Posts Tagged ‘Roxy Music’

Too often, especially as we age, the waves of time wash over the sturdy landmarks of our youth like the ocean during high tide; and, when the water recedes, what’s left are merely dull fragments of a once-sharp image. Such is the case with this, the second-ever concert I attended. Much of the night remains a vivid, Technicolor wonder; but much more has been carried away by the receding tide of time.

First: As I mentioned in my remembrance of the previous week’s Kinks concert, the show was originally scheduled for the Spectrum in Philadelphia, but was relocated to the Tower Theater in Upper Darby at some point. I don’t know why, but imagine poor ticket sales were to blame. The Spectrum held upwards of 18,000 for concerts; the Tower fit about 3000. An event isn’t downsized that dramatically except to avoid a sea of empty seats.

The change in venue made the trip to the show that much more arduous from my neck of the woods. In today’s world, one could hop on the turnpike, exit at Mid-County and take the Blue Route and West Chester Pike. Maybe a 45-minute (to an hour, depending on traffic) trip. But back then? I didn’t drive much, and wasn’t behind the wheel – a friend with his father’s car was – but imagine we took 202 to West Chester Pike, with the 202 portion of the ride likely taking forever. Another friend was with us.

I say “likely” because I don’t remember it. What I do recall: Walking into the Tower and being amazed by the decked-out guys and girls milling about. Everyone was dressed to the nines in (stereotypical) New Wave fashion except for the three of us, who wore the typical suburban attire of jeans, button-down shirts and, given that it was a chilly night, light jackets. It was as if we’d stepped into a Duran Duran video, in other words. Our seats were on the balcony, a little less than a third of the way back, where the D-Squared vibe continued unabated.

To the show itself: the British band Modern English, who’d caught fire in the U.S. thanks to MTV placing “I Melt With You” into heavy rotation that spring, opened. My only memory of their set is of that song, their last of the night. The moment it began, many on the floor spilled out from their seats and danced in the aisles.

The reason we’d traveled to the Tower, of course, was Roxy Music. Maybe they had to downsize the venue, but whatever disappointments Bryan Ferry & Company had didn’t show in their performance. The band and backup singers came out dressed like many in the audience, like fashion models, and opened with the funky “The Main Thing” from Avalon

One highlight: “Can’t Let Go,” a song from Ferry’s 1978 solo album, The Bride Stripped Bare, which Roxy had just released on the live High Road EP.

Another: “My Only Love,” which – given that I’d been playing the High Road EP for much of the month – I knew like the back of my hand. It’s still a thing of genius.

Another: “Love Is the Drug,” the band’s lone U.S. hit.

Another: their take on Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane,” which saw a wind machine add to the stormy mood on stage. In its eye: Bryan Ferry, playing it cool; Phil Manzanera, tossing off guitar licks; and Andy MacKay, who wailed away on the sax in lieu of Neil’s swirling guitar solo. The back-up singers provided the proverbial icing on the cake.

“Editions of You” rocked:

The night ended with their cover of John Lennon’s classic “Jealous Guy.” It was the perfect cap to a great concert.

The next morning, in my desk calendar, I noted that “the Musique Roxy were fabulous. It was better than the Kinks!!”

One other memory: After the show, my friend at the wheel inadvertently ran a red light while trying to figure out where he was supposed to turn. Bubble lights from a police car flashed behind us and, within a few minutes, a bulky cop was leaning inside our car with a flashlight, scanning for any signs of intoxication. What he saw instead: three very sober, and very nervous, suburban kids. He let us go with a warning.

The likely set:

  1. The Main Thing
  2. Out of the Blue
  3. Both Ends Burning
  4. A Song for Europe
  5. Take a Chance With Me
  6. Can’t Let Go
  7. While My Heart Is Still Beating
  8. Impossible Guitar
  9. Tara
  10. Avalon
  11. My Only Love
  12. Dance Away
  13. Love Is the Drug
  14. Like a Hurricane
  15. Editions of You
  16. Do the Strand
  17. Jealous Guy

 

April 30th, 1983: I was a high-school senior. All in all, life was grand. And, as this was a Saturday, that meant me heading to the Hatboro Record Shop, where I browsed for an hour or so before settling on my day’s purchases: Roxy Music’s High Road EP on vinyl and Avalon on cassette; and Bananarama’s Deep Sea Skiving on cassette.

I won’t go in-depth about the month itself; I’ve tread this period of time too much as is. (See here, here and here.) Instead, the reason for this particular post: Roxy Music’s sleek yet powerful rendition of Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” from the High Road EP. By the end of the month, in my second-ever concert, I witnessed them perform it in person. It blew me away.

Unfortunately, the above version comes from the High Road concert film, which was shot at a different stop on the band’s 1982 tour than the EP. A full-length live album from the tour, Heart Is Still Beating, was eventually released on CD in 1990, but it’s basically the soundtrack to the film with the songs in a different order.

Anyway, the 12-inch EP featured just four songs: “Can’t Let Go” and “My Only Love” on Side 1 and “Like a Hurricane” and John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” on Side 2. I thought that it had been lost to time…until I discovered it on YouTube a few weeks ago. Here it is:

This morning, I played The Freewheelin’ First Aid Kit – a playlist I created on YouTube a while back, after coming up with the idea here. As the name infers, it features their versions of a few Bob Dylan songs (plus a few other cool covers). First Aid Kit are relative young ‘uns, of course, and their willingness to dig deep into the music of the past is, well, a joy to behold.

I’d love to read a list of their seminal albums.

Which leads to this: Over the past week or so, my Facebook newsfeed has exploded with lists by friends and acquaintances of albums that made a lasting impression on them during their formative years. Such lists get flung around on Facebook every now and again, it seems. This specific meme lays down a few rules: list 10; don’t think too long or hard about them; and don’t choose more than one per artist or band. Some respondents expand the 10 to 20 or even 30; and quite a few can’t help but to push the “one album per artist” rule to two or three. They are always interesting to read.

me_headphones_80ish007-1Anyone who’s spent time on my blog already knows most, if not all, of mine. My music-obsessiveness kicked into gear a few months prior to my turning 13 in 1978 – and has lasted ever since. I’ve always been a fairly open-eared listener, awash (at various times) in the Top 40, AOR rock, oldies, country and adult contemporary, plus disco, R&B and soul. I have no shame, and no “guilty pleasures.” Life’s too short for that.

Some days, I listen to little. Others? I play a lot. On my Wednesday morning commute, I listened to the Jam’s Snap collection, which I had on vinyl way back when; on my way home, I played the Kinks’ One for the Road, another favorite 2-LP set from my teen years. In between, at work, I strapped on my headphones and listened to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Neil Young’s On the Beach, Gladys Knight & the Pips’ Imagination and, because I’m not totally stuck in the past, the Staves’ If I Was and Harriet’s debut. The day before, while working from home, I made it a Rumer day, and listened to her entire oeuvre (minus Stereo Venus). Right now, I’m listening to Jackie DeShannon’s Are You Ready for This?, a wonderful but oft-overlooked gem of an album she released in 1966 –

– but before that it was Imagination (again) and the Jam’s The Gift.

Anyway, here are not 10 nor 20, but 16 albums from my teen years that (along with lots of others) laid the foundation for much that has followed, arranged in (more-or-less) chronological order as to when I acquired them. Though some are stone-cold classics, others obviously are not – yet they were, in their way, equally important in the evolution of my music-obsessiveness. Then as now, my listening pleasures weren’t always new; some things I discovered from the radio, others from the music magazines and, often, the Rolling Stone Record Guide. I’ve also reduced the span from my teen years to my middle- and high-school days (1978-1983); and, in some instances, included links to past posts where I discuss the album or artist.

It’s also far from definitive. Rickie Lee Jones’ stellar debut isn’t mentioned, for example, though it should be (and is, in a way, now). When I finalize my All-Time Greatest Albums list, which I’m in the process of doing, such lapses and oversights will be corrected.

  1. Paul McCartney & WingsLondon Town
  2. Olivia Newton-JohnTotally Hot
  3. The Beatles – 1967-1970 
  4. Linda RonstadtMad Love
  5. Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – Against the Wind
  6. The Go-Go’sBeauty & the Beat
  7. The PretendersExtended Play
  8. Neil Young & Crazy Horsere*ac*tor
  9. Joan Jett & the BlackheartsI Love Rock ’n’ Roll
  10. Janis Joplin – Pearl
  11. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
  12. Dusty SpringfieldDusty in Memphis
  13. Lou ReedRock ’n’ Roll Animal
  14. Patti Smith Easter
  15. The JamThe Gift
  16. Roxy Music – The High Road

Anyway, here’s today’s Top 5: 16 or 10 to 6. AKA, songs from six of the above albums…

1) Olivia Newton-John – “Deeper Than the Night.” Fresh from the success of Grease, Olivia released what may well be the greatest album of her career, Totally Hot.

2) The Go-Go’s – One of the greatest crimes of the 21st century: That this band is not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Here they are with “Lust to Love” from Beauty & the Beat…

3) The Pretenders – “Talk of the Town.” Extended Play is no more, which is a shame. A five-song classic it was, and this song was my favorite (with “Message of Love” a close second).

4) Roxy Music – “Like a Hurricane.” The High Road was another EP – and is another lost gem, as it fell out of print.

5) The Jam – “Just Who Is the Five O’Clock Hero?” Paul Weller. The Jam. From their swan song, The Gift.

And… one bonus:

6) Patti Smith – “Because the Night.” From Easter.

IMG_5332I first picked up Musician magazine in the early 1980s. As the name indicates, it was geared to musicians – of which, I wasn’t one. I didn’t buy it for the pictures of instruments and tech gear, though they all looked nice, but the profiles of musicians and record reviews.

This issue, as evidenced by the picture, featured John Cougar Mellencamp on the cover; and has an insightful five-and-a-half page article about him. The Indiana rocker, at the start of his career, hit a few obstacles, essentially flooring the gas pedal without first opening the garage door. He signed with Tony DeFries, David Bowie’s manager, who insisted on the “Cougar” moniker, released a few slipshod albums – his first, Chestnut Street Incident in 1976, sold a grand total of 12,000 copies – and earned a reputation of being a Grade A jerk. “I really didn’t have any handle on my career,” Mellencamp explains. “I was just insecure enough to listen to anybody who’d been in the business a long time—I figured they knew more.”

IMG_5333He gradually learned that there was more to rock music than looking the part, however. “I Need a Lover” (1978), “Ain’t Even Done With the Night” (1980) and “Hurts So Good” (1982) were solid stepping stones, serviceable tunes that wouldn’t cause anyone to change the radio station. And then ”Jack and Diane” happened. The reaction to that imperfect, but heartfelt song caused him to rethink his approach to music. Like “Hurts So Good,” it hailed from American Fool (1982); a four-star song on a two-star album, in other words. Uh-Huh (1983), his next effort, was better – “Pink Houses” is a classic slice of heartland rock, and “Crumblin’ Down” and “Authority Song” are damn good, too. But those songs didn’t foretell just how good he’d become; his next two albums, Scarecrow (1985) and Lonesome Jubilee (1987), stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best albums of the 1980s.

scarecrowThe Wikipedia entry gives conflicting release info for Scarecrow – September is cited in the first paragraph, but November is listed in the quick-hit section on the right. AllMusic lists November, too, but I recall playing the cassette, which came with an extra track (“The Kind of Fella I Am”), long before Thanksgiving – and this Billboard record chart from September 1985 that I just found proves me right.

Anyway, at the time, I was a junior at the Penn State mothership in State College, aka Happy Valley. I’ve covered the same timeframe here and here; there’s not much to add. I’d like to list the albums and singles I purchased this specific October, but my desk calendar, where I kept track of such things, remained at home with most of my things. I suspect, though, that it was none. Money was tight, and most of my cash went to non-dining hall food and other essentials, like pencils, typing paper and beer.

In fact, there were a few weekends when I hit the road in order to spend Saturday at the department store where I worked – when I didn’t have a Folk Show gig, of course. October 4th was one such example. I made money other ways, too: I rented out my season football pass; and sold my plasma twice a week. On the former: demand wasn’t great (or I was a bad scalper); I made 15 or 20 bucks a pop. On the latter: I possessed strong antibodies, I was told, so earned more than the going rate. My memory says it was $10 the first go-round and $15 the next.

About the Folk Show: I’d been on-air a total of two, maybe three times, by October’s end. The first teetered on disaster: a cart tape malfunctioned. Flustered, I muttered “What the fuh…” into the microphone, catching myself just in time to block the the final “ck” from slipping out. I’m sure the listeners were laughing their heads off.

As for Today’s Top 5, culled from this Musician:

IMG_53521) John Cougar Mellencamp – “Minutes to Memories.” The early and mid-1980s were a hard time for rural America: family farms were failing, and the reverberations expanded beyond the farms to the many businesses supporting them. On the Scarecrow album, Mellencamp took what he’d learned from “Jack & Diane” and “Pink Houses” and applied it to the reality that surrounded him in small-town Indiana – as Timothy White says in the review on page 109, “It’s a rock ’n’ roll Grapes of Wrath.”

There are many excellent songs on the album, but – to my ears – the best is ”Minutes to Memories,” written with childhood friend George Green. It spins the tale of an old man offering a young ‘un advice gleaned from his life’s experiences:

On a Greyhound 30 miles beyond Jamestown,
he saw the sun set on the Tennessee line.
He looked at the young man who was riding beside him.
He said, ‘I’m old, kind of worn out inside.
I worked my whole life in the steel mills of Gary
and, my father before me, I helped build this land.
Now I’m 77 and, with God as my witness,
I earned every dollar that passed through my hands.
My family and friends are the best thing I’ve known.
Through the eye of the needle, I’ll carry them home.’

‘Days turn to minutes
and minutes to memories.
Life sweeps away the dreams
that we have planned.
You are young and you are the future,
so suck it up and tough it out,
and be the best you can.’

Near the end, there’s a dramatic reveal: the young man, now older himself, is the narrator, and sharing the same hard-earned wisdom with a younger man – his son, perhaps:

The old man had a vision, but it was hard for me to follow.
I do things my way and I pay a high price.
When I think back on the old man and the bus ride,
now that I’m older, I can see he was right.

Another hot one out on Highway 11.
This is my life, it’s what I’ve chosen to do.
There are no free rides, no one said it’d be easy.
The old man told me this, my son, I’m telling it to you.

It’s a remarkable song from an undeniably great album.

IMG_53502) Neil Young – “My Boy.” Jimmy Guterman disliked Old Ways: “Neil Young’s desire to make real country music may be sincere, but succumbing to formula isn’t how to do it. ‘Old ways can be a ball and chain,’ Young sings. So can new beginnings.”

Despite having the trappings of country music, including fiddles and guest turns by outlaws Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, the album isn’t that far from the Comes a Time and Harvest blueprint. It doesn’t match either in terms of quality, mind you, but compared to the albums that it followed (Everybody’s Rockin’) and preceded (Landing on Water), it was an aural oasis. This touching song became a semi-staple during my days on the Folk Show.

3) Dwight Yoakam – “Guitars, Cadillacs.” After a failed stint in Nashville during the Urban Cowboy era, Dwight headed west to L.A., where his brand of honky-tonk music fit in with the burgeoning “cowpunk” scene. He released an EP, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., on an independent label; and earned enough rave reviews to get picked up by Reprise, which re-configured the EP into a full-length album the following year (which is when I bought it).

Writes J.D. Considine: “It’s one thing to cut a ‘Ring of Fire’ that makes the man in black sound like a city slicker, quite another to write ‘Miner’s Prayer,” a genuinely affecting Kentucky lament.” The title tune is a classic –

IMG_53554) Bryan Ferry – “Slave to Love.” The ever-suave Ferry sits for an interview with future Billboard editor Timothy White, talking about Roxy Music and his solo Boys and Girls LP, which had been released over the summer. “I didn’t want the album to be Avalon, Part Two, but it does have a continuity in that at least 10 of the musicians on both records are the same. And I’m the same composing-wise that I was on the previous album. But it has some differences as well. I’m always seen my Roxy catalog as my main body of work, as opposed to my solo career, and I do see Boys and Girls as coming from my Roxy work.”

As far as checking out the competition: “Currently, I don’t listen to what anybody else is doing in music because there are so many things that seem to remind me a bit of what I do or have done. It gets incestuous. [laughter] At the end of the day, you just have to know that no one can be you, and at best there can only be superficial similarities. I’m just getting further and further into myself.”

I owned the album; and, to my ears, it was Avalon, Part Two sans the hypnotic pull of the original – actually, Avalon, Part Three, given that Roxy Music’s live High Life EP (later released as the full-length Heart Still Beating CD) was, kinda sorta, Part Two.

5) David Bowie – “Heroes.” Hooked on Digital? asks the headline of Scott Isler’s in-depth article about compact discs, which were far from mainstream in 1985. Only 3300-4500 titles were in print (vs. 85,000 LPs) – a lack of printing plants was one reason. Another: the need to renegotiate royalty agreements. The article also dwells on the analog v. digital differences in both recording and listening; and predicts the increasing scarcity of vinyl. Doug Sax, the president of Sheffield Lab and the Mastering Lab, and Emiel Petrone, a senior vice-president at Polygram Records and chairman of the Compact Disc Group, “agree the LP will linger on only as a high-end curio for audiophiles willing drop a couple thou on a cartridge alone.”

Now, Bowie isn’t mentioned in this article. What’s the connection? Those first months at Penn State, I fell in with a guy who not only owned a CD player, but had an eclectic CD collection that included titles by Kitaro, Michael Oldfield, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis…and David Bowie (the original RCA issues, for anyone who’s curious). This song was always one of my favorites to listen to with headphones –