Country Life • At the time Roxy Music were starting out in the early 70s, I didn’t really click with their music. I enjoyed the singles, but didn’t have the spare cash to risk buying the albums. What I did own was an original Island promo poster for their first album issued in 1972. This was a smart montage of monochrome out-takes from the sleeve, and it was sellotaped to my wall for ages.
In starting the band, Ferry reasoned pretty girls had been used to sell all other types of product, and was probably aware of the Top Of The Pops-type cover albums going down this line. That I had that Roxy poster on the wall even though I didn’t own the album proved he was at least partly right.
So Ferry developed a series of sleeves for Roxy Music which borrowed from (or were inspired by) pop culture, film and fashion glamour. Unlike the first three Roxy sleeves however, which had been carefully styled and shot in studios (even the jungle-look cover of Stranded), their fourth album Country Life sported a much more immediate, harsher and ultimately more modern glamour image, pre-dating (or at least coinciding with) a strand of improv fashion photography which continues to this day.
The cover, credited to Bryan Ferry and Nick DeVille, was shot in Portugal where Ferry was working on lyrics for the album during a recording break. He had an LP title in mind, Country Life, the name of a long established weekly magazine for the landed gentry. Each issue features a demure image of one of the daughters of the aristocracy as a frontispiece, and Ferry liked the idea of trying to subvert this by using a more overtly soft-core girly-calendar image, inspired apparently by a photo he had seen in an issue of Men Only magazine.
Ferry arranged for stylist Anthony Price and photographer Eric Boman to fly out, and they were all sat in a small bar one evening when two striking looking young German women walked in. They seemed ideal for the cover and an approach was made. Eveline Grunwald and Constanze Karoli were already fans. Eveline was going out with the Can guitarist, and through him had already met Roxy’s press officer, though it seems the meeting in the bar was sheer coincidence.
Boman was a Swede (who later photographed for glossy fashion and interior magazines such as Vogue and House & Garden). A lot of histories claim the cover shoot was done down on the beach, but Constanze (wearing – just – black on the cover) recalls that the photo was shot in the garden at Eveline’s parent’s summer-house where they were staying. Price did the styling and make-up in the bathroom, and they used a rental car’s headlights to illuminate the shoot (with Price holding a washing-up powder box for the photographer to set the focus). That they were not using flash is confirmed by the only out-take from the shoot I’ve ever seen, which shows Price retouching the make up by the light of a hand torch! Boman used a 28mm Leicaflex SL and shot three rolls of film.
After the shoot the women hung around with Ferry and the guys for a few days and helped translate one lyric into German for the album (for which they got a writing credit). Eveline went on to do cover designs for some other bands herself, including Holger Czukay, and is still working in this area.
Back in London, having developed the film, Boman initially felt that Ferry wasn’t sure about the pictures he’d taken: “I think there was a lack of the slickness that he was used to, but gradually everyone realised that there was another quality, hard to put your finger on, of ambiguity and, as we now call it ‘rawness’ that worked.” The two women were kept in the loop on the cover as a courtesy, as Eveline recalled. “People thought we were lying down and masturbating, but that was never the intention. Neither did we choose the photo, but Bryan did ask us if we were d’accord with it. We didn’t think it was scandalous anyway.” Nick DeVille was responsible for the type, which was quite close to that on the magazine it referenced, and final cover design. It should be remembered that Roxy were signed to Island Records, a label which often went to town on LP covers, even in an age when sleeves were accorded a much bigger budget than they generally are today. Surprisingly it only got a single cover (except in France), but did have an inner bag with lyrics. There was a period in 1974 when with costs rising, a lot of labels cut back on gatefolds for a time.
As an album Country Life sold well, and spawned a UK top 12 single, although it’s impossible to say how many purchases were directly or indirectly down to the sleeve alone. Stories of censorship abound with some retailers apparently refused to stock it. Atco Records in the U.S., bless them, insisted the sleeve was wrapped in opaque green plastic with a sticker on. They then demanded a redesign, and the new cover had the shrub from the back sleeve put on the front, which stayed for all copies sold in North America between 1975 and 1980. One or two European countries initially banned it, and in Spain they went with just an enlargement of the left half of the cover.
This sudden reaction was strange, because the band’s previous album Stranded had been fairly risque, the model in that instance (one-time Playboy girl Marylin Cole) sporting a torn wet-look dress. It’s tempting to think it was the stark nature of the Country Life shot which caused the trouble.
Thanks to the controversy Country Life’s cover sparked, and because it was such a striking and sexy image (the women not being professional models actually added an edge to the shot), the sleeve is now regularly rated highly in polls, and has spawned a host of copycat and tribute versions (which we’ve covered on ST33 already).
Subsequent Roxy sleeves never quite scaled the same heights, and despite using Boman a couple of times, Ferry’s later solo career saw a succession of often overdone images. Ironically for his latest, Olympia, he has revisited the early Roxy look, with a very swish if sterile looking photo shoot featuring everyone’s (except me) favourite model Kate Moss.
This time round nothing has been left to chance commercially; there’s a tie-in exhibition of all the out-takes and limited edition signed prints for sale starting at £600 (including a limited edition print of one of the Country Life sleeve out-takes). I’ll stick with my 1972 poster.
Info : Q 100 Best Record Covers Special (1995) / Album by Nick DeVille / published interviews / Country Life sleeve
Easy On The Eye books are issuing Covered which looks at dozens of famous sleeves and the covers they in turn have inspired.