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Music

Every Roxy Music album ranked in order of greatness

Roxy Music very quickly became the epitome of art-rock following their genesis in the early 1970s. The band was originally formed by vocalist Bryan Ferry and bassist Graham Simpson in 1970 after Ferry had failed an audition to join King Crimson as a replacement for Greg Lake. Despite liking Ferry’s voice, Robert Fripp and Pete Sinfield had decided it wasn’t a good fit for their band. 

Ferry and Simpson soon recruited saxophone and oboe player Andy Mackay and the now-famed producer and master of ambient music, Brian Eno, who began his musical career as a synth player who, as he put it, “treated” the other players’ instruments through his synthesiser. In 1971, after the group had begun working on some of Ferry’s songwriting in practice sessions, Paul Thompson was welcomed as the drummer, chosen for his energetic style that would suit their arrangements perfectly. Shortly before recording their debut album, they became complete with the addition of the Latin American classically trained guitarist Phil Manzanera.

Their first album, released in 1972, would embody a platter of eclecticism from which they would launch into an impressive career. As Andy Mackay once said: “We certainly didn’t invent eclecticism but we did say and prove that rock ‘n’ roll could accommodate – well, anything really.” The group did indeed pioneer a new path for rock and roll to trickle down, most notably with the early contributions of Brian Eno who would become one of the earliest synthesiser players to be positioned with a central position on stage during live shows, tampering with the input audio of his bandmates to produce other-worldly and abstract soundscapes. 

As a band with a history spanning such an effervescent moment in music, their style naturally morphed a lot throughout their ten year run of album releases between 1972 and 1982. With a couple of key lineup changes and a four-year hiatus thrown into the mix, Roxy Music’s eight releases offer a rollercoaster journey, from the glamorous and experimental art-rock of the early 1970s, through to the refined dance-pop of the early 1980s. 

So, without further ado, here’s our list of Roxy Music’s studio albums ranked in order of greatness.

Roxy Music albums ranked worst to best:

8. Flesh and Blood – 1980

Most Roxy Music fanatics will likely not be so surprised to find Flesh and Blood at the bottom of the pile here. Some of the fans of the later incarnation of Roxy Music, however, might hold this album in higher esteem as the album that holds the sing-along classic ‘Oh Yeah!’. Indeed I feel that this album has its moments, especially on the first side which contains some pop classics that boast unrelenting danceable groove, including my favourite from the album, ‘Same Old Scene’ – mostly due to its fantastic saxophone sections.

There is no surprise that the album was one of the group’s most commercially successful, but regrettably, the record falls short of competing with the other studio releases because of its mucky, bland and disjointed spattering of cover songs that were seemingly thrown in, to hurriedly finish off the LP.

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7. Manifesto – 1979

In 1975, Roxy Music entered a hiatus as Bryan Ferry and Co. parted ways to work on solo projects and other obligations outside the band. Upon their reunification, a reshuffled incarnation of the group set about recording the first of their more commercially orientated run of albums, Manifesto. This new chapter in the band’s path saw them ditch the edginess and creative poetry of their previous work in favour of more predictable dance-friendly material.

Manifesto was the first step Roxy Music took into the dance-pop era that burgeoned towards the dawn of the 1980s; the album is more considered and well-balanced than Flesh and Blood. While containing popular dance singles such as ‘Angel Eyes’ and ‘Dance Away’, the album still retained a trace of the art-inspired roots of the previous incarnation of the band in tracks like ‘Manifesto’ and ‘Trash’. 

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6. Siren – 1975

As the final album of Roxy Music’s first tenure, Siren is certainly better than its position on this list might make it seem at a glance. The album, after all, holds the band’s greatest dance track, ‘Love is the Drug’, which to this day remains the groups biggest hit.

The album appears as a foreshadowing of the more pop-orientated chapter to come in the late 1970s and early ‘80s but still holds firmly to the creativity symbolic of this period. The early genetics of glam-rock artistry glow brightly throughout, especially in ‘Both Ends Burning’ and ‘She Sells’. The album also finds a creative balance with the welcomed blend of slower tracks like the folk-inspired ‘End of the Line’ and the anthemic beauty that is ‘Sentimental Fool’.

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5. Avalon – 1982

The final album Roxy Music would release showed the band mastering their dance-pop era. Avalon boasts a demure beauty that is perhaps unparalleled across their earlier releases.

The album holds a bounty of highlights including the lead singles ‘Avalon’ and ‘More Than This’, but also holds so much to be explored in its underbelly with the wonderfully textured ‘True To Life’ always having served as a personal favourite. The fantastic production and mastering on the album make it a must-have for any budding record collectors out there.  

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4. Country Life – 1974

For their fourth studio album, Roxy Music decided to produce the sauciest of their album covers, which had already built up quite the reputation for being sexually evocative. The music within served as a continuity of the effortlessly classy take on glam-rock that they had mastered with the previous two albums. With the first track, they set the bar insurmountably high with likely my favourite on the record.

‘The Thrill Of It All’ is the most technically impressive track on the album thanks to its complex tempo changes, and it’s a fine example of John Punter’s masterful production skills. There really isn’t a weak song on the album and the only reason it’s not in second place is that there are a small number of songs on the next two albums to be revealed that just have more of a catchy quality to them that ranks them among my favourites; those aside, this is the most consistent Roxy release bar one. 

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3. Roxy Music – 1972

With their debut album, Roxy Music set a groundbreaking precedent from which they developed impressively. The might of the following few albums has ostensibly cast an unfair shadow over this first release. The album seems to be a mood board of sorts where they experimented with different ideas which would form the basis of their subsequent work. The obvious highlight for this earliest release would be the seminal single ‘Virginia Plain’ which wasn’t actually included on the initial run of pressings but was later included as part of the album.

My personal highlight, however, is ‘If There Is Something’ which begins as a modernised pastiche of country music that later melts away into a new, slightly darker and more intense phase of the track thanks to Eno’s work on the synthesiser. All in all, the album is fantastic as a starting point for the band, but by its very nature as a drawing board, it is a tad unbalanced. 

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2. Stranded – 1973

When Roxy Music set foot into the studio to create their third album, they would sadly not be joined by their pioneering synth player Brian Eno, who had decided to leave due to creative disputes he had been having with Ferry. This is the first album to show a lack of experimentalism which can definitely be attributed to the absence of Eno. Fortunately, with the recruitment of Eddie Jobson, the album still oozes with experimental synthesiser elements; for instance, the groovy little number ‘Amazona’ works its way into an interstellar transcendence somewhere in the middle of the track that I personally can’t get enough of.

Overall, the record was a triumph with a well-balanced collection of tracks that feature some of my favourite Roxy Music tracks including the melancholic beauty of ‘A Song For Europe’, the impressively compartmentalised ‘Mother of Pearl’, and the delicate piano-driven classic ‘Just Like You’.

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1. For Your Pleasure – 1973

The middle section of this ranking could change on a different day, but I certainly had no trouble placing Roxy Music’s second album, For Your Pleasure, at the top of the pile. The album is without a doubt up there with the greatest of the glam rock era. Morrissey, the ex-frontman of The Smiths, once cited the album as the “one truly great British album” – one of the few things he and I almost see eye to eye on. The band had taken all the strengths of the first, self-titled, album and tailored them into something so classy and vibrant that one finds it difficult to find a boring second in the LP. There is a fine balance between energetic and slower moments throughout, all the while complimented by Brian Eno’s synth prowess. 

I find it hard to choose a favourite track on the album, but a personal highlight is ‘Beauty Queen’, where Ferry displays a fantastic vocal performance amongst exotic and, somehow, glimmering soundscapes mastered in the instrumentals. Finally, I couldn’t end this list without a mention for ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’, the track is a unique art-rock masterclass, the poetic lyrics tell a most obscure and slightly creepy story of an inflatable doll which is topped off with a climactic guitar solo, what’s not to like? 

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