Take Five: Five Rock-era Brian Eno Tracks

Music fans who came up in the 1980s may recognize Brian Eno as the producer who helped make U2’s The Unforgettable Fire so… unforgettable. Older music fiends will be familiar with Eno’s groundbreaking ambient recordings and his collaborations with David Bowie. And then there’s his production of DEVO, his earliest work as a founding member of Roxy Music, and his always-fascinating art/music installations. Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno is equal parts unconventional and high-profile.

Yet one part of Eno’s career that’s sometimes overlooked is his mid ‘70s work as a solo artist working (more or less) in the rock idiom. With the help of some very talented friends, Eno created four remarkably enduring and accessible works in Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), Another Green World and Before and After Science. Here’s a rundown of five standout Eno tracks from that period.

“Baby’s On Fire (1974)
A highlight from Eno’s first solo release, this track exemplifies his abstract, surreal approach to lyrics. Eno’s practice of “treating” instruments to make them sound different than they would ordinarily sound gets some of its earliest use here. Personnel on the recording includes Hawkwind drummer Simon King and bassist John Wetton of Family, Uriah Heep and King Crimson (and later of of UK and Asia).

“Mother Whale Eyeless” (1974)
Eno’s muse was strong in ’74; he released not one but two albums that year. This unusual track from Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) combines a reliably out-there lyric with an uncharacteristically bouncy, almost pop song quality. The song’s chorus features female lead vocals; Eno sings on the verses. His former Roxy Music bandmate Phil Manzanera lends some distinctive (and deliberately wobbly) lead guitar work, while Phil Collins (Genesis, Brand X) adds drums to the core percussion parts played by Freddie Smith and Soft Machine founder Robert Wyatt.

“St Elmo’s Fire” (1975)
Widely acclaimed upon its release as Eno’s crowning achievement, 1975’s Another Green World combined his experimental, ambient and pop inclinations into an enduring and highly influential work. Nearly half of the record is taken up by evocative instrumental tracks filled with fascinating musical textures. The remaining songs – like this one – are more conventionally pop-oriented. Prepared piano and exotic percussion adorn this lovely tune, one filled with cheery vocal harmonies. Eno plays nearly all instruments on the recording, but perhaps the track’s most memorable feature is its soaring avant-garde lead guitar, courtesy of frequent collaborator (and King Crimson founder) Robert Fripp.

“Energy Fools the Magician” (1977)
This atmospheric instrumental track has a strongly cinematic quality. But unlike Eno’s forays into ambient music (like his Music for Films album), this recording features a rubbery, funky fretless bass at its core. Percy Jones – Phil Collins’ Brand X band mate – plays the bass. “Energy Fools the Magician” was also featured in the 1979 film starring the Ramones, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School; it was included on the soundtrack LP as well, bringing Eno’s music to an even wider audience.

“King’s Lead Hat” (1977)
Eno’s approach to both music and words is quite playful; that quality is sometimes missed by casual listeners. This clattering, upbeat recording from Before and After Science is among the most rock-oriented of Eno’s solo tracks, with a lead vocal reminiscent of DEVO. Its title provided a hint of things to come; taken together, the three words of the song title are an anagram for the name of an American group for whom Eno would soon produce three acclaimed albums.