Ferry), November 1973
All Tomorrow’s Parties, The Velvet Underground
All Tomorrow’s Parties, Japan

There is a Bryan Ferry interview in Another Man magazine in 2019 were Ferry and journalist Tim Blanks discuss the singer’s career and the ‘Art of Roxy Music’. The conversation is pleasant, runs along party lines mostly (Newcastle, art school, jazz, Gatsby) when suddenly the interview takes a turn. Discussing stagecraft and performance Ferry explains:

Occasionally you get it with an audience yourself, where you feel that you’re representing yourself in the best possible way by performing a song well, with the right blend of elements you’re proud of, that people appreciate. Certain songs are tough to perform because you feel so moved when you’re doing them that you can hardly get through them. You feel you’re going to break up. Mother of Pearl is one of those, when you feel: ‘How did I get this so right?’ What is it? It’s words and music, but put them together and they conjure up a mood and a feeling that affects me greatly, and when I feel it affect an audience, it chokes me up.

Interviewer Tim Blanks is moved by what happens next:

Ferry actually chokes up as he says that. I choke too. You really do want to know that one of your favourite artists feels the same way about one of your favourite songs as you do, especially when he’s the person who wrote and sang it.

“How did I get this so right?” Ferry asks. “What is it?”

I rub my eyes reading this. You should too: ‘Mother of Pearl‘ is peak Roxy Music, hell, it’s peak rock music. It’s the view from the mountain-top. It’s the roller-coaster pulling up to to the station. It’s the guy from ‘Street Life‘ arriving at his destination, having brought you along for the ride. (“Who knows what you’ll see, who you might meet?”). It’s Friday night, soon after eight. Gather around good-looking boys, Vasser girls too. Turn the lights down. Take a powder. All the gang’s here..

I’d written the songs for Stranded in a few locations: my flat in Earl’s Court, a friend’s cottage in Sussex, and even a couple of weeks on a Greek island, where I went with my friend, Simon Puxley, and where I recall bashing out the beginnings of “Mother Of Pearl” on a battered bass guitar.

Bryan Ferry

“This is it folks: Magnum Opus time” was how journalist Ian MacDonald characterized ‘Mother of Pearl’ in his glowing review of The Third Roxy Music Album Stranded.Exhilarating” said Roxy chronicler Jonathan Rigby (“scary and exhilarating in equal measure”). “Meisterwerk” wrote Nick Kent of the NME. “Ferry knows this is one of his two or three finest ever songs – possibly the finest of all”. “The definitive mid-period Roxy song” said Sam Richards (Uncut). Indeed, the high praise and critical approval for Ferry and Roxy Music reached its zenith with the release of Stranded in late 1973, and ‘Mother of Pearl’ was for many the jewel in the crown, arriving – in the nick of time – after the stylized machinations of the eight minute bible-thumping  ‘Psalm‘ and the eloquent, grand gestures of ‘A Song for Europe‘. Tilting the album back towards the promise and thrill of album opener ‘Street Life‘ ‘Mother of Pearl’ was a hot injection* of rock n’ roll delivered with intensity, control and taste. (*Apologies to Irving Welsh).

The answer to Ferry’s question “How did I get this so right?” is as interesting as it is obvious: if fortune favors the prepared, then Roxy were at this stage ready to capitalize on their increasing musical dexterity and skill. The sweet-spot of Manzanera, Mackay, Thompson, Jobson, guest bassist John Gustafson and producer Chris Thomas worked on ‘Mother of Pearl’ as an instrumental, layering and building the backing track in preparation for vocal, melody and lyrics. Producer Chris Thomas: “When we did Stranded, the way we worked mostly was first we just put down backing tracks of keyboards, bass and drums…Half the time there were no lyrics written for these songs. Then, Phil would go in and put guitar parts down, and that actually was the point for me where the songs would turn into something”.

Bryan would come in and do a sort of bravura performance of a finished lyric and top line that we hadn’t heard at all, ‘Mother of Pearl’ is the one that particularly stands out. Bryan came in and did the whole thing and we just sort of sat back and thought, “well that’s amazing”.

Andy Mackay

Working nose-to-nose with friend and Roxy Machine PR man Simon Puxley, Ferry carefully arranged the dramatic structure for ‘Mother of Pearl’ into three sections (not just two, as is usually reported): there is the Event (hard rock); the Comedown (funky chill); and Epilogue (acappella). The lone singing voice in the epilogue (“mother-of-pearl, I wouldn’t trade you for the whole world”) is often over-looked, but does provide a short, icy conclusion to the narrative. This pop-triptych enables Ferry to present a magnificent sample of moods and postures told by characters that are obsessed – as we all are – with glamour, sex, drugs and drink, of getting out your head, of escaping boredom. Thus, the song’s brilliance was in part due to its simple conceit: the thrill of new experience, the early morning blow-back, the chilly what-now conclusion.. 

Writing in his collection of essays on visual art The Space Between (2012), Roxy observer and (and Ferry uber-fan) Michael Bracewell notes that at the time of Stranded  Ferry appeared “to have passed through the looking glass of stardom and become the mythic version of himself.” Attuned to the obsessive level his audience was now identifying with him – his success, his fame, his lifestyle, girls, glamour, parties – the Roxy Music front-man decided that it was time to bring the fans in even closer and answer the question that was at the top of listener’s minds in late 1973 – what’s it like to be ‘Bryan Ferry’?


I. The Event

The first part of it’s this very physical thing
Bryan Ferry

The In-Crowd make their first appearance here (“we breeze up and down the street”) as the promise contained in ‘Street Life‘ (“Who knows what you’ll see, who you might meet”) is brilliantly realized by the closing tracks of the Stranded album. With ‘Mother of Pearl’, Roxy were primed to deliver the equivalent of a musical head-rush: Paul Thompson launches into the assault with a kick-drum punch that propels Phil Manzanera’s shredding repeated 7-note guitar riff. There are no tricks or gimmicks used here – no slow fade-in a la ‘Virginia Plain‘, no grand openings as per ‘Pyjamarama‘ – just the fulfillment of a promise, that Roxy Music indeed are rock n roll. The atmosphere is charged, electric, the vocal demented:

Turn the lights down / way down low
Turn up the music / hi as fi can go
All the gang’s here / everyone you know
It’s a crazy scene (hey there just look over your shoulder..)
Get the picture?  No, no, no, no …  (YES)
Walk a tightrope / your life-sign-line
Such a bright hope / right place, right time
What’s your number? / never you mind
Take a powder (but hang on a minute what’s coming round the corner?)
Have you a future? No, no, no, no …  (YES)

Ferry mirrors the viciousness of Thompson and Manzanera‘s attack with a carefully planned pandora’s box of vocal effects that pulls the listener deeper into the experience, the production team extravagantly layering on percussion (maracas, tambourines) and a sustaining feedback guitar (a delight to follow in the mix) that re-creates the schizophrenic, coked up, sweaty energy of a well-attended party in full swing – this party that you’ve been invited to. Bouncing between Ferry’s Good Boy/Bad Boy personal commentary (“Turn the lights down / way down low/Turn up the music / hi as fi can go”) the audience is bombarded by music, lights, chatter – our confusion and paranoia comically captured as part of the party dialog – “Hey there just look over your shoulder” – “Hang on a minute what coming round the corner?” – not quite knowing what to expect next in this extraordinary unrestrained wall-of-sound, where the needle is constantly pushed into red without actually drawing blood (at least not that we can remember).


The overall effect of the ‘Mother of Pearl’ hard rock introduction is akin to a wall-of-mirrors madness – a wonderfully unique aspect of the Roxy Music aesthetic – as Roxy successfully deliver on the premise of, if you’re gonna promise a party you had better sound like you know how to host one. In doing so Ferry takes his hedonistic cue from The Velvet Underground – updating the spook and chill of ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties‘ and re-branding it for the glam rock crowd. (Eno: “Bryan liked VU as well and we both knew about their connection with Andy Warhol, which gave them a sort of cultural position”).

There are further similarities with The Velvet Underground as Ferry returns to a theme that has preoccupied him since second single ‘Pyjamarama‘ and For Your Pleasure  (‘Editions of You‘): the strategies and affectations of the wannabe socialite and social climber (read: himself). In VU’s ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ the girl doesn’t belong at the party (“what costume shall the poor girl wear”) but strives to attain the part of social acceptability:

In what costume shall the poor girl wear
To all tomorrow’s parties
A hand-me-down dress from who knows where
To all tomorrow’s parties
And where will she go, and what shall she do
When midnight comes around
She’ll turn once more to Sunday’s clown and cry behind the door

Lou Reed/Velvet Underground

This is social observation of a high order, a Cinderella story for the modern ages, where the working class kid dreams of being wealthy and fashionable, carefully creating a persona that steps into the brave new world, but is forced back into the shadows when Sunday morning comes around, bereft of money and social standing. VU’s ‘Parties’ sequence plays like a template for ‘Mother of Pearl’ (Party/Comedown/Isolation) notably recalling Ferry’s obsession with the upwardly mobile and the elite, in particular the work, self-belief, and posturing needed to move from working-class hero to jet-setting rock star.

“Fashion houses ladies” we are told in ‘Just Like You’, “Need plenty loose change/When the latest creation/Is last year’s fab-rave”. And so it goes. ‘Stranded’ is obsessed with social status, as ‘Street Life‘ kicks off with the advice that  “Education is an important key, yes/But the good life’s never won by degrees, no.” We’d been told before that “Old money’s better than new” (‘Editions of You‘) and that upward mobility was a legitimate goal for those with the backbone to go for it (‘Beauty Queen‘: “Our soul-ships pass by/solo trips to the stars in the sky”). 

Ever since ‘Virginia Plain posited the pop-star manifesto of self-creation (“what’s real and make believe?”) we were knew that for Ferry stardom was the goal and transformation the process, and thus ‘Stranded’ reads as a text book of change and metamorphosis, baked into nearly every line, cover shot, and exaggerated pose. The ‘Stranded’ album cover introduces the idea: built on the idea of cast-at sea and loss of innocence, the sleeve was modeled by Playboy Playmate of the Year (1973) Marilyn Cole, who like Ferry, was born into the unglamorous hardships of the Northern middle class (“I was born in a Coronation Street house,” Cole told one interviewer “Two up, two down, outside lav”). Ferry neglected to include himself on the ‘Stranded’ cover (having previously made an appearance on For Your Pleasure), even though a photo was taken (see: ‘Just Like You’ Stranded Cover art) because he intuitively knew he was already there: desirable, urbane, harassed, stranded.

Modern pop culture gives the impression that by simply being wealthy and fashionable, beautiful and connected, an individual has the opportunity to become famous. Throughout his work, Ferry enjoys taking aim at those who strive to rise above their station, people who try to re-create themselves in their own image – gold tinged, transformed, but leaving the dirty little secret of birthright and social standing well behind, even buried (Pyjamarama: “They say you have a secret life/Made sacrifice your key to paradise/Never mind, take the world by storm/Just boogaloo a rhapsody divine”). For ‘Mother of Pearl’ Ferry presents the bold and the beautiful in full swing, on the make.  The Party is jam-packed with scandal, wealth, pop culture, public relations, models, celebrities, photographers, media types, and deals. The hard-rock introduction serves to re-create the energy and la vitalité of a great party, yet Ferry is careful to present the beautiful people as on the make, preoccupied by their image, deal-making, paranoid, intrusive, even deadly:

Turn the lights down / way down low
Turn up the music / hi as fi can go

The language of punning fun, frivolity, commercial consumerism: Electronics giant Phillips had created a Bryan Ferry inspired record player called “The Shooting Star…”

All the gang’s here / everyone you know

The London scene is reminiscent of Warhol’s Factory, where the studio, laboratory and party room became a mecca for the late 60s counterculture, attracting “every walk of life, from the most beautiful people to other artists, celebrities, musicians.”

It’s a crazy scene (hey there just look over your shoulder..)

Crazy. Paranoid. Dangerous. Factory film-maker Valerie Solanas shot mentor Andy Warhol in the chest “carrying two guns and a massive, paranoid grudge”. Warhol was declared dead for several minutes by first responders. Solanas shot Warhol because she thought he was stealing her film ideas and had been ignoring her repeated phone calls for arts and film funding (“wish everybody would leave me alone, yeh”).

Get the picture?  No, no, no, no …  (YES)

Fame and its downfalls. Get the picture? Or, “get the picture”? asks one party-goer to a press photographer.

Walk a tightrope / your life-sign-line
Such a bright hope / right place, right time

Fame as manifest destiny. Or merely a touch of Lady Luck before the inevitable decent into obscurity. (“Thought patterns hazy/This auto-style age/Will lady luck smile old and sage”).

What’s your number? / never you mind
Take a powder (but hang on a minute what’s coming round the corner?)

What’s your fate? (None of your business). Taking some cocaine sounds like a good idea, but what of tomorrow? (“What’s that coming round the corner…”?).

Have you a future? No, no, no, no …  (YES)

Public scrutiny (have you a future?). Internal anxiety (no, no). The powder kicks in (YES).

All things considered this is a pretty accurate summary of the conditions Ferry found himself in the Fall of 1973, as his projections for Roxy Music materialized, the band had hit records, and Ferry became a celebrated member of the London ‘In Crowd’. The modern version of this scene would include such self-made celebs as  Olivia Palermo, Lauren Santo Domingo, Derek Blasberg, and Jean Shafiroff. In contrast, the British scene of the early 70s would have comprised of the cream of the British Entertainment industry, Cilla Black, Lulu, Bruce Forsyth, certainly Gilbert and George, members of the inner circle The Roxy Machine ( Antony Price, Karl Stoecker, Nicolas De Ville, Simon Puxley, and Bryan Ferry), artists David Hockney, Francis Bacon, Roxy cover girls Amanda Lear, Kari-Ann Muller, Marilyn Cole, and lots of gay friends, fashion designers, and maybe even the occasional radio DJ, Kenny Everett or Paul Gambaccini.

Ferry and Roxy Music management acknowledged (and heavily promoted) the singer’s personal dalliance with the Roxy cover girl models and the glamorous jet-set scene, providing the largely working class audience with the illusion of vicarious accessibility and, most importantly, of being invited along for the ride (“Come with me cruising down the streets..”).  Indeed the answer to the question of “How did I get this so right?” is that ‘Mother of Pearl’ injects the listener directly into the party scene, allowing us to experience the high life, to adopt a pose, to set our tastes and sense of style well above the average crowd. (“Over the years,” Ferry bragged to Melody Maker, in 1974, “I’ve developed an appreciation of excellence in all things and therefore I have fairly expensive tastes”).

Conversely, the chase and thrill of glamour is tempered by down-to-earth pragmatism – a reality these self-made stars knew all too well: the transitory and fickle nature of fame; the spiritual hollowness at the root of the pursuit of money; the burden of media, the loss of innocence that comes with working in the entertainment business. Stranded bears the weight of this tension, as Ferry maps the experience of change and metamorphosis through ‘Street Life‘ (“now I’m blinded, I can really see”), ‘Just Like You‘ (“Everything changes/Through alchemy iron turns gold”), ‘Amazona (“Why don’t you step through the mirror and see?”) and though side one closer ‘Psalm‘ (“Try on your love like a new dress/The fit and the cut your friends to impress”). Indeed ‘Psalm’ is pivotal, closing one door while opening another. Pressing towards artistic transcendence, Ferry applies the same kind of creative intensity to religious conversion (“a paradise/a mountain so high”), yet by the time we get to ‘Mother of Pearl’ the ambition is dialed back, the “bright lights” dimmed. 

“How did I get this so right?” Ferry asks. “What is it?”

The answer is ‘Mother of Pearl’ was the song Bryan Ferry was born to write. However, it also marked the conclusion of the dream leading up to it.

Postscript:

The temperamental and competing tensions in Ferry’s writing – so perfectly captured in ‘Mother of Pearl’ – are playfully noted in an article published by glam photographer extraordinaire Mick Rock (Bowie, Queen, Roxy) reprinted for your entertainment below. The quotes and article confirms Ferry’s “outsider” designation (“not a social creature”) while also laying bare the full-throttle life-style Ferry was enjoying in late ’73/74. In addition are some germane comments by Brian Eno regarding the influence of The Velvet Underground on Roxy Music.

Enjoy! Have fun during these summer months. Be safe, be good, and see you soon for the tour-de-force  ‘Mother of Pearl’ Comedown (Part 2).

[My work] is the only thing I have any pride in, I suppose, because I’m not much of a social creature. Therefore, my work has to stand for everything I’m about really.

Bryan Ferry

Biba’s_London_1974_BryanFerry_AmandaLear©MickRock

“Get the picture?”

Oh well Bryan’s really drunk, and you can see the waitress is poised at the side. That was taken at Biba’s. Biba’s for a while—there was a lady called Barbara Hulanicki and her husband floating around London with their little shop, and they took over this great department store that had closed down—but right at the top they would have something that they called The Rainbow Room—I mean there have been other Rainbow Rooms, I know, including in New York—but that was The Rainbow Room, and right at the top of the building they would have these great parties, and people played there too, The [New York] Dolls, The Pointer Sisters, Screaming Lord Sutch, Albert King… they would have all these great performers, and all the fashionable people of that glammy London scene would show up including Bryan Ferry and Amanda Lear.

And people like that picture, partly because he’s fucking drunk and you can see it.”

PHOTOGRAPHY © MICK ROCK 2016 here https://flaunt.com/content/art/rock-will-roll


Eno on the Velvets: here

You first heard the Velvets on John Peel’s radio show while you were at Winchester School of Art in the 60s. What impact did that have?

Within the first few moments, I thought, “Okay, this is important.” I could hear the La Monte Young influence, the sort of drone thing that John Cale was doing on the viola. I think I heard Heroin first. So I bought that album [The Velvet Underground & Nico, 1967], which not many other people did at the time. It might be hard for some people to understand, but they were a big influence on Roxy Music. Bryan [Ferry] liked them as well and we both knew about their connection with Andy Warhol, which gave them a sort of cultural position.

When we started Roxy, rock’n’roll was really 15 years old. And in that time you had the whole of doo-wop, Elvis, the Liverpool scene, psychedelia, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, this incredible compression of all that stuff. The history of the music form was already substantial enough to draw from.

We were pop artists in the little ‘p’ and big ‘P’ sense. Bryan had studied with Richard Hamilton at Newcastle, who people often say is the father of Pop Art, and I’d been tutored by one of his most brilliant students, Roy Ascott. So we both had that connection to the idea that culture was its own subject, as it were, and kept redigesting itself all the time. And that wasn’t an idea you were supposed to like back then. That’s what The Velvet Underground represented to me. They sort of endorsed all those things that people had said were wrong about pop music.

 

A few years after that first [VU] album, when I heard some of the other things, I thought they were too close to what I wanted to do at the time. I just thought, ‘Oh God, I mustn’t listen to this

Bryan Ferry


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A Song For Europe

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

‘Stranded’ moved us into different territory.
Phil Manzanera

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

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

I. Moments Lost in Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eddie Jobson

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

Paul Gambaccini, Stranded’ Review, Rolling Stone

II. The World Is My Oyster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘A Song for Europe’ exhibition tracks:

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


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Serenade


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

I. Open Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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


II. Play On

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

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

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

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

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

III. Now’s the Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV. Don Juan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 


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Psalm – Part 2

Psalm – Part 1
Psalm (1973)

I. The Beautiful Idea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. Believe in Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 3:16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III. Hanky Panky

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

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

Bryan Ferry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Part IV. I Would Like to Be a Saint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane

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

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

Titbits

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


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Psalm – Part 1

Psalm (1973)
Psalm (Live, 1974)

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

I. Stars on Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. My Sweet Lord

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

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

Shake your hair girl with your ponytail
Takes me right back (when you were young)
Throw your precious gifts into the air
Watch them fall down (when you were young)
Lift up your feet and put them on the ground
You used to walk upon (when you were young)
Lift up your feet and put them on the ground
The hills were higher (when we were young)
Lift up your feet and put them on the ground
The trees were taller (when you were young)
Lift up your feet and put them on the ground
The grass was greener (when you were young)
Lift up your feet and put them on the ground
You used to walk upon (when you were young)

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


III. Is There a Heaven?

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

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

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

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

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

IV. Believe in Me

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

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

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

Amazona

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

Believe in the artist. Believe in the art.

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

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

Coda: 3 Psalms, by Andy Mackay.

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

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

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

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

3 Psalms Links:

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

Andy Mackay on Roxy Music and his proggy new solo album

Andy Mackay talks religion, life & music

3 Psalms: A Conversation with Andy Mackay


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Amazona

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

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

Chris Thomas, Roxy Producer, 1974

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

Phil Manzanera

For twelve days in September 1973, Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera would complete his Stranded recording duties at AIR Studios, Oxford Street London, and take the twenty minute drive across town (over the Thames) to the cheapest 24-track studio in London at the time, Majestic Studios, 146 Clapham Street London, to assist with the guitar duties on Brian Eno‘s first solo album Here Come the Warm Jets. The temperature in London that September set records that would last for 43 years, so it is unsurprising that Manzanera‘s playing and writing that month produced the funky jungle-fever rhythms of ‘Amazona‘ and the heated guitar shimmer (and co-author credit) for Eno’s ‘Needles in the Camel’s Eye‘ and ‘Cindy Tells Me.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phil Manzanera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next: Celebrate the holiday season with ‘Pslam’!


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Just Like You – Part 2

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

Time may change me
But I can’t trace time

David Bowie, ‘Changes

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

Bryan Ferry (lyric), ‘Just Like You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bryan Ferry, 2001

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Queen is Dead Tour Poster (1986)