For Your Pleasure

A song-by-song analysis of the lyrics and music of Roxy Music and the solo work of Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera in the 1970s


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

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

Nick De Ville

I. Playboy

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

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

Michael Bracewell

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

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

Just Like You, ‘Stranded’ (1973)

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

I always wrote as a character.
Bryan Ferry, 2020

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

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

[Enter 007 theme]:

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

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

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

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

Paul Stump

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

II. Playgirl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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III. Outlaws

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

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

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

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

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

Nick De Ville

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

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

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

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

Bryan Ferry

IV. Coda

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

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

Beauty Queen

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

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

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

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

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

 

Credits

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

Titbits

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Karl Stoecker // early 70s

I. Locating the Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antony Price 

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

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

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

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

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

Patti Stoecker

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

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

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

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

stoecker cafe

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

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


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Street Life – Part 3

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

I. The Prince Charming of Sleaze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nick Kent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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II. Blinded by the Light 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bryan Ferry Story

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

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

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

Antony Price

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Reynolds

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

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

Phil Manzanera

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

You may be stranded if you stick around

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

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

And that’s really something..

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

Next: Just Like You: Stranded Cover Art.


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Street Life – Part 2

Screen Shot 2020-04-23 at 6.59.23 PMStreet Life – Part 1 
Street Life (1973)

Rock n’ roll was real. Everything else was unreal.
John Lennon

Roxy and Glam – 1: Sign of the Times

When Todd Haynes tried to capture the characters and music of the UK Glam scene in 1973 with his film Velvet Goldmine, he failed, according to the film’s un-cooperative  subject David Bowie, because Haynes missed entirely the innocence of the times, underplaying the fun, silliness, and fantastic “shopping” the period offered. Though Glam may have been a youthful response to a good number of serious societal issues –  “Glam was finally some kind of free expression of male homosexuality in popular culture” (Jon Savage) – it was silliness and frivolity that defined the movement, and, like many good-time relationships, it started to peter and die when it became formulaic, losing its zest and sparkle and sense of fun, say, around mid-1974 (about the time Bowie flashed his man-mutant genitalia to the world).

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Known to the band as “Song 1” during recording sessions for the new Roxy Music album Stranded  – indeed all the tracks had numbers – “Song 2”, “Song 3” (can you imagine a time when ‘Song for Europe‘ was known as “Song 6”?..) – ‘Street Life’ was always seen as a forerunner for the singles charts (“I do remember approaching it very much as a potential single” recalls Manzanera), having arrived with all ingredients intact: robust and insolent energy; dense, hard-rocking instrumentation; camp delivery; and, just to be sure, white-knuckled finger-clicking. In discussing ‘Street Life‘ for an article in Uncut (2012) Bryan Ferry observed: “I wanted it to be a high-energy, fun song – buzzy and vibrant”. Indeed, ‘Street Life’ is the track you hold up to Roxy nay-sayers as evidence that the band possessed a formidable muscular sound that went beyond the hype of fashion models and white tuxedos. (If you still find yourself arguing the point, put on ‘Editions of You‘ and demand the foe get the next round of drinks in).

Born in the pressure-cooker of the new – new album, new single, new band member (on salary, mind), new golden age (ah hem), and absolutely no new demos or written songs before entering the studio – ‘Street Life’ succeeds in spite of its hasty creation, with band members Thompson, Manzanera, Mackay and Jobson laying down their claim as vital and equal creators of the Roxy sound. With its camp dramatic lyric and vocal delivery a career win for Ferry, ‘Street Life’ is nevertheless a noticeably coherent group recording that lays down Roxy’s musical template for the rest of the 70s. At this juncture, each member, previously side-lined by the hoopla of the Ferry/Eno axis, gains considerable strength and confidence as solo musicians and as members of the insuppressible Roxy machine. From here on, the story is less about Bryan Ferry as Gatsby, and more about Roxy Music as a band.

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Written and performed in the key of Eb Major, ‘Street Life’ epitomizes the associated Eb musical characteristic of Cruelty and Harshness (wish everybody would leave me alone), Yet Full of Devotion (loving you is all I can do). It’s a neat trick, this tension between opposites, and explains why critics often use contrasts in describing the band’s music (my own favourite is Gary Sperrazza‘s description of ‘Street Life’ as “punk-rock in space”). Yet musically it feels like there is little musical ambiguity in the song at all. In fact, it’s pure punk, right from the start, with its highway-star drum intro courtesy of Paul Thompson, and grinding over-dubbed guitars and killer 6-note hook by Phil Manzanera. 

‘Street Life’ bleeds intensity, honesty and wit. For Ferry, the single was another stunner in a line of exciting, dramatic productions. In the same stylized manner of ‘If There is Something’ and ‘Strictly Confidential’, the song delivers a swinging performance, the singer acting out – petulant, inflated – the life of a put-upon rock star. Wish everybody would leave me alone, yeah. It’s a good gag – Ferry was white hot during this period, so why not write a tantrum overture composed entirely of talent, nerves and self-doubt:

Wish everybody would leave me alone, yeah
They’re always calling on my telephone
When I pick it up there’s no one there
So I walk outside just to take the air

With new-found fame came troubles, and Ferry was in fact getting harassed during this period: two teenage fans, Denise and Jackie, would camp outside the singer’s Redcliffe Square apartment, and make calls from a red telephone-box across the road, and watch intently as “Ferry would move past the window to answer the phone, and then would hang up” (Buckley, 152). Ferry’s solution to these intrusions on his privacy was to escape, and escape is exactly what we come to Roxy Music for. When Bowie decides to get some action he self-consciously “yawns” as he breaks up his room and “runs to the centre of things” (‘Sweet Thing’). Ferry on the other hand neither breaks up his room nor yawns: he hits the street with all the pent up desire of a druggie on the prowl for an eagerly anticipated dose of sex and drugs (and we all know where that leads – another top 10 hit single!). Stuck in the house, pacing back and forth, genuinely hemmed in, Ferry declares it’s time to get out, find a party, spend some cash, and if you, dear and loyal listener, want to come along for the ride, then all the better. Come on with me cruising down the street, we’re told and so we join the superstar on an updated version of the ‘Virginia Plain‘ rollercoaster ride.  I like tacky things and low life as much as high life” Ferry confessed in 1973 and, just like the black panther that susses our lurid intent on the cover of For Your Pleasure, we are caught staring with Eveline and Constanze into the blaring headlights:

Come on with me cruising down the street
Who knows what you’ll see, who you might meet
This brave new world’s not like yesterday
It can take you higher than the milky way

There’s genuine excitement here, not a yawn or histrionic gesture to be seen or heard. If part of the Roxy promise is to take us closer to the thrill of it all, this is Ferry’s first opportunity to dance the cha-cha from a position of real advantage and knowledge. The British Roxy Music Winter tour of 1973 – rolled out after the recording of Stranded, but before the album’s release – was so successful it had proceeded around the country like a “tremendous triumphal march” (Balfour). Ferry was white hot both as solo artist and Roxy front-man. Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure had been big sellers, and the solo release These Foolish Things was extremely profitable – staying in the charts long enough to still be selling when his second solo album Another Time, Another Place placed in the charts. The clarity of celebrity experience is made manifest by the time ‘Street Life’ is recorded and released: we are invited to taste and experience the flavours of the mountain streamline for ourselves with the added bonus that our the Implied Bryan Ferry is acting as tour guide. The listener is summoned: Come on with me cruising down the street, and we do not hesitate. This brave new world’s not like yesterday we are told. We are all stars now. Take my hand: Who knows what you’ll see, who you might meet. And we’re off, the boys and girls of the suburbs fleeing the hum-drum days of school or the Industrial revolution, like some re-enactment of a Joycean epiphany, on a mad journey heading for Nighttown in Ulysses.

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If ‘Stranded’ was Roxy Music’s Goldfinger moment – a critical and popular work that influenced culture, shifted taste and fuelled high sales of future releases – then ‘Street Life‘ was the blockbuster teaser trailer for the film, cut to reflect the sign of the times as they appeared in the grey and drab early 70s. By the winter of 1973, Ferry delivered what he had prophesied a year previously in ‘Virginia Plain‘: a new movie for new times, a cinematic art-project that brought together sex, glamour, luxury and irony as a stylistic device, authenticity through the pursuance of sex and glamour. “From one hotspot to another,” noted Simon Puxley, ghost-writing Ferry’s biography in 1976, “til dawn if need be, to locate the true experience.” Oh, that sounds like fun, and at the time of ‘Street Life’s release, the county needed it. Movie critic Tim Blanks describes the landscape of the times:

One of the things that struck me most about the 2011 movie version of John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was how dismal its depiction of early-70s London looked. But it was set just when Bowie was unleashing Ziggy Stardust, and Ferry was launching Roxy Music. Somewhere other than MI5’s grey, grim world, a new breed of glamorous young nightcrawlers was exploding into life.

Tim Blanks

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Roxy and Glam – 2: The Strange Case of Adrian Street

The groundswell of circumstances that created Glam and its glamorous young nightcrawlers have been well documented (Reynolds/Savage), yet, for our money, the most interesting sign of the times is the example of the coal-miner-turned-professional wrestler Adrian Street, the man who, in the laddish days of 1973, was one of the first fighters to put on make-up, boa-feathers, platforms and glitter – and bring it all into the bloke-culture of British wrestling. The son of a Welsh miner, Street went down the coal-pit at 15, following in the footsteps of his Dad and his brother.  A year later – as they say in the movies – “Adrian decided that this was not the life for him” (ProWrestlingStories).  He came back to the surface, shed his filthy clothes and made for London, emboldened with velvet goldmine self-belief – he came back to Wales a known commodity: a TV star (the b/w photos above and below is Street visiting his Dad at the pits after his success). “There’s nothing I like more than somebody telling me I can’t do something,” said Adrian of the photo, “I was saying, ‘F-U, bastards!’ It was very, very satisfying.”

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Street’s influence on musicians in the early 70s was duly noted by the press. Marc Bolan of T-Rex was asked where he got his ideas for his makeup and his costumes, and he said “from watching Adrian Street on television.” Street sold himself as a brand, and understood the music business and professional wrestling had a lot in common:

Interviewers would ask if I invented glam rock. I’d always say, ‘I didn’t invent it, though we sure borrowed a lot from each other.’ But I often wonder if Ziggy  Stardust wasn’t a direct copy of what I was doing at the time.

Whether by accident or gleeful intent, Ferry conjures up Adrian Street‘s zeitgeist in ‘Street Life’ if not by name (though I reserve judgment) then by Roxy Music’s association with a movement in full swing, at that time influencing every corner of British life. This brave new world’s not like yesterday, Ferry tells us, as if speaking to Street and the other thousands of kids looking to escape their “no future” fate. By referencing Aldous Huxley‘s famous novel of down-trodden dystopia, Brave New World, Ferry sets the scene for a guided tour through the new reality, authentic and gritty, yet blessed with a touch of magic.

Screen Shot 2020-06-08 at 12.10.15 PMI was really trying to give you a shot of the street.
Lou Reed 

I like tacky things and low life as much as high life.
Bryan Ferry 

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

Roxy and Glam – 3: Walk on the Wild Side

The idea of portraying a ‘street life’ in all its gritty filth and colour can be seen as products mostly of America – or, at least, the America that had the greatest impact on Brits musicians such as David Bowie, Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno. For many, The Velvet Underground (1964-73) were the pioneers of what The Guardian called the ability to put “drugs, fetishism, infidelity and heartbreak into song.” As we know, by 1967 the musical landscape was defined largely by the escapism offered by the The Beatles and Procol Harum singles, positing that drugs, sex and transcendence were a path to the doors of perception. Formed in the same milieu that created the Jefferson Airplane,  the scruffy Velvets (they “looked like the Addams family”, noted Iggy Pop), didn’t buy into this message – “I fucking hated hippies” said drummer Maureen Tucker while Reed later observed that “flower-power … was a nice idea but not a very realistic one.” For the Velvets, and Lou in particular, the strength of the new openness provided the opportunity to write about REALITY, no matter how sordid: “The ability to shock with taboo subjects such as buying drugs has waned today, but until 1967’s I’m Waiting for the Man, music was devoid of an overtly decadent tale such as this”. (Guardian).

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The Brits had plugged into the idea of American street-wise authenticity and coupled it with the emerald Isle’s natural tendency for camp, wit, play-acting, and a piss-take culture that did not allow to take yourself too seriously (they frequently turned on their heroes. See: Bryan Ferry solo career 1975-1979). American rockers generally liked their realism straight-up, as in Iggy Pop‘s ‘Down on the Street’ (floatin’ around/I’m a real low mind), to the spectacle of Lou Reed and John Cale busking in 1965, offending New York’s lunch crowd with:

Heroin
It’s my life
And it’s my wife

‘Heroin’, (quoted in Wyman).

And, let’s not forget one of the more subversive yet popular street-wise rock songs: Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side, a perfect encapsulation of where the artistic sentiment was on other side of the Atlantic:Screen Shot 2020-05-03 at 3.05.38 PM

Candy came from out on the Island
In the backroom she was everybody’s darling
But she never lost her head
Even when she was giving head


She says, “hey baby, take a walk on the wild side”
Said, “hey babe, take a walk on the wild side”

And the colored girls go …

In stark contrast to America in the early 70s, the Brits were living in the Dark Ages – a three-day work-week was imposed by the Government to save on electricity due to an angry and heart-breaking miners strike; a rapid crippling of the economy was brought on by rampant inflation and the slow but inevitable closure of the once-glorious smokestak industries. There was, it could be said, a self-consciousness built into the times: a sense that lives and times were changing. Sexual identity rights were, albeit haphazardly and with a hint of ridicule, at the forefront of what ordinary people were talking about, expressing at least a fascination or repulsion for the difference and change that was taking place around them. David Bowie was wearing a dress. Freaky Brian Eno was getting all the girls. The yobs and cavemen were still out there, but now they were dressing like Kubrick‘s Clockwork Droogies – and in between the violence and mayhem the Droogies were watching television, and had opinions too. 

Screen Shot 2020-06-08 at 8.17.49 PMBritain in 1973 had three TV channels (BBC 1, BBC 2, ITV). The population of the country was 54 million, and 93% of which were able to watch programmes (BBC).  One episode of Coronation Street – where Valerie was electrocuted by a faulty hairdryer (!) –  had over 18 million people watch her death and subsequent funeral. Top of the Pops had 15 million viewers on a typical Thursday night –  that’s 15 million people watching Roxy’s “hyper-intense” performance of ‘Street Life’ and the latest glam sensations and outfits. The same massive audience gave Sweet three hit singles in 1973 – Blockbuster (Jan); Hell Raiser (April); Ballroom Blitz (Sept) – and it wasn’t just the kids buying the records. Many of us have memories of mums dancing in diminutive living rooms to Cum on Feel the Noize by Slade (“We get wild, wild, wild!”). Jon Savage confirms this sense of national pride in the art of silliness (The Goodies, Monty Python), as glam was about getting out there and having fun: “I think it’s been undervalued critically because it didn’t appear to take itself too seriously. It had that horror of pomposity. But it wasn’t like some little ghetto. It was full of vigour and full of life, and it bossed English pop music for two or three years” (Savage).

The Manhattan sleaze of Lou Reed and Iggy and the Stooges, dressed itself up in glitter, but only after it had visited and recorded in Britain. Contrasting sharply with Iggy Pop’s Detroit blitzkrieg approach (We are the street-walking cheetahs with hearts full of napalm), David Bowie sold back to the Brits their fondness for tacky street sex and faded glamour when he materialized from another planet (courtesy of Doctor Who’s Tardis) in the shape of Ziggy Stardust.  Yet Ziggy himself struck a pose that was pure street-level rent-boy availability, mixing Bowie’s love of street-smart Velvet Underground with a sci-fi rock ‘n roll sensibility that gleefully drew attention to itself in a self-mocking and ironically distant manner.  My set is amazing, Bowie told the faithful, It even smells like a street. And who were we to argue?

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I’m up on the eleventh floor and I’m watching the cruisers below
Bowie, ‘Queen Bitch’

Roxy Music were having none of it though. By the time the band released ‘Street Life‘ in December 1973 they were onto something entirely different, a twisted yet utterly  convincing commitment to change…

See you in a few weeks for Street Life – Part 3

I hope you are all keeping well, are safe, and are being kind to yourself and others. We have lost so many friends and loved ones in the past months, and we continue to struggle across our world to recognize the strength of compassion and the senselessness and waste of poverty and violence.

Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth. William Faulkner

To glam star Steve Priest of the Sweet, Rest in Peace (23 February 1948 – 4 June 2020). Thanks for the memories.

 


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Street Life – Part 1

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 8.57.37 AMStreet Life (1973)
Street Life (wiped Top of the Pops performance)

We are the street-walking cheetahs with hearts full of napalm.
Iggy and the Stooges

Street Life‘ starts agitated and stays that way for three minutes and twenty-six seconds. There is congestion, a need to break free of the crowd. Simulated traffic horns sound off, overlap, warning us to stand clear, imminent danger. The song begins with a “cacophony of traffic noise,” Bryan Ferry tells us, “played by (Eddie) Jobson on synthesiser and Andy Mackay on sax, mingled with real sounds of the street – car horns  – and then the vocal enters” (Uncut). But Andy reckons it’s a Mellotron, not a synthesizer. Paul Thompson reckons it’s the sound of a pre-recorded Moroccan market, not a Mellotron. The listener doesn’t know what to make of it. New boy Eddie Jobson‘s presence is keenly felt, a statement of intent as he holds down unapologetic, dissonant chords. Get out of the way, he says, here we come. (“That’s the sort of thing Eddie would get up to,” recalls Phil Manzanera fondly, “he was very young and you couldn’t control him”). As usual, it is Paul Thompson that signals the break-out, the clearing from the crowd. He executes a drum-skin pounding of staggering power and we’re off – wish everybody would leave me alone – yeah!”

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Peak Glam 

Sticking to their strategy of opening albums with hard-driving rock songs (Re-Make/Re-Model; Do the Strand), Roxy Music returned to the UK pop limelight with an exciting appearance on Top of the Pops on Thursday November 22nd, 1973, to promote their new single ‘Street Life‘ – their third straight UK Top 10 hit single, and the first track taken from the new LP, The Third Roxy Music album Stranded, strategically released one day after the TOTP appearance. Stranded was the band’s first Number 1 record – an accomplishment that would not be repeated in the UK for another seven years until 1980s Flesh and Blood.

These were heady times and an important commercial peak for Roxy in the 70s: a term was coined by the mainstream press to capture the hysteria that followed band appearances – “Roxy Mania” (for shits and giggles check out a glossary of all-things “mania” here). In these heady days of peak Glam, the band and its off-spring were everywhere: Bryan Ferry was still occupying the chart with These Foolish Things (and would do so for another 42 weeks, still in the charts by the time of his second solo release Another Time, Another Place, and even holding on (by one day) when The Fourth Roxy Music album Country Life was released a year later). A ‘Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall‘ was still selling and remained in the singles charts after a run of 9 weeks (finally dropping out two days after the ‘Street Life’ Top of the Pops appearance). Ex-band member Brian Eno had released an album – the collaboration No Pussyfooting with Robert Fripp – on November 3rd 1973. Eno’s first proper solo release Here Come the Warm Jets – recorded with 3/4s of the Roxy line-up, Paul, Andy, and Phil – was already in the can. And to top it off, Roxy Music had been on tour for six weeks before the public had a chance to hear Stranded or ‘Street Life’. “Looking back,” Ferry would recall years later, with some understatement,  “it seems like a whirlwind of events” (Uncut).

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When Bryan Ferry took his trip down the mean streets of London in the Fall of 1973, he was a rushed and frantic man, having to navigate the recent surge of critical and commercial success. It was the height of Glam, but Roxy were already changing: Stranded marked the first group recordings without Eno. (The reasonable and pragmatic Eno had uncharacteristically lost his cool and quit Roxy Music, pinned down by the passive-aggressive Ferry and a willing management team, who had a different vision for the band). Replacing Eno, the young teenager and accomplished musician Eddie Jobson was drafted in for keyboards and strings (and anything else musical – tin box, broken flute – the guy could play anything). Two bassists replaced the talented John Porter: John Gustafson was hired for recordings and Sal Maida for live work. Chris Thomas no longer shared co-producing credits with John Anthony, but instead was given control of the new album, even adding to the list of Roxy’s bass players by playing the (un-credited) bass on ‘Street Life’. And Bryan Ferry had waltzed into the BBCs Top of the Pops studios to mime and finger-click in a very un-Glam white tuxedo..

Wish everybody would leave me alone, yeah
They’re always calling on my telephone

When I pick it up there’s no one there
So I walk outside just to take the air

You’d be hard pressed to recall a hit single or album opener wanting its audience to fuck off, yet ‘Street Life’ holds its irritability like a key, a point of reference.  “It wasn’t the happiest time in Roxy’s history” recalled Andy Mackay, reflecting on the ill-feeling surrounding Eno hasty departure. The band were reeling from losing one of their original members and an important ally and friend, while solo Ferry was creating headlines with his mash-ups of Dylan and ‘These Foolish Things.’ “There was something of a battle going on between Bryan and everyone else,” Mackay noted, “Bryan’s solo success was threatening to blur the line between Roxy and him. Bryan definitely felt that Roxy was his band and he could push it in the directions he wanted. He didn’t realize that your best work tends to come from a bit of struggle, rather than having things all your own way.”
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Keep the Chocolates

In spite of his success, Bryan Ferry was having to adapt to new realities:  ‘Take me on a roller coaster/Take me for an airplane ride’ he’d sung on Top of the Pops in 1972, but a short year later he realized that the roller coaster he’d dreamed of was travelling at peak velocity while taking sharp corners. “To counter the encroaching adulation,” Max Bell observed during a Melody Maker interview at Ferry’s apartment, “he has been forced to change his phone number (“Wish everybody would leave me alone”) and install an Ansafone which, when played back, revealed a mixture of bone fide messages and very silly crank calls.” Two teenage fans had taken to observing Ferry in his upper flat from the vantage point of an outside telephone box, making calls and hanging up when the singer answered, taking great at delight at his arm-waving frustration. (One journalist remarked, That’s what you get for labelling your doorbell “FERRY,” in black felt-tip capitals). The fraught artist told journalist Bell: “Since I give about twenty-four hours a day to the public, they should leave me alone the rest of the time. The worst aspects are when one is virtually imprisoned in a hotel or leaving concerts. That can be frightening.”

Just as the narrator of ‘Virginia Plain‘ sings his cautionary tale while luxuriating in the imagined roller-coaster ride of bright lights and pink flamingos. ‘Street Life‘ provides us with an update on fame – or, at this early stage – the rapid arrival of heightened experience, something that Ferry likens to an epiphany:  “now I’m blinded I can really see“. Throwing off the cloak of irritability (for the moment), Ferry frames  the circumstances of the au courant modern pop star in order to launch a spectacular walk through this “brave new world,” an experience so audacious it juxtaposes the mean streets of Iggy Pop and Lou Reed with a very funny roll-call of best-selling milk chocolates: Take you higher than the milky way/Weekend starts Friday soon after eight/Your jet black magic helps you celebrate .. 

‘Street Life’ follows previous album front-runners Re-Make/Re-Model and Do the Strand as fresh statements of intent – this is where we are taking our stand, this time. The close of For Your Pleasure plays out the burial of a tongue-tied, schizophrenic persona, while Stranded, with its metallic, rattling ultra-modernity (the sound at the beginning of ‘Street Life’ is an Eno quote, no debate), signals a new manifesto, a new potency and energy – hell, a new line-up – that is just as muscular as the one before it.  On a roll, and game for a dare, Roxy step up by releasing one of their finest singles and in doing so declare war on their peers – so you want to take a walk on the wild side? – get a load of this. The band’s performance to promote ‘Street Life‘ on Top of the Pops acknowledges yet conquers the tropes of high Glam, announcing the movement effectively dead – replaced, naturally, with a new dance. “I wanted it to be a high-energy, fun song – buzzy and vibrant,” said the finger-clicking Ferry in 2009. “I hope the words convey some of that joie de vivre”. To be sure, Ferry was writing at his peak, the words and attitude an epitome of cool. But it wouldn’t have worked – not one bit – if the music put down by the members of the band was not as every bit as powerful and ballsy as the swagger and intent of the lyric.

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The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance

Allan Watts

Next – ‘Street Life Part 2’the sidewalk papers gutter-press you down!

Credits: Ferry gets blinded, courtesy Village Voice; montage courtesy of Top of the Pops Glam camera-man, lovingly screened and captured by RMS; original single, 1973; original promo poster, found on e-Bay; the brilliant inner sleeve, Stranded.