My Top Ten – Roxy Music

Roxy Music are one of the great British bands of the 70s – and 80s. There has never been anyone else like them. When they burst on the scene in the early seventies, I, as a young teenager, didn’t really know what to make of them. They were weirder than David Bowie and almost as as good.  (It was the time of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane). Their music was a melange of glam rock, prog, jazz, cabaret, rock’n’roll, psychedelia, just about everything. And they looked and dressed like no-one else.  Absurd and cool at the same time.

The original band was Bryan Ferry on warbling vocals, Phil Manzanera on guitar, Brian Eno on synthesisers and general weirdness, Andy Mackay on sax and woodwind, Phil Thompson on drums and Graham Simpson on bass. ( The latter didn’t last long even though he was a founder member. Bassists always came and went in Roxy). Ferry was the main songwriter and grew quickly to dominate the band, especially after Eno left, after the first two albums. We will always wonder what would have happened if Eno had stayed, as he seemed always to be the most radical, sonically.  But we shouldn’t underestimate the creativity and radicalism of Ferry.

The music has stood the test of time. The seventies music still sounds like nothing else, just as it did when it was first released. There was a second wind in the eighties, when Roxy moved with the times, and incorporated a smoother, slicker, atmospheric, soulful sound, most evident on “Flesh and Blood” and “Avalon”. It was very much the Bryan Ferry show after the creative burst of the first half of the seventies.  The days of Brian Eno laying down the crazy synths sounds , and guitarist Phil Manzanera inventing new noises were over. But a new generation in the eighties loved the remade and remodelled Roxy.  A couple of years ago I went to see a reunited Roxy (sans Eno) at the London O2.  To the delight of me and my friends they started with a whole load of seventies classics.  They went down pretty well with the crowd. But then, when they launched into the eighties, a whole new part of the crowd – and I have to admit, more – went crazy.  This was their Roxy. To be filed with Dire Straits, Sting and Phil Collins. Hmmm….

So this is my Ten. I can’t help but concentrate on the seventies classics. They are the ones that marked out Roxy Music as one of the most distinctive bands of the era. They are the ones I still still listen to and marvel at.  But I’ve squeezed in a couple of later tunes, because I do like Roxy Mk II too.

For some reason, I haven’t been able to upload some of the Roxy tunes from my iTunes, so I’ve reverted to Youtube.  Quite a few live videos from the early days, when they were a staple of a BBC rock show called the “Old Grey Whistle Test” (OGWT). actually, given the visual aspect of Roxy it’s no bad thing.

10. Take a Chance With Me, from Avalon

This is one of the eighties tunes. “Avalon “is a mellow, atmospheric album.  This track has grown on me over the years.  I think it is Bryan Ferry at his most soulful. The video here shows how he looked in the early eighties.  To be contrasted with the seventies appearances. But it has to be said that Bryan in the late seventies and early eighties was probably the coolest man on earth. Perfect haircut (which I tried but failed to emulate) and an ability to wear a suit like no-one else.  Maybe he just had a good tailor..

9. Amazona, from Stranded

“Stranded” was released in 1973.  It was the first Roxy album I got to know at the time it was released. It’s a brilliant piece of work.  With an iconic cover. “Amazona” is a funky track that I grew to love in later years, prompted by the fact that rapper Ice-T sampled it for one of his great tunes, That’s How I’m Living . Sounds like it, anyway.  (Listen to it here by clicking on that title). Picking this one has made me leave “Street Life”, from the same album, out of this Ten.  Oh, I’m still wondering whether I’ve done the right thing!

8. Mother of Pearl, from Stranded

An epic.  The raucous start descends into a woozy mid tempo chug in which Bryan Ferry declares,  Oh Mother of Pearl, I wouldn’t trade you for another girl… Roxy’s love songs were different!

7. Angel Eyes, from Manifesto (but single version here)

Roxy went a bit quiet after 1976. “Manifesto” was the first step in their re-emergence. I really liked the diamond sharp dance riffs and the sheen of “Angel Eyes” when it came out in  1979, and I still do. This one has a proper promotional video.

6. Virginia Plain, single.

“Virginia Plain” was the song that made Roxy Music stars in 1972.  Strangely it wasn’t on the debut album. It was a frantic, skewed rocker, with Ferry’s undulating vocals giving it an strangeness that was a big part of its appeal.  It made no2 in the charts, and made Roxy the outre limb of the glam movement.

5. Love Is the Drug, from Siren

A jaunty, sleazy classic from the mid seventies, when Ferry had taken to wearing military style outfits, which might have attracted more derision had he not been so damned stylish!

Dim the lights, you can guess the rest…

4. Do The Strand, from For Your Pleasure

“For Your Pleasure” was Roxy’s second album, and maybe their best.  “Do The Strand” is one of those songs that only Roxy could have done.  Frantic piano, wailing sax, Ferry on full warble, rock’n’roll from, I don’t know, Czarist Russia? Nonsensical but memorable lyrics… Rhododendron is a nice flower…

Go to 1.20 of this video for the start of the music. The first bit is Richard Williams, who used to present OGWT, explaining why Roxy were great. Which is good, if you are interested.

3. Editions of You, from For Your Pleasure

In which all the players take turns to wig out, with Eno to the fore. And a segue from his synth craziness to Manzanera’s guitar solo that still takes my breath away.

2. Ladytron, from Roxy Music

The intro to this song, featuring Andy Mackay on clarinet, is so beguiling and disorientating. It conjures up images of darkened dens, of mysterious caves, mist and danger (too much Harry Potter!). It is the best single segment of music by Roxy Music, I think. And I love the way that the opening salvo slides into Ferry’s wistful croon:

You’ve got me girl on the runaround…

This video might demystify the music a little, but it shows how distinctive Roxy Music were at the time (1972). And still are.

1. In Every Dream Home a Heartache, from For Your Pleasure

In which everything about Roxy Music – the strange, sleazy sounds, the songs about faded glamour and empty encounters, the richness and originality of the music, the singular oddness of Bryan Ferry’s voice, come together in a maelstrom of angst and musical mayhem. The only song about an inflatable doll that doesn’t attract immediate derision.  In fact, the only song about an inflatable doll that I know!

This is the very essence of Roxy Music.

Again, the video is from the BBC’s “Old Grey Whistle Test”. Look at those eyes!

Near Misses

So many, so many!

“Re-make, Re-model” and “If There Is Something” from the first album. The second single, “Pyjamarama”, with jangling guitar, Ferry vibrating, and saxophone soaring. A feel of Bowie. The song I most regretted leaving out of the ten.  ‘Street Life” and “Song for Europe” (jamais, jamais, jamais!) from “Stranded”. “The Thrill Of It All”, “All I want Is You”, “Out Of The Blue” and “Prairie Rose” (Roxy meets country rock) from “Country Life”, with the most provocative cover of all the provocative covers. ‘Both Ends Burning”, ‘Whirlwind” and “Sentimental Fool” (cousin of Ladytron) from “Siren’. “Dance Away” from “Manifesto”. and then all those eighties smoothies: songs like “Same Old Scene”, “More Than This’, “Oh Yeah” and “Over You”.

It’s a good portfolio!

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love outside work: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. And anything else that I happen to think is worth writing about!
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11 Responses to My Top Ten – Roxy Music

  1. Todd says:

    Love the list! Roxy Music is still a band that I am constantly discovering and rediscovering in many ways. Love them, and love the list. My number one (as with my cronies over at LxL) would probably have to be MoP. We did a write up about it almost a year ago. It’s a long read, but you may enjoy it. If you feel like it, here is the link: http://littlebylisten.com/2011/10/05/mother-of-pearl-review-royale/#comments

    Best John!

    • John S says:

      That is a brilliant review of Mother of Pearl Todd. I don’t often analyse lyrics so I just tend to pick up snippets – of which there are a great many with Roxy. Never occurred to me that Mother of Pearl might be about drugs – I’ve tended to think of it as maybe a transactional relationship which the old roue has become rather fond of.

  2. dc says:

    good list john-bedore peeping at the list i guessed and so i suppose must agree with 8 out of the 10. don’t really rate the avalon era so number 10 is lost on me and angel eyes was the other one that was a slight surprise. song for europe would be an essential. also like 2HB from first album, grey lagoons from FYP and bitter sweet from CL (which they played at the O2).
    vividly remember first time i saw them on TV playing virginia plain when it seemed ultra weird to have a song that didn’t have a chorus and the title words were the last 2 words, spoken when the music had stopped. unprecedented. loved the first 4 albums and spent many hours studying the artwork…
    dc

  3. John S says:

    Thanks for the comment – was hoping you would! I’ve warmed to the 80s Roxy, but clearly the 70s original is what marks them out. Really, while they have been an influence on a lot of bands, no-one has got near them.

  4. Bill Gedeon says:

    1. Casanova 2. Strictly Confidential 3. Both Ends Burning 4. Do the Strand 5. Ladytron 6. A Really Good Time 7. Amazona 8. Whirlwind 9. Manifesto 10. True to Life..

  5. Vassilis says:

    Although every song in your top ten is good, I really miss a choice from Country Life. A fine album, and quite overlooked. I would agree with you for their final albums, although they led to the wonderful sound of Boys and girls and Bete Noire, which I simply adore. And I still don’t understand the comment about Dire straits. Sting and Phil Collins, OK, but Dire straits in the same sentence? Hmmm. 😉

    • John S says:

      Agree Country Life is a fine album. All I want is you was close to making the ten. You have to be ruthless narrowing to ten!

      • John S says:

        Oh, and the reference to Phil Collins, Sting, Dire Straits is that they were the bland coffee table choices in the 80s for people who weren’t big music fans but liked to have something for the drinks party or the car. And later Roxy and Ferry joined that roll.

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