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  • Album: Hunky Dory

  • B-Side: January 1972

  • Live: Santa Monica '72/BBC Sessions 1969-1972 (Sampler)/Bowie At The Beeb


Most of Hunky Dory's second side is devoted to Bowie's tributes to American influences, and "Andy Warhol" is perhaps the best known. The artist had played an important role in David's creative development ever since Kenneth Pitt arrived back from America in 1966 with an acetate of The Velvet Underground and Nico. With its quirky intro, eavesdropping on studio banter ("This is "Andy Warhol", and it's take one," announces Ken Scott, only to have his pronunciation corrected by Bowie), through the sophisticated twin acoustic guitar work to the ragged closing applause (recorded in the studio toilet in pursuit of the desired acoustic), the track has long been a cult favourite. The lyric celebrates Warhol's appropriation of the Wildean dictum that "One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art", and thus the wilful blurring of the division between artist and artifice. "If you want to know all about me," Warhol once said, "Just look at the surface of my paintings and films, and there I am. There's nothing behind it." This is entirely in keeping with Bowie's own preoccupations in 1971 as the long gestation of Ziggy Stardust neared its conclusion.

     In his portrait of Warhol as "a standing cinema" and "a gallery" who is indistinguishable from the silver screen and wants to "put you all inside my show", Bowie anticipates his own assumption of the role of a blank canvas onto which rock stardom would be written. "It wasn't why he painted a Campbell's soup can, it was 'What kind of man would paint a Campbell's soup can?'" said Bowie later. "That's what aggravates people. That's the premise behind anti-style, and anti-style is the premise behind me."

     Another American influence to which "Andy Warhol" pays less upfront homage is the singer-songwriter Ron Davies, whose number "It Ain't Easy" was covered by David at around the same time. The guitar riff of "Andy Warhol" borrows heavily from the intro to "Silent Song Across The Land", the title track of the 1970 Davies LP which is the source of the original "It Ain't Easy". But not everything in "Andy Warhol" looks to America: "two new pence to have a go" is a topical British reference, the UK having decimalised its currency amid much fanfare on February 15th 1971.

     "Andy Warhol" was originally written for Bowie's friend Dana Gillespie, who took lead vocal during his free-for-all BBC session on June 3rd 1971. In an effusive introduction David described Gillespie as "another friend of mine who lives in London, and she's a very very very very very very excellent songwriter, and she hasn't been recorded as yet with her own compositions, and needless to say tonight is no exception, ha ha! She's doing one of my things that I wrote for her, and it's called "Andy Warhol"." Gillespie's own studio version was recorded at Trident in the same month, showcasing a hard-rocking guitar break from Mick Ronson while David provided backing vocals and acoustic guitar. An early mix appeared on the Bowie/Gillespie sampler album pressed by Tony Defries in August 1971, but otherwise Gillespie's version remained unreleased until 1974, when it appeared as a single and on her album Weren't Born A Man. The alternative mix resurfaced on the 2006 compilation Oh! You Pretty Things.

      In September 1971, during Bowie's trip to New York to sign his RCA contract, the fabled first meeting of the two great artificers took place. "Andy was never a talker," recalled Tony Zanette, who had arranged the meeting at Warhol's Factory studio. "Andy waited for other people to do things around him. So did David." This would account for the stilted encounter that has entered the annals of Bowie lore. David played the newly-minted acetate of "Andy Warhol" to his hero, who reacted by leaving the room. "He absolutely hated it," Bowie recollected in 1997. "He was cringing with embarrassment. I think he thought that I really put him down in the song, and it really wasn't meant to be that - it was kind of an ironic homage to him. He took it very badly, but he liked my shoes. I was wearing a pair of shoes that Marc Bolan had given me - brilliant canary yellow, semi-wedge heel, semi-point rounded toe. He liked those because he used to design shoes, so we had something to talk about." Warhol is said to have returned with his Polaroid to take several pictures of David's shoes, and also shot some film footage of David performing a couple of Lindsay Kemp mime staples (this footage surfaced at a Tate Modern Warhol retrospective in 2001, where visitors could view the long-haired David miming his insides falling out, followed by the "trapped in a glass box" routine he would later perform during "The Width Of A Circle" in the Ziggy concerts). After discussing the finer points of footwear, Warhol ended the interview by saying, "Goodbye, David. You have such nice shoes." Bowie said that he found the meeting "fascinating" because Warhol had "nothing to say at all, absolutely nothing."

     The two were later seen together on numerous occasions, although David commented in 1999 that "we never particularly got on." Warhol was at Bowie's breakthrough American gig at Carnegie Hall in September 1972, and attended the Broadway opening of The Elephant Man in 1980. He was later to say that "David always tried out combinations that no-one else would have dreamt of." In 1995, eight years after Warhol's death, Bowie took their bizarrely artificial relationship to its logical extreme when he played the role of Warhol himself in Julian Schnabel's film Basquiat.

     In addition to the BBC radio version performed by Dana Gillespie, David recorded "Andy Warhol" for two subsequent BBC sessions on September 21st 1971 and May 23rd 1972; the former appears on the BBC Sessions 1969-1972 sampler, while the latter is included on Bowie At The Beeb. In 1972 the original album version was issued as the B-side of the "Changes" single; in America and some other territories, the single was edited to remove the opening studio chatter. Yet another BBC version was recorded for the 1997 birthday broadcast ChangesNowBowie, this time with a flamenco-style acoustic guitar break.

    "Andy Warhol" made regular live appearances in 1972 as part of an acoustic sequence along with "Space Oddity" and "My Death". Thereafter it remained absent from the concert repertoire until receiving a vigorous electric makeover for the Outside and 1996 Festival tours. Bowie's demented accompanying dance routine was self-consciously avant-garde, more than a little pretentious, and absolutely marvellous - not unlike the song itself.

     In the 1970s Nick Cave regularly played the song with his original outfit Boys Next Door, while another notable cover was performed by the Stone Temple Pilots during their 1993 MTV Unplugged set. Other artists who have covered "Andy Warhol" include Generation X, John Frusciante, Barenaked Ladies and Kid Adrift, while a delightfully silly version by a group of Oregon students calling themselves "Screaming Lord Fairfax", with retooled lyrics about the seventeenth-century metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell (right down to a copycat intro in which the pronunciation of "Marvell" is disputed) was posted on YouTube in 2006. Former S Club 7 singer Rachel Stevens used the "Andy Warhol" guitar riff on the title track of her amusingly titled top ten album Funky Dory. Released as a single, "Funky Dory" reached number 26 in the UK in December 2003. Bowie considered the song, which not only filched the tune of "Andy Warhol" but also paraphrased its lyric, to be "quite nice".


Co-produced by Bowie for Lou Reed's Transformer, the surreal gem "Andy's Chest" was resuscitated from an old Velvet Underground song inspired by the 1968 attempt on Andy Warhol's life by Valerie Solanas. The Velvets originally recorded it in 1969, but the definitive 1972 Transformer version is based around a jauntier, more acoustic arrangement. Bowie provides prominent backing vocals in probably the only rock song to contain the phrase "dentured ocelot".


Like "The Reverend Raymond Brown", this 1968 Bowie composition was slated for inclusion on the planned second Deram album. The melody is out of the wistful "Conversation Piece" drawer, and the lyric is one of David's kitchen-sink dramas in miniature, clearly indebted to his readings of authors like Alan Sillitoe and Keith Waterhouse. A blue-collar city couple are snatching a Sunday afternoon of bliss beneath a tree in the countryside: "It's thirteen miles to Factory Street, the train is going soon / Angel, angel, grubby face, I love you, do you love me? / Sunday oaktree, sing me a song / The cobbles of town are lost in your branches / Monday morning, buses and smoke, workshop and counter, disorder and vouchers..." Bowie's demo appeared at a Christie's auction in 1993 on a two-sided acetate with "London Bye Ta-Ta", which suggests it was recorded in March 1968. It's one of David's more accomplished solo demos of the period: a simple affair with no overdubs, just a plaintive, breathy vocal and some fine work on acoustic guitar.

ANYWAY, ANYHOW, ANYWHERE (Townshend/Daltrey)

  • Album: Pin Ups

Bowie covers The Who's second hit, a UK number 10 in 1965, with greater panache than his version of "I Can't Explain". Subjected to the Pin Ups treatment "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" becomes a test-drive for David's burgeoning soul mannerisms - soon to be adopted to greater effect on Diamond Dogs and Young Americans - while Aynsley Dunbar contributes some tremendous drumming.

     At his Bridge School benefit performance on October 19th 1996, Bowie launched into the opening line of the song in affectionate tribute to Pete Townshend, who had played some Who numbers earlier the same evening.

APRIL IN PARIS (Duke/Harburg)

During Tin Machine's It's My Life tour, David occasionally added a few lines from the jazz standard to "Heaven's In Here". While on the same tour he serenaded Iman with a suitably modified "October In Paris" by way of making his marriage proposal, and at Brixton Academy the following month the lyric became the decidedly less poetic "November In Brixton".


This little-known demo dates from early 1968. The strumming guitar riff is reminiscent of "Baby Loves That Way", but the quasi-hippy lyrics point in a psychedelic, Beatle-influenced direction whose transcendental theme has more in common with compositions like "Karma Man" and "Silly Boy Blue": "See the child with hair of blue, the one the boys are talking to, I can smell the spring in her mind / Friends of mine are red and green, I see you don't know what I mean and I'm sad / Look at the man with the pretty balloons, be dazzled by April's tooth of gold." With its portentous tone and whimsical juxtapositions, the song's title is strongly redolent of the psychedelic fashion of the day, sounding suspiciously like Bowie's attempt to come up with a phrase like "A Whiter Shade Of Pale", "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" or "Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake".

     Together with "Mother Grey" and "Ching-A-Ling", the song later became the subject of a copyright dispute. In May 1973 Essex Music International claimed that under a 1967 agreement they owned the copyright on the three numbers, and that Bowie was in breach of contract by signing them over to Chrysalis.


In January 1974, the NME reported this as the title of a song lately recorded at Olympic Studios during the sessions for the album that would become Diamond Dogs. "Are You Coming? Are You Coming?" later became one of a handful of song titles (also including "Wilderness" and, bizarrely, a cover of the Johnny Cash country classic "The Ballad Of Ira Hayes") which were attached by collectors to Bowie's proposed 1973 stage version of Nineteen Eighty-Four. There is no confirmation that the latter pair were ever recorded, and their provenance remains dubious.


  • A-Side: December 2006

  • Live Video: Remember That Night (David Gilmour)

On May 29th 2006 Bowie joined David Gilmour on stage at The Royal Albert Hall to perform an encore of "Arnold Layne". Pink Floyd's debut single, a psychedelic vignette about a transvestite thief which defied airplay bans to become a number 20 hit in 1967, had always been a favourite of Bowie's, even inspiring the name of his short-lived 1971 outfit Arnold Corns. The Albert Hall recording was released as a single on Boxing Day 2006, entering the UK chart at number 19. David Mallet's film of the performance was widely used to promote the release, and later appeared on Gilmour's live DVD Remember That Night.



  • Album: Low

  • Live: Stage

  • B-Side: November 1978

Explaining that Low was his "reaction to certain places", Bowie said in 1977 that "Art Decade" was about West Berlin, "a city cut off from its world, art and culture, dying with no hope of retribution." Hence the obvious pun, for Bowie's perception of West Berlin is of "art decayed". It's a hauntingly sparse instrumental, with a percussion track recalling Kraftwerk's 1975 track "Radioland", and a beautiful cello solo courtesy of Hansa engineer Eduard Meyer. Tony Visconti, who scored the cello part, had originally intended to play it himself until Meyer revealed himself to be a cellist. "Art Decade" was performed throughout the 1978 tour (from which the Stage version was released on the "Breaking Glass" EP), and reappeared many years later on the Heathen tour.


  • Soundtrack: Labyrinth

  • Bonus: Tonight

  • Video: The Video Collection/Best Of Bowie

This exceedingly pretty love ballad works beautifully in the context of Labyrinth, accompanying a dream sequence in which Bowie, head to foot in ravishing glamour, whisks a Cinderella-like Jennifer Connelly through admiring crowds at a decadent masked ball that puts Adam And The Ants' "Prince Charming" video to shame. Out of context it veers dangerously close to the Chris de Burgh school of soft-smooch romance; indeed, given the massive success of "The Lady In Red" earlier that year, it's hardly surprising that "As The World Falls Down" was slated for a Christmas 1986 single release. The track was edited to 3'36" and a video was shot by Steve Barron, splicing clips from Labyrinth with monochrome "performance" footage and a storyline about photocopies of Bowie enchanting a girl in a deserted office (shades of Barron's earlier promo for A-ha's "Take On Me"). The single, however, was shelved at the last minute. It might have been a big hit, but perhaps Bowie had elected to clear the decks in preparation for the comparatively harder sound of the forthcoming Never Let Me Down.

     Trivia buffs will note that the track features backing vocals by Robin Beck, who would enjoy her moment of fame two years later with the Coca-Cola commercial and international chart-topper "First Time". "As The World Falls Down" was bafflingly added to the 1995 reissue of Tonight, while the previously unreleased video was included on The Video Collection and Best Of Bowie. That David continued to regard the song with affection is indicated by the fact that he included it on the five-track CD of romantic numbers packaged with the initial release of his wife's 2001 autobiography I Am Iman. A fine cover version by Girl In A Coma was included on their 2010 album Adventures In Coverland, and was released as a single in the same year with a video directed by Robert Rodriguez.


  • A-Side: August 1980

  • Album: Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)

  • Live: Bowie At The Beeb/A Reality Tour

  • Video: The Video Collection/Best Of Bowie

  • Live Video: Serious Moonlight/A Reality Tour

Even without its obvious historical interest this is one of the all-time great Bowie tracks. Lush layers of synthesized sound, ska backbeats and funk guitar consolidate all Bowie's late 1970s experimentation in one classic piece of pop, while David Mallet's outstanding promo redefined rock video and jump-started the New Romantic movement. "It's certainly one of the better songs that I've ever written," was Bowie's considered judgement in 1999. All this, and it's a sequel to "Space Oddity" too.

     Eleven years after Major Tom's lift-off, Ground Control receives a message from the ether which transmutes into an articulation of numbness, isolation and insecurity, larded with cryptic references to Bowie's ongoing struggle against his drug habit and the oppressive weight of his past career. In an interview for the NME in 1980, David called the song an "ode to childhood, if you like, a popular nursery rhyme...about spacemen becoming junkies!" He cited the lyric "I've never done good things, I've never done bad things, I never did anything out of the blue" as representing "a continuing, returning feeling of inadequacy over what I've done." Expanding on the song's heritage, he explained, "When I originally wrote about Major Tom, I was a very pragmatic and self-opinionated lad that thought he knew all about the great American dream and where it started and where it should stop. Here we had the great blast of American technological know-how shoving this guy up into space, but once he gets there he's not quite sure why he's there. And that's where I left him. Now we've found out that he's under some kind of realisation that the whole process that got him up there had decayed, was born out of decay: it has decayed him and he's in the process of decaying. But he wishes to return to the nice, round womb, the earth, from whence he started." Elsewhere he added weight to the sense of narrative closure found throughout Scary Monsters by describing the song as "long overdue - the end of something", and later he explained that "I was wrapping up the seventies really for myself, and that seemed a good enough epitaph for it - that we've lost him, he's out there somewhere, we'll leave him be."

     Given Bowie's declaration that Scary Monsters was an attempt to "accommodate" his "pasts" ("you have to understand why you went through them"), there is a persuasive case for reading "Ashes To Ashes" as an autobiographical note about the process that had sent him "up there" and "decayed" him in the mid-1970s - and not just because of the obvious drug references, which he admitted were fun to smuggle past the radio censors. The "Action Man" who has fallen so low might well parallel the former "Main Man" whose music went from "funk to funky" in 1975 as he became "a junkie" in the City of Angels ("strung out in heaven's high"), before hitting the depths during The Man Who Fell To Earth ("I ain't got no money and I ain't got no hair"), and relocating to Europe for creative and spiritual rebirth ("hitting an all-time Low"), but still yearning to demolish the frozen emotions and paranoiac isolation to which he had fallen victim ("Want an axe to break the ice, I wanna come down right now" - a line which, as Peter Doggett notes, echoes an apercu in a 1904 letter from Franz Kafka: "A book must be an ice-axe to break the frozen sea within us"). If "Space Oddity" was in part a metaphor of space travel as celebrity as drug-taking as sensory isolation, then "Ashes To Ashes" represents the pay-off.

     Melodically the song is indebted to one of Bowie's very earliest influences, the Danny Kaye number "Inchworm", which hails from the 1952 musical Hans Christian Andersen. "I was seven or eight when that came out," David recalled, not entirely accurately, in 2003. "The chords were some of the first I learned on a guitar. They're remarkable chords, very melancholic. "Ashes To Ashes" is influenced by that. It's childlike and melancholic in that children's story way.

     The queasy Wurlitzer effect which dominates the opening bars was achieved by feeding the sound of a grand piano through a gadget rejoicing in the name of the Eventide Instant Flanger. "We wanted a Wurlitzer but couldn't wait for a hire company to deliver one," explained Tony Visconti. "I tried my best to turn an ordinary piano into one, but settled with feeding it to the Eventide and setting it at maximum wobble, which everyone preferred to the Wurlitzer which never arrived." Another revolutionary effect was provided by session player Chuck Hammer who, as Visconti recalled, "came to our sessions with the first guitar synthesizer we'd ever seen or heard. He gave us a quick demonstration of how he would pick a note, and out of his amplifier would come a symphonic string section." Visconti resolved to record Hammer's contribution in the back stairwell of the studio, where it reverberated up and down four storeys. "The sound was glorious. It's the warm string choir you hear on the part that goes, "I've never done good things, I've never done bad things..." Meanwhile the rhythmic back-beat gave Bowie's percussionist a few headaches. "I'm sure Dennis Davis won't mind me saying this," said David a few years later, "but when we did "Ashes To Ashes", that beat was an old ska beat, but Dennis had an incredibly hard time with it, trying to play it and turn the beat backwards, and in fact we worked through the session and it wasn't turning out at all well, so I did it on a chair and a cardboard box and he took it home with him and learnt it for the next day. He really found it a problem."

     Following the main sessions in New York, vocals and further overdubs were added at London's Good Earth Studios. "In London we brought in Andy Clark, a session keyboardist introduced to me by [Kenny Everett "Space Oddity" drummer] Andy Duncan," Tony Visconti explained in his autobiography. "He provided the symphonic sounds at the end of this track." Visconti himself played some additional percussion during the London sessions.

     RCA stressed the continuity between "Space Oddity" and "Ashes To Ashes" by releasing a 12" promo in America, entitled "The Continuing Story Of Major Tom", which segued one track into the other. In Britain the edited single came in a choice of three different picture sleeves, each accompanied by one of four different sheets of adhesive stamps, marking RCA's belated adoption of the craze for limited-edition collectables that had swept the 7" market in the late 1970s. Trail-blazed by the famous video it was a huge hit, entering the chart at number 4 and knocking ABBA's "The Winner Takes It All" off the top spot the following week to become Bowie's fastest-selling single yet. It was his second number one - the first, ironically enough, had been the reissued "Space Oddity".

     The superb video, perhaps Bowie's best, used the newfangled Paintbox technique to turn skies black and seas pink, and premiered one of his best-remembered looks. The sad-faced clown wandering up a lonely beach, pursued by a bulldozer and harangued by his ageing mother, is a resonant image that reaches back across Bowie's career. It's redolent of his white-faced mime period in the late 1960s (photos of David from Lindsay Kemp's Pierrot In Turquoise are startlingly similar), of the "love-machine" that "lumbers through desolation row" in "Cygnet Committee", of the original sleeve artwork for the Space Oddity album, of his 1971 estimation of rock as "the clown, the Pierrot medium", of his later denunciation of rock as "a toothless old woman", and of his own perennial predicament, jumping through hoops at the centre of the industry's three-ring circus. The trio of characters Bowie enacts in the video's unsettling, dreamlike juxtapositions - clown, asylum inmate and spaceman - are staples of his work from its earliest days, again fuelling the notion that "Ashes To Ashes" is a comprehensive exorcism of his past.

     The closing refrain of "My Mama said, to get things done / You'd better not mess with Major Tom" is another of David's darkling nursey-rhymes, paraphrasing the traditional skipping game: "My mother said, I never should / Play with the gypsies in the wood," as paraphrased by Anthony Newley in his 1961 show Stop The World - I Want To Get Off. In view of the "Ashes" video it's worth noting that the poem continues "I went to the sea - no ship to get across", and concludes: "Sally tell my mother I shall never come back". The video's incongruous cardigan-clad mother (not, as some believed, David's own) was interpreted by some as a reaction to the embarrassingly public family strife highlighted by the NME's famous 1975 interview with Peggy Jones ("A Mother's Anguish - David Never Comes To See Me!"). In the years since that article David had repaired his relationship with his mother - "I think the recognition of the fraility of age makes one more sympathetic to the earlier strains of the child-parent relationship," he said. "It's a shared responsibility and you get more mature about it." All the same, Bowie's work always clung to the fantasy of a flight from parental dominance and suburban domesticity.

     "Although it looked pretty po-faced, it was a riot making it!" he later recalled of the "Ashes" video, shot at Beachy Head and Hastings in May 1980 on a budget of £25,000, making it the most expensive pop video of its day. Bowie story-boarded the promo himself, drawing it shot by shot and dictating the editing process. "I brought my drawings to David Mallet and said, look, I'd like to have a crack at this. Some of the images were kind of violent - the plough following the figures is an image of oncoming violence which I find very scary, and there's something very religious about the four other characters in the video, an ominous quality that's rooted quite deeply." One of these exotically attired figures was the up-and-coming New Romatic icon Steve Strange, shortly to enjoy chart success with his own group Visage. His costume and make-up in 1981's "Fade To Grey" video exactly mimic Bowie's Pierrot, but the inspiration was a two-way process. David had recruited Strange and the other extras after a visit to The Blitz, the Bowie-worshipping nightclub that was home to the rapidly emerging New Romantic scene. Among those disappointed to be passed over for the "Ashes" video were Blitz regulars Marilyn and long-time Bowie fan George O'Dowd. "My robe kept catching in the bulldozer," Steve Strange later told biographer Marc Spitz. "That's why I kept doing that move where I pull my arm down. So I wouldn't be crushed. Bowie liked the move and used it later." Sure enough, over the next few years the portentous overarm gesture, accompanied by a drop to the ground, would become a staple Bowie manoeuvre on stage and in videos like "Fashion", "Loving The Alien" and "Dancing In The Street".

     Steve Strange's friend Richard Sharah created David's make-up for the "Ashes" video and for the previous month's Scary Monsters photo shoot. The Italian Pierrot costume was designed by Natasha Kornilof, an occasional collaborator since the days of Pierrot In Turquoise, who had most recently worked with David as costume designer on the Stage tour. The sequences depicting David in a padded cell and, bizarrely, as an anaesthetised astronaut sitting in an exploding kitchen, were developed from the elaborate performance of "Space Oddity" shot by Mallet for The "Will Kenny Everett Make It To 1980?" Show the year before. The shots of David in a spacesuit linked to his ship by umbilical lifelines were, he explained, "intentionally" derivative of H R Giger's famous production designs for Alien, released the previous year. "It was supposed to be the archetypal 1980s ideal of the futuristic colony that has been founded by the earthling," said David, "and in that particular sequence the idea was for the earthling to be pumping out himself and to be having pumped into him something organic. So there was a very strong Giger influence there: the organic meets hi-tech." Of the video as a whole, he explained that it conveyed "some feelings of nostalgia for a future. I've always been hung up on that; it creeps into everything I do, however far away I try to get from it...The idea of having seen the future, of somewhere we've already been, keeps coming back to me."

     "Ashes To Ashes" would define rock video for the early 1980s, its techniques and effects aped by countless early promos from the likes of Adam Ant, Duran Duran and The Cure. Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, whose state-of-the-art promos would set the pace during the 1990s, described "Ashes" as "an amazing video." One shot - the stricken Pierrot-Bowie submerged up to his chest in water - was lampooned in the notorious "Nice Video, Shame About The Song" sketch on Not The Nine O'Clock News, and was later appropriated by Peter Gabriel for "Shock The Monkey". The video for Erasure's 1991 single "Chorus" features the duo cavorting on the beach beneath the same Hastings cliffs, the picture garishly treated with a similar Paintbox effect. Marilyn Manson's video for his 1998 single "The Dope Show" is influenced by a number of Bowie promos and by "Ashes To Ashes" in particular: evidently a fan of the song, Manson also incorporated the refrain "I'm dying, hope you're dying too" into his 1997 number "Apple Of Sodom". This was neither the first nor the last song to wear the influence on its sleeve: Landscape's 1981 hit "Einstein A Go-Go" shamelessly copied the "My mama said" refrain with its chant of "You better watch out, you better beware, Albert said that E=MC squared", while Keane's 2008 song "Better Than This" apes the rhythm track and synthesizer sounds of Bowie's original.

     In 1992 Tears For Fears recorded a slavish cover of "Ashes To Ashes" for the Ruby Trax charity album; it later appeared on David Bowie Songbook. Other artists who have covered the song live or in the studio include Uwe Schmidt, Northern Kings, The Shins, The Mike Flowers Pop and John Wesley Harding, while in 2000 Samantha Mumba's number 3 hit "Body II Body" extensively sampled Bowie's original. In 2007 "Ashes To Ashes" appeared in the soundtrack of the Farrelly Brothers comedy The Heartbreak Kid, and the following year gave its name to the BBC's sequel to its popular time-travelling crime drama Life On Mars, duly turning up on the accompanying soundtrack album. Also in 2008, an officially licensed remix by Julian Hruza was included on his 12" Super Sound EP, while in 2013 James Murphy added a sample from "Ashes" to the remix of "Love Is Lost" included on The Next Day Extra.

     According to Tony Visconti, "Ashes To Ashes" was originally entitled "People Are Turning To Gold", and in October 2000 he treated viewers of Channel 4's Top Ten: 1980 documentary to a snatch of an early demo in which Bowie sings a "la la" vocal along to the backing track. A handwritten lyric sheet displayed at the David Bowie is exhibition reveal several lines dropped from the opening verse ("And I hear the clash and I don't react / All this music's so strange...and I can't clean up my act"), while the chorus is a palimpsest of scribbled redactions and revisions. Rumours persist that a 13-minute original version, featuring an extra verse and a lengthy instrumental passage, resides in the archives, but the 12-minute fake that has appeared on bootlegs merely splices and re-splices the familiar verses. Only once during 1980 did David perform "Ashes To Ashes" live, on September 3rd for NBC's The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. Despite being a particularly challenging song to reproduce live, "Ashes To Ashes" made successful transitions to the stage for the Serious Moonlight tour, Sound + Vision, 1999-2000, Heathen and A Reality tours. An excellent live version recorded at the BBC Radio Theatre on June 27th 2000 was included on the Bowie At The Beeb bonus disc, while another, recorded in Dublin in November 2003, is to be found on A Reality Tour.


  • Bonus: The Next Day Extra

Somewhere in a parallel universe, there's a less angst-ridden incarnation of The Next Day on which "Atomica", with its rallying cry of "Let's get this show on the road!", is the opening track. In our dimension the song remained unfinished at the time of the principal sessions, despite being one of the first pieces to be recorded: it was tracked on May 2nd 2011, the opening day of the sessions. "Some songs, like "Atomica", needed more work and were assigned to the back burner intentionally for future releases," explained Tony Visconti, who was of the opinion that the track "could've been a highlight of The Next Day had we finished it back then." Earl Slick's guitar part was added in July 2012, and Bowie didn't record his lead vocal until August 26th 2013, nearly six months after the release of The Next Day. "The verse lyrics are a mouthful, sung at an intense pace," observed Visconti. "Gerry Leonard and David Torn swirl madly around each other's styles. Gail Ann Dorsey is poppin' the bass and Zach Alford is on drums, slamming away."

     Not for the first time in The Next Day's sessions, the spirit of Lodger raises its head, albeit in a roundabout route. The opening and closing moments of "Atomica" - a naked drumbeat accompanied by agile picks on rhythm guitar - are near-identical to the opening bars of the 1988 re-recording of "Look Back In Anger". It's a fleeting echo, and it vanishes once the track is up to speed and bedded into its guitar-spanking, bass-slapping post-glam groove, over which Bowie sings the archest of lyrics, at once swaggering and self-effacing: "I'm just a rock star stabbing away...A modern scholar / Just let me know if I sing too much". In the bridge he keeps a straight face while majestically crooning, "I hold myself like a god, like a god," and it is left to the fantastically silly chorus to reassure us that none of this is to be taken seriously.

AWAKEN 2 (Bowie/Gabrels)

An instrumental track recorded by Bowie with Reeves Gabrels in 1999 for exclusive use in the Omikron computer game.


An unreleased track from the Lodger sessions, recorded in Montreux in September 1978.

Andy Warhol
Andy's Chest
Angel, Angel, Grubby Face
Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere
April In Paris
April's Tooth Of Gold
Are You Coming? Are You Coming?
Arnold Layne
Around And Around
Art Decade
As The World Falls Down
Ashes To Ashes
Awaken 2
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