The Class of 1972: Roxy Music’s Eponymous Debut

It was early 1973, and WSAN radio in Allentown PA was playing a song unlike anything I had encountered. I didn’t catch the name of the tune, but I did hear the name of the band: ROXY MUSIC. I went in search at Renaissance Books and Records in Bethlehem and found this album. 

Turns out the song I was looking for — “Editions of You” — wasn’t on this album; it was on the 1973 follow-up For Your Pleasure. Turns out that didn’t matter: the debut record by Roxy Music is titanic! (And “Editions of You” is one of the greatest songs ever!)

Roxy Music 1972 were: Bryan Ferry, vocals, piano, Hohner Pianet, Mellotron; Brian Eno, VCS3 synthesizer, tape effects, backing vocals; Andy Mackay, oboe, saxophone, backing vocals; Phil Manzanera, electric guitar; Paul Thompson, drums; Graham Simpson, bass guitar (All except “Virginia Plain”); and Rik Kenton, bass guitar (“Virginia Plain”).

Roxy Music. 📷: Brian Cooke

Ferry and Mackay began forming the band late in 1970, and Mackay recruited Eno, who did not consider himself a musician at the time; he and Mackay had a mutual interest in avant-garde and electronic music. Thompson replaced the band’s original drummer, and Manzanera was the group’s third guitarist. Simpson left the band not long after the album was recorded, and Kenton took the slot. His photo appears on the gatefold inner photo in the U.S. version, with Simpson on the U.K. cover.

U.K. inner gatefold with Graham Simpson

The album was recorded March 14-29, 1972, at Command Studio in London and released June 16 on Island Records in the U.K. In the meantime, the band released “Virginia Plain” as a single, and it was added to Reprise Records MS 2114 in the U.S. which came out months later. Roxy Music handled the arrangements. Peter Sinfield, lyricist for King Crimson, was the producer. The album was engineered and mixed by Andy Hendriksen – engineering.

The audacious cover and inner gatefold photos of the band were the perfect introduction to Roxy Music, matching their persona. Photographer Karl Stoecker shot the cover, featuring model Kari-Ann Muller. Artwork was by Nicholas deVille, the design by Ferry.

The album has since been part of a deluxe reissue and several box sets.

 

Roxy Music

SIDE ONE

Cafeteria-style background noise becomes our introduction to Roxy Music, leading into “Re-Make/Re-Model” (5:10). Piano stands out before Ferry’s voice enters. Most of us had never heard anything like it at the time: “I tried, but I could not find a way.” Manzanera’s killer guitar and Mackay as a bar honker on tenor sax are joined by Eno’s swirling synths. The percussive aspect of Simpson and Thompson here are remarkable, a powerhouse non-stop propulsive groove.

Mackay takes an out tenor solo, and Simpson teases “Daytripper” before Eno goes wild. There is piano madness from Ferry before the track deliberately runs out of steam, with a Thompson flourish at the end.

“Ladytron” (4:21) enters with an electronic vibe and Mackay’s lovely oboe. Ferry again proves to be a distinctive vocalist. Manzanera gets a great watery tone on his guitar, piano heavy behind him. The uptempo power chorus centers around oboe and drums. They slow it back to the head of the tune, then another power chorus with guitar and tenor sax before the track finishes with an electronic swirl.

“If There Is Something” (6:33) is a multipart masterpiece, beginning as a country tune with Manzanera playing slide guitar and Ferry barrelhouse piano, Ferry voice again a revelation. Manzanera begins a solo, and at 1:37 there is a seismic shift as the tune changes direction and the vibrato in Ferry’s voice is otherworldly:

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

Mackay is superb on tenor as piano punctuates the sound, the pace deliberately controlled by bass and drums. There is another shift at 3:30, with more fabulous tenor and great piano accents. The backing vocals stand out, as does Ferry’s use of Mellotron.

“Virginia Plain” (2:57) is a short, bouncy song opening with Ferry on piano and synths. When the band enters, it punches you. Mackay’s oboe sings, and the piano pulse and synths again dominate.

The film Casablanca provides some inspiration for “2HB” (4:34), with Ferry singing that familiar Humphrey Bogart line “Here’s looking at you, kid.” It is a pleasant ballad, dominated by electric piano and a fine double-tracked tenor sax solo from Mackay.

Observations before side two. Like many of a certain age, I had a favorite side of many of the albums I owned, and side one of this album was and is definitely my favorite. Side two is a different approach from the first. I had forgotten just how dominant Ferry’s piano and electric piano are throughout the album and also forgotten just how impressive Mackay is on both tenor sax and oboe.

 

SIDE TWO

The “Bob” in “The Bob (Medley)” (5:48) refers to The Battle of Britain, and the medley is a set of seemingly unrelated pieces, beginning with the first section featuring a wall of sound with guitar, tenor sax, synths, and bass, Ferry singling on top of it. Next are war sounds — bombing, gunfire — with oboe. the third section features a chorus vocal and fine guitar. Finally, piano takes the song back to the head to complete the journey.

“Chance Meeting” (3:00) is the pairing of a piano ballad, reminding of the brilliant album Second (1971) by Curved Air, and avant screeching guitar from Manzanera: ballad, guitar, ballad, guitar.

“Would You Believe?” (3:47) opens as a ballad with Ferry’s voice and piano and Mackay’s tenor sax, then jumps into a good old rock & roll tune with tenor solo before returning to the ballad.

The beginning of “Sea Breezes” (7:00) is another really soft ballad featuring Ferry, electric piano, and oboe after 30 seconds of seaside sounds. Manzanera joins at 2:07 as Mackay solos, then takes a simple solo himself. Bass and drums join Ferry, now on piano, as oboe is on left channel and a wild Manzanera on right channel. Synths enter as well. The song then returns to the original ballad mode with more seaside wave sounds.

They close the album with a 50s-style rocker, “Bitters End” (2:02), a chorus backing Ferry’s vocals on “Bitters End” (2:02). Mackay’s tenor is deep in the mix, which finally concludes with… cafeteria-style background noise!

 

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