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


Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’, music by Jermone Kern, lyrics by Otto Harbach, (1933)
‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’, Bryan Ferry, Another Time, Another Place, (1974) 

A gentle and perfect song – no matter who covered it – Bryan Ferry nonetheless contributed significantly to the canon when he recorded ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes‘ for his second solo album in the summer of 1974. Ferry himself was smitten by the track, in interviews calling the lyric “perfect” and “beautiful”: “As a person who likes to sing other people’s songs, I have come across songs which are just so perfect, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, say. How on earth could they get things to fit together so beautifully?”

For those of us who have followed Bryan Ferry’s career closely, ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ is a pivotal moment – arguably the singer’s most successful synthesis of taste and sentiment applied to other people’s material since the initial 1972-3 Roxy Music madness made him a star. Indeed, ‘Smoke’ marks Ferry’s break-through to a broader audience, evidenced by Ferry’s solo appearance on the The Twiggy Show (‘BBC Show of the Week: Twiggs‘) in October 1974, singing ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ as he lounges in white tux, red waist-band, nursing an ever-lit, ever-burning cigarette (Geddit, smoke gets in your eyes… Etc). Ferry presents himself here as a continuation of the lounge-lizard persona established only months previously with the ‘These Foolish Things‘ video. Only the naff dancing seen behind Ferry’s head (in the shadowy background) gives this away as a non-sleazy, decidedly non-Roxy, presentation.

I have promoted a belief for years that this Ferry appearance was actually from Top of the Pops – our hero propped up at the piano – but either the research or the memory is failing, and I’m not willing to admit to either. Nevertheless this telecast had a profound effect on my own personal narrative as it marks the introduction of Ferry and Roxy into my life: already vaguely familiar with Virginia Plain, Street Life and The ‘In’ Crowd, it was nevertheless ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes‘ that really got its hooks in me, which is odd, don’t you think – given its classicist and old-time sentiment – for a young boy already smitten with the excess of Glam in the form of Slade, Sweet, and – of course – God himself, David Bowie.

They ask me how I knew
My true love was true
I of course replied
Something here inside
Cannot be denied

Ferry’s affection for the lyric as poetry is spot-on: a series of repeating five-line stanzas concluding on gentle end-rhymes (knew/true; replied/inside/denied), supporting a point-of-view that is situated largely off-screen (“They ask me how I knew…”).

Part of the genius of the lyric for ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ is how it positions its emotions, situating sadness in the innocence of the lover, and cynicism in the heart of the crowd. ‘They ask me how I knew/My true love was true‘ is a pretty tough question to hear when you’re deep in the throes of passion. Nevertheless, the hapless lover is lectured: “They said someday you’ll find” –

All who love are blind
When your heart’s on fire
You must realize
Smoke gets in your eyes

“So I chaffed them,” is this love-bird’s response:

…and I gaily laughed
To think they could doubt my love
Yet today my love has flown away
I am without my love

There is a terrible outcome in these lines, as the audience assertion that “All who love are blind” becomes, in a turn of dramatic irony, to be true. The lover dismisses the idea of falsehood (“And I gaily laughed”) but admits before stanza close that “my love has flown away.”

Ferry brings a considerable amount of emotional heft to these lines. The howl of pain is earnest and unforgettable: “Because I am-ah withoutmyyyyy-yy love” he sings, the impact of grief stretching just long enough to get under your skin and – I am beginning to suspect – this is the moment that one young Glam fan, at least, became hooked on Ferry and Roxy, and never let go.

For Ferry, this is a point of convergence, for as all Romantic heroes know, it is the cruel observer, the unfeeling crowd, that is both judge and jury in matters of the heart. The conclusion of ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ obliterates the hope of idealized love: 

Now laughing friends deride
Tears I cannot hide
So I smile and say
When a lovely flame dies
Smoke gets in your eyes

Faced with the truth, the lover is defeated (‘tears I cannot hide‘) and in order to save face, he adopts the language of the crowd, quoting their words from the first stanza:  ‘So I smile and say, “When a lovely flame dies, Smoke gets in your eyes”’.

No wonder Ferry loved the song: he’d just finished writing an album, Stranded, that grappled with the nature of love and the failures of the human heart. The greatest sadness of ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ is that sentiment and emotional vulnerability is conquered by cynicism, resulting in this, the saddest of sad songs, and one of Ferry’s most memorable solo performances.

I’m much more at home working with a craftsmanlike written song like ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes‘ which has an incredibly clever lyric. It’s a piece of poetry in a way.
Bryan Ferry

Credits: Full LP cover spread, Another Time, Another Place; single cover; uncredited children, circa 1920s; The Intrigue, Painting by James Ensor





Another Time, Another Place: The ‘In’ Crowd

‘The ‘In’ Crowd, written by Billy Page, arranged by Gene Page (1964)
The ‘In’ Crowd, Bryan Ferry, Another Time, Another Place, (1974)
The ‘In’ Crowd, Doby Gray (1965)
The ‘In’ Crowd, The Ramsey Lewis Trio (1965)

Voice, Harmonica & Organ – Bryan Ferry
Saxophone – Chris Mercer
Trombone – Chris Pyne
Guitar – David O’List
Guitar – John Porter
Bass – John Wetton
Drums – Paul Thompson
Saxophone – Ruan O’Lochlainn

I: If It’s Square

A song so identifiable with Bryan Ferry’s aesthetic, that if he didn’t write it, he surely would have eventually. The original ‘In’ Crowd was written by Billy Page and performed by the Motown-influenced Dobie Gray for his dramatically titled album Dobie Gray Sings for “In” Crowders That Go “Go-Go” released in 1965. A reasonable hit – peaking in the UK charts at number 25 – Gray’s version of the The ‘In’ Crowd was quickly picked up as a jazz instrumental by The Ramsey Lewis Trio (drinking coffee in a Washington, D.C. cafe the Trio wondered what it could add to its set that evening. ‘”You guys might like this!” said the waitress, putting Dobie Gray’s version of ‘The ‘In’ Crowd’ on the cafe jukebox). The Trio took note, recorded the track live that evening and went on to have a top 5 hit, resulting in both the vocal and instrumental versions charting in the same year of 1965.

It is hard to know which of the two earlier releases influenced Ferry more – the Motown-inspired Dobie Gray version, with is sunny disposition and soulful back-up singers crooning their ooooo-s and ahhhhh-s. Or the jazzy Ramsey Lewis instrumental version, with it’s warm feel-good emotion and effortless swing, the potency of which is recognized by the cheering audience throughout the performance.

Certainly, choosing to cover a song called The ‘In’ Crowd from the vantage point of being the ‘King of Style’ in 1974 was no great stretch for Ferry, having delivered with Roxy Music a sexy, glamorous high-profile #1 hit record with Stranded, and as a solo artist recently re-conceptualizing the American Songbook to enthusiastic response (see: These Foolish Things). Ferry was on a roll in early 1974, having changed the Roxy Music line-up to align more with his original conception of the band as art-project and popular entertainment. “I was there learning all these songs by people I’d always admired like Cole Porter, Smokey Robinson, etc…These people had in fact more influence on me than the so-called avant-garde,” Ferry told the New Musical Express, defining his ambition and strategy for his later 80s work (Roxy’s Flesh and Blood, and his solo Boys and Girls).

Describing The ‘In’ Crowd as “one for the fans” Ferry recorded his second solo album Another Time, Another Place at three different studios in mid-1974 – the early 70s Roxy tripartite of Island, Ramport and Air Studios – with many of the Roxy team once again hired to support the solo project (Antony Price “Fashion”; Nick de Ville “Design”).

In a surprising move, Ferry also invited original pre-Phil Manzanera Roxy guitarist David O’List to play lead on what would become the opening track and first single release from the album. O’List: “I wrote Bryan a letter to say we should join forces again and make a hit record. I got a reply to turn up at a studio.” Indeed, the invitation to join forces with his old band mate paid off, as The ‘In’ Crowd hit number 13 on the UK charts in June 1974 (vivaroxy).

Notwithstanding O’ List’s advice, Ferry’s choice to re-invent a Motown and jazz hit was as inspired as was his take on Bob Dylan‘s folk poem ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall‘. While Ferry’s cover of the Dylan classic was hailed for its audacity and innovative arrangement, selecting ‘The In Crowd’ for a modern make-over was as obvious as it was necessary: there was only one person who could pull off the required cool and obligatory distance needed to carry a message of hip, modern dissonance while singing in the language Motown and Jazz. Add any name to the list of 1974 contenders – David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Lou Reed – and a cover of The ‘In’ Crowd would have been deemed too obvious, too opportunistic, and (in most cases) downright ill-advised. No, the outsider Ferry was the only contemporary popular entertainer who could deliver a song recorded and performed by the super-cool for the super-uncool. And who were we mere mortals to argue? Instead we gave up our valuable pocket-money and drove the song to the top of Top of the Pops, marvelling as our fantasies took shape in real-time. What’s real and make believe? No one really knew any more, or really cared. We just wanted to be a part of it.

David O’ List w Roxy (lower right); and as solo artist

The original warning shot was launched by Roxy Music‘s ‘Street Life‘ of course, Ferry’s frozen homage to the ultra cool and distant (“wish everybody would leave me alone, yeh”) as the singer stood center stage, fronting his hipster band, a bogus man in contrasting white tux and Brylcreemed black hair (Brylcreem: “Keeps you right on top!”), fingers snapping in mock exaggeration in what would become – for Bowie, for Madonna – the eternal image of striking the pose. (Or, if you prefer, the eternal image of Miles Davis’s 1950s The Birth of the Cool).

The absolute key to the success of the track – and surely The ‘In’ Crowd rates as one of the best covers Ferry has ever done – was the sheer intensity of the approach. Obliterating the previous Doby Gray/Ramsey Lewis Trio versions, Ferry and team choose to do it for real, presenting a version of mob mentality (“we breeze up and down the street”) absolutely straight, with no pandering to good taste. (Heaven forbid).

II. Touch of Evil

The opening chords to The ‘In’ Crowd serve as a manifesto, a statement of intent: eloquent in its sonic pose, Ferry’s Vox Continental organ seduces in the key of F major (“earnest, intense and delivered with conviction” mixedinkey) – the three-note introduction setting up an evening of possibility and menace. There is always to my (over-stimulated) mind a hint of the diabolical in this opening section, as presented by the depraved drug gang night-crawlers of Orson Welles Touch of Evil, with their film noir androgyny and wide-angle gaze. Certainly, Ferry’s opening is a call to the faithful, an invitation for all ‘In’ Crowders to make haste and assemble.

With this kind of tension and build-up (0:00-0:08), the next steps are crucial – and Ferry nails it: new boy John Wetton muscles in with gnarly and massively fuzzed ’61 Fender Precision bass, cutting through the crowd like a rumbling tank. The tone is magnificent, the attitude fearless. Next up is the cool-as-cucumber finger-snaps, chased by David O’ List’s power chords (the timing is perfect – courtesy of the precision of the Bryan Ferry/John Punter co-production team). A more audacious and ‘obvious’ rock intro could not be imagined: what happens next is one my favourite moments of any solo Roxy recording. (I don’t often get personal, but this is supreme): as Ferry, Wetton, and David O’List lay down their no-bullshit introductions, Eddie Jobson* comes in at 0:33 with a sustained string motif that just slaughters the soundscape – is it one note? is it one note sustained? tape delay? crescendo? – but for fifteen seconds this glorious sound hovers above the in crowders like a menacing fog. I’ve never heard anything like it before or since. Dangerous, joyous, rock music.

Ferry, of course, will not be left out, and as the cacophony of bongos, percussion and strings sustain their fearsome introduction – he sounds like he’s singing through melting rain. This is the Bogus Man, jaw tense with gesture and attitude, delivering the best lines of his solo career:

I’m in with the “in” crowd
I go where the “in” crowd goes
I’m in with the “in” crowd
And I know what the “in” crowd knows

III. The Roxy Machine

The prototype for Ferry’s cover of the ‘In’ Crowd wasn’t Roxy Music – as cool as they were – but Ferry’s art and design team, dubbed ‘The Roxy Machine’ by friend and fashion designer Antony Price.

Screen Shot 2018-04-09 at 7.13.14 AM

The ‘Roxy Machine’ – from lower left, clockwise, Price, Deville, Ferry, Stoecker, Puxley, (1973).

The Machine was fashion designer’s Antony Price’s tag for what had become – by early 1974 with Roxy Music hit records and tours – big business in Europe. While the members of Roxy were the musical engine for Ferry’s concept of pop group as ‘cinema music’, it was Ferry’s friends and collaborators Antony Price (fashion), Nick De Ville (design), Karl Stoecker (photography), and Simon Puxley (PR & Scribe) who created the equally powerful visual world of Roxy and solo Ferry, creating emblematic record sleeves, sensational fashion ideas, compressing – in the words of art critic Justin Strauss – “the sentiment and mood of a culture around music, art, sex, typography and confrontation.”

The scene that Ferry had plugged into – via Antony Price – was loosely referred to as the ‘Notting Hill crowd’, artists David Hockney, Ossie Clark, and Brian Morris. Price met future Roxy Music models Kari-Ann Mueller and Amanda Lear and future Roxy Machine photographer Karl Stoecker through the Notting Hill connection and introduced them to Ferry. The scene – far removed from the traditions of rock music – was bustling and inter-connected; the mood of the designers and artists open and flamboyant.

Dressin’ fine, makin’ time, Ferry sings, biting hard on those internal rhymes (‘dressin’/’makin’; ‘fine/time’). This crowd knows the right dances, the right moves, the places to go, the places not to go (If it’s square we ain’t there):

I’m in with the “in” crowd
I know ev’ry latest dance
When you’re in with the “in” crowd
It’s easy to find romance (and we work out)
At a spot where the beat’s really hot (and we work out)
If it’s square we ain’t there

This new generation of fashion aesthetes ‘breeze up and down the street‘ soliciting ‘respect from people we meet.’ You get the feeling the spoils of glamour are hard-won (‘we make every minute count‘) and the pay-offs are the result of considerable sweat equity (‘we work out‘). Indeed, Michael Bracewell in his excellent biography on pre-Roxy London (Re-Make/Re-Model: Becoming Roxy Music), notes that the artisans and fashionistas of the Notting Hill collective were defined by the “strength of their work ethic as much as the flamboyance of their somewhat camp, almost quaintly English hedonism” (279):

At this time for us fashion and pop were all part of the same thing What you looked like was very carefully plannedBut importantly, even with all the glamour things that were going on, I always worked a 9-to-5 job as well!

Fashion designer (and Bryan Ferry manager) Juliet Mann

The idea of Glamour as a quality that you participate in even as a member of the 9-5 working crowd was punk in its aesthetic, working-class in its roots – clearly a favourite topic of Ferry’s (Street Life: ‘But the good life’s never won by degrees, no‘). This is a group drawn together through their ruddy-made and unexceptional past, cut from the same cloth and sticking together:

We got our own way of walkin
We got our own way of talkin’ (gotta have fun)

It is this idea of being self-made that provides you the credentials to become a member of The ‘In’ Crowd, not the hand-me-down corrupting wealth of the narrator of In Every Dream Home a Heartache, with his swimming pools and penthouse perfection. As Ferry has said, “Where I came from, Newcastle, is a rough part of the world with no possibility for anything but escape” (1982). And so money becomes part of the ‘In’ Crowd’s DNA: ‘Our share is always the biggest amount‘ – a share that is presented as both motive and reward. ‘Spending cash, talkin trash‘ Ferry seethes, the emphasis on trash hissing through clenched teeth.

In many respects we can see the ‘In’ Crowd as a peak – coming hot on the heels of Roxy Music‘s Stranded and the epic ‘Mother of Pearl’, the song follows the same subject matter of pleasure-seeking community (‘All the gangs here, Everyone you know, Its a crazy scene‘) and issues of destiny and merit (‘Such a bright hope‘/’Have you a future?).

If the ‘In’ Crowd, as Ferry tells us, was “one for the fans” then his shifting identities, persona playing, and hard-won evolution into a popular icon, was a sign-post and invitation for the kids and their own wish-fulfillment. If this was the subject of the first three Roxy Music albums, you can bet your bottom dollar that by the time it came to record the ‘In’ Crowd, Ferry was reaching out to his fans and summoning them to do the same thing:

Girl, I’ll show you a real good time
Come on with me and leave your troubles behind
I don’t care where you’ve been
You ain’t been nowhere till you been in with the “in” crowd
With the “in” crowd
With the “in” crowd

Next month: We’ll continue with a look at ‘In’ Crowd’s guitar-heavy conclusion as a segue to Ferry’s beautiful cover of ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes‘ – another solo career highlight.

Credits: out-take of Another Time, Another Place photo session by Eric Borman; Dobie, Ramsay and Ferry ‘In Crowd’ single sleeves; Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil; Roxy Machine self-portrait; the UK single release, Bryan Ferry The ‘In’ Crowd.

*Note: Un-credited Eddie Jobson. This is entirely a hunch. Answers on a postcard to…