Top 10 Roxy Music Songs
Between 1972 and 1982, Roxy Music went from avant-garde glam rockers to elegant pop chart-toppers, so our list of the Top 10 Roxy Music Songs covers plenty of musical ground. Roxy’s remarkable decade saw the band combining the sublimely melodic with the strangely experimental, lending a suave sensuality to nerdy art-rock (and proving that oboes can exist on a sexy rock record). Thousands of punk, New Wave and college-rock bands were shocked into action by Roxy’s early records, while sophisticated pop stars and new-romantic bands took their cues from their later hits. Although Bryan Ferry and company took heat for a progressively slicker aesthetic, Roxy Music continued to find ways to enhance pop ballads with unusual sounds (some in sour blurts, others with atmospheric waves). It’s not easy to represent the band’s brilliance in 10 songs, but – to quote Ferry – that’s the thrill of it all.
Legend has it that Bryan Ferry and guitarist Phil Manzanera cooked up the music for ‘Over You’ in just five minutes at Manzanera’s home studio. The gentle track (combined with Ferry’s tear-in-my-martini lyrics) strikes the right melancholy chord. But it’s the little things that make it special: Andy Mackay’s stair-stepping sax and oboe, Manzanera’s buzzing hive of a guitar, the way Ferry’s voice seems to melt when it hits the “over you” hook. All of that must have taken another five minutes – at least!
For the first song on their first album, Roxy Music took a rock 'n' roll cliché (man lusts after mystery girl) and turned it into a post-modern gem. The band interrupts what sounds like a cocktail party with this insistent rocker, and before long they’re chanting a woman’s license plate number (CPL593H) and delivering blasts of saxophone and atonal synthesizer -- the latter courtesy of founding member Brian Eno. Down the stretch, the boys appear to mock the jazz-solo tradition by each taking a goofy turn – including ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ on sax, ‘Peter Gunn’ on guitar and ‘Day Tripper’ on bass. This was back when Bryan Ferry’s “lounge lizard” look was still ironic.
One of Roxy’s most aggressive singles, ‘Street Life’ finds Bryan Ferry actually growling some of the lyrics (“the sidewalk papers gutter-press you down”). It’s amusing that Ferry, a former art-school student, takes the guise of a man turning up his nose at an Ivy League education in favor of getting “higher than the Milky Way.” Everyone, including the rhythm section of John Gustafson and drummer Paul Thompson, is in fine, strutting form here, but it’s the swirling synthesizer of Eddie Jobson (who replaced Brian Eno beginning with ‘Stranded’) that makes you feel like you’re losing your mind.
Eddie Jobson took his most conspicuous turn in the spotlight with the violin solo that sends ‘Out of the Blue’ into the wild blue yonder. From the moment Andy Mackay’s oboe wafts in, you know that this ‘Country Life’ album track is ready to launch. For good reason, it soon became a live favorite for Roxy fans. Phil Manzanera (at the height of his guitar-hero powers) thought that producer Chris Thomas leaned heavily on a trippy phasing technique after giving similar treatment to Beatles tracks.
It’s surprising to learn that ‘More Than This’ hit only No. 106 on the chart, given that it’s the most widely known Roxy Music song in the U.S. and was the single that helped ‘Avalon’ become the band’s only stateside platinum album. Bryan Ferry deserves much of the credit for ‘More Than This’; he wrote it, played those keyboards that bend and float between each other and seems to sing it in slow motion with that sad, romantic voice of his.
Roxy Music’s debut album became a success without a single, but that didn’t stop the band’s record label from wanting one anyway. Two months after the LP’s release, Roxy put out ‘Virginia Plain,’ a wordy composition Bryan Ferry wrote with an art-school painting of his in mind. Lyrically, it’s an amalgamation of American touchstones (Andy Warhol, Robert E. Lee, Las Vegas, Route 66). Musically, it’s an amalgamation of Roxy’s early sound (chirping oboe, sharp guitar, synthesizer weirdness, motorcycle sound effects). As a debut single, it gave fans – such as the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones – the perfect snapshot of the band’s strange beauty.
Not only is this the best love song ever written to an inflatable doll, ‘In Every Dream Home a Heartache’ is probably Bryan Ferry’s finest moment as a wordsmith. Over simmering keyboards and synthesizer, Ferry sarcastically croons about the pleasures of conspicuous consumerism and the rewards he’s discovered in his “disposable darling.” This cool creep slowly works his way to the punch line – “I blew up your body, but you blew my mind!” – and then the song explodes. Phil Manzanera’s powerhouse soloing breaks the tension and lets the air out of Ferry’s farce. Genius.
During Roxy’s late-’70s hiatus, Bryan Ferry wrote this song for one of his solo albums, but it went unfinished until the Roxy Music sessions for ‘Manifesto.’ It became the smash U.K. single off of that LP, as well as one of the band’s biggest hits in many countries. As the title suggests, Ferry’s dreamy tale of heartbreak is a dance classic, strengthened by Phil Manzanera’s shimmering guitar lines and punctuated by rattlesnake castanets. Plus, there’s that great lyric that leads into the first chorus: “You’re dressed to kill, and guess who’s dying?”
For a band that was about as good with bassists as Spinal Tap were with drummers, Roxy Music were able to conjure amazing foundations from their musical-chairs rhythm section. ‘Love Is the Drug’ is, far and away, the best example of this, with bassist John Gustafson and drummer Paul Thompson locking in to craft the crackerjack engine that drives the song. Chic mastermind Nile Rodgers even admitted to copping Roxy’s sound for ‘Good Times.’ The rhythm is amazing, but every contribution to this Andy Mackay (music) / Bryan Ferry (words) composition is stellar -- from Phil Manzanera’s razorblade R&B riffing to Ferry’s leering, prowling protagonist. “Dim the lights, you can guess the rest.” Indeed.
Bryan Ferry’s intoxicating cocktail of highbrow lyrical references is a steady-rocking tune about a fake dance craze. It’s ridiculous and pretentious … or at least it would have been, coming from any other band. But with Roxy Music, lyrics about ‘Guernica’ and Louis XVI are completely in line with an extended freak-out of sax, axe and synths. Roxy Music never sounded more vital, dangerous or original. It’s no wonder that ‘Do the Strand’ became a de facto anthem for the group, played at virtually every show since 1973.