The Roxy Music Girls • 2

Roxy Music Country Life UK cover

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.
Roxy Music Country Life out-takeSo 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.

Roxy Music Country Life out-take
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.

Roxy Music Country Life out-take 2
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.

Boman and Ferry

Boman and Ferry

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.

Roxy Music Country Life spain

Spanish cover

Roxy Music Country Life USA shrinkwrapped

USA shrinkwrapped

Roxy Music Country Life USA censored

USA censored

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.

21 Responses to The Roxy Music Girls • 2

  1. Eric Daum says:

    Great piece on the iconic Country Life cover. Probably my second least favorite Roxy album, despite the great cover.

    • simon robinson says:

      Thanks Eric. The word iconic is often over-used for sleeves but think we can say this one deserves the description!

  2. Div says:

    Thank you for the insight. It is a stunning, raw sleeve. My mother said to my elder brother ‘I’ll buy you an LP if you decorate the kitchen’. He asked for Country Life which my Mum did indeed buy. Mum was so embarrassed after asking for it at the counter of the electrical shop’s record section and then seeing the cover. She handed it to him saying ‘don’t you ever ask me again to purchase anything like this for you.’ Well done Mum you still brought it home!

  3. katemckinnon says:

    Great piece on my favorite album of all time. The cover, the music… perfect.

  4. I was staying in my parents villa in Carvoeiro when this cover was shot somewhere amongst the bushes across the road. l was a huge fan of Roxy at the time and had already met Antony Price in The Sobe Desce (?) club where l believe they met the girls. I had to go back to Art School the day before, but my friend Seth got to dance with them that night back at the club. We were only about 18 at the time. Young, dumb and full of…

    • simon robinson says:

      great story Jonathan!

    • simon robinson says:

      There’s one to dine out on! Not sure I ever remember ‘having’ to go back to art school though. If any good gigs came up I’m afraid I was off (provided I had any cash left for tickets).

  5. Dave Allan says:

    Just bought a German edition of Can’s cannabilism and there’s a small picture of Ms Karoli amongst the photos of the band.
    I’d love to have a selection of the censored album covers in my collection . I only have two of the original uk covers at the moment.

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  7. Martin Hayman says:

    It is a pity that the anonymous ‘press officer’ here is not namechecked as the late Simon Puxley, a major influence in creating and promoting the Roxy Music ‘brand’. It would surprise me if he did not play an important part in orchestrating this session.

    • simon robinson says:

      He is now!

    • l didn’t expect this Country Life story to run,but coincidentally,as l’ve just returned from Carvoeiro l’ll add some more of my unreliable memoirs.

      It was Anthony Price who told me at the time where they’d shot the cover the night before.
      l walked past the location the other day.l don’t remember a press officer being there,just Ferry,Price and Boman (who was ridiculously beautiful), staying in a villa across from my Dad’s.

      As l mentioned in an earlier thread,l was about 18 at the time,and already a big Roxy fan,though l missed the extra otherworldlyness Eno had given them.
      Sadly my mate Seth died last week,so to visit Carvoeiro again gave me some bittersweet memories.

      The bar they met the girls at was definitely the Sob e Desce,which is worth a story in itself,being a hang out for 60’s musicians back then such as Ronnie Scott,Georgie Fame,Cat Stevens,McCartney,Brian Auger,etc.
      Set up by a jazz loving Irishman called Tim Motion in about ’62….Does anyone have any memories of this place in it’s heyday?
      l read Tim is still going strong in London as a photographer now…

      One last snippet of useless gossip,my elder brother vaguely recalls going to Brian Ferry’s flat in Redcliffe Gardens in about ’68,probably before he was famous.He remembers the walls were all painted black.Groovy baby!

  8. Great article thanks. I just bought the recent vinyl box set so enjoying getting the back story on all of the albums…well Front story in this case

    • simon robinson says:

      Thanks Matt. This does get more hits than just about any other page… still!

      • Paul says:

        What a great story… I remember being at Boarding School at Windsor Boys School Sandringham House, when my friend played Brian Ferry on the old cassette tapes – always wanted to meet the girls on the album cover “Country Life” – who doesn’t when you’re only 11 going on 18!

  9. Div says:

    Ive stored a lovely homage picture on Pinterest with two afro caribbean girls. Its in my lps and fave vinyl covers. Im user von Gigglen. Enjoy those early albums….life changing they were to me.

  10. Mikael Amiuno says:

    Why, USA, why? What’s so terribly frightening about a woman’s torso? A half-naked man would do, right? Then why not a woman? Breasts, is that it? Jeez, they all seem to have them, it’s very natural and normal, you know, nothing odious about it. Only the overseas prudes slash hypocrits seem to think so. And – oh yes – more and more so the rest of the world. So silly.

  11. julian says:

    The fact that there is so much fond and passionate interest in the making of this image says a lot about where we have arrived now… I can’t think of an iconic contemporary image now that could touch this in the music industry…

    • simon robinson says:

      I think probably the advent of the CD was the end of the era of great sleeves, as the format became more about graphic design than art. And there have been some great CD packages but I cannot see them being remembered the way vinyl sleeves are. I really enjoyed working on CD packages but then I have been a graphic designer most of my working life, but it seems to me the only people who appreciate a good CD design are other designers, where great vinyl sleeves crossed over and appealed to many more.

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