Album: Aladdin Sane
Live: David Live/Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture/Bowie At The Beeb
B-Side: October 1983
Live Video: Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars/Serious Moonlight
Bowie's harmonica and Mick Ronson's dirty blues guitar reaffirm Aladdin Sane's "Ziggy in America" manifesto in this sleazy tale of a superannuated film star paying for sex in a tinseltown back-room. Thematically it's this album's "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide", but the dignity, melodrama and even optimism of that song have been usurped by the jaundiced reality of a superstar's seedy decline. The hollow gratification of meaningless celebrity is exposed by the punning juxtapositions of movie stardom with kinky sex and drug dependency: "show me you're real" can also be "show me your reel", while lines like "I'm stiff on my legend", "smack, baby, smack" and "you've made a bad connection" bristle with double meanings. The faded grandeur of Beverley Hills and Sunset Boulevard, where half-remembered screen stars struggle to maintain a grotesque parody of glamour as they totter towards death, has rarely been so savagely exposed.
"Cracked Actor" was performed live throughout the 1973 tour. For the following year's Diamond Dogs show Bowie became a cod Hamlet, donning a Shakespearean doublet and singing the song to a skull. It was a great image: not only did the Yorick affectation provide instant shorthand for everything actorish, but it reinforced the song's terror of ephemerality with Hamlet's own: "let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come." The song was dropped from the Soul tour (one of the last performances was filmed for the BBC documentary which took the song's title), but "Cracked Actor" returned nine years later, complete with the skull routine, for the Serious Moonlight tour. It was revived once again for the 1999-2000 concerts, from which a live version recorded at the BBC Radio Theatre on June 27th 2000 was included on the Bowie At The Beeb bonus disc.
Among the many covers of "Cracked Actor" are versions by Big Country (on their 1993 CD single "Ships (Where Were You)"), Duff McKagan (on 1993's "Believe In Me") and Marry Me Jane (on 1995's "Misunderstood").
CRIMINAL WORLD (Godwin/Browne/Lyons)
Album: Let's Dance
"Criminal World" was originally released as a single in 1977 by Metro, an early synth-pop duo fronted by Peter Godwin. The single was banned by the BBC, who fled in terror from its bisexual propositions. By 1982, when young pretenders like Boy George and Marc Almond were reinventing Ziggy Stardust's decade-old androgyne chic with the new buzzword "gender-bending", it was fitting that Bowie should appropriate one of his lesser-known imitators and quietly slip a cover version of "Criminal World" in among the ostentatious heterosexuality of Let's Dance.
Musically Bowie's version bears no great surprises, conforming to the smooth dance-floor backbeats of Let's Dance, although the tight guitar solo is Stevie Ray Vaughan's finest moment on the album. By comparison with Metro's original it's a rather polite sound, but perhaps David is consciously putting one over on a mainstream audience who'd need to stop dancing and listen to the words before noticing anything subversive. "Criminal World" became the B-side of the overseas "Without You" single.
CRY FOR LOVE (Pop/Jones)
Co-produced by Bowie for Iggy Pop's Blah-Blah-Blah and released as the album's first single. A demo, featuring backing vocals from David, has appeared on bootlegs.
B-Side: March 1981
Bonus: Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
Compilation: All Saints: Collected Instrumentals 1977-1999
Originally entitled "Fujimoto San", this instrumental made its first appearance in a 1980 Japanese television commercial for a sake drink called Crystal Jun Rock. Bowie himself appeared in the ad, and when asked why he had taken this unexpected career move, he gave three sensible reasons: "No one has ever asked me to do this before. And the money is a useful thing. And the third, I think it's very effective that my music is on television twenty times a day. I think my music isn't for radio."
Although recorded in 1980 during the Scary Monsters sessions ("It was just David and me," recalled Tony Visconti, who sang the treated falsetto vocal line), "Crystal Japan" is more in tune with the second side of "Heroes", its melody reminiscent of the earlier out-take "Abdulmajid". Dropped from Scary Monsters (it would apparently have ended the album before David opted to reprise "It's No Game" instead), it was released as a single in Japan only, before appearing in other territories as the B-side of "Up The Hill Backwards".
The melody of "Crystal Japan" was later incorporated into "A Warm Place", an instrumental on Nine Inch Nails' heavily Bowie-influenced 1994 album The Downward Spiral. Although the band's frontman Trent Reznor later acknowledged the close similarity between the two tracks, he maintained that it was unintentional.
"Cyclops" was among the titles included in a set of reel-to-reel recordings sold at Sotheby's in 1990. It was once believed that "Cyclops", along with "The Invader", might hail from the aborted Nineteen Eighty-Four stage show. In fact, as the tape revealed, the tracks date from the 1970 sessions for The Man Who Sold The World: they are early run-throughs of "Running Gun Blues" and "Saviour Machine" respectively, with Bowie providing "la la la" guide vocals.
Album: Space Oddity
Live: Bowie At The Beeb
This lengthy and intricate composition, developed from the 1969 demo "Lover To The Dawn", is considered by many to be one of Bowie's first true masterpieces. The theme, set in a Dylanesque environment of Vietnam-era rage, is David's disillusion with the idle sloganeering and sell-out values of the hippy movement, and perhaps specifically the Beckenham-based "arts laboratory" he had helped to establish in 1969. Four years earlier Dylan had issued his famous warning not to "follow leaders", and here Bowie pursues the point, warning his listeners not to follow alternative leaders either. His mistrust and rejection of guru figures (a topical enough stance in the aftermath of The Beatles' recent experiences) is an undercurrent that continues throughout Bowie's early 1970s lyrics. Incorporating lyrical references to Dylan's "Desolation Row", MC5's "Kick Out The Jams" and a Beatle-esque "Love is all we need", "Cygnet Committee" builds in intensity and anger before imploding in a cautiously optimistic chant of "I want to live" over a relentless 5/4 beat. The cynical yell of "I will fight for the right to be right, and I'll kill for the good of the fight for the right to be right" echoes the sentiments expressed in "I Kill For Peace", a track on The Fugs' third LP which Kenneth Pitt had given David in late 1966. The anguished cry of "Screw up your brother or he'll get you in the end" has been seized on as evidence of Bowie's growing preoccupation with his half-brother's schizophrenia; Terry was regularly visiting David from Cane Hill at the time of the Space Oddity sessions.
Asked about "Cygnet Committee" by American journalist Patrick Salvo in 1971, Bowie said, "I basically wanted it to be a cry to fucking humanity. The beginning of the song, when I first started it, was saying 'Fellow man, I do love you'. I love humanity, I adore it, it's sensational, sensuous, exciting, it sparkles, and it's also pathetic at the same time. And it was a cry to listen. Okay, that was that first section. And then I tried to get into the dialogue between two kinds of forces. First the sponsor of the revolution, the quasi-capitalist who believes that he is left-wing...I would like to believe that people knew what they were fighting for and why they wanted a revolution, and exactly what it was within that they didn't like. I mean, to put down a society or the aims of a society is to put down a hell of a lot of people, and that scares me, that there should be such a division where one set of people are saying that another set should be killed. You know you can't put down anybody. You can just try and understand. The emphasis shouldn't be on revolution, it should be on communication."
In November 1969 Bowie told George Tremlett that "Cygnet Committee" was the best song on the album, and would have been released as a single but for the record company: "They say it's too long, nine-and-a-half minutes as opposed to the usual three...but that's a song which I had something I wanted to say. It's me looking at the hippy movement, saying how it started off so well but went wrong when the hippies became just like everyone else, materialistic and selfish." In Music Now! he explained that "Cygnet Committee" was "one way of using a song" to attack those who "don't know what to do with themselves. Looking all the time for people to show them the way. They wear anything they're told, and listen to any music they're told to. People are like that." In the same interview Bowie warned - for the first time evoking ideas that would return to plague him in years to come - that "This country is crying out for a leader. God knows what it is looking for, but if it's not careful it's going to end up with a Hitler. This place is so ready to be picked up by anybody who had a strong enough personality to lead." In the light of these remarks "Cygnet Committee" emerges as a savage exploration of the dangerous and tormented relationships between fashion, charisma, celebrity, messianism and extreme politics which would later infuse many of Bowie's most famous works - not, as an irresponsible minority of journalists once tried to suggest, as an extension of any personal manifesto, but as a dire warning that the alternative to self-empowerment is likely to be totalitarianism.
Bowie performed "Cygnet Committee" with ferocious gusto as a cornerstone of his live shows in the months following the album's release. A vigorous live version recorded at the BBC session on February 5th 1970 now appears on Bowie At The Beeb.
THE CYNIC (Eistrup)
Bowie contributed guest vocals to this track from No Balance Palace, the fifth album by Danish art-rockers Kashmir. Tony Visconti encountered the band in the summer of 2004, and in October he introduced Bowie to their vocalist and principal songwriter Kasper Eistrup at a concert by The Killers at New York's Irving Plaza. It transpired that David had been given a Kashmir CD during the Scandinavian leg of A Reality Tour and was already an admirer of the band's work.
"In March 2005 I went to Copenhagen to co-produce Kashmir's album," Visconti later recalled. "I was immediately struck with "The Cynic". It had the vibe of a Kurt Cobain song as influenced by Bowie. When we recorded the song I kept imitating David singing the second verse (I can do a decent "Heroes"), and we were all sitting around saying, 'As if!' But the fantasy kept getting stronger and stronger, so I finally emailed David and sent him an MP3...David got it instantly and wrote back saying he'd have no problem singing that."
Visconti recorded Bowie's vocal at New York's Looking Glass Studios the following month, with band members Kasper Eistrup and Mads Tunebjerg in attendance. Eistrup later described the experience as "freaky", adding that Bowie "is like one of the big guns, so for us it was almost unbelievable to even meet him, and of course to work with him was crazy." Bowie takes up the lead vocal for the second verse of "The Cynic", lending his unmistakable timbre to the swirling, guitar-heavy mix. Visconti's Nirvana analogy is apposite, and there are hints too of Bowie favourites Placebo in both the arrangement and in the lyric's disturbing disjunction between emotional commitment and erotic play-acting ("We could fly out and get married, I think I love you now / Play with me, play with me, don't tell me how it feels / Don't let it be for real, don't tell me how you feel").
No Balance Palace appeared in October 2005, and the following January "The Cynic" was released as a limited edition 7" single in some European territories. Wearing a long coat, dinner jacket and bow tie, David appeared as a suave angel of death in the video, a sinister concoction in which cartoonishly stylised live action figures glide against animated backgrounds developed from El Lissitzky's 1927 painting Abstract Cabinet, a Bauhaus/Constructivist classic that also provides the album with its cover image.