Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
I know, I know, cheating with a compilation album, but believe me, I tried, hell, I tried. I wanted to cover the 1972 debut, Roxy Music/Roxy Music, not least as it is “their best,” but also to celebrate this year’s inauguration of the band (or brand) into the R&R Hall of Fame. But let’s face it — however good (most of) the songs are, the cover versions, give or take, are decidedly not. And so few anyway, most being limp copies and ersatz imitations. (And I’m talking about you, Velvet Goldmine, with your Thom Yorke and your faux recreations.) Indeed, it seems, as I researched, that the only person regularly covering Roxy was Bryan Ferry himself, either in solo mode or, now and gloriously, in a jazz age great Gatsby style, both ruled out automatically by default. But they are good….. So I have had to resort to this 2nd best, even if it misses out the sole reason I wanted to take this on in the first place, the superb Tin Machine/Bowie take on “If There is Something,” my favorite-ever Roxy track.
I loved the Roxy, being just the right age as they emerged, in my mid-teens, looking for the hit of new to fertilize my hungry ears. I recall listening to the debut in a Brighton record shop. There was a wiring disconnect in the headphones, giving a buzz in the left ear. I didn’t realize this wasn’t part of the sound for some time (years, actually), thinking it part of the process, and it added to the band’s mystique. The succession of records continued to enthrall, arguably better put together songs as more of the experimental gradually fell by the wayside, not that I could allow myself to admit it. As Eno and every bassist in turn left, so the musicianship upped, the Eddie Jobson years an especial highlight. A few years silence and back they bounced, now a smoother beast altogether, a trio of Ferry, Mackay and Manzanera with the pick of sessiondom’s finest, still great, if mellower. Did they ever really officially fold? There was always the promise of some new undertaking, inevitably subsumed into more Ferry solo projects, his live shows increasingly and ever more Roxy-based. I don’t suppose it will ever happen now, but maybe the memories are stronger.
Have some hits…
M People – Avalon (Roxy Music cover)
A promising start, with a rudimentary drum machine and an interesting shimmery swirl ahead of Heather Small’s unmistakable (in a good way) honk. This Manchester dance-pop band always seemed a better proposition than they actually were. True to form, this then becomes little more than a perfunctory limp through, albeit with distinctive vocals. And the drum machine. And surely Mike Pickering could have been a little more imaginative with the saxophone solo, if he ever, did he, really play it outside video shoots?
Judith Owen – More Than This (Roxy Music cover)
A second offering from 1982’s Avalon album, the last group effort, this has the honor of being the most covered Roxy song by a country mile, despite the relative slimness of the song’s structure. This is almost more a cover of possibly the best-known cover, by Norah Jones, out-torching her effortlessly in the jazz-lite stakes. Owen is a sometime vocalist with Richard Thompson and is the wife of Harry Shearer. If you like this sort of thing, you’ll love it.
The Faces – Jealous Guy (John Lennon cover)
One of a handful of covers committed to disc by Roxy Music, this was a memorable number one tribute to John Lennon, appearing shortly after his assassination. Covered by myriad other artists, often in varying styles of cheese, it is difficult to find another that can stand alongside the Roxy version or the original. Never taken further than this studio rehearsal, I think the Faces’ is one that could have and should have — all the ragged charm of the Faces, clearly well-refreshed, and Rod, well, when he was still Rod. Lovely.
The Soft Boys – Over You (Roxy Music cover)
Taking some finding, this too is a studio outtake, unpolished and badly needing one, the wonderful jangle let down, uncharacteristically, by the usually far more focused, if dreamy, vocals of Robyn Hitchcock, later of & the Egyptians and a still-thriving solo career. Missing that polish, it failed the cut for their missed by most magnum opus, Underwater Moonlight, appearing on later re-released legacy copies, as their style of music eventually swung back round to being in vogue, something they were too late for the first time around. What this version does allow, however, is a dimming of the realization that “Avalon,” “More Than This,” and “Over You” are, broadly, the same tune.
Ministry – Same Old Scene (Roxy Music cover)
This is fabulous, sounding like the cover Duran Duran should have done instead of (a bit of) “Virginia Plain.” (No. Absolutely not. Google it.) Ministry, of course, still lurch on, their brand of “shaved heads, facial hair, and tats” industrial metal having all but superseded their earlier incarnation as fey synth-poppers. I like to think this is how Roxy would sound if they were a ’90s band. And how they would look. (Oh, Al Jourgensen, where did it all go so wrong?)
The New Standards – Oh Yeah (Roxy Music cover)
I don’t know of these three guys, but I like their enthusiasm, translating the arrangement to electric piano, vibes, and upfront bass. But I don’t know whose idea it was to ape the vocal style of Ferry; it just weakens the whole exercise. A lugubrious baritone might fit so much better. Researching, I discover they are so entitled as to consider themselves the bearers of new standards, in their novel interpretations of songs yet to attain such status. The bassist was once in Semisonic.
Perfect Project – Angel Eyes (Roxy Music cover)
Scarcely recognizable, this slice of trip-hop picks up the lyrics, traces of the melody in the vocal line, and little else, a transformation moving the song from the dance floor to the Cafe del Mar. It works. Perfect Project? Hailing from NYC, they are part of the line-up of a dance music compilation celebrating Roxy Music, entitled, get it, Roxy Re-modeled. I have heard of them neither before or since.
Hot Club of Cowtown – Dance Away (Roxy Music cover)
And there I was, wondering where all the bluegrass or reggae versions were, when here comes this western swing take by the otherwise well-thought-of Hot Club of Cowtown. Their blurb suggests they aim for a fusion of Bob Wills (which I get) with Django Reinhardt (less). I think they deserve full marks for courage and enthusiasm, perhaps more than for outcome and delivery.
Fatal Flowers – Both Ends Burning (Roxy Music cover)
I think this has a certain Golden Earring vibe, perhaps unsurprisingly, each being the pride of Amsterdam, if decades apart. Dutch rock is a small niche, but this lot had some advantage by being produced by ex-Spider from Mars Mick Ronson, perhaps courtesy the Hull to Rotterdam ferry, conveniently placed from his hometown. This was a single for them in 1990, but Wiki tells me the parent album produced no hits.
Ali Campbell – Love Is the Drug (Roxy Music cover)
Please let it be Grace Jones, I hear you praying, but that would be too obvious. And we have already had the Hot Town of Cowtown, who did this too. So it had to be Ali Campbell, the voice of UB40 (and who, having been sacked from his own band, is now the voice of one of two rival UB40s, dependent upon which legal opinion is still standing). Once such a great band, this is part of the ongoing rot whereby wall-to-wall cover versions gave them better airplay than their own, originally superior material. This isn’t actually that bad, having said.
Mavis Piggott – Out of the Blue (Roxy Music cover)
Now this I really like! OK, it falls very close from the tree, but the vocals have a pleasing off-kilter scrawk, together with being female, something little otherwise represented. Mavis were a band rather than a person, Seattle based, and, being, arguably, too competent to break through the ranks of the grunge girls who did, faded after a couple of releases. The violin solo, my favourite Eddie Jobson moment of his brief Roxy tenure, seems here a keyboard motif, but no less enjoyable, against the stop-start drums, if foreshortened. Somewhere a long version?
Tommy Keene – All I Want Is You (Roxy Music cover)
Really? Is it? This goes about as far as you can to de-Roxy Roxy, turning the song into a random power-pop thrash, rendering it, at the same time, unrecognizable. Tommy Keene seems to be world-famous in Bethesda, Maryland, and has had a career nudging fame and fortune, never quite in the right time at the right place, hooking up with the wrong sibling or the relics from bands on the way down. I dare say he has his own stuff, but I bet it sounds like this.
Scribble – Mother Of Pearl (Roxy Music cover)
I found this much about the same time as this post, and I agree. This is a lovely and low-key version, tinged with a synth and shoegaze atmosphere that doesn’t just immediately hark back to the original. This stands up in its own right, where many here, frankly, might not. Scribble were a Sydney, Australia band of the ’80s who nearly broke through. Shame they didn’t.
Morrissey – Street Life (Roxy Music cover)
Well, I couldn’t let this go, could I? I hope you dig the Spanish subtitles; they’re certainly adding to rather than subtracting from the totality for me. It’s a pretty straightforward and even bar-bandish cover, memorable for it being a song chosen by the singer maybe more than the rendition. But is it any good? Not really.
Scissor Sisters – Do the Strand (Roxy Music cover)
I like this more than I ought to. Part of the War Child charity series of projects, a cause I uphold. Scissor Sisters were briefly huge, at least in the U.K., their Hi-NRG songs bursting out of gay and straight discos alike, if their spiritual home was the former. This is more a vehicle for the fabulously named Ana Matronic than the higher profile male singer, Jake Shears. Like their “Comfortably Numb,” it suggests their forte to be more in cover versions.
Danny McEvoy – Pyjamarama (Roxy Music cover)
Wherever I looked in my research for this post, this fella appeared. I think he has a YouTube cover of every Roxy song ever, and a whole lot besides. But all credit to him, this one cuts my mustard, a simple and soulful rendition. I am sure there is just a hint of phasing in the guitar effect, the vocals a little less over-wrought, suggesting a familiarity with the downside of the high life.
Spizz Energi – Virginia Plain (Roxy Music cover)
If you start with the premise that it is an impossible song to cover, that probably explains how few are out there, discounting the daft and the dubious. I was determined I would avoid the Velvet Goldmine route, so I was delighted to discover some Spizz. Around in the 70s, I was in awe of Kenneth Spiers, aka Spizz, who changed the name of his band every year, running through Spizz Oil, The Spizzles and, my favourite, Athletico Spizz 80, as well as this. I even saw them/him, low on the bill, supporting the Stranglers in Battersea Park, London. It was as memorable as this version of Roxy’s finest.
Frank Black – Re-Make/Re-Model (Roxy Music cover)
Yup, that Frank Black, Black Francis, Pixie supreme, proving homage and a good record collection isn’t always enough. But I do like the re-interpreted, if faded-out here, stop-start brief bars of individual instruments that finishes the song, a trick Ferry returned to for “Editions of You.” (I wonder if anyone ever did that? I’d take my hat off to them if a credible version were ever managed.)
So, a marathon of mixed blessings, some good, many bad, few indifferent. Such is the nature of genius. Ferry, responsible in the main, if not the entirety, for all but one of the songs above, has had his critics. But by making his songs so damned idiosyncratic, so too has he left a legacy where it is the originals that get hummed and remembered in the street. Not the covers. And that’s quite something.
You’ll find more Roxy Music, covered and covering, in our archives.