It’s time for Roxy Music’s debonair art-glam to get its due

The nominees for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2019 were announced this week and, once again, this year’s race will undoubtedly be competitive. This newsletter includes electronics pioneers (Kraftwerk, Devo); soul / R & B innovators (Janet Jackson, Rufus with Chaka Khan); and British bands mixing genres (The Cure, Radiohead). While a few acts are repeat nominees – including The Zombies, MC5, and LL Cool J – this year’s crop includes a few newbies, including John Prine, Stevie Nicks, and Todd Rundgren.

One of the most deserving bands also making their first poll appearance is Roxy Music, the British sound esthete whose five albums in the early 1970s were a stunning display of daring creativity. The group was led by singer / songwriter Bryan Ferry, a self-taught pianist who grew up loving jazz and musicals, and absorbed new sounds like a sponge: he verified name Fats Domino, Leadbelly and Little Richard as formative influences in an interview in early 2018.

With that base in a mix of vocal drama, musical rigor and freewheeling composition, he created songs that redrawn new neighborhood lines around genres. Roxy Music certainly put glamor into glam rock – but the band’s sound was art school vaudeville, proto-synth-rock experimentation, and the instrumental excess of prog reduced to simplified basics. Add Ferry’s love for early jazz, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll, and Roxy Music’s music has assimilated eras and sounds in a way no other band has ever experienced before. .

Take the band’s first UK hit, their first single, “Virginia Plain”. The song begins by blending in, as if the volume knob is turned, to reveal a playful piano and laser-cut electric guitar. Throughout the song, various parts jostle for space in the arrangement – Phil Manzanera’s crumpled and greased guitar, Andy Mackay’s saxophone and oboe, the swaying synths invoked by Brian Eno – while let Ferry orchestrate everything vocally, like a cunning magician.

Roxy Music’s eponymous debut album in 1972 – which received a lavish anniversary reissue earlier this year it looked more like a tabletop book, full of period photographs and an illuminating essay on the band’s origins and early music – offers plenty of approaches as well. “Re-Make / Re-Model” breathes proto-punk energy: it vibrates with gang vocals, joyful musical improvisations and Ferry who himself works in a vocal foam. On the other hand, “2 HB” is one of the first fine and luxuriant ballads of the group. No wonder that by this time the group landed coveted opening slots for David Bowie & The Spiders From Mars and Alice Cooper.

From there, Roxy Music kept moving forward, defying trends and taking futuristic approaches. The band’s second effort, 1973’s “For Your Pleasure”, captured a variety of mood swings – from the screaming saxophone and squealing keyboard manipulation on “Editions of You” to the spooky and unsettling “In Every Dream Home. a Heartache “- which led to three more albums that reorganized rock ‘n’ roll DNA. As a result, Ferry became a more confident singer, embracing his talent as a performer. It sets out like a Dylan in disguise on “Mother of Pearl” and pushes the hype on the funk-smeared Brechtian proto-post-punk of “She Sells”.

After a two-year breakup in the late ’70s, Roxy Music returned as a different sounding band, smoothing out their rougher edges and younger character studies into something more mannered and introspective. (Call it fancy disco-soul, or a modern update to laid-back lounge-jazz, or even plush proto-new wave.) Ferry’s parallel solo career, featuring cover-rich albums, certainly has had an impact: the melancholy, the plush of Roxy Music The 1981 version of “Jealous Guy” by John Lennon, released as a tribute after the death of The Beatles, has become the final version of the song. But certain moments – such as “Over You” rich in organ and handclaps, or the percolating mixtures of rhythms leading to “Same Old Scene” – have even come close to the contemporary AOR with a pop tendency.

Yet that too looked like a case of subversion from within. “We never really felt accepted,” Ferry reportedly said in the cover note essay for this year’s “Roxy Music” reissue. “I can see how the old guard would have felt threatened by this, because it was so full of ideas and a huge amount of energy. But we hadn’t paid our dues, not in the same way. we’re still not one of them, not really, even to this day. It’s been really hard over the years, trying to make it work without being one of them, be it the Eagles. or Take That or nowadays “X Factor.” The “them” is always different, but we’re not one of them.

“It was one of the triumphs, that we managed to stay sane,” he added. “Or sane. We’re a part of it, in a way, but always on the outside.”

Roxy Music has however adopted this status of outsider. A 1972 appearance on “The Old Gray Whistle Test”, also featured on the super deluxe reissue “Roxy Music” (with sessions and BBC demos), makes the band feel like they have left another planet for the ‘opportunity. The performance of “Ladytron” begins with an ominous oboe – played by Mackay, who wears an iridescent green suit jacket with an inverted collar – and a dark keyboard drone teased by a Brian Eno dressed in a leopard print. The camera then focuses on Ferry himself – a handsome pin-up girl with long hair and a shiny zebra-print jacket, playing the piano and singing the song with passion and enthusiasm, as if his life depended on it. It’s not as flashy as another 1972 TV appearance – Bowie and Mick Ronson singing “Starman” together on “Top of the Pops” – but it does reveal the innate and supernatural confidence that has sustained the group.

Unsurprisingly, in the UK, Roxy Music had a huge influence, most notably on Duran Duran – who took the band’s art-glam plan and followed it – and the other swooning and humming New Romantics. Madness cited the group as an influence and, before the Sex Pistols, Steve Jones and Paul Cook formed The Strand, a group named after “Do The Strand” by Roxy Music. In more modern times, the ironic emotion of Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos is decidedly Roxy Music-esque, while Jarvis Cocker’s libertine aesthetic certainly nods to Ferry’s presence.

The group’s American imprint was less clear-cut, although they had fierce pockets of support. (Roxy Music had a blast in the United States thanks to support from Cleveland radio station WMMS, which also helped David Bowie and Rush gain a foothold; to this day, Ferry remains a beloved figure in the city. ) Still, the band’s presence in the charts was rare. : Ecstatic and saxophonist “Love Is the Drug” was their only Top 40 hit – although the scintillating piano romantic “Dance Away” peaked at No. 44 – and only the LP “Avalon” was certified platinum. Yet their sound has leaked out onto others: Sparks is certainly a spiritual descendant, while Shearwater’s intricate, orchestrated indie rock and Anohni’s magnificent instrumentation are reminiscent of Roxy Music.

Coincidentally, Roxy Music’s first Rock Hall nomination comes the same year one of the band’s staunch supporters, Joe Elliott, also got his long-awaited first nod, with Def Leppard. Over the years, Elliott has championed Roxy Music on several mediums: choosing “Siren” as one of his crucial albums to The Quietus; play the band’s tunes on their radio show; and lead Def Leppard’s boastful and playful rendition of “Street Life” on the 2006 cover album, “Yeah!” Earlier this week, Elliott even Recount an interviewer, he would like Roxy Music and MC5 to be inducted into Rock Hall as well.

The sound of Def Leppard himself is indebted to Roxy Music and the locals of the glam scene including Bowie, Mott the Hoople and the late guitarist Mick Ronson. And, like Roxy Music, their sound draws on other disparate influences – the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, for example, and the shameless power-pop of the late ’70s. Def Leppard certainly had a lot more mainstream success (and sales) than most of their inspirations, but the group’s philosophy and sound approach is very much in the mold of these ancestors.

Ideally, Def Leppard and Roxy Music would be inducted as part of this year’s class. Does either group have a chance? It’s more complicated. Def Leppard seems like a safe bet: With Bon Jovi’s induction in 2018, they’re now arguably the biggest ’80s rock band out of Rock Hall, and they’ve recently seen a resurgence thanks to a massive tour. Roxy Music is more of a question mark. In recent years, Rock Hall has opened its doors to Yes and the Moody Blues, two other British bands more popular and well-known than Roxy Music, but no less adventurous. However, the relative cult status of Ferry and co. can be held against them.

Still, now may be a good time for both, simply because in recent years the sound and veneer of glam rock has emerged into cultural consciousness. It’s not hard to see that Bowie’s death in 2016 is at least partly to blame. Almost three years later, tribute shows, DJ nights and concert tours celebrating his life and music continue to perform on a regular basis. (Plus, you can even buy a whole range of Bowie-themed merchandise from Target these days.)

Yet there are also plenty of living artists who keep the glam spirit alive. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” has become an incredibly enduring and powerful anthem – thanks to the covers of Panic! At the nightclub and the like – while the biopic of the same name makes a huge buzz. Queen herself is winning generations of new fans by touring with Adam Lambert – and new and young bands such as Struts, Lemon Twigs, Palaye Royale and Starcrawler are carrying the glittering torch. More than forty years after the emergence of Roxy Music, the fuse they lit with their musical experiences is certainly burning.

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