Watch Roxy Music Play Live with Brian Eno in Early Groundbreaking Performances (1972)

Just what, exact­ly, is Roxy Music? Those encoun­ter­ing the band for the first time when their self-titled debut came out in 1972 had ques­tions. Were these 50s R&B throw­backs? Zig­gy Stardust/Slade/T‑Rex like glam rock­ers? Exper­i­men­tal art-rock-retro-futur­ists dressed like a Stax funk band on acid? Yes, yes, yes, and then some. The album, “at once post­mod­ern, strange, sen­su­al and thrilling,” writes Chica­go Tri­bune’s Greg Kot, “mapped out a new fron­tier, even as bands like the Rolling Stones and Led Zep­pelin dom­i­nat­ed the rock land­scape.”

In the very same year that Bowie’s Zig­gy land­ed to re-make rock in its image, Bri­an Fer­ry and his vir­tu­oso band—including stand­outs Phil Man­zan­era on gui­tar and Bri­an Eno on synths, tape effects, and var­i­ous “treatments”—prefigured a some­how even sex­i­er, weird­er, funki­er, more dis­turb­ing future for pop, chart­ing the ter­ri­to­ry for bands like Duran Duran, the Cars, Eury­th­mics, Pulp, and too many more to name. Roxy Music was so effort­less­ly orig­i­nal that once Bowie exhaust­ed his space alien phase, he turned to Fer­ry and Eno for inspi­ra­tion.

Like Bowie, Roxy Music favored sax­o­phones, cour­tesy of Andy Mack­ay, who also played… the oboe? Manzanera’s psy­che­del­ic flights were rem­i­nis­cent of The Doors’ Rob­by Krieger, with a Latin Amer­i­can fla­vor from his ear­ly days play­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary Cuban folk songs. Paul Thompson’s rhyth­mic pound­ing and smooth, coun­try-ish grooves improb­a­bly mar­ried Moe Tuck­er and Ken­ny But­trey.

Gra­ham Simp­son played the bass with “an exu­ber­ant rush,” writes Kot.  “They were spe­cial­ists in their field,” remarks Fer­ry,” who him­self drew from the rock­ers every British child of the 50s loved, but was also obsessed with Char­lie Park­er, Lester Young, Bil­lie Hol­l­i­day, Kurt Weill, the Beats, T.S. Eliot, Fred Astaire, and Cole Porter.

And Eno? “With his deep inter­est in exper­i­men­tal music,” says Fer­ry, Eno turned raunchy retro-fusion rock ‘n’ roll into sound­tracks for space­ships, his synth lines swoop­ing wild­ly and bur­bling omi­nous­ly behind Ferry’s qua­ver­ing melis­ma. “Those tex­tures,” the singer recalled recent­ly, “the synth sounds were wash­es, colours, tex­tures, mood enhancers, and so on.” Arriv­ing ful­ly-formed in 1972, they “sound­ed as if they had just beamed down from out­er space and brought along the music of the spheres,” Dan­ger­ous Minds’ Paul Gal­lagher writes. “Roxy Music was the sound of the future—but we just didn’t real­ize it then. Roxy was so over­whelm­ing­ly new. No one knew what to think.”

“Try to imag­ine,” writes Gal­lagher, “how insane this TV footage looked” at the time. Imag­ine tun­ing in to Top of the Pops and catch­ing them play­ing their debut sin­gle “Vir­ginia Plain” (top), a song “named after a pack­et of cig­a­rettes.” (Read about how they record­ed those motor­cy­cle sounds.) Imag­ine see­ing Mack­ay dressed like a Flash Gor­don vil­lain, play­ing oboe over Eno’s sci-fi synth wash­es in the intro to “Ladytron” on the Old Grey Whis­tle Test, or see­ing the band con­fi­dent­ly stomp through “Re-make/Re-mod­el,” “Ladytron,” and “Grey Lagoons,” on the BBC’s Full House, fur­ther up.

In that lat­er 1972 live tele­vised per­for­mance, Roxy Music was already deliv­er­ing the sound of its future with “Grey Lagoons” from the fol­low­ing year’s bril­liant For Your Plea­sure, the final album to fea­ture Eno, who would go on to even stranger things in his solo work. Now imag­ine you hap­pened to tune in to The Old Grey Whis­tle Test in ’73 just in time to catch that album’s “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” a war­bly, sin­is­ter, Bal­lar­dian love song writ­ten for a blow-up doll.

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Bri­an Eno Discog­ra­phy: Stream 29 Hours of Record­ings by the Mas­ter of Ambi­ent Music

The Sto­ry of Zig­gy Star­dust: How David Bowie Cre­at­ed the Char­ac­ter that Made Him Famous

Meet the World’s Worst Orches­tra, the Portsmouth Sin­fo­nia, Fea­tur­ing Bri­an Eno

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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