|The Swaggering Love Song That Launched New Wave
Roxy Music's "Love Is The Drug" introduced a glossy, jagged sound that was years ahead of its time
The song changed rock. In 1975, years before the new wave and synth-pop movement of the
late 1970's and early 80's, Roxy Music (at right) released "Love Is The Drug."
The minor-key single, with its pulsating bass line and swaggering croon, reached No. 30 on
Billboard's pop chart and influenced the music of Nile Rodgers, Kraftwerk, the Talking Heads,
Elvis Costello, U2 and the Smiths, among others.
Recently, co-composers Bryan Ferry and Andy Mackay talked about Roxy Music and the song's
I first met Bryan Ferry in 1971. Mutual friends who had attended art school at the University of
Reading introduced us. I had studied the oboe and alto saxophone there. In college, I hung out with
the art crowd and formed a performance-art group in 1967. We staged happenings and performed
avant-garde contemporary music along the lines of John Cage, La Monte Young and Morton
Bryan and I quickly discovered that we both were working part-time as school teachers. We had
an immediate rapport, and we soon began playing together with bassist Graham Simpson in what
would become Roxy Music. A short time after the band was formed, I brought Brian Eno into the mix.
I had met Brian years earlier through my performance-art group.
Just before I met Bryan, I bought a VC3, a portable analog synthesizer. I continued to play oboe and sax in Roxy, but I found the VCS difficult to play and operate at
the same time. So I played and Brian Eno twiddled the knobs. We were also using the VCS in Roxy to treat and distort the vocals and oboe.
When we formed Roxy, we just wanted to make interesting music that expressed who we were and what we were. I wanted Roxy to reflect my various interests and
musical styles and forms, especially art music by John Cage and others like him. So it was great when I met Andy and, subsequently, Brian Eno and the others. We
all had similar interests. There was a combination of elements that we put together that sounded different from what everyone else was doing.
At home in London in early '75, I came up with chords for an unusual song on my Wurlitzer electric piano. My chords had a distinctly English-y sound inspired by 20th
century composers like Ralph Vaughan Williams. They had a folk-harmony feel influenced by early church music. The song I composed didn't have words or a title.
When I played it for the band at the studio, my tempo was slow, with a majestic, sweeping feel, moving in a dreamy and ambient direction. Bryan and drummer Paul
Thompson wanted to push it along, to make it more dance-y.
In June 1975, we began recording "Siren", our fifth Roxy Music album, at George Martin's AIR Studios on London's Oxford Street. Chris Thomas was producing. I
was writing the words for many of the album's songs on my own. But at some point, Andy played me an interesting chord sequence that sounded very promising. it
was different from the other songs I had in mind for the album. At first, Andy's song was very slow moving - a bit like a requiem. I remember thinking it might sound
better if we sped it up a bit.
As soon as the tempo picked up, bassist John Gustafson jumped in with an awesome bass line. Interactions followed between the bass and drums that produced a
Latin feel along with a Jamaican ska, which was big in London then. I added my alto sax briefly in the early part of the song and then played a riff during the chorus. I
was influenced by R&B sax players like King Curtis and wanted a nonjazzy riff.
Chris, our producer, suggested I double-track my riff on the chorus, to give it dimension. He insisted I double-track precisely. Chris was the guy who pushed you to
work hard. He also stopped me from playing any additional sax lines. Had he not been there, I probably would have wanted to play the sax all the way through the
song. Playing it at the start and on the chorus was just enough.
I played the Farfisa organ, and Andy and Eddie Jobson added the other keyboards. Andy's sax fanfare on the intro was striking, and Phil added some great
chiming guitars on the chorus. Paul Thompson played a strong and simple drum part, and Chris added a shimmering Leslie effect on the snare.
The bass part John carved out was very unusual - angular and abrasive. I loved what he did the moment I heard him play it. John was special. He had played in the
Big Three, one of the Liverpool bands of the early 1960's. He was a very rock 'n' roll kind of guy. Years later, producer and Chic co-founder Nile Rodgers said that
John's bass line was a big influence on his group's "Good Times' in 1979.
When we finished recording the music, Bryan took a tape home to work on the lyrics. When they were done, he brought them into the studio, complete. He liked to
hone his product and get it down to what he felt it should sound like.
I tended to work through the night on lyrics, which I would write on notepads. Then I'd piece them together on my old beat-up typewriter. My lyrics for the song's
opening were inspired by the Caribbean patois of our Trinidadian friend, Christian. He worked for Roxy doing wardrobe. Christian was a very amusing, laid-back
guy. I there was ever a problem, Christian would say, "T'ain't not big t'ing." I liked the phrase, so my opening lyrics to the song were: "T'ain't not big thing/to wait for
the bell to ring/T'ain't no big thing/the toll of the bell."
The image I had in mind for the song was a young guy getting into his car and zooming off into town looking for action at a club: "Late that night I parked my
car/Staked my place in the singles bar/Face to face, toe to toe/Heart to heart as we hit the floor." I don't know how I came up with the rest of the song;s lyrics. As a
songwriter, you kind of discover what a song is, or it imposes itself on you. It's always quite complicated. I just thought of them. The words weren't based on
something I had read or heard.
"Love Is A Drug" turned out to be a fun, upbeat song with a jaunty feel - quite unusual for me as a lot of my songs had a melancholy flavor. At some point, I thought
the song needed a dramatic opening. Outside my house, I had a gravel drive, and the crunching sound of the stones under my shoes were an inspiration. I decided to
it might be a good idea to add some sound effects to the song's intro. This would help create a picture of someone jumping into his car and revving up and heading
off into town. We found different sounds for the opening on various sound-effects library recordings - a car starting and so on. Then we overdubbed them.
When Bryan brought his lyrics into the studio, he double-tracked his vocal in stark harmonies to give it a full feel. With "Love Is A Drug." we needed a song that
would take us a little bit mainstream without compromising our artistic approach. We didn't want it to sound too strange. We needed to make some money and tour.
North America had been hard for us. We were seen there as an art-rock band.
. Listen to a breakthrough song, years ahead of it;s time .
"Love Is A Drug"