A | The Songs From A to Z | A

A  | B | C | D | E | F | G | H| I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W |  Y | Z

 

ABDULMAJID (Bowie/Eno)

  • Bonus: "Heroes"

  • Compilation: All Saints: Collected Instrumentals 1977-1999

Mixed in 1991 for release as a bonus track, this Eastern-influenced instrumental dating from the "Heroes" sessions was renamed in honour of Bowie's then fiancée Iman Muhammid Abdulmajid. Its original title, if there was one, is unknown. "I recall working on this on "Heroes", but it was abandoned," Tony Visconti said. "It's not Low time at all. This is a heavily remixed, worked-on nineties creation." 'Abdulmajid' provides the basis for the second movement of Philip Glass's 1997 "Heroes" Symphony.

ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS

  • A-Side: March 1986

  • Soundtrack: Absolute Beginners

  • Bonus: Tonight

  • Download: May 2007

  • Compilation: Nothing Has Changed

  • Live: Bowie At The Beeb (Bonus Disc)/Glass Spider (2007 CD/DVD Release)

  • Video: The Video Collection/Best Of Bowie

  • Live Video: Glass Spider

In June 1985 a group of session musicians working with Thomas Dolby at Abbey Road received letters from EMI inviting them to work on a session with "Mr X". This unorthodox overture turned out to be from David Bowie, who had approached producers Alan Winstanley and Clive Langer with the demo of 'Absolute Beginners'. Former Prefab Sprout guitarist Kevin Armstrong, for whom this was the beginning of a sporadic ten-year working relationship, explained that Bowie "came in with the song 'Absolute Beginners' half written. The whole band helped out, whether it was a missing chord or a rhyme for the last verse. Over an afternoon it evolved into the backing track, which we recorded. That's how Bowie operated - from the germ of an idea, which the group polished up into the master. Once he saw what we could do, he relaxed. We fitted."

     'Absolute Beginners', the title song for the film then in pre-production, was completed at a breakneck pace. "David liked to work at top speed," recalled ex-Soft Boys and Thompson Twins bassist Matthew Seligman. "He said he loved the Abbey Road session, which reminded him of "Heroes"." Laid down during the same sessions were Bowie's other contributions to the Absolute Beginners soundtrack, 'Volare' and 'That's Motivation'. David subsequently recorded his lead vocals at Langer and Winstanley's own Westside Studios.

     Blasted along in a breezy 1950s doo-wop style with some exhilarating swoops of guitar, pounding piano from Hunky Dory veteran Rick Wakeman ("Rachmaninov-style," in his words), and a triumphant saxophone sound that Bowie spent much time failing to capture elsewhere during the mid-1980s, 'Absolute Beginners' isn't merely an above-average effort from a lean period; it's one of the all-time great Bowie recordings. When it was released in March 1986 it shot up the chart to number 2, denied pole position by Diana Ross's 'Chain Reaction' but staying in the top ten for a month. It remains David's biggest hit since 'Let's Dance'.

     Julien Temple's video, shot in monochrome on Westminster Bridge and the Thames Embankment, is a pastiche of the 1950s "You're never alone with a Strand" cigarette commercial. Cutting a dash in trench coat and fedora, Bowie runs out of "Zebra" cigarettes and makes for the nearest slot-machine, only to find his movements shadowed by a foxy dancer decked out in zebra-striped make-up. He chases her down to The Thames and they kiss, only for the girl to disappear and leave just a burning cigarette stub. Interspersed are colour images from Absolute Beginners itself. The eight-minute cut of the video was used to trail the movie in British cinemas, sparking a few complaints from cinema-goers alarmed by the riot scenes towards the end. This is the version that appears on Best Of Bowie.

     In addition to the 7" edit, the excellent full-length version of 'Absolute Beginners' was released on 12" and CD, an instrumental "Dub Mix" forming the B-side of all formats; these were reissued as downloads in 2007. A further 4'46" US and Canadian promo edit was later released on some formats of Nothing Has Changed. The film itself features different edits: the main title is only 2'18" while the closing version runs to 6'56". Meanwhile a re-orchestrated instrumental version, which appears on the soundtrack album as 'Absolute Beginners (Refrain)', was performed by Gil Evans. Bowie performed 'Absolute Beginners' throughout the Glass Spider Tour, and resurrected the number for his summer 2000 concerts and the Heathen Tour. A superb live version recorded at the BBC Radio Theatre on June 27th 2000 appears on the Bowie At The Beeb bonus disc.

     In 2010 an unlikely cover version by Carla Bruni, the singer-songwriter, ex-model and wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, was included on the War Child charity compilation We Were So Turned On. The same recording subsequently appeared as a limited-edition double A-side single, paired with Duran Duran's version of 'Boys Keep Swinging'. A cover by Angela McCluskey was used in a 2014 Samsung commercial. On BBC Radio 4 in October 2013, clinical psychologist Professor Tanya Byron chose 'Absolute Beginners' as one of her Desert Island Discs.

     'Absolute Beginners' was among the songs performed in the musical Lazarus. In January 2016, in the wake of David's death, a six-minute sequence of vocal out-takes from the original 1985 recording was uploaded to YouTube by record producer Mark Saunders, who engineered the session at Westside Studios. What is remarkable about this find is not just that it features a fresh set of lyrics - a Bruce Springsteen-style recitative beginning "When the fire broke out on the Rio Grande/Put my foot to the board and she ate up the sand" - but that Bowie proceeds to sing seven different passes, each time impersonating a different one of his contemporaries: first Springsteen, then Marc Bolan, Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Anthony Newley, Iggy Pop and Neil Young. "At the end of the session he broke into the impersonations," Saunders explained, "and I realised that these might get erased at some point, so I quickly put a cassette in and hit record." Punctuated by David's laughter and self-effacing remarks about the inadequacy of his impressions - which are in fact astonishingly on the nail, in particular his joyously full-throttle take on Iggy - it's a happy reminder not just of a prodigiously talented mimic, but of a dedicated fan of music and a war, funny, affectionate spirit.

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (Lennon/McCartney)

  • Album: Young Americans

Bowie's blue-eyed soul reworking of The Beatles number (from their 1970 album Let It Be) was recorded at New York's Electric Lady Studios in January 1975, with John Lennon later dropping in to contribute vocals and guitar. Recorded on the same day as 'Fame', Lennon's contribution was apparently intended as nothing more than a warm-up but, bowled over by the collaboration, David made room for the track on Young Americans by dropping other numbers. "I thought, great," said Lennon later, "because I'd never done a good version of that song myself. It's one of my favourite songs, but I didn't like my version of it." David concurred, rather immodestly telling the NME in 1975 that The Beatles' original version "was fabulous, but very watery in the original, and I hammered the hell out of it. Not many people like it. I like it a lot and I think I sing very well at the end of it."

     Bowie was right to note that his version, which smoothed away some of the song's original complexities and dispensed with Lennon's "jai guru deva om" mantra, was not universally liked; many critics singled it out as the album's weak spot. Consensus has continued to harden against the track, which is widely regarded as one of the low points of Bowie's glory years. Peter Doggett considers it "bombastic", "mannered" and "a bizarre way of impressing Lennon", while Chris O'Leary describes it as "one of his most utterly tasteless recordings".

     The 5.1 remix prepared by Tony Visconti for 2007's special edition of Young Americans is ten seconds longer than the 1975 track, and features a markedly different conclusion: instead of fading to silence, this version ends on a final chord, after which the unmistakable voice of John Lennon declares, "Er, let me just drop in!"

     In 1997 Bowie chose The Beatles' original version as one of his all-time favourite recordings in an article for Guitar Player. "It's a portrait of the spiritual heart where Lennon was at, really," he explained, "the portrait of a spiritually confused but incredibly philanthropic man. Just a spectacular mind at work there. A genuine intellectual who didn't talk in the vocabulary of an intellectual." Bowie never played 'Across The Universe' live, although in 1983 he briefly considered performing the song on the last night of the Serious Moonlight Tour as a tribute to Lennon, who had died three years earlier to the day. In the event, he decided to go the whole hog and sing 'Imagine'.

AFRAID

  • Album: Heathen

  • Live: A Reality Tour

  • Live Video: A Reality Tour

Originally recorded for inclusion on Toy and later revamped for Heathen, 'Afraid' received its first public airing on November 2nd 2000 when David and Mark Plati performed a live version during a BowieNet webcast. According to Mark Plati, the song was inspired by a book David had been reading at the time of the Toy sessions: Andrew Loog Oldham's memoir Stoned relates how The Rolling Stones' famous manager once locked Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in a flat and refused to let them out until they had written some new material. "We decided to try this approach," Plati later explained, "and so I sent David off to the Looking Glass lounge and told him not to come back until he had the goods! It was all quite funny really, except that David really come up with the goods, in the form of a song called 'Afraid', which came into being courtesy of my mini Stratocaster."

     Unlike its fellow Toy casualty 'Slip Away', which was entirely re-recorded during the Heathen sessions, the released version of 'Afraid' makes use of the original Toy backing track recorded and produced by Bowie and Plati, although in David's words the recording was extensively "groomed" to suit the style of the new material. "I had always liked the version of 'Afraid' that I did with Mark Plati," he explained in 2002, "so Tony [Visconti] and I got him to do a little more work on his guitar parts so that it would be more in line with the rest of the album, Tony again playing bass. Then Tony mixed it."

     Setting an energetic New Wave rhythm backing against a trademark Tony Visconti string arrangement and a retro-1970s 'Popcorn' synthesizer break, 'Afraid' is one of Heathen's more upbeat numbers. It's a familiar meditation on personal insecurity and the fear of individuality, with a lyric that strongly recalls 'I Can't Read' (in particular the 1997 re-recording, whose reworded lyrics are echoed in the final chorus: "If I can smile a crooked smile / If I can talk on television / If I can walk an empty mile"). It also features one of Bowie's occasional John Lennon paraphrases, as he removes the "don't" from Lennon's 'God' to insist that "I believe in Beatles".

     "I guess it's supposed to be an ironic song," David explained. "It's, 'Well, if I do everything I'm told to do, and I do it the way everybody expects things to be done, then I won't be afraid of anything'. He doesn't really want to do things like that." In this respect the song revisits the themes of 'Jump They Say', which David had once described as being about "whether you should stay with the crowd", but despite its obvious empathy with earlier compositions Bowie suggested that 'Afraid' was "probably the one song on the album that I don't see as being representative of me," explaining that the protagonist "believes that his security will be bought if he plays the game, so to speak...it's an interesting deceit, but it's not mine."

     In November 2001 an excerpt from 'Afraid' was premiered in a TV commercial for America's XM Radio, which featured Bowie falling to earth and crashing through the ceiling of a motel room; ignoring the astonished residents, he looks coolly up to the sky and murmurs, "I'll never get used to that." 'Afraid' was subsequently performed throughout the Heathen and A Reality Tours. An early mix of the original recording, identical in length to the released version but devoid of the embellishments added during the Heathen sessions, was among the Toy tracks leaked online in 2011.

AFRICAN NIGHT FLIGHT (Bowie/Eno)

  • Album: Lodger

In February 1978 Bowie went on safari to Kenya with his six-year-old son Joe. His meeting with the Masai tribes-people sparked an immediate interest in the music of the subcontinent and, as he told an American interviewer shortly afterwards, "I intend going back. I haven't finished there...I wanted to understand what I was seeing and what I was dealing with before I was presumptuous enough to start recording anything."

     In Mombasa Bowie was fascinated to meet maverick German fighter pilots who drank away their hours in local bars and felt unable to return to the fatherland. "You've got a good idea why they are there in the first place," he said, "but they live strange lives, flying about in their Cessnas over the bushland, doing all kinds of strange things. They're very mysterious characters, permanently plastered and always talking about when they are going to leave. The song came about because I was wondering exactly what they were doing there and why they flew around."

     Recorded under the working title 'Burning Eyes', the instrumental backing of 'African Night Flight' was cut at Mountain Studios in September 1978, forming the beginning of Lodger's quirky musical journey through ethnic diversity. Over a backing of eccentric clattering percussion, warbling keyboards, Swahili chanting and ambient safari sounds (Brian Eno, whose 1975 album Another Green World provides an obvious template, is memorably credited on this track with "cricket menace"). Bowie's quickfire vocal is a bizarre, almost rap-like patter of disconnected bar-room thoughts: "getting in mood for a Mambasa night flight, pushing my luck, gonna fly like a mad thing, Bare-strip take-off, skimming over rhino..." He later explained that the musical backing was based around Dale Hawkins's 1957 song 'Suzie Q', played backwards: "Then Brian decided to put prepared piano on it. He put pairs of scissors and all kinds of metal things on the strings of the piano." The result is terrifically weird, and weirdly terrific.

AFTER ALL

  • Album: The Man Who Sold The World

Far removed from the hard rock sounds that permeate much of its parent album, 'After All' is a whispering fairground waltz, awash with hallucinatory overdubs paying obvious homage to The Beatles' 'Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!'. The lyric covers familiar early Bowie territory - paranoia, inadequacy and isolation - in an intensely withdrawn style reeking of suburban repression. When he advises us to "forget all I've said, please bear me no ill" it's as though he's disowning the idealistic posture of his previous album, and it takes no great leap of the imagination to read the line "we're painting our faces and dressing in thoughts from the skies" as a rallying-call for Bowie's disillusioned hippy aftermath to forge a new society of glammed-up pretty things.

     There are echoes of the closeted innocence of Bowie's early song 'There Is A Happy Land', although this time "paradise"has a darker twist: "some sit in silence, they're just older children, that's all." The pondering on "rebirth" and "impermanence" recalls the Buddhist themes of his earlier work, but here the effect is chilling rather than revelatory. The line "live till your rebirth and do what you will" bridges Bowie's journey between Buddha and Aleister Crowley, whose credo of "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" was his justification for the dissolution of universal morality.

     The multi-octave chorus of cartoon voices chanting "oh by jingo" is another dark reprise of the more experimental tracks from the Deram period, also resembling the sinister vocal effects deployed on 'All The Madmen' and 'The Bewlay Brothers'. Like them it's an outstanding song, and certainly one of Bowie's most underrated recordings.

     Unusually, the recording began with David's acoustic guitar and vocals, followed later by the rhythm track and bassline. Tony Visconti revealed that he and Mick Ronson hijacked 'After All' during the mixing stage: "The basic song and the "oh by jingo" line were David's ideas. The rest was Ronno and me vying for the next overdub. I love that track."

     "After All" has been covered by Tori Amos, Billie Ray Martin, and Human Drama (on their 1993 album Pin Ups, whose sleeve photo apes that of Bowie's Pin Ups and also features a cover of 'Letter To Hermione').

AFTER LIGHTS (Ralphs) : see READY FOR LOVE

AFTER TODAY

  • Compilation: Sound + Vision

Several versions of 'After Today' were taped during the Young Americans sessions at Sigma Sound in August 1974, one of which was eventually released on Sound + Vision. "There was a completely different take of that song," confirmed Rykodisc's Jeff Rougvie, "Very slow, like a soul ballad - but we preferred the one we used." The released take of 'After Today' (which, unlike the completed "ballad" version, required mixing by Rykodisc), is a buoyant soul-disco number distinguished by an outrageously ambitious falsetto vocal, at the end of which David chuckles, "I was getting into that!" It's a great song, albeit rough-edged alongside the highly polished album from which it was dropped. A brief excerpt from an alternative take of the "fast" version, deriving from a Sigma reel dated August 13th 1974, was among the snippets from the Young Americans sessions which were leaked online in 2009.

AL ALBA see DAY-IN DAY-OUT

ALABAMA SONG (Brecht/Weill)

  • A-Side: February 1980

  • Bonus: Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)/Stage/Stage (2005)

  • Compilation: The Best Of David Bowie 1980/1987

Originally from the 1930 Brecht/Weill opera The Rise And Fall Of The City Of Mahagonny, 'Alabama Song' was immortalised by Weill's wife Lotte Lenya, the Austrian actress and singer whose famously expressionless rendition patented the song's burned-out sense of decadence and alienation. The song was later popularised in English translation by The Doors.

     Long before Bowie's performance in Baal, Bertolt Brecht had assumed a significant position among his creative influences; in 1978 there was even talk of David starring in a film remake of The Threepenny Opera. 'Alabama Song' first entered his repertoire on the 1978 tour, from which a live version appeared on the 1992 and 2005 reissues of Stage. On July 2nd 1978, the day after the tour's European leg ended, Bowie's magnificent studio version of 'Alabama Song' was recorded at Tony Visconti's Good Earth Studio in London. "It had been such a hit on the tour that David wanted to do it as a single," explained pianist Sean Mayes, who also recalled that "David had some new ideas for the drumming. He wanted Dennis [Davis] to play very freely against the rhythm to give an unstable, insane atmosphere to the track. When we tried to do this it proved hilariously difficult so we finally laid the backing down without drums then Dennis overdubbed his demolishing attack when his efforts couldn't disturb the beat."

     The studio version was eventually released as a single in 1980, by which time Lodger had come and gone and Bowie was already working on Scary Monsters. Boasting a fold-out poster sleeve and backed by the new acoustic rendering of 'Space Oddity' heard on The "Will Kenny Everett Make It To 1980?" Show, the single reached number 23, no mean achievement for one of the most defiantly uncommercial, discordant and aggressive recordings Bowie ever released. The message "Ta Kurt" was scratched into the single's play-out vinyl. The studio version later appeared on Bowie Rare, Best Of 1980/1987 and, misleadingly, on 1992's reissue of Scary Monsters.

     'Alabama Song' was resurrected for the Sound + Vision and Heathen tours, a fine performance appearing in the BBC radio session of September 18th 2002.

ALADDIN SANE (1913-1938-197?)

  • Album: Aladdin Sane

  • Live: David Live

Usually documented with the parenthesis, 'Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)' was inspired by Evelyn Waugh's 1930 novel Vile Bodies. An initial backing track was laid down at New York's RCA Studios in early December 1972, but the lyrics were not composed until the following week, when David was en route to London aboard the RHMS Ellinis at the end of his first US tour. In keeping with the album's style, the label appends "RHMS Ellinis" alongside the title. "The book dealt with London in the period just before a massive, imaginary war," Bowie explained in 1973. "People were frivolous, decadent and silly. And suddenly they were plunged into this horrendous holocaust. They were totally out of place, still thinking about champagne and parties and dressing up. Somehow it seemed to me that they were like people today." The dates in brackets, alluding to the years prior to the outbreak of the World Wars and pointing ominously to the imminence of the next, place the song firmly in Bowie's milieu of eschatological sci-fi. He explained that it tackled "feelings of imminent catastrophe which, at the point in America when I was writing, I felt."

     The defining feature is Mike Garson's stunning, deranged piano solo, which hints at Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue as it does battle with Trevor Bolder's relentless bassline. Garson described the solo as "dissonant, rebellious, atonal, and very outside," an interesting choice of adjective to which Bowie himself would return more than once. Garson's early attempts at the solo involved more traditional structures - a blues motif, then a Latin one - but Bowie rejected both and asked him to let rip in the style of the avant-garde jazz clubs Garson had played in the 1960s. In his contemporary review of Aladdin Sane, Ben Gerson of Rolling Stone summed up the complementary effect on Bowie's "images of earlier, more romantic wars. The impatient chug of the machine (the electric guitar) gently clashes with the wilder, more extreme flailings of a dying culture (the piano)." The collision of signifiers is heightened by Garson's cheeky quotation from The Champs' 1958 rock 'n' roll hit 'Tequila' (at about 2'51"), and later by Bowie's interpolation of a line from the old Lieber/Stoller/Weill standard 'On Broadway' just as Garson's solo moves into top gear. Garson later recalled his contribution, which was recorded in one take, as a "strange, dissonant solo, one of those streaks of luck and magic. I had difficulty trying to imitate it on the road later."

     'Aladdin Sane' received its live premiere in February 1973 with the start of Bowie's second American tour. It became a more frequent fixture on the following year's Diamond Dogs tour, from which a fine version appears on David Live. Thereafter the song remained unheard until 1996 when, with Garson once again on board to create the piano solo, it was added to the set for the Summer Festivals tour, during which David would occasionally interpolate a snatch of The Kinks' 1964 hit 'All Day And All Of The Night'. Bassist Gail Ann Dorsey shared vocal duties with Bowie on the tour renditions and on the pared-down acoustic version later unveiled at the Bridge School benefit shows in October 1996, while a new studio recording, also featuring Dorsey on vocals, was recorded for the ChangesNowBowie BBC session.

     Emergency Broadcast Network's 1996 album Telecommunication Breakdown, featuring guest keyboardist Brian Eno, included a track called 'Homicidal Schizophrenic (A Lad Insane)' which used samples from the original Bowie recording. 'Aladdin Sane' was among the tracks featured in the second series of the BBC's time-travelling crime drama Life On Mars.

ALADDIN VEIN see ZION

ALI (Bowie/Deacon/May/Mercury/Rogers/Taylor) see COOL CAT

ALL SAINTS (Bowie/Eno)

  • Bonus: Low

  • Compilation: All Saints: Collected Instrumentals 1977-1999

A driving, sinister instrumental out-take, 'All Saints' was mixed in 1991 for release as a bonus track. Like 'Abdulmajid', the piece was left untitled at the time of recording, and was named 'All Saints' after Brian Eno's record label. Like most of the Ryko bonus tracks on the albums from Low onwards, its provenance is obscure. "I have no idea where it came from," Tony Visconti said of 'All Saints'. "I never worked on it. The electronic loops are more eighties - we didn't have anything like that for Low or "Heroes"." It has been suggested that the original composition harks back to David's attempt to score The Man Who Fell To Earth in 1975, the year of cocaine madness in which he became temporarily fixated on the idea that he was going to be attacked by witches on All Saints Eve. All Saints subsequently became the title of an ultra-rare compilation of instrumental tracks compiled by Bowie in 1993 as a Christmas present for friends and colleagues, a revised version of which received an official release in 2001.

ALL THE MADMEN

  • Album: The Man Who Sold The World

  • US A-Side (withdrawn): December 1970

  • Soundtrack: Mayor Of The Sunset Strip

  • Live: Glass Spider (2007 CD/DVD Release)

  • Bonus: Re:Call 1

With its menacing alternation of soft-spoken whimsy and explosive rock guitar, 'All The Madmen' declares its subject matter via musical schizophrenia as much as through its haunting lyric. The narrator is inspired by Bowie's half-brother Terry Burns, who by 1970 was confined to South London's Cane Hill Hospital, the forbidding edifice recalled in the "mansions cold and grey" of the song's opening lines and portrayed on the cover artwork of the album's American release. David would confirm in 1972 that the song was "written for my brother and it's about my brother." The quietly chilling spoken section, in which Bowie asserts that "a nation hides its organic minds in a cellar," directly echoes a comment he had made in an interview for The Times a year earlier about mental illness being hidden away "in the servants' quarters".

     But despite its grim subject matter, Bowie's lyric significantly concludes that "all the madmen" are "just as sane as me". He would rather stay and play with them than with "the sadmen roaming free", once more aligning himself with society's non-conformists, outcasts and lost boys. "The majority of the people in my family have been in some kind of mental institution," David told an American interviewer in February 1971, before going on to echo the chorus of 'All The Madmen': "As for my brother, he doesn't want to leave. He likes it very much...he'd be happy to spend the rest of his life there, mainly because most of the people are on the same wavelength as him." David often cited Jack Kerouac's 1957 beat classic On The Road as a seminal influence introduced to him by his brother, and the similarity of these sentiments with one of the book's key passages can be no coincidence: "the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars." So 'All The Madmen' is not only a horror story about social exclusion, but a virtual mission statement for the creative and spiritual frenzy - stars, spiders and all - of Bowie's muse in the early 1970s.

     'All The Madmen' was among the first tracks to be recorded for The Man Who Sold The World, with work commencing on April 18th 1970. In common with much of the parent album, the arrangements are largely the work of Mick Ronson, who plays both synthesizer and guitar. It's interesting to note that the outro guitar melody played by Ronson from 4'17" until the end of the song would be developed and quoted by Tony Visconti a year later in his string arrangement for T Rex's 'Cosmic Dancer' (at 1'52" and three more times thereafter), and again by Ronson in Bowie's 'Five Years' (at 1'58" and twice thereafter).

     Although early mixes of 'All The Madmen' differed from the version included on the album, rumours of an entirely different finished take of the number are probably untrue. In December 1970 a heavily edited promo single, which omitted the song's central spoken passage, was pressed by Mercury for circulation in America prior to Bowie's first promotional visit, during which he gave impromptu solo performances of the song on acoustic guitar; an atrociously recorded extract of one such rendition, believed to have been taped at a party hosted by Hollywood attorney Paul Feigen on February 14th 1971, has appeared on bootlegs. This recording was later segued with the original studio version on the 2004 soundtrack album of the Rodney Bingenheimer biopic Mayor Of The Sunset Strip. A US single backed by 'Janine' was also pressed in December 1970, but this was withdrawn and is now extremely rare; the US promo single edit later appeared on Re:Call 1.

     The refrain "Here I stand, foot in hand, talking to my wall" is among the more blatant of Bowie's occasional Beatles paraphrases, the source in this case being the opening line of 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away'. The song's unhinged closing refrain of "Zane, Zane, Zane, Ouvrez le chien" may be an oblique reference to Friedrich Nietzsche's Also Sprach Zarathustra: "Thy wild dogs want liberty; they bark for joy in their cellar when thy spirit endeavoureth to open all prison doors." The "Zane, zane, zane" chant was reprised 23 years later in Bowie's throwback song 'Buddha Of Suburbia'. A giant mobile reading "Ouvrez le Chien" hung over the stage on the 1995 Outside Tour, although 'All The Madmen' wasn't on the set-list. Its only major live outing was for 1987's Glass Spider Tour, from which a recording made in Montreal appears on the 2007 Glass Spider CD, although sadly the song is absent from the video release.

ALL THE YOUNG DUDES

  • Compilation: RarestOneBowie/The Best Of David Bowie 1969/1974/Nothing Has Changed

  • Bonus: Aladdin Sane (2003)

  • Live: Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture/David Live/A Reality Tour

  • Live Video: Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars/The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert/A Reality Tour

'All The Young Dudes' was Bowie's gift to Mott The Hoople, a small-time rock outfit who had emerged in 1969 when Guy Stevens, the manager of a Herefordshire band called Silence, replaced their original vocalist with pianist/singer Ian Hunter. Re-named Mott The Hoople after a novel by Willard Manus, the band scraped the lower reaches of the chart with a string of albums, but despite a loyal following on the live circuit they failed to make a substantial breakthrough. Even an appearance on Top Of The Pops in late 1971 failed to push their 'Midnight Lady' single into the charts, and the band was on the point of splitting when it crossed paths with Bowie in March 1972.

     Although he was already on the road with the Ziggy Stardust tour David's own breakthrough was still far from guaranteed. He was continuing to tout new compositions around other artists, and had sent Mott The Hoople a demo of 'Suffragette City' earlier in the year. Mott's bassist Pete "Overend" Watts recalled: "he'd scrawled on the box, 'This might be of some use to you, would you like to cover it?' We played it and didn't think it was quite right." Watts called Bowie and said, "Thanks very much for the tape, we won't be needing it because we've split up. And he sounded genuinely upset...He called me back two hours later and said he'd spoken to Tony Defries, his manager at MainMan, who would try to get us out of the position we were in. He said, 'Also, I've written a song for you since we spoke, which could be great'." David met Watts a few days later. "Bowie played me this song, 'All The Young Dudes', on his acoustic guitar. He hadn't got all the words but the song just blew me away, especially when he hit the chorus." Watts wasted no time introducing Bowie to the rest of the band, and while Defries set about negotiating a new deal with CBS, Bowie introduced them to 'All The Young Dudes'. "We couldn't believe it," said drummer Dale Griffin. "In the office at Regent Street he's strumming it on his guitar and I'm thinking, he wants to give us that? He must be crazy! We broke our necks to say yes! You couldn't fail to see it was a great song."

     On April 9th 1972, a matter of days after the auspicious meeting and during a gap in his own tour schedule, David attended a Mott The Hoople gig in Guildford and was invited on stage during the encores. A month later he joined the band in the studio to record 'All The Young Dudes', a song which was to become not only the saviour of Mott The Hoople but a standard-bearer for Bowie's own brand of rock. Mott's definitive version, produced by Bowie, was recorded at Olympic Studios on May 14th 1972. "It was a high," said Ian Hunter of the session, "Because we knew we were singing a hit." He was right: the single was released on July 28th and peaked at number 3 in the UK chart in early September, a fortnight before Bowie released 'John, I'm Only Dancing'. It went on to provide the title of the group's fifth album, produced by Bowie at Trident during the summer. Both The Spiders and Mott The Hoople toured the US during the autumn of 1972, and Bowie boosted Mott's profile by introducing their gig and joining them for the number at the Tower, Philadelphia on November 29th. This performance was released on the 1998 Mott compilation All The Way From Stockholm To Philadelphia, and some amateur film footage shot from the audience later surfaced in the 2011 documentary The Ballad Of Mott The Hoople.

     'All The Young Dudes' is invariably glossed as the definitive glam anthem, a three-minute glorification of the new generation's hot-tramp aesthetic, personified by the boy in the lyric who "dresses like a queen, but he can kick like a mule" while his "brother's back at home with his Beatles and his Stones". There's an obvious echo of The Who's 'My Generation' in the line "Don't want to stay alive when you're twenty-five", making 'All The Young Dudes' a rallying-cry for the disaffected children of Heath's Britain, a newly reactionary landscape of anti-permissive values and moral rearmament. The less frequently quoted line following the one about The Beatles and The Stones is even more explicit in its joyous trashing of the 1960s: "We never got it off on that revolution stuff/What a drag, too many snags."

     Released at the height of Bowie's "bisexual" period, the song has also been read as a gay-lib manifesto, a shot across the bows of the bigots' belief that homosexuality has no meaning beyond the physical act itself: "We can love, we can really love", it admonishes, and Ian Hunter admitted that the song was seized as an anthem "by the closet gays". Certainly the lyrical name-checks of "Billy", "Freddy" and "Wendy" hint at the gender-bending company David had been keeping in recent times: Silly Billy, Freddie Burretti and Wendy Kirby were all flamboyant regulars at The Sombrero nightclub. But according to Bowie 'All The Young Dudes' was a darker affair, bound up in the apocalyptic sci-fi parable of Ziggy Stardust. Outlining the plot for Rolling Stone in 1973, David explained that the bulletin of imminent Armageddon revealed by the "news guy" in 'Five Years' was the same news carried by the Dudes: 'All The Young Dudes' is a song about this news. It is no hymn to the youth as people thought. It is completely the opposite."

     The line about "Marks and Sparks" caused a little local difficulty when it became apparent that the song's airplay prospects might fall foul of the BBC's strict rules on advertising: just as Ray Davies had been compelled to alter "Coca-Cola" to "cherry cola" in 'Lola' two years earlier, Bowie swiftly came up with the variant "unlocked cars". Ken Scott, who had no other involvement in the Mott recordings, was enlisted to insert the new line. "We overdubbed two words from Ian, then I mixed only that section and edited it into a master specifically intended for the BBC," Scott explains in his memoir.

     During the New York Aladdin Sane sessions in December 1972 Bowie recorded his own studio version, curiously restrained and in every way inferior to Mott's (Bowie had written a great song, but it was Mott The Hoople's embellishments, in particular Hunter's delicious spoken outro inspired by a heckling incident at The Rainbow Theatre, that made the single a classic). Although shortlisted for Aladdin Sane this version didn't see the light of day until 1995's RarestOneBowie, in a different mix from the one that has appeared on bootleg releases. This version subsequently appeared on The Best Of David Bowie 1969/1974, a couple of international variants of Best Of Bowie, and the 2003 reissue of Aladdin Sane, while a stereo mix later appeared on some formats of Nothing Has Changed. Meanwhile Bowie's original 3'58" guide vocal for Ian Hunter, sung against the same backing track as Mott The Hoople's finished version, has appeared on bootlegs and was given an official release in remixed form on the 1998 box set All The Young Dudes: The Anthology, and later on the 2006 reissue of the original All The Young Dudes album. This version featured in the soundtrack of the 2010 film Cemetery Junction, whose co-director Ricky Gervais revealed that he preferred it to the more familiar Mott version, opining that Bowie's vocal "gives the song more of an outsider feel."

     Bowie added 'All The Young Dudes' to The Spiders' live set at the Earls Court gig on May 12th 1973, incorporating it into a medley with 'Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud' and 'Oh! You Pretty Things'. The song reappeared on the Diamond Dogs tour, from which a version appears on David Live. The chorus melody of 'All The Young Dudes' was later incorporated into Peter Frampton's guitar rendition of 'Time' on the Glass Spider tour, and the song was resurrected in its entirety on the 1996 summer tour. "It is a trigger for all the real, fabulous unity that used to be a part of the late Ziggy shows," said David at the time, "and it does sort of come flooding back." It came flooding back once again for the June 2000 live shows, and the song made numerous reappearances an A Reality Tour. A decade later it was one of the songs performed in the musical Lazarus.

     For Mott The Hoople, 'All The Young Dudes' was a mixed blessing. It revived their fortunes, kick-started their chart career and bought them their place in the annals of rock, but in doing so it utterly overshadowed anything else they achieved. "I remember going to get a pizza with David Bowie while we were recording the album at Trident," recalled keyboardist Verden Allen. "His record 'Starman' was on the jukebox while we were waiting, and he said, 'Yours will be on there soon.' I said, 'Yeah, great, but for some reason I'm not as excited as I would have been if it had come from the band.' And he said, 'I know what you mean'." Then again, without 'All The Young Dudes' few would ever have heard of Mott The Hoople. "We owe a big debt to David, because without it, I think we'd have been finished," said Ian Hunter many years later. "You can say it might have had an adverse effect on the band's image, but without it there wouldn't have been a band: simple as that."

     Mott, and latterly Ian Hunter, continued to play the song in concert; versions appear on various live albums. For sheer nostalgia value, the greatest live performance was the one that reunited Bowie, Ronson and Hunter for the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium on April 20th 1992. This rendition later became the closing track on Ronson's posthumous solo album Heaven And Hull, and Hunter performed the number once again at 1994's Mick Ronson memorial concert.

     One of the most influential Bowie compositions, 'All The Young Dudes' has been covered by numerous acts including Cyndi Lauper, The Damned, Billy Bragg, The Skids (on their 1979 single 'Working For The Yankee Dollar'), The Chanter Sisters (on 1976's First Flight), Morgan Fisher (on 1984's Ivories), Catherine's Cathedral (on 1995's Equilibrium), Bruce Dickinson (on 1990's Tattooed Millionaire), Carl Wallinger (for the soundtrack of the 1995 movie Clueless) and Travis, whose live version appeared on the B-side of their 2001 single 'Side'. Oasis blatantly lifted the unmistakable syncopated chorus bar for their 1997 hit 'Stand By Me', while Marvellous 3's 'Cigarette Lighter Love Song', a track on their 2000 album ReadySexGo, reused sections of 'All The Young Dudes' and duly gave Bowie a songwriting credit.

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE (Lennon/McCartney)

The Beatles classic was included in Bowie's ill-fated 1968 cabaret package.

ALMOST GROWN (Berry)

  • Live: Bowie At The Beeb (Bonus Disc)

Chuck Berry's 1959 hit made a one-off live appearance for Bowie's BBC radio session on June 3rd 1971, in a recording which now appears on Bowie At The Beeb. The performance saw David sharing vocals with his old schoolmate Geoffrey Alexander, later to make his mark on the Bowie canon under the names Geoffrey MacCormack and Warren Peace. 'Almost Grown' was dropped from Bowie's repertoire in favour of Berry's 'Round And Round' as the Ziggy Stardust sessions loomed large.

 

ALWAYS CRASHING IN THE SAME CAR

  • Album: Low

  • Live: Bowie At The Beeb

  • Download: July 2009

  • Live Video: VH1 Storytellers

 

Like most of Low's more conventional songs, 'Always Crashing In The Same Car' was begun during the initial sessions at the Chateau d'Herouville, but remained without lyrics until it was completed at Hansa in November 1976. Tony Visconti recalled that "David spent quite a while writing the melody and lyrics, and even recorded a verse in a quasi-Dylan voice. But it was too spooky (not funny, as intended), so he asked me to erase it and we started again." Brian Eno later recalled that Bowie fooled him into believing that Bob Dylan had genuinely recorded the song. "He played what to me was the best Dylan performance I'd heard for many, many years, and I said, 'My God, that'll completely revive Dylan's career,' because he was in a bit of a trough at the time - and David, I could see him starting to laugh, he couldn't contain it any more - it was him doing a Dylan version of that song. I so wish that that had somehow seen the light of day. It's brilliant. It's Dylan at his best. At his very best, actually. Dylan has never sung better."

     The lyrics made direct reference to an unfortunate incident in which David drunkenly wrote off his 1950s Mercedes while recklessly negotiating an underground parking-lot in Berlin (according to the song, "I was going round and round the hotel garage, must have been touching close to 94"). But on a wider scale the song operates as a metaphor for Bowie's depressive sense of inadequacy, his convulsive career swings, his lifestyle changes and his obsessive travelling ("every chance that I take, I take it on the road"). As metaphors go it's a succinct one, consisting of a mere two verses; typically of Low, Bowie's sense of his own underachievement provides a sharp contrast with the sublime accomplishment of the track itself, a beautifully crafted and spine-chilling slice of self-doubt and paranoia.

     The recording features one of the more prominent contributions from Low's often overlooked lead guitarist Ricky Gardiner. "When it came to overdubbing the solo in 'Always Crashing', David hummed the first few notes he wanted and I took it from there," Gardner later recalled. "These things don't evolve as such. They happen spontaneously and the engineer has to catch them...People do ask me about that solo, so it must mean something out there!"

     'Always Crashing In The Same Car' made its live debut twenty years later on the American leg of the Earthling tour, during which a stripped-down acoustic guitar version was performed for a number of US radio sessions. The song was revived in an atmospheric rearrangement for guitars and piano at the 1999 VH1 Storytellers concert, resurfacing on some of the summer 2000 dates and the 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 the previous year's Storytellers performance, omitted from the original television broadcast, was released in 2009. The original album version was featured in the soundtrack of BBC2's 2010 Boy George biopic Worried About The Boy, and five years later 'Always Crashing In The Same Car' was one of the songs included in the musical Lazarus.

AMAZING (Bowie/Gabrels)

  • Album: Tin Machine

  • Live: Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby

 

One of the better songs on the first Tin Machine album and certainly the most underrated, 'Amazing' is a simple, laid-back love ballad (perhaps addressed to David's then girlfriend Melissa Hurley) on which a rare absence of cacophonous drumming allows for a lush build-up of textured guitar atmospherics, including some wonderfully evocative seagull-like squeals in the opening bars. The mood is one of unabashed optimism ("Since I found you, my life's amazing"), and it's delivered in winning style. 'Amazing' was performed live during both Tin Machine tours, on the first of which it was usually the opening number. A live version appears on Oy Vey, Baby.

AMERICA (Simon)

  • Live: The Concert For New York City

  • Live Video: The Concert For New York City

 

On October 2001, Bowie opened the epic-length World Trade Centre benefit concert at Madison Square Garden with a fragile and appropriately resonant performance of Simon and Garfunkel's meditation on the American dream, originally found on their 1968 album Bookends. "I was looking for something which really evoked feelings of bewilderment and uncertainty," David later explained, "because for me that's how that particular period really felt. And I really thought that Paul Simon's song in this new context really captured that." The performance, which surely ranks as one of Bowie's most evocative live moments, appears on the CD and DVD of the event. On May 30th 2002 David reprised "America", this time to the accompaniment of a pre-recorded backing track, at a charity auction at Manhattan's Javits Center on behalf of the Robin Hood Foundation.

AMERICAN DREAM (Combs/Bowie/Winans/Gibson/Cioffe/Ross/Curry/Metheny/Mays)

  • Soundtrack: Training Day

 

Bowie recorded his vocal for P Diddy's radical reworking of 'This Is Not America' at Daddy's House Studio, New York, in July 2001. See 'This Is Not America' for further details.

AMLAPURA (Bowie/Gabrels)

  • B-Side: August 1991

  • Album: Tin Machine II

  • Live Video: Oy Vey, Baby - Tin Machine Live At The Docks

 

For the gentlest moment on Tin Machine II Bowie revisits Indonesia, but with very different results from 1984's 'Tumble And Twirl'. Amlapura, a region of Bali he had visited on a holiday just prior to the sessions, was the location of a catastrophic volcanic eruption in 1963. Here Bowie softly evokes the region's ancient sites ("golden roses round a rajah's mouth...a princess in stone") and its tragic history ("all the dead children buried standing"). The slow acoustic strum is strongly reminiscent of the 1971 version of 'The Supermen', while Reeves Gabrels contributes a wistful, Moody Blues-style electric solo. It's a slight song that would benefit from a stronger melody, but it offers a welcome expansion of Tin Machine's accustomed territory.

     Producer Tim Palmer told David Buckly of Bowie "re-singing the lead vocal slightly flat, very intentionally, to get a sad-sounding performance. That control of pitch really impressed me." An alternative Indonesian vocal version of 'Amlapura' was included on single formats of 'You Belong In Rock N' Roll', and the song was performed on the It's My Life tour. In 2008, four further variants from the studio sessions were leaked online, including an instrumental and a longer 5'09" version with an extended guitar playout.

AMSTERDAM (Brel/Shuman)

  • B-Side: September 1973

  • Bonus: Pin Ups/Ziggy Stardust/Re:Call 1

  • Live: Bowie At The Beeb

 

Via the trailblazing cover versions recorded by his hero Scott Walker, Bowie was drawn in the late 1960s to the work of the Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel, whose bittersweet ballads have remained a favourite with artists as diverse as Alex Harvey, Dusty Springfield, Nina Simone and Marc Almond. When the broadway stage revue Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris came to London in 1968, Bowie was in the audience. He later remarked that "By the time the cast, led by the earthy translator and Brooklynite Mort Shuman, had gotten to the song that dealt with guys lining up for their syphilis shots ['Next', soon to appear in the Feathers repertoire], I was completely won over. By way of Brel, I discovered French chanson a revelation. Here was a popular song form wherein poems by the likes of Sartre, Cocteau, Verlaine and Baudelaire were known and embraced by the general populace."

     Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris would become a significant source of inspiration for Bowie, directly influencing his songwriting - most obviously in 'Rock 'n' Roll Suicide' - and yielding two of his pivotal cover versions. The first was 'Amsterdam' (referred to as 'Port Of Amsterdam' in some Bowie documents), a bittersweet tale of hard-drinking sailors, prostitutes and broken dreams that was added to David's live repertoire in 1969. A tremendously passionate live version was included in the BBC radio session recorded on February 5th 1970 (it now appears on Bowie At The Beeb), and another excellent BBC recording was made on September 21st 1971. Bowie continued to perform 'Amsterdam' with The Spiders well into the summer of 1972, before it was edged out of the repertoire in favour of the even more melodramatic Brel composition 'My Death'.

     Bowie's official studio rendition of 'Amsterdam' was recorded at Trident in the summer of 1971, preceded by a similar but rougher three-minute demo (on which David sings an octave lower for most of the song) which has appeared on bootlegs. As late as December 15th 1971 'Amsterdam' was still slated as the closing track on side one of Ziggy Stardust, but was ultimately replaced by 'It Ain't Easy'. The track remained unused until it became the B-side of 'Sorrow' in 1973. Latterly it appeared on RCA's cash-in Bowie Rare, complete with a hilariously inaccurate lyric sheet that made mincemeat of the already free Mort Shuman translation. In 1990 'Amsterdam' appeared as a bonus track on Rykodisc's reissue of Pin Ups, and at the same year's London press conference for the Sound + Vision tour David unexpectedly launched into the song's opening lines, a trick he repeated at the Brussels concert on April 21st. The studio recording of 'Amsterdam' resurfaced once again on the 2002 reissue of Ziggy Stardust, and in 2004 it was included on the Various Artists compilation Next: A Tribute To Jacques Brel.

     Like several of Bowie's recordings from the same period, the studio version of 'Amsterdam' exists in two distinct mixes, which are markedly different in terms of stereo placement when played side by side. The first mix, as heard on the original B-side, later appeared on Bowie Rare and Re:Call 1. The second mix made its initial appearance in RCA's 1982 Fashions collection, and this is the version subsequently included as a bonus track on the reissues of Pin Ups and Ziggy Stardust.

     On October 29th 1973, MainMan received a telex from Mort Shuman, then based in Paris, inviting David to perform 'Amsterdam' on a "very important TV show in November". Shuman offered to send a team to London to film the performance, but David was preoccupied with the early stages of the Diamond Dogs sessions and the request was not granted.

AND I SAY TO MYSELF

  • B-Side: January 1966

  • Compilation: Early On (1964-1966)

 

For this likeable B-side, which finds him trying to shake off an unwanted girlfriend, Bowie brazenly adapts the chord structure and call-and-response vocals of Sam Cooke's 'Wonderful World' - but in the style of The Righteous Brothers, who had struck gold in 1965 with their most famous pair of hits.