May 052009
 

Roxy Music‘s “Love Is the Drug” was tough, stylish treat on the radio when I was growing up. It wasn’t a smash hit on Philadelphia radio in my middle school days, but it would come on now and then and fit right in with the ’70s soul and downbeat-heavy rock that I sought out as hormones raged. Later in the ’70s, I’d dig rare FM radio spins of songs like “Over You” and “Manifesto.” As bad as commercial rock radio was becoming by that time, playlists still allowed for some “play,” some experimentation. Those chart-scraping Roxy Music singles occupied a similar place in my heart with other slightly dark, soulful not-quite-hits, like J. Geils Band‘s “One Last Kiss.” Some day I need to gather all those last-gasp, blue-eyed rockin’ soul numbers of the late-70s on one mix CD.


I never got around to buying an actual Roxy Music album (or a J. Geils Band album, for that matter) while in high school. The little bit of Roxy Music I was familiar with had qualities I liked, but it required more patience than I could muster. Compared with David Bowie‘s “Young Americans,” a TSOP-influenced song that continues to excite me in an immediately gratifying way from beginning to end to this day, the super-cool “Love Is the Drug” was much more…cool. And I wasn’t that cool.

It wasn’t until freshman year in college that I first heard the mind-blowing early Roxy Music I’d only read about in magazines and books. An older friend and mentor plied me with some of the tools for deeper understanding before throwing the band’s first album on his Bang & Olufsen turntable and and CRANKING UP his super-hi-fi system. I must have been grinning and rocking back like Danny DeVito’s Martini from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Mr. Mod hears “Re-make/Re-model” for the first time, November 1981.

After hearing that first album, with its strange mix of absurd, effete pretension and cock-rocking abandon, I wanted more! My friend delivered, playing me the darker For Your Pleasure and then what would become my favorite Roxy Music album, the underrated linchpin in the band’s catalog, Stranded. These albums would form the core of a new strain of record collecting. I’d report back to my mentor with each new purchase, but truth be told, that more accomplished, mid-70s rocking run of Country Life and Siren contained a few too many songs that seemed like re-made/re-modeled versions of songs from the first three albums – and went on for a minute or two too long. I was ready for a change of pace.

Bryan Ferry, “Let’s Stick Together”

One day in a Chicago record store I picked up my first Bryan Ferry solo album, Let’s Stick Together, a 1976 collection of mostly solo singles and B-sides from the preceding years that signalled the band’s first breakup/hiatus. Although it’s a patchwork collection of recordings, over the years I have found this album to be as coherent as any original album involving Ferry.

This was a better purchase than I could have imagined. I was beginning to develop my stance that I preferred Ferry’s warbling croon to Bowie’s, and I liked the cover shot. I was also curious to hear why Ferry thought it necessary to cover five Roxy Music songs. My friend never played me this album – I don’t think he even owned it! Maybe this would be my chance to teach my master a lesson.

I couldn’t wait to get back to my dorm room and check out this album. Before I had a chance to ponder Ferry’s Roxy Music covers with the originals, however, I was pumping my fist to the fat pinky rock of the title track. With goonish drummer Paul Thompson, Roxy Music was always able to tap into The Power and Glory of Rock, but never before had they so fully tapped into the Meat and Potatoes of Rock. With Phil Manzanera, the funniest guitarist in rock; Andy MacKay on woodwinds; and Eno or Eddie Jobson, Roxy Music could push well past the edges of Thompson’s charging beats, but the band’s attempts at more soulful, chugging rock, like “Do the Strand,” couldn’t help but be something gloriously wrong. With Thomspon drumming on Let’s Stick Together and Chris Spedding the primary guitarist (King Crimson buddies John Wetton and Mel Collins fill out most of the bass and sax responsibilities, respectively, with contributions by Manzanera, Jobson, early Roxy guitarist David O’List, and a number of non-official Roxy bassists) Ferry is able to live out seemingly every British rocker’s dream as an honest-to-goodness soul man.

Bryan Ferry, “Shame, Shame, Shame”
Bryan Ferry, “The Price of Love”
Bryan Ferry, “2HB”

On Let’s Stick Together, Ferry’s not a soul man in the traditional Stax/Volt sense. As the backing vocalists’ reference to Marvin Gaye‘s “Can I Get a Witness” on the cover of Jimmy Reed‘s “Shame, Shame, Shame” suggests, Ferry’s more of a soul stylist. Like Gaye, Ferry doesn’t possess the strongest voice. He layers multiple tracks and points of view to create a richer whole. On his cover of The Everly Brothers‘ “The Price of Love,” a recording that would soon mean so much to me and my burgeoning bandmates, his multi-tracked vocals lead a cavalcade of cutting-edge retro-rock that Dave Edmunds would have killed for with his mates in Rockpile. Even the mellower, not-so-chooglin’ numbers, like the subtle covers of Roxy’s “2HB” and The Beatles’ “It’s Only Love,” rest on a thick, rhythmic bed over which Ferry can croon with more ease and authority than he could have when undercut by the nervous energy Roxy Music’s many “wildcard” musicians.

The thrill of it all.

Not all the Roxy Music covers are as enlightening as the steadier takes on “2HB,” “Casanova,” and “Sea Breezes” – the funky version of “Re-make/Re-model” shows the limitations of a meat and potatoes diet – but those covers are not at the heart of my love for this album. When Roxy Music would re-form for Flesh + Blood and Manifesto, with the wildcards either cut loose or put on a diet of saltpeter, the band would begin to resemble Ferry’s concurrent and even more soulful, meat and potatoes solo outing, The Bride Stripped Bare. Until Ferry and Roxy Music once more learned to coexist and create in a unique, seamless way on 1982’s Avalon, Let’s Stick Together was the first key work in stripping down the grandiose, cool sound that was sucking out the humanity of Ferry’s musical vision. I would have still found much to like about Roxy Music had they continued down their path to the ice palace, but I’m glad Ferry did what it took to go out with heart.

COMING SOON – exclusively for registered Townspeople – a Rock Town Hall Listening Party: For a limited time, we’ll provide Let’s Stick Together in its entirety for your review and discussion!

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  28 Responses to “Overlooked Gems of My Lifetime: Bryan Ferry, Let’s Stick Together

  1. Mr. Moderator

    The special treat promised for registered Townspeople has been posted. Let me know if you’re not seeing it when you log in.

  2. BigSteve

    The Price of Love is just a great song. Alt.country guru Buddy Miller does a great bluesy version of it on his Midnight and Lonesome album, where he lays a mess of that weird Italian guitar he plays on it.

    Ferry’s kitchen sink production is a bit over the top. The track rocks like crazy because Paul Thompson is a superhuman drummer, but, if I had him and Chris Spedding with me in the studio, I don’t think I’d feel compelled to pile on a bullfighting trumpet intro, horn section, chick singers, rhythm fiddle AND psychedelic violin solo, harmonica, etc. Though I must admit that repeating “kiss one” as he does around the two-minute mark with the toreador fanfares is kind of cool.

  3. Mr. Moderator

    I see what you’re saying, BigSteve – and I was thinking listening to the album again on the drive in this morning how much of the strength of the entire album is the room that’s cleared for Thompson’s drumming – but I’m down with the overload of silly overdubs in this case. I’ve got a live version of Ferry solo with a big band, including both Spedding and Manzanera, doing this song. They extend the midsection a bit and allow Manzanera to get into a bit of his thing, which is cool. I may post that version after Townspeople have had a chance to get their collective head around this stuff.

  4. BigSteve

    Have you heard the Everly Brothers’ original? It’s barely over 2 minutes long, but it packs quite a punch. And it has sweet tremeloed guitar chords.

  5. Mr. Moderator

    Yes, I love the Everly Brothers’ version too, but the Ferry one plays most into my own vision of rock ‘n roll.

    I got that pink, double-album Everly Brothers collection around the same time in college. I’d already known and loved their early hits, but that collection has a handful of songs from the mid- to late-60s that I’d never heard and think highly of, including “Gone, Gone, Gone,” which Robert Plant and Alison Kraus beat our band to covering, and “Bowling Green,” which may make the cut on the long-planned duo “solo” album by Andyr and I, on which we will cover cheesy Goatee Rock songs and other songs fit for appearance on late-60s variety shows that only the two of us really care about among our bandmates.

  6. While I appreciate Ferry’s desire to push stylistic boundaries, I’m a little uncomfortable with his appropriation of black music (in particular the backing singers): it’s as if he’s using it for a sort of postmodern kitsch effect.

    Didn’t we have a discussion about this in February?

  7. I don’t think Ferry ever approached things as pure kitsch. I think he honestly wanted to be an R&B-styled singer, but also wanted to acknowledge his white, European leanings as well.

    Plus, having girl backing vocalists was just a sign of the times. This was the era of the Stones, Bowie and Pink Floyd also partaking.

  8. Mr. Moderator

    Hardy, har, har, Dr. John. For your information, backing singers Doreen Chanter and Paddy McHugh are WHITE and of UK descent. Chanter also sang back-up with Roger Waters. McHugh is one of the people pictured in this band, none of whom would even be mistaken for octaroon:

    http://www.soulwalking.co.uk/%A5Artist%20GIF%20Images/Kokomo-1975.jpg

    There’s nothing to suggest that the other backing singers are black or white, but maybe your ears are more discerning than mine.

    Really, is that the best you’ve got?

  9. Let me put it this way, Mod: it just doesn’t seem to me that Ferry understands the sort of music he’s inspired by very well.

    With regards to the fact that you have in the past accused Randy Newman–who seriously studied this stuff–of blackface minstrelsy, I’m rather amused at your reaction.

  10. I take it Ferry failed a soul music quiz you put up on Facebook, Dr. John.

    All in good fun.

  11. I guess he got a free pass, literally.

  12. Mr. Moderator

    I knew you were trying to give it back to me, Good Doctor, but my charges of blackface have been re-examined over the years. I still hold The Stones responsible for this practice, but Newman’s off the hook.

    The thing is, I don’t think Ferry or I would claim that he was making an AUTHENTIC SOUL RECORD. I don’t think he was trying to show that he UNDERSTOOD it but, rather, that he loved it. I think he was doing his thing with those influences, and I think he did them with a lot of spirit in the service of rock ‘n roll. I’m sure that’s what The Stones have in mind too. Sometimes they succeed, and I’m all for that. In fact, when I read your blackface charges on Ferry I was listening to “Let it Bleed,” the song.

    I do think you should apologize to palefaced British singers worldwide for your knock on them:)

  13. alexmagic

    I’ve also got a problem with the female background singers, but for completely different reasons. When they show up, it threatens to upset an otherwise careful balance that makes me think of ’70s variety shows, or the song skits on Benny Hill or maybe a Richard O’Brian number. They don’t kill it from me by any means, but they nearly push things over a kitsch line.

    Other than that, though, I’m loving the four you have up for listening here (haven’t listened to the others yet). I don’t know that I can describe what it is I like about early Roxy/Ferry, or even necessarily what he’s going for because there aren’t a whole lot of points of reference, but in this era, he nails whatever it is and it scratches a musical itch that I have trouble reaching otherwise, so to speak. As one of the lead Bowie defenders here, I have to admit that ’74-’76 Bowie doesn’t have anything on ’73-’75 Ferry.

  14. On a first listen, I’m already a fan of this album. Mod’s right that it’s a very meat and potatoes version of Roxy, maybe better than any other Roxy album for a road trip?

    Which to my mind would be its strength and its weakness; it lacks the ambition and originality of the best Roxy. Which is why I wouldn’t call it better than any of the first five Roxy records, or Avalon, myself.

    Still, it’s a fun, kicking back and out album that gets a total thumbs up from me.

    Re the singers, authenticity and kitsch: Roxy always highlights the artificial over the authentic, and this album is no exception. You’re welcome to object to that but only if you understand that you’re objecting to the basic principle of the band.

    What drink is most like a Roxy music album: absinthe. Cool and sleek and psychedelic and metallic and more than a little anti-naturale weird.

    The female backing singers were hardly the high point, but I also can’t imagine making their truly minor role into a major flaw. No doubt though that those singers display a small confusion regarding whether to go for authenticity or its opposite.

    If Roxy had been no more than a good time rock and roll glam band, this is what they would have been. That’s plenty satisfying for me.

    Four stars.

  15. Mr. Moderator

    I like the variety show/Benny Hill backing vocals description, Alexmagic. Maybe this ties into my velour-suited, goateed, hip variety show covers concept album.

    I played this album for my oldest son on the way to and from his middle school band concert this evening. He’s a trumpet player. He was digging the album and wants to hear Roxy Music. I’m going to get him to work on the bullfighter horn that kicks off “The Price of Love!”

  16. BigSteve

    Ferry comes by his soul credentials honestly. He was singer in a non-arty, working soul band when he was still in art school, long before Roxy.

    How would we codify the female yelping in the middle of the title song? Is there a south of the border thread running through the album?

    Listening to the whole thing just now, I was struck by how many of the tracks are built around electric piano and/or clavinet. I wonder if he had a deal with Hohner.

    Also, is it me, or was he consciously going for an Al Green groove on Casanova? I love the edgy, all-elbows original so much, it’s hard to get my head around remaking it as a smooth move.

  17. Mr. Moderator

    Wasn’t it around this time that Ferry was pictured in some kind of Spanish get-up, with jodpurs and a gaucho hat?

    I like the electric piano/clavinet basis of the arrangements. I don’t know if it’s Ferry playing those parts, but he often plays in that pumping style on rocking, early Roxy songs.

    It’s funny you should make the Al Green connection. Listening to the song tonight with my boy I was thinking that Green could have done a cool cover of it. See, I like the Roxy version too – it’s one of my favorite songs on Country Life – but I like how Ferry’s commitment to the rhythm on this album allow Ferry to sing in a more direct manner and not rely so much on the drama that Roxy couldn’t help but cook up.

    I’ve read interviews in which Ferry claims he grew up more of a working class bloke than his persona would make you think. On this album, you get a sense of his roots. He’s always played up that La Dolce Vita persona, but in Roxy Music we get mostly the scenes with the high-brow, degenerate crowd and few scenes with his down-to-earth, slightly clingy wife and family. Let’s Stick Together gives us a taste of the burdens the homeboy Ferry might have felt without the trappings of the In Crowd.

  18. Mod, I think you’re starting to group Let’s Stick Together with Morrison Hotel. Do you want to go that far?

  19. Mr. Moderator

    I will heed your warning, Mwall. No, I’m not willing to go quite that far. Thanks, bro.

  20. BigSteve

    Mod, what do you think was behind re-recording the Roxy tracks? I still can’t really get behind it. To me the remakes are either not different enough or different in not especially interesting ways. Was he filling out a covers album with his songs or filling in a remakes album with covers?

  21. Mr. Moderator

    I have no idea what his motivation was, BigSteve. I poked around, in preparation for writing on this album, to see if I could find an interview with him from this period that might shed some light, but I didn’t find anything. I was surprised to learn that the album was a patchwork collection of singles and other unreleased recordings. I never know much about the inner workings of Roxy Music, but is Andy MacKay always the one Roxy guy who doesn’t appear on Ferry solo albums? Was he typically at odds with Ferry? And what did Manzanera feel about all this. When Sammymaudlin interviewed Chris Spedding here in the Halls of Rock, I think he asked him a question or two about his role with Ferry and paralell to Manzanera, but Spedding didn’t give much of an answer other than how fortunate he was, etc.

  22. alexmagic

    Steve, the yelping in “Let’s Stick Together” reminded me of the barking in “Diamond Dogs”. There are also some bass parts in the former that distinctly remind me of the latter, which was probably pointing me towards that pre-Eno Bowie vs. post-Eno Ferry comparison.

    I got to listen to the rest this morning and really enjoyed it all the way through. I was worried about the “It’s Only Love” cover, but after a brief scare with the backing singers early on (“butterflies”), they seemed to calm down and I like the arrangement on it.

    I liked the “Re-make/Re-model” remake, but nowhere near as much as the original. I love how frantic the original gets and the bass and (especially)the drumming barely holding it together, and I also missed the “everybody gets the spotlight” trade-off at the end, and the way the original kind of collapses at the finish line.

    Really liked “You Go To My Head”. Put that alongside a Roxy Music song like “A Really Good Time” and it’s kind of a wonder that nobody thought to get Ferry to try a Bond theme during the Roger Moore era.

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard Oats get into a Pulp->solo Cocker vs. Roxy->solo Ferry comparison. I wonder if Jarvis’ new beard is an homage to Ferry’s moustache.

  23. Mr. Moderator

    Ferry AS Bond would have been cool – a singing, world-weary Bond.

  24. Obviously I like this, for many of the reasons already listed: cool keyboard sounds, lotsa Paul Thompson, nice mix of sparse and OTT arrangements; and of course Ferry’s innate Ferryness.

    At first, I didn’t like “It’s Only Love” and “Re-make/Re-model” but they’ve grown on me. Nothing beats the Roxy arrangement of “Re-make.” Nothing.

    Mr. Mod asked about the inner-workings of Roxy. That’s a mystery to me too. They’re often so reserved and dry and British in interviews that it’s hard to get a sense of how they interact. (Manzanera seems like the chatty one.) I don’t know of any Ferry/Mackay tension, although I believe both Andy and Phil toyed with leaving the band along with Eno in ’72.

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard Oats get into a Pulp->solo Cocker vs. Roxy->solo Ferry comparison. I wonder if Jarvis’ new beard is an homage to Ferry’s mustache.

    The Jarvis Beard is part of his increasing professorial air. It’s different from Ferry’s mustache, which seems to have been a Zorro homage. Nick Cave’s current ‘stache is closer to Ferry-esque. Solo Cocker is different to solo Ferry, in that Jarvis never really pursued a solo career concurrent to Pulp. I have a promo of the new Jarvis album, and I fear he is falling into the Morrissey trap, in that he was working with workmanlike players who are “better” musicians and “rock” more than Pulp, but lack originality and spark. A similar thing happened to Ferry, but I think he’s been more hampered by his simple inability to finish albums in a timely manner.

  25. Mr. Moderator

    I’ll keep my treat to RTH members available through the midnight hour. I’ll take it down in the morning. Let me know if you’ve tried to download it without success. Thanks.

  26. BigSteve

    Wow, the Zorro concept may be the key to understanding the album’s disguised Latin identity.

    My theory on why Ferry re-recorded the Roxy songs, at least the early ones, is that his vocal style had evolved. On the first album he was still using that extremely mannered, almost inhuman vocal style. Think of that super campy photo of him on the inner sleeve — that’s what those vocals sound like. After a few years he developed the suave persona and the more subtle singing style, and he may have been trying (and failing) to remake more representative models of them.

    It’s also interesting to me that the Roxy covers on this album are the ones most notably lacking Paul Thompson’s drumming, and Sea Breezes has that classic Chris Spedding guitar solo, starting shortly after the 4 minute mark, which is very different from the artfully chaotic Manzanera solo on the original. Yet he gets Mel Collins to play soprano sax in a way that is clearly reminiscent of Mackay’s oboe fills.

    I can’t say whether there was any animosity, but the musical TV drama series Rock Follies that Mackay wrote the songs for ran in 76-77, which is the period when Ferry would have been working on Let’s Stick Together and its follow-up, The Bride Stripped Bare. This was also the period when Manzanera made the Quiet Sun and 801 albums and his breakout solo albums. So in other words I think the Roxy hiatus was a mutual thing.

  27. alexmagic

    Re: Ferry’s mannered singing style, I always get a kick out of how he sings the word “picture” as “pic-tyoor”, which he does on this album and Roxy albums (“a pic-tyoor cameo” on Mother of Pearl).

  28. […] were otherwise brought to the public through cover versions, including Mr. Mod’s favorite Bryan Ferry solo cover, “The Price of […]

 
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