Dave Amitri on Roxy Music
Deciding to take on Roxy Music’s eponymous first album while making no decisions on the rest of their back catalogue was a bit of a punt. I know Virginia Plain, Love Is The Drug etc. I enjoyed their 80s smooth period but without the need to investigate further. Finding out Billy MacKenzie listened to the first album a lot plus all the chat here and across social media about their 50th anniversary convinced me to give Roxy Music a go. So I did.
I wondered about the band’s name so I decided to investigate the word Roxy.
As a girl’s name Roxy is a luminous girl’s name that is Persian in origin. It means “dawn,” “star,” and “bright,” a fortuitous meaning that signals the beginning of new and exciting adventures.
In the Urban Dictionary it tells me…
adj. sexy and swanky at the same time.
Well this is encouraging.
What about this album then? Simply put. It’s all of the above. How can I be listening to a fifty year old album? How can Bryan “dances like my Dad” Ferry be responsible for this? You all know the music, probably, almost certainly better than me. I’ve been listening to it for a couple of weeks and I’m still finding something new every listen.
Where to start? As it was released around the same time as Ziggy Stardust and with all the Bowie / Roxy stuff I encountered during my Bowie year I was expecting something similar. In many ways it is but I think Roxy Music did it better. Bold statement Dave… Yes, maybe but It dawned on me that across the 12 Bowie albums I was never really tempted to seek out performances of the songs beyond what I knew already. I listened, I wrote, I moved on. With Roxy Music I’ve found myself searching for and watching everything I could find on YouTube of theirs.
The first I happened across was a 1972 Old Grey Whistle Test performance of Ladytron. It’s ridiculous in its ingenuity and creativity. From Andy Mackay’s exquisite oboe having no place in this kind of performance art to Eno’s electronic whataboutery that absolutely does and Manzanera’s guitar. In among the madness is Ferry. I’m smiling as I type this thinking of him. Gurning, crooning, performing his no doubt shiny socks off. This set me off an search for more. Just listening was no longer enough.
The next I found was a grainy performance of Remake / Remodel from Paris in 1974 which contains every element of a Roxy Music song and performance you need. Like The Jimi Hendrix Experience meeting The Human League in a cage fight. What a song by the way.
Then of course there’s The TOTP performance of Virginia Plain which is more of the same. So much going on like a collection of musical circus acts performing away and yet what grabs you the most is the blink and you miss it lights out ending. “What’s her name Viginia Plain”. Wait, what? Is that it? Are you not entertained? Damn right you are.
I’ve yet to find a visual performance from the time of If There Is Something to be honest I’m not sure I’d cope if I did. It’s become an mind expanding earworm that’s spent too long in a bottle of Mexican beer. Thankfully my Sp****y version of the album includes a John Peel Session version of If There Is Something that is stunning in it’s quality. The song, feels like it’s actually three songs in one. It took me several listens to work out what was going on if I’m honest I’m still not 100 per cent sure. Starting as a regular country hoe down it suddenly shifts gear during a guitar break into something completely different. Ferry’s vocal in the middle part sounding like Feargal Sharkey pleading, begging, demanding your love, your attention. He’ll give you some roses and some potatoes. Who doesn’t want Bryan Ferry’s potatoes? I must have sung “I would do anything for you” in my head a hundred times. There’s a chance to catch your breath while it all slows down over I assume Eno’s electronica. This is 1972!! Before You know it you’re into part 3 and Ferry’s warbling sets your senses racing again with a lament to times past. It’s just so good.
In my excitement I realise I haven’t covered these as they appear on the album but as a four song opening to an album it’s quite something whatever order you listen. Right from the first listen it had me hooked.
Things do slow down a bit with 2HB which just makes me think of pencils. It’s another wonderful song which puts me in mind of Oh Yeah / On The Radio in feel. You need this bit of a breather for what comes next is another 6 minute adrenaline rush.
The Bob Medley is a mix of swoon, Vietnam style soundtrack, woodwind and guitar that I’m sure is fairly unique. Unfortunately I can’t find live footage. It’s great though once you realise it’s one song, a love song, sort of. For me though the Ferry vocal on this is the star. Who knew he was this good? Ah, you all did. Well his 80s croon was always pretty good but this in the first part is another level. Love it.
The rest of the album allows for another breather. Chance Meeting is just gorgeous. An instrumental break from the future could have come from Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden. I read a quote that Talk Talk were “The moodiest practitioners of avant-pop since Roxy Music”. Which sounds pretty good to me.
Would You Believe is the sort of rock n roll number Bowie relied on to fill the gaps and is the one song here that doesn’t leave me open mouthed in wonder I’m afraid.
Sea Breezes as the title would suggest is light and fresh. Ferry again emoting for all he’s worth. More oboe used perfectly and again more than a little hint of Hollis and Talk Talk. This would sit on Colours Of Spring just perfectly. The ability to take a song in a completely different direction exemplified here again. An exquisite opening, a bit of a free spirited middle, a Ferry lament and an exquisite oboe / vocal ending and that will do for Sea Breezes.
Bitters End sees Ferry doing his best Noel Coward over a barber shop quartet a finish with hints to the future perhaps. Can I leave it here?
Roxy Music is / are a crazy art pop performance project that leaves the listener with a mind expanded and full of new sonic experiences. Added to the visual wonder of Roxy Music circa 1972 it makes me think that while I’ve never been a drug user I suspect this is as close as it comes in musical form. I haven’t felt this about new music since I stumbled across Jimi Hendrix. Bowie only did this sporadically for me across 12 albums. Here it’s relentless. I’m leaving the Bowie comparison stuff here with this thought. There’s none of the harshness of Bowie about Roxy Music. Bowie’s voice and look just put my teeth on edge too often especially around this era. Ferry and Roxy Music while also trying to look and sound like aliens have a luscious sound and smoothness about everything. Yes even Ferry’s vibrato, Eno’s machinery and that gorgeous oboe.
In conclusion those definitions at the start of this of the word Roxy just about sum it up. A new dawn, a star, bright, that signals the beginning of new and exciting adventures. All sexy and swanky at the same time. And an oboe….