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BUDDHA OF SUBURBIA

  • Album: The Buddha Of Suburbia

  • A-Side: November 1993

  • Compilation: Nothing Has Changed

  • Video: Best Of Bowie

   

Bowie's theme song for the BBC's adaptation of The Buddha Of Suburbia was conceived as a pastiche of his early 1970s sound, but the result transcends mere self-parody to become the first truly great composition of his 1990s renaissance. The lyric approaches the serial's subject matter from a characteristically oblique angle, becoming a piece of Bowie nostalgia as well as a signature for Buddha's central character Karim. With suggestively autobiographical overtones David sings of "Englishmen going insane" and a youngster "screaming along in South London, vicious but ready to learn" as he dallies with sexual experimentation ("Sometimes I fear that the whole world is queer, sometimes but always in vain...Down on my knees in suburbia, down on myself in every way") and swaps personae in classic style ("with great expectations I change all my clothes"). There's even a superbly cheeky realignment of William Blake's Jerusalem for the rock 'n' roll generation ("Elvis is English and climbs the hills"). Amid the new androgyny and studied narcissism of "Britpop", David Bowie had come home.

     Earlier in 1993, in a joint interview for NME, Suede's Brett Anderson had told David that his band consciously "ripped off" the "octave lower vocals" favoured by Bowie twenty years earlier - a technique strongly in evidence on early Suede singles like "The Drowners" and "Metal Mickey". Listening to "Buddha Of Suburbia" one can't help wondering whether Brett deserves credit for reminding Bowie of the trick, because the split-octave vocals and acoustic guitars instantly evoke memories of tracks like "The Bewlay Brothers", "Andy Warhol" and in particular "All The Madmen". The latter's opening and closing lines ("Day after day...Zane zane zane, Ouvrez le chien") are co-opted for the play out, while the acoustic guitar tag from "Space Oddity" is cheekily parodied in the solo. Topped off with a quintessential Bowie saxophone break, the result is what Q's David Cavanagh described as "a kind of historical double-bluff" and "probably his best song since "Loving The Alien"."

     A second mix of "Buddha Of Suburbia", omitting the intro and featuring a pointless guitar break from Lenny Kravitz which interferes with the textured pastiche of the original, was included at the end of the album. A third mix, combining elements of both versions, was released as a single. The four-track CD single also included the album version of the Kravitz mix (which, just to confuse matters, was now dubbed the "Rock Mix"). Saddled with the same feeble publicity as the album, the single scraped a paltry number 35. The video, featuring footage from the series intercut with shots of David vamping to the song in the middle of St Matthew's Drive, Bromley, was shot by the BBC serial's director Roger Michell and was prepared in two edits after US networks objected to the terrifying sight of Bowie smoking a cigarette. As if to prove that America is not alone in prudishness, BMG pressed a limited run of ten censored CD singles for use by UK radio stations, on which Bowie's voice was thrown into reverse for the duration of the word "bullshit". This preposterous rarity is now highly prized by collectors.

     In April 1996, Hanif Kureishi unsurprisingly included "Buddha Of Suburbia" among his choices when he guested on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs.

BUNNY THING

Occasionally performed live by The Buzz, this three-minute track was recorded at Decca Studios on December 12th 1966 during the David Bowie sessions. It was initially slated for inclusion as the closing track of the LP's first side, in which position it would have formed something of a companion piece to the album's finale: like side two's closing track "Please Mr Gravedigger", "Bunny Thing" is less a song than a tone-poem, in this case a spoken monologue set to the accompaniment of folk guitarist John Renbourn, who also played on "Come And Buy My Toys". Over Renbourn's mournful, meandering picks and chords, Bowie adopts the idiom of a laid-back beat poet to deliver what begins like a children's story ("Once upon a time there was a little bunny who lived in a village of little bunnies..."), but soon evolves into something more counter-cultural ("All he did all day long was look through suitcases to make sure that no naughty little bunnies were smuggling carrot juice, bunny drugs, and other things like that...he was a drag, dad, he had lost his bag of groove"). As the tale unfolds, it transpires that our lagomorph hero is on his deathbed and, surprisingly, that he has a German accent ("Und only one dose of myxomatosis in all my life - it's been a good life, ja?"). As "the last breath left him, and the angel of dead bunnies descended", we discover that his name is "Br'er Hans Hitler, customs official". Even by the standards of Bowie's debut album, this is pretty left-field stuff.

     "Bunny Thing" was included on an early acetate of the album, but the track was subsequently dropped, to the disappointment of bassist and co-arranger Dek Fearnley, who later described it as one of his favourites. "I was really disappointed that it didn't make the LP," he told Kevin Cann. "I thought it was a great track and I was very pleased John Renbourn did it in the end."

     Blocked from inclusion on subsequent reissues, "Bunny Thing" remains in the Decca archives along with the album's other out-takes "Pussy Cat" and "Your Funny Smile". In his book Any Day Now, Kevin Cann reports that David is believed to have revived the "Bunny Thing" monologue at some of his Roundhouse gigs in 1970.

BURNING EYES see AFRICAN NIGHT FLIGHT

BUS STOP (Bowie/Gabrels)

  • Album: Tin Machine

  • B-Side: September 1989

  • Bonus: Tin Machine

  • Download: May 2007

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

This is one of the more throwaway Tin Machine tracks and, perhaps for that very reason, also one of the best. It's a short, sharp joke about "a young man at odds with the Bible" who finds religion at a bus stop, set to an enjoyable Buzzcocks-style riff. Bowie resurrects his best Anthony Newley "mockney" for the occasion, inviting comparisons with that other great comedy-bus-stop-mentioning-cod-punk classic "Jilted John". "The song felt so English," David commented. "It's almost vaudeville. I don't know if the others feel very American or whatever by comparison, but that felt very English."

     The first verse of "Bus Stop" appeared as part of the Tin Machine medley filmed by Julien Temple in 1989, segueing into "Video Crime". Pursuing the song's cross-cultural sense of fun, Bowie re-styled it for the 1989 tour in a twanging Country & Western setting, throwing cries of "Good God, hallelujah!" into the mix. A live version recorded in Paris appeared on the "Tin Machine" CD single. Bowie often cited Country & Western as the one musical style he regarded with total antipathy, and the mocking "Live Country Version" (re-titled "Country Bus Stop" on 1995's Tin Machine reissue and 2007's download) offers ample evidence of this. The song was also played in more conventional form on both Tin Machine tours.

BUZZ THE FUZZ (Rose)

This little-known number, penned by Biff Rose of "Fill Your Heart" fame and originally found on his 1968 album The Thorn In Mrs Rose's Side, appeared in Bowie's live repertoire during 1970 and 1971. On February 5th 1970 "Buzz The Fuzz" was captured during a live BBC session. Rose's tongue-in-cheek hippy ditty tells the story of "a rookie cop" in "the land of the free and the home of the hip", who is corrupted by the drug-taking "Alice Dee" (geddit?); it reaches a low with the disastrous lyric "Love is so sensational / When you fall in love with eyes dilational". In his BBC session rendition, when Buzz "shoved his gun in Alice's chest and said, 'This is a bust!'", Bowie appears not to grasp Rose's double-entendre and torpedoes the gag by singing "back" instead of "chest". Perhaps mercifully, David appears not to have recorded a studio version; he may have chosen to perform "Buzz The Fuzz" live, but his work of the period was more significantly influenced by the rest of Rose's album.