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"The songs were virtually the last things to go on there."
May 28, 2011 8:27 PM   Subscribe

How Roxy Music built Avalon, the album. Producer Rhett Davies: “Bryan would lay down four or five scat vocals. We would spend quite a lot of time doing that, and we would actually comp the scat vocals as if they were final vocals with lyrics,” says Davies. “It might seem stupid that we were comping mumblings, but that is basically what we were doing. I think it gave Bryan a clue to the actual shape of the sound of the lyrics, be it an ‘e’ or an ‘o’ sound or whatever, so that they sounded right with the mood of the music. If you put the scat vocal tracks up and really listen to them next to the finished vocal, it wouldn't sound that much different than the finished vocal. He was using identical shapes! Over the months, he would work on the verses and choruses and slowly get ideas on what the song was about,” Davies continues. “He would come in and say, ‘I think I've got a first verse’ and he would try it. Then he might come in later and say, ‘I think I have a second verse,’ or ‘I think I've got a chorus.’ It was pieced together, along with the rest of the music, over the period.”
posted by Dragonness (44 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's how I write all my comments here.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:36 PM on May 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


It's an amazing list of albums that Davies was associated with. Without question he helped to define the sound of the '80s

(even produced Cock Robin, which I linked to last week)
posted by puny human at 8:54 PM on May 28, 2011


Am I wrong to think that sometimes I don't want to know how the sausage is made? On one hand, it is a fascinating process...on the other, "la la la la, I can't *hear* you!"
posted by lizjohn at 9:00 PM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been in a couple bands that used that method -- we call the technique "Word Salad."
posted by chimaera at 9:01 PM on May 28, 2011


That's odd - the article says "Avalon" is from 1982. When the hell did that happen?
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 9:01 PM on May 28, 2011


Actually, this is how Phil Collins wrote most of his lyrics after a certain point. You can kind of see the process in action with I Wish It Would Rain Down (demo) and the final recorded version of I Wish It Would Rain Down.

(I say this not meaning to bring out Phil Collins haterz. His process is fascinating to me, and really is very much like the one described in this FPP.)
posted by hippybear at 9:03 PM on May 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I just listened to that album while driving home today. Hearing the first notes of More Than This always makes me feel like I'm gliding high above the highway. Slick pop at its finest.

About five years ago, some friends of mine in Minneapolis threw a Roxy Music party. There were two rules: Black tie attire and top shelf scotch were required. I still regret missing this.
posted by TrialByMedia at 9:17 PM on May 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Interesting, as Brian Eno often speaks about using a similar method to create the seemingly nonsensical lyrics in his 70's rock albums, and he's connected to both Bryan Ferry (obviously) and Phil Collins (who worked on one of those albums). The Dome touches us all.
posted by General Zubon at 9:26 PM on May 28, 2011


About five years ago, some friends of mine in Minneapolis threw a Roxy Music party. There were two rules: Black tie attire and top shelf scotch were required. I still regret missing this.

When I was in college—in the mid-to-late-80's—Avalon was the record that ended every party, or, in fact, every drunken evening. At the end of "Tara," well, you didn't have to go home, but you couldn't stay with us.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:28 PM on May 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


When I was in college—in the mid-to-late-80's—Avalon was the record that ended every party

Continuing the Brian Eno connection, I've used My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts to end parties, but that's a much more deliberate use toward a deliberate end. Easiest way to clear out a group of people I've ever found, except for maybe that small group you don't mind having around for a quiet afterparty / crash on couch crowd.

posted by hippybear at 9:32 PM on May 28, 2011


hippybear: "I've used My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts to end parties"

Wow. The last party I was at, My Life In the Bush of Ghosts was one of three or four albums that was on shuffle the whole night. I just thought they had good taste - maybe they were trying to clear the place out though.
posted by idiopath at 10:17 PM on May 28, 2011


idiopath: I've watched your music posts here in detail. You'd be one of those I'd let stick around after everyone else left. :)
posted by hippybear at 10:21 PM on May 28, 2011


AsYouKnow Bob: “That's odd - the article says "Avalon" is from 1982. When the hell did that happen?”

Uh... 1982?

As a huge fan of Roxy Music, I've always loathed Avalon intensely. Maybe I'll have to give it another go one of these days; people I really respect seem to adore it, so I get the feeling I'm just missing the thing that distinguishes it from sap-laden 80s pop. Can anybody tell me if there's something that I should listen for?
posted by koeselitz at 10:42 PM on May 28, 2011


For the record, I should state that I didn't mean that as a "your favorite band sucks" kind of comment – I really do want to know, and I really do adore Roxy Music. Heck, this song is one of the most poignant love songs I've ever heard, and has brought me to tears on occasion. Also, this is a great post, and even if I don't get the music, hearing about the process is really fascinating. Thanks, Dragonness.
posted by koeselitz at 10:45 PM on May 28, 2011


I can't imagine Bryan Ferry laying down a scat track, or anything improvisational. In my mind, Bryan Ferry shows up to the recording studio in his black tuxedo (if it was between 1975-1979) or his white tuxedo (1980+), removes his jacket, drapes it around a chair, bow tie undone around his neck and shirt slightly unbuttoned like a post-coital James Bond, and begins to bust out each track in one take, pausing only to refresh himself with a hot towel and a sip of expensive scotch. After the last song was recorded, he pulls out his cigarette, and focuses intently on a mysterious woman in the corner of the room, dressed in a satin evening gown, who approaches to light his cigarette. She can't remember how she arrived at the studio or what her purpose is there, only that she was compelled by a force she cannot comprehend. As her eyes lock his, she cannot resist the power of the Bryan Ferry Sexy Eye, his dreamy gaze locking onto hers as though he were the Death Star and she the Millenium Falcon. No words are exchanged - they hold each other's gaze for a moment, then he finishes his cigarette, picks up his coat, places it tenderly on her shoulders, and they disappear into the night.
The silence is broken by Andy Mackay, who picks up his saxophone, exhales a long sigh, and begins to play a plaintive ballad born from the inarticulated sadness of a guy who's second-guessing all that time spent with woodwinds instead of ladies.
posted by Dr. Zira at 11:07 PM on May 28, 2011 [24 favorites]


Koeselitz- for me, it's a soundtrack for being 19 years old. Great album. But I think if I heard it now, it would sound like sap-laden 80's pop. I do love Avalon.
posted by parki at 11:16 PM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Am I wrong to think that sometimes I don't want to know how the sausage is made?

Yes! Wrong! Just to dig it all and not to wonder/fukkin magnets how do they work/etc.

(Scientist and songwriter, so I might have a bias or two)
posted by kersplunk at 11:18 PM on May 28, 2011


Dammit, just as in that last Bryan Ferry thread, now I'm going to be up again 'til the wee hours of the morning watching Roxy Music videos on the You Tubes.
Interesting bit I ran across from "The Story of Roxy Music" - listen to what Ferry says about how the lyrics became "sparser and sparser."
posted by Dr. Zira at 11:46 PM on May 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


If I could megaultrasupa fave this post I would indeed have done so.
posted by mwhybark at 12:01 AM on May 29, 2011


I saw Bryan Ferry play a strange, strange double bill with Joan Armatrading in Auckland one time.

The tickets were free, and I knew nothing about either of them (apart from the chorus lines to Avalon and Drop the Pilot, respectively) so it was as close to a scientific trial as could be managed.

Frankly, it was embarassing how badly Bryan got owned, he was like your drunk uncle doing an impression after Christmas dinner.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:24 AM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Song 2 by Blur was written with nonsense lyrics. After finishing the track, they spent some time trying out non-nonsense lyrics, but eventually gave up and left the guide vocal in there. Happens more often than you'd think.
posted by Devonian at 7:37 AM on May 29, 2011


In my mind, Bryan Ferry shows up to the recording studio in his black tuxedo...

Bryan Ferry spent his entire life crafting that image you paint of him, and was pretty successful at it, but that same meticulous persona craftsmanship was a big part of what drove the rest of his bandmates crazy.

Upshot: I am reluctantly not favoriting your awesome comment.
posted by Aquaman at 7:48 AM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Rhett Davies gets 'hero' status for Discipline and Beat.

Fascinating article. Thanks for posting it.
posted by mintcake! at 7:53 AM on May 29, 2011


Back in the day I discovered that Avalon had a similar effect as side one of Led Zeppelin IV.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:43 AM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Rhett Davies is such a genius. His mixes have an unearthly shimmer.

He also gets more hero status for mixing those early Split Enz tracks with Phil Manzanera.
posted by ovvl at 8:45 AM on May 29, 2011


Cocteau Twins is the goth version of Avalon. This story of glossolalia clinches it.
posted by Nelson at 9:01 AM on May 29, 2011


koeselitz: Maybe I'll have to give it another go one of these days; people I really respect seem to adore it, so I get the feeling I'm just missing the thing that distinguishes it from sap-laden 80s pop.

Avalon is a long way from 1970s angular Roxy Music circa Stranded, so maybe that's one of the reasons you hate it. But it's an incredible album, or at least it has some incredible moments in between some more "meh" ones. For me, it doesn't have anything to do with being the soundtrack to my dissolute youth, because I wasn't into Roxy Music when I was a teenager. It's more that it's a perfect evocation of lost times. Nothing of the time (or since) sounds remotely like it, not even all the desperate stabs that Bryan Ferry's taken since at recreating the sound of that album, which has somehow become only more slick and upscale and decadent with the passage time, not less. There was was one outtake that I heard from Olympia that sounded so much like the best tracks on Avalon that I did a double-take. But it wasn't included on the album, which sounded (to me) as warmed-over and rehashed as most stuff Ferry has done in recent memory (and the "your Facebook is your home"-type lyrics on "BF Bass" are just jarring).

This is not sap-laden pop.

Dr. Zira: In my mind, Bryan Ferry shows up to the recording studio in his black tuxedo (if it was between 1975-1979) or his white tuxedo (1980+), removes his jacket, drapes it around a chair, bow tie undone around his neck and shirt slightly unbuttoned like a post-coital James Bond, and begins to bust out each track in one take, pausing only to refresh himself with a hot towel and a sip of expensive scotch. After the last song was recorded, he pulls out his cigarette, and focuses intently on a mysterious woman in the corner of the room, dressed in a satin evening gown, who approaches to light his cigarette. She can't remember how she arrived at the studio or what her purpose is there, only that she was compelled by a force she cannot comprehend. As her eyes lock his, she cannot resist the power of the Bryan Ferry Sexy Eye, his dreamy gaze locking onto hers as though he were the Death Star and she the Millenium Falcon.

That's not your mind. That's every Bryan Ferry video of the last 25 years. Which is kinda creepy in the videos from Olympia.
posted by blucevalo at 9:52 AM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wish the boy who introduced me to this album hadn't turned out to be such an absolute shit of a boyfriend, because as much as i love the music it's too entwined with bad/sad/shameful memories of him for me to enjoy it. See also, Sade's "Promise."
posted by Sweetie Darling at 9:56 AM on May 29, 2011


As a huge fan of Roxy Music, I've always loathed Avalon intensely. Maybe I'll have to give it another go one of these days; people I really respect seem to adore it, so I get the feeling I'm just missing the thing that distinguishes it from sap-laden 80s pop. Can anybody tell me if there's something that I should listen for?

It's definitely sap-laden, no doubt about that. But what I think makes the album so great is that one, while their previous albums were kooky off the wall brilliance, Avalon was quiet, contained, deliberate studio mastery - it sounds awesome. Sometimes the lyrics don't make sense; take Avalon itself - it starts out in a melancholic love-you-baby kind of way and just stops.....But the music! The music turns it into something more. This is what musicians do when they are are at the top of their game - they take something that in another's hands would be good, if not maybe a little normal or mundane, and turn it into something that is mystical awesome-ness. Case in point and referenced above Led Zeppelin IV. You could say the same about Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland, The Who's Who's Next and host of hundreds of other great albums throughtout the decades.

In answer to your question, you should simply just listen, preferably with headphones. Don't look for meaning, just let it envelop you, seep into your brain, percolate a little bit and in time you might find that your appreciation for the album has changed.

Or not.
posted by ashbury at 10:06 AM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite albums of all time. Thanks for posting this!
posted by rednikki at 11:14 AM on May 29, 2011


Bryan Ferry spent his entire life crafting that image you paint of him, and was pretty successful at it, but that same meticulous persona craftsmanship was a big part of what drove the rest of his bandmates crazy.

Yeah, I know, that's kind of what I was riffing on in that post. There's a great interview with Eno in the "More Than This" documentary (part of which I linked to up thread) in which he explains why he left the band, and he basically talks about how it was always Bryan's band and there just wasn't room for a second strong-willed Brian. There's also a great interview with MacKay in which Mackay has this poignant bit where he talks about how Bryan just kind underused the sax.

That's not your mind. That's every Bryan Ferry video of the last 25 years. Which is kinda creepy in the videos from Olympia.

I dunno, at least in the video for "You Can Dance" he's modernized the SEXYLADIES schtick so it sort of evokes the Zion rave scene from the third Matrix movie. I think it's Manifesto where it just looks ridiculously awkward and creepy. This is where we form a pact never to speak of the Angel Eyes video again, right?
posted by Dr. Zira at 11:26 AM on May 29, 2011


I dunno, at least in the video for "You Can Dance" he's modernized the SEXYLADIES schtick so it sort of evokes the Zion rave scene from the third Matrix movie. I think it's Manifesto where it just looks ridiculously awkward and creepy. This is where we form a pact never to speak of the Angel Eyes video again, right?
posted by Dr. Zira at 11:26 AM


Holy Christ. The lyrics to this video should be:

"I'm cocaine. I'm cocaine. I'm cocaine."
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 12:52 PM on May 29, 2011


Thanks for posting the Angel Eyes video. Seriously, that was WOW in its purest form and a great pleasure to watch. Videos are such great time capsules.
posted by ashbury at 1:24 PM on May 29, 2011


I'm a little young for Roxy Music, so I've never really listened to them other than "Love is the Drug." I bought Avalon last night because of this thread and am now on my third listen. Maybe it's sappy, but it's really lovely. My knowledge of synth pop is pretty much radio singles only; what other great albums from this period did I miss?
posted by Bookhouse at 2:00 PM on May 29, 2011


Bookhouse--try Architecture and Morality by OMD.
posted by TrialByMedia at 2:43 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Both albums by The Blue Nile.
posted by mintcake! at 2:56 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Gone to Earth by David Sylvian
posted by Grangousier at 3:13 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


And, come to think of it, anything from The Colour of Spring onwards, by Talk Talk.
posted by Grangousier at 3:14 PM on May 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Seconding Talk Talk and Sylvian,

Also:
Infected - The The
Most of the INXS albums (although Shabooh Shoobah and Kick are my favorites)
Split Enz's 80's albums
Hunters & Collectors

True - Spandau Ballet
posted by biscotti at 4:45 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I gotta say I just came home drunk and I'm playing Avalon for the first time in a while..and damn its really wonderful...
posted by supermedusa at 11:51 PM on May 29, 2011


More vague Rhett Davies trivia: he suffered from nevous exhaustion while producing Wang Chung, and retired from the music biz soon after.
posted by ovvl at 4:39 PM on May 30, 2011


Roxy music's pinnacle for me was Out of the Blue, probably because of the astounding bass track. Also, Eddie Jobson. Whoa. This live version (not Eddie) has a pretty great take on the violin solo at the end.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:32 PM on May 30, 2011


Roxy music's pinnacle for me was Out of the Blue, probably because of the astounding bass track. Also, Eddie Jobson. Whoa. This live version (not Eddie) has a pretty great take on the violin solo at the end.

Dude. That gets all Duran Duran in there at times, but then spins out into awesomeness. That made my day - thanks for this.
posted by Dr. Zira at 9:40 PM on May 31, 2011




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