Album Covers

From The Stacks: Roxy Music – Country Life

Roxy Music Country LifeRoxy Music’s fourth LP, 1974’s Country Life, is the Mona Lisa of controversial album covers. Oh, there are more famous banned sleeves, more explicit, more surreal, but sexier? Not to my eye.

What makes this album cover so hot is its coolness, the same of which can be said for the band’s music and visual style. Models Constanze Karoli and Eveline Grunwald at best look irritated by the bright headlights shining on them and at worst bored out of their minds. Robert Palmer picked up on the same “sexy and unapproachable” vibe ten years later for his much-parodied music videos, so something must have clicked about that aloofness.

And what about that harsh glare and those evergreens? Did we turn left on a country lane and surprise these young ladies? Even as a boy too young to articulate what I felt, the implicit voyeurism and exhibitionism thrilled me.

The official story is that Roxy leader Bryan Ferry nicked the album title from the British magazine of the same name, but indulge me for a moment, please. Roxy Music’s whole schtick was class and elegance — the hair, the clothes, that whole, detached sexy thing.

Now, let’s assume that Ferry was well read, which seems fair enough as he studied fine art at the University of Newscastle upon Tyne (home of the Fightin’ Teaspoons).The word “country” pops up quite a bit in Renaissance literature, a bawdy allusion to the vulva courtesy of the cunt/country homophone. Take the following exchange from that old smut peddler Bill Shakespeare’s Hamlet, act 3, scene 2:

HAMLET: My lady, should I lie in your lap?
OPHELIA: No, my lord.
HAMLET: I mean, my head upon your lap?
OPHELIA: Ay, my lord.
HAMLET: Do you think I meant country matters?
OPHELIA: I think nothing, my lord.
HAMLET: That’s a nice thought to lie between a girl’s legs.
OPHELIA: What is, my lord?
HAMLET: Nothing.

So yeah, Country Life was the title of a magazine, but given that cover—and more specifically the model cupping her vulva—and the whole Roxy Music  vibe, I think it’s safe to assume there’s more going on than just that. I’ll grant you that Ferry may not have consciously put the pieces together, but this is what artists do. Intentionally or not, artists assemble what fits, and Ferry blended the piny trees of the countryside and the lifestyle implicit to Country Life’s pages with, well, country matters.

country-life-censoredThat seductively placed hand was the crux of the problem for many retailers, though the sheer lingerie probably didn’t help much. Early US versions were packaged in a green wrapper not unlike the one that covered your dad’s fishing magazine that you don’t need to bother opening, son, they’ll just bore you. Later releases switched the back artwork to the front cover, and this is the version most common in your local used record store. Recent reissues restore the original artwork, so if you’re in it for the collecting be careful.

Finding an original cover in a record store these days is pretty rare, and if you do it will probably be behind the counter with the other collectible albums. On the high end you’ll pay around a hundred bucks for a first printing, identifiable by the pink ring around the album label. Low end online is around ten dollars. My guess? You’re looking at 20-25 bones at your local record shop. Happy hunting.

Roxy Music Country Life back

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