B5. “The Supermen” (3:39)
Woodmansey heralds the song. Two bars in, he sets a rhythmic pattern of snare, kick drum, and booming timpani. Seven seconds in, Bowie howls upward from the distance as a root-fifth bass pattern lays the bedrock for the song’s F-G structure. Ronson enters at :20, laying gruff bar chords over Visconti’s bassline. The background vocals rise at each conclusion of the riff. The first word is sung just after the 30-second mark.
Bowie stretches words over the ongoing two-chord riff amid intensified howls and Ronson’s smoldering tone. After the four-line verse, the bridge signals a key change: A-G-C-E. Once Bowie emerges from the second bridge singing the line “Far out from the red sky” (2:05) the background howls are replaced with a deeper, more demonic wordless moan that shadows the lyrics.
An alteration of the bridge sequence brings the song to a crescendo in C as Bowie bellows “a super god cries.” During the instrumental break (2:33–3:00), Ronson plays thick, lyrical bends over D and E as Woodmansey rolls over each second bar. The song recapitulates for a final verse amid lower harmonies. In it’s final thirty seconds, the verse modulates to A♭-B♭ for two bars before taking an angular pivot (A-F-A♭) to its final resting place in C. The song ends on Bowie’s sustained utterance of “die” amid sirens and exhaust.
“The Supermen” has a martial rhythmic feel unlike anything else in Bowie’s repertoire. The tribal howls and thundering bar chords echo contemporaneous Led Zeppelin (“Immigrant Song“). Bowie later revealed that he got the F-G riff from Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, whom Bowie met five years earlier during a Mannish Boys session.
A1. “The Width of a Circle” (8:07)
A2. “All the Madmen” (5:38)
A3. “Black Country Rock” (3:33)
A4. “After All” (3:52)
B1. “Running Gun Blues” (3:12)
B2. “Saviour Machine” (4:27)
B3. “She Shook Me Cold” (4:13)
B4. “The Man Who Sold the World” (3:58)
B5. “The Supermen” (3:39)
1970 shortplayer sides:
“The Prettiest Star”
David Bowie — vocals, guitar, stylophone, organ, songwriter
Mick Ronson — guitar, backing vocals
Tony Visconti — bass, piano, guitar, recorder, backing vocals, producer
Mick Woodmansey — drums, percussion
Ralph Mace — moog synthesizer
Ken — engineer
Michael J. Weller — illustration
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