On the 28th of June the ‘Mail on Sunday’ included an exclusive CD of Roxy Music hits.
The three principal band members selected twelve tracks and were asked to write a small piece on each one. The full unedited article can be found below:
“We had just released the first Roxy Music album and the record company (Island Records) seemed as surprised as we were by its amazing instant success.
Their only problem was that there was no single there – so they asked me if I had any other songs knocking about. I did have an unfinished song lying around called Virginia Plain, which we quickly recorded at command studios in Piccadilly and this seemed to do the trick. I vividly remember our roadie driving up and down Piccadilly outside the studio as we tried to record the sound of his motorbike.
The song itself was based on a painting I had done a few years before while I was an art student at Newcastle University. I was interested in stream of consciousness writing, and since the songs on the first album hadn’t been very wordy, I felt it was time for a bit of verbal dexterity.
I suppose nowadays any song with this title would be banned.
Brian Eno’s synth part was probably the greatest hook on the track, that made it sound like nothing else.”
Do The Strand
“The second Roxy Music album was recorded at the old Air Studios, by Oxford Circus in London’s West End, which was to be our home for several albums. The band by now was much more experienced and the songs seemed more assured and focused. I had long been a fan of Cole Porter and other songwriters from that era, and in particular I admired the sophistication of their lyrics. ‘Do the Strand’ was an attempt to emulate that style of writing, with a lot of cultural references that I found interesting.
There was a particular genre of songs based on dance crazes, like ‘Do the twist’, ‘The Jerk’ and ‘The Madison’ etc. which I found amusing, and ‘Do The Strand’ was a nod in their direction, although it attempted to be more highbrow, or a bit further uptown, inasmuch as I wanted to turn the Sphinx and Mona Lisa, Lolita and Guernica into a rhyming couplet…
‘Do The Strand’ became a sort of anthem for Roxy fans, and we traditionally made it the closing song at all our shows.”
“This was on the Stranded album. Eno had just left and the opportunity arose for me contribute to some music for the first time. It turned out to be my first recorded track on an album and I was very proud of it. I had this riff and a bit in 7/8 time signature, which was very unusual for Roxy. (Ice t later sampled the riff and used it on a rap record). I used a specially built guitar version of the VCS 3 synthesizer that Eno had been using and I only really got it to work once and the result is on this track. It created a rather underwater sound and I think it is rather unique. When I finished recording the guitar part I remember everyone cheering in the control room. I retold this story to Ed O’Brien from Radiohead and he asked if I could dig out the box of tricks, which has sat, in storage for years! However I couldn’t find the power supply. Bryan ‘s lyric was beautiful and exotic and seemed to fit with the jungle shot on the cover.”
Love is the Drug
“This started as chord sequence with a sweeping minor/modal sort of feel. We started off playing it in pre-studio sessions quite slowly, like a ship in full sail. By the time we got to record it at AIR studios it had got snappy and rhythmic with the great punchy bass line. The wonderful thing about writing songs with Bryan is that he would hear something that you had never thought of in the vocal line, a kind of rhythmic contrast to the changes with evocative words and phrases spilling out.
Bryan at this time used to work endlessly on lyrics and then deliver them as a live take in the studio usually very late at night, like a conjurer pulling rabbits out of a hat. The most thrilling of these tour de vocalise were Mother of Pearl and Love is the Drug.
It was beginning to sound pretty much a possible single while still just an instrumental backing track and when Bryan put the vocal down – complete in virtually every detail – it looked set to be a hit.
We put on the footsteps and car door at the top and ended with the chord at the end [a major sixth for those interested ] as a nod to the Beatles ending to ‘Hard Days Night’. It’s probably been our best selling single and the most covered and used in movies. In fact I have just covered it myself with a new project, Andy Mackay + The Metaphors, in a wistful instrumental re-exploration.”
Out Of The Blue
“This is from the Country Life album. I used to do demos of any contenders for a co-write with Bryan, and I recorded a rough version of ‘Out Of The Blue’ at home in Acton on a 2 track Revox tape-recorder. We were recording at Air Studios on Oxford Street, and that’s where I played my demo to the band for the first time. After hearing the track Chris Thomas (our producer) suggested that Eddie Jobson should play some electric violin over the track. Eddie had joined the band after Eno left and had previously played the electric violin with the band Curved Air. ‘Out Of The Blue’ became one of our most thrilling live tracks, and we still love to play it, although finding someone with the technique to match Eddie’s solo is difficult. The tape phasing used on the intro probably came from one of Chris’s experiments with George Martin and the Beatles. Bryan was brilliant at coming up with melody lines and lyrics. It’s a great knack he has and an interesting way of working that Roxy has used for years.”
Both Ends Burning
“I seem to remember the ‘Siren’ album was made under great pressure, in between an exhausting world wide touring schedule in 1975. Antony Price made me an Elvis Presley inspired G I Blues uniform for this tour, and we used film footage of a live performance for the video. It was a punishing schedule and there were a lot of late nights in order to get this record finished on time. I guess this was the true to life inspiration behind the song title and lyric.
Most of my songs tend to have been written at night when there is usually more peace and quiet for creativity. The album cover was done on location in North Wales and was quite an adventure, resulting in one of Roxy’s better known images.”
“After a short early career as an album track on our 1978 album Manifesto, Angel Eyes was reborn as a brilliant dance re-mix anticipating a whole world of music in the 80s and up to the present. It became a big hit as a single and in clubs.
It was also I think the first record for which we made a specific promo video. Long time Roxy collaborator fashion designer Antony Price worked with Bryan on the whimsical harp pulsating pastel coloured dry ice billowing concept. This started brilliantly but our lack of film making experience and perfectionism meant we didn’t really have enough time and had to edit various bits together for the last verse. It still looks good though and shows how much we anticipated both music and style in the decade that followed.”
“In 1979 I was living in an 18th century Coachouse in St Ann’s Hill in Chertsey on the grounds owned by the famous Parliamentarian Charles James Fox. I had just built my first recording studio there but was waiting for the mixing desk to arrive. I rang up Bryan and asked him if he would like to check it out. He came over and there was a bass and a guitar in the control room. We were excited by the proposition of having our own studio and we decided to have a jam together, Bryan on bass and me on guitar with a rhythm box. Within 5 minutes we had written this track and we did a modest demo. Eventually we then took it to New York, put a session drummer on and had the magic Bob Clearmountain mix it. ‘Over you’ reached number 3 in the charts.”
“This is a song about a song, and in particular the concept of ‘they’re playing our song’ – in this case on the radio, and in our car. I was trying to create a picture of Americana, and long hot summer evenings at the drive-in movies. A wistful play in nostalgia, rather like a country record. ”
More Than This
“Avalon was the last of a run of albums that began with Manifesto, and was the breakthrough album for Roxy Music in America. ‘More Than This’ was the most played track, but people tended to like the overall mood of the album, which had a unique sound. I started writing the songs while on the West coast of Ireland, and I like to think that some of the dark melancholy of the album comes from that place. We did quite a bit of the recording in Nassau, and also in New York, where we finally mixed the album. After the record was finished I returned to the West coast of Ireland to photograph the album cover.”
While My Heart Is Still Beating
“I always remember that Nassau in the Bahamas, where we finished recording the Avalon album was surprisingly cold and windy beneath the palm trees. This seemed to suit the melancholy, which for me pervades our last studio album.
“Now the party’s over…” Well it was for a while but now happily we have come back to see if it can be carried on.
The later Roxy recordings had a particular polish and precision which perhaps suited the way we were working and’ Heart Still Beating ‘turned out to be one of the most beautiful of the songs Bryan and I wrote together the uncertain shifting chords and sparse percussion letting the voice float cool as glass.
This song also worked well on our more recent live tours and always made audiences surprisingly quiet and reflective.”
The title track of the album seemed to be Roxy’s swansong. I did a very concise lyric, which tried to capture the mood of the music, with beautiful playing from Manazanera and Mackay, and also guest performances from Alan Spenner and Neil Hubbard.
I remember coming into the Power Station studio in New York on a Sunday evening to the vocal, and hearing the most beautiful haunting voice coming from down the corridor. It was Yanick Etienne, a singer from Haiti, who was doing a demo next door.
I asked her to come and sing on our record, which she did in one take – and a piece of recording history was made.