Several years ago, some friends that were preparing to meet Brian Eno, asked me about the scope of his influence, specifically, whether or not I thought it was as massive as Dylan’s. I admit to giving it a moment’s hesitation before declaring “entirely!”, or some such unflinching affirmative. Now I know that sorta comment gets certain peoples blood boiling on the tracks (see! Dylan references are inescapable!), and it is not meant as a slight to Dylan at all, just an acknowledgement of Eno’s status as an innovator and icon of modern music.
Like Dylan, Eno was a pioneer of many musical styles. Starting his career in 1971, on synthesizer and effects/treatments as an original member of Roxy Music, Eno’s contributions helped give the band an experimental edge that set them apart from other bands of the era. The music of Eno era Roxy (1972’s self titled debut and 1973’s follow up, For Your Pleasure), established them as trendsetters not only for the budding Glam and Prog scenes, but Punk, New Wave, Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, electronic music, and pretty much anyone using a synth. In fact, Eno’s contribution to Roxy was so profound, that it lead to friction with singer Bryan Ferry, as Eno became the most recognizable figure of the band, due both to use pioneering synth work and flamboyant style. Clearly Brian Eno could no longer be contained within the parameters of a band dynamic.
Upon quitting Roxy, Eno immediately established himself as a individual force with which to be reckoned. Partnering with King Crimson mastermind, Robert Fripp, the pair released Eno’s first post Roxy record, 1973’s, No Pussyfooting. The two track LP was Eno’s virginal foray into the genre with which his name has since become inextricably linked, Ambient. The A-side, The Heavenly Music Corporation, consists of a taped loop of Fripp’s guitar, over which he solos live. For the B-side, Swastika Girls, Fripp soloed on top of an Eno electronic loop. Both songs use delay to create a hypnotic, swirling wash of sound. As an artistic statement, it was decidedly non-commercial, though it sales were surprisingly substantial. The duo would join up again for 1975’s, similarly minded, Evening Star. Eno continues to collaborate, in various capacities, with numerous artists to this day.
Following No Pussyfooting, Eno released four solo albums between 1973-74, all of them acknowledged classics. The first two, Here Come The Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), proved particularly significant in the development of Punk Rock and experimental music. With songs like Blank Frank, The Papa Negro Blowtorch, Baby’s On Fire, Third Uncle, The Great Pretender, actually name any song on these records and you’re gonna be hard pressed to find a precedent for them. I can only imagine what hearing them when the were first released must have felt like. An alien experience of alien soundtracks, perhaps.
As much of a fan as I am of the more Rock side of the Eno discography as I am, I have to admit that it’s his role as a pioneer of Ambient music which may ultimately prove his most lasting legacy. After ’73’s, No Pussyfooting and ’74’s, Discreet Music, Eno had already established himself as a champion of this new sound which he best describes as, “Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”. The majority of Eno’s following recordings, both solo and in collaboration with artists like Harold Budd and Cluster, would follow such a modus operandi, with 1978’s, Ambient 1: Music for Airports, being of particular significance.
I would be remiss, if I did not mention Eno’s work as a producer on such pivotal records as the debuts of Devo, Talking Heads (and their three successive albums), and Ultravox, the genre defining No Wave compilation, No New York, his work on John Cale’s Island albums, and whether I wish to admit it or not, his long and immensely successful work with U2. Also, let’s not forget that David Bowie’s, Berlin Trilogy would never have happened without Eno’s input. The best thing about Eno’s influence is that it will only get larger as modern music begins to catch up with and assimilate all of his ideas.
Oh, and I completely forgot to mention 801!
A great piece on Eno’s sphere of influence from the always great, Sasha Frere-Jones
The soundtrack to the rare, Land of The Minotaur, is prime 1975 era, Eno, and remains unreleased and largely unknown. It deserves to be heard be all Eno fans.