For music today I had a burning desire for Roxy Music’s first record (1972) before Bry got too slick, Eno got famous and the makeup and fake leopard skin was rife. Bob Harris famously introduced Roxy Music on England’s premier music show (OGWT) as a band he didn’t like. I’m not sure why, perhaps he saw them as pastiche with their theatre but musically they explored fascinating areas. Ferry’s vocal was unique, but perhaps that was seen by Bob as too affected. Even the straightforward Re-Make/Re-Model is weird, and the weird Ladytron is surprisingly straightforward. There’s just so many ideas and no fear of tradition or experimentation. They were part Glam, part Rock, part Punk and part Electronic and on If There Is Something Ferry’s warble was even a challenge to Family’s Roger Chapman. Add in Andy Mackay’s effected oboe and saxophone, Eno’s treatments (and backing vocal), Paul Thompson’s meaty drumming with Phil Manzanera’s unorthodox guitar with founder member Graham Simpson’s moving bass and not forgetting Ferry’s piano, and you have one unique band full of magic. Dear Bob, what happened? Side 1 ends with 2HB (To Humphrey Bogart), some faded Hollywood nostalgia appears here in the vocal but musically it’s reminiscent of where Eno might go on his solo albums. I always thought 2HB was about a pencil.
Side 2 starts with that eerie electronic pulse, The Bob (medley) is an odd one, it’s the Battle Of Britain and comes complete with the sound of, well, battle. It then flows into a very weird reedy Gong or Hawkwind type instrumental section, Andy Mackay wailing and then into a pastoral piano piece, before returning to the noise of the verse and then onto a bombastic end. Weird. The beautiful Brief Encounter, inspired again by a moody British film from 1945 about a pre-war love affair. Next is Chance Meeting filled out with a whole track of perfect Manzanera feedback with piano and bass as a support pulse. Simpson finally taking a melodic stroll.
Would You Believe? is almost 10cc’s Donna and surely IS pastiche as it then goes to The Hop with Dany And The Juniors. If this song had been in the Rocky Horror Show you wouldn’t have blinked. There was something oddly fifties in the great Glam bands, Mott The Hoople also had it and other bands of the day subscribed to it, Showaddywaddy anybody, Mud?
On the beautiful and evocative Sea Breezes, Mackay again makes all the difference with the oboe, so atmospheric, perfect above the calm of the electric piano. It’s almost Middle Eastern and that with the straight ahead guitar noodling it creates an incongruous perfection. And then the song changes with the oddest drum part and bass and feedback madness fading in and out and unnervingly rumbling underneath the angular direction the track has unexpectedly taken – and then it reverts back to quiet.
The short Bitters End might have been based on a vocal influence from the thirties and the song is rather an indecipherable nod to nothing seventies and might be more at home with Noel Coward.
By Roxy Music’s second album For Your Pleasure (1973) Eno was about to invent a world that only a theorist could inhabit. One foot in lipstick, another in intellectual pursuit. Finding commercialism in minimalism, he was imagination wrapped in satin. He left Roxy Music soon after For Your Pleasure was completed and made four fantastic vocal albums between 1974 and 1977 – Here Come The Warm Jets (1974), Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy (1974), Another Green World (1975), and Before And After Science (1977), as well as the minimal Discreet Music (1975). But in 1974 he joined Kevin Ayers, John Cale and Nico and a whole lot of cool musicians (The Soporifics) for the June 1st 1974 live concert at London’s Rainbow Theatre. He opens the album with stirring versions of Driving Me Backwards and Baby’s On Fire from Here Come The Warm Jets.
John Cale is next doing a bracing ‘modern’ version of Heartbreak Hotel followed by Nico and her pump organ singing The Doors’ The End. Oh my that voice, but what happened to the release of the other tracks by these three artists? Wikipedia says “Other songs that were performed but did not make the LP include Ayers’ I’ve Got A Hard-On For You Baby (with Cale on backing vocals), Cale’s Buffalo Ballet and Gun, and Nico’s Janitor Of Lunacy and her rendition of Das Lied Der Deutschen. One track from the concert was added to a Nico CD reissue.
Side 2 is all Kevin Ayers – the great Kevin Ayers. I stood next to him once at the urinal backstage at a Go-Betweens concert in London at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire and had a talk with him (there and backstage). I have all his albums, love, love, love. Oh and I say it again, that voice. We covered Decadence from Bananamour (1973) with the ex band on the Box Of Birds album (1999). He opens the side with May I? followed by Shouting In A Bucket, Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes which features collaborator Ollie Halsall on lead guitar. Rabbit is on organ, Archie Leggatt on bass, Eddie Sparrow on drums and Robert Wyatt on percussion. This is the lineup for most of the tracks although Mike Oldfield joins for lead guitar on Everybody’s Sometime And Some People’s All The Time Blues, and Eno and John Cale guest on Two Goes Into Four. Mike Oldfield had released Tubular Bells a year earlier and was riding on that album’s massive success, but he was here because before that he had played in Ayers’ band The Whole World.
John Cale’s Fear (1974) is one of my all time favourite albums. The opening track Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend ends in frenzy before the beautiful second track Buffalo Ballet. There’s something about the Art Rock of 1974 before Punk had happened that is some of my favourite music. Barracuda comes next with Phil Manzanera doing his unorthodox thang again on guitar. On Emily, Irene and Doreen Chanter sing backing vocals with Liza Strike. They were all over records in this era, the go-to backing singers. This song again beautiful with synthesizer tropical wave sounds. The melodic Ships Of Fools ends Side 1 of this most poetic album.
Gun opens Side 2, Phil Manzanera going nuts again on the guitar, Archie Leggatt on bass and Fred Smith on drums with the deepest snare you ever heard. It’s not Fred Smith the bassist from Television, it’s not Fred Sonic Smith guitarist from MC5 and Patti Smith’s partner for many years. It’s Fred Smith the drummer! That could have been quite a band if they’d decided to play together, but what would they have been called?
The very odd The Man Who Couldn’t Afford To Orgy comes with its tongue firmly in its cheek to lighten you up and with special guest Judy Nylon and then another lovely song in You Know More Than I Know with Irene and Doreen and Liza. The last track Momma Scuba seems to have lots of guitar players and a different lineup. Manzanera is still there but there’s appearances by Richard Thompson and Bryn Haworth. It’s The Winkies’ Brian Turrington on bass and Michael Des Maris on drums. What’s great about this album is its beauty and its edge and somewhere in there Eno also appears.
In 1974 Nico released The End, what a year it was, John Cale plays and produces, Phil Manzanera and Eno are there, too, fantastic instrumentation, perfect. It’s a mystery how Nick Cave became so popular when Nico was only ever a cult. She does everything he does but without the showbiz, there’s your answer. It’s also the era we are in, the whole world is changing all the time and like the wheel of fortune your number comes up, Nick got lucky. Rather Nick than…well you know who they are. The End is a wonderful album, the atmosphere Nico creates, and guess what, I’m going to say it again, oh that voice! All the songs bar The End are written by Nico. She plays harmonium and takes you under the sleeve of her ancestors’ shawl, leads you into the dark forest, even the mist parts to let her by. In her eyes the darkness overpowers the daylight, birds fall out of the sky, she takes you without explanation to a place you don’t want to see. When you arrive she laughs and scares the giant trees, the mountains outside the forest shudder in her presence. It’s as if she has inherited the eternal sadness of the ages.
I saw Nico live twice in Stockholm in the eighties, amazing, unforgettable. This is the track listing from The End, because I simply cannot decide which songs to single out on this amazing album.
It Has Not Taken Long
You Forget to Answer
Innocent and Vain
Valley of the Kings
We’ve Got the Gold
Das Lied der Deutschen
The musical musings in this post are an excerpt from my daily blog, TO WHERE I AM NOW, featured on my main website. See more pictures and read the full post here.
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