Roxy Music Biography

This highly regarded and heavily influential UK band came together in January 1971 with a line-up comprising Bryan Ferry (26 September 1945, Washington, Co. Durham, England; vocals/keyboards); Brian Eno (b. Brian Peter George St. Baptiste de la Salle Eno, 15 May 1948, Woodbridge, Suffolk, England; electronics/keyboards); Graham Simpson (bass) and Andy Mackay (b. 23 July 1946, Lostwithiel, Cornwall, England). Over the next year, several new members came and went including drummer Dexter Lloyd, guitarist Roger Bunn and former Nice guitarist David O’List. By early 1972, a relatively settled line-up emerged with the recruitment of Paul Thompson (b. 13 May 1951, Newcastle, England; drums) and Phil Manzanera (b. Philip Targett Adams, 31 January 1951, London, England; guitar).

Roxy Music’s self-titled 1972 debut album for Island Records was a musical potpourri, with Ferry’s 50s-tinged vocals juxtaposed alongside distinctive 60s rhythms and 70s electronics. The novel sleeve concept underlined the band’s art school background, while their image (from 50s quiffs to futurist Lurex jackets) emphasized their stylistic diversity. Reviews verged on the ecstatic, acclaiming the album as one of the finest debuts in living memory. Ferry’s quirky love songs were often bleak in theme but strangely effervescent, fusing romanticism with bitter irony. On ‘If There Was Something’, for example, a quaint melody gradually descends into marvellous cliché (‘I would do anything for you... I would climb the ocean blue’) and bathos (‘I would put roses round your door... growing potatoes by the score’). ‘The Bob (Medley)’ was another clever touch; a montage of war-time Britain presented in the form of a love song. As a follow-up to their first album, the band issued ‘Virginia Plain’, a classic single combining Ferry’s cinematic interests and love of surrealistic art.

During the same period, Simpson departed and thereafter Roxy Music went through a succession of bass players, including John Porter, John Gustafson, John Wetton, Rik Kenton, Sal Maida, Rick Wills and Gary Tibbs. After failing to break into America, the band scored a second UK Top 10 hit with ‘Pyjamarama’ and released For Your Pleasure, produced by Chris Thomas. Another arresting work, the album featured the stunning ‘Do The Strand’, possibly their most effective rock workout, with breathtaking saxophone work from Mackay. ‘Beauty Queen’ and ‘Editions Of You’ were contrastingly strong tracks and the album’s centrepiece was ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’, Ferry’s paean to an inflatable rubber doll and a chilling evocation of consumerist alienation.

On 21 June 1973, Eno left Roxy Music, following a series of disagreements with Ferry over his role in the band. The replacement was former Curved Air violinist Eddie Jobson (b. 28 May 1955, England), who willingly accepted the role of hired musician rather than taking on full membership. After taking time off to record a solo album of cover versions, Ferry took Roxy Music on a nationwide tour to promote the excellent Stranded. ‘Street Life’, the first album track to be issued as a single, provided another Top 10 hit. The song neatly summed up his contradictory attitude to city life: ‘You may be stranded if you stick around - and that’s really something’. The epic ‘A Song For Europe’, with a melody borrowed from George Harrison’s ‘When My Guitar Gently Weeps’, was another tour of alienation. The most complex and rewarding piece on the album, however, was ‘Mother Of Pearl’, a macrocosm of Ferry’s lounge-lizard image, complete with plastic goddesses and lifeless parties.

Following his second solo album, Ferry completed work on Roxy Music’s fourth album, Country Life, another strong set ranging from the uptempo single ‘All I Want Is You’ to the aggressive ‘The Thrill Of It All’ and the musically exotic ‘Triptych’. In the USA, the album sleeve was withdrawn owing to its risqué portrayal of two semi-naked women, and Roxy took advantage of the controversy by undertaking two consecutive US tours. Their hopes of capturing stadium-sized audiences ultimately remained unfulfilled. In spite of a challenging pilot single, ‘Love Is The Drug’, Roxy Music’s next album, Siren, proved a major disappointment, lacking the charm and innovation of its predecessors. Only ‘Both Ends Burning’, which hinted at a disco direction, gave evidence of real vocal passion.

The album was followed by a three-year gap during which the individual members pursued various solo projects. The 1979 comeback, Manifesto, received mixed reviews but included two excellent hit singles, ‘Angel Eyes’ and the fatalistic ‘Dance Away’. The succeeding Flesh + Blood was a more accomplished work with some strong arrangements, including a reworking of Wilson Pickett’s ‘In The Midnight Hour’ and an unusual interpretation of the Byrds’ ‘Eight Miles High’. Two UK hit singles were also in attendance: ‘Over You’ and ‘Oh Yeah (On The Radio)’. In 1981, Roxy Music finally achieved their first number 1 single with ‘Jealous Guy’, an elegiac tribute to its recently assassinated composer John Lennon. The following year, they released their final album Avalon, which topped the album charts and was praised by most critics.

Roxy Music left behind an inventive body of work that was diverse and highly influential in the 70s. Glam, techno, dance, ambient and electronic genres all owe a considerable debt to the Ferry/Eno days. Sadly, their standing was buried under the coat tails of Ferry’s AOR solo success for many years, although in the late 90s a major reappraisal took place. Rumours of a reunion were rife in the summer of 1999, but it was not until February 2001 that Ferry, Manzanera and Mackay confirmed a world tour.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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