In 1972 Roxy Music released their eponymously titled debut album. It was the start sign for a fascinating, varied and artistic and commercial successful career. Early on the special mix between art and rock was noticed and appreciated.
The first contours for what was to become Roxy Music were sketched out in November of 1970, when Andy Mackay, saxophone and oboe player, reacted to an advert for a keyboard player. Mackay did own a VCS3 Synthesizer, which he couldn’t really operate, but he had a friend who did: Brian Eno. Initially Eno was enlisted as a technical adviser, but it wasn’t before long that he joined the band as keyboard player and tape operator.
The advert was placed by singer, writer and piano player Bryan Ferry, who collaborated with a befriended bass player. Following Ferry’s rejection as lead singer for King Crimson, Ferry decided to try his own luck. After adding a drummer and guitar player, the band name was decided upon Roxy by Ferry and Mackay. Upon learning the name was already in use by an American band, the band name was changed to Roxy Music.
At the beginning of 1971 the band started performing and recording demos. After the initial drummer quit, a new advert was published: “wonder drummer wanted for an avant rock group”. In June 1971 drummer Paul Thompson joined the band. Quickly, the initial guitar player also quit and in October of 1971 the band started their search for “The Perfect Guitarist”. During auditions Phil Manzanera presented himself. Although the band preferred another guitar player, Manzanera fit the band perfectly and was offered the position of roadie, which he accepted. When the new guitar player quit the band some 3 months later, Manzanera stepped in, impressed the band and was asked to play guitar in the band. On February 14th, 1972, the classic Roxy Music line-up was complete.
In the meantime Roxy Music had amassed some enthusiastic allies. Press articles were published and some BBC radio sessions were recorded for legendary BBC DJ John Peel. Early February 1972 E’G. Management (King Crimson’s managers) stepped in to manage Roxy Music.
Roxy Music, the debut album
E’G. Management decided to pick up the tab for the recordings of the first Roxy Music album, which took place at the Common Studios in London From March 14th to 29th, 1972. Total amount: £ 5,000. King Crimson lyricist Peter Sinfield was hired to produce the album. Mixing took place between April 3rd and 7th. With the album complete, album cover included, no record company had taken the bait yet. Within Island Records there was some interest, except from owner Chris Blackwell. One day, when he happened to walk in on a meeting, he saw the album cover and was intrigued: “Looks great! Have we got them signed yet?”. A few days later the band signed their record deal and the release date for the album was set for June 16th, 1972.
Immediately following the recording sessions for the album, bass player Graham Simpson quit, to be replaced by Rik Kenton. It was the start of a tradition: Roxy Music wore down bass players like Spinal Tap wore down drummers. A bass player would never become a part of the Roxy Music core.
The cover of the Roxy Music album was groundbreaking. Never before had a cover been so camp, glamourous and theatrical. It’s the first cover in a series of 5 consecutive startling covers, depicting women in a seductive, distant and titillating way. Oftentimes the ladies appeared to be romantically linked to Ferry (at the time of the respective photo shoots).
For the Roxy Music album the concept was concocted by Bryan Ferry, elaborated by photographer Karl Stoecker and model Kari-Ann Muller. The cover also mentions Antony Price (Clothes, Make-up & Hair), who would go on and take care of the successive covers with Ferry.
The fact that the cover was a so-called gatefold cover wasn’t unique in itself, but that it was utilized by a new, yet unknown, band hadn’t been done before. And the inlay photos brought the message home even more: the images of the individual band members were different and new: flamboyant men with crests, gold and animal prints depicted a well-groomed band with taste and elegance. As Ferry would later put it: “Other bands wanted to wreck hotel rooms; Roxy Music wanted to redecorate them”.
The cover also contained liner notes, written by friend Simon Puxley.
piccadilly, 1972: taking a turn off main-street, away from cacophony and real-life relics, & into the outer spaces myriad faces & sweet deafening sounds of rock’n’roll. And inner space … the mind loses its bearings. what’s the date again? (it’s so dark in here) 1962? or twenty years on?
is this a recording session or a cocktail party? … on the rocks, please … where’s the icebox? … oh! now! that is … so cool … (there’d been rumours, of course, nothing certain, but the suggestion of truth).
musicians lie rigid-&-fluid n a mannerist canvas of hard-edged black-leather glintings, red-satin slashes, smokey surrounding gloom…
…listening to the music re-sounding, cutting the air like it was glass, rock’n’roll juggernauted into demonic electronic supersonic mo-mo-momentum – by a panoplic machine-pile, hifi or scifi who can tell? Wailing old-time sax, velvet/viscous, vibrato/vicious or ensemble jamming (& more) … synthesised to whirls and whorls of hardrock sound … mixed/fixed/sifted/lifted to driving, high-flying chunks & vorticles of pure electronic wow – gyrating, parabolic, tantalising (oh notes could not spell out the score).
…fantasising: phantomising: echoes of magic-golden moments become real presences … dreamworld & realworld loaded with images (of a style & time & world of – celluloid artefacts? heart-rending hardfacts?). Monaural and aureate fragments sea-changed & refined to pan, span the limits of sensation … leaves of gold, crossing thresholds & hearts. Saturday nite at the Roxy the Mecca the Ritz – your fantasies realized … & are they still? & is this the end? (or the beginning?) &, so help me, so many questions? & are the answers naked to the eye – or ear? or are they undercover?
Island Records pressed the band to come up with a single to promote the Roxy Music album. Everybody agreed that the album didn’t contain songs that were single-worthy. So, the band checked into Common Studios from July 10th to 12th to record a single. The session resulted in two new songs: Virginia Plain and the Andy Mackay penned The Numberer. A week later both songs were mixed and released as the first Roxy Music single on August 4th, 1972.
Virginia Plain was pretty successful and ensured the band a first slot on the English pop show Top Of The Pops (August 14th,1972). Thanks to the single’s success (number 4 on the British charts), sales numbers for the album went up also.
The album was well received, by the English press in particular. But the Dutch press didn’t fall too far behind. Roxy Music was awarded much attention, especially considering the fact that Roxy Music was virtually unknown in The Netherlands. The Dutch press was more mixed in its assessment, but nonetheless generally favorable. Remarkably, the American press initially ignored Roxy Music.
Below the most important remarks from the English and Dutch reviews (including one American review, written long after the initial release). For those who want to read the full reviews, see the sub article Roxy Music – Debut album – The reviews.
But take it from me: Roxy Music can bring pictures to your head like no-one else and they’ve only just begun.
(Richard Williams, Melody Maker, June 24, 1972)
Altogether, this is the finest album I’ve heard this year and the best ‘first’ I can EVER remember.
(Tony Tyler, New Musical Express, June 24, 1972)
Right now, though, it’s decorated with enough weird hooks to earn an A for side one.
(Robert Christgau, 1972)
What remains is fiddling with recorders, barely singing in tune, one fascinating composition (Ladytron) and a superb drummer.
(Trouw, August 18, 1972, Dutch newspaper)
For a new group they make noise that is solid as a rock.
(Het Parool, September 23, 1972, Dutch newspaper)
A maniacal creamy whole that pleases more and more as you get more accustomed to their sound.
(Limburgsch Dagblad, September 23, 1972, Dutch newspaper)
Roxy Music brings the term “pop-art” back into pop music.
(Algemeen Dagblad, October 7, 1972, Dutch newspaper)
As stated in the article on Stranded my father was a big Roxy Music lover. He had all albums up to Viva! Roxy Music. I went over the covers time after time and stared at the images for hours. Eno was particularly fascinating.
My love for Roxy Music started with Viva! Roxy Music, which was the first album I consciously heard. Later on I started to go back into the band’s history, quickly turning Stranded into my favorite studio album. My appreciation for Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure started sometime later.
Roxy Music is a somewhat hard album to get into. Strange collages, songs with a medley like build-up and a tinny sound. But the songs themselves are oftentimes fantastic, exciting and unique. And, the album contains Chance Meeting, one of my favorite Roxy music songs ever. Besides, the album also holds Re-Make/Re-Model, Ladytron and If There Is Something, all classic Roxy Music material.
The combination of avant-garde and rock really gels here, also in songs like 2HB (did The Who listen to this before recording Won’t Get Fooled Again?). It all works out fine with the ‘compiled’ songs like The Bob (Medley) and Sea Breezes as well. The only song that’s a misfire in my book, which was singled out as a highlight by many reviewers, is Would You Believe?.
And then there is Virginia Plain, wow, just wow! Different to the album on so many levels, the song not only made Roxy Music break through, but it also showed Bryan Ferry’s singular talent for writing catchy songs and coupling that with art-rock and experiment. A deeply impressive single, which clearly showed that Roxy Music were (and would become) truly special.
As stated above, the sound is a bit tinny. The production on succeeding albums would do the band more justice. Bryan Ferry himself wasn’t too keen on the production as well and started to release re-recordings of Re-Make/Re-Model, 2HB, Chance Meeting and Sea Breezes as B-sides of his solo singles. All the re-recorded songs were placed on Bryan Ferry’s third solo album, 1976’s Let’s Stick Together.
All songs written by Bryan Ferry.
- If There Is Something
- The Bob (Medley)
- Chance Meeting
- Would You Believe?
- Sea Breezes
- Bitters End
The American version also contained Virginia Plain, that was placed between the songs If There Is Something and 2HB.
In March 2018 a Super Deluxe version of Roxy Music was released, containing previously unreleased material from 1972, including demos, radio and live recordings. The release also came with a DVD containing rare video images. The set was completed with a luxury book, featuring extra information, retrospection and many photos. A beautiful release.
- Bryan Ferry – vocals, piano, Hohner Pianet, Mellotron
- Brian Eno – VCS3 synthesizer, tape effects, background vocals
- Andy Mackay – oboe, saxophone, background vocals
- Phil Manzanera – guitar
- Paul Thompson – drums
- Graham Simpson – bass
- Rik Kenton – bass on Virginia Plain
Early April 2021 a picture appeared online on several social media channels, depicting a letter to Mr. B. Ferry, dated June 30th, 1971. It was a rejection coming from record company Polydor, critiquing a demo tape. The letter seemed genuine, but turned out to be an April Fool’s joke. A month later, British writer and Roxy Music fan Tony Barrell told he was the one behind the letter and that it went ‘viral’ only after former Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club drummer Chris Frantz shared the letter on his Twitter account.
Roxy Music’s career would turn out to be very successful with singles and albums (For Your Pleasure, Stranded, Country Life, Siren) that garnered growing sales numbers. Until the band took a long break in 1976, following the release of the superb Viva! Roxy Music. After the break the band changed its musical course and produced beautiful, refined pop on the albums Manifesto, Flesh + Blood and Avalon, which made the band even more popular than they were in their artistic heyday from 1972 to 1976.
Roxy Music’s influence on popular music has been immeasurable, ranging from genres like disco to punk and new wave to synthpop. In 2019 Roxy Music was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. In 2022 it was announced that Roxy Music would reconvene once more for a mini tour through the US and the UK during the Autumn of that year.
The album is really kind of a tracer as to where we could go. There are lots of different directions there, and deliberately so, because we never really did want to have one recognisable sound. Being elusive is one of the things we quite like, and being as varied as possible.
What’s your opinion on Roxy Music the band and Roxy Music the album? Let me know, it really is greatly appreciated!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: In 1972 Roxy Music gave off their first impression. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
Roxy Music July 1972 image: pitchfork.com
Roxy Music 1971 Melody Maker ad & Roxy Music – Roxy Music – Cover outtakes images: twitter.com/eno
Roxy Music – Roxy Music image: spotify.com
Roxy Music – Virginia Plain image: dutchharts.nl
Roxy Music – Roxy Music – Ad & Roxy Music – Roxy Music – Gatefold images: pinterest.com
Roxy Music – Recording sessions Roxy Music March 1972 image: facebook.com
Roxy Music – Roxy Music – Poster image: thefatangelsings.com
Bryan Ferry – Roxy Music rejection letter 1971 image: cottagemixtape.com
Roxy Music Logo image: fandom.com