Salon des Refusés: Roxy Music

In 1863, the Salon des Refusés was launched to counter the conservative aesthetics enforced by the Academy of Fine Arts in the annual Paris Salon. That year, the “rejects” included such later revered painters as Manet, Courbet, Whistler, Pissarro and Cezanne. Perhaps it is now time to establish a Salon des Refusés for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame‘s rejects.

The rules of eligibility for induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame include:

Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.

And yet many artists who have had huge impacts on the development and evolution of rock & roll have been snubbed over and over, including: Kraftwerk, Chic, Big Star, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, New York Dolls, T. Rex, Television, The Slits, X-Ray Spex, Sonic Youth, Joy Division.

Roxy Music was a thoroughly British band. Every one of their eight studio albums entered the U.K. top ten, with three of them topping the charts, while only three entered the U.S. top 40, none breaching the top 20. They had numerous top 10 singles in the U.K., beginning with their debut, “Virginia Plain,” . . .

. . . but only one top 40 hit in the U.S., “Love Is the  Drug,” which reached only #30.

Many British bands in the ’60s and ’70s were formed in art schools. However, as Michael Bracewell’s excellent pre-history of the band, Re-Make/Re-Model: Becoming Roxy Music, makes very clear, bandleader Bryan Ferry took his art studies far more seriously than most would-be rockers. He was particularly influenced by the instruction of British pop artist Richard Hamilton at the University of Newcastle.

Richard Hamilton is perhaps best known to the general public for designing the cover of The Beatles, AKA the “White Album.” He and the Independent Group launched British pop art (Hamilton is credited with the first documented use of the term “pop art”) in their section of the This Is Tomorrow exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1956, when Andy Warhol was still drawing shoes. (Bryan Ferry would later record a solo song titled “This Is Tomorrow.”)

Both U.K. and U.S. pop art reveled in contemporary pop culture and embraced its imagery, but those on opposite sides of “the pond” approached the similar material in very different ways. Early U.S. Pop tended to focus on and blow up individual images: flags and targets (Jasper Johns), single frames from comic books (Roy Lichtenstein and Warhol), consumer goods like Campbell soup cans or Brillo boxes, celebrity and/or tabloid photos (Warhol).

U.K. Pop also appropriated images of (mostly American) comic books and consumer goods, but they were more likely to mash them up in a postmodern pastiche, as in Richard Hamilton’s collage Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, which made a big impression at This Is Tomorrow . . .

todays-homes

. . . and later, presumably, on Bryan Ferry. Could this living room be the setting of “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” on Roxy Music’s second album, For Your Pleasure?

Of course, there were trans-Atlantic bridges between the two movements, particularly in the person of Mark Lancaster. Hamilton supplied his student with an introduction to Warhol, for whom Lancaster briefly worked as an assistant. He even appeared in a few of Warhol’s films.

Upon his return to the U.K., Lancaster shared his travel photos:

Back in Newcastle I put together a slide show for the school, with all the things I had photographed in New York, and music like that at the Factory, such as Lesley Gore singing “It’s My Party,” and ending with the taxi sequence with “Moon River” playing, because it reminded me, like all of New York in 1964, of Breakfast at Tiffanys. Images from America were still pretty rare, and some of the students, including my friends Stephen Buckley and Bryan Ferry, were impressed and affected by this experience. I remember I was just trying to keep the projector and the record player going and trying not to cry.

The Factory and Warhol’s traveling multi-media show, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, also provided a platform for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees The Velvet Underground. In some ways, Roxy Music was to Richard Hamilton as The Velvet Underground was to Andy Warhol. The Velvet Underground had the amphetamine focus of Warhol’s pop art, homing in on a single riff, chord, even note, repeating it endlessly with very little variation. Roxy Music engaged in musical pastiche, juxtaposing bits and pieces from many different musical styles from many different contexts and eras.

This postmodern approach was not just apparent in their music. As Chic‘s Nile Rodgers explains, Roxy Music was a whole package. . . .

. . . integrating music, performance, fashion and art into their overall image.

With few exceptions (Richard Hamilton’s cover of the “White Album” being a rare and notable one), most pop and rock albums of the late ’60s and early ’70s featured the performers on the cover. Roxy Music had different designs. They featured classic pin up style glamour shots by Karl Stoecker, beginning with former Bond girl Kari-Ann Muller on the cover of the band’s debut album:

Bryan Ferry was known to date most of these cover models, even became engaged to Jerry Hall (before losing her to Mick Jagger):

(In his autobiography, Le Freak, Nile Rodgers tells the funny story of Chic also imitating this aspect of Roxy’s overall package, featuring two models on the cover of their debut album, only to end up hiring two female singers for their tours because fans kept asking where the women on the cover were. Their next several album covers featured the band.)

Roxy Music was not just Bryan Ferry, though, as quickly becomes evident when you compare Roxy’s albums to Ferry’s solo albums. Even though the latter feature a few of the same songs and even some of the same musicians (as well as Nile Rodgers, who has played on several of Ferry’s later solo albums), they sound very different from Roxy albums. Roxy Music was very much a collaborative project, with guitarist Phil Manzanera, saxophonist Andy Mackay and drummer Paul Thompson being the other constants in the band.

Perhaps foremost among Ferry’s collaborators in Roxy Music, at least at the beginning, was Brian Eno who played John Cale to Ferry’s Lou Reed. Eno, who studied cybernetics with pioneering interactive artist Roy Ascott, often described himself as a non-musician. He did not play an instrument, but fiddled with a mixing deck through which he live processed all of the other instruments. He initially manipulated the music out of view, but he eventually joined the rest of the band onstage with his electronics, and his flamboyant fashion sense:

Following John Cale’s model, Eno left the band after two albums, though Eno’s departure seems to have been far more amicable than when Reed kicked Cale out of the Velvet Underground. And don’t cry for Eno, who pursued a very successful career as a solo artist, often collaborating with various former bandmates, as well as John Cale and David Bowie, and especially as a producer of such bands as Talking Heads and U2.

Roxy’s next album, Stranded, proved that it was as overly simplistic to view Eno as wholly responsible for Roxy’s experimental side as it was to believe the same of John Cale in The Velvet Underground.

However, with the next two albums, Country Life and Siren, the band’s sound became more integrated. There was now one distinct Roxy Music style instead of a pastiche of many styles. That should not be taken as a criticism, though, as it was quite a distinctive style they settled on. It even earned them their one U.S. hit, “Love Is the Drug”:

Many even claim Siren is their best album, though I am partial to For Your Pleasure.

And then Roxy Music was done . . . at least for a while. Although Ferry had already released several solo albums, In Your Mind was his first to feature all original songs (the earlier albums were dominated by quirky covers, including some of Roxy songs). The other members also released solo albums, as well as collaborating with Eno in the band 801.

Roxy Music reformed in 1979, . . .

. . . just in time to usher in the era of the New Romantics, who were so influenced by the band’s original incarnation, both their music and their fashion sense.

Roxy’s influence is obvious in bands such as Ultravox, . . .

. . . The Human League, . . .

. . . ABC, . . .

. . . even in bigger bands like Duran Duran and Depeche Mode.

To Roxy, though, it must have felt like the same old scene . . .

. . . and they packed it in with their next studio album, Avalon.

It was a glorious, but ultimately nostalgic, valedictory. No longer postmodern deconstruction, but nostalgic revival.

Even notorious curmudgeon John Lydon (AKA Johnny Rotten) has nice things to say about Roxy:

Roxy Music surely deserves to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, both for their “unquestionable musical excellence” and their “significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.”

Salon des Refusés: T. Rex

In 1863, the Salon des Refusés was launched to counter the conservative aesthetics enforced by the Academy of Fine Arts in the annual Paris Salon. That year, the “rejects” included such later revered painters as Manet, Courbet, Whistler, Pissarro and Cezanne. Perhaps it is now time to establish a Salon des Refusés for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame‘s rejects.

The rules of eligibility for induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame include:

Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.

And yet many artists who have had huge impacts on the development and evolution of rock & roll have been snubbed over and over, including: Kraftwerk, Chic, Big Star, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, New York Dolls, T. Rex, Television, The Slits, X-Ray Spex, Sonic Youth, Joy Division.

Technically, T. Rex is nothing but a “one hit wonder” in the United States:

However, the band’s leader, Marc Bolan, was a full blown teen idol in the U.K. And his band’s influence has been huge on both sides of the pond. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Blondie covered that “one hit,” “Bang A Gong (Get It On).”* In Shock & Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, from the Seventies to the Twenty-First Century, Simon Reynolds declares Electric Warrior, the album on which the hit originally appeared: “Bolan’s finest album by far, an almost perfect platter” (p. 58). Every serious collection of rock music should contain Electric Warrior. Maybe I should delete the word “serious,” since that is one of the criticisms so often thrown at T. Rex and other groups that appeal to young girls: They aren’t serious! As if serious is, or should he, a defining characteristic of rock.

T. Rex began in the late ’60s as the very serious Tyrannosaurus Rex, which played faerie music, as in music about faeries, and dragons and unicorns inhabiting ancient Albion. To tell the truth, I’ve listened to very little of that dinosaur music, really just the last album released under the name in 1970, A Beard of Stars. Replacing Steve Peregrin Took with Micky Finn on percussion began the shift from progressive folk albums to hooky pop-rock singles:

The follow-up, T. Rex, may have abbreviated the band’s name, but the songs were still about wizards and seagull women. The new sound was fully realized on the following, non-LP single “Ride A White Swan,” which reached a whole new audience . . .

. . .  which Bolan consolidated on 1971’s essential Electric Warrior:

This album taught Joan Jett, leader of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, how to rock:

My mother bought me a cheap Sears electric with a little Gibson amp which cost twenty dollars for the combination. I took lessons for about a month. The guy kept trying to teach me ‘On Top Of Old Smokey’ but I wanted to learn to play rock and roll. So I went home and played with my records in my room. I really taught myself. I’d set up the stereo and amp and tuned my guitar to whatever song I wanted to play. I’d play things like T-Rex songs off the Electric Warrior album, or ‘Honky-Tonk Woman’ really loud. I was thirteen, fourteen years old.

The following album, The Slider, is almost as good. As Johnny Marr attests:

The influence of T-Rex is very profound on certain songs of The Smiths i.e. ‘Panic’ and ‘Shoplifters.’ Morrissey was himself also mad about Bolan. When we wrote ‘Panic’ . . .

. . . he was obsessed with ‘Metal Guru’ and wanted to sing in the same style. He didn’t stop singing it in an attempt to modify the words of ‘Panic’ to fit the exact rhythm of ‘Metal Guru.’ . . .

. . . He also exhorted me to use the same guitar break so that the two songs are the same!!!”

Bauhaus covered “Telegram Sam” from the album and Alejandro Escovedo named his one-off side project Buick Mackane. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Guns N’ Roses covered the song with that title.

T. Rex, along with other British Glam Rock bands that followed in its wake, was a major influence on L.A.’s hair metal scene.

There were a few more great singles, like “Children of the Revolution” . . .

. . . and “20th Century Boy,” . . .

. . . which has been covered by Def Leppard, The Replacements, Placebo and Siouxsie and the Banshees, but these were followed by a very steep decline that ended with the fatal car crash that took Bolan’s life.**

The music has lived on, though, in covers like The Bongos‘ “Mambo Sun” . . .

. . . and Portugal, The Man‘s “Main Man,” . . .

. . . along with the many bands directly influenced by Bolan’s glam sound, such as Opal . . .

. . . David Vandervelde on his The Moonstation House Band album, Butch Walker and the Let’s Go Out Tonites and Louis XIV:

If, as Anton S. Trees has written, “Louis XIV don’t wear their influences on their collective sleeve; you’d need an entire fucking wardrobe to fit them all there,” T. Rex would take up major space in that closet.

T. Rex centrality is acknowledged in a hit song Bolan’s friend and rival, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductee David Bowie, gifted Mott the Hoople to revive their moribund career, “All the Young Dudes”:

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees The Who also paid homage to “the sound of old T. Rex” in “You Better You Bet,” . . .

. . . as did Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees R.E.M. in “The Wake-Up Bomb,” where Michael Stipe sings of practicing his “T. Rex moves”:

T. Rex surely deserves to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, both for its “unquestionable musical excellence” and its “significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.”

If not, clearly, “it’s a rip off”:


* Well, that’s the song’s title in the U.S., where “Get It On” was changed to “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” in order to avoid confusion with a then-recent, but now largely forgotten minor hit, “Get It On” by Chase:

** Although many of Marc Bolan’s songs focused on cars, he never learned to drive. His girlfriend Gloria Jones was driving the purple Mini when it crashed on September 16, 1977. It was not until very recently that I realized this was the same Gloria Jones who sang the original 1964 version of “Tainted Love,” . . .

. . . which would later be covered by so many others, including Marc Almond of Soft Cell, who was inspired to change the K in his first name to C, just like his idol Mark Feld had when he became Marc Bolan.

Salon des Refusés: Big Star

In 1863, the Salon des Refusés was launched to counter the conservative aesthetics enforced by the Academy of Fine Arts in the annual Paris Salon. That year, the “rejects” included such later revered painters as Manet, Courbet, Whistler, Pissarro and Cezanne. Perhaps it is now time to establish a Salon des Refusés for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame‘s rejects.

The rules of eligibility for induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame include:

Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.

And yet many artists who have had huge impacts on the development and evolution of rock & roll have been snubbed over and over, including: Kraftwerk, Chic, Big Star, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, New York Dolls, T. Rex, Television, The Slits, X-Ray Spex, Sonic Youth, Joy Division.

Big Star is pretty much the definition of a cult band, not very well known, but absolutely worshiped by its fans, including many much better known rockers such as The Replacements, The Bangles, and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees R.E.M.

If you are not (yet!) a fan you may still have heard at least one of their songs. “In the Streets” was the opening theme for That ’70s Show . . .

. . .  but it was performed by Todd Griffin in the first season and Cheap Trick in the other seven. Here is Big Star’s own, complete version of that Alex Chilton-Chris Bell composition:

As you can easily hear, Big Star kind of merged the sounds of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees The Beatles and The Byrds. However, since The Byrds were also influenced by The Beatles, Big Star tilted just a bit more towards the invading Brits. Alex Chilton and Chris Bell modeled themselves on the Lennon-McCartney partnership, but filtered the band’s music through their native Memphis sensibility, as can be heard in songs such as “The Ballad of El Goodo”:

Big Star quickly became critics’ darlings, but rave reviews never translated into sales (at least partially due to marketing and distribution problems which made the record very hard to find). Many remain befuddled as to why the album did not live up to its title, #1 Record, and turn the band’s name into fact instead of irony (by the way, the name was not purely hubris; they named themselves after a Memphis area supermarket chain).

Chris Bell left the band after the first album out of frustration. He struggled with depression the rest of his short life, but continued to record music. Just one single, “You and Your Sister,” . . .

. . . was released, and then only on an obscure indie label, shortly before a fatal car crash earned him entrance into the notorious 27 Club in 1978. Compiled from his solo recordings, Bell’s I Am the Cosmos album was hailed upon its release 14 years later.

Alex Chilton, Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens labored on. Some consider their next album, Radio City, even better than the first, possibly a perfect pop-rock album.

It opens with “Oh My Soul” . . .

. . . (does that riff make you want to “cut loose, footloose, kick off your Sunday shoes”?), continues with “Back of a Car” . . .

. . .  and ends with “I’m in Love with a Girl”:

And then there were two, when Andy Hummel left the band shortly before the album’s release.

In many ways, Big Star’s 3rd (later reissued as Sister Lovers, the band name Chilton and Stephens briefly adopted at this time) is actually an Alex Chilton solo album. It contains the beautiful chamber pop of “Stroke It Noel” . . .

. . .  and the amazing sound design of “Kanga Roo,” . . .

. . . but the album was never finished.

Although recorded in late 1974 and early 1975, 3rd was not officially released until 1978, by which time its creators had long since moved on. The album has been reissued a number of times since, each time with a slightly different title and a completely different track listing (most recently as the three disc Complete Third, which follows every track from its rough beginnings to its final masters).

Alex Chilton had already been a “big star” as the 16 year old singer for The Box Tops, whose first single, “The Letter,” was a #1 hit in 1967:

This brush with stardom left Chilton deeply ambivalent about success. Big Star’s lack of recognition (at least during its lifetime) led to an even deeper withdrawal from the “star-maker machinery behind the popular song.” Chilton would spend the rest of his life dodging fame, sometimes engaging in what others might consider self-sabotage. He followed his own idiosyncratic interests, producing records by outsiders such as The Cramps and Tav Falco‘s Panther Burns, even briefly joining the latter band as a lowly sideman, and releasing a string of increasingly eccentric solo records.

Of course, this just endeared him more to his cult followers, who congratulated themselves for recognizing their leader’s perverse genius. His fans can, and do, debate whether albums such as Like Flies on Sherbert (sic) or Live in London are masterpieces or disasters (or both), but only a devoted fan would ever care enough to sit through all of either one. For anyone else, a single compilation culling the worthy tracks scattered across his vast solo discography should suffice. But even as Chilton was digging himself deeper into obscurity, his Big Star was rising.

Brian Eno famously said of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees The Velvet Underground, “I was talking to Lou Reed the other day and he said that the first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years. . . . I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band! So I console myself thinking that some things generate their rewards in a second-hand way.”

The same could be said of Big Star.

Big Star helped lay the foundation for a whole strain of indie power pop (along with The Velvet Underground, whose “Femme Fatale” Big Star covered). Chris Stamey played bass behind Alex Chilton in 1977. By the following year, he, Peter Holsapple, Will Rigby and Gene Holder would be spreading the gospel of Big Star in their new “jangle pop” band, The dB’s:

R.E.M. recorded in Memphis’s Ardent Studios because Big Star produced all of their records there, and released a cover of 3rd‘s “Jesus Christ” as a 2002 fan club single:

Big Star’s sound also resonated through L.A.’s “Paisley Underground” bands. The Bangles recorded Big Star’s “September Gurls”:

Apparently Katy Perry spelled “California Gurls” with a U in honor of Alex Chilton’s then-recent death.

The Replacements recorded the homage “Alex Chilton” while their hero was still alive:

As Paul Westerberg sings: “I never travel far, without a little Big Star.”

Big Star’s legacy certainly traveled far, though. In his essay “The Great Crusade: Birthing The Cult Of Big Star,” included in the book for the Big Star box set Keep an Eye on the Sky, Bob Mehr wrote:

Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, Scottish rockers Teenage Fanclub released their widely acclaimed masterpiece Bandwagonesque — an album so in thrall to Chilton, Bell, and company that some critics have taken to calling it ‘Big Star’s 4th.’

You can understand why when listening to such tributes as “Star Sign” and “Alcoholiday”:

Teenage Fanclub named its next album, their fourth album, Thirteen after the wistful Big Star song:

Big Star surely deserves to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, both for its “unquestionable musical excellence” and its “significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.”

Salon des Refusés: Kraftwerk

In 1863, the Salon des Refusés was launched to counter the conservative aesthetics enforced by the Academy of Fine Arts in the annual Paris Salon. That year, the “rejects” included such later revered painters as Manet, Courbet, Whistler, Pissarro and Cezanne. Perhaps it is now time to establish a Salon des Refusés for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame‘s rejects.

The rules of eligibility for induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame include:

Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.

And yet many artists who have had huge impacts on the development and evolution of rock & roll have been snubbed over and over, including: Kraftwerk, Chic, Big Star, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, New York Dolls, T. Rex, Television, The Slits, X-Ray Spex, Sonic Youth, Joy Division.

Kraftwerk is arguably the most influential group in popular music since Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees The Beatles. In order to craft a more European rock sound, many of the late ’70s and ’80s new wave and synth pop artists like Eurythmics, Ultravox, Gary Numan and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark turned to Kraftwerk, . . .

. . . Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductee David Bowie‘s “Berlin Trilogy,” which was also greatly influenced by Kraftwerk and other Krautrock bands (reinforcing their influence secondhand), and Roxy Music (though in that case it might have been as much Bryan Ferry’s visual style as the band’s music).

The robotic Germans . . .

. . . also begat some of the most dominant post-rock genres, so they may have actually been more influential than the Fab Four, whose British empire did not shine far beyond rock and pop.

Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force’s trendsetting early hip hop 12″ “Planet Rock” . . .

. . . mashed up two Kraftwerk songs, “Trans Europe Express” . . .

. . . and “Numbers.”

Pretty much all of electro grew from “Planet Rock”‘s roots.

Derrick May (AKA Rhythim is Rhythim), generally regarded as the creator of techno music, famously described the genre’s sound as “The music is just like Detroit, a complete mistake. It’s like George Clinton and Kraftwerk are stuck in an elevator with only a sequencer to keep them company.”

Sure, it could be argued that hip hop, electro and techno are distinct, non-rock genres, so much of Kraftwerk’s “significant impact” falls outside of rock & roll. However, the Hall of Fame has been very inclusive in their past use of the label. The brick and mortar (actually, more glass and concrete) Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is currently hosting an exhibition titled “The Roots and Definition of Rock & Roll,” which is introduced on the website with the following statement:

Each year, with the announcement of the next class of nominees for induction, a debate swirls as to what music is consider ‘rock and roll.’

The debate really flared up when rappers began being inducted, including Tupac in the latest batch. In response to the 2016 induction of N.W.A., Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees KISS‘s Gene Simmons said, “[I] respect N.W.A, but when Led Zep gets into Rap Hall of Fame, I will agree with your point.” (That is one of the more polite things Simmons said.)  The Induction Process page now prominently features this pull quote from Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees N.W.A.’s Ice Cube’s acceptance speech:

Rock & roll is not an instrument; rock & roll is not even a style of music. Rock & roll is a spirit. … It’s been going since the blues, jazz, bebop, soul, R&B, rock & roll, heavy metal, punk rock and, yes, hip-hop. And what connects us all is that spirit. …Rock & roll is not conforming to the people who came before you, but creating your own path in music and in life.

In the mind of the Hall of Fame, “rock & roll” clearly refers to popular music associated with rebellious youth, both as creators and consumers. Which means Kraftwerk surely deserves to be honored, both for its “unquestionable musical excellence” and its “significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.”