66. ROXY MUSIC- FOR YOUR PLEASURE (1973) Guest Contributor – Paul Haig (Josef K)

Art Rock, Glam Rock, Greatest Records


I remember seeing a billboard in Edinburgh for something called Roxy Music, it was 1972. The blown up image was a 1950s-style album cover featuring a stunning female model (photographer Karl Stoecker shot the cover with model Kari-Ann Mullerand) and I thought to myself, what is Roxy Music? It didn’t take me long to find out in the music press that it was the debut album by an English art school band who dressed in totally out-there glam gear and got shouted at when they played live for being somewhat effeminate looking. The first ‘Roxy’ music I heard was the single ‘Virginia Plain’ then I bought the album which was amazing in every way. Unfortunately, I was a bit too young to be going to rock concerts so the closest I ever got to seeing early Roxy Music was when I was on the top deck of a bus going up Lothian Road and saw them get out of a black limousine to walk into the foyer of the Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh’s West End. They were wearing all their glam clothes and looked amazing so it was a real bummer to miss the concert which I think was at the Odeon cinema.
I first saw the sleeve for the second album ‘For Your Pleasure’ at Bruce’s record shop in Rose Street. Due to lack of pocket money funds I was unable to buy it for what seemed like an eternity so I would go in just to ogle it and try to imagine what tracks like ‘The Bogus Man’ would sound like. It looked dark and sinister and featured model Amanda Lear (who also started a career as a disco singer in the mid-seventies) in a contorted pose, wearing a skin tight leather evening dress and tottering awkwardly on high healed stilettos while leading a black jaguar on a thin leash. The background seemed like a futuristic Las Vegas city skyline and if you opened out the gatefold Bryan Ferry was on the left dressed as a chauffeur beside a black stretch limo, grinning ambiguously from ear to ear.
FYP has always been slightly overlooked as the progressive and cutting edge follow up to the eponymous first album that it was. Released only eight months after the slightly more tuneful eponymous debut it takes things even further in terms of sonic experimentation and artiness. Eno was still in the band at this point and his contribution to the overall atmosphere and ambience was crucial to the depth and texture achieved. He left due to tensions in the band after they toured the album in 1973 and things were never quite the same. Amongst the highlights are the sound effects on the title track and his crazed synthesizer solo, which is pure Sci-Fi jumping out of ‘Editions of You’.

You can just imagine his ostrich feathers being ruffled as he was playing it. Like most great records the opening track demands attention, ‘Do the Strand’ is a precise and accurate introduction and a perfect album opener. Stabbing staccato electric piano chords jump straight in along with the lead vocal:
“There´s a new sensation, a fabulous creation, a danceable solution, to teenage revolution”

which is reminiscent of ‘dance craze’ records from the sixties like ‘The Twist’ and ‘The Loco-Motion’ except ‘Strand’ appears more sinister, as if it could be the clinical answer to placate and quell the rise of the troublesome teenager. However, it’s probably nothing to do with a fictional dance craze we never learn the moves to and more likely an overall present moment coolness encompassing music, fashion, lifestyle and image. If you did the Strand, you were ‘in’ the ‘in crowd.’

There are only eight tracks on the album possibly due to side two featuring the nine minute and twenty second progressive, psychedelic tinged uneasy sounding and weirdly wonderful epic ‘The Bogus Man’ which features saxophonist and oboe player Andy Mackay playing incongruous and a-tonal parts which somehow work in the context of the song. It easily could be the soundtrack to a horror b-movie or a cry in the dark at Halloween. Towards the end you get Bryan Ferry’s heavy exhausted breathing with the faint sound of the backing music track bleeding from his headphones.
‘In Every Dream Home a Heartache’ was one of the songs we covered in TV Art which was the band before Josef K. I have a vague memory of performing it in a cellar bar in Edinburgh and instead of attempting to emulate the flanged psychedelic finale of the original we stopped it dead after the famous climatic line “But you blew my mind”. Probably a wise move. It’s an amazing lyric for the time, a sinister monologue that portrays the dissatisfaction and ennui of the narrator over his self-indulgent living and vast wealth.
Phil Manzanera is an integral part of the sound on early Roxy albums and shows off the uncanny ability to throw really catchy and commercial guitar riffs into most of the songs, as well as punky rhythms and memorable solos. His rhythm part on ‘Editions of You’ really drives the track. The guest bass guitar player is John Porter who became a successful record producer as well as working at the BBC for a couple of years. I actually ended up working with him when I was doing a session for the BBC in 1983, which he produced. One of the tracks,’ On This Night of Decision’ appeared on the B-side of the ‘Justice’ 12-inch single released on Island records. I wish I’d realised that he’d played on FYP at the time!
Eno is again very present in the title track and final song on the album, it is testament to how his synthesizer doodling and taped echo/delays could weird out and enhance a Roxy track, something that was sorely missing in future productions as the band became more commercially orientated from the third album onwards. It’s a haunting kind of stop/start track with precise tom tom fills throughout, one of drummer Paul Thompson’s best recorded performances with Roxy. A Duane Eddy style guitar part follows the vocal melody and warped taped echo/delay piano/keyboards. Mellotron strings and choir (also used on The Bogus Man) build slowly with distant tortured distorted guitar, endless drum rolls and cymbals tumbling around everywhere. I still like the part around two minutes in just before the long finale where everything is stripped away to leave Ferry’s dry a cappella vocal:
“Old man, through every step a change, you watch me walk away, Ta-ra”.

“Ta Ra” repeats over and over until it slowly fades into a cacophony of dark sound then distant monk like chants, before it closes with the voice of Judie Dench sampled by Eno from a poem quietly saying ” You don’t ask why” in the background. What does it all mean..eh? (Paul Haig)

Click the link below for our review of Josef K’s wonderful ‘Sorry For Laughing’, featured earlier in the series:

https://thenewperfectcollection.com/2015/05/10/josef-k-sorry-for-laughing-1981/

 

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16. COCKNEY REBEL – PSYCHOMODO (1974)

Glam Rock, Greatest Records

cockney rebel

Curiosity can sometimes take years to be satisfied. Cockney Rebel were, along with Sparks, the first band I was a fan of, as Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) became one of the more unexpected number ones of its time, still some years away from its fate as a staple of the unimaginative pub DJ’s record box, along with 500 Miles, Sweet Caroline, Delilah, Daydream Believer and the monarch of them all, Brown Eyed Girl.
Around this time, its parent album, The Best Years Of Our Lives, arrived in our house. Alongside the star of the show, it ranged from the goofy to the melancholy to, on Back To The Farm, the genuinely unsettling. Aged six, I understood little of this but liked it a lot.
Another arrival was, in hindsight, truly life-changing for me. The NME Book of Rock was not so much a window as an elaborately constructed archway to a world I was far too young for but fascinated by nevertheless. Although baffled by the omission of Mud, I was intrigued by names that would make more sense, and have sounds put to them, later – Pentangle, Third Ear Band, the United States of America and scores of others.
But Cockney Rebel’s entry really confused me. Why were they saying their new album was called The Way We Used To Be when it was called The Best Years Of Our Lives? Even worse, the people playing with Steve Harley on that album had solid, sensible names – George Ford, Duncan Mackay – but this book was telling me the group was full of funny names like Jean-Paul Crocker and Milton Reame-James. Why was I being lied to?
Later, amid punk and post-punk, Cockney Rebel were pushed to the back of my mind, a spell punctuated briefly by a splenetic rant from Harley during an NME (them again) interview with Danny Baker about Joy Division, after he had chanced to see their legendary performance on the BBC’s Something Else. It showed him to be grievously out of touch but, for me at least, his time would come again.
In a fit of youthful nostalgia, at 14 I found myself revisiting The Best Years… and its follow-up, Timeless Flight. This included the grandiose but gripping single Black Or White, which might have eclipsed Make Me Smile had it not been issued two weeks after Bohemian Rhapsody; clearly, there was room for only one overblown orchestral six-minute single released on EMI and the superior one lost out. It also had Understand, an aimless seven-minute groan which taught me the true meaning of boredom – but some months later, Bishopbriggs Library added a casette of Psychomodo to its riches and it’s a record where boredom is as remote as minimalism or restraint.
The aforementioned NME book averred that Cockney Rebel took numerous vogueish styles and moulded them into “one seemingly original mode” and sure enough, it’s hard to pin them down, which is where Psychomodo’s splendour lies. It’s not quite glam, though there’s a flirtation on the R & P (rhythm and pop – a genre is born) of the title track and the sarcastic charivari of their second top 10 hit, Mr Soft. Nor is it prog – they came nerve-janglingly close on Sebastian and Death Trip on their debut album, The Human Menagerie, but Harley was far too close at this stage to the Bowie/Roxy end of the spectrum to be devoured by mellotrons; as such, the symphonic tendencies of Cavaliers are moderated by intemperate language and waterfront harmonica, while the delicately orchestrated Bed In The Corner is more Forever Changes than Topographic Oceans. And it’s definitely not metal, though Sling It!’s commotion puts you right in the midst of the shipwreck it describes.
Dylan and Mott were other frequently suggested touchstones but Psychomodo is encapsulated by its uncategorisable side-closers. Tumbling Down is wistful, moist-eyed and slightly daft as Harley mourns “Oh dear, look what they’ve done to the blues” in a song which owes precisely nothing to Chicago or the Mississippi Delta but a good deal more to Mozart’s Vienna. It’s fitting that it was chosen as a climactic song for Venus In Furs, the band in the film Velvet Goldmine, whose set list is cannibalised from the songs of Cockney Rebel and their contemporaries.
At the end of side one came Ritz, a real lost classic, unlike the lost classics which are lost for an excellent reason. The simple, cyclical acoustic pattern suggests Astral Weeks but never apes Van Morrison directly, with strings hovering like the vultures mentioned in Tumbling Down and brass which strolls coquettishly one minute and has a contract out on Jericho’s walls the next. Above it, Harley’s distorted voice, too mannered for many, shows dexterity with some of his most erudite lyrics (“Couch my disease in chintz-covered kisses/Glazed calico cloth my costume this is”). In one of those irresistible coincidences, this and Psychomodo both namecheck Desdemona – and I was doing Othello at school at the same time I discovered the album.
Three-fifths of the band quit soon after – those funny names and bassist Paul Jeffreys, who would be killed at Lockerbie, prompting Harley, touchingly, to dedicate Sebastian to him on tour the following year. The sensibly named, highly proficient new Cockney Rebel made more fine music and provided Harley with his pension (as he calls Make Me Smile) but would never be as effervescent or kaliedoscopic as on those first two albums or the lovable stand-alone hit Judy Teen. Those were magic – the best years of their lives (PG).