David Bowie (January 8, 1947 – January 10, 2016) was an English singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and actor with a career in music and the performing arts that spanned more than fifty years.
He played in a sequence of mid-sixties beat groups and released two self-titled albums, charting first with the 1969 opus “Space Oddity.”
Between 1970 and 1972, Bowie released the acclaimed rock albums The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Popular songs from this period include “Changes,” “Life On Mars,” “Suffragette City,” “John, I’m Only Dancing,” and his composition “All the Young Dudes,” written for and recorded with Mott the Hoople. His band from this period, the Spiders from Mars, featured guitarist Mick Ronson and drummer Woody Woodmansey. Bowie retired the band after his 1973 release Aladdin Sane and its hit, “The Jean Genie.”
Halfway through the theatrical tour for his 1974 album Diamond Dogs, Bowie adopted R&B arrangements that led to his 1975 reinvention on Young Americans and the US chart-topper “Fame.” In 1976, he starred in the sci-fi drama The Man Who Fell to Earth and released Station to Station, embracing funk (“Golden Years”), balladry (“Wild Is the Wind”), and the experimental art-rock of his subsequent three albums: Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger, all recorded in Berlin with Brian Eno.
In 1980, Bowie’s courtship of the New Romantics fueled Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) and the hits “Ashes to Ashes” and “Fashion,” both accompanied by clips that helped popularize music video. He starred in the 1983 cult films The Hunger and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and reached newfound fame with the title-track to Let’s Dance and its singles “Modern Love” and “China Girl,” co-written with (and originally recorded by) Iggy Pop. Mid-decade, he recorded with Pat Metheny (“This Is Not America”) and Mick Jagger, dueting with the Rolling Stones singer on the Martha and the Vandellas classic “Dancing In the Street,” released as a charitable tie-in with Live Aid.
Known for his chameleon-like style changes, many of his projects were undertaken in the guise of distinct characters — Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, The Thin White Duke, Screaming Lord Byron — that became entwined with his public personae.
Bowie was born David Robert Jones on January 8, 1947, in Brixton, London, to waitress Margaret Mary “Peggy” (née Burns, 1913–2001) and promotions officer Haywood Stenton “John” Jones (1912–1969). In 1955, the family settled in Sundridge Park, where Jones sung in the school choir and played recorder. By age nine, teachers took notice of his unique way of dancing during music classes. That same year, he was introduced to rock ‘n’ roll and doo-wop by his father, who started buying records by Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Little Richard, The Platters, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, and other American performers.
At age eleven, Jones took up the ukulele and washtub bass, which he played at skiffle sessions among schoolmates. Soon thereafter, he started playing piano. His maternal half-brother, Terry Burns (1937–1985), introduced Jones to Beat poetry, jazz music, and the occult. Burns suffered from schizophrenia for most of his life, as did many members of Jones’ extended family, a predicament that would influence much of his early lyrics.
As Jones’ interest in jazz increased, his mom bought him a Grafton saxophone, which he learned under baritone saxist Ronnie Ross. In February 1962, Jones had an altercation with George Underwood, a friend and classmate who competed for the same girl. Underwood landed a punch that gave Jones a permanently dilated eye, causing the impression of heterochromia iridum. The two reconciled and made joint entries in London’s burgeoning beat scene.
King Bees, Manish Boys, Lower Third
In 1962 at age fifteen, Jones formed The Kondrads, a rock ‘n’ roll band with a fluctuating lineup of four-to-eight peers, including Underwood. Sensing the other’s lack of ambition, Jones and Underwood joined The King Bees, an R&B–beat combo that issued the single “Liza Jane” (b/w “Louie, Louie Go Home”) in 1964 on Vocalion Pop. “Liza Jane” was written by Jones’ first manager, Leslie Conn, who also wrote Underwood’s 1965 Columbia b-side “Remember,” released as Calvin James.
Jones joined The Manish Boys, a mod-soul septet that released a cover of the Bobby Bland hit “I Pity the Fool” (b/w the Jones original “Take My Tip”) on Parlophone in 1965. Both sides were produced by American transplant Shel Talmy, a soundman on early singles by The Kinks, The Who, and Manfred Mann.
In 1965, Jones changed his surname to Bowie in ode to the namesake knife designed by 19th century American folk hero James Bowie. That same year, he joined The Lower Third, a Who-influenced beat combo that issued “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” (b/w “And I Say to Myself”) in 1966 on Pye. He wrote both sides of the single, released as David Bowie with The Lower Third.
In early 1966, Bowie formed The Buzz, his unofficial backing combo comprised of Derek Boyes (organ), John Eager (drums), and Dek Fearnley (bass). They would back him on his first three singles and debut album. Concurrently, Bowie did a brief stint in Pye beatsters The Riot Squad, which cut the Bowie originals “Toy Soldier” and “Silver Tree Top Jam.”
1966: First Solo Singles
Between April and August of 1966, Bowie issued his first two solo singles: “Do Anything You Say” (b/w “Good Morning Girl”) and “I Dig Everything” (b/w “I’m Not Losing Sleep”), both issued on Pye and produced by Tony Hatch. That November, Bowie and the Buzz teamed with producer Mike Vernon on sessions that yielded the Deram single “The Laughing Gnome” (b/w “The Gospel According to Tony Day”), released the following April.
1967: David Bowie
Bowie released his self-titled debut album in June 1967 on Deram. It features seven originals per side, including “She’s Got Medals,” “We Are Hungry Men,” “Silly Boy Blue,” and “Uncle Arthur.” The album spawned two singles: “Love You Till Tuesday” and “Rubber Band.” The respective b-sides were non-album tracks: “Did You Ever Have a Dream” and “The London Boys.”
David Bowie was produced by Vernon and engineered by Gus Dudgeon during the prior winter at Decca Studios. Photographer Gerald Fearnley took the cover shot of Bowie, who sports the mod French cut, a hairstyle also worn at the time by Rod Stewart and Small Faces singer Steve Marriott. US copies have a light blue border.
1968: Turquoise / Feathers
In 1968, Bowie formed the folk trio Turquoise with Tony Hill and Hermione Farthingale, an early love interest. Before the proposed release of their single “Ching-a-Ling,” Hill cleared way for John Hutchinson. The combo renamed itself Feathers but fell apart before the re-dubbed single could be released. During this time, Bowie studied mime under choreographer Lindsay Kemp. Two of Bowie’s compositions from this period were covered by other artists: “Over the Wall We Go” (Oscar, aka Paul Nicholas) and “Silly Boy Blue” (Billy Fury).
1969: Love You Till Tuesday
In January 1969, Bowie filmed a collection of videos for the promotional film Love You Till Tuesday. The 28-minute film features theatrical clips of the three songs from his debut album: “Rubber Band,” “When I Live My Dream,” and “Love You till Tuesday.” It also includes a clip of “Ching-a-Ling” with Hermione and Hutchinson, as well as five new songs: “Sell Me a Coat,” “When I’m Five,” “The Mask (A Mime),” “Let Me Sleep Beside You,” and one demoed at the last minute, “Space Oddity.”
Love You Till Tuesday was the brainchild of Bowie’s then-manager, Kenneth Pitt, who hoped it would expose the young artist to a wider audience. The clips were filmed between January 26 and February 7, 1969, with director Malcom J. Thomson. Bowie, who recently auditioned for a role in the war comedy The Virgin Soldiers, wore a wig in the video to hide his military haircut. Pitt failed to find a distributor for Love You Till Tuesday, which was vaulted until 1984, when it appeared on VHS.
Meanwhile, Bowie and Hermione parted ways. He left Deram that June, at which point Pitt secured Bowie a deal with Mercury, where A&R staff were impressed with “Space Oddity.”
“Space Oddity” is a psychedelic folk-rock epic about space travel inspired by filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s recent sci-fi movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The song concerns Major Tom, an astronaut who cuts off circuitry with ground control and drifts off into the far reaches of space. Bowie first recorded “Space Oddity” in January 1969 for Love You Till Tuesday and rerecorded the song in June as his debut release on Philips. Dudgeon produced the second version, which appeared on July 11, 1969, as a tie-in with the upcoming Apollo 11 moon landing. The BBC aired the song on July 20 during their broadcast of the event.
“Space Oddity” consists primarily of acoustic guitar, Mellotron, and the Stylophone: a pen-activated analog toy instrument. The song fades in slowly with an open E note (Fmaj7…Em…) before the lyrics start (C….Em…). The second stanza accompanies a countdown to the liftoff (“check ignition and may god’s love be with you…”), followed by engine sounds (strings). Chorus: Mellotron swells on the first stanza, sung from ground control (“You’ve really made the grade”); the second stanza is from Major Tom (“the stars look very different today”). Bridge: Major Tom, from his “tin can,” observes (over a descending chordal sequence) “planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do” (landing in sustained F). Middle eight: brisk, closed-cadence acoustic strum (C→E-F→E-G→A-A-A), followed by a spacey, open-cadence sequence (Fmaj7….Em….Am….C….D….) and capped by a blowout sound (emphasized with falling bass). Second chorus: Major Tom blesses his wife, then cuts off his circuit. Ground control tries fruitlessly to reconnect with Major Tom, who repeats his blue planet observation and floats off into the cosmos.
Bowie plays Stylophone and 12-string acoustic guitar on “Space Oddity,” which features up-and-coming keyboardist Rick Wakeman (on Mellotron), Pentangle drummer Terry Cox, and lead guitar by Mick Wayne, formerly of psychsters The Tickle. Arranger Paul Buckmaster conducted strings on this and Bowie’s upcoming album.
After the song’s initial low chart peak, Bowie mimed “Space Oddity” on the October 9, 1969, broadcast of Top of the Pops, which sent the single to No. 5 on the UK Chart. He also performed the song on music programs in Germany (4-3-2-1 Musik Für Junge Leute) and Switzerland (Hits A-Go-Go).
David Bowie [Man of Words / Man of Music]
David Bowie’s second self-titled album appeared on November 14, 1969, on Philips (UK, Oceania). It opens with “Space Oddity” and features eight additional songs, including two folks songs about Farthingale (“Letter to Hermione,” “An Occasional Dream”), two epic narratives (“Cygnet Committee,” “Memory of a Free Festival”), and the dark-themed “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud.”
“Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed” a mid-tempo Dylanesque folk song (mostly in C) comprised of brisk acoustic guitar, twangy leads, wailing harmonica, and lyrics about a peasant’s entreaty to a landowner’s daughter.
“Letter to Hermione” is a sparse love lament with unaccompanied double-tracked acoustic strum. The three verses respectively address his heartbreak (“I care for no one else but you I tear my soul to cease the pain”), her possible regret (“something tells me that you hide When all the world is warm and tired You cry a little in the dark”), and her new man’s slippery hold on her (“did you ever call my name Just by mistake?”).
“Cygnet Committee” (9:33) is a lengthy mid-tempo narrative about Bowie’s disappointment with an arts lab he briefly ran for London youth with his recent girlfriend, American model Angela Barnett. He quit the lab after realizing the kids were only there to watch him perform. The word cygnet (a young swan) is used as a metaphor for youth who “drained my very soul…dry.” Verse after verse, he uses Old World conflicts as metaphors for the failed venture and quotes the MC5 (“Kick Out the Jams”). The tune derives from “Lover to the Dawn,” an earlier song that Bowie intended for Feathers.
“Janine” is a three-chord folk strum based on an early girlfriend of George Underwood.
“An Occasional Dream” is a soft folk tune ala Synanthesia with a prominent flute refrain. It concerns his time with Hermione and the dreams they shared of “a Swedish room of hessian and wood.” He opens up about his “weeping nights” and how “it was long, long ago… and I can’t touch your name.”
“Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud” is about a condemned young man’s final hours before his hanging. It opens similar to “Space Oddity” with loose, dark strum; soon joined with orchestration. The song proceeds with roaming acoustic chords and epic, harp-laden Hollywood strings. Clapped closed-cadence verses commence (in C) as the execution looms.
“God Knows I’m Good” is a drummerless strummed folk tune (mostly in G) about a god-fearing old lady shoplifter.
“Memory of a Free Festival” has a lengthy intro of chord organ (an accordion-tone keyboard) about a hippie music festival where attendees hallucinate and transcend themselves. The clapped second half is a three-chord (D…C…G…) harmonized chant (“The sun machine is coming down, and we’re gonna have a party”).
Wakeman plays on the album along with guitarist Tim Renwick (Magna Carta, Quiver) and bassist Herbie Flowers (Rumplestiltskin, Hungry Wolf). Apart from the Dudgeon-produced “Space Oddity,” this marked Bowie’s first of many pairings with producer Tony Visconti, who also plays bass, flute, and recorder on select tracks. Cello parts are played by Buckmaster, who subsequently arranged strings on 1970 albums by Elton John (Tumbleweed Connection) and the self-titled release by Quatermass. David Bowie was engineered by Ken Scott (Procol Harum, Third Ear Band), who mastered the singer’s next five proper studio albums.
In Canada, David Bowie appeared on Mercury with the tagline “Man of Words/Man of Music,” mistaken by some as the actual title. This was used as the title on original US pressings. In 1972, RCA reissued the album stateside as Space Oddity after the song became his breakthrough Billboard hit. That issue sports a revised cover, presenting him in his then-current orange haired likeness.
1970: “The Prettiest Star”
In March 1970, Bowie married Angela the American model and actress he met the prior year. She took on the name Angie Bowie. As a tribute, he wrote “The Prettiest Star,” released that month as a single, backed with the MoWMoM outtake “Conversation Piece.” Tyrannosaurus Rex frontman Marc Bolan played the guitar line on this version of “Prettiest Star,” which Bowie later re-recorded for his 1973 album Aladdin Sane. Him and Bolan became friendly public competitors for the following half-decade.
Bowie, still enticed by the prospect of band life, formed Hype with Visconti (on bass) and two new musical acquaintances, guitarist Mick Ronson and drummer Mick “Woody” Woodmansey, both of Hull beatsters The Rats. They debuted at the Roundhouse Spring Festival, a February 2 event with sets by Bachdenkel, Caravan, and the Groundhogs.
Angie designed Hype’s wardrobe: a mix of superhero and gangster costumes. On the 28, they filled in for Strawbs at the Basildon Arts Centre, supported by High Tide. For one show at London’s Streatham Arms, Hype appeared under the pseudonym Harry The Butcher.
Hype were booked for an April 27 show at the Poco a Poco Club in Stockport’s Heaton Chapel, but Woodmansey injured his finger. Bowie played a solo set that evening, which also featured Barclay James Harvest, The Purple Gang, and High Tide (performing their late 1969 album Sea Shanties). After the show, Bowie missed his train back home and slept in Stockport Railway Station. He soon halted Hype but retained Ronson and Woodmansey as backing players.
In April, Bowie cut his third album at Trident and Advision studios. The first product of these sessions was a re-recording of “Memory of a Free Festival,” split across two sides of a standalone single, released in June 1970. It features Moog synthesizer by Ralph Mace, who produced MPB recordings by Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil.
On August 1, Bowie played the Eastwood Free Festival, an event organized by Blackhill Benefit for Release at Eastwoodbury Lane in Southend-on-Sea with sets by the Edgar Broughton Band, Michael Chapman, and Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band reedist Roger Ruskin Spear.
The Man Who Sold the World
David Bowie’s third album, The Man Who Sold the World, was first released in November 1970 in the US on Mercury Records. It features nine originals, including “All the Madmen,” “The Width of a Circle,” “The Supermen,” and “Black Country Rock.” Visconti plays bass, piano, recorder, and secondary guitar. Bowie himself plays stylophone, organ, and saxophone on select tracks, in addition to guitar.
Original US copies sport an illustration of a rifle-toting hillbilly in front of the Cane Hill asylum where Terry Burns was institutionalized for many years. That and the back-cover “Oh by Jingo” drawing, where a Marilyn-esque woman walks arm-in-arm with two smiling men (one suited and one ruffian), was illustrated by Bowie’s friend, cartoon artist Michael J. Weller.
In the UK, The Man Who Sold the World was released in April 1971 with a different cover that shows a long-haired Bowie reclined on a blue velvet furnishing in a long, fish-patterned satin dress. In Germany, the album was housed in a bright red, six-fold circular cover with Bowie’s head affixed to a flying hand with rooster wings. In 1972, the album was reissued globally on RCA with a b&w stage photo of a short-haired Bowie (Ziggy era) doing a high kick.
The Man Who Sold the World spawned no singles, though a test-press 7″ exists of “All the Madmen,” backed with “Janine” from the prior album.
1971: “Holy Holy”
In November 1970, Bowie entered Island Studios with Flowers and guitarist Alan Parker (also Rumplestiltskin) to cut a new song, “Holy Holy,” released as a standalone single in January 1971 (b/w “Black Country Rock”).
Upon returning from a stateside promo trip that February, he wrote a new batch of songs, mostly on piano. Before recording his own proper version, his demo of “Oh! You Pretty Things” reached Herman’s Hermits vocalist Peter Noone, who covered it for his first solo single, released in April 1971 (UK #12).
In March 1971, Bowie toyed with another band idea, Arnold Corns, which involved Ronson, Woodmansey, and bassist Trevor Bolder. Their one single, “Moonage Daydream” (b/w “Hang On to Yourself”), appeared in May 1971 on B & C Records. (Both songs were rerecorded for the Ziggy Stardust album.) The Arnold Corns project included two songs (“Man in the Middle” and “Looking for a Friend”) earmarked for their proposed singer, fashion designer Freddi Burretti (aka Rudi Valentino).
In June, Bowie appeared at the Glastonbury Fair, a five-day event with sets by Arthur Brown, Brinsley Schwarz, Fairport Convention, Family, Gong, Hawkwind, Linda Lewis, Pink Fairies, Quintessence, Terry Reid, and Traffic. Bowie took stage on the pre-dawn hours of day two (Wednesday the 23rd) and performed “The Supermen,” “Memory of a Free Festival,” and the Jacque Brel cover “Amsterdam,” plus material from his upcoming album.
That same month, Bowie entered Trident Studios with Ronson, Woodmansey, Bolder, and Wakeman to record his fourth album. Scott produced the album in lieu of Visconti, who now busied himself with Gentle Giant (Acquiring the Taste), Osibisa, and Wakeman’s current band, the Strawbs. Bowie’s new manager, Tony Defries, presented the tapes to RCA Victor, which signed the artist to a multi-album deal.
On September 25, Bowie and his band performed at the Friar’s Club in Aylesbury as part of a multi-act bill that featured Mick Softley and free-jazz saxophonist Lol Coxhill. A fourth schedule act, America, cancelled their set.
Hunky Dory appeared on RCA (all territories) in December 1971. Side one contains some of his best-loved early material, including “Changes,” “Life On Mars?,” and “Quicksand,” a lyrical collage indebted to Friedrich Nietzsche and the occult. “Kooks,” a lighthearted folk number, is noted for its lyrical references to Bowie’s new role as father to Duncan Jones (aka Zowie Bowie), born on May 30, 1971. The cabaret-styled “Oh! You Pretty Things” segues into “Eight Line Poem.”
Side two starts with “Fill Your Heart,” a vaudevillian number first recorded in 1968 by American comedian and songwriter Biff Rose. It segues into “Andy Warhol,” a briskly strummed ode to the Pop Art icon. The following “Song for Bob Dylan,” another tribute piece, features a countrified Ronson lick over a descending chordal pattern. “Queen Bitch” is a loud, strident rocker dedicated to the Velvet Underground. The album wraps with “The Bewlay Brothers,” an obliquely worded number (“He’s Chameleon, Comedian, Corinthian and Caricature”) with a distorted vocal coda.
Arrangement-wise, Hunky Dory recalls the acoustic subtleties of Bowie’s self-titled second album. The predominance of piano on select tracks lends elements of cabaret and music hall, which he’d further employ on his next three albums. Only “Queen Bitch,” with its three-chord power riff and blasting chorus, anticipates the harder approach of his three subsequent albums.
“Bombers,” another uptempo number, was slated for side two but dropped in favor of “Fill Your Heart.” It appeared on a late-1971 promo single (b/w “Eight Line Poem”) but didn’t see widespread release until the 1990 CD reissue of Hunky Dory on Rykodisc.
Another song intended for the album was “It Ain’t Easy,” written by Louisiana singer–songwriter Ron Davies and included on his 1970 A&M release Silent Song Through the Land. The song was recently popularized by Three Dog Night. Bowie’s version features backing vocals by singer–actress Dana Gillespie, who cut her own version of “Andy Warhol.” Bowie produced her version along with the Dana original “Mother, Don’t Be Frightened,” both recorded with Arnold Corns. Though shelved at the time, both songs appear on her 1974 album Weren’t Born a Man.
Hunky Dory is the first of four albums Bowie co-produced with Ken Scott, who engineered the album in succession with titles by Aubrey Small, Lindisfarne (Fog On the Tyne), Linda Lewis, Sweet Slag, and Van Der Graaf Generator (Pawn Hearts).
Hunky Dory and its followup feature the photography of Brian Ward. The front profile, inspired by Greta Garbo, captures Bowie in a demure Hollywood siren mode. It was taken in black and white but colorized by Terry Pastor, who illustrated 1971/72 covers for Three Man Army and Byzantium. The back cover is a sepia full-body upshot of Bowie in Oxford baggies. The original concept had Bowie seated lotus style in Pharaoh attire. Pastor’s illustrations are co-credited to George Underwood, Bowie’s fair-weather Konrads friend and Terry’s recent partner in the design firm Main Artery. Ward’s photography also appears on recent albums by Blodwyn Pig, Chicken Shack, Jethro Tull, and Steeleye Span.
“Changes,” with its loungey intro, piano-thumping buildup, emotive verses, swelling chorus, and enduring refrain (“time may change me, but I can’t trace time”), remains a staple of US radio.
Ziggy Stardust Tour
Upon completion of Hunky Dory, Bowie’s backing band finalized with Ronson, Woodmansey, and Bolder. Wakeman declined an offer of membership to join Yes, where he replaced keyboardist Tony Kaye for their November 1971 fourth album Fragile.
Before heading out on tour, Bowie and his band recorded a followup to Hunky Dory comprised of rockier material better suited to the four piece lineup. Its eventual title gave the band a name: The Spiders from Mars. Their Burretti-tailored wardrobe consisted of sequined patterned tops, cuffed high-water trousers, and laced knee-high boots. With guidance from Lindsay Kemp, Bowie enacted pantomime routines where he would feel his way across (imaginary) glass walls, seeking the (invisible) escape route.
Bowie adopted the stage personae Ziggy Stardust, an androgynous alien humanoid. He named the character after a London tailor shop called Ziggy’s (which he liked because it rhymed with Iggy of The Stooges) and the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, an outlaw Texan cult figure. Parts of the character were modeled on fifties UK rock ‘n’ roll singer Vince Taylor. As Ziggy, Bowie sported a spiky bi-level haircut. By mid-1972, he dyed it bright orange in emulation of the fiery wigs worn by the models of Japanese kabuki street-style designer Kansai Yamamoto.
The Ziggy tour had six legs with 191 shows across an eighteen-month period. It launched with a warm-up show on January 29, 1972, at the Friar’s Club in Aylesbury. The first UK leg consisted of 63 shows through early September, including dates with the Sutherland Brothers (2/18/72: Sheffield University) and unsigned jazz-rockers Armada (2/25: Avery Hill College). On February 14, they played the Dome in Brighton with the Groundhogs, then performing songs from their recent Split and its upcoming followup Who Will Save the World? The Mighty Groundhogs. When the Spiders pulled from an April 17 bill at New Lord’s Club in Gravesend, the slot was filled by the Irish folk duo Tír na nÓg.
For their April 20 show at the Harlow Playhouse, Ziggy and the Spiders were joined by keyboardist Matthew Fisher, a member of the intial studio-based lineup of Procol Harum that recorded “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” On May 6, they played Kingston Polytechnic with Scottish folksters the JSD Band. When Fisher fell ill, Bowie summoned his old neighbor, keyboardist Robin Lumbley (later of Brand X).
On June 17, Ziggy and the Spiders played Town Hall in Oxford, where photographer Mick Rock pictured Bowie in the act of oral simulation on Ronson’s guitar strings — an image splashed on the pages of Melody Maker.
1972: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
On June 16, 1972, David Bowie released his fifth album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Most of the songs chart the odyssey of Ziggy Stardust, an alien rock star sent to entertain a doomed planet Earth. Musically, the songs range from contemporary hard rock (“Moonage Daydream,” “Suffragette City”) to neo-fifties boogie (“Star,” “Hang On to Yourself”) with forays into piano-cabaret (“Lady Stardust”) and melodramatic balladry (“Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”).
Sessions took place between November 1971 and February 1972 at Trident. Aside from the ten originals that made the cut (and the Davies cover from the Hunky Dory sessions), the Spiders also recorded the Bowie originals “Looking For a Friend,” “Velvet Goldmine,” “Sweet Head,” “It’s Gonna Rain Again,” “Shadow Man,” and a second version of “Holy Holy,” plus covers of Chuck Berry (“Around and Around”) and Jacques Brel (“Amsterdam”) — all for an intended double album under the working title Round and Round.
Scott co-produced and engineered Ziggy Stardust ahead of 1972 albums by Elton John (Honky Château), Joan Armatrading, Harry Nilsson (Son of Schmilsson), and Pilot. The heightened profile afforded “It Ain’t Easy” prompted its writer, Ron Davies, to rerecord the song with a funky swamp-rock arrangement for his 1973 second album UFO.
For the Ziggy Stardust cover, Ward photographed Bowie (in monochrome) outside K. West, a London furrier on at 23 Heddon Street. The back cover shows Bowie inside a nearby phone booth. Pastor added the gradient, rounded serif typeface and colorized both images, rendering Bowie’s then-brown hair blond.
RCA lifted “Starman” as a single (b/w “Suffragette City”). Bowie and the Spiders performed the song on the July 5, 1972, broadcast of the BBC One music program Top of the Pops. In the clip, Bowie points directly to the camera on the line “I had to phone someone, so I picked on you” — a gesture that endured him to thousands of young watchers who were awestruck by his charisma and newfangled appearance. This catapulted the song to No. 10 on the UK Singles Chart and sent TRaFoZSatSfM to No. 5 on the UK Albums Chart. In light of Bowie’s newfound fame, Hunky Dory catapulted to No. 3 on the UK Albums Chart.
“All the Young Dudes”, Transformer
Between the completion and release of Ziggy Stardust, Bowie pitched “Suffragette City” to Mott the Hoople, a cult hard-rock act with four albums on Island Records. After they deemed the song ill-suited to their style, Bowie offered “All the Young Dudes,” a song he wrote within a half-hour and presented to them on acoustic guitar. Bowie produced their recording in May 1972 at Olympic Studios. Defries signed Mott to his MainMan management firm and secured them a new deal with CBS–Columbia.
“All the Young Dudes” is a mid-tempo rocker with descending root notes in D major, overlaid with a pick-squealing solo by Mott guitarist Mick Ralphs. The lyrics describe post-apocalyptic youth whose antics “carry the news” in the sensational media. Bowie sings the bridge couplet: “Television man is crazy saying we’re juvenile delinquent wrecks. Oh, man, I need TV when I’ve got T.Rex.” He harmonizes with singer Ian Hunter on the clapped chorus. The lyrics also namecheck The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and the British retailer Marks & Sparks.
“All the Young Dudes” reached No. 3 on the UK Albums Chart, No. 4 in Ireland, and No. 13 in New Zealand. Bowie also produced its title-sake album, which reached No. 21 on the UK Albums Chart and spawned two further singles: “One of the Boys” and the Velvet Underground cover “Sweet Jane.” The liaison was a game-changer for Mott, a once-struggling act that went on to make the charting 1973–74 albums Mott and The Hoople and score further hits with “All the Way from Memphis,” “Honaloochie Boogie,” and “Roll Away the Stone.”
In August 1972, Bowie and Ronson co-produced Transformer, the second solo album by former Velvets frontman Lou Reed. It features eleven Reed originals, mostly from his VU days, including the Billboard No. 16 hit “Walk On the Wild,” a slice of beatnik street-corner jazz with lyrical vignettes about Warhol’s Factory subjects (Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Joe Campbell). Musically, the album encompasses Spiders-like rock (“Vicious,” “Hangin’ ‘Round,” “I’m So Free”), balladry (“Perfect Day,” “Satellite of Love”), and twenties-style ragtime (“Make Up,” “Goodnight Ladies”) and cabaret (“New York Telephone Conversation”). Bolder plays trumpet on the vaudevillian numbers.
Reed joined Bowie for a July 8 set at London’s Royal Festival Hall, where the Spiders played a Save the Whale benefit with JSD and Marmalade. Bowie added the VU chestnuts “White Light / White Heat” and “I’m Waiting for the Man” to the Spiders’ setlist, which featured most of the originals from Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust, plus “Space Oddity” and favorites from TMWStW (“The Width of a Circle,” “The Supermen”) and MoWMoM (“Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud,” “Memory of a Free Festival”).
The Ziggy Stardust tour continued with support from rising stars Roxy Music (8/19–20: Rainbow, London) and brass-rockers Iguana (9/2–3: The Hardrock Concert Theatre, Manchester). Lumley cleared out for Tucky Buzzard keyboardist Nicky Graham, who played out the tour’s first UK leg, which concluded on September 7 at the Top Rank Suite in Hanley.
“John, I’m Only Dancing”
On September 1, 1972, David Bowie released a non-album single, “John, I’m Only Dancing.” The song is an up-tempo neo-fifties rocker with verses that describe a dance floor lust object (“Annie’s pretty neat, She always eats her meat”), followed by an address to the subject (the narrator’s apparent partner) with ambiguous connotations:
John, I’m only dancing
She turns me on
But I’m only dancing
She turns me on
But don’t get me wrong
I’m only dancing
Bowie sings these words in an airy tone that, paired with his bedroom-eyed glances in the song’s video, indicate a pansexual subtext — possibly sung from the point of view of a faumosexual getting drawn back to his true heterosexual nature.
“John, I’m Only Dancing” has brisk acoustic verses (G major with suspended 4ths and booming malleted toms), a flowing chorus (E minor with walking bass lines), and an electrified guitar refrain (piercing leads in A major). The song ends with tremolo-laden feedback.
Bowie recorded the song on June 26, 1972, at Olympic Studios, backed by the Spiders from Mars and Lou Reed, who’s credited with rhythm guitar. The Ziggy track “Hang On to Yourself” appeared on the b-side.
The Spiders embarked on a 21-city tour of the United States, where they welcomed Mike Garson, a jazz and blues pianist who recently played on the RCA Victor release I’m the One by avant-garde composer Annette Peacock. The US tour featured dates with Ruth Copeland (9/28: Carnegie Hall, NYC), Styx (10/15: Memorial Hall, Kansas City, Mo.), and Sylvester (10/27–28: Winterland, San Francisco).
Defries lavished on Bowie’s stateside touring accommodations. Cherry Vanilla, a Bowie flame and publicist at MainMan’s New York office, generated media buzz on the singer with innuendos about his sexuality. Purportedly, she promised sexual favors to US radio programmers in exchange for airplay. With his profile on the upswing, Bowie appeared painted, shirtless, and saturated on the cover of the November 9, 1972, issue of Rolling Stone magazine beside the headline “Are You Man Enough for David Bowie?”
During the Spiders’ stop in Los Angeles for a two-nighter at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium (Oct. 20–21), Bowie spent a day at Western Sound Recorders, where he mixed Raw Power, the 1973 third album by Iggy & the Stooges. The album’s trebly lo-fi sound and fluid riff-based songs exerted widespread influence on ensuing generations of punk rock. The Spiders wrapped their US leg with a four-night engagement (Nov. 29–Dec. 2) at Tower Theater in Upper Darby, opened on the first night by Mott the Hoople.
“The Jean Genie”
On November 24, 1972, Bowie issued “The Jean Genie,” a fuzzy R&B rocker with a titular pun on French author Jean Genet. The lyrics concern a subterranean character based loosely on Iggy Pop. Bowie wrote the tune for the amusement of his New York flame, Warhol acolyte Cyrinda Foxe.
“The Jean Genie” takes its riff from the Yardbirds‘ arrangement of the Bo Diddley chestnut “I’m a Man” — a six-note pattern with a hammered 4th in E major. Ronson plays a rattling one-note solo on the track, which features Bowie on harmonica. They recorded the song in 90 minutes on October 6 at RCA Studios, NYC.
Mick Rock, most recently responsible for the Transformer cover, directed the “Jean Genie” video, in which a Spiders soundstage performance is inter-cut with San Francisco street footage of Bowie and Cyrinda, whose platinum tresses embody the line “Talking bout Monroe and walkin’ on snow white.”
“The Jean Genie” (b/w “Ziggy Stardust”) reached No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart. Bowie and the Spiders performed the song live for the January 4, 1973, broadcast of Top of the Pops.
Ziggy and The Spiders did a winter 1972–73 UK tour with a two-night Christmas engagement at London’s Rainbow Theatre. They followed with a Feb–March US tour that included two nights at Radio Music Hall and another multi-night stand at Tower Theater. In April, they went to Japan for a five-city, nine-show tour. Bowie, an aviophobic in his younger adulthood, traveled overseas by water.
1973: Aladdin Sane
David Bowie released his sixth album, Aladdin Sane, on April 13, 1973, on RCA. It features “The Jean Genie” and seven new originals, mostly written on the first US legs of the Ziggy Stardust tour. The album also includes a remake of his 1970 a-side “The Prettiest Star” and one non-original: a synth-laden cover of the Rolling Stones 1967 hit “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” The title is a phonetic portmanteau of “A lad insane” with the first three syllables disguised as Aladdin (the namesake of a Middle-Eastern folk tale.)
Side one has four songs tied to specific US cities. “Watch That Man” (New York) is a hard-rock boogie inspired by the New York Dolls. “Drive-In Saturday” (Seattle, Phoenix) is a neo-fifties harmony shuffle with lyrical vignettes about post-nuclear sexuality, inspired by silver domes that Bowie mistook for radiation shelters during his commute between the two cities. “Panic in Detroit” is a percussive T. Rex-like rocker with references to young radicals (“He looked a lot like Che Guevara, drove a diesel van”) and the city’s 1967 riots. “Cracked Actor” (Los Angeles) is a thundering romp about Hollywood harlots and drug fiends.
Garson, retained from the recent tour, dominates three songs with his piano work. “Aladdin Sane (1913–1938–197?)” is a loungey third stream number with lyrics inspired by Vile Bodies, a 1930 satirical novel by Evelyn Waugh about the party life of affluent Londoners in the aftermath of World War I. Bowie’s airy, multi-tracked vocals are gradually enveloped by Garson’s free-form piano runs. Bowie dedicated the song to the RHMS Ellinis, on which he sailed back home from the US tour.
“Time” is a Weill-like cabaret about the death of original Dolls drummer Billy Murcia. It resolves on a clapping, unison vocable, ala “Hey Jude.” The closing “Lady Grinning Soul” is a lush ballad with ivory cadenzas and a Spanish guitar break. The lyrics purportedly concern French singer Amanda Lear, a recent Bowie flame who appeared on the cover of Roxy Music’s 1973 second album For Your Pleasure.
Sessions for Aladdin Sane (apart from “The Jean Genie”) took place in December 1972 and January 1973 at Trident. Tracks completed but withheld from the album include “1984,” a melodramatic number inspired by George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four; and a second recording of “John, I’m Only Dancing,” rendered with saxophone by Ken Fordham and Brian ‘Bux’ Wilshaw, a onetime member of brass-rockers Brainchild. Aladdin Sane features backing vocals by Linda Lewis, Juanita “Honey” Franklin, and G.A. MacCormack, a singer–dancer and onetime classmate of Bowie.
Aladdin Sane is housed in a gatefold sleeve that shows Bowie shut-eyed, shirtless, and brow-shaven with a teardrop on his collarbone. A red and blue lightning bolt emblazons his face. On the vertical inner-gate, he stands against a white background with enlarged replicas of the bolt. His body turns to faded gray below the chest. The makeup artist, Pierre Laroche, also styled the 1973 Playboy Playmate of the Year, Marilyn Cole, for her gatefold cover spread on Stranded, the third album by Roxy Music. His bolt design also appears on the inner-sleeve of Aladdin Sane. This was the first of multiple times Bowie posed for British Vogue photographer Brian Duffy, a fixture of Swinging London.
A week before the album’s release, RCA lifted “Drive-In Saturday” as a second single, backed with the Chuck Berry cover “Round and Round,” an outtake from the Ziggy Stardust sessions. It reached No. 3 on the UK Singles Chart. In its stead, RCA issued “Time” as the second Aladdin Sane single in North America and Japan.
Aladdin Sane reached No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart and went Top 5 in France, Sweden, and the Netherlands. It also reached No. 7 in Australia and went Top 20 in Canada and the United States, where it was certified Gold by the RIAA.
Bowie now occupied the UK chart with five albums, including Hunky Dory, the source of his next single “Life on Mars,” a summer 1973 UK No. 3 hit. Mick Rock directed the song’s promo clip, which shows Bowie in an aqua suit and matching eye shadow against a bright white backdrop.
Ziggy Stardust Retirement
Bowie and the Spiders launched a seven-week UK tour on May 12 at Earls Court, London. This, the sixth and final leg of the Ziggy Stardust tour, covered 39 cities in England and Scotland, culminating with a July 3 show at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, where Jeff Beck joined the band for a medley of “The Jean Genie” and The Beatles’ “Love Me Do.” Bowie ended the show with a surprise announcement: “Of all the shows on this tour, this particular show will remain with us the longest, because not only is it the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do.”
Bowie — fatigued by the Ziggy act and troubled by an inability to switch between his on- and off-stage personalities — informed Ronson of his intention to end the Spiders, but didn’t tell Bolder or Woodsmaney, who were both shocked by David’s announcement. The Hammersmith show is documented on the 1979 concert film Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which contains backstage footage of the singer cavorting with Ringo Starr and trading jabs with his then-wife, Angela Bowie.
July 3 was also notable for a backstage heist carried out by two budding musicians, Steve Jones and Wally Nightingale, who made off with the Spiders’ PA and costly Neumann microphones. The two thieves formed The Strand (named after the Roxy Music song), which eventually morphed into the Sex Pistols.
Woodsmaney, who promptly ended his Bowie association, regrouped with Bolder in a second incarnation of the Spiders from Mars, which issued a self-titled album in 1976 on Pye Records. He then formed Woody Woodmansey’s U-Boat for an eponymous 1977 album on the Bronze label. In 1979, he surfaced in the Cobra Records one-off Screen Idols.
On October 19, 1973, David Bowie released Pin Ups, an album of sixties covers. It features renditions of his favorite UK songs from the Beat era, including numbers by the Yardbirds (“I Wish You Would”), Them (“Here Comes the Night”), The Kinks (“Where Have All the Good Times Gone”), The Mojos (“Everything’s Alright”), The Merseys (“Sorrow”), and two songs apiece by The Who (“I Can’t Explain,” “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”) and The Pretty Things (“Rosalyn,” “Don’t Bring Me Down”). Pin Ups also includes covers of Aussie beatsters The Easybeats (“Friday on My Mind”) and the early Pink Floyd side “See Emily Play,” rendered with orchestral-psych whimsy.
Bowie conceived Pin Ups as a stop-gap for his label, which wanted a new album from the exhausted singer before the 1973 holiday season. Sessions took place in July and August in Hérouville, France, at the Château d’Hérouville, the site of recent recording by T. Rex and Elton John, who named Honky Château after the 18th century property. Jethro Tull used the château for an ill-fated round of sessions that became henceforth known as the Château d’Isaster tapes, elements of which filtered to their 1973/74 albums A Passion Play and War Child.
Pin Ups features backing by Fordham, MacCormack, Garson, and drummer Aynsley Dunbar, plus Ronson and Bolder. The last four, along with Bowie, backed Scottish singer Lulu on her July 1973 covers of “Watch That Man” and “The Man Who Sold the World,” released as a single on Polydor. Dunbar surfaced soon after in West Coast rockers Journey.
Pin Ups is Bowie’s final co-production with Ken Scott, who also worked on 1973 albums by Esperanto, Rick Wakeman, Mahavishnu Orchestra (Birds of Fire), and the solo debut by Mahavishnu drummer (and ongoing client) Billy Cobham (Spectrum). Scott subsequently engineered titles by Stanley Clarke, The Tubes, Happy the Man, and worked with Supertramp on their 1974/75 breakthrough albums Crime of the Century and Crisis? What Crisis? The engineer on Pin Ups, Dennis Mackay, worked on Ronson’s two ensuing solo albums: Slaughter On 10th Avenue and Play Don’t Worry.
On the Pin Ups cover, Bowie is pictured with sixties supermodel Twiggy. The photograph, by Twiggy’s then-partner (and manager) Justin De Villeneuve, was originally intended for Vogue magazine. To match her tanned skin to Bowie’s pale complexion, Laroche applied makeup masks to both subjects. The back cover features hand-written credits and tinted solo pics of Bowie by Mick Rock, including a sax-wielding image of the singer in a Freddie Burretti suit. An additional image from that shoot appears on the blue-tinted inner-sleeve.
RCA lifted “Sorrow” as a single, backed with the Jacques Brel cover “Amsterdam” from the Ziggy sessions. Bowie’s version of “Sorrow” — first a 1965 b-side by American popsters The McCoys and then a 1966 UK No. 4 hit by The Merseys — reached No. 3 in the UK; No. 2 in Ireland; No. 7 in France and Belgium; and No. 1 in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
Pin Ups reached No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 4 in Australia. It entered the UK charts on the same week as These Foolish Things, an album of American R&B covers by Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry.
Bowie almost rerecorded one of his own Beat-era nuggets, “The London Boys,” for inclusion on Pin Ups. The original, however, appears on Images 1966–1967, a 1973 two-LP collection of his material from that period, released on Deram (Europe) and London Records (North America) in a comic panel gatefold.
The Astronettes, 1980 Floor Show
When sessions wrapped on Pin Ups, Bowie remained at Château d’Hérouville to produce an album by The Astronettes, the funk-rock vocal group of Maccormack, Jason Guess, and American singer and model Ava Cherry. Bowie serenaded Ava in New York on the first US leg of the Ziggy Stardust tour and tapped her as a backing vocalist for the Japanese leg.
The Astronettes recorded at least twelve songs, including the Bowie compositions “I Am Divine,” “I Am a Laser,” “People From Bad Homes,” and “Things to Do.” Their bi-racial mix of funk and rock bore similarities to the US band Mother’s Finest. They also recorded songs by the Beach Boys (“God Only Knows”), Frank Zappa (“How Could I Be Such a Fool”), Roy Harper (“Highway Blues”), Annette Peacock (“Seven Days”), and Bruce Springsteen’s recent “Spirits In the Night,” which soon became a transatlantic hit for Manfred Mann’s Earth Band.
The Astronettes material went unreleased until 1995 when archivists Griffin Music issued the CD People From Bad Homes, attributed to Ava Cherry & the Astronettes. In the meantime, Bowie rewrote “I Am a Laser” as “Screaming Like a Baby,” a song on his 1980 album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), which also contains “Fashion,” a song that appropriates the line “people from bad homes.”
Just as Pin Ups hit the shelves, Bowie held the 1980 Floor Show: a theatrical music event performed across three nights (October 18–20, 1973) at the Marquee Club in Soho, London, before an audience of 200 fan club members. Bowie, in his final enactment of the Ziggy Stardust character, performed in assortment of costumes by Burretti and Yamamoto. For the performance of “Time,” Bowie donned a one-armed blue bodysuit, surrounded by dancers in cobweb mesh.
In the US, a 39-minute excerpt of the event aired on the November 16 broadcast of the NBC music program The Midnight Special, hosted by Wolfman Jack. It begins with a choreographed dance troupe, who use their bodies to form the show’s title — letter-by-letter across four levels. Bowie opens with a medley of the yet unreleased “1984” and “Dodo,” backed by Ronson, Bolder, Dunbar, Garson, the Astronettes, and Arnold Corns guitarist Mark Carr-Pritchard. They also perform three songs from Pin Ups (“Sorrow,” “Everything’s Alright,” “I Can’t Explain”), “The Jean Genie,” and a Mellotron-laden version “Space Oddity,” which recently reached No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The show concludes with the Sonny & Cher chestnut “I Got You Babe,” performed as a duet between Bowie and sixties star Marianne Faithful, then at loose ends with a cracked, lowered voice caused by drug addiction. Earlier in the show, Faithful does solo renditions of “As Tears Go By” (a 1965 hit for her and its originators, The Rolling Stones) and the Noel Coward standard “20th Century Blues.” The Troggs, another act from the Pin Ups timeframe, perform their hits “Wild Thing” and “Can Not Control Myself.” Carmen — a multi-national flamenco–glam act in the vein of Esperanto — perform “Bulerias” from their 1973 debut album Fandangos In Space.
Meanwhile, Bowie had multiple projects in mind. One was a musical based on Ziggy Stardust. Another was Tragic Moments, a one-act musical in the vein of “Aladdin Sane (1913–1938–197?),” elements of which appear in “Zion,” a 1973 demo.
Bowie also intended to make “1984” the titular piece of a full-scale adaptation of Orwell’s novel but was denied rights by the author’s widow. He instead used it in a new conceptual work inspired by William S. Burroughs. Elsewhere, Bowie played saxophone on one track (“To Know Him Is to Love Him,” a 1958 doo-wop hit by the Teddy Bears) on Now We Are Six, the March 1974 release by Steeleye Span.
1974: Diamond Dogs
David Bowie released his seventh proper album, Diamond Dogs, on May 24, 1974, on RCA. The songs depict a dystopian New York overrun by diamond dogs: a slang term for unruly, violent street gangs. Musically, the album balances riff-based rockers (“Rebel Rebel,” the title-track) with melodramatic narratives (“Sweet Thing–Candidate”) and the folksy ballad “Rock ‘n’ Roll with Me.” Bowie interpolates Orwellian themes on a re-recorded “1984” and two additional tracks, “We Are the Dead” and “Big Brother.”
Bowie is the principal guitarist on Diamond Dogs, which reunited him with producer Tony Visconti, who worked with the singer until 1980. The album also welcomes back bassist Herbie Flowers, who played on the ensuing tour along with drummer Tony Newman (May Blitz, Three Man Army), who shares credits here with Dunbar. Garson splits keyboard duties with Bowie, who’s credited with Mellotron, Moog synthesizer, and saxophone. Alan Parker, Flowers’ bandmate in Hungry Wolf, plays supplemental guitar on “Rebel Rebel” and “1984.”
Sessions took place in January–February 1974 at Olympic and Island Studios. Finishing touches occured in the Netherlands at Studio L Ludolf. Tracks excluded from the final running order include “Take It In Right,” “Dodo,” and an alternate, longer, standalone version of “Candidate.” The engineer on Diamond Dogs, Keith Harwood, worked previously on albums by Family, Fuzzy Duck (self-titled), Gravy Train (self-titled), Juicy Lucy, Led Zeppelin (Houses of the Holy), Leo Sayer (Silverbird), Stories (About Us), and Tranquility.
Diamond Dogs is housed in a gatefold sleeve by Belgian painter Guy Peellaert. It depicts Bowie as a hybrid man–dog, backed with similar hybrids and the Manhattan skyline. Early pressings showed the dog genitalia on the back gate, which has a side-show sign that reads “The strangest living curiosities” — a tie-in with the reference to Freaks director Todd Browning in “Diamond Dogs” (“Todd Browning’s freak you was”). The inner-gates depict a foggy, decaying cityscape with a printout of the “Future Legend” monologue. Peellaert also did cover art for 1974/75 albums by the Rolling Stones and the French band Les Variations.
RCA lifted “Rebel Rebel” as the album’s lead-off single, backed with the like-minded Hunky Dory rocker “Queen Bitch.” It reached No. 5 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 8 in the Netherlands, where Bowie mimed the song in pirate attire (complete with eye patch) on the music program TopPop — his final appearance with the bi-level Ziggy hairdo. For the US market, Bowie gave the song a Latin remix but quickly withdrew this version.
The lengthier, more album-oriented “Diamond Dogs” appeared as a second single, backed with the rerecording of “Holy Holy” from the Ziggy Stardust sessions. “1984” was lifted as a single in the US and Japan. Within months of the album’s release, Donovan covered “Rock ‘n’ Roll with Me” as a non-album a-side.
Diamond Dogs reached No. 1 in the UK and Canada; No. 3 in Australia and Sweden; No. 4 in France; and No. 5 on the US Billboard 200. The album also went Top 20 in Italy, Norway, Spain, and Yugoslavia.
Diamond Dogs Tour, Sigma Sound Sessions, David Live
Bowie launched the Diamond Dogs Tour on June 14, 1974, at the Montreal Forum. The first leg of the tour covered three cities in Canada and twenty in the US, including two-nighters in Cleveland (6/18–19: Public Auditorium), Detroit (6/22–23: Cobo Hall), Pittsburgh (6/26–27: Syria Mosque), and NYC (7/19–20: Madison Square Garden), plus a six-night engagement (7/9–13) at Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Penn.
Each show featured a setup referred to as Hunger City: the apocalyptic setting of Diamond Dogs, complete with modernist skyscrapers inspired by the cityscape in Metropolis, the 1927 expressionist sci-fi film by Austrian director Fritz Lang. On select numbers, Bowie performed with unique proper, including a multi-mirror asylum (“Big Brother”) and a giant glass hand (“Time”). He donned a cape for “Cracked Actor,” which he sang with a skull in hand.
The setlist featured the entirety of Diamond Dogs and the originals from Aladdin Sane, plus “Sorrow” and select favorites from Ziggy Stardust (“Moonage Daydream,” “Suffragette City,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”) and the earlier staples “Changes,” “The Width of a Circle,” and “Space Oddity.” His ten-piece backing band featured Flowers, Newman, Garson, MacCormack (now known as Warren Peace), and several American musicians, including saxophonist David Sanborn, keyboardist Michael Kamen, and guitarist Earl Slick.
The tour paused for the month of August 1974, which Bowie spent in Philadelphia at Sigma Sound Studios, where he laid tracks for an upcoming album. Retaining Garson and Sanborn, Bowie replaced Slick with Carlos Alomar (b. 1950, Puerto Rico), a New York session guitarist who backed Roy Ayers and toured with the Main Ingredient. For the rhythm section, Bowie employed bassist Willie Weeks (Gypsy, Full Moon) and drummer Andy Newmark (Carly Simon, Sly & the Family Stone).
They recorded a seven-minute version of “John, I’m Only Dancing,” rearranged with a smooth, funky, late-night vibe and an extended coda with vocalizing by Ava Cherry and fellow backing singers Robin Clark and Luther Vandross, an emerging New York sessionist who sang backup on the 1972 collaborative album by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway.
Other songs from the August Sigma sessions include the lush, lengthy Quiet Storm numbers “It’s Gonna Be Me” and “Who Can I Be Now?” All three cuts were marked for the upcoming album, tentatively called The Gouster (Chicago slang for a sharp-dressed black youth), along with the gospelly “Can You Hear Me?” (a retitled “Take It in Right”) and “Young Americans,” an uptempo R&B opus about disillusioned youth in Nixon’s America. Several songs remained outtakes, including “Lazor,” “After Today,” and “Shilling the Rubes.”
Bowie brought these musicians out on the road for the second leg of his 1974 US tour, colloquially known as The Soul Tour, which dropped the elaborate stage props of the Diamond Dogs leg and revised the setlist with funkier, Philly-style arrangements and several unreleased numbers, including “Young Americans,” “It’s Gonna Be Me,” and “Can You Hear Me?” Bowie now sported slicked-back hair, padded bolero jackets, and pleated, pegged trousers.
The September leg commenced with a seven-night engagement (9/2–8) at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. They also played arena shows in San Diego, Tuscon, and Phoenix, followed by a two-nighter (9/15–16) at the Anaheim Convention Center. While in LA, Bowie met John Lennon at a party hosted by Elizabeth Taylor. The two decided to collaborate in the near future. Bowie also entered Hollywood’s Record Plant to sing backup on one track (“Real Emotion”) on Two Sides of the Moon, the sole album by Who drummer Keith Moon. Footage of Bowie from the California stops appears in Cracked Actor, a documentary on the singer made by BBC presenter Alan Yentob for the network’s Omnibus series.
The third leg commenced on October 5 at the Saint Paul Civic Center. Bowie’s setlist now featured covers of the Ohio Players (“Here Today, Gone Tomorrow”) and The Flares (“Footstompin”’). On this leg, Bowie employed bassist Emir Ksasan and drummer Dennis Davis, both colleagues of Alomar in Roy Ayer’s Ubiquity.
They played thirty-four shows in seventeen cities throughout the Northeast, Midwest, and South, including three-nighters in Chicago (10/21–23: Arie Crown Theater) and Boston (11/14–16: Music Hall); a six-nighter in Detroit (10/15–20: Michigan Palace Theater); and seven straight nights (Oct. 28–Nov. 3) at Radio City Music Hall.
On October 29, Bowie appeared on The Dick Cavett Show with Warren Peace and fellow backing singer Anthony Hinton marching standstill for a rendition of “Footstompin’.” During a break in the number, the camera cut to a lone-dancing Ava Cherry, styled with cropped bleached hair and sleek forties attire. Bowie’s band updated the Flare’s 1961 doo-wop hit with a slower, funkier arrangement and a tight, scratchy riff, which Alomar derived from “Hollywood Swinging,” a 1973 song by Kool & the Gang. On Cavett, Bowie also performed “1984” and the yet-unreleased “Young Americans.”
The Soul Tour wrapped on December 1 at the Omni Coliseum in Atlanta. In the meantime, RCA issued David Live, a double-album drawn from Tower Theater performances on the earlier theatrical leg of the tour. Despite this, the cover sports a more recent photo of Bowie in his soulster attire. The 81-minute album includes the bulk of his summer ’74 setlist (barring “Space Oddity”), plus the wildcards “All the Young Dudes” and the Eddie Floyd cover “Knock On Wood.”
In December 1974, Bowie grouped with Alomar, Garson, Sanborn, Weeks, and Newmark at the Record Plant in New York City, where they recorded two new numbers: the funky “Fascination” and the shimmery Quiet Storm ballad “Win.” Visconti flew to London to mix the now-completed album, tentatively called Fascination. However, a last-minute collaboration between Bowie and Lennon — also at Record Plant recording Rock ‘n’ Roll, a collection of fifties covers — altered the upcoming album’s title and track list. Meanwhile, RCA opened the new year with a 7″ release of Bowie’s now-popular American slice-of-life opus.
1975: Young Americans
David Bowie released his eighth studio album, Young Americans, on March 7, 1975, on RCA. It contains four songs from the Sigma Sound sessions (“Young Americans,” “Right,” “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” “Can You Hear Me?”), the two Record Plant tracks (“Win,” “Fascination”), and two songs that Bowie cut with Lennon in January 1975 at Manhattan’s Electric Lady Studios: “Fame,” an appropriation of the funked-up “Footstompin'” riff; and “Across the Universe,” a Lennon–McCartney number from the Beatles’ 1970 swan song Let It Be.
“Fascination” is a mid-tempo funk song about coke-fueled dance-floor hookups and hedonistic casual sex. It features clipped, scratchy guitar over a bass ostinato in E minor. As the words unfold, the song loops a four-bar descending pattern (Em–Dm–C) across the verses and chorus, where a sighing Bowie sings call-and-response with Ava Cherry. He penned its lyrics to the tune of “Funky Music (Is a Part of Me),” an unrecorded 1974 Vandross composition. After his exposure on Young Americans and the preceding tour, Vandross signed to Atlantic with his own group, Luther. Their 1976 self-titled album begins with “Funky Music,” which has different lyrics but identical music to “Fascination.”
“Fame” came about after Lennon chanted “aim” to Alomar’s “Footstompin'” riff. Bowie wrote the lyrics, which critique fame and its downsides. The session occurred as his relations soured with Defries and MainMan, which recently financed Fame, a Broadway play about Marilyn Monroe that closed after one performance. Lennon trades chorus syllables with Bowie and sings the three-octave titular descent before the fadeout.
Visconti co-produced the Sigma Sound and Record Plant sessions, respectively co-engineered with Carl Paruolo (Barbara Mason, Blue Magic, Catalyst) and Harry Maslin (Mandrill, Norman Connors, Robin Kenyatta). On both sessions, Bowie is backed by Alomar, Sanborn, Garson, Weeks, and Newmark with harmonies by Cherry, Clark, and Vandross. MFSB percussionist Larry Washington plays on the Sigma tracks. Visconti’s work on Young Americans directly preceded his involvement with Sparks (Indiscreet) and Liverpudlian hopefuls Nasty Pop (self-titled).
Bowie and Maslin co-produced the Electric Lady tracks, which feature Slick and the Leg 3 rhythm section (Ksasan, Davis) and percussionist Ralph McDonald, plus backing vocals by Jean Fineberg (Isis) and Jean Millington (Fanny). The last-minute addition of “Fame” and “Across the Universe” came at the expense of “Who Can I Be Now?” and “It’s Gonna Be Me,” which both remained vaulted until the 1990 Rykodisc reissue of Young Americans. “John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)” went unreleased until 1979. The little-known Sigma outtakes (“Shilling the Rubes,” “After Today”) remained unheard until the posthumous release “The Gouster” – The Sigma Sound Sessions.
RCA lifted “Young Americans” weeks in advance as the album’s lead single. It reached No. 7 in New Zealand and went Top 20 in the UK and Ireland. An edited version (3:16) appeared with “Knock on Wood” (from David Live) as the b-side in the US, where “Young Americans” reached No. 20 on the Cash Box Top 100.
“Fame” appeared as the second single in July 1975 (b/w “Right”). It reached the Top 10 in Norway and the Netherlands and peaked at No. 17 in the UK and Belgium. In North America, where the song’s funky arrangement was more in step with the times, “Fame” reached No. 1 in the US and Canada. In late September, it spent two non-consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, where it first overtook “Rhinestone Cowboy” by Glen Campbell and returned a fortnight later, reclaiming the No. 1 spot from “I’m Sorry” by John Denver. Upon hearing “Fame,” James Brown lifted its riff for “Hot (I Need to Be Loved, Loved, Loved),” a December 1975 single that appears on his 1976 album Hot.
Young Americans reached No. 2 on the UK Albums Chart; No. 3 in New Zealand; No. 5 in Sweden; and No. 9 in Australia and the US, where it was certified Gold by the RIAA. The album also went Top 20 in Canada, France, and Norway.
The Man Who Fell to Earth
On January 26, 1975, the 50-minute Bowie documentary Cracked Actor aired on BBC One. It features a mix of oblique interview clips, starry-eyed fan comments (“I’m just the space cadet, he’s the commander”), vintage Hollywood scenery, and rare footage of theatrical numbers from the Diamond Dogs tour. During the opening credits, “Quicksand” plays as Bowie submits to a plaster cast of his face. In one scene, he cuts and rearranges text (his method of lyric writing).
Upon seeing the Omnibus installment, English film director Nicolas Roeg (Performance, Walkabout, Don’t Look Now) contacted its subject for a starring role in The Man Who Fell to Earth, an adaptation of the 1963 sci-fi novel by American author Walter Trevis. In preparation for the role, Bowie moved to Los Angeles, where he stayed at the house of Glenn Hughes, the onetime Trapeze bassist–singer who recently replaced Roger Glover in Deep Purple. Filming began on July 6, 1975, in New Mexico.
In The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie portrays Thomas Jerome Newton, a humanoid who lands on Earth in the New Mexican desert. His mission: retrieve water for his drought-stricken planet. As the product of a technologically advanced race, he rapidly patents inventions that amass him sufficient wealth for a customized rocket ship.
Newton meets Mary-Lou (Candy Clark), a lonely woman who introduces him to Earthly customs like alcohol and sex. His alien vision allows him to watch multiple screens simultaneously; this fuels his catatonia. He also meets Dr. Nathan Bryce (Rip Torn), a fuel technician at World Enterprises who senses Newton’s alien physiology; a fact confirmed with hidden x-ray cameras. Outed, Newton removes his wig and lenses and reveals his snake-eyed likeness to a horrified Mary-Lou.
Just as Newton approaches his rocket for a publicized launch, he’s detained and institutionalized while his business partner, Oliver V. Farnsworth (Buck Henry), is defenestrated from a skyscraper. Under sedation, Newton is permanently affixed with human lenses. After years of captivity, an ageless Newton is visited by a haggard Mary-Lou, who marries Bryce. Newton makes a last-ditch effort to contact home via radio signals, then resigns to alcoholism and Earthly spoils as his family and planet perish.
For the Newton character, Bowie modified his orange-streaked hair with tapered undersides — rare in the mid-seventies but influential in the years to come. By now, he’d fully regained his eyebrows. This look became the basis for the Thin White Duke, a swooning yet icy character that Bowie modeled on vintage film noir. He completed the look with white button-ups, waistcoats, and sleek black trousers designed by Ola Hudson, who also designed the forties-style cabaret outfits for the Pointer Sisters.
An avid reader, Bowie brought 400 books to the shooting locations in New Mexico. A chance meeting with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page fueled a newfound interest in the occult. Once filming wrapped, Bowie retreated to LA, where cocaine addiction rendered him paranoid and inert for days on end. On a diet of milk and peppers, his weight dropped to 80 lbs. In the depths of this phase, Rolling Stone reporter Cameron Crow interviewed the singer during a holed-up week at Hughes’ Hollywood house.
Bowie developed instrumental music for the film’s soundtrack. However, these efforts stalled over contractual disputes and Roeg’s differing musical preferences. Among the lost instrumentals, Bowie later reworked one into “Subterraneans.” The finished film features folk songs by ex-Mamas & Papas leader John Phillips (recorded with Stones guitarist Mick Taylor and Cochise steel player BJ Cole) and pre-released instrumentals by Japanese percussionist Stomu Yamashta, including “Wind Words” from his 1973 album Freedom Is Frightening. It also features an assortment of licensed oldies and one track, “Love Is Coming Back,” by Phillips then-wife, South African model–actress Genevieve Waite.
In September, Bowie entered Hollywood’s newly opened Cherokee Studios and cut “Golden Years,” a slick disco-funk song with a sliding guitar figure and evocative refrain (“Run for the shadows in these golden years”). Angela Bowie and Ava Cherry both claim to have inspired the song, which Bowie purportedly pitched to fellow RCA star Elvis Presley. Maslin co-produced the song, which features Bowie on melodica and Moog synthesizer; backed by Alomar, Slick, Davis, Peace, and Weldon Irvine bassist George Murray.
On November 4, 1975, Bowie appeared on the syndicated music program Soul Train, where he mimed the upcoming single along with his recent hit “Fame.” (He was the second white artist featured on the show after Elton John, who appeared six months earlier miming “Bennie and the Jets” and “Philadelphia Freedom.”) That same week, a re-released “Space Oddity” (b/w “Velvet Goldmine”) became Bowie’s first No. 1 hit on the UK Singles Chart.
As sessions continued at Cherokee, RCA issued “Golden Years” as a single on November 21, 1975. Two days later, Bowie performed it on The Cher Show and dueted with host Cher on the song’s b-side, the Young Americans track “Can You Hear Me?”
1976: Station to Station
David Bowie released his ninth studio album, Station to Station, on January 23, 1976, on RCA. It features “Golden Years” and another stab at disco-funk, “Stay.” Each side begins with an experimental rock number (“Station to Station,” “TVC 15”) and closes with a ballad (“World On a Wing,” “Wild Is the Wind”).
“Stay” derives its structure from the then-unreleased “John, I’m Only Dancing (Again).”
“Wild Is the Wind” is a 1957 ballad composed by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington and originally sung by Johnny Mathis for the namesake film starring Anthony Quinn. It became a live staple for jazz singer Nina Simone, whose 1966 studio version inspired Bowie to cover the song.
Bowie recorded Station to Station between September and November 1975 at the lavish Cherokee facility with co-producer Maslin, who worked on the album in succession with titles by Bill Amesbury, Derringer, John Tropea, and the Earl Slick Band. On Station, Maslin plays melodica, synthesiser, and vibraphone.
Station to Station features Bowie on saxophone (“TVC 15”), Mellotron (“Stay”), acoustic guitar (“Wild Is the Wind,” “Station to Station”), and Chamberlin (“World On a Wing”). He’s backed on this album by Alomar, Murray, and Davis — his core backing band for the next four years — plus Slick, Peace, and E Street keyboardist Roy Bittan, who recently played on Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf‘s 1975 camp-rock opus that wouldn’t appear until 1977.
Station to Station is Bowie’s only 1975–80 album with no involvement from Visconti, who was busy establishing his Good Earth label and producing its inaugural act, The Surprise Sisters, a retro vocal quartet that Bowie discovered at the Marquee Club.
The album’s front cover shows a screencap from The Man Who Fell to Earth — the scene where Newton enters the rocket designed for his return home. Though initially planned as a color full-spread, Bowie had the image bordered and rendered monochrome to reflect the album’s bleak mood. The 1990 Rykodisc reissue removes the white frame and restores the image to color. The bold red typography, all caps and no spaces, carries over to the back and inner-sleeve.
Station to Station feature reached No. 2 in Canada and No. 3 on the Billboard 200. It also reached No. 3 in France and the Netherlands and peaked at No. 5 on the UK Albums Chart. The album also went Top 10 in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and Norway. It peaked at No. 11 in Sweden, where “TVC 15” went Top 20 on the Sverigetopplistan singles chart.
For the tour behind Station to Station, Bowie retained the album’s backing band minus Slick and Bittan, replaced respectively by guitarist Stacy Heydon and keyboardist Tony Kaye, Wakeman’s predecessor in Yes who’d since recorded two albums in Badger. Heydon, an Ontarian musician, was summoned to Jamaica, where group rehearsals spawned a new song, “Sister Midnight.” This lineup, informally known as Raw Moon, backed Bowie on the 66-date promotional blitz, informally dubbed the “Thin White Duke Tour” but formally named Isolar — alternately defined as Italian for “island” (isola) and an anagram of “sailor.”
Weeks prior to the album’s release, Raw Moon appeared on the January 3, 1976, broadcast of the American variety show Dinah!, where Bowie premiered “Stay.” In the interview segment with host Dinah Shore, he professed his admiration for Roxy Music, who he credited with “spearheading some of the best music that’s come out of England in years.” When asked about his marriage, he revealed “the one time… I found that I was falling in love, it became obsessive to the point that the object of that affection was becoming overblown… it was no longer a real thing; it was becoming my search for some kind of mythological feeling that man is supposed to have…” possibly referring to his time with Hermione Farthingale.
Dinah likened Bowie’s neo-thirties aesthetic to the Manhattan Transfer. A fellow guest, Fonzi actor Henry Winkler (Happy Days), correlated his craft to Bowie, remarking that “in everything that we do — whether you’re a singer, an actor or a dancer — concentration is of the essence.” Regarding Bowie, he reckoned that “whatever people see David as.. in the mind that goes on behind all of that, he’s aware of every note played by every musician in his band; he’s aware of every movement that his dancers make; he’s in control of his aesthetic weight.” (The following year, both Winkler and Bowie did projects titled Heroes.)
Later in the show, Candy Clark came on to discuss their upcoming movie, which hit theaters on March 18, 1976. The Man Who Fell to Earth was nominated for a Golden Bear award at the 1976 Berlin International Film Festival and the Best Science Fiction Film award at the 1977 Saturn Awards, where Bowie won Best Actor. The film ran at midnight movie houses for the next decade and achieved cult status.
The Isolar tour launched on February 2, 1976, at Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, BC. The North American leg covered three cities in Canada and thirty in the states, starting in the Northwest (Seattle, Portland) and heading south and eastward with a three-nighter and Inglewood and two-nighters in Cleveland, Detroit, and Philadelphia. Each night began with spun music from the latest Kraftwerk album (Radio-Activity), followed by a screening of the 1929 surrealist film Un Chien Andalou by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí.
Bowie and Raw Moon performed most of Station to Station (barring “Wild Is the Wind”) and two songs apiece from Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and Diamond Dogs, plus three from Hunky Dory (“Changes,” “Queen Bitch,” “Life on Mars?”). Apart from “Fame,” they avoided the Young Americans material. “Sister Midnight” and the Velvet’s cover “I’m Waiting for the Man” also made the setlist. They limited performances of “Golden Years” due to its demands on Bowie’s voice.
Bowie invited ex-Stooges singer Iggy Pop on the tour as a pal and confidante. After the March 20 show at Rochester Community War Memorial, the two were arrested for marijuana possession. Bowie was booked yet released in time for the next night’s show at the Springfield Civic Center. The March 23 show at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY, was issued posthumously as Live Nassau Coliseum ’76.
The European leg of the Isolar tour commenced on April 7 at Munich’s Olympiahalle. Bowie and Raw Moon played seven shows in West Germany, including a two-nighter in Hamburg, followed by stops in Zurich, Helsinki, Copenhagen, and a three-nighter in Sweden.
They stopped in England for a six-night engagement at the Empire Pool in London, where Bowie was greeted in an open-top Mercedes convertible by press and fans at Victoria Station. In a widely distributed photo, he waved to the crowd in what appeared to be a Roman salute — later clarified as a mid-wave still. The misunderstanding stemmed for Bowie’s coke-fueled cryptic statements at the time. While in London, Bowie connected with former Roxy Music keyboardist Brian Eno, who recently collaborated with erstwhile King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp on the experimental Discreet Music, an album that fascinated Bowie. The two decided to work together in the near future.
After a swing through Benelux, the Isolar tour wrapped with May 17–18 shows at the Pavillon de Paris. Post-tour, David and Angela fled to Switzerland as tax exiles.
On May 21, 1976, RCA released ChangesOneBowie, a compilation of the singer’s biggest hits from “Space Oddity” through “Golden Years.” This marked the first US release of the 1972 version of “John, I’m Only Dancing.” The monochrome cover lifts the spaceless, all-caps font scheme of Station to Station with the letters ONE highlighted in red. The profile shot is from a 1975 photoshoot with Tom Kelley, an early Marilyn Monroe photographer who shot multiple fifties-era sleeves for Peruvian singer Yma Sumac.
Iggy Pop, Berlin
In June, Bowie took Pop to the Château d’Hérouville, the site of recent recordings by Alain Kan, Ange, Catharsis, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Nektar (Recycled), Transit Express (Opus Progressif), and YS (Madame la Frontière). Sessions commenced on Iggy’s first solo album with Alomar, Murray, Davis, and French bassist Laurent Thibault, a founding member of Magma who produced their first album and played with numerous local acts (Alain Markusfeld, Ergo Sum, Laurence Vanay).
Bowie and Pop recorded “Sister Night” and a new song, “China Girl,” inspired by Iggy’s affair with Kuelan Nguyen, the Vietnamese girlfriend of French icon Jacques Higelin. Bowie produced the album, which would feature him on keyboards, synthesizer, guitar, piano, saxophone, and xylophone. Musically, the project was inspired by Kraftwerk — an influence Bowie imparted on Pop — and fellow purveyors of electronic avant-garde, including Neu, Cluster, and the French act Heldon. For the role of second guitarist, they enlisted Phil Palmer, a sessionist for Ray Davies’ Konk label (Claire Hamill, Cafe Society) who recently played on Out In the Street, a cycle of subterranean rock epics by David Essex.
When Bad Company booked the château for August, Bowie and Pop moved the sessions to Musicland, a Munich studio owned by producer Giorgio Moroder, who used it for his main client, Donna Summer, and his own projects, including his 1975 electronic album Einzelgänger.
Bowie and Pop proceeded to Berlin, where Visconti mixed Iggy’s album at Hansa Tonstudio 1. The pair were enamored by the city, which Bowie long viewed as the spiritual home of expressionism. Enjoying his relative anonymity in Berlin, Bowie further trimmed his now naturally colored hair. They decided to settle there, but Bowie had already booked September at the Château d’Hérouville, where sessions began on a new project: his first of three albums with Eno. The following month, sessions wrapped at Hansa on the new album, tentatively called New Music: Night and Day.
The pair took residence in Berlin’s Shoeneberg district. Their German presence was soon immortalized by Kraftwerk on the title-track of the March 1977 release Trans-Europe Express, which contains the line “From station to station, back to Dusseldorf City, meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie.”
David Bowie released his tenth studio album, Low, on January 14, 1977, on RCA. It’s his first of two back-to-back albums with a split format where the first side has vocal tracks and the second consists of instrumentals.
Side one has five lyrical tracks that range from short and fractious (“Breaking Glass”) to slow and ominous (“Always Crashing In the Same Car”), all composed of sinewy guitar lines and icy, distorted synth tones. A pitch-shifting effect creates the echoey drum sound heard on “Speed of Life,” the opening instrumental; and “What In the World,” a bubbly uptempo cut first considered for Pop’s album. The side-closer, “A New Career In a New Town,” is an upbeat instrumental inspired by Bowie’s newfound love for Berlin.
Side two consists of four instrumentals inspired by the Berlin School (Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze) and Eno’s 1975 release Another Green World. “Warszawa” stems from Bowie’s impressions of Warsaw, Poland, which he visited in April 1976 during a break from the Isolar tour. That and “Art Decade” (a play on art decayed) feature slow-revolving melodies in glacial, rhythmless settings. “Weeping Wall,” inspired by his impressions of the Berlin Wall, is a punctual track with prominent xylophone. The final cut, “Subterraneans,” is a slow, dark piece that he salvaged from the aborted Man Who Fell to Earth soundtrack.
Bowie recorded the backing tracks for side one at the Château d’Hérouville with his core band of Alomar, Murray, Davis, and new recruit Roy Young, a onetime keyboardist in Cliff Bennett’s Rebel Rousers. Eno, who mostly factors on side two, arrived in time to add Minimoog (“Breaking Glass”), EMS Synthi AKS (“What in the World,” “Always Crashing”), and assorted treatments on side one, which features Ricky Gardiner (ex-Beggars Opera) as a second guitarist.
Bowie himself plays saxophone (“Sound and Vision,” “Subterraneans”), ARP (“Speed of Life”), and harmonica (“A New Career”), plus mallets across side two. On “Be My Wife,” he adds “pump bass” and a third layer of guitar, which he holds in the white-screen promo clip. Apart from Murray’s basswork on “Subterraneans,” his band doesn’t play on side two, which they deemed outside their musical reach.
Eno plays Chamberlin, Minimoog, and piano across most of side two, which features Hansa cellist Eduard Meyer on “Art Decade.” He worked on these tracks just prior to his co-production of Ultravox!, recorded in late 1976 and released six weeks after Low on February 25, 1977. Its closing track, “My Sex,” is a slow, glacial number akin to the icier Low–Green World cuts.
Bowie co-produced Low with Visconti, whose then-wife, Welsh singer Mary Hopkin, sings backing vocals on “Sound and Vision.” Pop does the same on “What in the World.” Bowie self-wrote everything apart from “Breaking Glass” (Bowie–Davis–Murray) and “Warszawa” (Bowie–Eno).
Visconti worked on Low and its followup in succession with albums by Caravan, Dirty Tricks, and Thin Lizzy (Bad Reputation). He also served as an unofficial fifth member on Come Hell or Waters High, the singular album by Good Earth act Omaha Sheriff. His sole album as a performer, Viscont’s Inventory, appeared in 1977 on Mercury.
Two outtakes from the Low timeframe, “Some Are” and “All Saints,” appear on the album’s 1991 Rykodisc reissue. “Some Are” is a slow, desolate piece with sparse piano and lucid vocals. “All Saints” is a sequencer-driven instrumental with splashing layers of fuzzed-out, glistening synth tones.
Low sports an image still of Bowie from The Man Who Fell to Earth, which designer George Underwood cropped and placed against an orange torrential sky, matched to the singer’s hair color. The image appeared on US promo posters for the film.
Low reached No. 2 in the UK; No. 6 in the Netherlands; No. 10 in Australia and Norway; and No. 11 on the Billboard 200. It also went Top 20 in Austria, New Zealand, and Sweden. The album was initially slated for a November 1976 release date, but RCA withheld it from the holiday season over doubts about its commercial prospects. “Sound and Vision” appeared in February 1977 as a single (b/w “A New Career In a New Town”) and went Top 3 in the UK and Benelux.
On March 18, 1977, as Low and “Sound and Vision” road the charts, RCA released The Idiot, the debut album by Iggy Pop. Recorded in the three months prior to Low‘s sessions with the same core players, The Idiot features eight songs composed by Bowie with lyrics by Pop. Side one includes “Sister Midnight” and “China Girl” — both songs re-appropriated on later Bowie albums — plus “Nightclubbing,” a lurching number later covered by Grace Jones, The Human League, and The Creatures. Side two contains two lengthy tracks: “Dum Dum Boys,” a droning, fuzzy number that foreshadows post-punk; and “Mass Production,” which builds from slow beginnings to an arching, wayward climax. Pop wrote the lyrics in response to Bowie’s music, which has similar sonic traits as Low.
Despite RCA’s demand for a Low tour, Bowie opted to let that album speak for itself and tour as an anonymous keyboardist in Pop’s band. The touring band included Gardiner and brothers Tony Fox (bass) and Hunt Sales (drums), the onetime rhythm section of Todd Rundgren‘s backing band Runt. They played seven UK dates supported by The Vibrators, including a March 5–7 engagement at London’s Rainbow attended by members of The Sex Pistols.
While in London, Bowie stayed with Bolan and the two demoed material, including a song called “Madman” that Bolan conceived during an earlier jam with Cockney Rebel frontman Steve Harley. (Bolan handed this tape to members of the glam-punk act Raped, who morphed into Cuddly Toys and scored a 1980 indie hit with “Madman.”)
In the US, Iggy’s band did a five-week cross-country tour with Blondie, invited on the strength of their debut album. Their show in Cleveland (3/23/77: Agora Ballroom) was attended by members of the unsigned Devo, who handed Bowie their demo tape. On April 15, Pop performed on Dinah!, where Bowie sat down with Iggy and fielded Shore’s question “What is punk?” (Bowie: “Nihilistic rock.”)
After the tour, Bowie and Pop went to Japan, where photographer Masayoshi Sukita did photoshoots of both subjects. A seated Bowie, quiffed and leather clad, gesticulated shot-by-shot for Sukita, whose photography appears on the 1974/75 albums Black Ship and Hot! Menu by the Sadistic Mika Band.
In May 1977, Bowie and Pop convened at Hansa Tonstudio (aka “Hansa by the Wall”) to record a followup to The Idiot. They recorded songs premiered on the tour and retained Gardiner and the Sales brothers for the sessions, which also involved Alomar and Peace. Bowie and Pop co-produced the album under the pseudonym Bewley Bros. with Colin Thurston, a member of the Wombles spinoff Graffiti who engineered albums by Agnes Strange, Ramases, and Shabby Tiger.
The finished album, Lust for Life, appeared on September 9, 1977, on RCA. It features nine songs with sonic boosts in the rhythm section and a more upbeat vibe than its predecessor. Bowie wrote the music to three tracks (“Lust for Life,” “Some Weird Sin,” “Tonight”), and co-composed two with Gardiner (“Success,” “Neighborhood Threat”). He collaborated with Peace on “Turn Blue,” a rising, swelling ballad with Spectorian flourishes. Gardiner wrote the music to “The Passenger,” a four-chord singalong in 2/4 with lyrics inspired by Pop’s commutes on the Berlin transit system. Siouxsie and the Banshees, an upstart act at the time, covered the song on its tenth anniversary.
After the Lust for Life sessions, Bowie and Pop parted company. Pop toured the album with Gardiner, the Sales, and Isolar guitarist Stacey Heydon. Though it sold its initial run of copies, Lust‘s momentum stalled in light of Elvis Presley’s death, which triggered demand for his back catalogue and tied up RCA’s resources.
’77 TV Appearances
Bowie started work on his next album in July 1977 at Hansa Tonstudio. His main band (Alomar, Davis, Murray) convened at the studio along with Eno, who’d just finished a collaborative album with Cluster. Sessions occurred on–off through August and involved Fripp, who Eno summoned from NYC, where the guitarist was cutting a collaborative effort with Daryl Hall (Sacred Songs). With no prior exposure to Bowie’s new material, Fripp devised guitar lines on the spot. Bowie’s initial choice, ex-Neu guitarist Michael Rother, was unavailable at the time.
This time, Bowie did promos in advance of his new album, titled “Heroes.” On September 9, he performed the titular lead-off single on the sixth and final installment of Marc, an ITV music program hosted by Marc Bolan. Bowie and Bolan did an impromptu jam, “Sleeping Next to You,” as the closeout number on the episode, which also featured Gonzalez, Generation X, and Eddie & the Hot Rods. It aired on the 28th, twelve days after Bolan’s death in a roadside accident. Bowie attended his funeral along with Harley, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Linda Lewis, Dana Gillespie, Mary Hopkin, and members of The Damned, who opened for T. Rex on their spring ’77 UK tour.
On September 11, Bowie dueted with American song and screen legend Bing Crosby for an ITV holiday special. In the vignette, where Bowie plays Crosby’s drop-by neighbor, Bing sings the 1941 yuletide standard “The Little Drummer Boy” while David sings the counterpoint tune “Peace On Earth,” written especially for the show by the program’s music team. Four weeks after the taping, on October 14, 1977, Crosby died of a heart attack in Alcobendas, Spain, at age 74. The program, Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas, aired posthumously on November 30 (US, CBS) and December 24 (UK, ITV).
Bowie released his new single, “Heroes,” on September 24, 1977. It’s a slow, desolate song in which a spirited East Berliner plans an escape with his lady, proclaiming “I… I will be king… and you… you will be queen.” Fripp’s signature guitar leads weave around Bowie’s impassioned voice, which jumps two octaves on the harrowing lines:
I… I can remember (I remember)
Standing, by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns, shot above our heads (over our heads)
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall (nothing could fall)
And the shame, was on the other side
Oh we can beat them, for ever and ever
Then we could be Heroes, just for one day
The b-side “V-2 Schneider,” is an uptempo cut with crisp saxophone over fuzz, propellers, and engines, mainly in G with descending root notes. Kraftwerk co-founder Florian Schneider inspired the track, which is instrumental apart from faint chants of the title.
Bowie performed “Heroes” on TopPop and mimed it to an alternate backing track on Top of the Pops (aired 10/20/77). The alternate version features Visconti on bass with ex-Fumble keyboardist Sean Mayes. Gardiner mistook Fripp’s guitar tones for an E-bow and painstakingly mimicked them with feedback on a dying amp.
David Bowie released his second album of 1977, “Heroes”, on October 14 on RCA. Side one features the full six-minute title track and three heady vocal numbers: “Beauty and the Beast,” about the triumph of his sober self; “Joe the Lion,” an ode to daredevil performance artist Chris Burdon; and “Blackout,” inspired by the July ’77 NYC blackout — each with dissonant Fripp–Eno sonic treatments. “Sons of the Silent Age” is a slow, ominous track with icy saxophone and pained allusions to doomed lovers in a silent film.
Side two opens with “V-2 Schneider” and contains three instrumentals. On “Sense of Doubt,” a foreboding four-note piano line descends recurrently into icy gloom. “Moss Garden” is a marshy soundscape with frosty textures (in Gmaj7) and plucked koto. It blends into “Neuköln,” which sets foggy Mellotron and loose sax to the name of a nearby Berlin district that spawned Edgar Froese, whose 1975 solo release Epsilon in Malaysian Pale foreshadowed both tracks.
The album concludes on “The Secret Life of Arabia,” a melodramatic vocal number in D minor with koto, congas, and scratchy riffs from Alomar, who co-wrote the song with Bowie and Eno. Throughout the track, Bowie harmonizes and trades chorus lines with Antonia Maass, a member of the jazz-funk big band Messengers.
Bowie, inspired by Pop’s lyrical sponteneity, made up words as the tapes rolled during the “Heroes” sessions. He placed the title in scare quotes to ellicit doubt about the meaning of the word heroes. Bowie also cut versions of the title-track in French (“Héros”) and German (“Helden”) for those repsective markets, the latter sung phoetically to lyrics translated by Maass. In the song’s video, Bowie stands in back-lit dark (amid zoom-ins and pan-outs) in straight-legged jeans and the same leather jacket worn on the cover.
Eno co-wrote the music to “Heroes,” “Moss Garden,” and “Neuköln.” After sessions wrapped, he completed sessions on his December 1977 release Before and After Science, which has a similar mix of experimental vocal numbers and moody instrumentals. Fripp plays on the album along with fellow guitarists Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music, Quiet Sun) and Fred Frith (Henry Cow).
Bowie co-produced “Heroes” with Visconti, who co-engineered the album with Thurston, who subsequently engineered new wave titles by the Human League (Reproduction), Interview, Magazine (Secondhand Daylight), and The Only Ones. Visconti mixed “Heroes” at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland, with David Richards, who worked on the Rolling Stones’ 1976 album Black and Blue. Richards‘s assistant was budding soundman Eugene Chaplin, a child of comedic screen legend Charlie Chaplin (who died on Christmas Day 1977).
The “Heroes” cover is a still from the Sukita photoshoot that captures Bowie making choppy hand gestures similar to Iggy’s pose on The Idiot. Both subjects modeled their poses on works by German expressionist painter Erich Heckel. Sukita’s photography also appears on late-seventies Japanese albums by Haruko Kuwana, Masayoshi Takanaka, Yellow Magic Orchestra, and Yukihiro Takahashi.
“Heroes” hit shelves the same day as Ha! Ha! Ha!, the second Ultravox album, which mines similar Euro noir themes and modernist sounds on cuts like “The Man Who Dies Everyday” and “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” a pioneering slice of electronic art-pop with fluid sax work by CC of Gloria Mundi. Both albums appeared a fortnight ahead of Never Mind the Bollocks, the overdue singular album by the year’s most sensationalized act, the Sex Pistols.
“Heroes” reached No. 3 in the UK and the Netherlands and No. 6 in Australia. The album also went Top 20 in Austria, France, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden. The title-track reached the Dutch and Irish Top 10’s and later become one of Bowie’s most well-known numbers. “Beauty and the Beast” (b/w “Sense of Doubt”) appeared as a second single in January 1978.
In 1991, Rykodisc reissued “Heroes” with the bonus instrumental “Abdulmajid,” a Can-like cut with echoing textures and rhythmic foreshadows of jungle music. Named retroactively after Iman Abdulmajid (Bowie’s second wife), it’s possibly an overdubbed outtake from the 1977–79 sessions.
1978: Peter and the Wolf, Just a Gigolo
Bowie promoted “Heroes” with interviews on French, Dutch, and Italian television. In November 1977, he went to New York and did an interview at Plaza Hotel with the comedy rock duo Flo & Eddie for the CBC (Canada) program 90 Minutes Live. He also appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America for an interview with host David Hartman.
At RCA Studio B in New York City, Bowie partook in a recreation of Peter and the Wolf Op.67, a 1936 children’s symphonic fairytale by Russian modernist composer Sergei Prokofiev. Bowie narrated the piece, performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra with conductor Benjamin Britten. It appears on a 1978 split-record with Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra Op.34, released on green vinyl on RCA’s classical Red Seal label with a cover pic of Bowie from the Tom Kelley shoot.
On November 15, 1977, Bowie attended a Devo concert at the NYC rock club Max’s Kansas City, where he approached the band backstage. Enamored with their futurist rock style, he offered to produce their first album in Tokyo that coming winter. However, the task went to Eno, who produced Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! in February 1978 at Conny Plank’s Studio in Cologne, West Germany.
Bowie spent February in Berlin filming Just a Gigolo, a period drama co-starring Kim Novak and Marlene Dietrich. He stars as Paul Ambrosius von Przygodski, a veteran of the Great War who survives in Weimar Berlin by working as a gigolo in a brothel run by Baroness von Semering (Dietrich). Przygodski is later killed in a street clash between Nazis and Communists, who fight for his body before the Nazis lay him to rest with honours. Bowie took the role due to his fascination with the period and the involvement of Dietrich (then seventy-six), who emerged from a twenty-year retirement for her part. However, he never got to meet the screen siren as she filmed her scenes in Paris and had them interspliced with his.
Just a Gigolo premiered on November 16, 1978, in Berlin. A recut version premiered in February 1979 in London, where Bowie attended its opening in a white kimono. For the soundtrack, Bowie contributed “Revolutionary Song,” a Brecht–Weill pastiche co-credited to film composer Jack Fishman and performed with the ad hoc studio group The Rebels. The soundtrack also includes songs by the Manhattan Transfer, Village People, and the thirties-retro Pasadena Roof Orchestra. Gigolo is the third film directed by David Hemmings (Running Scared), star of the 1966 mod classic Blowup.
Isolar II Tour, Stage
In March 1978, David Bowie embarked on a world tour behind his two recent albums. He enlisted his core band (Alomar, Davis, Murray) plus Mayes and three new recruits: guitarist Adrian Belew, keyboardist Roger Powell, and violinist Simon House. Belew was an up-and-coming guitarist from Kentucky who played in Zappa’s 1977 touring band. Powell hailed from the classic lineup of Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, which issued the 1977 albums Ra and Oops! Wrong Planet. House played in High Tide, responsible for the heavy psych albums Sea Shanties and High Tide. He also did stints in the Third Ear Band and Hawkwind.
They opened the Isolar II tour on March 28 at the San Diego Sports Arena. The North American leg covered three shows in Canada and twenty-one in the states with stops at the Los Angeles Forus (4/4/78), Providence Civic Center (5/5), Boston (5/6), and two-nighters in Chicago (4/17–18: Arie Crown Theatre), Detroit (4/20–21: Cobo Arena), and Philadelphia (4/28–29: The Spectrum), plus three shows each at the Los Angeles forum Forum (4/3,4,6) and Madison Square Garden (5/7–9).
The April 10 show at the Dallas Convention Center was filmed for a television special titled “David Bowie on Stage.” The setlist featured most of Low and Heroes, interspersed with half the songs from Ziggy Stardust and two from Station to Station (title-track, “TVC 15”). They reggaefie “What In the Word,” funk-up “Soul Love,” and play the uptempo Ziggy material in punk mode. Alomar conducts the band on “Warsawa.” Bowie, blonde and neatly coiffed, wears pleated white baggies with assorted wide button-ups.
They performed in a tube-lit cage that pulsated during the instrumentals, which drew standing ovations by audiences. By now, Bowie’s recent innovations echoed in the newer works of Peter Gabriel (“scratch”), Scott Walker, and former Van Der Graaf Generator frontman Peter Hammill (The Future Now). Be-Bop Deluxe, a former Spiders–Queen hybrid, expanded on the Bowie–Eno template with Drastic Plastic, a mix of electro art-pop and kitchen sink whimsey recorded in 1977 at the Chateau Saint Georges, Juan-les-Pins, and released in February 1978 on EMI.
The European Isolar II leg ran from May 14 to July 1 and hit Vienna, Copenhagen, Oslo, and seven German cities. After multiple nights in France, Sweden, Rotterdam, and Brussells, Bowie played four straight nights in Glasgow and three-nighters in Newcastle and Stafford. They wrapped the leg with three nights in London at Earl’s Court, where Hemmings filmed the concerts for The London Weekend Show. During their show at the Palais des Sports de Marseille (5/27), the PA failed during “Blackout.”
The Isolar II tour paused for four months. In September, Bowie entered Mountain Studios to begin work on a new album with his core band, plus Belew and Visconti. This would be his third album with Eno, who recently released a second Cluster collaboration (After the Heat) and produced More Songs About Buildings and Food, the second album by Talking Heads.
In the meantime, RCA issued Stage, a 73-minute document of the North American Isolar II leg with performances drawn from the Boston, Providence, and Philly concerts. Side one contains the Ziggy material (“Hang On to Yourself,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Five Years,” “Soul Love,” “Star”) and side two covers the mid-seventies (“Station to Station,” “Fame,” “TVC 15”). The second record features five numbers from Low (“Speed of Life,” “Breaking Glass,” “What in the World,” “Warszawa,” “Art Decade”) and four from “Heroes” (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Heroes,” “Blackout,” “Sense of Doubt”).
The actual running order of the setlist placed the 1977 material first, followed by the 1972 and 1975/76 numbers with “Rebel Rebel” as the encore. This sequence is documented on a bootleg of the April 4 LA Forum show, released in the UK and Germany as Slaughter In the Air. In the US, the bootleg appeared as No Ziggy or Iggy… Just a Gigolo with a lengthy Bowie bio by writer M. George Haddad.
RCA promoted Stage with a maxi-single of “Breaking Glass” (at 3:28, almost twice as long as its studio counterpart), backed with live versions of “Art Decade” and “Ziggy Stardust.” In the US, this “Breaking Glass” appeared with the reggae “What In the World” as the b-side of “Star,” rearranged as a high-velocity new wave tune in the vein of The Boomtown Rats. Stage reached No. 2 in the Netherlands and No. 5 on the UK Albums Chart.
On November 11, 1978, Bowie and his band launched their first Australian tour at the Adelaide Oval. After touch-downs in Perth, Brisbane, and Melbourne, they did a two-nighter (11/24–25) at the Sydney Showground. For the Adelaide and Perth shows, local electronic musician Dennis Garcia deputized Powell, who had pre-booked Utopia commitments. Aus rockers The Angels opened the Melbourne and Sydney shows. Bowie wrapped this leg with two shows in New Zealand, where Stage reached No. 1.
The fourth leg of Isolar II spanned the second week of December with two shows in Osaka and two in Tokyo, including a 12/11 concert at Nippon Budokan. RCA Japan promoted Stage with “Soul Love” (b/w “Blackout”).
David Bowie released his twelfth studio album, Lodger, on May 25, 1979, on RCA. This is his third of three albums recorded with Brian Eno, informally known as the Berlin Trilogy. The songs range from somber pop (“Fantastic Voyage”) and fractious post-punk (“Repetition,” “Red Money”) to ethno-exotica (“African Night Flight,” “Yassassin”) and Dada-esque avant-rock (“Red Sails,” “DJ”). Lyrically, the album tackles global themes like wonderlust and foreign relations (side one) and inner-struggles and social commentary (side two).
“Fantastic Voyage” is a sobering song about the possibilities of nuclear annihilation. It has a simple three-chord verse (D–E–Gm) and bridge (A–D–G) that Bowie recyles with different sonic effects on “Boys Keep Swining.”
“Move On” addresses Bowie’s freewheeling wonderlust, as chronicled in his travels and transatlantic abodes. He sings of “sleepy people” in Africa (which he recently visited with Zowie) and “Horesemen” in Russia (which he visited in 1976). His voice swells with longing on the final vridges (“I stumble like a blind man”), betraying a need for groundeness and true lobe (“Somewhere there’s a morning sky, Bluer than her eyes”).
“Yassassin” is a portmanteu of the Turkish word yaşasın (“long live”) and the word “assassin.” The song has a reggae rhythm overlaid with Anatolian rock flourishes. Its lyrics concern the plight of Turkish migrants in Berlin.
“Red Sails” lifts its torrential layers and high-tide rhythmic feel from “Monza (Rauf und Runter),” a track by Harmonia on their 1975 second album Deluxe. The lyrics allude to a swashbuckler adrift on the China Seas.
“DJ” has a mid-tempo Tin Pan Alley arrangement driven by stately piano, entwined with dissonant guitar and warped violin. The chorus line “I am a DJ, I am what I play,” bemoans how individuals are typically perceived by the products of their labors. The song’s dissonant musical hall arrangement echoes “TVC 15” and “Beauty and the Beast.” In the video, Bowie melts down behind a radio booth, where he explodes records with his fist and dramatizes in a peach jump suit.
“Look Back in Anger” is a windy, rumbling number (primarily in E) about self-reflection at the end of a depressing journey, where the narrator meets the angel of death. In the video, Bowie paints himself as a perfect angel, stroking the canvass as his true face decays.
“Repetition” features lyrical vignettes about domestic abuse with spiraling guitars over a brisk, pounding rhythmic track. Bowie addresses the topic with sober omniscience; slipping into character on the line “Can’t you even cook?”
“Red Money” reuses the slow, smoldering Gm arragement of “Sister Midnight,” which Bowie performed in 1976, then recorded with Iggy Pop for The Idiot. The lyrics concern wasted money amid stalled progress and lost motivation (“Project cancelled”).
“Boys Keep Swinging” is a brash, phallocentric rocker about style-tribe rituals and the options of young men. It reuses the “Fantastic Voyage” progression (shifting Gm to its relative third, B♭) with louder, dissonant guitar and primal, plop-plop drums (played by Alomar in a role swap). Visconti plays the trebly, off-note basslines. Bowie performed this song in advance of Lodger‘s release on the Kenny Everett Video Show, where he donned black baggies and a button-up shirt. In the song’s official video, he hipshakes on Everett’s tube-laden stage in a slim fifties suit, backed by three “female” singer: a beehived brunette, a Hayworth-style ginger, and a Dietrich-like elder — all played by Bowie in drag. Each singer gets her turn on the catwalk during the song’s extended outro, where Belew’s searing, sawing leads cut through the fuzzy, three-chord sequence.
Bowie and crew completed most of the backing tracks at Mountain Studios in September 1978. Belew played his parts at random with no exposure to the songs or knowledge of their key centers. After the close of Isolar II, Bowie recorded his vocals at New York’s Record Plant, where Visconti mixed Lodger in March 1979. While there, Bowie played viola with John Cale at an April 1 WKCR benefit at Carnegie Hall, an event headlined by Steve Reich and Philip Glass. (Bowie and Cale cut two demoes, “Piano-La” and “Velvet Couch,” that later appeared on the Dutch bootleg Two Gentlemen In New York.)
Lodger credits Eno with “ambient drone” (“Fantastic Voyage”), “cricket menace” (“African Night Flight”), guitar treatments (“Red Sails”), piano (“Boys Keep Swinging”), and backing vocals (“Yassassin”). On “Look Back in Anger,” he plays “horse trumpet” and “eroica horn.”
Visconti, in a more hands-on role, plays guitar on two cuts (“Move On,” “Yassassin”) and sings backing vocals on six numbers. Bowie curtailed his instrumental role on Lodger, playing guitar on two tracks (“Boys,” “Red Money”) and syntesizer on “Yassassin.” He plays Chamberlin and piano on “DJ.”
The mandolin work on “Fantastic Voyage” is attributed to Visconti, Belew, and House, who plays violin on four tracks. Mayes plays piano on side one and “Look Back In Anger.” Powell plays synthesizer on “Repetition” and “Red Money.”
Lodger is housed in a vertical gatefold presented as a mock post card with an image of Bowie, who appears downed and injured yet conscious. The image, taken by photographer Brian Duffy (Aladdin Sane), was co-conceived by Bowie and artist Derek Boshier. The inner-gates features pics of assorted fallen figures (including an alternate angle of Bowie) over images of a malfunctioning sink.
“Boys Keep Swinging” (b/w “Fantastic Voyage”) reached No. 7 on the UK Singles Chart and went Top 20 in Ireland and Benelux. The videos to all three Lodger singles (“Boys,” “DJ,” “Look Back In Anger”) were directed by David Mallet, who also directed videos for Queen (“Bicycle Race”), Blondie (“Hanging on the Telephone”), Boomtown Rats (“Rat Trap”), and Peter Gabriel (“Games Without Frontiers”).
Lodger reached No. 3 in New Zealand, No. 4 in the UK, No. 5 in the Netherlands, and No. 9 in Sweden. It peaked at No. 11 in Australia, France, and Norway and also went Top 20 in Austria, Canada, and the US. In 1991, Rykodisc reissued Lodger with the session outtake “I Pray, Olé.”
The Associates, a Scottish post-punk duo, landed a contract with Fiction Records on the strength of their October 1979 cover of “Boys Keep Swinging.” Au Pairs, a punk–funk band from Leeds, covered “Repetition” on their 1981 debut album Playing With a Different Sex. Italian new wavers Litfiba covered “Yassassin” for a 1984 maxi-single.
Late ’79 Activity
In September 1979, David Bowie dropped by Rockfield Studios in Monmouthshire, Wales, where Iggy Pop was recording his fourth solo album with former XTC keyboardist Barry Andrews and two members of the recently defunct Rich Kids, guitarist Steve New and (ontime Pistols) bassist Glen Matlock. In the neighboring studio, Simple Minds were recording their second album, Real to Real Cacophony. Two of their members, singer Jim Kerr and bassist Derek Forbes, sing backing vocals with Bowie on Pop’s “Play It Safe.” Purportedly, Bowie macked on New’s girlfriend, Patti Palladin of the Eno-produced post-punk duo Snatch. New assaulted Bowie, who retaliated by wiping the lead guitar tracks from the finished album, Soldier, which appeared in February 1980 on Arista.
Mallet asked Bowie to mime in a new video to “Space Oddity” for an upcoming Everett Christmas special. Bowie insisted on rearranging the now-ten-year-old song without the orchestral-psych trappings of the original. He cut a new, stripped down version at Good Earth Studios, where Visconti was producing the debut solo album by Kiki art rocker Zaine Griff, who plays bass on the remade “Space Oddity” along with two of his backing musicians: drummer Andy Duncan (The Planets) and keyboardist Hans Zimmer (a Buggles auxiliary). They also cut remakes of “Rebel Rebel” and “Panic In Detroit.”
On December 15, 1979, Bowie appeared on the NBC late-night sketch comedy program Saturday Night Live. Actor Martin Sheen hosted the episode as a promotional tie-in with the epic war film Apocalypse Now. Bowie performed three numbers: “The Man Who Sold the World” (in a geometric vinyl tux), “TVC 15” (in a violet skirtsuit, designed by Natasha Kornilof), and “Boys Keep Swinging” (with a superimposed puppet body) — backed by his core band (Alomar, Murray, Davis) plus Heydon and Blondie keyboardist Jimmy Destri. His backing singers, Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias, were denizens of New York’s new wave hotspots (Club 57, Danceteria, Mudd Club). Nomi, a Vulcanized German countertenor, cut two albums on RCA and cultivated the vinyl tux — a design inspired by Triadisches Ballett, an avant-garde ballet by Bauhaus school choreographer Oskar Schlemmer.
For the 1979 holiday season, RCA released “John I’m Only Dancing (Again),” the 1974 remake of Bowie’s 1972 hit. While the original has brisk acoustic chords and a neo-fifties rock feel, the remake is a lengthy funk workout with a drawn out, euphoric chorus and a frenzied second half (in G seven) where Bowie ad libs amid Ava’s repetition of the line “dancing… dancing… dancing… woooh, woooh, woooh….” The earlier rock version, with its sexually ambiguous chorus, appears on the b-side of the disco version.
The new “Space Oddity” video aired at 11 pm on December 31, 1979, as part of The Will Kenny Everett Make It To 1980? Show. It features colored scenes of Bowie in a padded cell, where he plays acoustic guitar and clutches the walls in delirium. These moments are intercut with saturated monochrome scenes of a vinyl-clad Bowie seated in a rocket chair inside a kitchen, where appliances explode as one oblivious maid tends to her chores.
The rerecorded “Space Oddity” appears on the back of “Alabama Song,” a Brecht–Weill number from the 1927 play Little Mahagonny. Bowie cut his reggeafied post–punk version of the cabaret standard on July 2, 1978, at Good Earth during a break from the Isolar II tour. Eleven years earlier, The Doors cut a version (“Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)”) for their debut album. RCA issued “Alabama Song” in February 1980 in a four-fold sleeve with a Teutonic-looking Bowie standing militaristic in a tea green jump suit.
1980: “Crystal Japan”, “Ashes to Ashes”
By early 1980, Bowie resided in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, where he spent off-hours painting. In February, he started work on a new album at New York’s Power Station.
That spring, director Jack Hofsiss approached Bowie about The Elephant Man by playwight Bernard Pomerance. Impressed with the singer’s role in The Man Who Fell to Earth, Hofsiss considered Bowie for the titular role in the Broadway production, which dramatized the life of John Merrick (1862–1890), an English man with severe deformities (later attributed to Proteus syndrome) who worked in a Victorian freakshow before being taken under the care of Sir Frederick Treves, 1st Baronet, a renown British surgeon.
In late March, Bowie flew to Kyoto, Japan, to film an advertisement for Crystal Jun Rock, a vodka-like shōchū (distilled spirit). For the 30-second commerical, he submitted “Crystal Japan,” an electro-ambient instrumental built on a semi-tone progression (G–F#). To capitalize on the ad’s rotation, RCA Japan issued the song as a standalone a-side (b/w “Alabama Song”).
Bowie completed his upcoming album in April at Good Earth Studios. While in London, he checked out the Blitz, a Convent Garden nightspot that served as the central hub of the New Romantics, an upcoming breed of young scensters, stylists, and electro-pop musicians. Bowie was looking for people to cast in an upcoming video shoot and pitched a part to Steve Strange, the club’s awestruck doorman.
Strange fronted Visage, an electro–dance studio project with members of Magazine, Ultravox, and the other half of the Rich Kids: guitarist–singer Midge Ure (ex-Slik) and drummer Rusty Egan, a brief Skids member who doubled as DJ at the Blitz, where he played a steady mix of Bowie, Roxy Music, Eno, Human League, Gary Numan, Ultravox, The Normal, and other electro-pop acts. (Ure’s involement in Visage led to him replacing John Foxx in Ultravox.)
The video shoot for Bowie’s upcoming single, “Ashes to Ashes,” took place with Mallet on Pett Level Beach in East Sussex. Bowie donned a leafy, silver, v-shaped Pierrot costume (by Kornilof) and cone hat (by milliner Gretchen Fenston) with kabuki makeup by Richard Sharah, an assistant to fashion designer Zandra Rhodes. Steve donned a blacked Victorian wedding gown and bowl hat while two fellow Blitz denizens, Judith Frankland and Darla-Jane Gilroy, wore black African hats and collared gowns inspired by the nuns in The Sound of Music. A fourth, Elise Brazier, sported a strapless top and petticoat with wrapped, bouffanted hair.
In the “Ashes to Ashes” video, Bowie mimes the verses and hold portal cards to different scenes, switching from the Pierrot getup to tattered threads (both oceanside) to a scene from the same padded cell used in the recent “Space Oddity” clip — the source of reused kitchen scenes, overlaid here with the Blitz group refrain “I’m happy, hope you’re happy too.” Other scene include Bowie huddled in his cell corner and having a hand spasm in front of a photographer. The Blitz group mimes before an campfire and proceeds with Bowie as a buldozer snail-paces from behind. Bowie sinks into ocean water and walks reservedly on the sand beside a gesticulating old lady.
In the final momements, an image appears on the ocean sky of Bowie; catatonic and tube-tied to a derelict space ship: a possible indicator of Major Tom’s fate. The iconic character — once a hippie space traveler who cuts off from Earth to float freely amongst the stars — is now dismissed as “a junkie… strung out in heaven’s high, hitting an all-time low.”
Mallet’s team used Quantel Paintbox, an early graphics workstation, to saturate the beach scenes with hot pink tints.
“Ashes to Ashes” was released as a single on August 1, 1980 (b/w “Move On”). A fortnight later, it entered the UK charts at No. 4. On the week of August 23, the song became his second UK No. 1 hit. With its usual arrangement — syncopated beats; trebly, staccato bass; pinging, boingy sound effects; varied, melodramatic vocals; and brimming, luminous electro layers — the song became a de facto New Romantic anthem. Months later, Strange employed Sharah’s makeup talent for the video to “Fade to Grey,” the lead-off single from Visage’s debut album.
As “Ashes or Ashes” overtook the UK charts, Bowie assumed the role of John Merrick at the Denver Centre of Performing Arts. After a week of Denver performances, The Elephant Man moved to the Blackstone Theatre in Chicago, where Bowie headed thirty-one performances between the 6th and 31st of August. The role required no prosthetic makeup.
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
David Bowie released his thirteenth studio album, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), on September 12, 1980, on RCA. It features “Ashes to Ashes” and the followup single, “Fashion,” a lurching modern dance number with cryptic lyrics. Several tracks (“It’s No Game,” “Scary Monsters,” “Screaming Like a Baby”) stem from earlier, unreleased songs. This is Bowie’s last of five studio albums with the backing core of Alomar, Davis, and Murray. Multiple tracks feature guest musicians, including Fripp, Pete Townshend, and former Be-Bop Deluxe keyboardist Andy Clark.
“It’s No Game” bookends the album with two distinct versions. The first (“No. 1”) is a loud, murky number where Bowie’s anguished, tortured cries about “No more free steps to heaven” are interspersed with taut Japanese soliloquies by actress Michi Hirota (one of the cover models on Sparks’ 1974 album Kimono My House). The song has its roots in an old, unrecorded Bowie composition, “Tired of My Life,” that possibly dates back to 1963.
“Up the Hill Backwards” sets oblique lyrical metaphors to a Bo Diddley beat, overlaid with fractious Fripp leads. The title-track is a fast, flowing new wave rocker with lyrics about urban paranoia and hypervigilance, aroused by the narrator’s sense of stranger danger while hooking up with an edgy female. It evolved from “Running Scared,” a song Bowie pitched to Iggy Pop in 1975.
“Fashion” stomps forth on a whole-tone drop (G–G–F) flanked with trebly chords and searing sustain (Fripp) over a constant “woop–woop” rhythmic effect. The chorus (in B♭7) spins with an enveloped synth effect as the ominous tribal refrain (“We are the goon squad and we’re coming to town”) heralds the onomatopoeiac “beep beep,” derived from Bowie’s 1970 demo “Rupert the Riley.”
“Teenage Wildlife” is a lengthy vamp in A major with lyrics that challenge the newer talent that emerged in Bowie’s wake (“Break open your million dollar weapon… are you one of the new wave boys?”)
“Scream Like a Baby” is a dystopian mid-tempo rocker with lyrical accounts of a fascist quarantine that claimed Sam, the narrator’s irrepressible kindred spirit. The song is a rewrite of “I Am a Laser,” first sung by Ava Cherry on the unreleased 1973 Astronettes album and demoed by Bowie (as “Lazor”) during the 1974 Sigma sessions.
“Kingdom Come,” composed by Tom Verlaine, first appeared on the Television guitarist’s 1979 debut solo album. Verlaine dropped by Power Station to play on Bowie’s version but spent his time testing amplifiers without recording a note. Fripp provides the smoldering swirl on this track, which features full, persistent harmonies by Chris Porter and Lynn Maitland.
“Because You’re Young” opens with a nervy, stacotto riff: sixteen down strokes of E, followed by a farfisa-overlaid repetition of C. The same two chords underly a ringing, circular riff that heralds a tripping verse about the missteps of young lust. Though the bridge bodes sad times (“These pieces are broken”), the song crests on a swelling, harmonized chorus, where Bowie promises “You’ll meet a stranger some night” amid Clark’s glistening, spiralling keyboards. Townshend recorded his parts at Good Earth just after finishing work on Empty Glass, his solo breakthrough.
“It’s No Game (No. 2)” is a somber, deadpan version of the album opener. Though Bowie seems unaffected as he sings “To be insulted by these fascists is so degrading,” two lines foretell a coming tragedy:
Put a bullet in my brain
And it makes all the papers
Visconti co-produced Scary Monsters in succession with albums by Hazel O’Connor, Rick Wakeman, Steve Gibbons, and Thin Lizzy. He co-engineered the album with Larry Alexander (Danny Toan, Eddie Palmieri) and Jeff Hendrickson (Chic, David Werner). Both engineers worked on 1980/81 albums by Diana Ross, Parliament, and Sister Sledge. Hendrickson also engineered Making Movies, the breakthrough third album by Dire Straits.
Fripp plays guitar on “Fashion,” “It’s No Game,” “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps),” “Kingdom Come,” “Up the Hill Backwards,” and “Teenage Wildlife.” The last of those also features guitar synthesizer by Chuck Hammer, a recent Lou Reed backing player who later worked with Jamaaladeen Tacuma. Hammer also plays on “Ashes to Ashes” along with Clark and a returning Roy Bittan, a presence at Power Station who also plays piano on “Teenage Wildlife” and “Up the Hill Backwards.” Clark, who recently played on Sound-On-Sound as part of Bill Nelson‘s Red Noise, added keyboard overdubs at Good Earth on “Fashion” and “Scream Like a Baby.”
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) gots its name from a Kellogg cereal promotional offer of novelty toys called “Scary Monsters and Super Heroes.” Artists Edward Bell (Sons and Lovers) designed the cover, which places an illustration of Bowie (half dressed in his Pierrot costume) next to the shadow portion of a monchrome profile pic (obscured by the illustration). The back cover features small, whited-out images from four prior Bowie albums: the Berlin Trilogy and Aladdin Sane. Bell illustrated subsequent sleeves for Classix Nouveaux and Korin Noviz (Lili Drop).
RCA lifted “Fashion” as the album’s second single (b/w “Scream Like a Baby”). The video shows Bowie backed by players who don’t appear on the record: drummer Steve Lowe, bassist John Kumnick, and guitarist GE Smith (of the Hall & Oates backing band). The last two backed Bowie on his September 1 appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson along with Alomar and drummer Steve Goulding (of Graham Parker‘s backing band The Rumour).
In the “Fashion” video, the band mimes inside Hurrah, a new wave NYC nightclub. The Hurrah clips are intercut with random flash-by scenes of people engaged in kabuki street threatre, dance troupe rehearsals (including future MTV VJ Alan Hunter), and zombie-like nightclub queues. The “beep beep” lines are mimed by random suburban characters. Bowie, tired and disheveled, clutches his waist and makes recurrent hand-to-floor motions. “Fashion” reached No. 5 on the UK Singles Chart and also went Top 10 in Norway, Sweden, and South Africa.
In January 1981, RCA lifted the album’s title-track as a third single (b/w “Because You’re Young”). “Crystal Japan,” originally slated as the album’s closing track, got its first Western release in March 1981 as the b-side of “Up the Hill Backwards,” the album’s fourth and final single.
The videos to “Ashes to Ashes” and “Fashion,” along with the earlier “DJ,” aired regularly on MTV during the US cable channel’s first 18 months of broadcast.
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) reached No. 1 in the UK, France, Australia, and New Zealand. It also went Top 5 in Benelux, Norway, and Sweden and peaked at No. 8 in West Germany. In North America, the album reached No. 9 in Canada and No. 12 on the US Billboard 200.
The Elephant Man, Retreat
As Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) road the charts, Bowie planned a 1981 tour behind the album. In the meantime, he continued his role as Merrick in The Elephant Man, which moved to New York’s Booth Theatre on 222 West 45th Street for an autumn–winter run. The Booth staging — its second since 1979, when actor Philip Anglim played the titular role — coincided with a namesake biographical drama film by director David Lynch, starring John Hurt (Merrick) and Anthony Hopkins (Treves).
Offstage, Bowie immersed himself in New York nightlife. He frequented Hurrah and witnessed numerous up-and-coming new wave acts, including the Psychedelic Furs, the opening act on Iggy Pop’s 1980 tour. Bowie befriended the band’s frontman, Richard Butler, whose singing style (a breathy flexed uvula effect) recalled the verses of “Sons of the Silent Age” while the band’s overall sound (trebly, treated guitars; blaring sax) echoed the likes of “V-2 Schneider.”
Like his old friend John Lennon, Bowie enjoyed the relative anonymity of New York life, where celebrity sightings occured regularly without ceremony. His feelings changed on the night of December 8, 1980, when Lennon was murdered outside the Dakota Apartment building by a crazed fan. The killer, Mark David Chapman, had attended a Booth performance of The Elephant Man and circled Bowie’s name in the play’s program booklet.
Bowie, shaken and hypervigilant in light of his friend’s murder, struggled through his final month of performances in The Elephant Man, which ended its Booth run on January 4, 1981. He cancelled the planned Scary Monsters tour and retreated to Switzerland.
1981: Christiane F. , “Under Pressure”
In April 1981, Bowie appeared in Christiane F. (aka: Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo), a biographical drama film about an underage drug-addled prostitute in late-seventies Berlin. The Bowie scene, filmed at the Hurrah in October 1980, shows him miming with the “Fashion” video band to the Stage version of “Station to Station.” The scene is meant to recreate his April 10, 1976, performance at Berlin’s Deutschlandhalle with the Hurrah footage inter-spliced with crowd scenes at the 10,000-capacity arena. Despite the “period” setting, Bowie didn’t reenact his Thin White Duke character for the scene.
The Christinane F. soundtrack appeared on RCA (Germany) with three Station to Station numbers (the single edits of “Stay” and “TVC 15,” plus the Stages version of the title-track) and one track from Low (“Warszawa”), two from Lodger (“Boys Keep Swinging,” “Look Back in Anger”), and three from “Heroes” (“V-2 Schneider,” “Sense of Doubt,” and “Helden,” the German version of the title-track).
(The movie’s subject, Christiane Vera Felscherinow, issued two 1982 Neue Deutsche Welle EPs: Gesundheit! and Final Church.)
In July, Bowie entered Mountain Studios, Montreux, with Giorgio Moroder to record vocals to “Cat People (Putting Out Fire),” the theme to the upcoming erotic horror film by director Paul Schrader. Bowie wrote the lyrics to Moroders tune: a moody, six-minute number (in C minor) with a swelling chorus line (“Putting out fire with gasoline”) and recurrent, descending refrain (“been so long”). The RKO movie starring Nastassja Kinski and Malcolm McDowell hit theatres in April 1982 with a Moroder soundtrack on MCA.
At Mountain, Bowie encountered the members of Queen, who he first met at the 1978 Montreux Jazz Festival. Queen were recording Hot Space, the followup to their 1980 release The Game. The two parties created a new song from an old demo, “Feel Like,” by Queen drummer Roger Taylor. As the song took shape, bassist John Deacon added a distinct seven-note bassline (D D D DDD A) and singer Freddie Mercury completed the composition. Bowie added lyrics and the song became “Under Pressure,” released on October 26, 1981, as a Queen+David Bowie collaborative single.
“Under Pressure” reached No. 1 in the UK, Netehrlands, and Canada. The video, comprised of Depression-era stock footage and Silent-era horro clips, went into high rotation on MTV. The song appears on Queen’s May 1982 release Hot Space. (Bowie recorded backing vocals for another Hot Space track, the rockabilly ballad “Cool Cat,” but felt dissatisfied with his performance and had the vocals wiped just prior to the album’s release.)
In August 1981, Bowie rehearsed the titular role of Baal, a 1918 play by Bertolt Brecht about a dissident poet whose rejection of bourgeois society sends him on a downward spiral of alcohol, lechery, and murder.
RCA issued ChangesTwoBowie, a compilation with four tracks which post-date its 1976 predecessor (“Sound and Vision,” “DJ,” “Ashes to Ashes,” “Fashion”), plus four cuts from the 1971–74 albums (“Oh! You Pretty Things,” “Starman,” “Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?),” “1984”), and the Station to Station deep cut “Wild Is the Wind.” The version of “DJ” is a single edit without the drop-out section (“Time flies when you’re having fun… break his heart… break her heart”). This marks the first appearance on album of “John, I’m Only Dancing (Again),” the 1974 Sigma outtake that first appeared as a 1979 single. Photographer Greg Gorman took the front cover image, which provides a rare full-color closeup of Bowie’s anisocoria (often mistaken for heterochromia).
To promote ChangesTwoBowie, RCA lifted “Wild Is the Wind” as a single. Mallet directed Bowie in a lounge-themed monochrome video for the ballad with an ad hoc backing band of Viscont (double bass), Mel Gaynor (drums), Andy Hamilton (saxophone), and Daid’s personal secretary Coco Schwab (guitar) — none of whome play on the recording. (Gaynor played with the Brit funk bands Beggars & Co., Light of the World, and Central Line; he later joined Simple Minds.) “Wild Is the Wind” reached No. 24 on the UK Singles Chart.
On March 2, 1982, Baal aired on the BBC. To accompany the hour-long production, RCA issued David Bowie in Bertolt Brecht’s Baal, an eleven-minute EP that contains five Brecht lyrical numbers, translated by John Willett with arrangements by Dominic Muldowney, a contemporary film and TV composer. This was Bowie’s final new release on RCA.
As Bowie sought a new label, he waited out the Defries contract clause, set to expire in September 1982. In the meantime, he focused on his film career.
Bowie starred in The Hunger, an erotic horror film directed by Tony Scott. Bowie plays John Blaylock, the 200-year-old partner of Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve), an ageless Vampire who feeds on young blood to maintain her youth and beauty. After seducing a sacrificial subject (Ann Magnuson), John ages anyway. He seeks the help of gerontologist Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), who Miriam seduces and vampirizes after locking a decrepit John inside an attic coffin. Goth rockers Bauhaus, who recently assailed the UK charts with a cover of “Ziggy Stardust,” appear in a club scene miming their 1979 single “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.”
Bowie also starred in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, Japanese-British war film by director Nagisa Ōshima (In the Realm of the Senses). The film is set in 1942 in Japanese-occupied Java where Maj. Jack “Strafer” Celliers (Bowie) is a POW who gains the sympathy of Captain Yonoi, an otherwise strict camp commander played by Ryuichi Sakamoto, who composed the soundtrack that includes a vocal theme, “Forbidden Colours,” sung by David Sylvian, recently of the English New Romantic band Japan.
On November 27, 1982, RCA released a 7″ of “Peace on Earth–Little Drummer Boy,” Bowie’s now five-year-old duet with the late Bing Crosby. The counter-vocal ballad, which had since become a yuletide classic, reached No. 3 in the UK and Ireland and No. 6 in Norway.
In December, Bowie started work on a new album at Power Station with Nile Rodgers, the guitarist–producer of Chic who recently produced albums by Diana Ross (Diana), Debbie Harry, Linx (Go Ahead), Material, and Odyssey. For the new album, Bowie cut his own version of “China Girl,” his 1976 Iggy co-write recently covered by Korin Noviz (aka Enzo Enzo) as the b-side of her 1982 reggae-pop single “Je Veux Jouer À Tout.”
1983: Let’s Dance
David Bowie released his fourteenth studio album, Let’s Dance, on April 14, 1982, on EMI America. It spawned three hits: “Modern Love,” “China Girl,” and the title-track. The album also includes a remake of “Cat People” and a cover of the Metro ballad “Criminal Word.” Dallas blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan plays lead on the album, which topped eight national charts and became Bowie’s all-time biggest seller.
Rodgers produced and performed on Let’s Dance between the last two albums of Chic’s original formation. He also debuted as a solo artist with the 1983 album Adventures In the Land of the Good Groove and worked on contemporary titles by Southside Johnny and the Canadian synthpop band Spoons. Rodgers plays rhythm guitar on Let’s Dance in lieu of Alomar, whose booked schedule precluded his involvement.
Bowie’s backing players on Let’s Dance include bassist Carmine Rojas (LaBelle, Nektar, Baby Grand), drummer Omar Hakima (Mike Mainieri, Naoya Matsuoka, Urszula Dudziak), percussionist Sammy Figueroa (Raices, Art Webb, Brecker Brothers, Noel Pointer), and Chic keyboardist Robert Sabino. Two fellow Chic personnel, drummer Tony Thompson and bassist Bernard Edwards, appear in limited capacity; Edwards plays on “Without You,” a part he finished in thirteen minutes on the last day of recording.
Bowie enlisted Vaughan after witnessing the young guitarist at the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival with his band Double Trouble. Another Montreux attendee, Jackson Browne, offered Vaughan his first big recording opportunity at Down Town Studio in Los Angeles, where Vaughn completed his Epic Records debut, Texas Flood, just prior to the Let’s Dance sessions.
Let’s Dance was engineered by veteran soundman Bob Clearmountain, who worked on seventies albums by Flight (Incredible Journey), Synergy, John Miles (Stranger In the City), Rupert Holmes (Widescreen, Pursuit of Happiness), and numerous recordings in the realms of soul (Ace Spectrum, Marlena Shaw, Narada Michael Walden), funk (B. Baker Chocolate Co., Fatback Band, Kay-Gee’s), and new wave (Lene Lovich, Mi-Sex, The Rezillos). His assistant, Dave Greenberg, worked on recent titles by Al Di Meola, Balance, Dan Hartman, and Kazumi Band.
Lodger artist Derek Boshier painted the blank figures, moving lines, and pastel shapes on the back cover and inner-sleeve of Let’s Dance. The front cover shows Bowie geared for boxing in front of a hazy city silhouette with a connect-the-dot title and a concave hexagon logo in distressed blue.
Let’s Dance reached No. 1 in the UK, Australia, Canada, France, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, and Sweden. It peaked at No. 2 in Austria and Germany and No. 3 in Spain. The album reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and was certified double-Platinum by the RIAA. Its global sales exceed 10,700,000 units.
Serious Moonlight Tour
He appeared on his third Rolling Stone cover with the headline “David Bowie Straight” — a reference to his newfound sobriety and candor (and possibly his personal disavowal of pansexuality).
David Bowie released his fifteenth studio album, Tonight, on September 24, 1984, on EMI America.
1985: “This Is Not America”, “Dancing in the Street”
1986: Absolute Beginners, Labyrinth
1987: Never Let Me Down
David Bowie released his sixteenth studio album, Never Let Me Down, on April 20, 1987, on EMI America.
- David Bowie (1967)
- Man of Words, Man of Music (1969)
- The Man Who Sold the World (1970)
- Hunky Dory (1971)
- The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
- Aladdin Sane (1973)
- Pin Ups (1973)
- Diamond Dogs (1974)
- Young Americans (1975)
- Station to Station (1976)
- Low (1977)
- “Heroes” (1977)
- Lodger (1979)
- Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980)
- Let’s Dance (1983)
- Tonight (1984)
- Never Let Me Down (1987)
- Discogs: David Bowie
- English Albums: D (page 2)
- 45worlds: David Bowie
- 45cat: David Bowie
- Concerts Wiki: David Bowie
- David Bowie, Song by Song
- Shapers of the 80s: Bowie… Blitz Kids
- Robbie Rocks: David Bowie lyrics
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