16
Dec 08

ROXY MUSIC – “Jealous Guy”

FT + Popular56 comments • 7,137 views

#476, 14th March 1981

A band who helped define the 70s cover a song from the 70s by a man who barely outlived the 70s – and yet the cool precision of “Jealous Guy” makes it a recording utterly of the 1980s. The record’s attention to clinical detail seems to will compact discs into being: every instrument is perfectly, unhurriedly placed. Synthesiser washes like marble tiles; thick brushstrokes of guitar; the thread of whistling that plays the song out – “Jealous Guy” is immaculate.

But somehow incomplete. There’s a hollow, a loss at the record’s heart – not of John Lennon mind you; there’s been enough mourning, and Bryan Ferry respects the song too much to twist it into an overt tribute. But while Lennon’s hesitant original is recognisably being sung to someone, you don’t get that feeling with Roxy. Lennon’s is a plea for forgiveness; Roxy’s is a post-mortem. Its well-tailored arrangement is futile in its perfection, mocking almost: Ferry is wandering around an empty penthouse, pleading with a lover who won’t be coming back. And so that whistling again, going on so long it’s almost absurd, through romantic to pathetic and ending up the loneliest sound in the world.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    Tom on 16 Dec 2008 #

    “there’s been enough mourning, and Bryan Ferry respects the song too much to twist it into an overt tribute”

    And then I saw the sleeve!! Bad Bryan, no biscuit.

    But it doesn’t sound like ‘a tribute’ on record, is what I mean.

  2. 2
    rosie on 16 Dec 2008 #

    It was a tribute all right. Everybody knew it at the time!

    The last of the Lennon wailing is actually a pretty good song, and Bryan Ferry is a better singer than Lennon. He manages to capture the wheedling tone of the original and make it fly. The best tribute there could be, really.

    Good that Roxy, who had given so much to pop, should have a number one at last. (I’d rather it had been the superb Dance Away though.)

  3. 3
    Venga on 17 Dec 2008 #

    I’d rather it had been Pyjamarama but hey.

  4. 4
    wichita lineman on 17 Dec 2008 #

    I’m sure I’m not the only Popular poster for whom this was Jealous Guy’s first bow. I was shocked and disappointed by the offhand delivery of the original – “look out baby!” – when I first heard it in the late 80s.

    Tom, you’re on the money, she’s not coming back in the Roxy version. Once again Lennon sounds comfortably self-pitying – “I was feeling insecure”? Grow up, brother revolutionary! – while Ferry’s vocal sounds genuinely adrift.

    The original fits the Lost Weekend/May Pang miserablism to come, with Lennon always knowing Yoko is there at the end of a long corridor. I still prefer Roxy’s take, and its last rites of the American Gigolo feel.

    Oh yeah. Whistling equals jacket-over-the-shoulder Ferry, walking into endless sunset.

  5. 5
    jamesf on 17 Dec 2008 #

    I had no idea Roxy Music ever covered that song.

    However, I have always loved the Atom Heart version … from the LB album “Pop Artificielle”– it’s a perfect little synthesized gem whose warm and wholly computerized professional exterior reveals gives way to a modestly gorgeous pop song. Check it out.

  6. 6
    The Intl on 17 Dec 2008 #

    I think I may like this version better than the original! Could that be possible? Wait … maybe I don’t. I don’t know, I can’t think straight during the holidays! Who would name their white kid Otis?

  7. 7
    Mark G on 17 Dec 2008 #

    You know what, I never liked this. It was too long, too pristine, and too bandwagony.

    When Rox first started up, they were from somewhere else. This seemed to be a confession that they were ordinary. Like the rest of us, theye were sad about JLennon. Which is fair eneough, and many bands did covers of othere JL tracks around that time.

    I suppose it was that situation that a song, overlooked at the time for ‘single’ status, eventually making the equilibrium jump into ubiquity.

    And it seemed to be around forever. It wouldn’t surprise me if it outsold any of the other Lennon single that were out around that time.

  8. 8
    Snif on 17 Dec 2008 #

    “Who would name their white kid Otis?”

    Perhaps he liked Ned Beatty’s performance in “Superman”?

    At the time I felt pretty much the same way as #7, but haven’t heard it for so long that I suspect it’d go down better now.

    (Of course, it’s possible that Ferry, Manzanera and Mackay, like my friend and I, thought “How can we cash in on this?” and succeeded)

  9. 9
    pjb on 17 Dec 2008 #

    I liked this a lot, and still do. I had no musical interest in Lennon, and his death didn’t inspire me to investigate beyond the posthumous hits. So, no baggage.

    I’d loved Manifesto and Flesh and Blood (and only later really dug back into Roxy mk 1) so was receptive to this is the same way as the covers on the latter album. It’s a beautiful, pristine and modern single, albeit one that’s all about the stylings, and it’s stood the test of time far better than one would expect for something labelled ‘a tribute’. Also, as I recall, had a great b side, that eventually made it on to the Avalon album.

    As others have said, I was taken aback when I eventually heard Lennon’s original. And not in a good way.

  10. 10
    wichita lineman on 17 Dec 2008 #

    K-Tel watch: the opening track on Chartblasters ’81, followed with the usual incongruity by The Look’s I Am The Beat and Coast To Coast’s Do The Hucklebuck. Highly enjoyable melange of electro pop (Susan Fassbender’s magnificent Twilight Cafe, Landscape’s Einstein A Go Go), novelty (Joe Dolce, Fred Wedlock, Adam & The Ants’ Young Parisians), dream/doom pop (The Passions’ I’m In Love With A German Film Star, In The Air Tonight). All this and Generation X’s Dancing With Myself.

  11. 11
    vinylscot on 17 Dec 2008 #

    There’s a lot of good comments, which I’d agree with, on this thread already.

    I would rather have seen Pyjamarama or the obvious Virginia Plain at number one, being more a fan of earlier Roxy, but I always felt that Dance Away, good as it was, rather spoiled Roxy. Everything after that was bland, predictable, anodyne, safe, smoothie-Ferry stuff. Maybe if Trash had been a bigger hit we may have seen some more variety in their later work.

    I have no doubt that this was a cynical attempt to cash in (financially and emotionally) on Lennon-mania. Today, profits would probably go to charity, but back then it would have been a far more commercial decision.

    It is a good version of the song, but it is Roxy sleepwalking. Yes you can see Ferry with his jacket slung over his shoulder, whistling nonchalantly. I always took the whistling to be a sort of “Hey-Ho, life goes on” sort of statement, indicating that he knew and accepted that part of his life was over. Or it could have been Ferry being a twat, which by now he was rather good at.

  12. 12
    Billy Smart on 17 Dec 2008 #

    I make this the sixth consecutive duff number one – possibly the worst ever stretch on Popular.

    I do really like late Roxy, those three albums seem to me amongst the most grown-up pop music ever made (in a good way – contemplating middle aged concerns of mortality, regret and declining powers, but with the delerious and synasthesic qualities of the earlier group still clearly in evidence, but subtly so)…

    BUT their Achilles heel was that if ever a group should have been banned from doing cover versions this was it; ‘Jealous Guy’, ‘In the Midnight Hour’, ‘Eight Miles High’, ‘Like A Hurricane’ – all turned pristine and hollowed out of the feeling of the originals. That tone of knowing ennui sounds wry and worldly wise in Ferry’s songs, but just sounds bored when singing other peoples.

  13. 13
    will on 17 Dec 2008 #

    Like many here, I had never heard the original when this was a hit. When I finally did years later, it was a disappointment. Lennon’s version sounded needy… pleading. Where as Ferry’s, indeed, sounds like an apology after the relationship has ended. And yes, I’ve yet to hear a single that hasn’t been improved by whistling.

  14. 14
    Billy Smart on 17 Dec 2008 #

    My eight-year old Billy response – “Who are these old people? Why hasn’t this song got a tune? That man in the blue suit obviously thinks that he’s very handsome”

  15. 15
    Billy Smart on 17 Dec 2008 #

    #2 Watch: A week of Adam & The Ants’ ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’.

  16. 16
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 17 Dec 2008 #

    re 14: haha i was just thinking that JG gives the lie to the claim you occasionally hear, that mccartney was the crafted melodist, never john: whose songs often have a bit of a shortest-distance-between-two-notes shape

    isn’t this version (at least somewhat) about the nature of ferry’s lennon-worship?

  17. 17
    Billy Smart on 17 Dec 2008 #

    Oh God, a thought’s just struck me… Did anyone at the time think that Ferry was singing from the perspective of Mark Chapman?

  18. 18
    wichita lineman on 17 Dec 2008 #

    Ha! I don’t recall anyone suggesting it, but you’ve got a point. How queer.

    A friend of mine assumed when he was a kid that somebody “on drugs” would look like Bryan Ferry did as he sang – screwed-up eyes and tropically sweaty demeanour.

    Billy at 12: adult pop is right. Over You, More Than This, Same Old Scene and Oh Yeah may not be as lyrically specific as The Winner Takes It All but they surely don’t sound teenage. I like this run of hits (oh, not forgetting the avant-leaning disco of Angel Eyes) at least as much as Pyjamarama etc.

  19. 19
    Matthew H on 17 Dec 2008 #

    I saw the video on a BBC 4 documentary a few weeks back, and Ferry looks particularly constipated. It’s a pristine clip, however, and this rendering is too. I think it packs a punch and the mannered playing just gives the impression this is a band ahead of the pack, still. Reminds me I need more Roxy than a lone Manifesto LP in my life.

  20. 20
    Tom on 17 Dec 2008 #

    #18 – Ferry does indeed look very pained in the video, and somewhat uncomfortable and twitchy.

    p^nk s had an unmatchable description of Ferry’s style (in the “taste of a dead sloane” sidebar link) – “complicatedly failing to mimick cool lounge-suit sung ease” – the vid is a good example.

  21. 21
    Conrad on 17 Dec 2008 #

    Roxy’s later singles are a monument to widescreen production – multi-layered but with a space and clarity to the mix and balance of instruments that is breathtaking in its execution.

    From “Dance Away” to “Take A Chance With Me”, the Mark II incarnation of the band, while dispensing with the edgier art-rock of first phase Roxy, delivered one sublime single after another. The performances, the arrangements and Ferry’s delivery are simply magnificent.

    “Jealous Guy” is no exception. I didn’t know the Lennon original when this came out, and I’ve only heard it once since. Pristine and polished – if delivered with this much panache – can work on an emotional, as opposed to purely aesthetic, level. It’s the combination of the two that makes this such a moving record.

    It doesn’t leave me cold; it doesn’t sound like a disinterested, cynical cash-in to me. It sounds like Ferry was deeply affected by Lennon’s death.
    10.

  22. 22
    Pete on 17 Dec 2008 #

    Post Lost In Translation this has become the karaoke staple that Ferry makes it, taking the weedy Lennon original and suffusing it with louche cool but cold dread too. As long as you sing it like your voice is just about to crack, and play with the scansion, you’ll bring the house down.

    Karaoke amateurs whistle into the microphone, not realising the blowing error they have made.

  23. 23
    LondonLee on 17 Dec 2008 #

    ‘More Than This’ is the karaoke song in ‘Lost In Translation’

    I come down on both sides of this one, it is too shiny and pristine (that glassy, echoey piano at the start just screams 80s chrome disco pub to me) which makes it seem almost disconnected from the personal, emotional level of the song, but Ferry does sing it better than Lennon and any song with whistling on it gets points from me — though that makes me think of it as Bryan’s little tribute to Otis Redding too. Overall though, I think it’s a little too tasteful.

    Strangely, Ferry on his own is one of the greatest interpreters of other peoples songs (like ‘The In Crowd’ ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ ‘A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’) but with Roxy he usually screwed them up, their version of ‘In The Midnight Hour’ is a real blot on the otherwise great ‘Flesh and Blood’

  24. 24
    lonepilgrim on 17 Dec 2008 #

    unlike Ferry’s gleeful deconstruction of ‘Hard rain’ this feels too respectful to me. The song sounds as if it has been embalmed – pristine for ever with all the life drained out of it.

  25. 25
    Conrad on 17 Dec 2008 #

    Lee, good point on Ferry as solo artist. I think he’s a terrific interpreter of other people’s songs. I love his version of the Everly Brothers “Price of Love” too. An absolute stonker.

    “Midnight Hour” most definitely not Roxy’s finest moment, but I find “Flesh and Blood” very patchy.

  26. 26
    Conrad on 17 Dec 2008 #

    No 26 on this week’s chart – Durran Durran (copyright, Tony Blackburn) with “Planet Earth”. Their first week on the Top 40.

  27. 27
    will on 17 Dec 2008 #

    Roxy Mk 2 may well have done something that is unique in pop: reconnecting with their original, now adult, fans, thereby pulling off a comeback that extended further than mere nostalgia. I can’t think of any other group who have managed anything comparable, except maybe modern-day Take That.

  28. 28
    peter goodlaws on 17 Dec 2008 #

    Of course this is a tribute and it’s so much better than Lennon’s original, which does indeed sound nerdy and whiney. I like the point about Ferry singing this from Mark Chapman’s perspective but don’t really see it myself (“I’m sorry that I made you cry”) Say what, now? (“I didn’t mean to hurt you”) Now, course you didn’t, you freak!

    My dad had issues with Bryan Ferry. He thought he looked like Prince Charles. Now that would really be blinding – Charlie belting out Virginia Plain. As Waldo was apt to say: “Well, I’D bloody buy it!”

  29. 29
    Brian on 17 Dec 2008 #

    The only version that I heard of Roxy doing this song was on a 5 or 6 track , recorded live, mini-Lp called ” The High Road ” , which was from a live show in Scotland ( duh ! ). Is this the same track or was there a studio version ?

    If you don’t like Roxy covers – do not go near Ferry’s “Dylanesque’ , it’s painful.

  30. 30
    LondonLee on 17 Dec 2008 #

    It’s a studio recording, six minutes long to boot (at least my mp3 version is, don’t know if that’s the 7″)

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