We are the 801

The music and musicians that spun out of the early versions of Roxy Music were behind one of the most creative and fertile periods in rock’s post-Beatles maturity. Apart from Roxy Music’s own spellbinding efforts, solo works by Brian Eno & Phil Manzanera – collectively, too, in the group “801” – remain uniquely creative and enthralling. The influence of Roxy Music’s musicians rapidly blossomed, with appearances on Mott The Hoople, David Bowie, John Cale, and Robert Fripp records.

Brian Eno expanded beyond pop song into tape looping (Frippertronics), ambient music (primarily on his own account, but also with David Bowie) and eventually into production/collaboration with U2, The Talking Heads, and groups in New York’s extreme mininalist punk movement (No Wave) such as The Contortions, Teenage Jesus & The Jerks and DNA.

But, personally, I prefer the earlier efforts, Eno’s first three solo albums and early ambient works, early Phil Manzenara, and perhaps best of all, the work of the one-off band 801. Put together with members of Roxy Music and Quiet Sun (Manzenara’s old band), the unit played only a handful of concerts in Britain, producing a live record, “801 Live”.

I remember reading at the time in a review that 801 might be considered the greatest psychedelic band of all, and it is really hard to argue with that. Firstly, the band possessed an instrumental dexterity that matched any prog-rock band of the time, but used it for quite different ends than, say, ELP. Tellingly, the second cut on the album is a driving and wholly successful version of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”, that places this most studio-derived of songs into the live arena. Secondly, by drawing on early material from Eno, Quiet Sun and Manzerana, the psychedelic quotient is ramped up, thanks mostly to Eno’s whimsical lyrics that seem to come almost directly from 1967. Thirdly, and this places the record into the 1970s rather than the 1960s, there is a heaviness that is alien to most 1960s music. This band is powerful enough to challenge Led Zeppelin, but fortunately never overdoes the bombast.

“801 Live” is essential.

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