I'M AFRAID OF AMERICANS (Bowie/Eno)
US A-Side: October 1997
B-Side: July 2000
Live: liveandwell.com/Bowie At The Beeb (Bonus Disc)/A Reality Tour
Bonus: Earthling (2004)
Video: Best Of Bowie
Live Video: A Reality Tour
Described by Bowie as "one of these stereotypical "Johnny" songs: Johnny does this, Johnny does that", this terrific track takes corporate America to task about its philistine domination of global culture. "The face of America that we have to put up with is the MacDonald's/Disney/Coke face," Bowie told Mojo, "This really homogeneous, bland cultural invasion that sweeps over us - which is unfortunate, because the aspects of America that are really magical to us are the things it seems to reject, like black music or the Beat poets."
The song began life during the latter 1.Outside sessions in January 1995, at which a prototype version was recorded featuring different lyrics (it's "Dummy" instead of "Johnny", and in the chorus David is "afraid of the animals"). Originally entitled "Dummy", this version was intended for the soundtrack to the film Johnny Mnemonic, but was eventually consigned to the equally dire Showgirls. The darker, funkier Earthling re-recording is the preferred version, laying a percussive vocal sample over a synthesised rhythm track to form the foundations of a rising edifice of industrial sound, falling away only for the final resigned conclusion that "God is an American".
In 1997 the track was subjected to six remixes for release as a maxi-single in the US. The project was masterminded by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, who had supported Bowie during the Outside tour and said of the song "I tried to make it a bit darker." Additional guests included Ice Cube and Photek - Bowie's favourite drum'n'bass exponent - and according to David the forty-minute result was "not just a remix. It almost becomes an album piece in itself. I was absolutely knocked out when I heard what [Reznor] had done. It was great." Two Reznor mixes were later included alongside the Showgirls version as bonus tracks on the 2004 reissue of Earthling.
The video, also featuring Reznor, was shot in New York in October 1997 between Bowie's Earthling tour commitments. It was directed by Dom and Nic (later famed for Robbie Williams's award-winning "She's The One") who, as Bowie explained, were "making very interesting, quite hard-edged British videos at the moment. I felt it was important that it retained that outsider's perspective of America, you know." Reznor plays a menacing character who threatens Bowie's paranoid English gent in the streets of New York. "They wanted a kind of Taxi Driver feel to the whole thing," explained Reznor. "That's kind of what it's based on. That's why I'm in my Travis Bickle outfit!" The clip won a nomination in the Best Male Video category at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards, while the single reached number 66 in the American chart - hardly spectacular, but Bowie's best US placing in a decade.
Sonic Youth guested on "I'm Afraid Of Americans" at Bowie's fiftieth birthday concert, and the song subsequently featured throughout the Earthling tour. It is interesting to observe that Bowie's only other "stereotypical 'Johnny' song" is 1979's "Repetition", which in the immediate wake of the Earthling sessions was unexpectedly exhumed for live performance. It seems more than likely that the one was prompted by the other. "I'm Afraid Of Americans" reappeared regularly on every subsequent Bowie tour, while the video featured on CD formats of the "Seven" single before its inclusion on Best Of Bowie. A version recorded in New York on October 15th 1997 appeared on liveandwell.com, while a live performance from the BBC Radio Theatre concert on June 27th 2000 was included on the Bowie At The Beeb bonus disc. A third, recorded in Dublin in November 2003, appears on A Reality Tour. The Canadian band Neverending White Lights have performed the number on stage.
I'M DERANGED (Bowie/Eno)
B-Side: April 1997
Soundtrack: Lost Highway
Bonus: 1.Outside (2004)
All the familiar 1.Outside trademarks are present and correct here - Eno's layered synthesizer backings, Mike Garson's demented piano interludes, Carlos Alomar whirling away on rhythm guitar - and with one of the album's best vocal performances the sweeping, epic chorus really takes flight. It is "to be sung by the Artist/Minotaur", and the pseudo-Waste Land lyrics have been well and truly chewed by Bowie's computer: "And the rain sets in, it's the angel-man, I'm deranged...Big deal Salaam, Be real deranged Salaam, Before we reel I'm deranged."
Melodically the song looks both forward and back, borrowing phrases from "Real Cool World" and anticipating the drum'n'bass stylings of the next album. "I'm Deranged" was performed on a few early dates of the Outside tour and later revamped for the Earthling show, from which a version recorded in Amsterdam on June 10th 1997 later appeared on liveandwell.com. In 1997 two exclusive remixes appeared on the soundtrack of David Lynch's Lost Highway, while the "Jungle Mix", originally a B-side on the "Dead Man Walking" single, was included on the 2004 reissue of 1.Outside. A cover version by Thomas Truax appeared on his self-explanatory 2009 album Songs From The Films Of David Lynch.
I'M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (McHugh/Fields)
The Astronettes' cover of the old jazz standard was shelved with the rest of the project, but the song was later performed by Ava Cherry during the Soul tour's support set. The Bowie-produced studio version, featuring some overwrought scat-style backing vocals from Geoffrey MacCormack, eventually appeared on 1995's People From Bad Homes.
I'M NOT LOSING SLEEP
B-Side: August 1966
B-Side: October 1972
Compilation: Early On (1964-1966)
This forgettable B-side, on which David turns the other cheek to a treacherous friend ("I can get my satisfaction knowing you won't get reaction" he sings, echoing The Rolling Stones' year-old hit) was recorded at Pye Studios on July 5th 1966. As with the A-side "I Dig Everything", producer Tony Hatch hired unknown session musicians in place of The Buzz, who nonetheless performed it live in the same year. Bowie's early publisher Sparta registered the song under the alternative title "Too Bad", taken from a phrase in the chorus lyric which echoes the melody of Petula Clark's "Downtown", one of Hatch's recent successes.
I'M NOT QUITE see LETTER TO HERMIONE
I'M SO FREE (Reed)
Co-produced by Bowie for Lou Reed's Transformer, "I'm So Free" features prominent backing vocals from David and a superbly controlled guitar from Mick Ronson.
I'M SO GLAD (James)
Prior to performing his own headlining set at an open-air concert in Bromley Library Gardens on September 13th 1969, David surprised one of the support bands, a local schoolboy outfit called Maya, by roping them into an impromptu performance of the 1931 Skip James blues classic, lately popularised by Cream on their 1966 debut album. "I was only sixteen and still at school," vocalist/guitarist John Aldington recalled many years later, "but the band already had an enthusiastic local following. We were just finishing when David Bowie appeared on the stage with some friends in tow, and turned to us and shouted: "Do you guys know "I'm So Glad" by Cream?" We nodded nervously, and before we knew it we were accompanying him."
I'M TIRED see NEVER LET ME DOWN
I'M WAITING FOR THE MAN see WAITING FOR THE MAN
I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU (Young)
Live Video: Oy Vey, Baby - Tin Machine Live At The Docks
Neil Young's aspirational love song dates from his eponymous 1969 debut album: "When I got that album in 1969, I was dazzled by the overall complexity of sound," Bowie recalled in 2002. "It was so majestic, aloft and lonely-sounding at the same time. A real yearning. And I'd always wanted to do that song on stage or someplace." He first fulfilled the wish on Tin Machine's It's My Life tour, during which Reeves Gabrels took lead vocal on the number. Interestingly enough, only a year earlier "I've Been Waiting For You" had also been covered by Bowie favourites Pixies (as the B-side of their 1990 single "Velouria"), which perhaps accounts for its addition to the Tin Machine repertoire.
Ten years later Bowie elected to cover the song on Heathen alongside his version of Pixies' "Cactus". Boasting typically smart Tony Visconti production and a bellowing solo from guest guitarist Dave Grohl, it's a strong and direct rendition, if perhaps the least essential of the album's three cover versions. The 5.1 remix on the Heathen SACD is marginally longer than the CD version. "I've Been Waiting For You" was performed live throughout the Heathen tour and made the occasional reappearance on A Reality Tour. In September 2002 it was released as a single in Neil Young's homeland of Canada.
I'VE GOT LIGHTNING see LIGHTNING FRIGHTENING
IAN FISH, U.K. HEIR
Album: The Buddha Of Suburbia
Like the same album's "The Mysteries", this is a low-key piece of ambient sound created by slowing down the original backing track, this time augmented by gramophone static of the kind Bowie had used on "Black Tie White Noise" a few months earlier. In his sleeve notes for The Buddha Of Suburbia, Bowie writes that "The real discipline is...to pare down all superfluous elements, in a reductive fashion, leaving as near as possible a deconstructed or so-called 'significant form', to use a 30's terminology." As an exercise in pure texture without theme, "Ian Fish" stands as perhaps Bowie's most minimalist track of all, accompanied only by a hesitant acoustic guitar that picks out a few phrases which develop into snatches of the "Buddha Of Suburbia" melody itself. The title, incidentally, has no arcane connotations: it's simply an anagram of "Hanif Kureishi".
"Ian Fish, U.K. Heir" was used to underscore Francis Whately's short film In Stillness And In Silence (Sacred), written and narrated by Bowie for BBC2's 1998 art series Conversation Piece.
IF I'M DREAMING MY LIFE (Bowie/Gabrels)
Download: July 2009
Live Video: VH1 Storytellers
The longest track on 'hours...' explores the album's motif of the dream state on a shifting sand of rhythmic patterns, as the lyric attempts to recall a half-remembered relationship that may be only a fantasy ("Was she ever there?...All the lights are fading now if I'm dreaming all my life"). The basis appears to be the Jungian paradox about falling asleep and dreaming one is someone else, and thereafter being unable to tell whether the waking state is any more "real", or just the next part of the dream. The relationship with Bowie's shedding of successive identities - not to mention the intellectual inversion of early compositions like "When I Live My Dream" - is evident.
As with "Something In The Air" there are fleeting recollections of past glories, in this case an "All The Young Dudes" guitar break 3'50" into the track, and a slowly building outro reminiscent of "Memory Of A Free Festival". Overall, however, it's one of the less satisfactory experiments of 'hours...', a turgid interlude between the melodic beauty of "Survive" and "Seven". A live version originally cut from the transmission of 1999's VH1 Storytellers concert was released on DVD and download in 2009.
IF THERE IS SOMETHING (Ferry)
Album: Tin Machine II
B-Side: October 1991
Live: Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby
Live Video: Oy Vey, Baby - Tin Machine Live At The Docks
Having covered a John Lennon protest lyric on their first album, Tin Machine turn their hard-rock guns on a less suitable target for their second. This characteristically complex number from Roxy Music's 1972 debut is all but demolished by the usual Tin Machine symptoms: drums too loud, guitar too messy, irony disastrously bypassed. The sound of Bowie, against a backing of industrial noise, yelling that he's going to "sit in the garden, grow potatoes by the score," simply beggars description. There were rumoured to be plans to re-record the track as a duet with Bryan Ferry, but this came to nothing. The song was performed on the It's My Life tour, with versions included at the BBC session on August 13th 1991 (later appearing as a B-side of "Baby Universal") and on Oy Vey, Baby.
IF YOU CAN SEE ME
Album: The Next Day
"Musicians are going to scratch their heads when they hear "If You Can See Me"," Tony Visconti predicted prior to the release of The Next Day. Such a reaction was not restricted to musicians. This is the album's most eccentric piece, its skittering, shape-shifting time signatures and chord progressions recalling some of the more uncompromising moments on Earthling, and anticipating Bowie's subsequent move into free-form jazz experimentation with "Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)".
"If You Can See Me" was subject to numerous overdubs during its development, but the initial backing track was cut on May 4th 2011, and features one of The Next Day's most prominent contributions by bassist Gail Ann Dorsey. "I played fretless bass for the first time on this," Dorsey later told Uncut, describing the song as "pretty spectacular, because it's in this ridiculous time signature. It's 7/5 or something, a strange looping, limping time signature that's really very cool." Dorsey's vocal lines, shadowing Bowie's voice and letting loose in the opening moments with her distinctive banshee howl, were recorded at a later date, as were her backing vocals on several of The Next Day's other tracks. Bowie laid down his lead vocal on April 4th 2012.
It's not just the music that is violent and unsettling here. The lacerated, fragmented images and occasional nonsense-words ensure that this is among the album's more impenetrable lyrics, hinting at everything from the clothes-fetishism of "Cactus" and "The Hearts Filthy Lesson" ("I should wear your old red dress") to the infantilist fantasies of "When I'm Five" (compare "If you can see me, I can see you" with "If I close one eye the people on that side can't see me"). Whatever's going on, it's extremely unpleasant: "crusade", "tyrant" and "domination" were the three words that David offered as clues. Tony Visconti suggested that "identities switch between someone who may be Bowie and a politician." In the principal role, David appears to be casting himself as a charismatic demagogue of the kind he had been warning us about ever since the days of "Somebody Up There Likes Me", "Big Brother" and "We Are Hungry Men": "I will take your lands and all that lays beneath / The dust of cold flowers prison of dark ashes / I will slaughter your kind who descend from belief / I am the spirit of greed, a lord of theft / I'll burn all your books and the problems they make." We might be in the world of a Hitler or a Stalin, or of a medieval tyrant, or a genocidal warlord in modern Africa or the Middle East; or we might be a whole lot closer to home, in the fevered imaginings of a western fascist like Jean-Marie Le Pen, Nigel Farage or Donald Trump. We are, of course, in all of these realms at once. Bowie is conjuring an abstract everyman, an embodiment of every deranged leader who ever lived: "American anna fantasticalsation, from nowhere to nothing / And I go way back." Played and sung with a boiling intensity, tightly controlled yet teetering on the brink of mania, this is among one of the most frightening three minutes you'll ever spend in David Bowie's company.
IF YOU DON'T COME BACK (Lieber/Stoller)
The Drifters' 1963 B-side was played live by The Manish Boys.
Bowie performed a one-off live version of John Lennon's classic in Hong Kong on the final date of the Serious Moonlight tour, marking the third anniversary of Lennon's death. For many years this passionate if idiosyncratic saxophone-led rendition could only be heard on audio bootlegs, but in the wake of David's death in 2016 a full-length film clip, shot during the making of the Ricochet documentary, was uploaded to YouTube. It's a beautiful and moving piece of film, revealing how emotional an experience it was for David; at one point he wipes away a tear.
IN THE HEAT OF THE MORNING
Compilation: The World Of David Bowie/The Deram Anthology 1966-1968/David Bowie: Deluxe Edition (2010)
Live: Bowie At The Beeb (Bonus Disc)/David Bowie: Deluxe Edition (2010)
"In The Heat Of The Morning" made its studio debut as part of Bowie's first BBC radio session on December 18th 1967, in an embryonic form quite different from the subsequent studio version. The original BBC recording, which now appears on David Bowie: Deluxe Edition, lacks the familiar opening riff, instead substituting a delicate arrangement for strings and woodwind over the opening chord sequence. The lyric, too, is markedly different, with a rather woolly opening verse: "My memory keeps me turning round, turning round / Looking down the valley of years / Where cunning magpies steal your name / I'm watching your face appear on a cloud drifting by". When, three months later, the more familiar version was produced by Tony Visconti at Decca Studios as part of Bowie's final sessions for Deram, this opening gambit had been rewritten to rather more striking effect: "The blazing sunset in your eyes will tantalise / Every man who looks your way / I watch then sink before your gaze / Senorita sway, dance with me before their frozen eyes". The principal Decca session took place on March 12th 1968, with further recording and final adjustments being carried out on March 29th and April 10th and 18th.
Following the rejection of "When I Live My Dream", "In The Heat Of The Morning" was also turned down as a single, prompting David's departure from Deram the following month. As a result the track remained unreleased until the 1970 compilation The World Of David Bowie, by which time yet another recording, this time closely in keeping with the Deram version, had been aired as part of a second BBC session recorded on May 13th 1968. This version later appeared on Bowie At The Beeb.
"In The Heat Of The Morning" is one of the more sophisticated tracks of the Deram period, distinguished by a Doors-style fusion of organ and guitar (the latter courtesy of Mick Wayne, later to play on "Space Oddity"), with a sweeping and instantly recognisable Tony Visconti string section of the kind later heard on tracks like "1984" and "It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City". Amid its rather torrid romanticism there are hints that David is recycling earlier Deram out-takes (he is "like a little soldier catching butterflies"), but he has now abandoned his Anthony Newley voice in favour of a cod American drawl. Like "Let Me Sleep Beside You", whose subject matter it practically photocopies, it's a significant step towards the Space Oddity sound.
The so-called demo that has appeared on bootlegs is identical to the finished track except that the final fade-out comes a few seconds earlier. A previously unreleased "Mono Vocal Version" was included on 2010's David Bowie: Deluxe Edition. In 2000 a new 3'50" recording was completed during the Toy sessions: taken at a slower tempo and conjuring up a more sober, reflective atmosphere than the original, this version remains officially unreleased, although a mix was leaked online in 2011. An excellent cover by The Last Shadow Puppets, the side project by members of The Rascals and Arctic Monkeys whose singer Alex Turner had long been an admirer of the Bowie At The Beeb version, appeared on their 2008 debut single "The Age Of The Understatement". Bowie himself described this version as "a delight".
Bonus: The Next Day Extra
Recorded on September 14th 2011, with Bowie adding his lead vocal a week later on September 21st, this stately bonus track from The Next Day Extra was described by Tony Visconti as having "lyrics that bring up some disturbing images." Indeed they do: Bowie's narrator confesses to an unspecified act of treachery which had led to a violent death, but whether he is a police informant, or a contract killer, or an angel of death like the one he sang about in "Look Back In Anger", remains tantalisingly unclear. Does the ominous "ledger", on which the victim's "name was double-crossed", belong to the officials of some oppressive police state, or to an altogether more supernatural authority? All we learn from the informer is that "I took the job", and that "I'll be telling myself there was no other way, that you brought it on yourself". Attempts to assuage guilt soon buckle under the familiar sense of doubt, and before long we find ourselves revisiting the spiritual torment of Heathen: "I've got major questions about the Lord above / About Satan below, about the way we love". The lyric signs off with an evocative echo of the opening line of "Changes", confirming that the quest is never-ending: "I still don't know what we were looking for / But it wasn't you / No, it wasn't you."
The retrospective sense is reinforced by an ornate production job that bears close comparison with the sonic territory of Scary Monsters: like a long-lost cousin of "Teenage Wildlife", "The Informer" presents an intricate sound-sculpture of layered guitars, bass, keyboards and voices, all of the latter belonging to David himself. "The lead vocal is sung with Bowie angst," noted Tony Visconti, "with the addition of twelve tracks of backing vocals and harmonies also sung by him. Leonard and Torn play hypnotic guitars, Dorsey and Alford hold down the funky beat." The result is a beautiful song, sinister and mournful, and one that would have graced The Next Day had it made the final selection. Zachary Alford's drum track was recycled as the basis of the instrumental "Plan".
INSTANT KARMA! (Lennon)
John Lennon's 1970 hit was performed live in the same year by Hype.
THE INVADER see CYCLOPS and SAVIOUR MACHINE
IS IT ANY WONDER see FAME and FUN
IS THERE LIFE AFTER MARRIAGE?
Little is known about this unfinished track from the Scary Monsters sessions - rumoured in some quarters to feature Iggy Pop - although studio documentation confirms its existence. Considering Bowie's private affairs at the time, it's quite possibly a tongue-in-cheek working title, possibly for a song we know by another name. The instrumental released on bootlegs under this title is in fact the backing track for the abandoned Scary Monsters version of "I Feel Free".
ISN'T IT EVENING (THE REVOLUTIONARY) (Slick/Bowie)
Bowie co-wrote and sang vocals on this track from Earl Slick's 2003 album Zig Zag, produced by Mark Plati and recorded in tandem with the Reality sessions. According to Earl Slick, the composition was in embryonic form when Bowie "came up with the lyrics and fleshed out the melody and turned it into this killer song." "Isn't It Evening" carries David's unmistakable stamp in its chord changes, harmonies and split-octave vocals, and the lyric, too, covers familiar territory, sketching a portrait of forlorn souls and broken lives which recollects several of the Heathen lyrics (the phrase "nothing remains" even crops up). There are echoes, too, of far older compositions, including a distinct taste of "After All" in the lines: "Some stand in the sun / Some are blind / One puts his hand in mine / One disappears, his name isn't written down / One dies on the lawn / His face turned away from it all."
"David sounds amazing on the song," said Earl Slick in 2003. "I remember being in the studio when he recorded the vocals and thinking, "This is weird. For once, I'm on the other side of the glass and he's playing on a track for me. He nailed his vocals in one or two takes and it came out great - that's the beauty of working with David."
Co-written and co-produced by Bowie for Iggy Pop's Blah-Blah-Blah, "Isolation", which also features David on backing vocals, was released without success as the album's fifth single in 1987.
IT AIN'T EASY (Davies)
Album: The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
Live: Bowie At The Beeb (Bonus Disc)
This American white-blues number derives from the pen of singer-songwriter Ron Davies, originating on his 1970 LP Silent Song Through The Land. It has been suggested that Bowie was introduced to "It Ain't Easy" by Mick Ronson (rumour has it that the song was already part of The Rats' repertoire), but by the time of the Ziggy sessions the song was by no means obscure. Covers had already been recorded by Three Dog Night in 1970 and Long John Baldry in 1971 - in both cases the parent albums were named after the track - and Dave Edmunds cut a version for Rockpile, released in June 1972, the same month as Ziggy Stardust. (The song later went on to become the opening track of Phew, a 1973 album by Claudia Lennear, the American singer who is said to have inspired Bowie's "Lady Grinning Soul".)
"It Ain't Easy" was originally picked up by Bowie around the time of the Arnold Corns sessions, and his interpretation received its first live hearing as the closing number of his BBC concert session on June 3rd 1971; this recording was later included on Bowie At The Beeb. Cut at Trident on July 9th, the subsequent studio version has the distinction of being the first Ziggy Stardust track to be recorded; initially mooted for inclusion on Hunky Dory, it was among the tracks on the ultra-rare sampler album pressed by Tony Defries in August that year. It's possible that the decision to leave "It Ain't Easy" off Hunky Dory was motivated by a wish to play down Ron Davie's influence on the album (elsewhere, "Andy Warhol" blatantly borrows its riff from the title track of Silent Song Through The Land); equally, Bowie might have decided to withhold "It Ain't Easy" until he knew whether Long John Baldry's version, released at the time of the Hunky Dory sessions, was a hit. It wasn't, but whatever the reason, Bowie's recording would remain on ice until his next album took shape.
As the only cover on Ziggy Stardust, "It Ain't Easy" has been understandably marginalised by critics, which is a pity as it features some of Ronson's most searing guitar slides and some of Bowie's most acrobatic vocals. Production is immaculate and David is clearly relishing his cod-American act against a riotous backing chorus (boosted by Dana Gillespie, who received a belated credit for backing vocals on the album's 1999 reissue). The lyric is by no means incongruous, dovetailing perfectly with the travelling/climbing/searching metaphor already prevalent in Bowie's writing: the opening line, "When you climb to the top of the mountain, look out over the sea", is practically a rewrite of "Black Country Rock", while "you jump back down to the rooftops", would later be echoed in "Diamond Dogs". The exhortation to "think about all of the strange things circulating round" is suggestive of both "Five Years" and "Starman", and the lyrical nod to The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" suits Bowie's methodology to a tee. The devotional aspect of the obvious blues clichés ("With the help of the good Lord, we can all pull on through...sometimes He'll take you right up and sometimes down again") acquires a darker twist in the context of Ziggy Stardust's messianic overtones and its reiterated dismissals of a religious establishment.
All the same, in the final analysis it remains mystifying that "It Ain't Easy" was favoured above "Velvet Goldmine" and "Sweet Head" for inclusion on the album. The song never featured in the Ziggy tour sets, nor did Bowie ever revive it thereafter. In 2008 his recording was included in the soundtrack of the Daniel Craig drama Flashbacks Of A Fool.
IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE (Zappa)
The Mothers of Invention's second single, released in 1966, was performed live by Bowie's short-lived outfit The Riot Squad the following year.
IT DOESN'T MATTER ANYMORE (Anka)
Buddy Holly's posthumous 1959 hit was played live by The Buzz.
IT HAPPENS EVERY DAY see TEENAGE WILDLIFE
IT'S A LIE
The title of a radio jingle for Puritan recorded by The Lower Third in May 1965.
IT'S ALRIGHT see SWEET JANE
IT'S ALRIGHT (Bowie/May/St Gian/Warren) see COOL CAT
IT'S GETTING BACK TO ME
A long-forgotten Bowie composition registered with David's publisher Sparta in 1966 and included in The Buzz's repertoire.
IT'S GONNA BE ME
Bonus: Young Americans/Young Americans (2007)/The Gouster
Recorded at Sigma in August 1974 under the working title "Come Back My Baby", this is one of Bowie's overlooked masterpieces. The lyric, perhaps not entirely drawn from imagination, is the tortured testimony of a serial seducer who now admits the emptiness of his conquests and indulges in a fantasy of redemption - albeit of a peculiarly egocentric kind - in the arms of "that angel stuck in my mind". Musically it's a languid soul ballad in the Aretha Franklin style, featuring one of David's most brilliant vocal performances against a virtuoso Mike Garson piano line and full-bodied gospel-choir backing. Astonishingly it was one of the numbers David elected to drop from Young Americans to make room for the two John Lennon collaborations, and as a result "It's Gonna Be Me" was denied an official release until 1991. That he was able to reject material like this says a lot about the quality of his 1974 output.
"It's Gonna Be Me" graced the live circuit for a while, featuring throughout the Soul tour prior to the release of Young Americans. Tony Visconti later explained that during post-production on the album he oversaw a more heavily orchestrated mix than the version subsequently released by Ryko, "with a full string section, but I have no idea why it was never released. It's gorgeous." It is fortunate that Visconti retained his original master recording of the string arrangement, because of the finished number itself he revealed in 2006 that "The original string mix has been lost. We searched for it for the Ryko releases but gave up. It still hasn't surfaced, so I remixed it in 2005, adding nothing extra." This splendid new mix, taken from Visconti's original master tapes, was finally released in both stereo and 5.1 on the 2007 reissue of Young Americans.
IT'S GONNA RAIN AGAIN
One of the most obscure and elusive compositions from Bowie's prolific Hunky Dory / Ziggy Stardust period, "It's Gonna Rain Again" was performed live on a few dates in the summer of 1971 before work began on a studio version at Trident on November 15th. However, it wasn't long before the number fell by the wayside, and it's not difficult to see why: although the Ziggy songbook pays conscious and significant debts to countless pioneers of rock and roll, Bowie's songwriting continues to bear his own unique signature throughout. By comparison with the nimbly glammed-up Eddie Cochran pastiche of "Hang On To Yourself" or the complex synthesis of James Brown, Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf which invests "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" with so much of its power, "It's Gonna Rain Again" teeters on the brink of parody. The simple riff revisits the unreconstructed Bo Diddley-isms of "Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed"; the title is an obvious tip of the hat to Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"; the refrain's "easy chair" is an equally clear homage to Dylan's "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere"; the opening encounter with that all-purpose authority figure "Sheriff" recalls Chuck Berry's "Jaguar And Thunderbird"; and the lyric wanders into the realms of the gauche as it amplifies the tongue-in-cheek approach to Americanised protest-rock previously heard on songs like "Running Gun Blues" and "Lightning Frightening". Adopting a Dylanesque snarl, Bowie sings: "Soldier called on me today, and he said he had a pain / I said take down this tablet, and he shot away half my brain / Now his name is down for promotion, but I guess that's the name of the game." It's an enjoyable and deftly constructed song, but bearing in mind that it hails from the same period of studio activity that produced a fine cover of Chuck Berry's "Round And Round" and paid witty, sophisticated homage to the likes of Bob Dylan, it's small wonder that it didn't make the grade.
"It's Gonna Rain Again" is nonetheless of particular interest for two reasons. More than a year before the mirrors, spoons and "snow white" innuendos of the Aladdin Sane album, and even longer before the full-blown references in "Music Is Lethal" and "Station To Station", it's the earliest Bowie lyric to contain an explicit mention of the drug that would later bedevil him: "Asked if it was a Disprin, he said no, it was full of cocaine". Secondly, the refrain in which David "got into my easy chair, and grooved around the market square, and everybody said I looked insane" inevitably calls to mind the market square which features in the opening line of a more celebrated Ziggy Stardust number: it may or may not be a coincidence that "It's Gonna Rain Again" enjoyed its brief moment in the studio on the very same day, November 15th 1971, that "Five Years" was committed to tape.
IT'S HARD TO BE A SAINT IN THE CITY (Springsteen)
Compilation: Sound + Vision/The Best Of David Bowie 1974/1979
Like all three of the Bruce Springsteen covers recorded by Bowie in the late 1970s, this tough-talking portrait of urban America hails originally from the Boss's 1973 debut Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., an album that had a considerable impact on David at the time. His old friend and sometime backing vocalist Geoff MacCormack recalled that the love affair began in New York in January 1973, when he and David chanced to see Springsteen perform one night at Max's Kansas City: "The album was on our turntables the next morning." When playing a selection of his favourite records on Radio 1's Star Special some years later in 1979, David included Springsteen's "It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City", remarking that "after I heard this track I never rode the subway again...That really scared the living ones out of me."
During the second phase of the Sigma Young Americans sessions in November 1974, Bowie received an unexpected visit from the Boss himself. As he recalled many years later, "A Philadelphia DJ who was quite a supporter of mine said, "You're doing these Springsteen numbers, do you want me to get Bruce down?" He brought Bruce down, and I was out of my wig. I just couldn't relate to him at all. It was a bad time for us to have met. I could see what he was thinking, "Who is this weird guy?", and I was thinking, "What do I say to normal people?" There was a real impasse. But I still think he was one of the better American songwriters around in those early days." The rumour that Springsteen contributed to Bowie's version of "It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City" is untrue: in fact, Bowie's recording was already in the can at the time of Springsteen's visit. "I remember chickening out of playing it," David said. "I didn't want to play it to him because I wasn't happy with it anyway."
For many years the track remained unreleased, languishing in the vaults until in was finally included on Sound + Vision and latterly Best Of 1974/1979. Both of these releases list it as a Station To Station out-take, but this is not so: both Harry Maslin and Carlos Alomar have confirmed that the song was neither re-recorded nor worked upon during the Cherokee sessions in 1975. The plot thickens when it emerges that the widespread assumption that the track hails from the Young Americans sessions is also incorrect. Tony Visconti confirmed that a new backing track, sans vocal, was indeed recorded in Philadelphia, but that the released version dates from an earlier session: the clue is in the percussion, bass and rasping lead guitar, none of which sound remotely like the Young Americans band but are instead strongly reminiscent of the Diamond Dogs and Astronettes sessions of late 1973 - when, of course, Bowie recorded his other two Springsteen covers, "Growin' Up" and "Spirits In The Night". Listening to the track in 2011 for the first time in decades, Tony Visconti said: "The playing style is distinctly different from the Philly players and, forensically, that is why I am certain at least two backing tracks exist. I think the drummer (on the released version) is Aynsley Dunbar, and the bass player sounds like Herbie Flowers. David is quite capable of that kind of guitar work. The strings sound like mine in parts. Two new signal-processing devices are overused on this mix, the Eventide Digital Delay and the Eventide Instant Flanger. They had just been on the market for a few months before I mixed most of Diamond Dogs. The mix is a teeth-grinding coke mix, and I have been guilty of a few of those. It would seem that this was part of the Diamond Dogs recording sessions, but worked on later. The added instruments, vocals and mixing sound like a couple of years later, because of the sonic fingerprints."
Whatever the track's provenance, its speeding percussion, dexterous bass and shimmering string arrangement provide a dramatic backdrop for one of Bowie's most thrillingly unrestrained and acrobatic vocal performances. It's a fine, robust rendition of one of Springsteen's better compositions, with Bowie on spectacular form.
IT'S NO GAME (No. 1)
Album: Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
The two versions of "It's No Game" which book-end the Scary Monsters album are adapted from "Tired Of My Life", a song Bowie had demoed as early as 1970 and reputedly wrote when he was just sixteen. The uncompromisingly raucous "It's No Game (No. 1)" weds David's histrionic scream of a vocal to Robert Fripp's crazed guitar loops (Bowie explained that he asked Fripp "to imagine he was playing a guitar duet with B B King where he had to out-B B B B, but do it in his own way"). The most striking feature, however, is Michi Hirota's aggressive narration of the lyric's Japanese translation by Hisahi Miura. According to Tony Visconti, the original idea was that Bowie should sing it himself, and Hirota was "a Japanese actress from the London production of The King And I who was hired to coach David. She discovered that the lyrics were literal and not poetic, therefore they couldn't synchronize with the melody. It was David's idea for her to narrate parts of the song instead." Bowie explained that he conceived the idea "to break down a particular kind of sexist attitude about women and I thought the Japanese girl typifies it where everybody sort of pictures her as a geisha girl - sweet, demure and non-thinking. So she sang the lyrics in a macho, Samurai voice." The track was subsequently released as a single in Japan.
With a characteristically twisted sense of nostalgia, a reference to Eddie Cochran's "Three Steps To Heaven" here becomes a sinister intimation of mortality. The line "Put a bullet in my brain / And it makes all the papers", deriving from the earlier "Tired Of My Life", offers compelling evidence of Bowie's ongoing preoccupation with the vulnerability of fame and the prurient glamour of sudden death as the ultimate media sensation. He had always been acutely conscious of the dark underside of "the papers" who once asked Major Tom whose shirts he wore, and during the 1970s Bowie occasionally mentioned that he lived in fear of being shot on stage. Tragically such anxieties were put to the test less than three months after the release of Scary Monsters, when John Lennon was shot dead only a few blocks from where Bowie was performing in The Elephant Man.
"It's No Game (No. 1)" was among the targets of a contemporary lampoon by the BBC comedy team the HeeBeeGeeBees, who included young comedians Philip Pope and Angus Deayton. Their 1981 album 439 Golden Greats included the skit "Quite Ahead Of My Time" by "David Bow-Wow", a cruel but brilliant parody which teased the art-house pretensions of Bowie's Scary Monsters period. While a female voice intoned the names of Japanese motorcycle manufacturers over a creditable pastiche of the "Ashes To Ashes" rhythm track, Pope affected an uncanny imitation of Bowie's most histrionic yell to deliver lines like "Ooh, I'm an elephant / Whoops, look what I've just gone and done" with hugely portentous sincerity. Some artists responded to the HeeBeeGeeBees' parodies (Stewart Copeland of The Police congratulated "Too Depressed To Commit Suicide" as the only successful recreation of his drumming he'd ever heard, while the Bee Gees, not renowned for their ability to laugh at themselves, were apparently livid about "Meaningless Songs In Very High Voices"), but Bowie's reaction is sadly not recorded.
Although Bowie never included "It's No Game" in a live set, the closing moments of "No. 1" were recreated for the melodramatic curtain-raiser of the Glass Spider show, as Carlos Alomar's manic guitar was interrupted by an amplified cry of "Shut up!" from the unseen Bowie. The full song, complete with Japanese interjections, was performed in the musical Lazarus.
IT'S NO GAME (No. 2)
Album: Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
A gentler, more melodic version of the above, the closing track on Scary Monsters dispenses with the pulsing guitars and screeching Japanese vocals, offering new lyrics and a meditative and earnest vocal in which, after years of uncomfortable speculation about the star's political beliefs, he lashes out at "fascists" with all the weary venom of the left-wing radical which much of his early 1980s output suggests Bowie had now become.
Tony Visconti points out in his autobiography that both versions of "It's No Game" feature exactly the same backing track, thus offering "a great example of how mixing and different overdubs can change the nature of a track completely." Just as the album had begun with the sound of Visconti rewinding and pressing "play" on the studio's tape deck (followed by Dennis Davis waving a football rattle and counting in the rhythm track), it now concludes with the sound of the tape running out and the reel slowing to a halt.
A 3'52" demo of "No. 2" has appeared on bootlegs, featuring a more basic arrangement with Bowie evidently test-driving his vocal rather than going for a take. The finished version was the first Scary Monsters track to be completed, and the only one for which David recorded his vocal at New York's Power Station. The remainder of the album's vocals were added in London two months later.
The Nine Inch Nails song "Pinion" (from their 1992 "Broken" EP) is apparently concocted from extracts of "It's No Game (No. 2)" played in reverse and slowed down.
IT'S ONLY ROCK'N'ROLL (Jagger/Richards)
During the Soul and Station To Station tours David occasionally sang the title of The Rolling Stones' 1974 hit in his rendition of "Diamond Dogs", a song to which it bears close similarities. "It's Only Rock'n'Roll" was recorded concurrently with Diamond Dogs, and Keith Richards later confirmed that the song was developed from a jam session in which David participated. In his 2010 memoir Life, Richards wrote: "It's Mick's song and he'd cut it with Bowie as a dub. Mick had gotten this idea and they started to rock on it. It was damn good. Shit, Mick, what are you doing it with Bowie for? Come on, we've got to steal that motherfucker back. And we did, without too much difficulty."
IT'S SO EASY (Holly/Allison/Petty/Mauldin)
The Crickets' 1958 single (their last with Buddy Holly) was covered live by The Buzz.
In 2008 a copious haul of unreleased material from the Tin Machine II sessions was leaked onto the internet. While most of the new tracks consisted of alternative mixes of songs that were already available, the more arresting items included some previously unheard instrumental jams and three different versions of a finished song, unofficially dubbed "It's Tough" after the repeated line in its chorus.
Recorded in Sydney in 1989, "It's Tough" continues the fast and furious tradition of earlier Tin Machine rock-outs, perhaps its closest relative being "Pretty Thing", with which it shares the twin notions of a sinewy, blues-rock riff and a repetitive, shouty refrain, in this case "It's tough but it's okay!" Of the three extant versions, two are mixes of the same recording, one running to 3'38" and the other to 4'16", with a longer outro and prominent guitar breaks from Reeves Gabrels. Bowie's vocal is identical in both of these mixes, opening with a graphic verse reminiscent of the shock-horror reportage of "Video Crime" and "Under The God": "Someone driving a four-by-four threw acid on her face / She told the cops that she hacked him up with the sharpened edge of his licence plate / Stitched him up fifty different ways, dragged him down to the Frisco bay / In a sackcloth bag labelled "DOA"". Having thus secured the listener's attention, the song shifts momentarily into a softer passage in which "angels come in limousines when the night is down", and Bowie admits that "I love this grimy city, I love this creepy town - it's tough but it's okay".
Running to 3'43", the third and most polished version of "It's Tough" employs the same rhythm track but is radically different in other respects: Reeves Gabrel's guitar is more pronounced, and there are some squealing saxophone breaks provided by Bowie himself. Most notably, while the shouted chorus and the "angels come in limousines" bridge remain intact, the rest of the lyric is quite different: Bowie here takes a less direct, more allusive approach to his images of urban degradation, opening with the rather unoriginal observation that "I've got the blues", before going on to add, "Call my blues a rat race, all the rats are winning / God moves in mysterious ways, God moves in, the rats they move out". There's an undertone of totalitarian paranoia ("Brother I fear they took you, took you off the front line...squeezing out a generation, waiting for the next, killing them by radio"), and later some gnomic crucifixion-related wordplay ("He hangs upon a cross, the man across the road / I came across the cross-eyed man, crossed and damned and trusting no-one"). It's certainly among the more interesting lyrics of the Tin Machine period, and it's a catchy number to boot.
The remaining tracks in the 2008 leak include two jaunty instrumentals, one running to 3'36" and apparently called "Exodus", the other an untitled 2'49" cut, both of which are almost certainly backing tracks awaiting lyrics rather than finished instrumentals in their own right. Further riches include an alternative edit of "Hammerhead", an instrumental of "A Big Hurt", slightly different mixes of "Shopping For Girls" and "Needles On The Beach", two versions each of "Betty Wrong", "Sorry" and "You Belong In Rock N'Roll", four apiece of "Baby Universal", "Stateside" and "Amlapura", and an enthralling five versions apiece of "One Shot" and "You Can't Talk". Most of these are little more than subtly different mixes or instrumentals of the album versions, a notable standout being an extended 5'09" edit of "Amlapura" with guitars very much to the fore. It's worth noting that the only two Tin Machine II tracks entirely missing from this banquet are "If There Is Something" and "Goodbye Mr. Ed" which, together with the retake of "One Shot" that eventually made it onto the album, weren't recorded until the Los Angeles sessions a year later.
The remaining treasures of the 2008 leak are a mammoth 17-minute track unofficially known as "Blues Tunes", in which Hunt Sales sings along to an extended jam session, and, at the other end of the endurance scale, a ten-second snippet of studio tomfoolery in which Hunt can he heard declaring, "It's a hit! It's a hit! Call Olivia Newton-John!" How the studio days must have flown by.