Album: Aladdin Sane
A-Side: April 1973
Bonus: Aladdin Sane (2003)
Live: VH1 Storytellers
B-Side: April 2013
Live Video: Best Of Bowie/VH1 Storytellers
Not only is it arguably the finest track on Aladdin Sane, "Drive-In Saturday" is also the great forgotten Bowie single. A huge hit during the final UK leg of the Ziggy Stardust tour, its relative obscurity since 1973 can only be attributed to the fact that it failed to appear on any greatest hits compilation until nearly twenty years later.
The 1950s records of Bowie's childhood are heard nowhere stronger than on this album, and "Drive-In Saturday" fuses a nostalgic doo-wop style with The Spiders' futuristic soundscape - here beefed up by zaps and gurgles of phased synthesizer - to convey an impression of fractured time in yet another portrait of post-holocaust humanity. The inspiration came during a long overnight train journey in November 1972: unable to sleep as the train sped through the barren landscape somewhere between Seattle and Phoenix, Bowie later explained that he saw "the moon shining on seventeen or eighteen enormous silver domes. I couldn't find out from anyone what they were. But they gave me a vision of America, Britain and China after a nuclear catastrophe. The radiation has affected people's minds and reproductive organs, and they don't have a sex life. The only way they can learn to make love again is by watching films of how it used to be done." The result would become one of Bowie's most haunting lyrics: "Perhaps the strange ones in the dome can lend us a book, we can read up alone / And try to get it on like once before / When people stared in Jagger's eyes and scored, like the video films we saw..."
As well as name-checking Jagger - a ubiquitous figure on Aladdin Sane - the song tips its hat to Marc Bolan ("try to get it on") and even drops in a mention of swinging London's original supermodel Twiggy. In her autobiography Twiggy recalls hearing "Drive-In Saturday" on the radio for the first time: "When the chorus came around, there it was again, Twig the Wonder Kid, and I thought, blimey. I remember being absolutely bowled over and of course I rushed out and bought it." Other characters in the song include "Sylvian", who may be named after the New York Dolls' guitarist Sylvain Sylvian and who, in turn, inspired the stage name of Bowie devotee David Sylvian; and there's a passing mention of "the Astronette", a name Bowie had originally given to Lindsay Kemp's dancers during his Rainbow Theatre shows in August 1972, and would later assign to the group fronted by his girlfriend Ava Cherry.
A fan who attended the Phoenix gig on November 4th 1972 later insisted that "Drive-In Saturday" was performed there, but official Bowie lore has it that the song received its stage premiere in Dania, Florida on November 17th. On that night (one of the few 1972 US gigs to be bootlegged), David told the audience that "this takes place probably in the year 2033," before performing the number alone on acoustic guitar to thunderous applause. A similar acoustic version recorded a few days later, in Cleveland on November 25th, was included on the 2003 reissue of Aladdin Sane.
"Drive-In Saturday" was immediately offered to Mott The Hoople (also touring the States in November 1972) as a possible follow-up to "All The Young Dudes"; they turned it down in favour of "Honaloochie Boogie", which they would successfully take to number 12. "I never understood that because I always thought that would've been a great single for them, perfect," David said in 1998. "I do know that Ian [Hunter] hates owing anything to anyone and he found the idea of singing another David Bowie song exasperating." This account doesn't entirely square with the recollection of Mott's drummer Dale Griffin: "[Bowie] said that "Drive-In Saturday" would be our next single but then he changed his mind. But it was great that we now had to come up with something from within the group." In any case "Drive-In Saturday" was promptly repossessed by Bowie, who took it into the studio on his return to Britain and previewed it on LWT's Russell Harty Plus on January 17th 1973, as the Aladdin Sane sessions neared completion. Transmitted on January 20th, this performance was later included on the Best Of Bowie DVD and released as the B-side of 2013's Record Store Day reissue of the single. An instrumental backing track, allegedly from the Trident sessions, has appeared on bootlegs, but its authenticity is dubious. In most territories the single was identical to the full-length album cut, but in Germany an otherwise unavailable 3'59" edit was issued instead.
"Drive-In Saturday" appeared in the soundtrack of 2007's Ian Curtis biopic Control. In the same year Britain's then Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson, picked it as one of his Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4, and in 2013 it was selected on the same show by Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman. The song was also a favourite of Bowie's old friend Morrissey, who performed it on several tours and released a live recording on a vinyl edition of his 2008 single "All You Need Is Me". Def Leppard recorded a studio version for their 2006 covers album Yeah!. "Drive-In Saturday" made the occasional reappearance in David's own repertoire during the 1973 Ziggy tour, while on the initial leg of the Diamond Dogs show it was performed in stripped-down acoustic form, with Bowie on guitar and David Sanborn on saxophone. Dropped from the set after a month or so, it remained in obscurity until 1999, when Bowie resurrected it for the 'hours...' promotional tour, including fine versions in his VH1 Storytellers set and the October 25th BBC session - a welcome return for one of Bowie's most underrated classics.
THE DROWNED GIRL (Brecht/Weill)
B-Side: February 1982
Compilation: Sound + Vision (Expanded 2003 Reissue)/The Best Of David Bowie 1980/1987
Download: January 2007
Video: The Best Of David Bowie 1980/1987
The only Baal track with music by Brecht's famous collaborator Kurt Weill, "The Drowned Girl" is arguably the highlight of the EP, ghoulishly relating the Ophelia-like suicide of Johanna, one of Baal's underage conquests. Weill's setting comes from a later work called The Berlin Requiem. In the BBC play, the song is performed by Bowie looking straight into camera on the left hand side of a split screen, while to the right is a freeze-frame of the dead Johanna, played by Tracey Childs.
Dominic Muldowney, who arranged the music for the BBC play and for Bowie's subsequent studio recordings, regarded David's vocal on "The Drowned Girl" as a tour de force. "He's singing about 'her slow descent' below the water, right down in the bass baritone," Muldowney explained to Paul Trynka. "Then halfway through he jumps up the octave. I play this song to composes at the Royal Opera House on courses. When he sings up to the word 'smoke' it's got smoke all around it, it's cloudy. Then we get to the 'k' of 'smoke' and you can see again. It's an absolute tutorial in how to paint a text. The only other person I know can do that is Frank Sinatra."
A simple black-and-white video was shot by David Mallet, back-to-back with the clip for "Wild Is The Wind", again featuring Bowie sitting on a stool and surrounded by the same four backing musicians, now miming on acoustic guitar, clarinet, saxophone and trumpet. The video was given its first official release on 2007's CD/DVD double-pack The Best Of David Bowie 1980/1987, and was released as a download in the same year.
DUKE OF EARL (Edwards/Williams/Dixon) see HELLO STRANGER
DUM DUM BOYS (Pop/Bowie)
Lyrically a tribute to Iggy Pop's former band The Stooges, "Dum Dum Boys" was produced and co-written by Bowie for The Idiot, and also features David on guitar and backing vocals. "When David plays guitar he gets nuts," Iggy once recalled. "You know that little part on "Dum Dum Boys", that "Boweeewaaaah"? That's his part, that's David doing that. He struggles with that thing when he plays!"
Typically of The Idiot, the song was a collaborative effort: "I only had a few notes on the piano, I couldn't quite finish the tune," Iggy explained in 1997. "Bowie said, 'Don't you think we could make a song with that? Why don't you tell the story of The Stooges?' He gave me the concept of the song and he also gave me the title...Then he added that guitar arpeggio that metal groups love today. He played it, and then he asked Phil Palmer to play the tune again because he didn't find his playing technically proficient enough."