As 1977 began, Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry and model Jerry Hall were engaged. By the end of the year, they were finished, with Ferry relocating to Switzerland and Hall off jet setting with her new boyfriend, Mick Jagger.
Hall and Ferry first started dating in the summer of 1975. During their time together, Hall would famously pose for the cover of Roxy Music’s fifth album, Siren, and make an appearance in the video for Ferry’s 1976 single, “Let’s Stick Together”. After Hall ended their relationship to be with Jagger (the two had been having an affair), Ferry would soon begin work on his next solo record, which would become The Bride Stripped Bare. The title, which directly references Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even was assumed to be a subtle dig at his ex-fiancé.
In the book, Re-make/Re-model: Becoming Roxy Music, Ferry talks about how Duchamp influenced his approach to cover songs.
I like the idea of Duchamp taking something like a bicycle wheel and just placing it in a different context and putting his signature on it, really. And I guess I was thinking that when I took a song that was by someone else, and did my version of it; that I was adding my stamp to it, my signature.
The album, a mix of covers and originals, has been analyzed over the years—perhaps excessively so—as it came about so soon after his split with Hall. Though heartbreak is addressed in the Ferry-penned songs “Can’t Let Go” and “When She Walks in The Room” it’s not like the “Don Juan in Hell” subject matter (as Greil Marcus termed it) is foreign to Ferry, nor does he sound especially tortured or vindictive on the LP. It’s certainly no Here, My Dear.
Having said that, there is a moment during one of the tracks that makes me wonder if certain of the numbers weren’t selected with Hall in mind for Ferry to “sign,” although though that didn’t occur until after I had checked out the accompanying promo film for Ferry’s cover of Lou Reed’s “What Goes On.”
“What Goes On” was originally found on the Velvet Underground’s self-titled third album, and was also issued to radio to promote the LP. One of Lou Reed’s finest three-chord rockers, during live performances it would stretch to epic, transcendent lengths. The narrator of this tune is discombobulated. One minute he’s up, one minute he’s down, then he’s going from side to side, and he’s also upside down. He may feel like he’s losing his mind, but knows that, ultimately, it’s going to be alright. Everyone who’s been through a bad breakup knows this particular mental state.
Ferry’s version of “What Goes On” is noteworthy for a number of reasons. Even though Ferry’s always been a hip guy, Velvet Underground covers were far from commonplace in 1978. It was also released as single and is kind of two covers for the price of one, with Ferry seamlessly incorporating lines from another Reed song from the third VU album, “Beginning to See the Light.”
The video for “What Goes On” is embedded below, and is noteworthy first and foremost for the fact that Bryan Ferry is sporting a full beard(!) The final 90 seconds, with the “I thought that you were my friend” line and “How does it feel, to be loved?” refrain, both from “Beginning to See the Light,” is the most intense part (heightened by the lack of any edits for over a minute). Ferry gnashes his teeth, contorts his hairy face, and stares menacingly into the camera. The clip ends with images of him looking vulnerable and exhausted, but happy. It is indeed going to be alright, now that he’s got that off his chest!
Performing “What Goes On” for the BBC: