Roxy: Unknown Pleasures

I recently picked up Unknown Pleasures: A Cultural Biography of Roxy Music by Paul Stump, a book about one of my favorite bands. I tend toward fanaticism about them, but I was not ready for the advanced level of Rock’n Roll geekery I would find in this dense and detailed volume. It is nice to have so much information on Roxy’s history, influences, make-up (personnel, not cosmetic) but it is a case of information overload.
I appreciate  Roxy Music on many levels, but if forced to reduce it to basics I would say Ferry’s  poetic lyrics (filled with references to art, philosophy, and cultivated despair) and Paul Thompson’s masterful drumming (along with the crazy musicality of the band in general) are what I enjoy most. I remember their song Love is the Drug on top-40 radio in the mid-seventies, but it was not until I borrowed the album Siren from a girlfriend (I may have never returned it!) that I began to really listen to every song. Later, I encountered Country Life, which I listened to even more carefully. I remember it was the lyrics that got me most of all. Part of the reason I love poetry can be blamed on Roxy Music, as well as on the infamous Euro-brit original album cover of Country Life , which at that time was banned in the U.S.

The author of the book has very fixed opinions about the band. He praises their first album and everything Eno-esque. He tends to dismiss, in an annoyingly glib way, most of what came after the first two albums, and this bothers me. It is never fun to hear someone dismiss, or indifferently ignore music and art that has profoundly moved one’s soul. But I do appreciate his taking his love of Roxy Music to the heights of Rock’n Roll geekery.

If you love ROXY MUSIC, check these posts of mine:

She Sells

Out of the Blue

Mother of Pearl 

A Psalm of Roxy

If There Is Something (Roxy Music 1972

If there is something that I might find
Look around corners, try to find peace of mind I say
Where would you go if you were me ?
Try to keep a straight course not easy
Somebody special looking at me
A certain reaction we find
What should it try to be I mean
If there are many
Meaning the same
Be specific just a game

I would do anything for you
I would climb mountains
I would swim all the oceans blue
I would walk a thousand miles
Reveal my secrets
More than enough for me to share
I would put roses round our door
Sit in the garden
Growing potatoes by the score

Shake your hair girl with your ponytail
Takes me right back (when you were young)
Throw your precious gifts into the air
Watch them fall down (when you were young)
Lift up your feet and put them on the ground
You used to walk upon (when you were young)
Lift up your feet and put them on the ground
The hills were higher (when we were young)
Lift up your feet and put them on the ground
The trees were taller (when you were young)
Lift up your feet and put them on the ground
The grass was greener (when you were young)
Lift up your feet and put them on the ground
You used to walk upon (when you were young)

She Sells: 3 Versions

 

An all-time favorite song.
Listening to the separate piano part makes me appreciate it even more.
Here is the 1976 album version:

And here, live, from 1975:

I finally understood, after years of loving this song,
that the title can be interpreted as a Spoonerism for Sea Shells.

Things I love about this song:

The jaunty piano intro where Paul Thompson comes in with that great hi-hat/bass triple thump . . . the tempo shifts to a slow bounce at Nine-till-five / the daily grind. . . and then again shifts at 2:40 in the original studio version above to an expansive majestic sound which ends the song. And the lyrics, like all Roxy lyrics, are poetically exciting, full of word-play and innuendo. Is it about a real-estate agent? A tailor doing alterations? A table-dancer at a gentleman’s club? A dealer in illicit stimulants? A Chinese ceramics collector? An Asian prostitute? Maybe all of that at once. Or maybe just a fantasy in the singer’s mind about his girlfriend. Who knows ? (only Bryan Ferry and God.)

She Sells

Now you’re talking in headlines
Up to the minute and free
Stop press, hold the front page
Up as a mirror—
Are you reading me?

Watch you walking in waltz time
A jigsaw puzzle in tune
Or are you faking a straight line—
To suit yourself too soon

Rather nouveau than never
Contemporary ideal
Some natural kind of poet might slow it
But she sells . . .
more my speed.


She sells country and modern:

Ancient western song
Of oriental confusion—
You so right, me so wrong

Now you’re fixing to fly me
Auto-erotic pleas,
Off the record you’re gliding;
Your lingerie’s a gift-wrap—
Send it to me.

Nine-till-five:
The daily grind
Made-up eyes
Make up my mind
Same machine consuming me,
Consuming you . . .

Oh why, oh why
She sells . . . I need
Oh why love why
She sells . . . I need.

Poetic Preliminaries:

 

ROXY MUSIC remains one of my all-time favorite bands. I attribute my useless love of poetry in part to some of their lyrics. The cover of this very poetic record was always too hot to handle. I thought of pasting it in here but 5 of my 7 regular readers would be offended. It was risqué in 1974 and it is still so today. If you are curious you can always click HERE. The heavenly bodies distract us, yes, but it is the words that I am after.

I also love the Southwestern states of the U.S. where I lived for years.
And so I bring you two favorite Roxy songs: Prairie Rose and Amazona:

TEXAS . . . that’s where I belong / It seems to me
Lonesome star / Shine on / The big country
With open skies, and you for company
Oh prairie rose . . . how happy I should be

Hey hey . . . You can take it from me / Hey hey, I’ll be coming, you’ll see
Hey hey, oh what a state to be in / Hey hey, you’re tantalizing me

Texas: I will compose in fancy rhyme, or just plain prose
A song of praise / To you, Prairie rose
Though I’m not sure I can explain your strange allure
Prairie rose / A crown of thorns / A scented flower
Hey hey
I’d better leave right away / I can hear you calling me / Prairie rose

 

AMAZONA . . . is a zone where / there is no doubt / No more fall-out
Why don’t you step through the mirror and see?

From Arizona to Eldorado / Sure is a mighty long way.
Hey little girl / Is something wrong?
I know it’s hard / For you to get along

The bell-tower rings; it tolls a hollow sound
But your castles in Spain still maybe realized / And longings more profound.

You see, every cloud has a silver lining . . .
And sometimes paradise around your corner lies . . .
In Amazona everything is nice
Little one, come take my hand; I’ll try to help you there
I’ll take you there

Amazona’s getting closer / Soon you’ll see.
Journey’s over / We’re almost there!