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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Piece of My Heart

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Piece of My Heart Bryan Ferry (cover version, These Foolish Things, 1973)
Piece of My Heart Erma Franklin (original, written by Jerry Ragovoy/Bert Berns, 1967)
Piece of My Heart Big Brother & The Holding Company (cover, Cheap Thrills, 1968)

Bert Berns – one of the greatest songwriters of all bloody time, it’s as simple as that!

Keith Richards

By the time Bryan Ferry recorded Jerry Ragovoy and Bert Berns’ ‘Piece of My Heart’ in 1973 the song was already a classic – producing hits for Erma Franklin (Aretha’s sister), Dusty Springfield and Janis Joplin. Taking on a woman’s song can never be easy, especially when one version – Joplin’s – is probably the defining track of a short career – but Ferry may have felt he could deliver a more soulful version than the throw-away delivered by Scottish all-male group Marmalade in 1968 (he could, and he did). By the time Sammy Hagar covered ‘Piece of My Heart’ in 1981, the legacy of Erma, Dusty and Janis were calling for a moratorium on men covering the song (Marmalade fared better their mega #1 hit cover of The Beatles Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. So much for originality in pop in 1969!).

Ferry does a surprisingly excellent version of ‘Piece of My Heart’ on his first covers album These Foolish Things – surprising in that, negating the quirks of his quavering vocal style, he sweetens his voice to a degree that releases him from the narrow vocal canvas of Roxy Music and points the way towards the fuller sound heard on Stranded and 1974’s solo hit ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’. Certainly, the opening line of ‘Piece of My Heart’ is stunning in its affectation as Ferry allows himself to be close-miked and vulnerable (hear the echo of the studio standing between him and the words):

Didn’t I make you feel (pause) like youuuu (hold) are the on-ly (hold) one (hold)?

Ranking as some of the best phrasing of his career to date, Ferry’s vocal is so considered and melodic in these opening lines that you, the cruel lover, cannot doubt the sincerity of the question being asked regarding actions towards the tender and broken heart. From here though, the success of Ferry’s recording really depends on how you feel about the song, for the upcoming shift in mood relies on the sudden call-to-arms of the jilted lover, an approach most successfully realized by Janis Joplin’s raspy and impatient ‘Co-o-ome on, come on, COME ON, co-o-o-ome on and TAKE IT!/Take another little piece of my heart now, baby‘. Suddenly ‘Piece’ shifts from imploring sweetness – which suits Ferry’s delivery to a tee – to brokenhearted antagonism, a style better suited to Joplin’s in-your-face Texas blues, and a reason surely why Joplin’s version is the standard for the song and not Erma Franklin’s more sombre (even glum), take. To my ears ‘Heart’ loses melody and purpose at this point, and Ferry’s version does little to change the outcome. Similiar to that perennial yet irritating 60s chestnut ‘Take a Load Off Fanny‘, you can either live with it, or you can’t. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Designing his version of the song to be more Erma Franklin than Janis Joplin, Ferry has in the end to deal with the legacy and weight of the Joplin version. In order to do so he applies a three-prong attack: beef up the female contingency via the all-girl harmony group The Angelettes – who do a fantastic job on ‘Hard Rain’ and indeed on the entire album (see entry ‘Hard Rain‘); beef up the horns – courtesy of Average White Band founder Roger Ball, a multi-talented composer, saxophonist, keyboardist, songwriter and arranger; and be sure to beef up Ferry’s vocal reach and range of expression – listen to the line ‘You’re out on the street (looking good)/And you know deep down in your heart that it ain’t right‘ at 23-32s and you’ll see that performing other people’s songs gives Ferry an opportunity to have some fun and stretch his range outside of the classic Roxy Music mold, with the benefit that he returns to the Roxy state of mind rejuvenated and focused.

All the same, none of this handsome attention to detail and fine vocal delivery really gets to the heart of the song – nor does it add much to the song’s presence in the world. Part of the reason is that the origin and history of ‘Piece of My Heart’ carries a heavy burden of illness and breakdown – the song’s key associations stemming from composer Bert Berns traumatic physical heart ailment that killed him at age 38 and Janis Joplin’s traumatic emotional life that killed her at 27. Too young, in both instances.

For many people The Beatles ‘Twist and Shout’ is a Lennon/McCartney number, famously belted out by a flu-struck John Lennon to complete the legendary twelve hour recording of The Beatles debut album Please Please Me. Yet it was Bert Berns who co-wrote the song with Phil Medley (Berns later credited as “Bert Russell”) and was originally a hit for the Isley Brothers in 1962. A monumental track in the Beatles catalog – performed at the critical Sunday Night at the London Palladium and Royal Command performances (“the rest of you just rattle your jewellery”), and for the February 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show – this brush with Beatles mega-fame was not the only example of Bert Berns originality. Bert created Bang Records in 1965 with Atlantic music giant Ahmet Ertegün (Ray Charles, Stones, Zeppelin) Nesuhi Ertegün and Jerry Wexler.  At Bang Berns wrote and produced a string of influential hit records, including ‘I Want Candy‘, ‘Hang on Sloopy‘, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ (Van Morrison’s first single), and other Van Morrison/Them hits like the amazing riff-heavy ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, and ‘Here Comes the Night‘. As the movie tie-in proclaims – “Though not as widely known as his contemporaries, Bert Berns ranks among the most significant and influential of his generation” (Wiki) hardly sounds like an exaggeration.

Despite the success, Berns life was marked by frail health: as a teenager he suffered from a rheumatic fever so virulent he was left with a permanently weakened heart: he was told he would not live to be 21 (HoF). When he died of heart-attack at 38 years old on  December 30, 1967, he was building a house for his family, and it is here that the emotional weight of ‘Piece of My Heart’ can be found both in song title and the weight of its compelling history. As metaphor, ‘heart’ plays a significant role in Berns writing, particularly the love songs that evoke tender emotion – titles such as ‘Cry to Me‘, ‘Everybody Needs Somebody to Love‘, ‘Cry Baby‘, and of course ‘Piece of My Heart’ – all speak to a melancholy and sensitivity sometimes lacking from other song-writers of the era (see: Gerry Goffin, ‘Don’t Ever Change‘). ‘I cry all the time‘ Berns writes in ‘Piece of My Heart’ and it feels like time is closing in, unmistakably love-lorn and companionless: When you’re all alone in your lonely room/Don’t ya feel like cryin’, don’t ya feel like cryin‘ (‘Cry to Me’). Overtly sensitive, Berns played the music game like he was short on time, clock ticking, combining both hit-making savy with feelings of approaching loss and melancholy.

In general terms then, much of the Bert Berns catalog requires a degree of emotional weight in order to be told with insight and sincerity – the performer does not necessarily have to have a life of discord and strife – certainly Bryan Ferry would presumably not have too much to complain about as his career rocketed in those few short years between 1971-1973 – but the ability to get inside a crying Bert Berns song with the necessary gravitas is crucial. This is where Janis Joplin scored so highly with her cover of ‘Piece of My Heart’ – taken from the band’s album Cheap Thrills, their version peaked at No. 12 on the U.S. pop chart, but the song became associated with Joplin long after the pop charts lost their relevance. By the time it was a hit for the hippie generation Berns was dead, and Joplin was beginning her very brief fifteen minutes in the limelight. Janis Joplin adopted ‘Piece of My Heart’ like it was her own off-spring: a wounded heart-sick woman who had only three years to live from the day of the song’s release.

In David Hepworth‘s book “Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of The Rock Stars” Hepworth provides an extremely sad set of details chronicling Janis Joplin’s life: she came from hard working class environment in Texas. Puberty – especially the torments of acne – produced a self-conscious sensitivity about her looks, a wound she spent the rest of her life trying to shake. One student University poll cruelly called her the “ugliest man on campus”. On route to fame, she drank too much and became addicted to heroin (“I wanted to smoke dope, take dope, lick dope, fuck dope”). In spite of her fame, she never stopped trying to get acceptance and validation from those who had hurt her back in her home town. In 1970, she received an invitation to attend her high school reunion. Announcing her intention to attend on the Dick Cavett show (no less) she told the nation-wide television audience “They laughed me out of class, town, out of State, so I’m going home.” On another occasion: “Man these people hurt me…It makes me happy to know I’ve made it, and they are just still plumbers like they were” (Washington Post).

Unsurprisingly, it was not a good home-coming, doing little to settle old grudges. She clashed with the towns folk, who did not take kindly to being slagged on national TV. She clashed with siblings. Her parents left town to go to a wedding. She even volunteered to the television crew filming the event to re-visit the most painful incidents of her teenage years. “By the end of the visit,” Hepworth writes, “when the booze and pills had worn off, she looked broken and heart-sick. No vindication. No triumph of life over the little people.” (Hepworth). Two months later she was found dead in a Hollywood hotel room, alone, victim of a heroin overdose.

Heart-sick is the primary metaphor for the two people most closely associated with ‘Piece of My Heart’, writer Bert Berns and singer Janis Joplin. Other singers – notably Erma Franklin and Dusty Springfield – have gotten close to the emotional pulse of the song, but did not bring the ultimate sadness that the tune seems to demand of its singers. For Ferry, it was a genre piece – much loved and respectfully rendered – but his version is, by design, all dressed up and professionally delivered, drawing its strength and interest as much from a wish to acknowledge the great songwriting factories of the Sixties (Goffin/King; Leiber/Stoller) as opposed to portraying an emotional impact per se. This is of course in keeping with the stylistic and ironic distance found in the songs of Roxy Music. And while the solo covers & standards albums provide an opportunity to claw in the distance with a knowing wink, Ferry does have to deal with the fact that the passage of time renders the anthems of the 60s golden oldies (after all).  Ferry re-invented ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall’ and delivered ‘River of Salt’ straight, and produced credible, enjoyable successes. When it came to ‘Piece of My Heart’ though the song stood before him like a slab of unbearable sadness, unmovable, beyond reach.

Recorded: AIR Studios, England June 1973.

Credits: Poster for the stage musical The Bern Berns Story: Piece of My Heart; roxymusicsongs photo-composite left to right – BB in the studio/BB with Van Morrison/poster for the film Bang! The Bert Berns Story/BB with singer Solomon Burke; Pearl album cover out-take, Janis Joplin photographed by Barry Feinstein in Hollywood, Los Angeles in 1970; Janis foreign film poster for Janis: Little Girl Blue, 2015.

Next: Ferry takes on Elvis with ‘Baby I Don’t Care’ – and nary a karate chop in sight!

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Don’t Ever Change

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Don’t Ever Change Bryan Ferry (cover version, These Foolish Things, 1973)
Don’t Ever Change The Crickets (original, written by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, 1961)
Don’t Ever Change The Beatles (cover version, 1963)

Few people outside of New York or the music business have heard of the Brill Building. Located at 1619 Broadway in New York City, just north of Times Square, the Brill was the place a great chunk of American pop music was written, arranged, recorded and sold, including ‘Don’t Ever Change‘ written by (Gerry) Goffin & (Carole) King, recorded by The Crickets (sans Buddy) in 1961, providing a Top 10 hit in the UK. ‘Don’t Ever Change’ confirms Bryan Ferry’s assertions that These Foolish Things was intended as a break from For Your Pleasures darker themes and mood. Having cracked ‘Hard Rain‘ and the rare ‘River of Salt‘ (“I’m probably the only person in England with a copy of that”), Ferry decided next to go to the Classic Songwriter’s Songbook and pull down a cut from the famous writing team of Goffin & King – the jaunty ‘Don’t Ever Change’ comes up next and it’s a nasty piece of work, despite its early 60s jaunty beat. The music suggests sunny optimism but the lyric delivers tyrannical rule.

‘Don’t Ever Change’ was written on the top floors (“on the roof”) of the The Brill Building, a stunning art-deco masterpiece that stretched along Broadway between 49th and 53rd streets. A mecca for songwriting talent, the Brill contained 165 music businesses at its peak in 1962. The songwriters worked to order, crafting melodies and lyrics that would define the late 50s and 60s: “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” (Phil Spector, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil); Don’t Be Cruel (recorded by Elvis, written by Otis Blackwell); Do You Know the Way to San José? (the brilliant Burt Bacharach/Hal David); and so many more. Before Carole King become the mega-selling Carole King of ‘Tapestry’ (and the subject of the Broadway show Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) she was the teenager Carol Klein, married at 17 to 20-year-old lyricist Gerry Goffin. They got their break through their connection with Neil Sedaka, who knew Carole at High School and, in a last-ditch attempt at writing a hit before he was dropped from his contract, had composed and recorded a song called “Oh! Carol” (desperate, Sedaka studied the top singles of the day, mapped their melody, chord progression, lyrical styles and developed the ingredients of a hit single – he nailed it). Soon Goffin & King were writing compact, minor-miracle songs that sold by the truck-load – “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (The Shirelles); “The Loco-Motion” (Little Eva); “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (Aretha Franklin), and the fantastic “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (The Monkees).Screen Shot 2019-04-02 at 3.47.02 PM
In 1963, at the beginning of The Beatles rise to fame, John Lennon was quoted as saying that he and Paul McCartney wanted to become “the Goffin-King of England.”

‘Don’t Ever Change’ is one of Goffin & King’s lesser known songs, made to order like egg salad sandwiches at the local deli. Lesser-known in both status and (to be honest) tunefulness – The Crickets version did not chart in the USA – the song is nevertheless an interesting selection by Ferry who, presumably, had the budget and freedom to choose other Goffin & King songs, say, ‘On the Roof’ or ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ (but not, thankfully, ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’). Choosing to cover ‘Don’t Ever Change’ makes good sense in terms of These Foolish Things – it’s a breezy sing-along three tracks in – but there is something wrong with the song at root that Ferry cannot fix. His version is faithful to the original, with the benefit of being better recorded with deeper, fuller sound, but it neither detracts or adds to the original. The problem is not with Ferry’s take but the dishonesty of the song itself – ‘Don’t Ever Change’ pretends to be upbeat and idealist, but in truth it’s a mean song hiding behind a breezy disguise.

Carole King wrote in her memoir that her ex-husband Gerry Goffin – who she divorced in 1969 – suffered from mental illness following ingestion of LSD, eventually undergoing treatment with lithium and electroshock therapy, and later diagnosed with manic depression. Post-marriage Carole wrote her own lyrics, of which the mega-hit ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ (1971) is in character with her thoughtful and warm work. Contrast this with ex-hubby Goffin’s lyrical mauling of male/female relationships and you get the sense that long-term matrimony wasn’t in the cards, not with Goffin writing songs like ‘He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)’ or ‘Chains’ or even the party-ending ‘Everybody Go Home’.  Goffin was talented, to be sure – his writing on the number 1 hit “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” show a sensitivity to the complications of sexual maturity, and ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ has a killer lyric (“The local rock group down the street/Is trying hard to learn their song/They serenade the weekend squire/Who just came out to mow his lawn”) – but lyricist Goffin typically informs his songs with a controlling hand that sets an uneasy tone that ‘Don’t Ever Change’ cannot escape and Ferry does little to interfere.

The premise of the ‘Don’t Change’ reminds us of ‘Chance Meeting‘ – male menace thinly disguised. You never wear a stitch of lace, we’re told – And powder’s never on your face / You’re always wearing jeans except on Sunday – you’re a tomboy in other words. Oh please don’t ever change, he continues, I kinda like you just the way you are. The narrator ‘kinda’ likes you, so be sure to swear allegiance to his idealized view of you for all eternity.

You don’t know the latest dance
But when it’s time to make romance
Your kisses let me know you’re not a tomboy  

In other words, I like you to be uninformed, awkward and sexually unthreatening – except when I’m having sex with you. And the final kicker: I know you would rather die than ever hurt me. ie. I know you would rather slit your wrists and bleed out instead of telling me what a jerk I am. And less we think that picking on songs written in the late 50s/60s is easy targets in 2019, we can hardly avoid the fact that the final sentiment of the song as a declaration of ultimate control. And for the tune itself – it would take the edge off perhaps if the music provided some respite from the high-handed rhetoric, but instead of sweetening its chorus, ‘Change’ hangs its hook on the descending riff “Sooo pleassse don’t everrr chaaange” that is in the chord of C#minor which in music theory contains the harmonic characteristic of despair, wailing, and weeping: “A passionate expression of sorrow and deep grief. Full of penance and self-punishment” (Ledgernote). Isn’t this supposed to be a love song? Run a mile girl, and then run another mile.

The Beatles recorded ‘Don’t Ever Change’ as part of a BBC session in 1963, and was not released until 1993 (just as Anthology was being compiled and the insatiable appetite for all things Fab Four was gaining force). Instantly forgettable in the Beatles catalog, ‘Don’t’ is notable only for the fact that it takes a rare Harrison/McCartney lead vocal. Perhaps we can see the song as an influence to solo-Lennon ‘Jealous Guy’, with its frank recognition of the failings of its controlling author John Lennon, and which Ferry, much to his credit, made his own in 1980 (“I guess I can relate to it”). You could never see the narrator of ‘Don’t Ever Change’ admitting that he never meant to hurt you, never meant to make you cry.

What is intriguing about ‘Don’t Ever Change’ is its pedigree as a production from the golden-age of late 50s early 60s song-writing partnerships. While ‘Change’ may not be the best of the Goffin & King canon – compare it to the uplifting ‘One Fine Day‘ – its appeal to Ferry during the selection process, in part, may be attributable to it being a part of America’s legendary Brill Building productions, and the idea of song-writing as craft, as a specialized art that required an apprenticeship and learned expertise.

Below Carole King describes the atmosphere at the “Brill Building” publishing houses of the period, a world perhaps that Ferry obviously wanted to acknowledge, promote, and – in contrast to his own brilliance-at-the-last-minute writing practices (see: ‘Mother of Pearl’ / ‘Love is the Drug’) secretly yearned for a Tin Pan Alley discipline of craft and professionalism that had been lost in the individualism of the singer/songwriter 1960’s and early 70s. ‘Don’t Ever Change’ – by the very nature of its title – may be a plea to never change, to return to a level of discipline that focused on the art of manufacturing hits for the youth market, a value and enterprise that Ferry himself discovered in 1973 with These Foolish Things and is still very much with us today as he recorded Bitter-Sweet (2019) with the Bryan Ferry Orchestra, an album that re-makes Roxy and solo Ferry songs in a style that re-creates the nostalgia of the past in a manner that makes it feel ever more potent in the present:

Every day we squeezed into our respective cubby holes with just enough room for a piano, a bench, and maybe a chair for the lyricist if you were lucky. You’d sit there and write and you could hear someone in the next cubby hole composing a song exactly like yours. The pressure in the Brill Building was really terrific—because Donny (Kirshner) would play one songwriter against another. He’d say: “We need a new smash hit”—and we’d all go back and write a song!

Carole King

Recorded: AIR Studios, England June 1973.

Credits: Brill Building drawing, New York Times; Goffin & King songbook/Brill Building exterior and interior; Goffin & King at the office, early 60s; Beatles and Crickets tackle ‘Don’t Ever Change’

Next: Ferry shoots for a Janis Joplin classic ‘Piece of My Heart‘ – you can’t fault him for brave choices!

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River of Salt

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River of Salt Bryan Ferry (cover version, These Foolish Things, 1973)
River of Salt Ketty Lester (original, You Can’t Lie to a Liar b/w ‘River of Salt’ )

One of the lesser-known cuts on Bryan Ferry’s first solo album These Foolish Things,River of Salt‘ was an obscure B-side single sung by American singer and actress Ketty Lester, written for her by Bernard Zackery, Irving Brown, and Jan Zackery. Never released on an album or as a single in its own right, ‘River of Salt’ is a miniature miracle that never found the audience it deserved. Lester had hit gold previously with the brilliant ‘Love Letters‘, a song that went to the top of the charts in both the US and the UK in 1962 (and one that David Lynch picked up for Blue Velvet). Chasing another hit single, Lester recorded and released three more ballads in 1962 but failed to repeat the success of ‘Letters’. That such a fine song as ‘River of Salt’ could be buried and forgotten as a B-side is testament to the quality of Lester’s output.

In choosing ‘River of Salt’ for the album, Ferry was in many ways drawing attention to his skills and appreciation for pop as a continuum, similar to the Art world reaching back into the (not so) distant past for its raw materials. Choosing well-known tunes was one thing – every one knows The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin – but branching out into jazz and Motown, and giving the nod to artists like Nat King Cole, Ketty Lester, and Smokey Robinson was risky, especially for a working-class English boy from Newcastle. Expressing his love of the form, Ferry had very distinct ideas and tastes about music pre-rock: “The difference between then and now is that where you once had two almost clearly defined categories –  singers and songwriters – you now have a situation where all song-writers have to be performers … and sometimes it doesn’t work very well” (BF, 76). While rock-stars enjoyed referencing their rock roots – David Bowie’s Pin Ups/John Lennon’s Rock ‘n’ Roll – Ferry was reaching back to an earlier musical milieu. While not exactly singing The Great American Standards yet (that would come next in Another Time, Another Place) there was nonetheless an emphasis on classic singer/songwriter partnerships juxtaposed against the titan and preeminent standard These Foolish Things which, by choosing it to title the album, provided Ferry with a new mask: that of the lounge-lizard Romantic, the unrequited lovelorn personality whose confessions are framed by a writer’s self-conscious awareness of his own misery (and charm). A cigarette that bares a lipstick’s traces..

After the literary maelstrom that is Bob Dylan’s highly allusive and poetic ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall‘, Ferry pulls a fast one and gives his audience a 1 minute 48 second love ballad. As metaphor, ‘River of Salt’ is as basic as it gets:

River of salt
Flowing from my eyes
Seems as though
I can’t realize
My love is gone
She’s left this town
River of salt
Keeps flowing down

Metaphors can be exaggerated so much they become comical (as in, “Her tears were a river flowing down her cheeks and beyond”), but ‘River of Salt‘ has an innocence similar to Ferry’s cover of ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes‘ with its root metaphor of a lovely flame that dies, creating smoke, then tears (They said someday you’ll find/All who love are blind). In ‘Salt’ the bereaved lover also sheds unending tears while mourning the absent sweetheart. Although simple, the lyric may be onto something – there are no pure salt rivers in the world (according to Earth Science) and so the song taps into the Romantic idea of a bitter loss stretched across eternity, the Artist (hand on brow) writing reams of poetry à la climbing mountains, swimming oceans, walking thousands of miles to prove nothing less than everlasting love and commitment. Ferry knows the pulse of the song is earnestness tinged with a knowing wisdom and delivers it as such.

The musical set-up on ‘River of Salt’ is fantastic, and the track can be seen as a breakthrough in romantic sincerity for Ferry, a writer who in his own work prefers distance and irony to get to the heart of the matter. Richly recorded, bass and drum set the pace and are framed by a lovely electric piano chord introduction, laid down by professional session player Dave Skinner (who played for Roxy on the 1979 ‘Manifesto’ tour and solo Manzanera and Ferry records). By contrast the Ketty Lester recording is a bit stiff in these opening bars, with the double bass prominent but not particularly well-recorded, and the corresponding drum accompaniment sounding like it is being played with cutlery. In contrast, Ferry’s cover version is like hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire and white tiger rug. His vocal is (almost) stripped of its trade-mark quiver, and is delivered straight: Bryan Ferry the lounge-lizard/troubadour is born here, in this track, and in under two minutes he has set the stage for the appearance of his white tux and dickie-bow, glitter eye-liner be gone.

In most respects These Foolish Things is a love album. Songs like ‘Tracks of My Tears’; ‘Don’t Ever Change’; ‘Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever;’ ‘Don’t Worry Baby’; ‘River of Salt’ strive to capture and represent love’s sentiments in all its various colors and Ferry is keen to present them to a young 70s audience.  What is telling is that he tackles these originals from a vantage point of sincerity and eagerness to please, as if covering a track like ‘River of Salt’ note-for-note is the purest form of flattery. After dealing with love as a postmodern game of signs and signifiers – ‘Re-Make/Re-Model’; ‘Ladytron’;Editions of You‘ – Ferry shifts his writing towards regaining (or finding) love in its full range of emotions. He does so from two directions: writing his own songs and covering the songs of others. While For Your Pleasure is cold to the touch, purposely distancing love in favor of a blow-up sex doll or bogeyman sex, These Foolish Things tackles love as an emotion lived and experienced by other people – in its 1 minute plus Ketty Lester’s ‘River of Salt’ has all the emotion it can handle – and so in his musical arrangement Ferry chooses not to mess too much with the established formula, as if by not doing so he might spoil a song that had once provided a lifeline to his personal feelings and experiences. For Ferry, Foolish Things was only “half successful” (NME) because he felt he did not experiment enough on the source material. If he had done so with ‘River of Salt’ it is very likely that the Third Roxy Music album Stranded would have been a very different recording – mature, yes, but insulated and aloof, instead of warm and tropical, full of emotional heat. Without ‘River of Salt’ it’s possible we might not have had ‘A Song for Europe’ … and where, dear friends, would that have gotten us?

It often seems that Ferry is using his music, not as an end in itself, but as an attempt to create an identity for himself, a reality beneath all the style.

Allan Jones

blue ferry
Next: The template for ‘Every Breath You Take’: Ferry covers ‘Don’t Ever Change‘, the same team that brought you hits from The Partridge Family, The Hollies, The Cookies, and Rod Stewart – Ladies and Gentlemen, Gerry Goffin and Carole King!

Recorded: AIR Studios, England June 1973.

Pics: Detail of the 1672 sculpture Entombment of Christ, showing Mary Magdalene crying; RMS composite, ‘River of Salt‘ original pressing & original Love Letters LP; signed BF Foolish Things; below, it’s tough to make a living in the music business: Ketty Lester in Blacula (1972).

Til next time!


A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall

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A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall Bryan Ferry (cover version, ‘These Foolish Things’ 1973)
A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall Bob Dylan (original, ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ 1963)

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?

I. Where Have You Been?

There is a moment at the beginning of Ken Burns heart-rending documentary The Vietnam War when Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall provides the soundtrack to a chilling and moving prophecy: something dreadful and abhorrent is on its way, and the blue-eyed sons of a generation are going somewhere they may never return from, and if they do return, they may never be the same again.

Another blue-eyed son – Bryan Ferry – takes Dylan’s anti-war anthem and turns it inside out, downplaying and de-emphasizing the poetry while heightening the music and tunefulness of the original. It’s a fair trade, and one that still stands as an astonishing cover version of a folk classic Strikingly original and as tuneful as hell, Bryan Ferry chose to re-record the song as the lead track on his first solo album These Foolish Things, and in doing so scored a surprise hit, reaching number 10 in the UK charts in October 1973 (Viva). Success came at a price however: the single was controversial for its stomping (literally) on sacred ground, and it also created a schism in Bryan Ferry’s writing – a trend towards  minimizing lyrical density in favour of cover songs and a heightened mainstream sensibility  – an inclination, thankfully, still far away on the horizon as 1973 unfolded, they year that delivered two classic Roxy Music albums (For Your Pleasure, Stranded) and a surprising, even innovative, “one-off” solo release in These Foolish Things. As Ferry drily noted, 1973 “was some year of work.”

As Brian Eno left the band in July 1973 (see ‘Pleasure’ Part 2), the Roxy Music band-members felt the pain of losing their original line-up and their hard-earned musical identity. Andy Mackay felt angry enough to come close to quitting Roxy and joining Mott the Hoople (with whom he had played on their single ‘All the Way to Memphis‘ during the recording of For Your Pleasure). The saxophonist even insisted on creating a solo personae in the vein of a Ziggy Stardust alter-ego, as if to hedge bets for the future. (“I’m changing my name to Eddie Riff,” he told the NME in the same issue that Eno’s departure was announced). Phil Manzanera recalls the period as being, understandably, highly contentious and difficult: “When Eno left we were in danger of imploding completely” (Rigby, 86). After some breathing space and tempered negotiations – Manzanera and Mackay would receive writing co-credits on future Roxy Music recordings – the band decided to continue, Manzanera for one observing that “I hadn’t had my fill of being in a pop band yet” (Stump, 99). Band members also felt that doing solo albums would be a good way to relieve creative tension and so followed the two Brians on their solo album path, while retaining the Roxy Music brand as their raison d’être:

What’s interesting about Roxy is that most people in bands don’t do solo albums until they’ve been together for years. We all started doing solo albums almost immediately. We always had our own agenda, and as long as there was enough common ground we stayed together. There was always a possibility I could have left when Brian Eno did. I felt very loyal to him.

Andy Mackay

For his part, Bryan Ferry still felt that Roxy Music was the main thing, yet considered the Roxy ‘state of mind’ as malleable and applicable to other art projects. So he set upon the idea of recording an album of pre-written “ready-made” songs, some standards, some well-known classics, all of them personally important to Ferry as they spanned several decades from the 1930s through the 1960s, re-creating in spirit the set-list of his previous R ‘n’ B band The Gas Board.  Confiding to Melody Maker that “The people who did the best songs were pre-Beatles” Ferry was keen to surprise his audience, so much so music writer Hal Norman maintains that by its very contradictory nature These Foolish Things “remains as much of a revolution in the head as the great LPs of ’67 or ’77.” While this errs on the side of hyperbole – The Beatles and Sex Pistols be damned! – there is little doubt that Ferry was in new territory in 1973: for the post-60s generation originality was King, and anything less than an artist writing, recording and playing songs of striking originality was met with suspicion. Covering other people’s tunes demonstrated a lack of talent, a throw-back to Frank Sinatra‘s generation and the jazz standards of the 50s. No matter that John Coltrane had savaged the old Broadway chestnut ‘My Favourite Things‘ to create a be-bop revolution, the current thinking was that a Neil Young or a James Taylor wrote from their own observations  – meaning and expression was a gift to the audience by Artist, who toiled in everyday experience to bring the fruits of their insight to the masses.  Even Ferry was initially cautious in his ambition. “It wasn’t that I wanted to have another career,” he explained,  “I saw it as a one-off album”:

I must have been encouraged to do [a solo album] by Mark and David [Enthoven]. I thought it would be great to do a different kind of album to For Your Pleasure, one which wasn’t as dark and had a lightness in the way sinartrathat, say, Picasso does ceramics which are fun, and also does dark and mysterious work as well. I’m sure the album had good and bad repercussions. It opened Roxy Music up to a more mainstream audience. On the other hand, I might have pissed off the purists.

Bryan Ferry

Moving fast then – ‘Foolish Things’ was recorded in June 1973, with single and album released in September and October (at the same time Roxy went into the studio to record ‘Stranded‘), Ferry wisely stayed within his comfort zone by working with the members of the established Roxy Music machine – Paul Thompson was invited to play drums; Phil Manzanera played guitar on the Beatles cover of ‘You Won’t See Me’; For Your Pleasure musician and friend John Porter played bass and co-produced with Ferry; AIR Studios was re-booked; John Punter was back for co-production and engineering assistance; and as per the previous two Roxy albums, cover design was by Nicholas De Ville and photography was by Karl Stoecker. Andy Mackay and Brian Eno did not participate – which should come as a surprise to absolutely no one given the subterfuge and fall-out of the summer.

Utilizing Marcel Duchamp‘s idea of ready-mades or ‘found-objects’ – a pop-art trick Roxy Music had used so well on ‘Virginia Plain‘ and ‘Editions of You‘ – Ferry was keen to stick to mentor Richard Hamilton’s credo that art should be “Popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business” (Hamilton). This opened the way to throw another brand into the mix – that of the solo star, a beefcake teen idol called “Bryan Ferry”. The message to his audience and fellow Roxy band-members was clear: damn the torpedoes, I have ideas to burn, I can make it on my own. In doing so Ferry hit the nail on the head: the record sold by the bucket-load.
Screen Shot 2019-03-06 at 7.04.53 AMII. Who Did You See?

‘Hard Rain’ starts with the plaintive and familiar sound of Bryan Ferry’s electric piano tapping out a D-chord intro: it’s telling that the rhythm is slightly choppy, irregular, a human touch  – until four short seconds in, when the sound of violins slowly creep into the mix, precise, panning across both speakers. Ferry takes a breath at .09 and the voice is introduced, mid-range. Paul Thompson kicks in at .16 with a deft double-stroke roll and we’re off to the races, the rhythm catching fire for an extremely original and entertaining 5.19 minutes of pop perfection.

The introduction and selection of ‘Hard Rain’ for this, the opening cut on Bryan Ferry’s first solo album, is inspired and provides context for much of what follows for Ferry and Roxy Music in the 70s. Take innovative song selection and album sequencing for starters: in its original format Dylan’s track is a brilliant, if musically repetitive, question-and-answer poem that was ten minutes+ plus live, and six minutes fifty-five recorded – influenced by French Symbolists Arthur Rimbaud, Stephane Mallarme, and others, Dylan took the question and response format from multiple sources, some religious, one of them in the style of a centuries-old Scottish border ballad called “Lord Randal” with its question-and-answer format: “Oh where have you been, Lord Randal, my son; And where have you been my handsome young man” (FT). All sources helped imbue his song with striking images of conflict and apocalypse. The effect was a rain-driven “surrealistic downpour” (Riley) that became increasingly important and prescient for a country who, in 1963, was incubating hostility in Vietnam. (In another world, in some faraway galaxy, it is nice to imagine a society that heeds the warnings of the poets and assigns the Generals and war-mongers the noble job of grocery shopping and child-rearing). Intensely cinematic, Ferry’s choice is inspired – so wrong it’s right – and the sequencing on the record surprises as we move from ‘Hard Rain’s five minutes plus (the longest track on the record) to Ketty Lester‘s ‘River of Salt’ (the shortest).

The first few moments of ‘Hard Rain’ also introduce a significant moment in the history of Roxy Music: the debut of new band member, the fantastic and compelling multi-instrumentalist Eddie Jobson.
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“Who can replace Brian Eno?!”
Andy Mackay fumed to the NME when the split was announced to the music papers in July 1973. The answer to Andy’s question is, Eddie Jobson can.. Or, to be more precise, no one can. But Eddie Jobson was not a replacement for Brian Eno – he wasn’t hired to mix sound at live concerts, or manipulate Phil Manzanera’s guitar in the studio; he wasn’t hired to provide theories of being in a rock band or explain the role of ‘non-musician’ – quite the opposite, the gifted and multi-instrumentalist Jobson was hired to enhance and strengthen the musicianship of Roxy Music, to provide a wide breadth of support for live concerts, where keyboards, synth, violin and more could be supplied as the songs required, while Bryan Ferry took center-stage as singer and centerpiece of the live Roxy line-up. This view of Roxy as a professional and much sought-after viable recording & live music entity was what had kept Bryan Ferry awake at nights during the writing and recording of For Your Pleasure. Now the message had clarity – the goal of all marketing initiatives –  resulting in no audience confusion on how to receive and enjoy the b(r)and. Glamour. Style. Pop and rock perfectly captured and presented – the best integrated guitar, drums and saxophone in England, and not an earthworm in sight. Now the parts were in place, Ferry began to extract the spoils of war and put the (very young) 18-year-old Eddie Jobson to work.

“Did you know I was the entire orchestra on Bryan’s first album?”

Whether by grand design or sheer luck – Bryan Ferry was familiar with Eddie Jobson via a close family connection, both men hailing from North England, County Durham – Jobson was an incredible find for Roxy Music, enhancing the band’s sex appeal via his youthful presence (he was eighteen when he joined Roxy) and musical skill, topped off with a visually arresting translucent plexiglass violin that was as thrilling to look at as it was to listen to. Screen Shot 2019-03-17 at 9.43.54 AMMoreover, Jobson contributed immensely in the studio, not only honing and applying an exquisite taste in musical embellishment, but also bringing his creativity and skill to some of Roxy’s best recordings (‘Song for Europe‘, ‘Out of the Blue‘ and ‘Sunset‘ among many). And so too is the case with Ferry’s first solo outing – if you ask most people about Ferry’s cover of ‘Hard Rain’ it is the strident and multi-layered strings that are most remembered. “I came up with the choppy strings,” Jobson recalled of the sessions:

My credit on [These Foolish Things] casually says “strings” but I don’t think people realize that I not only wrote all the string parts, but I individually over-dubbed the violins, violas and cellos until my fingers were blistered. I also added the double bass parts by playing them on viola at double speed and then slowing down the tape (Jobson, 141).

The intensive string over-dubs changed the music beyond recognition – the Dylan original was a classic finger-picked ballad/protest ballad in the vein of folk icon Woody Guthrie (with whom the unknown 19-year-old Dylan visited regularly during the famous folkie’s final years).  The finger-picking style – with thumb picking out the base line and middle fingers picking out the rest of the chord – is a great vehicle for writer/poets who prefer to place emphasis on sound and alliteration, the steady rhythm serving to unclutter the poetry and message. John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero‘ is a classic of the genre, where the beat is steady and simple throughout, yet the message is barbed and to the point. In this regard, Dylan’s ‘Hard Rain’ is designed to be listened to. Indeed, Dylan took the question and answer format in part from the sacred text Child Ballad No. 12 Lord Randal and it does carry a sense of religious fervor that one suspects Ferry responded to – he didn’t care much for the political aspects of the song (“I can’t be bothered with all that Cuba Crisis stuff” (Viva)), but the devotional format would have made sense with Roxy recording the evangelical ‘Psalm‘ from Stranded almost concurrently with ‘Hard Rain’s’ release.

Lyrically, Ferry largely keeps to Dylan’s word choice, dropping only the repeated personal pronoun – instead of I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains, Ferry’s version go straight to the verb form as in “stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains”/crawled on six crooked highways and so on. These minor edits keeps each line moving at a fair clip. Ferry’s cover of ‘Hard Rain’ also adopts the Q&A format, with each verse the narrator asking a specific question, with answers coming from the young son. Verse 1 asks Where have you been? (Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?/Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?). Verse 2 asks What Did You See? Verse 3 asks What Did You Hear? 4 asks Who Did You Meet? And the final verse asks the most important question What Will You Do Now? Ferry used this call-and-answer format to maximum effect in his famous (and very early) promotional video for the single: sitting at his Grand white piano, squeezed between the instrument’s cover and soundboard, Ferry looks directly to his viewers and asks his questions. A separate camera picks up the dialog as he turns his head dramatically to answer and describe what he sees/hears/meets (Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter/Met a young woman whose body was burning/Saw a etc). An important aspect of Dylan’s song is retained and dramatized in the promo video as we, the audience, become the ‘blue-eyed’ son making our way through this tangle of poverty, ignorance and violence.Screen Shot 2019-03-17 at 9.36.29 AM
III. What Did You Hear?

By the time the first verse is underway, Ferry, Jobson and Thompson are inter-locked, moving swiftly towards twelve misty mountains and six crooked highways. At .44 we hear the winning sound of The Angelettes affirming Ferry’s conclusion that it’s a hard (hard!) hard rain’s a-gonna fall.” The Angelettes – Pat, Jan, Sue and Julie – were a harmony girl-group from Manchester, and along with Eddie Jobson, serve as a North England talent coup for Ferry, as he hired them for the AIR studio recordings and for his (now lost) appearance of the song on Top of The Pops. This is the first instance in a long career that Ferry uses female singers for vocal accompaniment – an attribute used extensively for future solo and Roxy Music recordings. While the commercial fortunes of The Angelettes never matched their skill for harmony and innovation, the fact that they contributed so much to ‘Hard Rain’ is often over-looked due to the humorous rag-tag chorus of the promotional video (complete with cross-dressing Coronation Street alumni), yet they shine on the album, particularly on ‘Hard Rain’ and the successful Beach Boys cover, ‘Don’t Worry Baby
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If Verse 1 sets the ball rolling with heavy rock, strings and dynamic drumming, then Verse 2 builds the sound picture with the introduction at 1.05 of John Porter’s guitar. In an effort to paint pictures in words and music, the guitar is the first instrument that sonically responds to the horror of the lyric, recoiling with a shake and a twang at I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’ (1.21). Intending the song to be heard (before it was seen) Ferry applies sound-effects liberally: “The sound of a thunder” produces thunder-claps at 2.02;  “Heard the roar of a wave” and we hear the sound of waves crashing at 2.08; Heard many people laughin’ brings forth studio laughter (2.17) and so on. In fact, it may be the effects and laughter that got up the noses of hardcore Dylan fans and critics – how can laughter be appropriate in such an apocalyptic song? – but this is both the attraction and ultimate success of this cover version – it’s grand, crass, pompous (in the best 70s sense), ironical, inspired, and above all, reverential. Taking on the mantle of the poet who “died in the gutter” new poet Ferry assumes the role of Dylan the Clown (who cried in the alley) only to be mocked by the chorus – announcement of his death is met with a sarcastic “awwww” at 2.21. Sounds like everyone in the control room – including the Angelettes – had fun with that one.

Over the course of the five verses in this six minute song, music and effects are carefully added to build a tapestry of ominous visual images and puns. The question and answer effects continue (black dog: “howwwl“/rainbow: “sprinkkkle”), yet there is a sense at the half-way point that we could conclude here and all would be fine, slow fade. A good cut for the BBC and the singles market.  But the story is not over: we have been, seen and heard, but have yet to absorb the lessons of human history, so the young one volunteers to “a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’.” Ferry is up for a-goin’ back out, and carries the second half by beefing up the instrumentation and vocals for the remaining two minutes 40 seconds of the song.
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Facing an emotional challenge – the young son will most certainly face death if he goes back out into the black forest (Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden) – the chorus and guitar build their lines to a harmonious climax. But the song is designed for Ferry by Ferry, the new solo star, so he creates room in the final verse to highlight his vocal performance and power, raising his naturally odd inflections across several closing lines:

Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten

Ferry sings brilliantly here as he spits out Where the people /Where the pellets/Where the home/…/ culminating in a fantastic staccato rhythm that requires an (audible) sharp intake of breath to get through the climax:

And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it

Here Ferry declares his right to sing Bob Dylan’s ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall‘ and re-interpret this classic folk song, turning it away from its acoustic roots to the world of foot-stomping teenage-rampage Glam. It matters not a wit, the message is the same: he will tell it, speak it, and continue to breathe it, for truth never goes out of style. A song re-made without compromise, Ferry gives a giant to-hell-with-you to the snobs and critics, and climbs to the top of the mountain streamline as a beacon of light, a reflector of the new modernity.

In Memoriam: To all the men, women and children killed and injured in New Zealand, March 2019. To the families of those left behind, we are sorry for your loss.

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You may have chosen us but we utterly reject and condemn you.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Next month: Brian tackles a sad-song metaphor – ‘River of Salt’

Recorded: AIR Studios, England June 1973. Various different versions of ‘Hard Rain’ release potent emotional energy – The Staple Singers engage in a powerful 1968 call-and-response that maintains a steady beat, and intensifies before the final verse; so too with Joan Baez, her unmistakable voice holding us in rapt attention. By far the most emotionally charged and profound take on the song, building to tears by the final verse, is Patti Smith‘s Bob Dylan’s acceptance speech at the 2016 Noble Peace Prize. At 1.54 Smith completely freezes (her word), and there is stunned silence from the Nobel crowd as she tries to get back to the verse lines. With a disarming “Sorry…I’m sorry.. Can we start that section.. I’m sorry…I apologise.. I’m so nervous” and a wide smile, she gains a well-earned round of applause. Emotion and good-will fill the room. It’s a profoundly moving moment, and Smith tackles the tough last verse cleanly with her frailty acknowledged and her humanity intact.

Pics: BF close-shot cover These Foolish Things; RMS composite Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Bryan Ferry (in studio recording TFT); various editions of the single; Eddie Jobson; EJ and BF making boogie at the old Grand piano; RMS composite from ‘Hard Rain‘ promo video plus some Bob Dylan shots pinched from the internet; RMS composite the magnificent Angelettes; RMS composite official BF ‘Hard Rain’ promo vid.

RIP Mark Hollis (1955-2019)
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It’s my life, don’t you forget
It’s my life, it never ends (It never ends)

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