It’s summertime, summertime, sum-sum-summertime/ Summertime, summertime, sum-sum-summertime/ Summertime, summertime, sum-sum-summertime/ Summertime, summertime, sumsum-summertime…
Jimmy has a nervous drive not just for classical music but for rock, too, and he carries around a cassette machine and plays pop music wherever he goes. When a man in a SoHo restaurant complains of the noise, he snarls, “This is the Jamies, man—‘Summertime, Summertime’—the most musically inventive song of 1958. Do you mean to tell me that doesn’t go with your shrimp?”
—Pauline Kael, reviewing James Toback’s Fingers
Jimmy was right. Minimalists ahead of their time, with three high voices led by Serena Jameson and accompanied only by bass and (I think) harpsichord, the Jamies now sound like some bizarrely perfect combination of the Chipmunks and the Young Marble Giants. Products of the Dorchester, Massachusetts, First Baptist Church choir, they never placed another record on the charts—but for 22 years straight they’ve caught the feeling of the fog burning off.
Rock ‘n’ roll is no longer primarily aimed at teenagers. That means unforgettable discs are less often the result of mere chance or whim (the Jamies were probably able to make their single only because they had three months off from school); it also means that rock ‘n’ roll now hardly ever turns up a good summer song, because who’s ever wanted so much out of a summer as a teenager? When the Jamies were singing, the commercially ideal rock audience was made up of grade- and high-schoolers; today it’s the demographically hallowed 18- to 34-year-olds. And that means that when the battle of the giant radios takes place on the beaches this summer, the music just isn’t going to be appropriate. You’re going to hear Van Halen groaning about how the cradle will rock, Chrissie Hynde getting gang-banged, Bob Seger feeling sorry for himself and, for the sixth month in a row, Pink Floyd chanting “We don’t need no education/We don’t need no thought control.” I know summer songs are supposed to be antischool, but that’s no poetic match for the Jamies’ “I’m sorry teacher, but zip your lip!”—and anyway, who needs Pink Floyd’s gloom and-doom when the sun’s out?
On the other hand—in this best of all possible worlds—there is a chance you will hear Roxy Music’s new Flesh + Blood (Atco), and that will solve the problem. This record, all graceful lust and wistful regret, is pure romance; it’s also the best summer music anyone’s made since oil spills began undermining the concept.
Now down to three more or less original members—singer, keyboardist and self-doubting Don Juan Bryan Ferry, guitarist Phil Manzanera and saxophonist Andy Mackay—and some superb session players, Roxy Music was formed in 1970. The group scored hits in its native England, was ignored in the United States as a bunch of fey glam-rockers, from Stranded (1973) through Siren (1975) made some of the most affecting, imaginative and elegant records of the decade, and disbanded in 1976 after a crummy live LP. Along the way came Ferry’s wildly idiosyncratic solo albums—no one who’s heard his mad versions of “It’s My Party (and I’ll Cry if I Want To)” or “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” from These Foolish Things (1973) can doubt Ferry’s nerve—culminating with The Bride Stripped Bare (1978), a magnificent, emotionally complex work that stripped no one so bare as Ferry himself. When, seemingly out of financial desperation, Roxy Music reformed last year for Manifesto, the band offered blankly discofied art rock. It was all right, and it produced a small hit: the by-then quaintly titled “Dance Away,” which was not exactly designed to surprise anybody. Ferry, who has always performed as a modern man whose deft reliance on irony is subverted by a secret belief that Garbo’s face is the truest embodiment of the human spirit, sounded very unfulfilled.
Flesh + Blood floats; it drifts; it fades away; it soars back. It captures the easy, endless promises of summer, and it captures the summer you’ve never gotten over; it works as soothing, mindless background music, and it can break your heart. Like a perfect July day, it makes no demands on a listener, yet it can give a listener everything.
You know you’re in the hands of a magician when Ferry leads off the album with the all but uncoverable “In the Midnight Hour.” As the band hangs the music in the air, just shy of the familiar chords, Ferry counts quietly to ten (shouldn’t it be twelve?); before he’s even sung the first line, the song is his, and brand new.
Disco textures—as opposed to Manifesto‘s uncomfortable disco shticks—have been integrated into Roxy Music’s own sound, thus from cut to cut the album can strike you as contemporary or classic, a moment’s casual pleasure or longtime sustenance. There are times when Byran Ferry’s voice turns to a cream that suggests Dusty Springfield’s softly sliding syllables on the great Dusty in Memphis; the lines from Manzanera’s guitar and Mackay’s sax are precise but delicate, inviting you to notice, subliminally deepening the music even if you don’t. I was attracted to “Over You” the first few times it played by; now, when I hear Manzanera echo Ferry’s 3 A.M. piano, and then hear Mackay make his way out of the night to echo them both, the pattern repeating again and again, I swoon.
With only a single explicit summer reference (in the devastatingly seductive “Oh Yeah,” a you’re-gone-but-I-hear-our-song-on-the-radio song), Flesh + Blood claims the season. Offering dance music, beach music and, with the softly pulsing “Same Old Scene,” pure California driving music, Roxy Music has made a record of smooth surfaces and hidden drama—a record that seems less played than dreamed. Is it more musically inventive than “Summertime, Summertime”? I don’t know, and only a crab could care.
Highly recommended: Troublemakers, a two-LP new wave anthology (available for $3 by mail from Warner Bros. Records, P. 0. Box 6868, Burbank, Calif. 91510). Along with good work from Robin Lane & the Chartbusters, Wire, Nico, Marianne Faithfull, Public Image Ltd. and the Gang of Four, it includes two cuts from the Sex Pistols’ final concert in San Francisco (right in the middle of “No Fun,” the sole encore, you can hear Johnny Rotten quit the band), and two previously unknown performances by Jonathan Richman’s original Modern Lovers: “Government Center” and the legendary “I’m Straight.” I wonder.
This column has been unable to confirm a rumor that Bob Dylan’s second born-again album, Saved, was held up because of tampering with the cover art, which depicts several hands reaching toward the outstretched, bleeding hand of Jesus Christ. Reportedly, someone broke into the CBS factory one night and very subtly redrew the hand of the supplicant second from left in such a manner as to make it appear Jesus was being given the finger. The offender has supposedly been apprehended; a rumor that Elvis Costello’s name was found in his address book could not be confirmed either.
- The English Beat, I Just Can’t Stop It (Sire)
- Rossington Collins Band, Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere (MCA)
- Bob Dylan, “A Satisfied Mind,” from Saved (CBS)
- Hershel Almond, “Let’s Get It On” (Ace import reissue, circa 1957)
- Robert Lockwood Jr. & Johnny Shines: Hangin’ On(Rounder)
- The Hollywood Knights, a film by Floyd Mutrux (Columbia Pictures)
- Pablo Moses, A Song (Mango)
- Ten Years, a rockabilly anthology (Collector import reissue, circa 1956-61)
- It’s Rainin’: Minit ’60—’63 Singles Collection Vol. 2, a New Orleans anthology (Minit import reissue)
- Bette Midler, A View From a Broad (Simon and Schuster)
New West, July 28, 1980