The Charm of Roxy Music

These are the Roxy Music sleeves. The first, top left, was released fifty years ago 1972-06-16.

This weblog post is being published on the fiftieth anniversary of Roxy Music‘s debut album, Roxy Music, released 1972-06-16. Wikipedia comments, “The opening track, “Re-Make/Re-Model”, has been labelled a postmodernist pastiche, featuring solos by each member of the band echoing various touchstones of Western music[.]”

It was Andrea, my boss, who introduced me to Roxy Music, at a party, in early 1973.

Bryan Ferry (1945 – ) lead singer of Roxy Music, had his origins in County Durham, at Washington. The world may never have heard of him if he had not lost his job as a ceramics teacher at a girls’ school, 1970-11, for playing too much music in the classroom. This encouraged him to start his own band, despite a lack of musical talent. Fortunately, he cooperated with others who did have talent.

Membership in the band was fluid for the first few years of its existence, but had stabilized by the time the first album was made with Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno (1948 – ), Andy Mackay (1946- ), Phil Manzanera (1951 – ), Paul Thompson (1951 – ) and Graham Simpson (1943 – 2012). Other musicians participated on some tracks.

One vague comment I remember hearing about Roxy Music, was that it was sax driven. This is undoubtedly a minority view. If one looks at almost any Roxy Music album sleeve, Avalon excepted, one will discover supporting evidence that it was sex driven. For those still in denial, sax probably refers to Andy Mackay, who played oboe and saxophone in the band. He was also the owner of a synth, an Electronic Music Studios (EMS) Voltage Controlled Studio, version #3 (VCS3).

The band’s greatest non-musician was Brian Eno, who was initially engaged as a technical advisor. His duties included operating the synthesizer and a Revox reel-to-reel tape machine. What impressed me the most, was Eno’s use of the EMS synth. My opinion, was that at least initially, Roxy Music was synth driven. It became less so, as Eno’s influence waned, and Ferry’s waxed, unfortunately.

The band signed with EG Mangement. However, since the music proposed for the first album was unexceptional, they almost rejected it. What changed their mind was the sleeve artwork. This debut album sleeve featured Kari-Ann Muller (1947 – ), who was born in Cornwall. The artwork also involved fashion designer Antony Price (1945 – ), photographer Karl Stoecker, art director Nicholas Deville (1944 – ) and a public relations specialist Simon Puxley. Prior to this, Muller appeared in an episode of the German detective series Der Kommissar, Keiner hörte den Schuß (1969). Subsequently, Brian Duffy (1933 – 2010) photographed her, with legs and much of her torso airbrushed away, for the 1973 Pirelli calendar. She also appeared in a film, The Bitch (1979), along side Chris Jagger (1947 – ), with whom she is married.

There is an eclecticism in the music, with a lot of it having movie references, in the same way that Roxy itself relates to movie theatres. 2HB was a tribute to Humphrey Bogart (1899 – 1957), with the line “Here’s looking at you, kid” taken from Casablanca (1942). Chance Meeting references David Lean’s (1908 – 1991) Brief Encounter (1945). The Bob refers to the Battle of Britain (1968), with sound effects simulating gunfire.

The second album, For Your Pleasure (1973), shows Amanda Lear (1939 – ) walking her panther. These early sleeves actually folded out, so that the back turns out to be the left of a photograph, with Brian Ferry posing as the chauffeur of a purple Cadillac.

Stranded (1973), the third album, featured Marilyn Cole (1949 – ), the January 1972 Playmate of the Month, and 1973 Playmate of the Year. By this time Eno was no longer with the band. Eddie Jobson (1955 – ) was classically trained and an accomplished musician. He played keyboard and electric violin.

Country Life (1974) showed Constanze Karoli and Eveline Grunwald, two German women Ferry had allegedly met in a bar in Portugal, where Ferry had retreated to write lyrics for the album. They are said to have helped him translate a portion of the song Bitter-Sweet into German. This is probably the most controversial Roxy Music album sleeve, for the US market the album was issued with foliage but without models.

At the left of the bottom row is the cover for Siren (1975), that used Jerry Hall (1956 – ) to attract (male) purchasers. I confess to have purchased all five of these albums as LPs, disposing of them in the summer of 1980 before moving to Norway.

By the time Manifesto (1979) appeared, Roxy Music had lost much of its charm. The band consisted of Ferry, Manzanera, Mackay, and Thompson, along with Paul Carrack (1951 – , keyboards), Alan Spenner (1948 – 1991, bass), and Gary Tibbs (1958 – , bass). The album was not a success, critically or popularly. The sleeve seems to be a party scene, with no specific individual model in focus. Flesh & Blood (1980) had Peter Saville (1955 – ) responsible for the cover’s conception, but was photographed by Neil Kirk. The two models on the front sleeve (shown) are Aimee Stephenson (front) and Shelley Mann (behind). A third model, Roslyn Bolton, was shown on the back of the sleeve.

The final album Avalon (1982) featured a smoother sound. It was the band’s most successful studio album. The album sleeve has a photo of Bryan Ferry’s future wife, Lucy Helmore (1959 – 2018). This is undoubtedly the least sensual of all the sleeves. Surprisingly, this allowed listeners to focus more on the music, which received the best critical reviews of all the albums.

Roxy Music was a designer band, creating a specific style that dictated/ dominated their stage presence, music videos, album and single sleeve designs, as well as promotional materials including posters, handbills, cards and badges. One might even want to conclude that even the music, was designed rather than composed, arranged, performed and engineered. I no longer listen to Roxy Music, but I do listen to the music of Brian Eno.

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