HOP FROG (Reed)
Bowie recorded his vocal contribution to this track on Lou Reed's album The Raven in November 2001. Released over a year later, the album develops the soundtrack of Reed's theatrical collaboration with director Robert Wilson at Hamburg's Thalia Theatre in 2000, based on the work of the nineteenth-century fantasist Edgar Allan Poe. Originally published in 1849, Hop-Frog is one of Poe's nastier short stories, relating the dark tale of a court jester's vengeance on his cruel master; it provided the dramatic climax of the Hamburg production.
"I played him some of the songs and he picked "Hop Frog", Lou Reed explained in 2003. "That's the one he wanted to sing. Who knows why? I was happy he was gonna do anything. So he came and did it. I was very pleased, I like what David does. Specially when he's doing background vocals and starts singing up high, I like that." "Hop Frog" does indeed feature some exuberant backing vocals from Bowie which, set against Reed's characteristic turbo-charged guitar sound, effortlessly recall the good old days of Transformer. It's a short number, running to less than two minutes, and offers little in the way of narrative or incident, serving merely as a prelude to the audio dramatisation of the story (featuring Willem Dafoe and Amanda Plummer) which follows. Slight the song may be, but the sound of Bowie and Reed duetting once again with such unrestrained gusto is a positive joy.
HOT PANTS (Brown/Wesley)
The title track of James Brown's 1971 album (and a hit single in the US in the same year) formed the second half of the James Brown medley performed by The Spiders during some of the early Ziggy gigs in 1972. See "You Got To Have A Job (If You Don't Work - You Don't Eat)" for further details. For the unrelated 1976 James Brown song "Hot" and its connection with Bowie, see "Fame".
HOW COULD I BE SUCH A FOOL (Zappa)
Originally from the 1969 Mothers Of Invention album Cruising With Ruben & The Jets, this was one of the covers produced by Bowie for the abandoned Astronettes project in 1973. Among the better Astronettes recordings, it eventually appeared on 1995's People From Bad Homes.
HOW DOES THE GRASS GROW? (Bowie/Lordan)
Album: The Next Day
Nearly half a century after he sang "There's a little churchyard just along the way," Bowie opens another anthem for doomed youth with "There's a graveyard by the station". But there the similarities with "Please Mr Gravedigger" begin to melt away. "How Does The Grass Grow?" retains something of the ghoulish vaudeville that was always Bowie's stock in trade, but there's nothing cartoonish about this song. Dark, dismal and horrifying, yet infused with a perverse beauty (on an album brimming with memorable middle eights, the bridge passage in this song is among the most gorgeously pretty that Bowie ever wrote), this is one of The Next Day's hidden gems: it's a piece that only David Bowie could have created, and it's a testament to the sophistication of his later work.
"Balkan", "burial", and "reverse" are the three words ascribed to this song by David in his catalogue of descriptors for The Next Day, and these, coupled with an unusually direct lyric, leave little doubt as to its theme. At once savagely angry and heartbreakingly sad, "How Does The Grass Grow?" commemorates a generation ripped apart by some unnamed wartime atrocity. As ever Bowie retains an element of opacity which allows the theme to be universal: thoughts turn inevitably towards the 1995 massacre of men and boys in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, but there are clues that our setting might be a few decades earlier. We are certainly somewhere in Eastern Europe, where "the girls wear nylon skirts and sandals from Hungary" and "the boys ride their Riga-1s". The Riga was a Latvian marque of moped produced between 1965 and 1992, and the Riga-1 its earliest model, perhaps suggesting a mid-sixties date; and the line about the girls is lifted directly from Twenty Letters To A Friend, a 1967 memoir by Joseph Stalin's daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva. Describing the Russian town of Zhukovka in the early sixties, Svetlana writes: "The villagers still draw their water from wells and do their cooking on kerosene stoves. Cows still low and hens cluck inside the village huts. Yet television antennas stick up from the grey, tumbledown roofs and the girls wear nylon blouses and sandals from Hungary." Bearing in mind Bowie's "graveyard by the station" and his Riga mopeds, it may be worth noting that Zhukovka was founded as a station on the Riga-Oryol railway.
Wherever and whenever we are, it's clear that something terrible has happened, leaving blood and guilt on the hands and consciences of those who survive. Flitting back and forth in time, the lyric juxtaposes life before and after the nightmare: "Would you still love me if the clocks could go backwards / The girls would fill with blood and the grass would be green again". But there can be no reversal, no erasing the horror of history: "Where do the boys lie? Mud mud mud / How does the grass grow? Blood blood blood". These lines derive from one of the training-camp chants beloved of the British and American military: as Tony Visconti observed, the song's title "is part of a chant that they're taught as they plunge their bayonets into a dummy." In Stanley Kubrick's 1987 classic Full Metal Jacket, R Lee Ermey's martinet of a drill instructor leads his recruits in the call-and-response: "What makes the grass grow? Blood! Blood! Blood!"
Recorded under the working title "Ya Ya", the song was among the first to be tackled during the sessions for The Next Day: the backing track was cut on May 3rd 2011, although Bowie didn't record his lead vocal until January 16th the following year. His shared songwriting credit with Jerry Lordan acknowledges the fact that the melody of the "ya ya ya ya" line which opens each chorus is lifted lock, stock and barrel from Lordan's best-known composition, the instrumental "Apache" which gave The Shadows an international chart-topper in 1960. Bowie's choice of such a peculiar interpolation initially seems jarring and downright weird, but it's one of the song's masterstrokes, setting innocent schoolyard games of Cowboys and Indians against the terrible reality of warfare: it's a juxtaposition both savage and absurd, and it has the useful side-effect of rescuing the song from overdosing on its own sincerity. Nor is this the only musical quotation on offer: Lodger was a particular template during the sessions for The Next Day, and as if to demonstrate the point, an unmistakable echo of "Boys Keep Swinging" - as if to say, "Here's one I made earlier about boys and uniforms" - saunters through the playout around 30 seconds from the end.
The band is on coruscating form, Visconti creates a spectacular widescreen soundscape, and Bowie sings with masterful control and, in that lovely bridge passage, exceptional beauty. This is a fine, sophisticated song crackling with drama.
HOW LUCKY YOU ARE
On January 4th 1971, Tony Defries's colleague Laurence Myers sent a copy of Bowie's new composition "How Lucky You Are" to showbusiness manager Gordon Mills, in the hope that his client Tom Jones might wish to record it. Nothing came of this, and no more was heard of the song until April, when Bowie made his first concerted attempt to record the number himself. Also referred to as "Miss Peculiar" (after a phrase in the chorus), this unreleased 3'35" recording features Bowie backed by piano, drums and bass, with additional vocals provided by Mickey King of "Rupert The Riley" fame. The song, a swaggering waltz vaguely foreshadowing the pit-band style of Bowie's Kurt Weill phase, includes a "la la la" outro clearly anticipating "Starman". It's evidently work in progress, the lyric repetitive and unfinished, but what exists is a deliciously dumb piece of chauvinistic preening ("When you speak, you speak to me / When you sleep, you sleep by me / When you wake, you wake with me / When you walk, you follow two steps behind...Take a look at how lucky you are!"). A second, more polished take, recorded at the time of the Hunky Dory sessions and almost certainly featuring Rick Wakeman on piano, has also appeared on bootlegs, as has a cleaned-up version remastered by Ryko in 1989 but ultimately omitted from the Sound + Vision reissue programme.
HUNG UP ON THIS GIRL
The performing rights organisation BMI lists this title as a Bowie composition published by the Embassy Music Corporation. It seems likely that this is the same song as "Hung Up", occasionally performed live by David's 1966 outfit The Buzz.
Live Video: Closure (Nine Inch Nails)
A track from Nine Inch Nails' 1994 album The Downward Spiral which would later find a wider audience through Johnny Cash's majestic cover version (a hit just a few months before the singer's death in 2003), "Hurt" was performed live by Bowie with Nine Inch Nails during the US leg of the Outside tour.