If There Is Something

I can remember the first three LPs I ever bought, beyond that the recollection gets hazy. All were bought in 1972. The first was “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, bought not only because it was considered at the time (and still by many today) as the greatest rock album of all time, but also because it was the only rock record I was familiar with from my childhood.

The second was “The Night Is Still Young” by Sha Na Na, bought solely because I had recently seen them perform on TV and they looked cool. It was the first, but not the last, disappointing record I ever owned.

The third was “Roxy Music”, bought before I ever heard “Virginia Plain”, largely on the recommendation of a school friend who said you will have never heard anything like it.

He was right.

“Roxy Music” was the first record that became special, eventually establishing itself as one of my favorite records of all time (easily beating “Sgt. Pepper”, by the way”) and setting the scene for greater, wider and deeper explorations into rock music.

The album was in large measure despised by most of my contemporaries. It was frivilous stuff, they thought, in comparison to the real progressive music being made by the likes of Yes and Emerson Lake & Palmer. Ironically, time would prove “Roxy Music” to be of far greater importance and influence that anything made by those aforementioned bands, and the band itself was the first significant home of electronic and ambient music pioneer Brian Eno.

In those early days, my favorite track was the mid tempo rocker “If There is Something”. A three part song, with a country flavored beginning, a classical/jazz middle section and a rock ‘n’ roll ballad finale. But these descriptions do scant justice to the song, which sounds like no country rock, classical/jazz improvisation, or rock ‘n’ roll of the early 1970s or any other time for that matter. Much of this has to do with the sound of the band. Guitar, oboe, keyboards were all played and processed in unorthodox, even atonal ways, and synthesizer textures and musique concrète constructions wash in and out of the band’s music. The production, with prominent bass and drums and everything else mixed together in the middle, gives the music a swampy and muddy ambience quite unlike the crystalline textures that were coming into vogue as recording technology rapidly improved with Dolby noise reduction, 16 part multitracking and beyond. In some ways, the sound was a throwback to the tightly compressed recordings of “Revolver” period Beatles.

But I knew little beyond “Sgt. Pepper” of The Beatles at that point. And knowing makes little difference. Even today “Roxy Music” stands as an unique musical statement, one of the few that inspires imitation but nobody has been able to duplicate.

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