In the Orbit of Roxy: The Roxy Music Family Tree

The beginning of 2023 gives us the opportunity to clear the deck. To take the old article ideas and push them aside to make way for the new. It’s also a time to tackle those worthwhile projects that have been lingering in the background all year. At the top of that list was a Vinyl Dreamscape article showcasing the history of Roxy Music. A worthwhile project, for certain. The question quickly becoming, how to approach such an assignment? A simple, straight-forward, historical analysis seems somehow out-of-place for such an eccentric (and important) band. To satisfy this need for a deeper understanding, we have taken the more eclectic approach; In the Orbit of Roxy attempts to jump into the outer reaches of the band’s universe. Looking for those undervalued gems that will provide an alternative view of the band’s history and status. They certainly deserve nothing less. Roxy Music providing a pivotal break from the conventional. A chance to confront the conversation with the more experimental and avant-garde aspects of music. The band developing a sound and style that is distinctively their own creation; a sleek style and sophisticated strangeness that provides a new context that had not previously been heard in rock music.

Formed in 1970, Roxy Music consisted of Bryan Ferry (Vocalist and principle songwriter), Graham Simpson (Bass), Phil Manzanera (Guitar), Andy Mackay (Saxophone), Paul Thompson (Drums) and Brian Eno (Synthesizers / Electronic Enhancements). And that’s a roll-call worth noting; as each member of the band added a unique chariteristic to the music. For example, Brian Eno‘s earliest forays into ambient, electronic sound can be found on the first two Roxy Music albums. These musical enhancements set the band apart form their rock/blues based contemporaries And when Eddie Jobson suddenly replaced Eno in 1973, Jobson was able to maintained that vision; as a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music and as a member of the eclectic English rock band Curved Air, Jobson used his talents to keep the band on the pioneering edge while expanding their commercial appeal. Effortlessly guiding elements of glam, punk, new wave and electronic dance music into the Roxy orbit.

The Roxy Music catalog can easily be broken into four distinct segments. Each one with a unique appeal: 1) The Eno Years; the most innovative (and challenging) albums, Roxy Music (1972) and For Your Pleasure (1973). 2) The Classic Years; a more straightforward rock approach; Stranded (1973), Country Life (1974) and Siren (1975). 3) The Disco Years; redefining the sound with a Chic-like precision; Manifesto (1979) and Flesh & Blood (1980). And finally, 4) The Adult-Contemporary Years; a lush and commercial sound that could compete with the R&B vibe of Sade. Ferry’s rich vocal and Mananera‘s sharp, layered guitar maintaining the bands outsider status; Avalon (1982) and then continued on Bryan Ferry’s solo album, Boys & Girls (1985).

Below are ten albums taken from the Roxy Music Orbit; a universe of ten albums that will provide an (intentionally) iconic view of the band and their music. It’s worth noting the the band’s entire oeuvre is important and deserves your attention and study. Enjoy.

10) Roxy Music/ Heart Still Beating (1990): To overlook the later period of Roxy Music’s career would be an mistake. The much criticized commercial sheen of their last studio album, Avalon has actually aged surprisingly well. The silky texture of the music and Bryan Ferry’s (post) Sinatra croon sounds as fresh and vibrant today as when the record was released. And Avalon could have easily been selected for our list. Instead, we turn to the band’s live document, Heart Still Beating, to provide an alternative view of Roxy Music’s late period. The album is a useful way of sidestepping some of the production glitter of the eighties. Taken from a concert in Frejus, France in August 1982 while the band was touring in promotion of their final studio album (Avalon). The Fréjus show was also filmed for the BBC and released on VCR as The High Life concert in 1983 (worth tracking down). Fortunately, the concert is an excellent overview with the band primarily focused on the second half of their career. The CD featuring smooth but inspired performances of Dance Away, Avalon and the sleazy-bar classic Love Is the Drug. Best of all, the band delivered two incredible cover songs; John Lennon‘s Jealous Guy and a revelatory re-interpretation of Neil Young‘s Like a Hurricane. This track alone makes the disc a must have for a true Roxy-heads. (Did this CD ever get a vinyl release)? Music doesn’t get much better than Ferry’s brilliant vocal delivery on this classic. (BTW – the album sleeve features model Amanda Cazalet)

09) Let’s Stick Together (1976): Let’s Stick Together is another very fine example of a great record getting slighted by history. Featuring a not-to-be-missed cover version of the title track. At the time, Roxy Music was pumping out one killer records after another. So a Bryan Ferry‘s solo record may not have had the historical impact the music truly deserves (although the album did make the top twenty in the UK). Let’s Stick Together was also not conceived as an full album project. The record consisting of six cover songs and single b-sides. Having said that, all the songs work together as a cohesive whole. Ferry certainly does his part; providing all the talent, style and nuisance that the audience had come to expect. He is clearly enjoying the opportunity to take a few chances and step outside the parameters of his day job on these tracks. All the songs maintain that compelling strangeness that is such a mainstay of a great Roxy Music album. And there’s another good reason why the record sounds so damn good; Ferry inviting Paul Thimpson, Eddie Jobson, John Gustafson and Phil Manzanera to be a part of the project. Making Let’s Stick Together the (almost) missing Roxy Music album everyone has been searching for.

08) Bryan Ferry / Olympia (2009): Olympia should have been the glorious return of Roxy Music. The album had reportedly been targeted to be a full time reunion, at least early in the recording process. However, the stars did not align properly ($$$) to see the project all the way through. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few gems to be found. Right? The presence of the other members of the band during the studio sessions certainly gives this album a unique appeal. Perhaps a chance to peer through the looking-glass. After all, the record does contain compositional and/or musical contributions from Brain Eno, Phil Manzanera, and Andy Mackay. So, however fleeting, perhaps there are traces of the old Roxy Music sound. Unfortunately, the record is dominated by the icy professionalism that has infected the later half of of Bryan Ferry’s solo career. Try the Ferry/Manzanera collaboration, BF Bass (Ode to Olympia) or the lush and translucent , You Can Dance. The new collaborations simply lack the stylized strangeness that has always been the essence of the original band. So a missed opportunity but not necessarily an unpleasant experience. If you’re inclined, search out the Deluxe Collectors Edition of the CD that includes a nice bonus disc of extra tracks and remixes. Nothing essential but worth hearing if you are already hooked on Ferry’s smoky, seductive kronen. (BTW – that’s model/actress Kate Moss on the cover).

07) 801 Live (1978): 801 was an unlikely supergroup. Featuring Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera together with Brain Eno, Simon Phillips, Bill MacCormick, Francisd Monkman and Lloyd Watson. 801 Live was actually a convenient side project Manzanera assembled while his full time gig was on a prolonged hiatus. The musicians performing three concerts together between August and September 1976. The recording capturing a rare occasions when everything came together just right; Firstly, the song selection is top notch (although a little safe). Featuring songs from Manzanera’s solo album, the Quiet Sun project and Brian Eno. Along with a worthwhile performance of Tomorrow Never Knows, and a great version of the Kinks’ classic, You Really Got Me. But it’s the chemistry of the performance that makes this album special. Clearly the entire crew is have a good time playing together. There is a relaxed, easy flow to the music. The musicians taking advantage of the occasion to let their hair down, play great music and enjoy the comradeship.

06) Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Brain Eno and Nico / June 1, 1974: Here’s a controversal choice for the number six spot. But before you decide that this album doesn’t fly in the orbit of Roxy, hear us out; like 801, Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Brain Eno and Nico’s collaboration is a alive album. The amazing line-up is simply bo-ho heaven. Not to mention that Robert Wyatt and Mike Oldfield were helping out on stage during the performance. And the track listing is equally enticing; side one features two Brian Eno songs that are better their studio counterparts. Both Baby’s on Fire and Driving Me Backwards start the album with a reckless complexity. Then John Cale’s Heartbreak Hotel ups the ante. His deliciously creepy and paranoia delivery must have left the audience stunned. Finally, Nico. Her reading of The End is ominous and breathtaking. The singer delivering a performance that is both terrifying and beautiful. Unfortunately, the second half of the record is dominated by the jazzy mellowness of Ayers. A pleasant enough sound that just comes up short when compared to the emotional rocket-ride that came before.

05) Phil Manzanera / Diamond Head (1975): Talk about a forgotten Roxy Music album; Diamond Head has everything that should be appealing; featuring an all-star line-up that includes contributions from all the members of Roxy Music (except Bryan Ferry). Eno even wrote two songs featured on the album; Big Day and Miss Shapiro. Paul Thompson, Eddie Jobson and Andy Mackay all making notable contribution to the project. And if this Manzanera solo album lights your fire, you may want to take the next step with his pre-Roxy Music band Quiet Sun. Quiet Sun was originally formed by Manzanera in 1970 with Bill MacCormick and Robert Wyatt. A concern that only lasted until Manzanera made Roxy Music his full time concern. Nevertheless, Manzanera re-united the band while record of the DH album. Recording the material they had been previously played together on the road. Unfortunately, the entire proceeding features that Canterbury sound that just isn’t this writers scene. But if you are inclined…indulge yourself.

04) Eddie Jobson / Theme of Secrets (1985): Here we have Jobson’s forray into the new-age(ish) music of the Private Music label. But don’t let that description scare you. Jobson‘s album is synthetic magic, if you can embrace the serile eighties production. And why not? When a musician has the talent and vision of Eddie Jobson, the listener is advised to just sit back and marvel at the beauty. The keyboard player using that empty, digital sound to his advantage; creating vast frozen soundscapes that reflect the album’s song titles; Ice Festival, Lakemist and The Sojourn. Each individual track standing like towering symphonic vistas of an untouched, frozen wasteland. Desolate and cold but always with a frozen perfection and deep beauty. Secret of Themes should be appealing to anyone who enjoys reaching for the outer limits of kosmische musik.

03) Roxy Music / Country Life (1974): Country Life is top flight Roxy Music (and a personal favorite). The sheer power of The Thrill of it All and Prairie Rose demonstrates how explosive the band has become as a creative force. Country Life was the band’s fourth studio album and the first Roxy Music album to enter the US Top 40. The band employing a more straightforward rock approach that balances the eccentricities of the first two albums and a more commercial sound that was soon to follow. (BTW- The risqué album sleeve was banned in the U.S. The scantily-clad models offending the fragile sensiblities of puritan America. Constanze Karoli and Eveline Grunwald are the featured models of the sleeve)

02) Roxy Music / Debut Studio Album (1972):Re-Make/Re-Model kicks off the album in fine form. The albums starting the adventure off with a cocktail of clincking glass as the band launches into the full track. Eno providing the electronic oddities that would come to define the band’s appeal. Original UK copies of the record exclude the killer single, Virginia Plain. Which is unfortunate since the track is a massive musical attack. Meaning you will need to hunt down a copy of the Roxy Music box-set, Thrill of it All. The box set gathers together all the tasty singles and b-sides in one convenient location. Enjoy. (BTW- the model on the sleeve is Kari-Ann Muller)

01) Roxy Music / For Your Pleasure (1973): Music just does not get much better the Roxy‘s second full length album. The record is engulfed by the band’s unique but appealing strangeness. An attribute that taps into the most hidden aspects of the human condition. The album combining Ferry‘s lush cool-guy croon, Manazara’s stylish riffs and Eno’s electronic experiments into a stunning art-rock masterpiece. Of course, we need to discuss the album’s emotional and philosophical core, In Every Dream Home a Heartache. And while a purely sexual relationship with an inflatable doll may seem unsettling. It is Ferry‘s vocal style that send the track over the top. The song’s creepy monologue becomes a social critique. His voice full of the sadness and emptiness of modern life. The stone-cold delivery questioning the exchange of a comfortable living for the passion of human relationships; “Oh those dream home heartaches“. Heavy topics for a pop-music band? Absolutely. But that is why Roxy Music is such a amazing creative force.The band consistently pushing the limits to further their artistic impact. If you don’t love this record already, stop reading and steal a copy immediately. (BTW – that’s singer and model Amanda Lear on the sleeve; a confidante and protégée of artist Salvador Dali)

Eddie Jobson / Theme of Secrets / 1985

Sound Sample: Eddie Jobson / Theme of Secrets

Featured Album of the Day / December 2021

“New Age”. We said it out loud. Indeed, some will say the music found on this album has a certain anemic quality. And the point is well taken. Theme of Secret is very much a product of it’s time. Private Music was an independent record label specializing in the “instrumental music” that was so popular with the cheese and wine crowd in 1985. Just mentioning a few names, Loe Kottke, Yanni and John Tesh and the sound is well understood. Yet within the Private Music‘s roster of talent, it is possible to find some fairly amazing music. Among them, Eddie Jobson with this amazing icy classic Theme of Secret.

Perhaps a little background information is in order. Edwin “Eddie” Jobson‘s pedegree is damn good. The English keyboardist and violinist has played with a number of bands which you may have heard; Roxy Music, UK, Curved Air,Jethro Tull, Frank Zappa and Yes. That is some list. (Although, only one walks among the true greats. And it’s not Frank Zappa. Enough said). But it’s the music on this interesting little disc that offers us some special gifts. The production is sterile and prestine; a horrible digital silence surrounds the entire recording. Only, somehow it works perfectly. . The cold-digital soundstage proves to be ideal for Jobson vision of this record. We hear only the towering glacial structures of sound Jobson constructs before our ears. Cold, stoic and complex mountains of futuristic sound. Of course, eventually the compositions begin to reveal themselves as the warm waves of melody bubbling to the surface. Revealing the hidden beauty of Jobson’s compositions. Theme of Secrets is a brilliant record with so much to offer the thoughtful listener that is willing to look beyond the New Age label. 

One final point; Apparently, there was a follow-up album in the works called, Theme of Mystery, which had already been recorded but never released by Private Music. The tracks are sitting silent inside a forgotten studio vault just waiting to be reissued. Now, that would be a project that would be worth working on.