Today we’re listening to “Virginia Plain” by Roxy Music
You have to know the rules to bend them properly. In the music world, the rules for making a single are pretty straightforward; have a catchy hook, a nice chorus, and maybe a really cool bridge. Repeat as needed. Climb the charts accordingly.
With 1972’s “Virginia Plain,” Roxy Music ignored every last one of those. There’s a soft intro and no chorus. And forget about a fade out; the song ends abruptly- like it’s hit a wall. You don’t even hear the song title until Ferry throws it in at the end, almost as an afterthought.
I mean, there’s an oboe on here, for crying out loud!
In a time when many hits were chock full of abstract lyrics, Ferry bet the other way.
Make me a deal, and make it straight, all signed and sealed, I’ll take it
To Robert E. Lee I’ll show it, I hope and pray he don’t blow it ’cos
We’ve been around a long time
Tryin’, just tryin’, just tryin’, to make the big time!
Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general? Nope, That was the name of the band’s lawyer.
Going further, the band recorded/released the single after their self-titled record was already out (this track is on the US version, but not the original one released in the UK). “Virginia Plain” was the first of many singles the band released that wasn’t on an album; they preferred to keep them separate, something bands like New Order would emulate a decade later.
So was all of this rule-breaking intentional? An arrogant indictment of the status quo? Was the band making some statement with “Virginia Plain?”
“No, none of that,” (guitarist Phil) Manzanera insists. “We just hadn’t a clue how to make a single. We’d never done one before.”
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The track remains one of the most important moments in the glam rock movement, it was embued with the sexual energy of Ferry and perhaps, more importantly, the technical prowess of Brian Eno. Much of the song’s charm flows from Ferry’s mind and through the wires connected to the wooden box Eno is playing in the video below.
Click here to read more about the band’s groundbreaking Top of the Pops appearance.
“Virginia Plain” by Roxy Music | Roxy Music, 1972
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