If There Is Something

If There Is Something (Roxy Music, Peel Session, 1972).
If There Is Something (Roxy Music, 1972).
If There Is Something (Roxy Music, live, 1974).
If There Is Something (Tin Machine, 1991).
If There Is Something (Oy Vey Baby, 1991).
If There Is Something (live, 1991).

One of the great strengths of the early ’70s was its sense of irony; Marc Bolan was an extremely funny, witty man. There was a very strong sense of humour that ran throughout the early British bands: myself, Roxy Music, Marc. We really thought a lot of it was a jest, and I think that hadn’t happened for a few years in rock. Whatever came out of early ’70s music that had any longevity to it generally had a sense of humour underlying it. Like The Sweet were everything we loathed; they dressed themselves up as early ’70s but there was no sense of humour there.

David Bowie, International Musician interview, December 1991.

In the summer of 1972, the arriviste pop star David Bowie offered a supporting slot on his Spiders from Mars tour to a band that had been around for less than a year. So Roxy Music opened for Bowie at the Greyhound, in Croydon (where Bowie met Brian Eno for the first time). But by a month later, when Roxy was opening Bowie’s showcase Rainbow Theatre shows, Bowie apparently had cooled to them—denying them soundcheck time, snubbing their sets.

It’s not surprising: Roxy suddenly had become competition. By the time of the Rainbow shows in August, “Virginia Plain” was on the charts, reviving their debut album’s sales, and the band had become an intoxicatingly strange live act, whether trading fours on “Remake/Remodel” with synthesizer babbles and saxophone quotations of “Deutschland Uber Alles,” or offering a love ballad to an android that opened as a fusion of Xenakis and Debussy on a synth-altered oboe: it was meant to sound like the lunar landing.

Roxy Music was in essence what Bowie never quite had: a fully integrated band of autonomous brilliant musicians, with a central figure, Bryan Ferry, serving as ringmaster but also, especially on stage, as a supporting player. While Ferry wrote most of the songs and directed the band’s visuals, he had enough confidence to cede control of performances to his bandmates—Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay, the fantastic drummer Paul Thompson—who kept him honest, or at least funny. There had been a limit—Eno, who made a claim to Ferry’s authority, was soon gone—but Roxy in the early Seventies was an ironist collective that could swing harder than any other glam band.

For Bowie, this was a golden ideal of a band—calling the shots, yet being constantly challenged by your collaborators—and in a perverse way Tin Machine seemed Bowie’s subconscious attempt to finally attempt this scenario. The difference would be, as Bowie admitted in the last days of Tin Machine, humor.*

Roxy had begun as a Pop Art project, with Ferry (who had studied under Richard Hamilton) taking an ironic, parodic approach to pop music. “If There Is Something,” off Roxy’s debut LP, is quintessential Roxy. It begins as an apparently straight-faced attempt at country music, with Ferry drawling and Manzanera offering sprightly asides on slide guitar. Things start to go “off” soon into the second verse—the lyric, which began in sentiment, becomes increasingly abstract, and echo is applied to Ferry’s voice as he starts constricting his phrases. A 18-bar solo follows in a “Southern rock” style, Ferry and Manzanera still wearing their cowboy hats, but with the arrival of a new, worrying motif (carried on sax and guitar) the song molts into a torch ballad. “I would do anything for you, I would climb MOUNTAINS,” Ferry wails, applying ludicrous vibrato to the ends of his phrases (“oceans BLLLLUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUE”) to match the gigantism of his lyric: he’ll swim oceans, climb Everest, and most wonderfully, he’ll plant potatoes BY THE SCORE (it’s a sudden reversion to the country song, now sung by Gargantua).

Eno’s synth takes up the guitar motif, Graham Simpson’s bass rambles chromatically, and without realizing it you’re suddenly in the middle of a massive 40-bar prog rock solo. When Ferry finally returns, it’s as yet another character, a jaded lover recalling an expired romance, a wasted soul man supported by an all-male chorus, a singer who threatens to pole-vault into an unexpected pitch at any moment. Again, the lyric is a series of one-up laments, the gigantism of the second section still here: the hills were higher, the grass was greener (when you were young, the singers keep noting, not anymore). “Something” expires with nothing resolved—youth is over, accept your fate—and a few mocking squiggles on Eno’s synth.

It’s an amazing song, a heartfelt and icy mockery of the conventions of a set of genres (it’s in part Ferry ridiculing the art rock scene that Roxy was part of, as the main solo seems like a parody of King Crimson), treating low art (country music) as a revered genre, while burlesquing academy-ready progressive rock music; it was funny, ridiculous and spectacular. In 1989, having assembled his own band of rivals, Bowie decided to cover it.

Their cover of “If There Is Something” is where a central weakness of Tin Machine was most obvious—the band could have a collective witlessness when they performed, despite the singer and guitarist both being intelligent men with a deep grasp of irony (Bowie even publicly said he loved Reeves Gabrels’ playing because of its irony, where Stevie Ray Vaughan, by contrast, “had meant every note he played.”). Covering a genre-parodist masterpiece like “Something” was an invitation to go anywhere—turn the song into a series of colliding sonic spectacles; rope in further and more outlandish genres; just play it completely straight and do the whole song as a country & western piece.

But no, Tin Machine just did what it always did: crank up the amps, speed up the pace, pound through it, leave the song for dead. Tin Machine was like a fully-equipped Maserati Gran Turismo which only had two gears—fifth and reverse. The allegedly anarchic band was here dull and reverent, even efficient: they streamlined “Something,” gutting most of the prog-rock mid-song solo.

The result, in the studio and on stage, was a fine, competent hard rock song, with Gabrels even introducing a hooky guitar riff in the latter section, while he and the Saleses abashedly sang the “when you were young” harmonies (the Machine had retained the song’s tripartite structure, but it was like a team assembling a Calder mobile with a set of Ikea instructions). Bowie sang the lyric straight-faced throughout, and when he tried to match Ferry’s insane vibrato in the middle section, he only sounded, like the whole performance, soured and ordinary.

Recorded ca. September-October 1989, Studios 301, Sydney (w/overdubs throughout 1990 and at A&M Studios, March 1991). Performed throughout the 1991-1992 tour, with a version on Oy Vey Baby.

* Bowie had considered covering “Ladytron” on Pin Ups, a record which itself was direct competition to Ferry’s These Foolish Things. Ferry, like Pete Townshend, would prove to be an influence that Bowie never could get the drop on—Ferry did the world-weary rake far better than Bowie did in the Eighties, for example.

Top: JG Santos, “Grau de Castellon,” 1990-1991.

60 Responses to If There Is Something

  1. Jaf says:

    Great article, as always, but I think you may be wrong about Bowie having ‘cooled’ on Roxy by the time of the Rainbow gigs. In Nick Kent’s excellent Apathy for the Devil he recalls going to Bowie’s hotel room somewhere on tour in the US and Bowie playing Virginia Plain to everyone over and over again.

    Can’t say I’ve ever heard TM’s cover of this or indeed anything from their second album but I’m loving these posts nonetheless.

    • col1234 says:

      overstating it? probably. the soundcheck debacle at the Rainbow seems more due to egotistical managers than DB’s own doing. But I think it’s fair to see DB saw Roxy as his strongest competition, esp. as Bolan started fading in ’73.

      • david says:

        Didn’t Ferry once say “I would leave the room to avoid him”. I know he was asked by an interviewer once why-given Bowie’s open admiration for Roxy Music, why it was he was so sniffy towards David. Maybe it was the Rainbow thing, maybe it was a bit of mutual envy, Ferry has admitted that Bowie never seemed to have a problem with being confident.

        I never really liked either version of this song to be honest, and always rather wished that David had covered In every home there is a heartache instead. Although, if he had covered it during the TM era, it would have been just as ham fisted. Great write up as always, love the car having only two gears analogy.

        Can’t wait to see if you eviscerate ‘Sorry’ or ‘Stateside’

      • Pinstripe Hourglass says:

        There also might have been some class tension there. Bolan and Bowie were both upper middle class London boys, while Ferry was a farmer’s son from a North England coal town.

  2. Pinstripe Hourglass says:

    Why doesn’t Eno wear ostrich feathers anymore?

  3. Brian Busby says:

    A song by my favourite band covered by my favourite solo artist (under band guise) and I had no idea it existed. This says everything about how much I’ve managed to shut Tin Machine out of my life. Easily done.

    I’ll take exception to the idea that the Sweet had no sense of humour. Sophisticated, no, but “Ballroom Blitz”, “Blockbuster”, “AC DC” and so very many of their other songs are endearingly and self-consciously silly. Of course, it wasn’t Bowie, Bolan or Roxy that had the best sense of humour back then… it was Mott the Hoople.

  4. Pinstripe Hourglass says:

    The Sweet had a sense of humor, definitely, but they also really hated the glam image that ChinniChap had thrown on them, although Steve Priest seems to have taken to it for a while (for the record, I LOVE that image and think that inauthentic Sweet is a hell of a lot more fun than authentic Sweet). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVtRl9aN6f8 they sang “I’m A Boy”, The Who’s song about a boy whose parents force him to dress like a girl, and introduced it as “a song about The Sweet”.

    They were obviously sensitive about the femininity thing, and they responded by BADLY overcompensating on their album tracks. The forced machismo on some of them is actually pretty hilarious.

    • Diamond Duke says:

      I’m also thinking there was probably no small amount of irritation on Bowie’s part that Sweet scored a #1 hit with Block Buster – a song sharing almost the exact same Bo Diddley-via-Yardbirds riff with The Jean Genie, which only got to #2 in the U.K.!

  5. Maj says:

    If you didn’t know the original, TM’s version would just be a dull, uninteresting song. But if you know the original what TM did with this song is just blasphemy, similar to what Bowie did to Tonight, the song. I listen to that and wonder why they even bothered, really.

  6. MC says:

    I must offer a dissenting opinion and say that I really like this cover. It certainly doesn’t match the original, but it’s a better utilization of The Machine than Working Class Hero: I love how they navigate the song’s twists and turns while still rocking out. That being said, I take great exception to DB changing the lyric “I would climb mountains” to “I would cum all day” – now that’s witless! (Or a higher species of irony – satirizing cock rock a la She Shook Me Cold.)

    By the way, I’m still waiting for Ferry to cover a Bowie song. (I think he could do a decent job of Sweet Thing.)

    • Roman says:

      I remember Bowie squirming in an interview when asked about that crass lyric change. He seemed to regret this at an early stage and came out with the rather pitiful excuse that he didn’t have a lyric sheet and had to have the original lyrics translated from a Japanese music booklet and that’s how ‘Climb mountains’ became ‘cum all day’. And so we’re supposed to believe that David Bowie, a hardcore Roxy fan, didn’t recognise this inaccuracy of a great line in one of Roxy’s greatest songs????

      Apparently the recently discovered TMII outtake – I can’t remember it’s name and I can’t find it on my ipod(!) – was initially meant to be on the album instead of this until the very last moment,

  7. Momus says:

    We’re really in the slough of despond, the cheam of nadir, here. As Bowie himself once said: “I’m not very reliable as an artist. Sometimes I’m bloody awful… and sometimes I’m incredible.” So — to boost morale in this difficult passage through the doldrum straits of Bloody Awful — I just want to say two things. One, there’s something heartening in the fact that awful music can inspire great music writing. And two, David Bowie was incredible beyond all reasonable expectation before Tin Machine and would be sporadically incredible after. That’s why we’re here.

    • Pinstripe Hourglass says:

      Amen!

    • jonathanz@gmail.com says:

      Momus, I remember asking you once on ILX whether you thought Bowie had done anything good since Scary Monsters, and you replied no. Of course it’s everyone’s right to change their mind, but I’m interested to know what “the sporadically incredible” moments you refer to are!

      • Momus says:

        On the great Day of Music Judgment, when I’m called before the throne of the great God of Music Criticism and my soul is in the balance, I think I’ll stick to that ILX statement. The historical greatness of David Bowie was fixed by 1982, all the evidence already ranged. But the interesting thing about Chris’ project here is that it’s such a thorough and thoughtful trawl through the archive that, if reassessments are possible at all, this is where critical miracles could happen. Hallo Spaceboy better than Sweet Thing? Everyone Says Hi better than The Bewlay Brothers? Who knows? Ask me again when we meet before the Almighty Throne.

      • jonathanz@gmail.com says:

        Thanks for your reply Momus, and I sort of agree. There was something quite extraordinary about the RCA years that Bowie never really managed to replicate (though not through want of trying). I can’t help feeling that line of his from one of his last albums – “down in space it’s always 1982” – is some kind of recognition of that fact.

        That said, if we lower the bar from “genius” to “very good” then I certainly think Bowie managed to get over it on occasion – rarely between 1984 and 1992, but a little more often after that. “Heathen” in particular is pretty solid and in a way I wish he’d bowed out with that.

  8. Pierce says:

    Nice review. One of the better songs form the Tin Machine albums, although a rather dour take on a Roxy Music classic. It’s a pretty sad old tale this one with Tin Machine, and that Wogan clip summed things up nicely. Like watching a train wreck. Avoid at all costs, trying to keep the Bowie genius-mysterious-superstar memory in tact.

  9. Reeves’ solo almost saves it. Almost.

  10. TW Duke says:

    I love Roxy’s 10 minute-ish masterpiece “If There Is Something.”

    To my ears, it is one of the few occasions in “officially released” music where a later “officially released” live version easily beats the earlier “officially released” studio version, and becomes the definitive version of the song.

    For me, on the 1st Roxy Music album, the original, studio “If There Is Something” (1972?) comes off as a hugely skip-able, dull, meandering track, whereas (1976?) the live version on Roxy Music’s “Viva” album — wowwww! One of my favorite songs ever! It comes alive!

    I can think of only a few other similar occurrences in terms of “the officially released live version beats the studio version and becomes a hit” : Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” and Paul McCartney’s “Coming Up” — rare among us would be the ones who’ve ever heard the original “studio version” and preferred it over what was the “hit” live version.

    So, (embarrassed as I am to have mentioned Billy Joel and Sir Paul on a Bowie blog), …….”If There Is Something” seems to be a perfect song for Bowie to cover with Tin Machine, right? “Raw and live” better than “studio” –which was all that Tin Machine was supposed to be about, right? Bryan Ferry kicked the song out of the universe on the “Viva” album, making it more edgy and basic, which was exactly what Tin Machine was about, right?

    Uh…..no! Total failure by David Bowie on this one, in my opinion. For such a long song, having some sense of NUANCE is necessary, which Bryan Ferry completely masters on the live Roxy version.

    On “TMII”, Bowie and Gabrels just thunder and blunder through the song — reminds me of the people who come to my office to repair the photocopier machine (the Tin Machine version is that passion-free): Gabrels is down below, trying to make things click and whir and remove the jammed paper, while Bowie seemingly stands above, quickly barking orders from a repair manual: “I would climb mountains! Grow potatoes by the score! Try rotating the ink cartridge and pulling out the paper jam!”

    Utter, passion-free failure, in my opinion.

    On another note, to blog-writer col1234: perhaps I’ve missed something in a previous Tin Machine entry of yours here, but isn’t one defense of the Tin Machine project that Bowie actually discovered and explored “grunge” a couple years before it became big? Loudly and imperfectly and roughly blasting through songs what was Tin Machine was all about, and it largely failed, but then lo and behold, a couple years later, “grunge” became the big trend in music? Apologies if you’ve already addressed this, or are saving it for the end when you wrap up your views on Tin Machine, but I’d love to hear your analysis on the the “Tin Machine invented grunge” viewpoint….

    But in 99% of the cases, I prefer the studio original.

    Except for “If There Is Something.” !! A skip-able

    • simonh1965 says:

      I don’t think there is much grunge in Tin Machine. Bowie & co miss the all-important stoner rock side of that genre.

      • col1234 says:

        i’ll get to the “did TM influence/portend grunge’ question at some point in the TMII entries. but in a nutshell, I agree with simon. the idea of Mark Arm and Cobain being inspired by Tin Machine is laughable.but perhaps you could make the case that TM was working in parallel in some ways.

    • Maj says:

      Don’t think there’s much grunge in TM. Even if we forget about the image issues…TM lacks the tension between folky and loud punky…which for me is a huge part of the grunge sound. TM were largely just a band hammering away a lot of noise but at their better moments (when a song was not such a lot of noise hammering) they didn’t sound grunge at all. Also, while Bowie was trying raw directness in lyrics at that point, it just wasn’t his style and he failed at it. I’m not a huge grunge fan but the best in this genre knew how to express their frustration in a believable way.
      So…I dunno, I don’t see the TM-grunge connection.

      The Stooges though…

    • blueandcream says:

      The parallels between Tin Machine and grunge have more to do with shared influences than anything. Give Bowie credit for being ahead of the curve in his tastes – if he was listening to Pixies and Sonic Youth in 1988, he was on to the Next Big Thing. Sonic Youth were the first major American indie band to make the jump to the majors, and the song that broke Nirvana was a Pixies homage.

      Very little of what was great about those bands translated into Tin Machine, though. TM’s guitar assault sounds artless instead of unhinged, and abrasive in a way that’s more annoying than exciting. And they never nailed the thing that ultimately made the Pixies an influential band, which was their fusion of the noisiness of hardcore with clever pop songcraft, particularly the use of loud/soft dynamics to make the choruses explosive. They made catchy pop tunes that were also angry and fierce and thrilling. Tin Machine (on the first record at least) mostly made a loud, obnoxious, and hamfisted version of dull corporate rock.

      • humanizingthevacuum says:

        I thought Husker Du were the first American indie band signed to an indie…?

      • col1234 says:

        yeah, plenty of other indie bands made the leap first: the Replacements, the Huskers, REM, Camper Van, Eleventh Dream Day, etc.

      • blueandcream says:

        Yeah, what I meant was ‘first major indie band to make a successful leap to the majors’. But I was wrong, REM got there first.

  11. algeriatouchshriek says:

    I’m sure I once read that Dave asked Brian to duet with him on this cover … potentially thinking it might make a single … Brian declined.

    • Gnomemansland says:

      You mean Brian Eno (With an i) or Bryan Ferry (with a y)?

    • Roman says:

      Bryan Ferry was asked about that (in a Q magazine cash-for-questions, I think) and he denied being approached about it. He wasn’t very complimentary about Bowie either, as far as I remember.

  12. Brendan O'Lear says:

    This is the nadir for me. It’s okay for him to make duff covers of John Lennon or Iggy Pop songs – silk purses and sow’s ears etc, but not stuff from Roxy Music’s first two albums.
    On the Rainbow soundcheck thing, my take it was more a case of DB being over-ambitious with that show than anything specifically directed at Roxy Music. He’s still gushing about Roxy Music in the mid-seventies on American television and he was still enthusiastic while promoting “Heroes”. (His fervour at that time persuaded me to buy the first album and was my first encounter with the word ‘juxtaposition’.)
    The only comfort for me is that Bowie’s fall from grace was nowhere near as absymal as Bryan Ferry’s, who was butchering his own songs and removing everything interesting about them as solo cover versions within a few years of producing some of the best pop music ever made.
    I like Momus’s idea that Bowie’s lows are worthwhile because they show us just how high the highs were.

  13. Diamond Duke says:

    Well, this is certainly not one of my favorite Bowie covers of all time (I much prefer See Emily Play, Sorrow, Wild Is The Wind, Kingdom Come, Nite Flights and Cactus). And it’s certainly no match for either the studio or live versions by Roxy Music. Not exactly awful, but it is kind of a one-dimensional “Ramones-ification”. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Ramones were a fun bunch (may Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee rest in peace), but nobody could accuse them of being particularly deep. (Although I think the only time “Da Brudders” ever had a guitar solo even slightly reminiscent of Gabrels’ was Vernon Reid’s guest appearance on Cabbies On Crack. Play that back-to-back with this and you’ll hear what I mean! ;)) However, I must say that the wonderfully frenzied live rendition on Oy Vey, Baby positively wipes the floor with the TM2 studio version…

    BTW, I think Bowie originally wanted Bryan Ferry to make a cameo in the Jazzin’ For Blue Jean video, as Vic’s well-dressed office co-worker, but he turned him down. And Ferry’s definitely gone on record as being less than thrilled with Tin Machine’s cover of If There Is Something. But it doesn’t seem like there are any real hard feelings between them, and I felt like there was always a sense of mutual respect.

  14. Gnomemansland says:

    on the other hand could anyone really cover a Roxy song?

    • Maj says:

      The band put together for the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack with Thom Yorke on vocals recorded my favourite version of 2HB. And I pretty much hate Radiohead…but I dunno, Thom sings it better then Ferry (neither the original nor Ferry’s later solo versions are as good, IMO). He is singing it in a Ferry mode though..🙂
      I have to admit it’s cheating a bit since that version is almost identical to the original and it includes Andy Mackay and w/o him the record would not be as good.
      It is almost impossible to do a good cover of a RM song while changing it up, I think. Their music is very connected to the way it was recorded.

      • Diamond Duke says:

        Maj,
        Thanks for bringing up the Velvet Goldmine cover version of 2HB. That’s actually where I heard that song for the first time, and I was rather disappointed when I heard Roxy Music’s original and didn’t like it as much! Thom Yorke really puts in a fine vocal performance there, sounding very much like a faux-Bowie character doing a Roxy song (and sounding nothing like himself in the process)!

        BTW, col1234, are you going to have a few words about Velvet Goldmine (film or soundtrack) later on when we get to 1998? I’m presuming it would be once we get to the tracks with Placebo, if at all (20th Century Boy, Without You I’m Nothing…) Very underrated film, as long as one goes in understanding it’s not meant to be a literal biopic.

        BTW, I’ve heard the Mudhoney cover version of Editions Of You. Good, raucous fun, if not quite up there with Roxy’s original…

    • col1234 says:

      there’s also a Mudhoney cover of “Editions of You,” which would nicely tie up all the comment thread topics. But unfortunately it’s lousy.

      • Gnomemansland says:

        OK had forgotten the Grace Jones cover which starts off quite nicely but flags quite quickly. The Velvet Goldmine numbers are more recreations than covers.

      • Maj says:

        I’m an idiot, I own this version. Don’t listen to it very often but it IS pretty good.

  15. col1234 says:

    I’ll likely address Velvet Goldmine at some point in the late 90s entries, yes, as Haynes’ Bowie fantasia-tribute had far more cultural impact in ’98-99 than the album DB released at the time.

    also, i’d meant to say this ages ago: everyone please feel free to call me Chris, or O’Leary, or Bowiesongs guy or something. “Col1234” sounds like a George Lucas android.

  16. princeasbo says:

    You know what, it’s the drummer that’s ruining Tin Machine; everything I hate about rock music encapsulated in a series of thoroughly unimaginative performances.

  17. Sofa Head says:

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Bowie had had his nose put out of joint by Roxy in 1972. He would have felt threatened by them I’m sure. They were a force of nature in those days. I can recall, as a 13 year-old, the weekly classroom post mortems on the previous evening’s Top Of The Pops all through that fabulous year. Contrary to conventional wisdom propagated by endless nostalgia shows about the 70s, it wasn’t ‘Starman’ that provided our epoch-defining moment. It was Roxy Music performing ‘Virginia Plain’ that really blew us away. I still get goose-bumps to this day whenever I see this clip aired. Bowie and Ronson were unsettlingly weird, but Roxy were like beings from another planet (or from several different planets in fact, so wildly uncoordinated was their appearance).

    I hadn’t heard the BBC recording before. It has a certain raw charm, and the live LP version is, of course, epic. The studio LP recording tops them both, though, and remains undimmed as a masterpiece. I’ve always heard the song as portraying three ages of the same character, rather than three separate characters. So you get Ferry as a callow, carefree youth, then as a near-hysterical smitten lover (you’re right to highlight the potato-growing pledge – hilarious and touching!) and, finally, in the grip of a mid-life nostalgia panic.

    By way of contrast to Ferry’s masterly triptych, Bowie’s Tin Machine version appears to offer us just the one character: that of the jaded rock star phoning in his vocal contribution to a heavy-handed and utterly pointless cover song. After sleepwalking though the first two sections, he makes a half-hearted attempt to inject some passion into the final verse but it’s a pale facsimile of Ferry’s shrill and disturbing breakdown. Not that it matters much. The damage the song has sustained under the band’s witless assault is already terminal by this point. As Lou Reed’s ‘painter friend Donald’ might have put it: stick a fork in its ass, it’s done.

    • Brendan O'Lear says:

      You’re right in that Roxy Music were huge and have subsequently all but disappeared from the history books. But I don’t think it’s correct that they had anything like the impact of Bowie, or even Bolan. Roxy were only of interest to the natural audience for pop music, adolescents. My 5-year old brother and my 50-year old grandmother were aware of Bowie and Starman. Roxy Music were unknown to the wider public. In innocent, pre-internet 1974, there was only one reason that everybody’s older brother had Roxy Music albums, and it was nothing to do with the music.

      • humanizingthevacuum says:

        Certainly Roxy Mach II between 1979 and 1982 sold the most records, right?

      • Sofa Head says:

        Yes, I didn’t word my comment very well. I was really saying that Roxy went over bigger among me and my schoolfriends. I didn’t mean to imply that the impact of Roxy was greater than ‘Starman’ on the greater public consciousness (although I do wonder how many people actually saw the Bowie TOTP performance, as opposed to how many now have its impact lodged as a received memory following years of talking heads banging on about it alongside reminiscences of Chopper bikes and woodchip wallpaper).

        Those Roxy album covers were a godsend in those days, I can tell you. They certainly saved a lot of incriminating wear and tear on your mother’s mail order clothing catalogues!

  18. sigmata martyr says:

    (the Machine had retained the song’s tripartite structure, but it was like a team assembling a Calder mobile with a set of Ikea instructions)

    I just keep falling in love with this blog, I swear to God…

  19. Halloween Jack says:

    When I first heard TMs version of this, I had never heard Roxy Music’s original. Then I came across a movie called Flashbacks of a Fool with Daniel Craig. A fantastic movie, the Roxy Music version takes center stage (among various DB numbers) with some great visuals. After that movie I delved into RM, and the TM version cannot touch the masterpiece. Check out this clip of the movie. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sh6XKDsOQq8&sns=em

    • Maj says:

      I pretty much watched this film because I knew about the song’s big part in it…so ever since I saw it I always think of it (esp the scene in the vid you posted) when I listen to the song…

  20. Mike says:

    Absolutely horrid cover of a great song. How could Bowie possibly have been serious?

  21. sunrayjahchild says:

    as ever, bowiesongsguy, an informative read. i’ve been up all night, again … there’s quite a clear link here, my argument being that db was obsessed with something bf had that db didn’t, right from the start. roxy were HUGE in sheffield. you’ve already discussed the pinups/these foolish things controversy. and then there was amanda lear. when db did a 2 hour radio show on the beeb as part of lodger’s promotion, he played ‘2hb’ and ‘for your pleasure’ from the first two roxy albums, and obviously adored them, having great fun with the pun in the former’s title while repeating again and again the ‘tara’ finale of the latter. nile rodgers has said that chic were massively influenced by roxy, aren’t ‘dance away’ and ‘angel eyes’ roxy’s ‘let’s dance’ three years earlier? surely some professional jealousy at work there? another comparison: the lennon covers; roxy OWN jealous guy, whereas TM don’t own ‘working class hero’, nor db ‘imagine’.
    Conclusion, db remained obsessed with bf through to the TM years. Why? because roxy were cool, and bf got eno first.
    i don’t actually mind the first tm version linked above, reeves is brilliant on this one, but, yeah, a certain lack of subtlety.

    • Roman says:

      I got into Roxy recently and gradually worked my way through all their albums and Bryan’s solo stuff. What struck me was the amount of lines and licks that Bowie lifted straight from their canon.
      For example, the opening of Beauty and the Beast is the EXACT same as the opening of Manifesto.

  22. col1234 says:

    one odd minor thing I had forgotten to mention. On the Tin Machine II LP (I have a European edition) there is no songwriting credit, on inner sleeve, outer sleeve or label, for Bryan Ferry for “If there is”. Nor are the lyrics printed. If anyone has the CD, is this true as well?

    this would possibly suggest, as Roman above noted, that “ITIS” was a late-in-the-day replacement for another track, most likely the (recently-bootlegged) “It’s Tough.” if so, it falls in the Bowie tradition of putting in, at the last minute, a weak cover song in lieu of an original track (see “It Ain’t Easy”).

  23. diamond dog says:

    Funny how Bowie had such admiration for Roxy whilst Ferry had nothing nice to express despite both careers being intertwined. Ferrys own solo career has never been much to set the world alight but Roxy hardly put a foot wrong. Another of Bowies mis judged covers why does he bother ? Surely he knows a turkey its embarrassing enough he is playing bland grooveless rock but now covering classics again dear oh dear ….

  24. Brian says:

    As I listen to Tin Machine II, it first struck me as some harder version of NLMD… but as I get further in it’s basically “Proto-Hours…”.

    That’s not a good thing.

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