NATURE BOY (Ahbez)
Soundtrack: Moulin Rouge
Bowie recorded two versions of Eden Ahbez's haunting classic (originally a US hit for Nat King Cole in 1948, and subsequently covered by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, John Coltrane and Bobby Darin) for use in Baz Luhtmann's 2001 film Moulin Rouge, which adopts as its central motif the song's final line: "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return". Although both of Bowie's recordings appear on the soundtrack album, only the first features in the film itself, and fleetingly at that: it's heard in the background in a couple of scenes while Ewan McGregor's character sits at his typewriter. "Nature Boy" is sung more prominently in the film by John Leguizamo and, later, by McGregor himself. The picture's composer Craig Armstrong explained that "It's a very interesting, opaque piece of music, and the more we worked on it, the more that song became Ewan's theme."
With its spine-tingling Bowie vocal (recorded in New York by Tony Visconti) and a lavish orchestral arrangement by Craig Armstrong, the solo version which opens the soundtrack album is the more conventional of the two recordings. The second version, credited to David Bowie and Massive Attack, closes the album and substitutes a more laid-back vocal over a sophisticated dub backing. Bowie recorded the second vocal in New York in February 2001, and the mix was completed in London by Massive Attack's Robert "3D" Del Naja. "It's slinky and really mysterious," David later commented. "3D has put together a riveting piece of work."
NEEDLES ON THE BEACH (Bowie/Gabrels/H.Sales/T.Sales)
Compilation: Beyond The Beach
This instrumental out-take from the Australian Tin Machine II sessions, distinguished by twanging Shadow-style guitar work of the kind previously heard on "Prisoner Of Love", remained unreleased until 1994's Various Artists compilation Beyond The Beach. According to Reeves Gabrels, "The title came as a reference to surf music combined with the fact that we kept finding used needles on the beaches. Simple explanation really. Plus, two of the chord changes come from Hendrix's "Third Stone From The Sun" where he says, "We'll never listen to surf music again"." In 2008 a marginally different mix of the track was leaked online.
NEIGHBORHOOD THREAT (Pop/Bowie/Gardiner)
Originally on Iggy Pop's Lust For Life, with co-production, piano and backing vocals from Bowie, "Neighbourhood Threat" was re-recorded for Tonight in 1984. This is a rare instance of Bowie's version actually boasting a heavier, rockier guitar line than Iggy's, although it lacks the original's doom-laden percussion and wall-of-sound atmospherics. Even so, "Neighbourhood Threat" kicks like nothing else on Tonight and provokes a surprisingly fierce vocal out of David, who was nonetheless displeased, describing it as "a disastrous recording" as early as 1987. "That's one I wish I'd never touched, or at least touched differently," he told Musician magazine. "It went totally wrong. It sounded so tight and compromised, and it was such a gas doing it. It was the wrong band to do it with - wonderful band, but it wasn't right for that song. I had this huge bunch of people and it just made the whole thing claustrophobic, tightened the whole thing up and it sounds squeaky."
One of the bleaker instrumental soundscapes on "Heroes" is this chilly lament for a displaced people. "Neukoln is an area of Berlin which is primarily Turkish and I had to work out a way of putting a Turkish modal thing into it," explained Bowie in 1983 - hence his plaintive squalls of saxophone, picking out evocative Middle Eastern figures against oppressive European blasts of bass and synthesizer. The impression is of a culture struggling to retain its identity in a cold land far from home, and the morose conclusion reduces the saxophone to a succession of futile blasts and a final, dying fall. "Neukoln" later formed the basis for the fifth movement of Philip Glass's "Heroes" Symphony.
NEVER GET OLD
Download: November 2003
Japanese A-Side: March 2004
Live: A Reality Tour
Video: Reality (DualDisc CD/DVD Edition)
Live Video: Reality (Tour Edition DVD)/A Reality Tour)
From low-key opening bars to resounding operatic finish, "Never Get Old" is a classic Bowie song in the finest tradition, beginning with an echoing drumbeat and a wonderfully catchy rhythm guitar hook, building with the arrival of Mark Plati's slinky bassline, and then piling on the multi-layered "Better take care" backing vocals and an infectious synth riff before Bowie's lead vocal arrives, deploying his most appealing style in a fragile lyric that recalls the world-weary themes of Heathen and the depressive withdrawal of Low and "Heroes": "I think I better go, better get a room, better take care of me", and - a key line for the Reality album - "I think about this and I think about personal history".
"Never Get Old" isn't quite like any previous Bowie number, but it positively bristles with echoes and inversions of the past. The "countdown, 3, 2, 1" in the first verse inevitably recollects "Space Oddity", and the moment when "the movie gets real when the star turns round" draws us once again into Bowie's long-held fascination with the blurring of fact, fiction and glamour that informs our relationship with the silver screen. The bridge of textured synthesizers and backing vocals leading into the second verse suggests something of the Berlin albums and also of Heathen's quieter moments, while "The sky splits open to a dull red skull, my head hangs low cause it's all over now" conflates the depression of Low with Hunky Dory's sinister "crack in the sky". Best of all is the triumphant, pile-driving chorus in the full-blown "Heroes" tradition, with a little of the melody of "Crack City" even making a return visit. Here, as in "New Killer Star", the anxiety of the verse appears to be blown away by a blast of optimism, but this time it's an optimism that is at best ironic and at worst deluded. The repeated insistence that "I'm never ever gonna get old" runs counter to the dignified acknowledgements of age found elsewhere on Reality and Heathen - and, of course, it runs counter to reality itself. "I feel bitterly angry that I won't be doing all this for the rest of eternity," David remarked in 2003. "Rage, that's what you get more than anything else. You get a bit angry, because it's good down here. On one of my new songs, "Never Get Old" - the song's ironic - there is the image of a petulant rock singer sitting in a half-darkened room saying, 'I'm not gonna get old.' I thought it was a funny image." In another interview he remarked that "It just brought a grin to my face singing it. I grow old hourly, but it was a line too good not to sing. One of my generation was going to sing it at some point, so I thought I'd do it."
The "never get old" fantasy had long been a preoccupation in Bowie's songwriting. The phrase appears verbatim in two earlier lyrics, "Fantastic Voyage" and "Buddha Of Suburbia", while the dread of encroaching age hangs weightily over countless songs: consider "Changes" ("pretty soon now you're gonna get older"), "The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell" ("I find you out before you grow old"), "Cygnet Committee" ("The thinker sits alone, growing older"), "Hearts Filthy Lesson" ("I'm already five years older") and "Time" ("goddamn, you're looking old"), to name but a few.
Television viewers in France were among the first to receive a sneak preview of Reality when, as early as June 2003, "Never Get Old" appeared as the backing music in a TV commercial for Vittel mineral water. Bowie appeared in the commercial, which was filmed in his friend Julian Schnabel's New York apartment. As David moves from room to room he encounters various alter egos played by Bowie tribute act David Brighton: Ziggy Stardust, the "Ashes To Ashes" Pierrot, the Thin White Duke, the "Rebel Rebel" pirate, the long-haired Man Who Sold The World, and even a CGI animated rendering of the Diamond Dogs sleeve image. The inherent irony of the lyric was apparently lost on the makers of the commercial, who understandably chose to accentuate the optimistic angle: taking his trusty bottle of Vittel from the fridge, Bowie runs down the stairs and steps out into the street, as if symbolically leaving his past behind him, while the voice-over adds the appropriate slogan: "Vittel - chaque jour une vie nouvelle."
Bowie later admitted that he had consented to the Vittel commercial purely to win some airplay for "Never Get Old" on French television: "They said, 'We want you to do zis thing wiz ze Ziggy,' and I said, 'Oh yeah, all right then, what do I get out of it?' 'What do you to put in ze advert?' I said, 'Play a new song!'...So I've got all this fantastic play over this bottle of water - it's really good!" An adulterated version of the Vittel commercial was later used in various countries to advertise Reality itself, while a separate mimed performance of "Never Get Old" appeared in the Reality promotional film. In 2004 the song was again used for commercial purposes, this time in the form of a mash-up with "Rebel Rebel" which appeared in an advert for Audi cars (see "Rebel Never Gets Old").
"Never Get Old" was scheduled as Reality's second single to coincide with Bowie's UK tour dates in November 2003, but in a repeat of the previous year's "Slow Burn" saga, the European release was shelved at the last minute. Promo CDs of the 3'40" single edit backed by "Waterloo Sunset" immediately rose in value, while in Britain the proposed release was replaced by a download of the two tracks from the Sony Music UK site. Buyers were entered into a draw to win a framed gold Reality presentation disc, engraved to the winner and signed by David. A conventional CD single was released the following year in Japan.
"Never Get Old" established itself as a mainstay of A Reality Tour, usually receiving a rapturous response. And quite right too: it's one of the perfect pop songs of Bowie's later career.
NEVER LET ME DOWN (Bowie/Alomar)
Album: Never Let Me Down
A-Side: August 1987
Download: May 2007
Live: Glass Spider (2007 CD/DVD Release)
Video: The Video Collection/Best Of Bowie
Live Video: Glass Spider
By virtue of its unaffected simplicity, "Never Let Me Down" is among the strongest material on this overwrought album. Although heralded by the familiar machine-gun percussion, it settles down via Bowie's impressive harmonica solo into a softer, rhythm guitar-led style reminiscent of Bowie's erstwhile muse John Lennon: "That owes an awful lot to John," he admitted at the time. The obvious model is "Jealous Guy", whose plaintive whistling solo Bowie replicates in a self-portrait of an emotionally battered loner sustained by the "soul revival" of his supportive companion - a more substantial development of the earlier "Without You". "Never Let Me Down" is a pivotal track for me," David said in 1987. "I don't know if I've written anything quite that emotive of how I feel about somebody." He dedicated the song to his long-time personal assistant Coco Schwab, fuelling the rumours already flying that the pair were about to marry. They weren't, David calmly denying that it was that sort of relationship, but the song bears touching witness to Ms Schwab's role in saving him from "falling to pieces" during darker times.
That the album was promptly named after this last-minute addition suggests that its refreshing spontaneity was more to Bowie's taste than the prevailing overproduction. The song was conceived in the last days of the sessions, as David Richards and Bob Clearmountain were mixing at New York's Power Station. "David came in one day and said he had a great idea for a new song," Richards explained. "Studio A just happened to be free. So we flew down in the elevator to start recording in the other room, leaving Bob on the third floor to mix "Zeroes". We already had a drum track from a song that had been abandoned in Montreux, and after David had sung over this, it already sounded fantastic. By eleven o'clock that night, Carlos [Alomar] had been in to add some guitars and Crusher [Bennett] some percussion." Bowie later credited Alomar with overlaying the chord sequence: "I had a basic chord change I wanted to use, but it sounded ponderous and funereal. I gave it to Carlos, and he did something with it." Alomar later revealed that the chords originated from an abandoned song of his own called "I'm Tired" - hence his co-writing credit. Of the finished track, Bowie admitted to being "...very pleased with it. It was literally written and recorded overnight, whereas most of the others took a few weeks to put together and arrange. It was completely finished in twenty-four hours from the beginning of the writing to the end of the arranging."
As the album's third single "Never Let Me Down" peaked at 34 in the UK, faring better in America, where it reached number 27. Although variously labelled as "Single Version" and "7" Remix Edit", in some territories the single was in fact the full-length album version while in others it was indeed a remix. The Japanese release, which included a variety of mixes, had the distinction of being Bowie's first CD single. The video was directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino, who had made his name in 1985 with Don Henley's "The Boys Of Summer" and Sting's "Russians", and would later direct Madonna's controversial "Justify My Love". "That's an experiment," declared Bowie prior to filming. "I'm really putting myself in his hands...I think if I did it, it would be very abrasive, and I'm not quite sure if that's how I want the song to come off visually." Years ahead of its time (Bowie later noted that "it has a very sort of nineties look to it"), Mondino's video beautifully captures the song's dreamlike quality, with sepia-tinted shots of sleepy couples at an American "dance marathon" straight from Sydney Pollack's 1969 melodrama They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. The spoken preamble ("Put on your red shoes and dance to your heartbeat!") harks back to an earlier hit.
The song was performed on the Glass Spider tour. Remixes from the extended single formats were reissued as downloads in 2007.
NEW ANGELS OF PROMISE (Bowie/Gabrels)
Bonus: 'hours...' (2004)
This dissonant, stately track revisits Bowie's Berlin period, its oblique lyric resurrecting the visions of alien supermen who people his earlier work. Lyrically it recalls "Sons Of The Silent Age" ("we are the silent ones...take me to the edge of time"), even borrowing a snatch of the melody for "I am a blind man, she is my eyes". With some late-Beatles vocal harmonies and a lyrical nod to Presley's "Suspicious Minds", there are time-travelling echoes of earlier musical trends. As suggested by the variant lyrics in the CD inlay, the song (originally called "Omikron") featured heavily in the Omikron computer game, for which a shorter 2'23" edit formed the introductory music. The full-length Omikron version later appeared as a bonus track on the 2004 reissue of 'hours...'.
A NEW CAREER IN A NEW TOWN
B-Side: February 1977
The title of this beautiful instrumental suggests a statement about Bowie's creative resettlement in Berlin; in fact "A New Career In A New Town" was recorded in France during the early stages of the Low sessions, but what matters is the transitional nature of the music. There's an engaging friction between, on the one hand, everything David's harmonica solo suggests about Stateside authenticity and R&B roots, and on the other, the shiny, robotic pulse of a particularly Kraftwerk-esque synthesizer backing: the opening electronic percussion is a straight lift from the title track of 1975's Radio-Activity. Over 25 years after the release of Low, "A New Career In A New Town" made its live debut on the Heathen tour, subsequently reappearing on A Reality Tour.
NEW KILLER STAR
DVD A-Side: September 2003
Italian/Canadian A-Side: September 2003
Live: A Reality Tour
Video: Reality (DualDisc CD/DVD Edition)
Live Video: Reality (Tour Edition DVD)/A Reality Tour
The opening track of Reality kicks off the album in style, its initial bars of woozy treated guitar fleetingly recalling the gentle beginnings of Heathen before Earl Slick's crackling riff blasts into life. "New Killer Star" reclaims the swaggering guitar style beloved of classic mid-1970s albums like Diamond Dogs (texturally its closest relative in the Bowie canon is perhaps the guitar jam that bridges "Sweet Thing" and "Rebel Rebel" on that album), while also recalling some of the 1990s work of Blur, whose album Think Tank was championed by David at the time of the Reality sessions and whose 1999 single "Coffee + TV" is readily recalled in the lolloping riff. An influence rather closer to home, although it's one that many Bowie fans will prefer to overlook, is 1987's much-pilloried Never Let Me Down. The production of Reality is far superior and the execution more heartfelt and successful, but in terms of melody and style there's no denying the close similarity with, in particular, "'87 And Cry" (the line "A new killer star" revisits the melody of "It couldn't be done without dogs", while the "ready, set, go!" section recalls the yell of "'87 and cry!" in the earlier song).
Lyrically "New Killer Star" sets out Reality's stall as an album of modern, urban angst: if Heathen's apparent echoes of 9/11 were coincidental, here they assuredly are not. The album's opening line - "See the great white scar over Battery Park" - cannot help but conjure up memories of the pall of smoke that hung over Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks. "The ghost of the tragedy that happened there is reflected in the song," David told Performing Songwriter, "but I'm trying to make something more positive out of it. The birth of a new star." In another interview he explained that "The lyrics weren't really reflections of 9/11 itself, but on the state of New York as it is at the moment, the scattered pieces, the idea of collecting things back together, and is it worth trying to keep a community going, or do we kind of disperse at this point in time?" Hence the first verse's advancement of a dogged optimism, of accentuating the positive in the face of adversity, as Bowie sings "But I won't look at that scar" and instead suggests, in Irving Berlin's time-honoured response to trouble ahead, "Let's face the music and dance". "I use it as the cliché it is," David said of the quotation, "from those old Fred Astaire movies or whatever - 'Well, times can be real bad, but we'll work our way through this'. Because it brings all that luggage with it."
As if to lend these optimistic sentiments an up-to-the-minute validation, a month before the release of Reality Bowie witnessed something of New York's social cohesiveness during the devastating power blackout, reckoned to be the biggest in history, that crippled a large area of America's Eastern seaboard in August 2003. "A hard black line was scored through the history of New York on 9/11," Bowie said. "It really has changed everything in this culture. Even in the most subtle ways. I was amazed at the way New Yorkers came together during the blackout. That was absolutely unprecedented. I think the last time was in about 1977 and I wrote a song called "Blackout" because I was there then as well. I remember burnings, looting, it got very nasty. But this time around everybody was looking out for everybody else. It was extraordinary. There was no looting. Normally it's rule number one, there's a blackout, all the alarms are off, loot. But this time was extraordinary. There is definitely a sense of community here that there wasn't before."
The second verse touches on another familiar Bowie theme: pop culture's trivialisation of the search for profundity and meaning. The absurdity of "seeing Jesus on Dateline" recalls some of the bleaker images in "I Can't Read" and "Goodbye Mr. Ed", while the opening lines of the verse establish the argument at the heart of the Reality album: "See my life in a comic / Like the way they did the Bible / With the bubbles and action / The little details in colour". The usurpation of the "real" by the counterfeit, the dumbing-down of experience into the banality of a comic strip, opens the door onto many of the album's later lyrics - and also expresses very neatly what the cover artwork is all about.
But the radical shift is withheld until the chorus, as the song itself undergoes a change from minor to major key and the lyrics grasp at a sudden optimism: "I got a better way - I discovered a star!" This, as Bowie explained to Interview magazine, is the key to the song and to its position on Reality: "I led off the album with that song because I realised that if I opened with the wrong track, it would set the album up as being negative, which it is not. The one thing I tried to muster all the way through was a sense of positivism. "New Killer Star" is built around a rather corny idea - that in all our troubles, there are things that are clear and bright and beautiful. It's a very simplistic thought, decorative in a way because there's a bit of wordplay in there." Nowhere is this wordplay clearer than in the song's punning title: the multiple meanings of the word "star" provide the mainspring for numerous Bowie songs (this was the seventh Bowie composition to feature the word in its title, with more yet to come), but when David sings "new killer", he's also replicating the dumbed-down mispronunciation of "nuclear" whose most celebrated exponent at the time was George W Bush.
"New Killer Star" was accompanied by Bowie's first full-blown video since 1999's "Survive". Directed by the Los Angeles-based filmmaker and animator Brumby Boylston, the "New Killer Star" clip is notable for several unusual features, not least the absence of David Bowie himself. Presented in a lenticular style akin to the original sleeve of the 'hours...' album, the video consists of a succession of still images which simulate movement as each frame "rotates" through different angles. This initially jarring effect gradually builds into a curious impression of narrative coherency as the images flit from one wobbly snapshot to another: a shoeshine boy, a call girl, a factory foreman, railroad construction workers, gardeners and airline stewards go about their business as the sun rises over the patchwork fields, white picket fences and power-stations of a kitsch, idealised 1950s America; eyes gradually turn skyward as an astronaut's space capsule narrowly avoids crashing to earth; disaster is averted, and all returns to normal. Without doubt one of the oddest pop videos ever made, it left many fans bemused - but it provides a striking demonstration of Bowie's commitment to the new, even at a time when his enthusiasm for singles in general and videos in particular appeared to be on the wane.
The 3'42" "New Killer Star" video was released as a DVD single in the UK, US and various other territories on September 29th 2003, its DVD-only status disqualifying it from the singles chart. In Canada an audio version of the same edit was released as a conventional CD single, while the album cut appeared as a single in Italy. Both formats were backed by the cover of Sigue Sigue Sputnik's "Love Missile F1-11" recorded during the Reality sessions, while the DVD single also included the four-minute Reality EPK featuring interview footage and performance clips from the Reality promotional film, which itself contained an alternative video clip for "New Killer Star" consisting of a rapidly edited montage of shots of New York City by night. The single's sleeve photo was a close-up from a Frank Ockenfels photo of David playing his 1956 Supro guitar. The top half of the same photo would later form the CD sleeve of the "Never Get Old" promo single, allowing the two to fit seamlessly together.
As Reality's debut single, "New Killer Star" received extensive airplay during the round of TV appearances to promote the album and tour, including performances on, among others, Friday Night With Jonathan Ross and The Late Show With David Letterman. For the first seven nights of A Reality Tour "New Killer Star" was the opening number, being being relegated to second place after "Rebel Rebel" for many of the subsequent shows.
NEW YORK TELEPHONE CONVERSATION (Reed)
Co-produced by Bowie for Lou Reed's Transformer, this black comedy was salvaged from an abandoned 1968 Broadway musical planned by Andy Warhol. Bowie can be heard in the background, ghosting Reed's vocal an octave higher.
NEW YORK'S IN LOVE
Album: Never Let Me Down
This strong contender for the Never Let Me Down wooden spoon is a duff space-filler which makes a half-hearted stab at a prosopopoeic rendering of New York City as a living character, observing the comings and goings in her own streets. David called it "a rather sarcastic song about New York, that real vain aspect of big cities. They're so pompous and big and in love with themselves." Instrumentally it veers between poppy synthesizers and tough guitar breaks, offering a foretaste of the impending sound of Tin machine, and there's an unsuccessful attempt to recapture the racketing work-out funk of "Red Sails" or "It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City" towards the end. The song was performed on the first seven shows of the Glass Spider tour.
Jacques Brel's classic, later famously covered by Alex Harvey, was performed by Feathers.
THE NEXT DAY
Album: The Next Day
A-Side: June 2013
Video: The Next Day Extra
Recorded on May 2nd 2011, the very first day of the album sessions, The Next Day's title track opens the proceedings with a bang - literally, as the first thing we hear is Zachary Alford administering an almighty wallop on the snare drum - and wastes no time in setting the tone for this darkest of song cycles. With its discordant, woozy guitars and intricate drum fills, the soundscape evokes the new-wave Bowie of Lodger and Scary Monsters, a recurring frame of reference on this album: but it's the lyric, laid down in a lead vocal session on March 16th 2012, that demands the attention. Tony Visconti cited "The Next Day" as his favourite number on the album, describing it as "horrendously gruesome" and "a very scary track," and noting of Bowie's vocal that "he delivers it with such force, it really grabs the listener by the neck." Of the song's darkly numinous subject matter, Visconti ventured: "I think it's about a Catholic cardinal or tyrant. It's very violent: the main character is hung, drawn and quartered, burnt and then torn apart by people."
"The Next Day" is the latest in a line of what might be described as Bowie's "death row" songs, in which a condemned man faces the ultimate penalty: but here we're a world away from the folksy fairy-tale of "Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud", or the cyberpunk sci-fi of "I Have Not Been To Oxford Town", or the cartoon Wild West of "Bars Of The County Jail". At first glance the setting of "The Next Day" appears to be historical: our doomed hero might be facing the medieval terrors of the Inquisition, or the persecutions of a seventeenth-century witchfinder; but on closer examination, there's nothing in the lyric to suggest that David's thoughts might not be closer to home. His target is neither faith nor spirituality, but the oppressive and corrupt edifices of organised religion in general, and of the Christian church in particular. "I have no empathy with any organised religion," he once told an interviewer. During the early years of the twenty-first century, the reputation and credibility of the Roman Catholic Church received a succession of devastating blows. The Vatican stood accused of misogyny and homophobia; of historical involvement with murderous regimes; of outdated and morally indefensible stances on issues such as abortion, contraception and marriage equality; and, most gravely of all, of not only turning a blind eye to the abuse of children within its institutions, but of actively covering it up. By the time the Papacy was taken over in March 2013 (as chance would have it, in the same week that The Next Day was released) by an Argentinian cardinal who stood accused of complicity with his country's military junta during the "Dirty War" of the 1970s, it had become increasingly difficult for those outside the Catholic Church to see it as anything other than a discredited anachronism whose continuing influence over millions of lives was nothing short of scandalous.
Over the decades, Bowie's suspicion of religious establishments flickers through his lyrics like a flare-path, but the savage fury on display in "The Next Day" is something quite new. Where once an element of wry ambiguity hovered over the moral authority of "the priest" who pops up in songs like "Five Years" and "Soul Love", here there is no such equivocation: the holy men in "The Next Day" are monsters, exploiting their pulpit authority to inflame a congregation who "can't get enough of that doomsday song", urging "the gormless and the baying crowd" to turn on the protagonist and whip him through the streets to the place of execution, uniting them against a scapegoat. This, Bowie suggests, is how the gullible succumb to the lure of any corrupt and exploitative institution: "First they give you everything that you want / Then they take back everything that you have." Like the demonic inquisitor Bernardo Gui in The Name Of The Rose, these are men who "work with Satan while they dress like the saints / They know God exists for the Devil told them so". Worse, they are hypocrites, gorging themselves on the carnal appetites that their own teachings condemn: "the purple-headed priest" is "stiff in hate, now demanding fun begins / Of his women dressed as men for the pleasure of that priest".
Any lingering doubt that the Catholic Church was the target in Bowie's sights was blown away by the video of "The Next Day", which was released online on May 8th 2013 and promptly caused an uproar. Directed by Floria Sigismondi, and shot on location the previous month at the American Legion building in New York City, the video features Bowie's friend Gary Oldman in the role of the debauched priest, who in the opening moments punches a destitute boy into the gutter as he enters a seedy backstreet bar called "The Decameron" - presumably a reference to Giovanni Boccaccio's fourteenth-century masterpiece, noted among other things for its satirical lampooning of the Catholic Church. As Oldman's character enters the joint we see that it's a members-only club for gentlemen of his profession: sitting at the bar is a priest dallying with a girl, and a cardinal whose hand Oldman kisses before moving in lasciviously on a prostitute played by another Hollywood star, the French actor Marion Cotillard. The bar is peopled by characters bearing the attributes of various Christian saints and martyrs: Oldman's character escorts to her seat St Lucy of Syracuse who, in accordance with Christian iconography, is carrying her eyeballs on a platter. The story of St Lucy's martyrdom resonates with the video: she was sentenced by her persecutors to be defiled in a brothel, but when divine intervention prevented the rape from taking place, her eyes were gouged out and she was put to the sword.
Also in attendance are Joan of Arc in her shining armour, and a flagellant, scourging his back with a whip - another flashback, perhaps, to The Name Of The Rose, whose flagellant librarian Brother Berengar looks very similar in the 1986 film adaptation. Other figures are more elusive, but we might be seeing St Agnes, whose hair spontaneously grew long to conceal her naked body when she was stripped and thrown into a brothel, and a veiled St Agatha, whose tortures included the slicing off of her nipples with pincers, once again in a house of ill repute; if there's a theme developing, it's of female saints who were dragged to brothels as part of their martyrdom. Even Joan of Arc, in her trial, was accused of consorting with prostitutes in a brothel.
Meanwhile, Bowie himself is revealed on stage, performing "The Next Day" in a Franciscan-style robe, as the scene around him descends into an orgiastic frenzy. Money changes hands with the cardinal in a grotesque parody of the granting of indulgences; women dance erotically for the pleasure of the clergymen; and presently, perhaps as a result of a gesture from Bowie, Cotillard's hands begin to spurt blood in a gruesome manifestation of the stigmata. A furious Oldman rounds on Bowie, yelling, "You see this? This is your doing! You call yourself a prophet?" The crowd turns on David, scourging him with whips, until a new character appears: a serene nun, perhaps the visionary St Teresa. As Bowie rises up behind her, the gushing blood vanishes and Cotillard's character is transfigured; and the assembled company gathers around Bowie in a final tableau, frozen like a medieval altarpiece of saints and donors. Cotillard now wears a crown of thorns and her face is streaked with frozen tears, suggesting that she might after all be Mary Magdalene, another "fallen woman" who is traditionally portrayed raising tear-filled eyes towards a vision of angels in heaven. Caught in a shaft of light, his arms raised in a beatific gesture, Bowie declares, "Thank you, Gary. Thank you, Marion. Thank you, everybody," and promptly vanishes into thin air, leaving the assembled company looking around in surprise.
Lurid? Certainly. Angry? Undoubtedly. Tongue-in-cheek to the point of Monty Python silliness? Absolutely. But on the day the video appeared online, any attempt to consider the imagery, or what Bowie might possibly mean by it, was drowned out by howls of outrage. Within two hours of its release, the video was removed from YouTube owing to "violations of YouTube's Terms of Service". An hour later it was back up, and an embarrassed YouTube spokeswoman was quoted as saying, "Sometimes we make the wrong call. When it's brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it."
Bearding the Catholic Church in a pop video was nothing new - Madonna had been there and done that two decades earlier - but that didn't seem to matter. Those sufficiently unhampered by imagination or intellect chose simply to take offence, or else to dismiss the video as mere attention-seeking - or to do both. Reactions from the Church itself resurrected fond memories of the Life Of Brian debate on the BBC's Friday Night, Saturday Morning in 1979, when John Cleese and Michael Palin were famously subjected to a barrage of weapons-grade stupidity by a tipsy bishop and an imperiously condescending Malcolm Muggeridge. In May 2013 their descendants came out in force. Jack Valero of Catholic Voices, a project charged with improving the Church's media image, said of Bowie: "I wouldn't give him the time of day. It is just desperate. He used to be famous - why does he need to do this?" George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, demonstrated if nothing else that he was not acquainted with the "Loving The Alien" video when he weighed in with the inevitable "I doubt that Bowie would have the courage to use Islamic imagery," before continuing: "Frankly, I don't get offended by such juvenilia" (which presumably meant that he considered the video juvenile, and not that he believed that the 66-year-old Bowie had somehow filmed the video in his youth, which is what "juvenilia" means). Writing on the website of the Catholic League, its president Bill Donohue resorted to a heady combination of ignorance and ad hominem abuse: "David Bowie is back, but hopefully not for long. The switch-hitting, bisexual, senior citizen from London has resurfaced, this time playing a Jesus-like character who hangs out in a nightclub dump frequented by priests, cardinals and half-naked women." Any further consideration of the video's content proved beyond Donohue's grasp, his uncomprehending remark that "a customer is served eyeballs on a plate" betraying the Catholic League president's poor acquaintance with the icons of his chosen religion. "In short, the video reflects the artist - it is a mess," concluded Donohue pleasantly.
The controversy over the video of "The Next Day" didn't last long; like any such episode in the internet age, it blazed furiously for a couple of days before burning itself out as soon as the next outrage came along. Bearing in mind how astutely Bowie had exploited the rhythms and rituals of social media four months earlier with the surprise release of "Where Are We Now?", it's hard not to conclude that the video of "The Next Day" was a comment not just on the Catholic Church, but also on the surging puritanism of the 2010s, a decade in which the taking of offence had become a competitive sport, a decade in which those who made it their business to be offended sought to close down debate in the frankly sinister belief that they had an inviolable right not to be offended. Bowie was no stranger to a spot of premeditated controversy, and of course he knew that the video of "The Next Day" would make waves. Come on then, Twitter, he seems to be saying: go ahead and misunderstand this; be offended by it, and you'll prove me right.
But Bowie was an artist, and nothing he did was quite that trivial. The video of "The Next Day" is more than just a goading of the knee-jerk brigade and a potshot at the Vatican. It's also a lurid re-enactment of an enduring Bowie motif: it's yet another dire warning not to place our faith in the hands of the ideologues, of prophets, of messiahs, of people who begin by giving you everything that you want. Snarling and posturing and hand-jiving in those monkish robes, is he playing a particular character? Is he, as many surmised, playing Jesus Christ? Surely that's missing the point. He's playing anyone and everyone, including David Bowie, whom we might mistake for a leader, and whom we might be tempted to take too seriously - and once again, he is eloquently imploring us not to.
A month after the video made its debut, "The Next Day" was released as a limited-edition 7" single on square white vinyl. In November 2013, by which time the fuss had well and truly died down, the video was included on the DVD packaged with The Next Day Extra. There it resides for posterity: one of David Bowie's most striking, intelligent, wickedly provocative pieces of work.
NIGHT TRAIN (Washington/Simpkins/Forrest)
This blues classic was played live by The Manish Boys; a version appears on James Brown's 1962 LP Live At The Apollo, much admired by David at the time. On 1997's Earthling tour Bowie would occasionally call "All aboard the Night Train!" during "Little Wonder".
Produced and co-written by Bowie for Iggy Pop's The Idiot, this composition is decidedly more David than Iggy, wallowing in the metronomic rhythms and menacing synthesizers soon to spill forth on Low. Iggy Pop later remarked that "Bowie and I really just brought out the best in each other. "Nightclubbing" was my comment on what it was like hanging out with him every night." Only Iggy could deliver quite such a superbly, sleazy lead vocal, but David can clearly be heard singing along in the background.
"We had the idea on the last day of recording," Iggy recalled many years later. "The musicians had all packed everything away, some of them had already left on the plane. Coco Schwab came in armed with two ugly plastic masks. Bowie put one on for a laugh and sat down at the piano and played some old Hoagy Carmichael stuff. I went in and told him, "That's it, that's exactly what I want." I wrote the lyric in ten minutes and we recorded the song with a lousy drum machine. Bowie kept on saying, "But we gotta call back the drummer, you're not gonna have that freaky sound on the tape!" And I replied "Hey, no way, it kicks ass, it's better than a drummer." I always encouraged him to express the darkest and most deranged part of his art. Bowie helped me with some of the lyrics and said, "Why don't you write a description of walking through the night like ghosts?""
Among several well-known cover versions of "Nightclubbing" are those by Grace Jones (who named an album after it), The Creatures and The Human League, while Iggy's original enjoyed a revival in 1996 after its appearance in Trainspotting.
Album: Diamond Dogs
Live: David Live
Compilation: Sound + Vision
Bonus: Diamond Dogs (2004)
Live Video: Young Americans (2007)/The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons
One of Bowie's favourite tracks from Diamond Dogs and the song that was to herald his next change of musical direction, "1984" started life as the signature number of his planned adaptation of George Orwell's novel. The first studio version was taped as early as January 19th 1973 during the Aladdin Sane sessions, but this recording was destined to remain in the vaults as David put the song to one side for the next few months. "1984" received its first public performance at The Marquee October on 19th 1973 when, in a medley with the soon-to-be-abandoned "Dodo", it became the opening number of NBC's The 1980 Floor Show. The same month saw the recording of a studio version of the "1984/Dodo" medley at Trident, marking David's last session with producer Ken Scott, and for nearly twenty years his last with Mick Ronson. The track would remain unreleased for almost as long, eventually appearing on Sound + Vision and, later, the 2004 reissue of Diamond Dogs. Although slower in pace and less disco-flavoured than the later version (and with marginally different lyrics), "1984/Dodo" tentatively signals David's flirtation with the soul and funk of Gamble and Huff's "Philly" sound, but the band is clearly struggling with the new idiom. As rhythm guitarist Mark Pritchett later admitted, "With the first couple of takes it became fundamentally clear that all of us, but Mick was the lead musician, weren't black funky." Ken Scott averred, writing in his memoir that Bowie "most unusually" chose to attend the mix, where "he kept playing me Barry White songs and saying, 'I want it to sound like that.' The mix went all night long."
Not long afterwards "1984" was radically re-recorded for Diamond Dogs. Taken at a faster tempo, and awash with Alan Parker's crackling wah-wah guitar and a cascading Tony Visconti string arrangement, the album version betrays a heavy debt to Isaac Hayes's 1971 "Theme From Shaft", arguably the precursor of the entire disco movement. Despite being an obvious single if ever there was one, and released as such in America and Japan, "1984" remained an album track in Britain.
Although the uptempo arrangement and instrumental fireworks suggest a less doom-laden atmosphere, "1984" maintains the dark foreboding that dominates Diamond Dogs, and its succession of violent vignettes recall the psychological horror of compositions like "All The Madmen": "they'll split your pretty cranium and fill it full of air" is a virtual rewrite of "day after day, they take some brain away". There's also a direct reference to Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changing" (even more explicit in The 1980 Floor Show version, which quotes the title verbatim), while Bowie's "all-night movie role" and the portents of doom ("you've read it in the tea-leaves") recall the Armageddon foreshadowed in "Five Years". In keeping with the bleak Diamond Dogs philosophy, the only escape is to blank out "tomorrow" by "shooting up on anything".
"1984" became the opening number of the Diamond Dogs show; as the cheers on David Live bear witness, Bowie remained invisible until revealed in a spotlight at the end of the first verse. It remained in the Soul tour set and kicked off Bowie's appearance on The Dick Cavett Show on November 2nd 1974, a performance later included on 2006's Dick Cavett Show DVD, the following year's CD/DVD edition of Young Americans, and as the B-side of 2014's Record Store Day reissue of the US single. After 1974 the number disappeared from Bowie's live repertoire. Tina Turner later covered the song on her 1984 (geddit?) album Private Dancer. In 2003 Bowie's original recording was included on a charity CD called Songs Inspired By Literature: Chapter 2, an educational fund-raiser produced by Artists For Literacy.
B-Side: September 1999
Bonus: 'hours...' (2004)
Enigmatic of title, this 'hours...' B-side builds guitars and synthesized strings over a programmed rhythm track borrowed from Led Zeppelin's 1975 classic "Kashmir" (it's probably coincidence, but 1917 was the year in which Count von Zeppelin died!). With vocals treated to the point that they blend unintelligibly with the organic whole, "1917" boasts the steely art-rock attack of Scary Monsters and, moreover, successfully regains its air of mystery.
1969 (The Stooges)
This song from The Stooges' self-titled debut album was performed on the 1977 Iggy Pop tour. Live versions featuring Bowie appear on various Iggy releases.
96 TEARS (Martinez)
This 1966 hit for the unusually named ? And The Mysterians was performed on the 1977 Iggy Pop tour.
NITE FLIGHTS (Engels)
Album: Black Tie White Noise
Bonus: Black Tie White Noise (2003)
Compilation: Sound + Vision (Expanded 2003 Reissue)
Download: June 2010
Video: Black Tie White Noise
Scott Walker was one of Bowie's unsung heroes, rarely discussed by commentators but often cited by David with such emphasis as to leave little doubt of his abiding influence. When Radio 1's fiftieth birthday tribute ChangesNowBowie secured a rare message from the reclusive Walker, in which he told how David had "freed so many artists" and thanked him "for all the years, and especially for your generosity of spirit," Bowie was more audibly choked than he had ever been in a broadcast interview. After a long pause he almost sobbed: "You've really got to me there, I'm afraid. I think he's probably been my idol since I was a kid. That's very moving...that's really thrown me. Thank you very much."
In 1993 David explained that "in the late seventies Scott Walker brought out the most extraordinary album of his own songwriting - quite the most lovely songs that I'd heard in years." The album in question was The Walker Brothers' Nite Flights, released in July 1978 only a few weeks in advance of Bowie's Lodger sessions. The title track seems more than likely to have influenced that album's "African Night Flight", but it would be another fifteen years before David covered the song itself.
Bowie's re-reading of "Nite Flights" proved to be one of the dramatic highlights of Black Tie White Noise, whose Euro-disco and jazz-funk fusions are here twisted into a darker soundscape, the most evocative of the album's many echoes of Bowie's Berlin period. Lyrically "Nite Flights" prompts Bowie towards the macabre surrealism of 1.Outside: "The dark dug up by dogs, the stitches torn and broke, the raw meat fist you choke has hit the bloodlight..."
A mimed studio performance appears in David Mallet's Black Tie White Noise documentary. A week after the filming, on May 13th 1993, Bowie gave a studio performance on NBC's The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. "Nite Flights" was slated as a possible fourth single from Black Tie but shelved after the unspectacular sales of "Miracle Goodnight". A 12" club promo released in 1993 contained the "Moodswings Remix" which reappeared as a bonus track on 2003's Black Tie White Noise reissue and, in "Radio Edit" form, on the same year's Sound + Vision repackage. Both these versions were later included on a 2010 download EP. The song was performed, very beautifully, on the Outside tour.
NO CONTROL (Bowie/Eno)
"No Control" darkens the tone of 1.Outside with a hard-edged synth bassline pitched somewhere between the Pet Shop Boys' bleaker moments and, of all things, Paul Hardcastle's 1985 hit "Nineteen". Bowie's menacing, nursery-rhyme vocal ("To be sung by Nathan Adler," according to the Outside tour brochure) conjures up memories of ancient tracks like "After All" and "The Man Who Sold The World", alluding to the latter's perennial Bowie anxiety about losing "control": "Stay away from the future, back away from the light / It's all deranged, no control / Sit tight in your corner, don't tell God your plans..." Middle Eastern wails of synthesizer build the atmosphere as Bowie dives into 1.Outside's abyss of paranoia, intellectual chaos and neo-spirituality.
"No Control" was recorded on January 20th 1995 and, according to Brian Eno's diary, was "effectively finished in the hour". Eno considered Bowie's vocal "gorgeous, mature. There's a stunning section in it where he alludes to that style of singing you get in Broadway musicals, when the hero looks up into the sun, one arm extended to the future, and sings in this gloriously open-throated, honest, touchingly trusting way...Watching him tune it to just the right pitch of sincerity and parody was one of the most fascinating things I've ever seen in a studio...It's funny that the song is called "No Control", because this performance by him is a paradigm of control."
"No Control", which might have made a fine single, is one of the few 1.Outside tracks that David never performed live. In 1998 a rare Dutch radio promo CD featured an instrumental version backing Bowie's spoken appeal on behalf of the War Child charity. A retooled version of "No Control" featured in The SpongeBob Musical, a big-budget stage show based on SpongeBob SquarePants which opened in Chicago in June 2016 in advance of a Broadway transfer. The mind boggles.
NO FUN (The Stooges)
The 1969 Stooges number, later covered by The Sex Pistols, was performed on the 1977 Iggy Pop tour. Live versions featuring Bowie appear on various Iggy releases.
NO ONE CALLS (Bowie/Gabrels)
B-Side: September 1999
Bonus: 'hours...' (2004)
With walls of queasy synthesizer and a Kraftwerk-style robotic rhythm, this cold and disturbing B-side surprisingly resurrects a sound Bowie had embraced on mid-1980s tracks like Labyrinth's "Within You"; in fact, the resemblance to Trevor Jones's incidental Labyrinth track "Thirteen O'Clock" is positively uncanny. Repetitive lyrical fragments suggest a return to the frozen, psychotic withdrawals of Low and 1.Outside ("Nobody calls, falling to pieces...nobody phones, anyone at all").
In July 1969, while participating in the Malta International Song Festival, David and his fellow contestants were invited to interpret a local song, adding lyrics of their own. David called his version "No-One Someone", and proceeded to deliver its one and only performance at the Valletta Hilton on July 27th.
Premiered in the musical Lazarus, in which it is sung by the mysterious Girl, "No Plan" is a yearning ballad in the "Comme D'Habitude"/"Life On Mars?" tradition. Lyrically it teases at a familiar thread, revisiting the "now, not tomorrow" manifesto of "Outside" in another of Bowie's "songs of nowness", a label he once bestowed on "Seven". This is Bowie laying to rest a specific anxiety that bubbles up in many of his songs (in "This Is Not America" he sings darkly of "tomorrow's plans"; in "No Control" he frets that "You've gotta have a scheme, you've gotta have a plan"; and only two years earlier he had released a sinister instrumental called "Plan"). Here we find a more philosophical approach, an existentialist plea for living life moment by self-determining moment: "Wherever I may go, just where, just there I am / All of the things that are my life, my desires, my beliefs, my moods / Here is my place, without a plan." During the Blackstar sessions Bowie cut his own version of "No Plan", a mesmerisingly beautiful recording graced by a limpid saxophone solo and a vocal which builds from plaintive beginning to a soaring climax. The backing track was recorded on January 7th 2015, with some of David's lead vocals taken from the same day's recording and the rest completed three days later.
NOBODY NEEDS YOUR LOVE (Newman)
Gene Pitney's 1966 hit, composed by Randy Newman, was played live in the same year by The Buzz.
NOON-LUNCHTIME see ERNIE JOHNSON
NOTHING TO BE DESIRED (Bowie/Eno/Garson/Campbell/Kizilcay/Gabrels)
US B-Side: September 1995
Bonus: 1.Outside (2004)
This 1.Outside out-take, a B-side in America and Canada and later a bonus track on Columbia's 2004 reissue of the album, reprises the relentless tumbling rhythm of "A Small Plot Of Land" and adds swathes of guitar, "Hearts Filthy Lesson"-style backing vocals and tinkling Garson piano. Bowie repeats an endless chant of the title and the phrase "mind-changing" until, just as the track fades away, he starts quoting the German lyric of "Helden". Mad, but strangely marvellous. An in-house Virgin promo cassette entitled B-Sides listed the track under the alternative title "Mind Change".
Some audiences on the 1989 Tin Machine tour were treated to this work-in-progress composition which, although a typical Tin Machine thrash-up, would prove of no little significance five years later as the basis for "Outside". "Now" was at best half-formed, beginning with a recreation of the power-chords and backbeats of the 1988 version of "Look Back In Anger" before slipping rather clumsily into the familiar opening chords of "Outside". The lyrics, although sketchy, were similar too those of the later track.
NOW THAT YOU WANT ME
This mysterious Bowie composition was apparently demoed in 1967.