I recall once hearing John Peel say that out of all the bands and artists he’d ever heard there was only one for whom he couldn’t decipher where they had come from; where he couldn’t pinpoint their roots and influences. “It was as if Roxy Music had come from outer space”, he said.
It’s possible their outlandish stage costumes contributed to Peel’s verdict, but what he heard was a cacophony of guitar, bass, sax and drums with an array of different keyboard instruments, including mellotron, early synthesizers — even an oboe — with enigmatic lyrics delivered by one of the most distinctive voices in pop history.
Roxy announced themselves to the world on 16 June 1972, the same day as Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, with their debut album a couple of months before the single “Virginia Plain”. Has there ever been a more exhilarating side one, track one, from a debut album than “Re-Make/Re-Model”?
For several albums they dazzled — not merely glam, but glamorous, rock. Art graduate Bryan Ferry and his cohorts had somehow found a way of marrying a love of 60s Stax soul with the Velvet Underground’s experimentalism and 1940s Hollywood Lauren Bacall/Humphrey Bogart glamour and danger. Roxy’s songs tended to be either bright and breezy, with solid gold HIT stamped all over them, or slow meandering introspective soundscapes. Either way they produced some of the most innovative music to be made in the mid-1970s, influencing the sound of so many future acts of the punk and new romantic movements and beyond; Siouxsie and The Banshees, Magazine, Talking Heads, Chic, Duran Duran, Ultravox, Japan, Madness, New Order, The Eurythmics, Pulp, Radiohead, Franz Ferdinand, etc.
This chronological playlist is compiled solely from their first five albums and an early Peel session, a period of just over three years. If it looks suspiciously like a Greatest Hits selection well, I can’t help that, as a singles band, Roxy Music were so damn good.
After two albums they lost their co-founder Brian Eno, who has continued to produce groundbreaking music for himself and others to this day. The other Bryan also enjoyed a highly successful solo career though predominantly singing covers, using Roxy for his own material.
Ferry and Roxy were still doing their thing on Manifesto, Flesh and Blood, and Avalon, from 1979-82, but their “thing” was no longer the music of aliens shaping the future.