English art-rock band Roxy Music were formed by vocalist Bryan Ferry and bassist Graham Simpson in 1970. They recruited saxophone and oboe player Andy Mackay and synth player Brian Eno (who “treated” the other players instruments through his synth). Drummer Paul Thompson joined in 1971, and his muscular playing helped keep the band’s experimental rock accessible. Guitarist Phil Manzanera was the last recruit, joining shortly before the group’s first album was recorded in 1972.
Each member bought their individual background to the band; Manzanera grew up in Latin America, Mackay was classically trained, while Mackay, Ferry and Eno all came from art school backgrounds. One common thread for all the members was an appreciation of the avant-garde experimentation of the Velvet Underground, while Eno’s experiments with synths and tape effects were unusual for a song-based rock band. Roxy Music sought to blur the lines between high art and pop art, making postmodern pop music.
Roxy Music went through a succession of bass players, while Brian Eno was replaced by Eddie Jobson after 1973’s For Your Pleasure. After touring behind Siren, the group disbanded in 1976. They reunited in 1978 to record Manifesto, but the core band was reduced to a three-piece of Ferry, Mackay, and Manzanera, after Paul Thompson quit in 1980. The band’s reunion albums were smoother and less experimental than their earlier work.
Roxy Music were phenomenally successful for a band with experimental tendencies – all eight of their studio albums made the UK top ten. Their sole number one single, a lovely take on John Lennon’s ‘Jealous Guy’ released on 1981, isn’t featured on any of their albums. Here are their eight studio albums, ordered from my favourite to least favourite.
Roxy Music Albums: Ranked from Worst to Best
#8 – Flesh + Blood
The singles from Flesh + Blood are misleadingly strong – the torch song ‘Oh Yeah’ and the funky falsetto of ‘Same Old Scene’ are great songs that promise a great album. Elsewhere, Flesh + Blood is disappointingly bland – although that doesn’t apply to the album’s nadir, a bizarre remake of The Byrds’ ‘Eight Miles High’.
#7 – Manifesto
When Roxy Music reunited for their first studio album in four years, they’d updated their sound for the disco era. They were still weird, but the 1970s art-rock facade was replaced with a dance-pop sound. It mostly works – the singles ‘Angel Eyes’ and ‘Dance Away’ were both successful, while ‘Manifesto’ and ‘Trash’ retained hints of the art-rock of Roxy Music’s earlier phase.
#6 – Avalon
Roxy Music’s final album is gorgeously smooth, a refined version of the dance-pop they pursued in mark II. It’s less invigorating than the experimentation of their earlier releases, but it’s often beautiful. The melodic pop of ‘More Than This’ is a lovely opener, while guest vocalist Yanick Étienne adds colour to the languid title track. The closing pair of ‘True To Life’, and the synth and oboe duet on ‘Tara’, is gorgeous.
#5 – Roxy Music
Roxy Music’s debut album is full of ideas – Andy Mackay later said “we certainly didn’t invent eclecticism but we did say and prove that rock ‘n’ roll could accommodate – well, anything really.” The first side, especially on editions that include the early single ‘Virginia Plain’, is amazing. Roxy Music deliver twisted country on ‘If There Is Something’ and deconstruct pop music on ‘Remake/Remodel’, quoting Wagner and The Beatles. The production, by King Crimson lyricist Peter Sinfield, is a weakness, and the second side can be a rough listen, but most of the group’s ideas originate here.
#4 – Siren
Siren, the last album from Roxy Music’s original tenure, is a divisive record because it blends the band’s art-rock with dance and pop textures. But Roxy Music’s daring creativity is still intact, especially on rockers like ‘Whirlwind’ and ‘Both Ends Burning’, and the lengthy epic ‘Sentimental Fool’. The single ‘Love Is The Drug’ was Roxy Music’s biggest hit to date, and John Gustafson’s bass-line influenced Chic’s ‘Good Times’.
#3 – Stranded
Roxy Music’s first album without Brian Eno sacrifices some of their experimental edge, instead focusing on lush textures. Stranded also features some of Ferry’s most dramatic vocals – his foray into French on ‘A Song for Europe’ is surprisingly effective. The multi-part ‘Mother of Pearl’ is one of Roxy Music’s best-loved songs, with Ferry’s campy vocals delivering lines like “Thus: even Zarathustra/Another-time-loser/Could believe in you”.
#2 – Country Life
Famous for its titillating cover (I’m a prude, so I’ve shown the censored version here), Country Life continued Roxy Music’s classy, textured art-rock. Opener ‘The Thrill Of It All’ is one of the best arranged and produced songs in classic rock – there’s so much going on in the mix, with Eddie Jobson’s violin and Manzanera’s guitar competing for attention. Jobson’s violin is also prominent in the psychedelic ‘Out of the Blue’, while Ferry reportedly played the organ solo on the seething ‘Casanova’.
#1 – For Your Pleasure
Roxy Music peaked with their second album, For Your Pleasure. With more time in the studio, their experimental tendencies are channelled into stronger material. The long tracks are the most memorable – the lengthy groove of ‘The Bogus Man’, while the inflatable doll tale of ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’ culminates in a dramatic Manzanera solo. For Your Pleasure is more energetic than most Roxy Music albums – the opener ‘Do The Strand’, the frenetic ‘Editions of You’ (with a great Eno VCS3 synth solo), and ‘Grey Lagoons’ are all punchy, while the shimmering ‘Beauty Queen’ is marvellous. When asked by the British music press, Morrissey could ‘only think of one truly great British album: For Your Pleasure.”
Did I underrate your favourite Roxy Music album? Any favourite songs?