Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Roxy Music -- "The Thrill Of It All" (1974)

So if you're feeling fraught
With mental strain
Too much thinking's got you down again
Well, let your senses skip
Stay hip
Keep cool
To the thrill of it all

No one stayed hipper or kept cooler than Roxy Music's frontman, Bryan Ferry. 

Bryan Ferry
Ferry has been described as "an aesthete, an exquisite, a dandy," a rock star "known for his exacting taste in, well, everything -- suits, paintings, cars, women, houses, wine, even interior design."

The British socialite and interior designer Nicky Haslam once said that Ferry -- in contrast to bad-boy rockers like Keith Moon and Keith Richards -- was more likely to redecorate a hotel room than to trash it. 

The Roxy album this song appeared on, Country Life, was released in November 1974 -- about two months after I started law school.  I probably first heard "The Thrill Of It All" on WBCN, which was the album-oriented rock ("AOR") station in Boston.
I bought the album at "The Coop" -- which is what we called the Harvard Cooperative Society store in Harvard Square.  The Coop is a member-owned cooperative that was founded in 1882.  It's sort of a cross between a college bookstore and a department store.  I don't think you have to be a member to shop there, but only members (mostly Harvard and MIT students, faculty, and staff) get to share in the store's profits each year. 

The Coop's big sellers in 1882 were textbooks and coal.  When I was there, the big sellers were textbooks, records, and Harvard-insignia apparel, notebooks, coffee cups, and so on.

The Coop's record department was legendary.  It had just about everything -- including lots of obscure folk, blues, bluegrass, and ethnic records.

By the way, "Coop" is pronounced like "coupe," not like "co-op."  If you don't know that already, then I guess you didn't go to Harvard, did you?

My copy of Country Life has the original cover, which features two German models that Bryan Ferry met in Portugal.  (The girls not only posed for the cover but also helped Ferry come up with some German lyrics for one of the songs on the album.)

Later, a censored version of the cover was released:

Of course, this was not the first rock album cover to be censored. 

Here's the original album cover for the Beatles' 1966 album, Yesterday and Today, which featured the lads from Liverpool dressed in white butchers' smocks and holding decapitated baby dolls and slabs of raw meat:

Here's the revised album cover:

The planned cover for the Rolling Stones' 1968 album, Beggars Banquet, featured a graffiti-covered bathroom wall:

The album as released looked like this:

But perhaps the most famous censored album cover was a fictional one -- the Smell the Glove album featured in the rock mockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap.  The cover for that album depicted a greased, naked woman on all fours wearing a dog collar and a leash.  A man was holding the leash and pushing a black glove into her face, forcing her to sniff it. 

In the movie, the record company responded to protests from retail stores who refused to stock the original album by replacing it with a plain black album cover that didn't even have the name of the band on it.  Needless to say, this did not have a positive effect on sales.

This aspect of the movie appears to have been inspired by the controversy over the Whitesnake album, Lovehunter, which had a cover depicting a nude woman straddling a huge snake:

Roxy Music's music was often loud and fast, but Ferry and his bandmates never lost control.  Ferry looked more like Frank Sinatra than Mick Jagger or Robert Plant, and never let you forget that he was performing his songs -- not living them.

In some of his solo albums, the purported ennui and overall tongue-in-cheekiness crossed the line between irony and affectation.  His lounge-lizard act was more annoying than amusing at times.

But on the Roxy albums, Ferry's refusal to take things seriously added just the right touch of post-modern cool to the band's often hyperkinetic music.  The rest of the band pounded away like their lives depended on it, but Ferry never broke a sweat.  He looked a bit bored by all the sturm und drang around him.

I played side one of Country Life to death while I was in law school -- I also bought Roxy's two previous albums and several of their subsequent albums.  (I own a couple of Ferry's solo albums as well, which was not my wisest investment.)  I'll be posting about other records that I associate with my law school years -- 1974 to 1977 -- over the next few months, but something from Country Life had to be the first in this series.

Here's "The Thrill Of It All":

Here's a video of Roxy doing the song live -- not a great performance, but no rock star ever looked better in black tie than Bryan Ferry:

Here's a link you can use to order the song from Amazon.

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