Aladdin Sane

  1. Watch That Man [4.25]

  2. Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?) [5.06]

  3. Drive-In Saturday [4.29]

  4. Panic In Detroit [4.25]

  5. Cracked Actor [2.56]

  6. Time [5.09]

  7. The Prettiest Star [3.26]

  8. Let's Spend The Night Together [3.03]

  9. The Jean Genie [4.02]

  10. Lady Grinning Soul [3.46]

Bonus tracks on 2003 reissue:

  • John, I'm Only Dancing (Sax Version) [2.41]

  • The Jean Genie (Original Single Mix) [4.02]

  • Time (Single Edit) [3.38]

  • All The Young Dudes [4.10]

  • Changes (Live in Boston 1/10/1972) [3.19]

  • The Supermen (Live in Boston 1/10/1972) [2.42]

  • Life On Mars? (Live in Boston 1/10/1972) [3.25]

  • John, I'm Only Dancing (Live in Boston 1/10/1972) [2.40]

  • The Jean Genie (Live in Santa Monica 20/10/1972) [4.09]

  • Drive-In Saturday (Live in Cleveland 25/11/1972) [4.53]

Aladdin Sane

Released:

  • RCA Victor RS 1001 - April 1973

  • RCA International INTS 5067 - January 1981

  • RCA International NL 83890 - March 1984

  • RCA BOPIC 1 - April 1984

  • EMI EMC 3579 - July 1990

  • EMI 7243 5219020 - September 1999

  • EMI 7243 5830122 - May 2003 (30th Anniversary 2CD Edition)

  • EMI DBAS 40 - April 2013 (40th Anniversary CD Edition)

  • Parlophone 082564683392 - September 2015 (CD)

  • Parlophone DB69735 - February 2016 (LP)

Personnel:

  • David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica, Saxophone

  • Mick Ronson: Guitar, Piano, Vocals

  • Trevor Bolder: Bass

  • Mick Woodmansey: Drums

  • Ken Fordham: Saxophone

  • Brian "Bux" Wilshaw: Saxophone, Flute

  • Mike Garson: Piano

  • Juanita "Honey" Franklin, Linda Lewis, Mac Cormack: Backing Vocals

Recorded:

  • Trident Studios, London/RCA Studios, London, New York and Nashville

Producers:

  • David Bowie, Ken Scott

"My next role will be a person called Aladdin Sane," Bowie told Russell Harty on January 17th 1973, just days before completing the sessions which had begun on tour in America the previous autumn. "The Jean Genie" had been first off the mark, cut at RCA's New York and Nashville studios in October. Following the end of the tour, sessions resumed in New York, where "Drive-In Saturday" and Bowie's studio version of "All The Young Dudes" were cut on December 9th, but the bulk of the album was recorded back in London between late December and January.

 

To produce the album, Tony Defries had initially hoped to engage the services of the legendary Phil Spector: on November 6th he wrote to the producer, enclosing copies of David's last four albums and inviting him to work on the album at Trident Studios in London. No reply was forthcoming, and instead, Bowie once again co-produced the album with Ken Scott. During the Trident sessions, they were assisted by studio engineer Mike Moran, who would later enjoy his fifteen minutes of fame duetting with Lynsey De Paul on Britain's 1977 Eurovision entry "Rock Bottom". The Trident sessions, which were slotted in around ongoing UK concert commitments, concluded with "Panic In Detroit" on the morning of January 24th 1973. Later the same day David boarded the SS Canberra for America, where the finishing touches were added to the album in New York.

 

That Aladdin Sane is conspicuously "American" by comparison with Bowie's earlier work should come as no surprise. "The Jean Genie" was only the first in a series of compositions prompted by David's impressions of the country he crossed by train and chartered Greyhound in the autumn of 1972, and the notion of an outsider's travelogue of America was emphasised by the ascribing of a location to each track on the album's label: New York ("Watch That Man"), Seattle-Phoenix ("Drive-In Saturday"), Detroit ("Panic In Detroit"), Los Angeles ("Cracked Actor"), New Orleans ("Time"), Detroit and New York again ("The Jean Genie") and RHMS Ellinis, the vessel that had carried David home in December 1972 ("Aladdin Sane"). There were also two British locations: London ("Lady Grinning Soul") and, more specifically, Gloucester Road ("The Prettiest Star").

 

The character of Aladdin Sane was, as Bowie explained, "Ziggy goes to America", and the album supplants its predecessor's aspirational fantasy of America with the harsh reality that David had begun to experience. "Here was this alternative world that I'd been talking about," he recalled many years later, "and it had all the violence, and all the strangeness and bizarreness, and it was really happening. It was real life and it wasn't just in my songs. Suddenly my songs didn't seem so out of place. All the situations that we were going through were duly noted down, and all the remarks I had heard, real Americanisms that caught my ear. Just the look of certain places like Detroit really caught my imagination because it was such a rough city and it almost looked like the kind of place that I was writing about...I thought I wonder if Kubrick has seen this town? It makes his kind of world in Clockwork Orange look kind of pansy!"

 

Aladdin Sane's lyrics are riddled with images of urban decay, degenerate lives, drug addiction, violence and death - although, in among the smack-crazed gangsters and raddled roués, there is a touching nostalgia for 1950s rock 'n' roll and the golden age of Hollywood. As evidenced by both the title track and "The Jean Genie", there's also a firm restatement of the pantomimic elements in Bowie's frame of reference; Aladdin, the epitome of British pantomime, offers an appropriate model for an album recorded in London over the Christmas period, and the ever more extravagant costumes and make-up adopted by Bowie during 1973 pointed in the same direction.

 

In many ways, Aladdin Sane refines the themes of earlier albums: notions of religion shattered by science, extraterrestrial encounters posing as Messianic visitations, the impact on society of different kinds of "star", and the degradation of human life in a spiritual void. "Aladdin Sane was an extension of Ziggy on the one hand. On the other, it was a more subjective thing," explained David. "Aladdin Sane was my idea of rock and roll America. Here I was on this great tour circuit, not enjoying it very much. So inevitably my writing reflected that, this kind of schizophrenia that I was going through. Wanting to be up on stage performing my songs, but on the other hand not really wanting to be on those buses with all those strange people. Being basically a quiet person, it was hard to come to terms. So Aladdin Sane was split down the middle."

 

The heightened Americanism of Bowie's writing, together with the fast pace of the album's development, gives Aladdin Sane a harder, rawer edge than its predecessor. "We wanted to make it that much rougher," Ken Scott later explained. "Ziggy was rock and roll, but polished rock and roll. David wanted certain tracks to go like The Rolling Stones, an unpolished rock and roll." Certainly, Bowie's more abandoned vocal delivery and Mick Ronson's dominant guitar both seem influenced by David's increasing interest in that other band of Americanised Brits. Their imprimatur is everywhere on Aladdin Sane: besides the rip-roaring cover of "Let's Spend The Night Together", there is a direct reference to Mick Jagger in "Drive-In Saturday", while "Watch That Man" is a blatant take-off of "Brown Sugar", a song inspired by the soul singer Claudia Lennear, to whom Bowie now added his own tribute in the form of "Lady Grinning Soul". From Aladdin Sane onwards, the two-way pollination and downright poaching of ideas between Bowie and Jagger would continue on and off for well over a decade.

 

Stones comparisons aside, without doubt, the defining feature of Aladdin Sane is the arrival of pianist Mike Garson, who had joined The Spiders for the first US tour. Garson's breathtaking jazz/blues inflections forcibly steer Aladdin Sane away from pure rock 'n' roll, creating a vigorous hybrid somewhere between The Stones and Kurt Weill which dramatically expands Bowie's experimental horizons. "Even though The Spiders were the well-known commodity, I was the one who was getting the attention," Garson later told the Gillmans of the atmosphere in the studio. "He was fascinated - he wanted everything I could do." Bowie later confirmed that he was consciously seeking to subvert the already successful sound of The Spiders. "You wouldn't think of bringing a fringe avant-garde pianist into the context of a straight-ahead rock and roll band, but it worked out well," he said many years later. "It brought some really interesting textural qualities to the album that wouldn't have had quite the same feel on it if Mike hadn't been there."

 

It's possible that Bowie's eagerness to showcase Garson on the album might have been influenced in part by King Crimson, a band David had admired since the late 1960s: Crimson's second album In The Wake Of Poseidon, released in 1970, saw the band joined by avant-jazz pianist Keith Tippett, whose playing on tracks like "Cat Food" bears a striking similarity to Garson's work on Aladdin Sane.

 

Alongside Mike Garson came other new faces, some of whom would join The Spiders on stage for the remainder of the 1973 tour: Ken Fordham and Brian "Bux" Wilshaw on saxophones, plus a trio of backing vocalists: Juanita Franklin (a veteran of Lou Reed's Transformer), Linda Lewis (soon to have her first solo hit with "Rock-A-Doodle-Doo" and now forever associated with the soul classic "It's In His Kiss"), and David's long-time friend Geoffrey MacCormack (here credited as "Mac Cormack"), receiving the first of many credits on Bowie's 1970s albums.

 

The sessions produced a number of unused tracks, including Bowie's studio version of "All The Young Dudes" and the superior version of "John, I'm Only Dancing", which was originally pencilled in as the album's final track. Also recorded in January 1973 was an early attempt at "1984", a song which wouldn't resurface until several months later. A provisional running order compiled in the same month appears to list "Zion" as another track, but the facts behind this mysterious title remain inconclusive.

 

The album's punning title was at one stage to have been the less equivocal A Lad Insane. An earlier and more cryptic working title was Love Aladdin Vein, as Bowie explained to Disc & Music Echo: "The album is about the States...Originally, I felt Love Aladdin Vein was right, then I thought, 'Maybe I shouldn't write them off so easily' - so I changed it. Also "Vein" - there was the drugs thing, but it's not that universal," During the sessions, he declared that "Ziggy was meant to be clearly cut and well defined with areas for interplay, whereas Aladdin is pretty ephemeral. He's also a situation as opposed to being just an individual."

 

Shot in January 1973, the Aladdin Sane sleeve photo introduced perhaps the most celebrated image of Bowie's long career: the topless shot of the flame-haired singer, his downcast face sliced in two by a vivid red-and-blue lightning streak while an air-brushed tear slides down his collarbone. Superstar fashion photographer Brian Duffy, introduced to David by Tony Defries, believed that Bowie's inspiration for the "flash" design came from a ring once worn by Elvis Presley, but the image has wider implications: the elaborate make-up is a deliberate expression of the fractured, "split down the middle" personality Bowie himself has described. Delighted with the result, and reportedly determined to make the artwork as costly as possible in an effort to ensure that RCA took his client seriously, Defries insisted that the sleeve be reproduced in an unprecedented seven-colour system which necessitated the use of a printing company in Zurich. It was to prove an auspicious Bowie debut not only for Brian Duffy, who went on to shoot two more of David's album covers but also for the make-up designer he had enlisted for the session: a leading light of the Elizabeth Arden salon, Pierre Laroche was an immediate hit with David, who retained him as his personal make-up artist throughout the remainder of the 1973 tour and employed him again for the cover shoot of Pin Ups. Laroche would go on to work with several other famous rock acts as well as creating the make-up for The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

 

In the year that had elapsed since the recording of Ziggy Stardust Bowie had been a busy man, touring almost non-stop while lending his writing, producing and mixing skills to Mott The Hoople (All The Young Dudes), Lou Reed (Transformer) and Iggy Pop (Raw Power). Moreover, he had become a star, and to say that expectations were high would be an understatement. Released on April 13th 1973 while Bowie was busy on his first Japanese tour, Aladdin Sane entered the UK chart at number 1 - commonplace now but almost unheard of then - with advance orders in excess of 100,000 guaranteeing an instant gold disc and the envied status of Britain's best-selling album since the days of The Beatles. It was Bowie's first chart-topping album, remaining at number 1 for five weeks. Although most of the notices were ecstatic, Aladdin Sane's commercial smash inevitably heralded the first signs of the build-'em-up-and-knock-'em-down tactics so beloved of the British music press. "Take away Bowie's image, and there's nothing left," complained Dave Laing in Let It Rock, going on to assert that "His stuff reminds me increasingly of The Beatles just before they split - the aimless doodlings of Abbey Road, when they had nothing to say and everything to say it with...still, if he falters, there's always Gary Glitter." Disgruntled loyalists who had supported Bowie in the early days were distressed to see their hero becoming an idol for screaming teenagers, and the letters columns of Melody Maker and NME began to feature complaints of the "selling out" variety: a sure sign of success.

 

In America, where David now had three albums in the lower rungs of the chart, Aladdin Sane was given a warm reception and climbed to number 17. Billboard considered it a combination of "raw energy with explosive rock", noting that "the sonic impact is all-important, and there's plenty of vocal exertion and instrumental exuberance". In Rolling Stone, Ben Gerson subjected the album to a close and intelligent analysis (albeit relying too heavily on the assumption of David's homosexuality - where is the evidence that "Cracked Actor" and "Let's Spend The Night Together" are explicitly gay?), concluding that through his "provocative melodies, audacious lyrics, masterful arrangements and production", Bowie was now "of major importance."

 

Aladdin Sane is an album of contradictions, and compared with its immediate predecessors there are times when its restless creativity can't disguise the sense of a rush job. Writing some years later, Charles Shaar Murray noted that "It was all too obvious that the heat was on...The songs were written too fast, recorded too fast and mixed too fast." At its best, however, the album transcends the tightly-produced, freeze-dried glam of Ziggy Stardust to explore a richer, more textured style of production, with "Drive-In Saturday", "Lady Grinning Soul" and the title track itself the obvious jewels.

 

"It was almost like a treading-water album," Bowie remarked 20 years later, "but funnily enough, in retrospect, for me, it's the more successful album, because it's more informed about rock 'n' roll than Ziggy was." Indeed, Aladdin Sane remains one of the most urgent, compelling and essential of Bowie's albums, its historical value running deeper than its commercial success. The very fact that it's less disciplined than Ziggy Stardust discloses the album's tantalisingly unhinged personality, as the rococo elaborations of Mike Garson's piano run counter to the tight efficiency of The Spiders' rock act. In its often deranged musicality, Aladdin Sane not only exposes the nature of its title character but hints at the pressures already incumbent on its creator. In retrospect it's clear that Bowie was moving far beyond the derivative Bolanisms of his previous album, producing in Aladdin Sane an energetic moment of transition between the glam sound he had helped to pioneer - here staunchly represented by effortless classics like "The Jean Genie" - and, as evidenced by "Drive-In Saturday" and "Panic In Detroit", the first stirrings of a fascination with the more voluptuous textures of American soul.