‘Pyjamarama’ is a great song, funky and cool, and very stylized. Yet it fits uneasily within the Roxy canon, feeling much more like an album cut. But then – on which album would it be placed, and in what running order? Recorded and released as a singles-only promotional track for the upcoming (not yet recorded) album For Your Pleasure, ‘PJ’ marked a few important firsts for the band: first use of George Martin‘s newly opened Air Studios on Oxford Street; first use of Beatles/Pink Floyd co-producer Chris Thomas; first Bryan Ferry composition on guitar (check out the “ta-da!” opening to hear the grandeur and importance of it all). And it was also the first Roxy Music production sounded really good: Ferry‘s voice is clear and thick, and intelligible; Paul Thompson‘s drumming is robust and placed high in the mix, and it can be said with no hesitation that musically this is a great performance from the band, as Andy MacKay and Phil Manzanera join Thompson to define the collective synergy that enabled Roxy Music to produce its very best music over the next decade.
Brian Eno didn’t think much of ‘Pyjamarama’ (“We should never have put it out as a single“), but John Peel loved it (“another dandy pearl from the boys,”) and it was popular with fans and easily made Top 10 in the UK. The hesitation came mostly from the circumstances of the recording, which were by all accounts rushed: between ‘Virginia Plain’ and ‘Pyjamarama’ (June 1972-Feb 1973) the band played at least 77 concerts, had their lead singer hospitalized for tonsillitis, replaced two bass players, played a triumphant re-scheduled tour of the UK, played a dispiriting, unsuccessful tour of the USA, and now were back home, welcomed into a chilly London winter and tasked with creating a follow-up hit single and album.
The recording sessions for ‘Pyjamarama’ saw bass player Ric Kenton replaced by John Porter, a friend of Bryan Ferry’s and musical partner in the pre-Roxy University band the Gas Board. Porter was a strong influence in the group, very musical, and went on to do solo Ferry and Andy Mackay records, in addition to producing the first Smiths album (a place in the history books thereby assured). Despite general band misgivings about the rush-job and timing and recording session, ‘Pyjamarama’ is actually fairly experimental, both in its sound and its execution. For starters, it was not an overtly commercial song in the sense that ‘Virginia Plain’ was; and just like VP the band again achieved a Top 10 hit without the aid of a chorus or discernible hook. The “hook” in this case is replaced by two dissonant instrumental breaks, the first is by Andy Mackay and is completely mental in its sound and execution, producing the famous “handsome noise” that John Peel commented on in his glowing review of the single.
Much had been made of ‘Pajamarama’ being Ferry’s first use of guitar as compositional tool, yet the strummed introduction (“ta-da-da”) is the only place were this in fact makes much of a difference. The opening bars are high-drama bravado, an overture to announce that Roxy Music were back, ready for action and as full of promise and excitement as ever. The opening was a big tease, sly even, and unabashedly earnest. Ferry chose to set the song in Eb (E-flat), defined by Classicists as the key of “love, of devotion, of intimate conversation with God.” (Musical Keys). The “lifting-up” introduction is very effective as a scene-setter: check out the version on Viva! and consider for a moment that the song’s natural role should have been as a concert opener for every show they ever did. (No complaints from this side of the house). Shifting to the verse 30 seconds in, the reverie turns funky, and by all accounts, solicitous: couldn’t sleep a wink last night we’re told, and all at once we are set up for a classic Roxy Music
faire une confession, and this one has considerable bite to it. In ‘Virginia Plain’ the author made a deal with the devil for fame and money: what now were the effects fame would have on love?
Couldn’t sleep a wink last night
Oh how I’d love to hold you tight
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
Take a sweet girl just like you
How nice if only we could bill and coo
Couldn’t sleep a wink takes us out of the fan-fare introduction and into a catchy but kooky and idiosyncratic musical funkiness, followed by an equally kooky and idiosyncratic vocal delivery by Ferry. The music is tight and percussion and tambourine and bass are in lock-step here, with Porter’s new sound fitting right into the groove, perhaps even creating it. Eno has a nicely urgent bleeping synth note chasing down Ferry’s ultra-cool delivery and Paul Thompson’s drumming is exactly right, as the song is a tough one to get to swing properly, and in contrast to the opening section, the verse is considerably cooler, and is to be held together, held in place, oh just so. Then Andy Mackay comes along and throttles the bejesus out of the proceedings at 1.03, holding his opening note a full six seconds as the unwilling air around him is sucked into the saxophone and spat out the other side as if abused by a wrecking ball. It’s a lovely little lick Andy plays, very lively and clever, so lively in fact that Eno decides to goose-step the solo by programming his VCS3 to simulate the sound of the saxophone drowning – so incongruous is the juxtaposition of sax and synthesizer that, if you think about it, and you add Ferry’s hilarious ‘if only we could bill and coo-oo’ you may have actually found the secret sauce to which Roxy Music is built on. Lively, catchy, coy, funny, dissonant, urgent – you heard it here first.
As a package, ‘Pyjamarama’ is presented as a mystery. The atmosphere of the song is utterly unlike ‘Virginia Plain’, that road movie on amphetamines. Instead, ‘PJ’ is like a dose of your favourite drug, administered by acolytes while a Turkish bath is being slavishly prepared across town at your private villa. You get the picture – above all, sensual. ‘Virginia Plain’ flirted with mystery too, its puns and illusions, its slippery surface in no hurry to reveal the identify of the love object. It was this aura of mysteriousness and seduction that was at the heart of Roxy Music’s appeal and popularity in early 1973, and the band enjoyed to tease, presenting the single and the upcoming album as an exercise in seduction and play, designed especially ‘for your pleasure’. The voice hooks you right away with its graceful appeal to longing and desire, Couldn’t sleep a wink last night/Oh how I’d love to hold you tight. Then it very quickly turns to the mysterious: They say you have a secret life/Made sacrifice your key to paradise. What a remarkable thing to say so early in the song – I am crazy for you, I physically yearn for you, but people say have a secret life and that you may actually be dangerous. The “You” here is the object of desire (hold you tight); a subject of gossip (they say); mysterious (secret life); and strong (made sacrifice). This is almost a stock representation description of a 1940s and 50s cinema’s femme fatale archetype. While it is true that Roxy did not go into Air Studios with a overarching plan for the next record (only one or two tracks having been written when recording started) Ferry’s cinematic interests extended to the film noir style, especially the themes of the mysterious and seductive woman whose “charms ensnare her lovers”(Wiki) – just look at the cover of For Your Pleasure, where the femme fatale is so omnipotent she is leading a black panther on a leash. In literature, a black panther is an age-old symbol of death, hence the femme fatale is literally leading death around on a leash, choosing her moment to release her darkness and terminal ruination on any unsuspecting (male) victim – in this case a rather happy-chappy and recognizable chauffeur. As even the most casual Roxy fan knows, this particular femme fatale was the socialite and model Amanda Lear, the subject and prime-mover, arguably, of ‘Pyjamarama’s secret life.
I. Amanda Lear’s Secret Life
“In Italy I’m big because they’re all so sex-obsessed,” Lear once said of her Italian fan-base. “In Germany I succeeded because they’ve been waiting for someone like Marlene Dietrich to come along ever since the war. I played on their need for a drunken, nightclubbing vamp” (Guardian). In the same manner that ‘Virginia Plain’s Baby Jane Hozer was a strong-willed, independent woman from high-society background, Amanda Lear was also part of the 60s and 70s nightclub scene, her name linked in with David Bowie, Bryan Ferry and others, including Brian Jones, who wrote the Rolling Stones track Miss Amanda Jones about her. What is more interesting than her affairs with rock stars however is her relationship with Salvador Dali, the prominent Spanish surrealist painter and artist and publicity hound. Now, Dali is an interesting case in his own right – his subjects and interests included symbolism, science, sculpture, fashion and photography, theatre and film, literature (he wrote a novel). Tagged as a gimmicky art merchant in the 70s and 80s, Dali has since been cited as a major inspiration by many modern artists, such as Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, and Roxy Music muse Andy Warhol proclaimed him an important influence on pop art. Dalí met Amanda Lear at a French nightclub in 1965, when she was still known under the incredible name of Peki D’Oslo. According to Lear, she and Dalí were united in a “spiritual marriage” on a deserted mountaintop. Lear took the place of an earlier Dali muse, Ultra Violet (Isabelle Collin Dufresne), who had left Dalí’s side to join The Factory of Andy Warhol (the plot thickens!).
A Guardian newspaper article perhaps summed up the allure of Amanda Lear best: ‘Lear’s background remains a mystery. She has variously let it be known that her mother was English or French or Vietnamese or Chinese, and that her father was English, Russian, French or Indonesian. She may have been born in Hanoi in 1939, or Hong Kong in either 1941 or 1946. Once she said she was from Transylvania. And to this day, it is a matter of conjecture as to whether she was born a boy or a girl.’ (See also ‘Rebel Rebel‘, ah hem). Mysterious origins, the secret wife of a famous painter, a recipient of a sex-change operation, Lear has never confirmed these details, although she was happy to trade on the notoriety they generated. ‘It makes me mysterious and interesting,’ she said. ‘There is nothing the pop world loves more than a way-out freak.’ (Guardian).
There are several different versions of how and where Bryan Ferry and Amanda Lear met – some say in August 1972 at the Rainbow Theatre in London during the support gig for David Bowie; others, that Ferry saw her on stage at a fashion show (Q). Some reliable sources even say they were engaged for a time, but we do not much care for these private details here, as our concern is primarily a careful reading of the lyrical and music content of the songs and not the social life of its authors. However, you can’t help but make associations, as Ferry’s style was quickly evolving into, as Nick De Ville would say, “I have this problem, I’m writing this pop song” – a meta-analysis of the world in which he had only recently entered, the work buffered and protected by dense literary and social puns, allusions, and inventive narrative imagery. Yet, make no mistake, his work was confessional in the sense that his experiences were being analyzed and interrogated, and the deeper search for meaning in a “looking glass world” was starting to be pushed front and center now that he had joined the fame game club. In ‘Pyjamarama’ the party is in full swing as the clandestine couple grab a private moment and our narrator leans in and whispers, Couldn’t sleep a wink last night/Oh how I’d love to hold you tight:
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
Take a sweet girl just like you
How nice if only we could bill and coo
They say you have a secret life: ‘Secret Life’ is the title of Dali’s famous book
Made sacrifice your key to paradise: sex-change; deception of age and origin
Never mind, take the world by storm: the sacrifice will lead to success
Then, another shift in tone, and a move to judgement:
Just boogaloo a rhapsody divine: the text book meaning for rhapsody is an “effusively enthusiastic or ecstatic expression of feeling”, an intensity of emotion that is almost religious in its intensity – we hear this during the song’s 30 second intro. Ferry undercuts the sentiment by suggesting the woman “boogaloo” the divine – that is to say, turn rapture into a cheap (Latin) dance move. Cheapen the experience, commercialize it. High art becomes low art and Roxy Music continue their examination of trash and its increasing value in modern culture.
Take a sweet girl just like you: again, there is a trace of salt in these words – based on what we’ve seen so far this femme fatale is far from “sweet” and the “take a girl just like you” quip suggests she (and her fame dream) are dime-a-dozen, with thousands of hapless others willing to re-create and pimp themselves for stardom (Ferry, once citing himself as an “orchid born a coal tip” includes himself in this equation, obviously).
II. Meet Bill and Coo
How nice if only we could bill and coo: one of the singer’s funniest lines, with a brilliant camp delivery (bill and coo-u-ooo). Again, there is shade and contrast here, as these two rather sophisticated types, full of self-interest, are placed in the context of a soft nest in which to nuzzle and purr and coo at one another. Secret lives, mysterious origins, affairs, world domination – these two would never win the lead roles in Bill and Coo, the 1948 film directed by Dean Riesner, a film that Ferry is sure to have known as it was a very popular entertainment for children in the UK, as a town of birds is terrorized by a crow known called the Black Menace. Turn to the archetype of Lear as femme fatale and darkness incarnate and you can see the vision of For Your Pleasure being built in Ferry’s mind in this, the first song recorded at Air studios for the album.
Andy Mackay’s wonderful “handsome noise” solo at 1.03 propels us into the second half of the song, which is a mirror image of the first half, with the subject of the narrative focusing shifting to the male suitor and Andy’s musical solo being repeated on guitar by the magnificent Phil Manzanera, the musician who around this time stepped out of the shadows to contribute and define the classic Roxy Music sound.
I may seem a fool to you for ev’rything
I say or think or do
How could I apologise for all those lies
The world may keep us far apart but up in heaven, angel
You can have my heart
In the first verse the subject is the woman, the “you” who has a secret life, who made the right sacrifices and is set to take the world by storm. The second verse shifts to “I”, the man, the narrator of the song, who is apologizing for his very existence – I may seem a fool to you for ev’rything/I say or think or do. His plea for forgiveness confirms we are eavesdropping on a couple’s clandestine break-up (How could I apologise for all those lies). The issue is, we know there is no apology forthcoming (it’s how could I apologise as opposed to how can I apologise) and by his own standards of judgement (up in heaven) the man is guilty. Two things are happening here: the narrator starts out by identifying and judging the woman (he sees through her), then shifts to judgment on his own actions (he sees through himself). But really, who can you trust? (I may seem a fool to you). Well, the answer of course, as any Roxy fan can attest, is to be found in the following run of brilliant songs on For Your Pleasure and Stranded, particularly ‘In Every Dream Home, a Heartache’ and ‘Psalm’. Ferry lands on a narrative strategy here by developing an idea he first hinted at in ‘Virginia Plain’: the role divinity plays in the lives of people. From this point on during the 70s until Manifesto in 1979, Roxy Music would explore both musically and lyrically how divinity as a spiritual Ideal provides us mere mortals (and rock stars) with the sign-posts on how to live; for Roxy, the divine is much less about “God” as a thing or religion as a collective, but as a place where Nature or Art is seen as one of the means of connecting yourself to a higher spirit or intelligence. Bryan Ferry uses the divine as a totem to measure and judge his actions, his moral code, and, in the end, the worthiness and success of his art.
The world may keep us far apart but up in heaven, angel/you can have my heart: the temptations of the flesh in this beastly world mean, frankly dear, you’ll have to wait until we are pure Spirit before you stand a chance of holding me down. This is both wonderfully honest and of course extremely self-serving: Ferry is looking up to the heavens, and saying – fuck it, catch you later – the time for fun is now. Let me catch up to Immortality and Goodness when I’m done with this corporeal road trip. Come on Angel, why do you think I had to tell all those lies?
III. Boogaloo the Divine
The concluding lines of the song offer up an opportunity for you, the listener, to see where you land on a key question:
Diamonds may be your best friend
But like laughter after tears
I’ll follow you to the end
In your own emotional experience, what does laughter after tears mean to you? Is it an image of reconciliation, that all becomes good once the sobbing has stopped (as explored by R.E.M in ‘Sweetness Follows‘); or is it a mocking gesture, best articulated in private (as explored by XTC in ‘Me and the Wind Are Celebrating Your Loss‘). The final dedication is unequivocal however: I’ll follow you to the end. This is either an act of intentional damnation for all eternity (we are the same creature you and I, and this will be our ruination), or something much different, for this divine dance has been mostly played out on the human scale, with its social play, its concern with appearance and diamonds and gossip and dramatic romantic gestures played to packed houses. Think pyjama party with Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence in the play Private Lives. On the microcosmic scale this is a comedy of manners, a pyjama-drama played out by modern people who are unlikely to illicit our sympathy (he is a liar, she a manipulator). Yet by the time we get to laughter after tears, there are no regrets, and we turn to heaven where, at least in the world of Higher Ideals, he will follow you to the end.
Phil Manzanera’s wonderful guitar break closes the song – a genuinely fine and uplifting solo that repeats the central motif, then goes back on it, then forward again, with Paul Thompson’s juggernaut drumming propelling the whole scene outwards and upwards to a conclusion. This is a bursting forth moment, the musical equivalent of joy and rapture, a coming into the light, like laughter after tears. We have come back full circle to the song’s opening celestial overture, our divine key of Eb (E-flat) with its emotional effect “of love, of devotion, of intimate conversation with God.” Remember this has been a Pyjama-rama, and Rama, in the oldest Sanskrit epic poem Ramayana, is the Lord of Virtue and he and and his wife Sita are the very essence of purity – a shining example of martial devotion that our two earth-bound lovers could only aspire to. Using the guitar as a compositional tool for the first time, Ferry playfully opens the song with a devotional overture to to God (“ta-da-da”!), and then proceeds to judge his own actions in the context of the Divine, a role he understands, perhaps, but can never possibly fulfill.
Credits: a painting of the 10-headed enemy of love, the demon Ravana. Rava kidnaps Sita, and is rescued by the noble Lord of Virtue, Rama (http://www.ancient.eu/Rama/); Italian copy of the single; NME review of the single; PJ original inner label 6159-A (that oddly does not credit Chris Thomas as co-producer); For Your Pleasure gatefold sleeve w/Amanda Lear and Bryan Ferry, design Ferry, Nicholas Deville art direction, photography; The Secret Life of Salvador Dali (by Salvador Dali); Bill and Coo, the 1948 film directed by Dean Riesner; Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence in the play Private Lives; two prints of the divine love of Sita and Rava.