People had suspected it for years. But in 1972, the release of two albums made it official. There were aliens living on Earth.
The first of these grand announcements may have been the least shocking of the two. David Bowie released THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST. People had long suspected Bowie of being not quite human and he had finally confirmed it. An entire LP explaining the life, and ultimate death, of an androgynous alien trying to save the world in its final five years of existence. But that was only the beginning. Later, in that very same year, another declaration of alien influence upon our planet would be released. The first Roxy Music album.
Roxy Music sounded like no other band of its time. And to this day, the first album, simply titled, ROXY MUSIC, sounds as groundbreaking, and just plain weird, as it did when it was first released. It features references to Humphrey Bogart and the Battle of Britain as if interpreted through some garbled space transmission. Distorted noises and layers of sounds that built upon each other, overlaid with familiar sounding, but not quite right, classic song structures. It was influenced as much by front man, Bryan Ferry’s, art school background as it was by the Velvet Underground. Warhol as music. Music as art. Art as a reflection of a pop culture which never really existed.
Although Roxy Music was Ferry’s band, he had an equally influential alien entity by his side during the creation of the album. His name was Brian Eno. A mysterious figure who would influence music for decades to come. In the early days of Roxy Music, Eno was not actually considered part of the band. He would sit at the back of the stage hidden by a stack of electronics or a pair of Revox reel-to-reel tape recorders. These were the devices that he used to create his “treatments” of the group’s songs. In interviews, he repeatedly described himself as “a non-musician.” Only later, did Ferry and the others invite him to sit on stage with them as a full member of the band.
It was a decision Ferry would come to regret. Audiences immediately took to the odd looking figure of Eno and his electronic wizardry. For all Ferry’s Elvis looks and his heart-melting voice, his dominance of the band was immediately threatened. Something which hit a boiling point during the tour for the second Roxy Music album, FOR YOUR PLEASURE. Fans, actually, had the audacity to chant “Eno!” “Eno!” “Eno!” while Ferry was performing. Eno would leave the band shortly afterward.
Bowie, Ferry and Eno continued their global domination throughout the seventies. Bowie would form Ziggy into an off-stage persona that was so strong that he claimed in some interviews he had trouble separating the “real” him from the character. As seen in the documentary of the final tour by D.A. Pennebaker, Ziggy did, officially, die. However, traces of him clearly remained within Bowie’s next creation, Aladdin Sane. Ziggy’s, more hedonistic, drug using, unofficial cousin.
Ferry and Roxy Music would put out albums without Eno over the next decade containing brilliant, often catchy, songs of love and yearning. One of the best of these is albums is SIREN, released in 1975. Not as, obviously, groundbreaking as the first two Roxy Music albums, SIREN was still, undeniably, breezy and breathtaking. It contained the hits “Both Ends Burning” and “Love is the Drug,” among other memorable songs.
It was also notable for the woman featured on its cover, American model, Jerry Hall. She would become Ferry’s girlfriend, and remain so for two years. Then she was stolen away by Mick Jagger. Jagger and Hall would get married, have kids and stay together for over twenty years.
Eno put out four notable solo albums, during this same period. At least one of those albums, HERE COME THE WARM JETS, is as bizarre and innovative as the first two Roxy albums. It’s easy to imagine that Eno assumed this was the direction he thought Roxy Music was headed before Ferry started to solidify his domination of the group. Songs like “Baby’s On Fire” and “Needle in the Camel’s Eye” are particular stand outs.
But Eno never seemed content with one, definitive, style and eventually moved on to a far different sound. In fact, he would team up with that other being from beyond, Bowie, to work on three more highly-influential albums, beginning in 1977.
Those three albums “LOW,” “HEROES,” and “LODGER,” are credited for being major influences on not one, but two, musical directions. The first, and more known, is that Eno and Bowie created entire album sides of spacey, ambient, music that truly challenged what music could be, or was even for. The second influence was the spare, stripped-down, post-punk/post-rock leanings of songs like “Always Crashing in the Same Car” and “Breaking Glass.”
I should, probably, mention that these LPs had another interesting influence. Iggy Pop was David Bowie’s roommate at the time. The two were trying to kick drugs and working on THE IDIOT and LUST FOR LIFE during this very same period.
As had been the case with Roxy Music, Eno’s exact role on the Bowie albums is hard to define. He is not, as many people often mistakenly believe, officially listed as the Producer of these albums. Tony Visconti, no slackard himself, is given that credit. Visconti not only produced many of Bowie’s greatest LPs, he was the man behind T-REX’s, ELECTRIC WARRIOR. But Eno is there. You can hear it. You can feel it.
Eno didn’t stop there. There was a band in New York that he soon took an interest in. They were a bunch of former art students, that, at the time, were far better at thinking up musical ideas than executing them. Their name was Talking Heads.
David Byrne, and company, had already put out their first record, ’77. It’s a fine record by any standard. But it would be the next three albums which would take Talking Heads to unforeseen levels of innovation and influence. Three albums that all happened to produced by Brian Eno.
MORE SONGS ABOUT BUILDINGS AND FOOD was released in 1978, FEAR OF MUSIC in 1979, and REMAIN IN THE LIGHT in 1980. Often dark, often danceable, often a little weird, these three LPs have all the traits of Eno. That’s not to say, Talking Heads were mere bystanders. Not by any means. But it’s clear listening to any of these three albums that they had more than a little push from somebody to make them into the groundbreaking works they became.
Sadly, these three Gods from Beyond the Stars, Eno, Bowie, and Ferry, would all have tragic ends, artistically speaking. Eno would go on to become famous for his work with bands like U2 and Coldplay.
Bowie would find even greater commercial success, but artistic limbo, in the 80s, with his radio-friendly, mega-hit album, LET’S DANCE. It was a fate he would spend the remainder of his life trying to recover from.
However, Bryan Ferry may have the saddest tale of all. Over time, the character of the classic crooner he once used as a theatrical device took over his very soul and possessed him. The very fate Bowie had once feared for himself with Ziggy Stardust.
Of course, it’s easy to be harsh when one compares the later achievements of these men with the, absolutely incredible, accomplishments of their earlier careers. Because of them, music changed.
In 1972, three aliens by the names of Bowie, Eno, and Ferry reached out to our planet to show us the way. To push us to try new things and to see music in different ways. Thank you, Space Gods. Our musical world is a better place because of you.