Roxy Music : Love Is The Drug

It’s almost Saturday Night.

Almost.

Almost.

Just a few more hours here at Bainbridge’s adding up rows and rows and rows of accounts.

A few more hours staring out the window watching the sky darken.

Waiting for The Moon to light up the Dark.

Waiting for The Stars to dazzle my eyes.

This Saturday Night is going to be My Night.

My Night.

Make sure I get dressed to impress.

Fred Perry. Sta Press. Barracuta G9. Chelsea Boots.

Haute Rouge fragrance.

Time to establish the Mood.

Light up a Disque Bleu and contemplate the posters of Francoise Hardy, Monica Vitti and Steve McQueen.

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Leaf through the latest ‘Salut les copains’

Now for some Sounds!

Start out with Miles Davis, ‘Kind Of Blue’.

Now that is Cool, Cool, Cool.

Gonna Dance Tonight.

Dance, Dance, Dance.

Betty Everett, ‘Getting Mighty Crowded’.

Major Lance, ‘The Monkey Time’.

Maxine Brown, ‘Oh No Not My Baby’.

Roy Head, ‘Treat Her Right’.

Jimmy Radcliffe, ‘Long After Tonight Is Over’.

I can feel the Glow.

One last look in the mirror – Perfect!

Fire up the Super Sprint 90.

Saturday Night.

The Town will be throbbing.

Throbbing.

Where are am I headed tonight?

Where will the Faces be?

La Dolce Vita? The Downbeat?

The Oxford? or The Cavendish?

First off, I’m going to ride the Super Sprint right up to the door of Club A ‘Gogo and announce my arrival on the scene!

Here I am! Here I am!

Young, Free and Single.

Time IS on my side.

It ain’t no big thing the toll of the bell.

Look Out Girls!

Oh, Oh, Oh, catch that Buzz.

Catch that Buzz.

Love is the drug I’m thinking of.

Love is the drug and I need to score!

Love is the drug for me.

 

 

Now that is a record that would get anyone well and truly hooked!

Roxy Music In Ecelsis!

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From the very first moment with the footstep and car door opening sound effects you just know you’re about to set off on a thrilling trip.

Jon Gustafson comes in with that heart jolting, adrenaline laced, bass line and you will barely draw breathe again until the fade out – swept along by the instrumental brilliance of the ensemble, the crisp, crystal clear production of Chris Thomas and the knowing seductive vocal Bryan Ferry gives to his superbly sketched narrative.

Gustafson was a veteran of the British Beat scene having been a member of The Big Three who were lions of the Cavern in Liverpool with everybody including The Beatles grooving along to their cover of Richard Barrett’s ‘Some Other Guy’.

He went on to play with The Merseybeats and The Pirates as well as numerous studio gigs.

However, his lasting glory will surely be the three albums he played on with Roxy Music and in particular the fantastic propulsive drive his bass line gives to Love Is The Drug (I’m sure Nile Rodgers of Chic felt it in his boots!).

The ‘secret hero’ of all Roxy Music Records is, of course, Paul Thompson, a Drummer whose complete mastery of tempo gave the Band a rock solid foundation that allowed Roxy’s ‘Exotics’ – Bryan Ferry, guitarist Phil Manzanera, Saxman Andy Mackay and Keyboard wizard Eddie Jobson the freedom to be theatrically inventive.

Phil Manzanera’s highly accomplished guitar playing draws on his love of Latin American rhythms and the angularity of English Art Rock. Add to this his technical command of his instrument and his musical intelligence and you have the ideal guitarist for a Band performing musically and emotionally complex songs.

Eddie Jobson was the boy wonder Keyboard player whose musical felicity gave him the smarts to add shade, colour and dramatic sophistication to the kaleidoscopic gallery of moods conjured up by Bryan Ferry’s lyrics.

Andy Mackay was always a key figure in Roxy Music giving them a depth and breadth of sound marking them out from their contemporaries.

In this song you can feel the red lights, the bated breath and the heat of nocturnal anticipation in his playing.

His saxophone and woodwind contributions were always integral to the overall conception of the unique Roxy Music sonic palette.

In fact, Love Is The Drug began as a Mackay instrumental. It was worked up in Air Studios with each additional player’s contributions making the track more and more irresistible with Chris Thomas at the desk insisting on take after take until it was practically perfect.

Only one further element was needed for a sure fire hit!

Namely, a winning lyric and vocal.

Enter, Bryan Ferry.

Bryan was known to try the patience of his colleagues by obsessively working on his lyrics – drafts after draft after draft being reworked until the seam of pure gold was revealed.

Andy Mackay recalls that he sometimes appeared like a Conjuror keeping the audience breathless until, magically, he pulled the veritable rabbit out of his silk Top Hat!

When he settled himself at the microphone to sing, ‘Love Is The Drug’ for the first time his weary Bandmates were amazed and thrilled.

To a man they knew this would be a massive, unstoppable hit which would take their career to another level.

Bryan tells his story with economy and wit.

It’s a story we’ve all surely been part of in our youth so we can recognise the accuracy of the tale and smile at our own recollections of when we were the key dramatis personae.

Boy meets girl where the beat goes on.

Face to face, Toe to toe.

Hearts pounding as heart to heart they hit the floor.

The stumble round, the hoped for locked embrace.

Catch that Buzz.

One says Go … the other says Yes.

Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh ….

Well, dim the lights and you can guess the rest!

Bryan Ferry’s lyric is a model of economy and wit deftly deploying alliteration, assonance and rhyme to beguile our senses.

Love Is The Drug has remained a fixture at Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry shows from 1975 to this day.

Simply put it’s a classic that will never fail.

I’ll leave you with a scorching live version from  2001.

I guarantee this song will still sound great on the bases of The Moon and Mars in 3001.

Can’t you see.

Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Love Is The Drug.

Love Is The Drug.

 

Blood On The Tracks – Bryan Ferry’s ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’

‘Now you would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row’

(Bob Dylan)

‘He had made his choice, chosen Ophelia, chosen the sweet poison and drunk it. Wanting above all to be brave and kind, he had wanted, even more than that, to be loved. So it had been. So it would ever be … ‘

(Scott Fitzgerald, ‘Tender Is The Night’)

Can’t let go, There’s a madness in my soul tonight, Can’t let go…’

(Bryan Ferry, ‘Can’t Let Go’)

In 1978 Bryan Ferry experienced something new in his, until then, wholly successful and glittering career – failure.

His fifth, and to my mind by far his best solo record, ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’ an adult work drenched in passion, paranoia and desperate desire emerged at the height of the punk era in the UK and was (apart from a few critics and Ferry fanatics like me) roundly ignored.

I guess you just can’t fight the Zeitgeist.

Up until that point Bryan Ferry, particularly as the principal songwriter and focal point of Roxy Music, had been a virtual ringmaster of the Zeitgeist.

Roxy Music had materialised in public consciousness in 1972 with their staggeringly accomplished debut single, ‘Virginia Plain’.

They didn’t look or sound like anyone else – an extraordinary feat in the modern pop era.

It seemed as if they had arrived as uber-glamorous spacemen, at warp factor 8, from an exoplanet in a distant galaxy where a particularly brilliant museum curator had created a group which would simultaneously celebrate and guy the whole postmodern project in music, fashion and the fine arts and do so with thrilling musical and intellectual confidence.

And, they made records which were undeniably brilliant works of pop ephemera, huge hits!, as well as being carefully crafted art projects.

Bryan Ferry was after all a fine arts graduate who had been a star pupil of Pop Art maestro Richard Hamilton as well as someone who loved the suave look of Cary Grant alongside his reverence for the deep soul sounds of Otis Redding and Sam and Dave.

The first three Roxy Music albums, ‘Roxy Music’, ‘For Your Pleasure’ and, ‘Stranded’ remain peaks of artistic creativity in popular music.

They are endlessly replayable as they give up layer after layer of meaning and pleasure.

Roxy Music, initially a dizzyingly collaborative entity drawing on the disparate talents and influences of Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay and Paul Thompson became very much Bryan Ferry’s band after the departure of Eno before, ‘Stranded’ was recorded.

The next two records, ‘Country Life’ and ‘Siren’ though excellent by anyone else’s standards represented a falling off in ambition and intensity of vision for Roxy Music.

Bryan Ferry had also commenced a solo career with a series of records which showcased his distinctive take on pop history as he intriguingly covered artists as varied as Lesley Gore and Bob Dylan.

These records acknowledging the treasures in the Great American Songbook as well as the products of the Brill Building were highly enjoyable exercises in style with a capital S.

But, from the evidence of, ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’ sometime in 1976/1977, events in Bryan Ferry’s personal and artistic life (which I choose not to speculate on) pushed him to to write a series of songs , frequently self-lacerating, which displayed, once recorded, a ferocious, hitherto unknown (and never to be repeated) emotional and vocal intensity.

He also chose to cover songs from Lou Reed, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Al Green and J J Cale which along with his lovely, infinitely weary and regretful version of the Irish ballad, ‘Carrickfergus’ (see below) constitute what can only be described as the biography of a heart and soul in torment.

The whole record can feel like the last SOS of someone who has hit bottom and can’t yet see a way out.

There is something like terminal despair in the unanswered question posed at the end of, ‘What Goes On’ – how does it feel to be loved?

How could that be the situation of someone who in, ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’ knows no depths to the love he is prepared to give, ‘Any kind of love you want, I would get for you.’

Of course, sadly the truth sometimes dawns that love no matter how strong is sometimes denied, abused and rejected.

Being loved does not always flow from loving.

A martial, crack of doom, drumbeat kicks off ‘Sign of the Times’ the opening track on, ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’ and immediately we are cast into a maelstrom of sound with Bryan Ferry raging like some urban Lear as he contemplates the bloody signs of the times with the leathered and lipsticked struggling chained and bound as they wait (welcoming?) for the hard lines to come down.

In the midst of the madness, in a world where we don’t know why we laugh or cry, why we live and die, he still wants to wreathe a rainbow in someone’s hair as a contrasting, perhaps countervailing, sign of the times.

The song may have been written as ironic commentary on the times but the performance is anything but ironic or distanced.

Throughout this song and the whole record the studio veteran musicians, often derided as session mercenaries, seem to these ears to play, in response to their leader’s example, as if their lives depended on leaving no realm of emotion unvisited (not excluding emotional enervation and paralysis: the song, ‘When She Walks in the Room’ seems to drift in the ether like some weightless narcotic smoke ring of loss.)

The centrepiece of the album for me is, ‘Cant Let Go’ which I consider the greatest performance of Bryan Ferry’s career and one of the greatest performances by anybody in the rock era.

‘Can’t Let Go’ is a wide screen journey into a landscape offering no hope of redemption.

The song is a postmodern epic (Ferry has always had a filmic imagination) echoing the Hollywood creeping insanity of Hitchcock’s, ‘Vertigo’ and the repellant allure of Wilder’s, ‘Sunset Boulevard’ while prefiguring the desperate hall of mirrors madness of David Lynch’s, ‘Mulholland Drive’.

The song follows and incarnates the nightmare situation of a man, a man who knows there is no waking up from this nightmare.

A man who is a self-aware exile from the havens of love and home.

Some disaster expelled him from home; a love gone horribly wrong has propelled him left him West to the land where pain (so they say) might be avoided.

Once there, he finds that a life without pain can only be found in the grave – a grave he finds himself not yet ready to occupy.

He goes on as a man who finds that it doesn’t matter where he drives because all directions end up being the same.

The driving is important as the whole song seems to take place inside the tormented mind of someone looking through the rain spattered windscreen of a car speeding nowhere fast in endless loops.

Bryan Ferry’s superlative singing on this song seems dragged from the depths of his being and worthy, in its commitment, of the Stax soul masters he had hitchhiked to see in London when he was a student.

His voice here has wonderful presence, power and a desperate nuanced elegance which survives even as he is about to be overwhelmed by the terrible storm.

The terrible storm which remains one car wheel behind, one car wheel away from overtaking him, one car wheel away from destroying him.

Rain streams down as his soul fights a battle between the consolations of finally feeling no pain and the not yet buried desire to live again.

Wasted and cold, exhausted from a hundred sleepless nights, he has to try to hold on, to hang on by his fingertips or else he will be lost forever and the madness in his soul will take full and permanent possession of his life.

Afraid in the dark, there is no relief in celebrity, now he is only a face in the crowd, one more anonymous face, endlessly circling the purgatorial freeways.

The music enveloping Bryan Ferry as he fights his life and death battle has a wonderful sense of the movement between control and loss of control.

The musicians accelerate and decelerate, rising and falling with the increasingly desperate situation of the singer.

Waddy Watchtel on lead guitar, urged on by the string arrangement, sends shining sad spirals of sound echoing into the seemingly endless dark of the night.

As the song reaches its resolution you are left wondering whether this represents the car being driven off the road into the canyon or rather a hard stop allowing, after a deep shuddering breath for life, one more chance to begin again.

Perhaps the repeated final anguished cries of, ‘Can’t Let Go’ is a wounded acknowledgement that to be able to feel the need not to let go is proof that some strands of a man who might still find the will to hope, might yet wish to live, survives.

Perhaps that’s the spirit animating the elegiac version of, ‘Carrickfergus’ I leave you with now.

I will close, as I began, with a Bob Dylan quote, which seems particularly apposite to my take on, ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’:

‘Pain sure brings out the best in people, doesn’t it?’

Notes:

Though I think that, ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’ is by far the best record of Bryan Ferry’s career it is heartening that a recent project, ‘The Jazz Age’ featuring 1920s style recreations of songs from the Roxy era was a triumphant success on record – as were the concerts that followed.

I also have enormous affection for his album of Bob Dylan songs, ‘Dylanesque’.

Since this post was written Bryan has joined the distinguished company of rock stars turning 70! Reports from his current tour show him still to be in very fine form. Delighted to add this picture of him celebrating his three score and ten!