"As an experiment in social history, it would be worth compiling a video of the 'Top of the Pops' audiences of that period, containing no shots of the bands. Here, in the nervous jigging-about of puppy fat, bum fluff, and denim waistcoats, you will see Ziggy's children, awkwardly trying to come to terms with a pop spirit that must have seemed audacious to the point of unbelievable."
- Michael Bracewell, When Surface Was Depth
"Here was a group who looked as though they came from not only another era -- the 1950s as they might be reconstructed in the twenty-first century -- but also from another planet. ... Brian Eno, had claimed with straight-faced passivity that he was a visitor from the planet Xenon. But having a bona fide alien in the band seemed almost less outrageous than the unholy barrage of nerve-jarring electronics squeals and furiously accelerated piano chords that the group were pumping out. [...]
And then there was Bryan Ferry's extraordinary vocal style, in which breathless staccato phrasing gave way to something between a fox's bark and the leering self-preening of a high-camp crooner in the throes of amphetamine psychosis. But by the time that he had reached the pivotal break in the song -- 'We are flying down to Ree-Ohh' -- the bewildered [TOTP] studio audience of youthfully plump young people had ceased their customary expressionless jigging up and down, and were trying to work out just what manner of adult pop freakishness had crash-landed into their hitherto teenage world of Marc Bolan's glam pout and Donny Osmond's puppy love.
'If Roxy Music had been like cooking,' says Andy MacKay,...'It would be like the dish in Marinetti's Futurist cookbook called Car Crash: an hemisphere of puréed dates and an hemisphere of puréed anchovies, which are then stuck together in a ball and served in a pool of raspberry juice. I mean -- it's virtually inedible, but it can be done.'"
A few random thoughts about the above...
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- As far as that first bit is concerned, it's a great idea. But if anyone's ever compiled such a thing, I've yet to come across it. So this one'll have to do as a substitute.
- Hailing from the Stateside shores of the big water, there's a lot about the U.K. mediascape that I can't quite get my head around. Case in point: The institutional or integral importance that shows like TOTP or The Old Grey Whistle Test might (or might not have) had once upon a time. In the 1970s, there wasn't anything in the U.S. that served as any sort of equivalent. Sure, there were roughly similar things like American Bandstand and Soul Train and Don Kirshner's Rock Concert; which featured artists in varying degrees, but they were usually shuffled into odd and marginal time-slots. As far as primetime was concerned, it was mostly variety shows -- meaning that a guest slot by someone like The Bay City Rollers, Rod Stewart, or the Bee Gees was about as riotous as it was likely to get.
- As far as the second item is concerned: Yes, I guess there is no accounting for -- this many years after the fact -- just how strange and confusing this must've seemed in its original in situ context. Quite frankly, it took me a while (years, in fact) to process the early Roxy material -- to fully absorb and appreciate it for all its baffling incongruencies and eclecticism.
- And yes, Roxy's influence on later artists was immense and widely acknowledged; although it often seems like said influence was usually drawn from the most cosmetic elements of the group's music and image. But as far as "Virginia Plain" is concerned, I've always felt that it served as the one-shot stylistic template for the bulk of these guys' output. Remake/remodel, indeed.