If you’re a fan of the English “art rock” band Roxy Music, which was active from the early 1970s to the early 1980s, you may recognize the title as a lyric from the song “The Thrill of It All.” You probably also remember their most well-known single, “Love Is the Drug,” which actually only hit #30 on the Billboard charts but was still pretty popular. If you remember that hit, then you remember how important a role the bassline played in its catchy sound. John Gustafson, the performer of that distinctive bass part, passed away recently. His work on three consecutive Roxy Music albums – Stranded (1973), Country Life (1974) and Siren (1975) – helped create the sound that I grew to love so much when I discovered the band at age 17. After all, every member of a band has an essential, pivotal function, not only the lead singer or songwriter.
When you listen to “Love Is the Drug,” the opening track from Siren, it does more than the usual job of an earworm. The lyrics tell a story but the instrumental, especially the bass, enhances your sense of the scenario so that you really feel the mood of it, as though you were on the prowl in the singles bar right alongside Bryan Ferry’s song-narrator.
Gustafson also played on my all-time favorite Roxy song, “The Thrill of It All” from Country Life. It’s another unforgettable album-opener. No matter how many times I listen to “Thrill,” it’s always fresh and innovative. The style of it, the pure coolness, is like nothing else. It’s four decades old and yet it has not aged or grown dated. Like the song says, “it’s pure whiskey reeling ’round and around my brain.”
The bass line on “Both Ends Burning,” from Siren, is also memorable for me. It’s just a really good beat, a foot-tapping gem. This one’s a strong contender for all-time favorite, although I could easily say the same of the tracks from my favorite Roxy album, Avalon (1982), which was the group’s final studio album before they disbanded. By that point John Gustafson was no longer recording with Roxy Music, but I think that the influence of “Love Is the Drug” and other great songs from the three albums that he played on remained even in the more synthesizer-heavy music from the last albums in the early 80s.