The New European: Pioneer poseurs – how Roxy Music’s art school experiment changed rock

With a re-release of their milestone debut album, and the anniversary of their seminal follow-up, Sophia Deboick considers what made Roxy Music so special

When Roxy Music’s debut single Virginia Plain was released in mid-August 1972, the charts didn’t know what had hit them. In the five weeks between the single appearing and it reaching its peak position, the Top 20 was heavy with the teenage sentimentality of Donny Osmond’s Puppy Love and David Cassidy’s How Can I Be Sure? and the anodyne sounds of Rod Stewart, Lyndsey de Paul, Cliff Richard and the Bee Gees. In such a context, Roxy’s single was a revelation.

With a weird fade-in, no chorus and the most abrupt ending in pop history, it was unconventional to say the least, even if the perky piano, driving guitar and playful vocal pushed it to No. 4. The group – which had only finalised their line-up six months before and seemed to descend fully-formed, with little music scene back story – burst onto the national consciousness on the Thursday night of August 24 when they performed the single on Top of the Pops, revealing they had a look that was as innovative as their music.

At once retro and futuristic, they mashed-up leopard skin, sequins and lamé, 1950s greaser DA hairdos and sharply-cut jackets. Between Brian Eno, conjuring up Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera as he hunched over his VCS3 synthesiser, twiddling knobs with silver-gloved hands, and Bryan Ferry, simultaneously intensely masculine and extremely camp, his angular features made-up in glitter, it was clear there were new stars in town. Appropriately enough, they seemed to have come from another planet…

The New European, 28 March 2018, pp. 48-50.

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