Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
The radio stations I listened to during my adolescence in the late-70s and early-80s (mostly WPLJ and WNEW, the two biggest Rock stations in New York City) did not feature Roxy Music very often. The only song I recall hearing during those formative years is “Love Is The Drug,” but what a great song it was (and still is). It always stood out from most of the other tunes being played, with its funky groove, honking sax and Bryan Ferry’s lecherous vocals. I always stopped what I was doing to listen whenever it was played. But since I didn’t hear anything else from them, I assumed they were a band with one good song and never sought out their albums. I was content to hear this one great song whenever the DJ chose to play it.
Around 1982 or 1983, when I was 16-17 years old, I discovered a UHF channel (I believe it was 68, and broadcast from somewhere in New Jersey) that would play music videos after I got home from school…followed by The Uncle Floyd Show and reruns of classic episodes of “The Lone Ranger” from the ‘50s (with the awesome Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels). One of the videos that was played nearly every day was for a Roxy Music song called “More Than This.” It sounded completely different from “Love Is The Drug,” but its slicker production and more muted sounds didn’t negate its impact…and I looked forward to hearing it every time it was played. I don’t remember much about the video, but the song itself stayed with me. I saw that it was from an album called Avalon, and I knew I would have to get my hands on that one day. That would still be several years away.
Fast forward to 1986. While attending Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, I stopped into one of the many local record stores and came across an import CD called Street Life: 20 Great Hits, credited to Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music. I’m pretty certain that the CD cost at least $20, which was not cheap (especially when you’re a college student), but with 20 songs (14 by the band and 6 by Ferry as a solo artist) I got a lot of bang for my buck. Also, import CDs were a rare commodity at the time, so I felt like I was getting something special…and I was right. It quickly became a favorite, and I played it a lot throughout my sophomore & junior years. I was already a fan of the Ferry song “Slave To Love” by that time, but the CD introduced me to a diversity of sounds, including covers of Bob Dylan (“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”), The Platters (“Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”), Wilson Pickett (“In The Midnight Hour”) and John Lennon (“Jealous Guy”). But they weren’t just great interpreters of other people’s music: their originals sounded like nothing I had heard before. More on that in future posts, as I delve into each album. For anyone just discovering their music, this collection would be an excellent place to start, even though there are probably more recent compilations available.
By early 1987, my CD collection numbered around 50-60, which doesn’t sound like a lot now, but at the time I was the guy with the “huge CD collection” in my dormitory. When I returned from Spring Break that year, I discovered that someone had broken into my room and stolen about half of my collection…including my Roxy/Ferry import CD compilation. I searched every record store looking for a copy, but it proved impossible to find. I was able to replace every other stolen CD, so this remained the one gaping hole in my collection. A few years later it was reissued in the U.S. on Reprise Records and I finally replaced that stolen CD, but the packaging wasn’t as good as the import version. If I remember correctly, all the photos on the inside of the booklet were now black-and-white. I thought that was the version I still owned, but looking at it now, as I type this, I realize that I have an import copy (on E’G Records). I must have traded in my domestic copy with the inferior packaging at some point and replaced it with the superior UK version. I’m no longer that obsessive, but apparently at one time I was.
In the ensuing years I purchased the entire Roxy Music catalog on CD, but I don’t think I ever spent enough time with any of them to truly get to know their music beyond what I already knew from the compilation. Over the next couple of weeks I hope to remedy that by immersing myself in their music like I’ve never done before. I’ll post about a few albums at a time, and I invite you to share your thoughts in the “Comments” section. I look forward to developing a dialog with you. In the future I’ll probably do the same with Bryan Ferry’s music, but that’ll have to wait for another day. Thanks for checking in.
It’s always interesting to read how people discover different artists, as there can be so many possible paths. The first track I heard by Roxy Music was “Virginia Plain” on one of those old Warner/Reprise samplers that could be ordered for two bucks. Surrounded by typical 70s rock/pop, it stood out like a sore thumb … but in a good way. Other than the hits, though, it would also take me a while to finally hear more of their music, thanks to a buddy/roommate who bought some of their albums on CD in the mid-80s. I’m looking forward to reading your posts on their discography, a lot of which I’ve still not heard.
Hi Glenn. I remember those $2 Warner/Reprise “loss leaders.” We had one in our house called “Burbank” that had all kinds of artists (including Flo & Eddie and Alice Cooper, among many others I can’t recall), and they also advertised several other titles on the inner sleeves. I’m not sure I would’ve enjoyed “Virginia Plain” when I was young. I think it would’ve been too “weird” for me, although I might’ve run around yelling “What’s her name, Virginia Plain” to annoy my friends & family. Do you own any Roxy Music CDs/LPs, or did you hear enough from your buddy/roommate?
can’t wait for these entries Rich. I love Roxy. I learned about them through reading as they were always name checked in all encompassing music history books like the “Rolling Stone History of Rock N’ Roll”, but like you I never heard much of them on the radio. “Street Life” was my first exposure as well but I can thank the WEA catalog for the rest. I gobbled up most of their albums in the late 90’s – hard to pick a fave as the first five are so good as well as “Avalon”. I guess maybe “Siren” or “Country Life” but the first two records with Eno are awesome too.
Hey Brian. Glad I picked another band that you like. Looking forward to comparing notes. One of the things I’ll have to focus on is the album covers. Is there a hotter cover in music history than “Country Life”? Perhaps only The Ohio Players rivaled Roxy Music in that department. And believe it or not there’s a connection between Roxy and my beloved Big Country. BC covered Roxy’s “Prairie Rose” on a b-side, which was my first exposure to that song, and it includes the line “Shine on the big country.” I like the original, and BC put their own spin on it.
so funny re: Prairie Rose. By all accounts Roxy, like T. Rex and the Jam, were absolutely HUGE in the U.K. so it would make sense that Big Country would take something from them. Yes – those covers were all very hot. Ahhh the 70’s…good times. Of course the flipside is that Orleans cover….
Good point about Roxy being big & influential in the UK. You mentioned T. Rex and The Jam. Are you a fan of either/both? I think I have complete catalogs for both of them, and they’re excellent candidates for me to revisit in the future.
As for that Orleans cover, yep…pretty awful. That was the Yin to Roxy’s Yang.
Rich, rearding your question, all I own is one of the compilations. The discs my friend had were the first three, although I’m sure I’ve also heard Avalon somewhere along the way. I enjoyed them at the time but I just never got around to buying them for myself.
Of course I meant “regarding” above. This is why I should not try to type after a 10-hour shift.
That’s okay, Glenn. I read it as “regarding” the first time. I’m looking forward to tracing Roxy Music’s progress after those first couple of albums, especially after Eno was no longer in the band. I don’t remember if their sound gradually changed or if it was immediate. I should know by sometime next week.
I really enjoyed your Roxy Music blogs. I came to Roxy Music in a totally different way to you. I am English and Roxy Music were always very popular over here.
I was introduced to Roxy Music by my sister Gail who is 9 years older than me. She loved Roxy Music from day 1 and, nearly 40 years later, they are still her favourite band. She first saw them live in 1972 when they supported Rory Gallagher. She says the crowd booed them between each song, threw bottles at them and seemed to think they were all gay. I guess Eno with his feathers may have given that impression but in my opinion, Roxy Music were always ahead of the times which was why Rory Gallagher fans would not have accepted them.
As for their album covers, you can imagine what effect Country Life had on me when I found it in my sister’s bedroom when I was aged 10. It was the closest thing to porn I had ever seen.
I love Roxy Music’s first 4 studio albums a lot as well as the wonderful Viva! I have always been of the opinion that the first 5 studio albums were far better than the albums from Manifesto onwards. However, the times may have just caught up with them as their later works charted higher than their first 5 albums. Their last 2 studio albums both made it to no 1 in the charts hre so they are one of the few bands who went out at their most successful points. Most of their later singles were very successful (they were never off the radio here) and their only no 1 UK single was Jealous Guy.
I found it very interesting to read an American’s viewpoint on Roxy Music as I have always been aware that they had very little success in the US. They only had 1 top 30 album (Manifesto) and the only single that could be remotely described as a hit was Love Is The Drug which only made it to no 30 in the US.
Hi, Monkeeman. Thanks for your comments, and for visiting my blog. Since I bought that “Street Life” compilation in the ’80s, I always wondered why Roxy Music wasn’t more popular in the US. I figured the earlier, artsy recordings would’ve been a little too wimpy & “British” for most early-70s rock fans, and their flamboyant look wouldn’t have gone over well, but since videos weren’t really around at that time their image shouldn’t have been an issue. Queen, T. Rex, David Bowie, and several others made it through to American audiences. and Roxy had enough great songs that should have found more of an audience here. I have a feeling there are more people who like either their early albums or their later albums, and fewer who love everything they recorded. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the later albums, but wow…they’re like a completely different band by “Avalon.”
As for Rory Gallagher, he’s another great artist who never rose above cult status here. I only knew his “Irish Tour” album until a friend lent me the bulk of his catalog a few years ago, and the more I’ve listened the more I’ve enjoyed. I’m not surprised by your story about how his audience didn’t take to Roxy Music. Some concert pairings are not meant to be. It’s like the time The Who opened for The Monkees. What were the promoters thinking (or smoking)?
I hope things are going well on your side of the “pond.” I’ve been to your country several times and always had a great time.