There’s an excellent new rock-documentary series, in seven parts, currently running on BBC Two, on Saturday evenings, appropriately entitled “Seven Ages of Rock”! Last weekend, it’s repeated on Sundays on BBC One, the second instalment moved forward from the rhythm and blues of the Sixties, featured in the first programme, to the era of glam and progressive rock under the title “White Light, White Heat: Art Rock”. It essentially covered the work of five acts, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Velvet Underground, David Bowie and Roxy Music, exploring the links, as the episode-title suggests, between art and rock! Bryan Ferry read Fine Art at Newcastle University, for example, while Andy Warhol managed Lou Reed’s band, the Velvets, in the States. During the Peter Gabriel era of Genesis the movement became increasingly surreal as Gabriel donned a red dress and the head of a fox!! This harked back to the days when Pink Floyd boasted Syd Barrett as their lead singer, detailing the release of their first single, “Arnold Layne”, about a transvestite stealing women’s underwear from washing lines!!! Controversial, for the time, whereas today he could just pop into Primark’s!
Keeping a sharp eye, and ear, on the career of Syd was a young man named David Jones who, after changing his surname to Bowie, picked up where Barrett left off, scoring a novelty hit in the late Sixties with a song called “Space Oddity”. It wasn’t until 1972 that Bowie became a major player, however, with the release of hit single “Starman” from the album “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”. He would later cover Floyd’s second single, the exceptional “See Emily Play”, on his album “Pinups”. Supporting Bowie on a couple of major concert dates in London was an up-and-coming glam-rock outfit called Roxy Music. Again in 1972, they released what became a seminal rock single based on one of Bryan’s paintings, “Virginia Plain”. In my opinion, there hasn’t been a single to top the inventiveness of this recording in the last 35 years. Its strengths lie in the instrumentation and sonority of the track rather than melody and harmony. Chromatic bass line, synthesiser treatments, oboe ostinato coupled with Ferry’s voice and lyric, pulling together an extraordinary list of references, make this song unique in the annals of rock. Programme three, next weekend, documents the rise of Punk in the late Seventies!