Shortly after the tolling bells and strident drum beat that announce the arrival of ‘Cavity: First Communion’ off Christian Death’s groundbreaking debut LP Only Theatre of Pain come rolling and unfurling out of the speakers, the world was introduced to the voice of the one and only Rozz Williams. That seductive, iconic voice.
“Let’s skirt the issue of discipline” it intones, dripping sex. Dripping. Sex.
It’s probably my favourite vocal tone of all time, and although it would evolve across subsequent albums, it retains that same breathy intonation and antagonistic aristocratic air, with increasingly gilded baritone edges developing across Catastrophe Ballet and Ashes, reaching its velvety apex on Shadow Project’s sublime From the Heart LP. Shades of Bowie and Marc Bolan certainly, but more specifically, Donovan.
Allow me to elaborate.
Rozz was never shy in extolling the virtues of Alice Cooper. A formative influence and the original death rock icon, Alice blazed a jet black trail across the 70’s, infecting the fertile imaginations of a generation with his vaudevillian take on Grand Guignol theatrics and tongue in cheek splashes of the sinister.
And on his 1973 number one charting LP Billion Dollar Babies, he employed the backing vocals of a certain chap named Donovan on the title track. Yes, that Donovan. The Hurdy Gurdy Sunshine Superman himself. They call him Mellow Yellow.
Listen closely to the first chorus. “We go dancing, nightly in the attic when the moon is rising in the sky.” Who does that remind you of? Take it to another level of intensity, pepper it with the earnest delivery of youth and voila. 1334! Now whether consciously or not, Rozz Williams was listening. Consciously or subconsciously he imbibed that tone. He drank it in. It infiltrated his bones.
Speaking to Ultimate Classic Rock.com, Donovan recalls “Once he (Alice) figured out his approach, I went in with this piercing falsetto and sang, ‘Biiillllion dollllar babbbbieeeees.’ I can do things with my voice like that,” Donovan continued. ‘Alice said, ‘That’s it, man. Let’s record.’ I think I did about half the vocals on that song. I have met Alice again over the years. It was really extraordinary to be a part of that song. ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ went to No. 1. I also did the talking part on the song: ‘We go dancing nightly in the attic.’ It was all like a horror movie; it was all tongue-in-cheek. I love Gothic mysteries. It has that spookiness.”
It certainly does.
“If I’m too rough tell me I’m so scared your little head will come off in my hands.”
“Let’s skirt the issue of discipline.”
Hammer Horror, Camp, Velvet. Sex. Death. It’s all there.
Alice Cooper -Billion Dollar Babies
Christian Death – Cavity First Communion
Donovan – Atlantis
October 7, 2016 at 7:25 pm
Good to see I’m not the only person who didn’t know him in life to pick up on that.
Plus, Rozz Williams was possibly the finest of the Bryan Ferry style vocalists (which I’d argue is a style of affected vibrato originating in pop music with Marc Bolan, but Ferry is far more widely known to employ the style), and I don’t even consider Ferry in the Top Three of Ferry-style vocalists (as a classically trained singer, I have a lot of reasons for thinking this, beginning with the fact that Ferry seems to have little control over hid own voice, and this is incredibly obvious to me when I’m watching him live).
September 12, 2016 at 6:00 pm
Astutely deduced, Andi!
Rozz was indeed a huge fan of Donovan and we listened to him constantly. I still have his Donovan vinyl in my collection. He had several Donovan albums and at one point was considering doing a cover version of Hurdy Gurdy Man (which he sang frequently about the house)! I also know for a fact that he was aware that Donovan sang backing vocals for Billion Dollar Babies. At any rate, Donovan’s influence was certainly there in Rozz’s extensive musical canon. He really had a vast knowledge of many genres of music and I think he was inspired by a large number of varied musicians and styles of music as well as art, literature and film.
As a side note, I had the great pleasure of seeing Donovan live in 2003 and he was every bit the Troubadour he always was!
September 11, 2016 at 1:23 pm
Rozz was a fan of 70s rock, and must have heard it, yeah there are some similarities in the voice at parts, but he was so much more Bowie inspired. Edward Colver was playing me this song the other day by Macabre (1972) which has similar guitar riff of DOGS interestingly at 2.00 mins in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gk0q6tjD6gY
Anyone interested in Rozz Williams join our campaign to find out more on:
The Art of Rozz Williams – From Christian Death to Death
New revised Hardcover Book, Edited by Nico B.
Launched now on INDIEGOGO. Support the campaign and get your copy now and perks!