PABLO PICASSO (Richman)
Reality's second track follows the example set by Heathen: once again, it's a cover version of an influential number by an eccentric Boston band, this time an exuberant reading of the Jonathan Richman classic "Pablo Picasso". Richman's original version was recorded in 1972, but shelved along with the rest of his early recordings until the release of his band's debut album The Modern Lovers in 1976 (by which time John Cale, who produced Richman's recording, had already included his own cover on his 1975 album Helen Of Troy). "There was something so light and dotty about his lyrics," recalled Bowie. "The stuff he used to write was insanely comical. I just salvaged this one from the past because I always thought it was a fantastically funny lyric." In another interview he confessed that "I've always wanted to do it. It's just a treat. On Heathen I did a piece by the Pixies, called "Cactus". "Pablo Picasso", at least the way we've done it, occupies a similar place on the album."
Showcasing Tony Visconti's virtuoso production, with a wall of squealing synthesizers underscoring slabs of guitar and wildly energetic percussion, Bowie's version supplants the minimalist deadpan of Richman's original with a faster, rockier interpretation which loses none of the original's tongue-in-cheek absurdity. Alongside some lyrical embellishments (the "Swinging on the back porch, jumping off a big log, Pablo's feeling better now, hanging by his fingernails" sequence is pure Bowie), perhaps the most flagrant addition is Gerry Leonard's stuttering Spanish guitar, a wilfully corny reminder of Picasso's nationality which serves the same tongue-in-cheek purpose as the Asian riff imposed on "China Girl" by Nile Rodgers twenty years earlier. "Apologies now to Jonathan Richman," laughed Bowie in 2003, "but I took the lyrics and made a song that is completely different. The original is a little dirge-like, and it's all on one note. It doesn't move much, which gives it a power, but it gives it the power of another era. I wanted to change the era and give it a more contemporary feel."
"Pablo Picasso" was performed throughout A Reality Tour.
Album: Black Tie White Noise
B-Side: March 1993
A-Side: August 1997
B-Side: August 1997
Bonus: Black Tie White Noise (2003)/Earthling (2004)
Compilation: Sound + Vision (Expanded 2003 Reissue)
Download: June 2010
Demonstrating that it was Bowie's then unfashionable image and not his music that unfairly militated against him in the 1990s, when club promos of "Pallas Athena" were released anonymously ahead of Black Tie White Noise the track became a hit on American dance floors. It's the first of several dance instrumentals Bowie recorded in the 1990s, its fashionable club beats overlaid with a distorted vocal sample proclaiming "God is on top of it all - that's all!" Although Bowie claimed to the NME in 1993 that "I don't know what the fuck it's about," he is unlikely to have forgotten that Pallas Athena, who sprang from the brow of Zeus, was "the same old painted lady from the brow of the superbrain" he had evoked over 20 years earlier in "Song For Bob Dylan". But if the music bears any relation to Bowie's previous output, it's the second side of Low with an added disco beat, and in many ways this anticipates much of his remaining work of the decade. In Arena magazine in 1993, David's personal assistant Coco Schwab described him "grinning happily, dancing wildly all over the studio, listening to the first mix of "Pallas Athena" - still excited after all these years..."
Bowie gave a playback performance of "Pallas Athena" on The Arsenio Hall Show on May 6th 1993 and went on to perform the number on the Earthling tour, from which a live version recorded in Amsterdam was released on the Tao Jones Index 12", the "Seven Years In Tibet " CD and later as a bonus track on the 2004 reissue of Earthling. Various other remixes have appeared as B-sides and on 2003's reissues of Black Tie White Noise and Sound + Vision, and on 2010's download EP.
Two songs, composed by Andrée Giroud and Willy Albimoor for the Belgian singer Dee Dee, were farmed out to Bowie by Essex Music in mid-1967 for English lyrics. David titled his versions "Love Is Always" and "Pancho", and Dee Dee's recordings duly appeared as a single in Belgium (Palette PB 25.579) on June 10th 1967, a few days after the release of David Bowie. David's demos of both songs, prepared to demonstrate the pronunciation of the English lyrics, still exist on tape. In 1997 a cover of "Pancho" (about a Latin ladykiller from the wrong side of the tracks) appeared on RCA's easy-listening compilation Another Crazy Cocktail Party.
PANIC IN DETROIT
Album: Aladdin Sane
B-Side: September 1974
Live: Bowie Rare/Live Nassau Coliseum '76 (included on 2010 Reissue of Station To Station)
Bonus: Scary Monsters/Heathen/David Live (Expanded 2005 Reissue)
Like most of Aladdin Sane, "Panic In Detroit" was written in America during the autumn of 1972. Iggy Pop, who flew from Los Angeles to be at Bowie's Carnegie Hall concert on September 28th, apparently spent the night telling David colourful stories about the Detroit revolutionaries he had known during his youth in Michigan. Thus emerged the gun-toting Che Guevara lookalike at the centre of the lawless urban meltdown of "Panic In Detroit", alluding to Iggy's tales of the city's notorious five-day riot of 1967 and to Detroit's counter-cultural hero John Sinclair, manager of the MC5 and founder of the White Panther Party. David later cited another source, claiming that after the same Carnegie Hall gig he was astounded to meet a former classmate from Bromley Tech who had come to pay his respects: "It was somebody who I used to go to school with who ended up as a very big drugs dealer in South America. And he flew in to see one of the shows and reintroduced himself. 'I don't believe it,' I said, 'Is this what you are now?' He was the full bit, with the clothes and the piece and everything, and I thought, my God - him?"
The song was written the following month - allegedly in Detroit itself, where The Spiders played on October 8th - but the studio version was not completed until January 24th 1973, when David's vocal was laid down at the end of the Aladdin Sane sessions at Trident. The lyric pursues the album's brutal visions of urban America, riddled with images of violence juxtaposed with celebrity ("I asked for an autograph"), drugs ("scored", "made a run"), emotional isolation ("I wish someone would phone") and suicide ("found him slumped across the table, a gun and me alone"). Musically, the track has one eye on Bowie's past and another on his future: building on one of David's customary Bo Diddley riffs, Mick Ronson's guitar is never more bluesy than here, and there are some full-throated soul backings from Linda Lewis and Juanita Franklin.
Trevor Bolder later recalled a dispute arising in the studio when Woody Woodmansey refused to play the Bo Diddley drum figure requested by David, apparently retorting, "No way, it's too obvious." The addition of Geoff MacCormack's congas would eventually achieve the effect that David wanted, and with hindsight the episode offers an early indication of the growing dissent which, a few months later, would see Woodmansey become the first of The Spiders to be ousted.
"Panic In Detroit" was added to the live set for the 1973 US tour, although it remained a rarity in The Spiders' repertoire. It returned more prominently for the Diamond Dogs show, from which a splendid live version appeared as the "Knock On Wood" B-side and later on Bowie Rare, before finally being installed in its rightful place on the 2005 reissue of David Live. The song reappeared on the Station To Station tour, from which another fine version was included on Live Nassau Coliseum '76: while the CD and vinyl formats had a heavily edited 6'02" version, those wishing to savour the unexpurgated splendour of Dennis Davis's drum solo were offered a remix of the full-length 13'08" recording as an exclusive download. The song later appeared on the Sound + Vision, Earthling and A Reality tours.
A new studio version was cut in December 1979, originally intended for broadcast on ITV's The "Will Kenny Everett Make It To 1980?" Show. In addition to Bowie on guitar and vocals, the musicians on this recording were Zaine Griff on bass, Andy Duncan on drums and Tony Visconti (who also produced the track) on guitar and backing vocals. In the end the 1979 version of "Panic In Detroit" was dropped in favour of the same session's acoustic re-recording of "Space Oddity", and it eventually appeared as a bonus track on Scary Monsters and on the bonus disc included with initial pressings of Heathen. Although inferior to the original it's an interesting curio, incorporating the "Speak And Spell" toy (or, to be more accurate, Tony Visconti's heavily treated vocal impersonation of it) a good three years before OMD's "Genetic Engineering".
The original version of "Panic In Detroit" appeared in the soundtrack of Michael Moore's 1997 documentary film The Big One, and was also heard in the 2010 film The Kids Are All Right. Finally, an honourable mention for the theme tune of the seminal BBC kids' show Cheggers Plays Pop, which fused the "Panic In Detroit" riff to Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" with immortal results.
THE PASSENGER (Pop/Gardiner)
This classic track on Iggy Pop's Lust For Life was co-produced by Bowie, who also plays piano and provides some unmistakable backing vocals. David had no hand in writing the song which, as Iggy later explained, took shape when Ricky Gardiner's infectious guitar riff prompted some rapidly penned lyrics based on a Jim Morrison poem "about modern life as a journey by car": the work in question is Morrison's Notes On Vision, a long, rambling piece which at one point refers to "The Passenger" who "slice through cities, whose ripped backsides present a moving picture of windows, signs, streets, buildings." Some have also seen Iggy's lyric as a portrait of Bowie himself as the ever-observant traveller, cultural sponge and style-collector. "The Passenger" became the B-side to the flop "Success" single in October 1977, but became a hit in its own right after featuring in a car commercial twenty years later. Siouxsie And The Banshees' cover was a minor UK hit in 1987.
PEACE ON EARTH/LITTLE DRUMMER BOY (Grossman/Fraser/Kohan; Davis/Onorati/Simeone)
A-Side: October 1982
Bonus: The Singles 1969 to 1993 (US)
Live Video: Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas/Bing Crosby: The Television Specials Volume 2
Bowie's duet with Bing Crosby was recorded at ATV's Elstree Studios on September 11th 1977 for the 50-minute television special Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas. Only two days earlier, David had taped his appearance with Marc Bolan on Granada's Marc. "Poor old Bing copped it as well just after I'd done this with him" David later recalled. "I was getting seriously worried about whether I should appear on TV because everyone I was going on with was kicking it the following week." Crosby collapsed and died in Madrid on October 14th.
Like the Marc show, Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas allowed David to perform "Heroes" (featuring a superb new vocal and a shock reprise of Ziggy's invisible-wall mime), but the main attraction was his duet with the great man. Conforming to the old-fashioned variety style so mercilessly satirised by Steve Coogan's Knowing Me, Knowing Yule, the show had Bing answering the doorbell to welcome various celebrity visitors to his festive home. After a cosy chit-chat about what went on in "the Bowie household at Christmas time" (ironically, Angela Bowie's conduct was to make Christmas 1977 one of the more turbulent times in that particular residence), David invited Bing to join him in a seasonal duet which he described as "my son's favourite".
In reality, the story behind the choice of number wasn't quite so harmonious. The original intention of the show's musical supervisors, Ian Fraser and Larry Grossman, had been to record a straightforward rendition of "Little Drummer Boy", the popular song adapted from a traditional Czech carol in the 1940s and established as a Yuletide favourite after the huge success of the 1958 recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale. However, as Ian Fraser recalled many years later, "David came in and said, 'I hate this song. Is there something else I could sing?' We didn't know quite what to do." Fraser and Grossman left the set and found a piano in a basement room at Elstree where, together with the show's scriptwriter Buz Kohan, they proceeded to write the original "Peace On Earth" lyrics and counter-melody from scratch in little more than an hour. Bowie and Crosby then nailed their performance with less than an hour of rehearsal time, and from adversity came triumph: "Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy" has since become a Christmas standard in its own right, and although it's certainly one of the more surreal moments in Bowie's career, only the most hard-hearted could fail to agree that it achieves its aims with considerable charm.
"He was not there at all," Bowie recalled of Crosby in 1999. "He had the words in front of him. 'Hi Dave, nice to see ya here...' And he looked like a little old orange sitting on a stool. He'd been made up very heavily and his skin was a bit pitted, and there was just nobody home at all, you know? It was the most bizarre experience. I didn't know anything about him. I just knew my mother liked him."
The show was broadcast on Christmas Eve 1977. Five years later "Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy" was released as a Christmas single by RCA, a piece of opportunism which did little to improve Bowie's relationship with his soon-to-be-former label. The single, which peaked at number 3, has since appeared on numerous Christmas compilations, although its only official release on a Bowie collection to date was a limited-edition bonus disc with the American compilation The Singles 1969 to 1993. Enhanced CD singles featuring the video clip in various stages of software evolution were released on the American label Oglio in 1995, 1998 and 2003, and the song has latterly become available through its inclusion in various download collections. November 2010 brought a limited-edition red vinyl 7" reissue backed by a 1953 Bing Crosby/Ella Fitzgerald duet of "White Christmas", while both of these tracks and the Crosby/Bowie video clip were included in the same month's Bing Crosby download The Digital Christmas EP. For both of these releases the title was restyled "The Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth".
In 2001 a cover version by musical theatre stars Anthony Rapp and Everett Bradley was included on the AIDS charity album Broadway Cares: Home For The Holidays, while in December 2008 another charity cover was released as a single in aid of the BBC's Children In Need, with Aled Jones and Terry Wogan taking on the Bowie and Crosby parts respectively. It matched the original's chart performance by reaching number 3 in the UK.
Two tongue-in-cheek versions recorded by American comedians appeared in December 2010: one was a rocked-up cover by Jack Black and Jason Segel in aid of the Blue Star Families charity, the other a lovingly faithful parody by Will Ferrell and John C Reilly, complete with a video which painstakingly recreated the entire Bowie/Bing preamble in forensic detail, for the Funny Or Die website. In the same year the Irish trio The Priests recorded a cover for their Christmas album Noel, and taped a second version with guest vocalist Shane McGowan: this recording was released as a single in December 2010, but sadly failed to prevent the X Factor finalists' version of "Heroes" from topping the UK chart.
Mixed by Bowie for Iggy And The Stooges' 1973 album Raw Power.
PEOPLE ARE TURNING TO GOLD see ASHES TO ASHES
PEOPLE FROM BAD HOMES
This obscure Bowie composition was recorded by the Astronettes in late 1973 and eventually released on 1995's People From Bad Homes, later appearing on the 2006 compilation Oh! You Pretty Things. It's a meandering soul-pop number propelled by electric keyboard and boasting a jaunty sax solo from David. The lyric is less than inspiring, although the exhortation to face down detractors ("Just stand on your own line, stand high above") echoes "I Am Divine" ("I walk a fine line") and prefigures "Golden Years" with its injunction to "walk tall, act fine". The title was later recycled in the lyric of "Fashion".
PEOPLE HAVE THE POWER (Smith/Smith)
Bowie provided backing vocals during Patti Smith's rousing performances of her 1988 single (from the same year's album Dream Of Life) which concluded each of the Tibet House Benefit concerts on February 26th 2001 and February 22nd 2002.
PERFECT DAY (Reed)
Co-produced by Bowie for Lou Reed's Transformer, and benefiting from Mick Ronson's limpid piano and beautiful string arrangement, "Perfect Day" has taken its place in the pantheon of classic rock ballads. Even to the uninitiated it's familiar from a dozen films and commercials, perhaps most famously 1996's Trainspotting (although the notion that the lyric might be addressed to heroin rather than to a lover predates that film by many years). Countless covers include a 1995 version by Kirsty MacColl and Evan Dando, and another - produced by Ken Scott - on Duran Duran's 1995 album Thank You.
In September 1997 both Bowie and Reed featured in the BBC's new recording of "Perfect Day", for which individual lines were taped by a plethora of celebrity artists across the spectrum of musical styles as an extended advertisement for the Corporation's public service remit. A more bizarre choice of song as the vessel for an exercise in corporate branding would be difficult to imagine, but somehow it worked. Among those also taking part were Bono, Suzanne Vega, Elton John, Boyzone, the Brodsky Quartet, Lesley Garrett, Tammy Wynette, Dr John, Burning Spear, Shane McGowan, Courtney Pine, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Laurie Anderson, Tom Jones and Joan Armatrading. "It's a way of saying thank you for The Flowerpot Men," said Bowie, who appeared in the accompanying video in a loose-fitting Asian suit and enormous earring of the kind he had taken to wearing on the Earthling tour. "Perfect Day '97" attracted enormous interest and in November it was released as a single in aid of the BBC's Children In Need charity, going straight to number 1 in the UK. The "Male Version" B-side reused Bowie's vocal contribution, while a new CD released in June 2000 featured the 1997 tracks and video, plus a new performance (featuring Reed but not Bowie) from the BBC's Music Live event.
Also documented as "Piano-La", this is one of two demos in collaboration with former Velvet Underground maestro John Cale. The recordings took place at New York's Ciarbis Studios on October 15th 1979. The two-minute "Pianola" reveals little of Bowie, who merely provides some "la la la" vocals to Cale's Chopinesque piano backing. "Yeah, that's Bowie wailing away in the background," Cale confirmed several years later, while in 2000 David recalled the songs in an online chat: "As far as I know, these have always just been bootleg songs. Unfortunately, there is nothing at a higher quality to release. I would grab those bootlegs when you see them. Don't say you heard it from me."
The second number, "Velvet Couch", is a little longer and more melodically finished but is likewise no more than a rough piano demo, featuring an ad-libbed and almost inaudible vocal in which David sings about "a red velvet couch with no guitar". In the same year Bowie appeared on stage with Cale and Philip Glass in New York, but despite claims to the contrary he is unlikely to have played on a series of further Cale demos, dated May 1979, which have appeared on bootlegs.
"We were partying very hard," Cale later recalled of the time he spent with Bowie in 1979. "It was exciting working with him, as there were a lot of possibilities and everything, but we were our own worst enemies at that point...We got along really well, but most of what we were doing was just partying."
The performing rights organisation BMI lists this mysterious title as a Bowie composition, published by his company Tintoretto Music.
A PICTURE OF YOU
Thought to date from 1967, the lyrics of this discarded Bowie composition might have been influenced by The Who's "Pictures Of Lily". "I've got everything a young man could want / Now all I need is a picture of you", David begins, and proceeds to wheedle and beg for the said memento at the end of every couplet. The eventual punchline is that he wants to be in the photo himself ("I'm longing to see a picture of you / Looking so good in a picture with me"), but the most noteworthy line comes halfway through, in a startlingly close prefiguration of David's post-Hermione lament "An Occasional Dream": "There's a space on my wall, empty of joy / I wish I could place there a picture of you."
PICTURES OF LILY (Townshend)
Compilation: Substitute: The Songs Of The Who
In October 2000, towards the end of the Toy sessions at Looking Glass Studios, Bowie recorded a cover version of The Who's 1967 hit "Pictures Of Lily" for inclusion on the 2001 tribute album Substitute: The Songs Of The Who. Masterminded by Cast producer Bob Pridden, the album included covers by Pearl Jam, Sheryl Crow, Paul Weller and Stereophonics but, as Pridden later remarked, "things really began to take off when David Bowie agreed to record "Pictures Of Lily"."
David, who apparently joined the project at the request of Pete Townshend, described his version as "Rather glam, actually. We slowed it down quite a lot. I'm pleased to say that Pete liked it, so that makes me pretty happy." Accompanied by Sterling Campbell on drums and Mark Plati on guitar and bass, David himself plays the Stylophone, an instrument already revived for some of the Toy tracks. All three provide backing vocals in a lush, multi-tracked and guitar-heavy arrangement which, as Bowie pointed out, is considerably slower than the original and succeeds in emphasising the lyric's wistful subject matter. Popularly assumed to be a hymn to teenage masturbation, "Pictures Of Lily" was described by Townshend in 1967 as "a look back to that period in every boy's life when he has pin-ups. The idea was inspired by a picture my girlfriend had on her wall of an old vaudeville star - Lily Baylis. It was an old 1920s postcard and someone had written on it, 'Here's another picture of Lily'. It made me think that everyone has a pin-up period." It seems likely that Townshend was in fact thinking of Lillie Langtry, who did indeed die in 1929 as in his lyric; Lilian Baylis (1874-1937) was a noted theatre manager.
Prior to the album's release, Bowie's "Pictures Of Lily" was included on a three-track sampler CD made available via an exclusive offer to purchasers of the Daily Telegraph.
Bonus: The Next Day/The Next Day Extra
B-Side: August 2013
First heard underscoring the opening sequence of the video for "The Stars (Are Out Tonight), and subsequently released as a bonus track, the enigmatically titled "Plan" presents several features of interest. It's the first instrumental track (and, at just over two minutes, the shortest track of any kind) on a Bowie album since "Brilliant Adventure" back in 1999, and it has the distinction of being played almost entirely by David himself. Using Zachary Alford's drum part for "The Informer", recorded some months earlier, Bowie built up the rest of the track during a two-day session on January 19th-20th 2012, playing keyboards, additional percussion and guitars, including the vintage Sunburst Fender Stratocaster which he was given as a present by Marc Bolan after appearing on the latter's television show back in 1977. On "Plan", Bowie uses Bolan's Strat to deliver a series of ominous power-twangs not dissimilar to those he would later play on the same instrument for "Lazarus". The overall effect is sinister and hypnotic, and one can't help but feel that "Plan" is rather cut adrift as a bonus track when it might have made a splendid opening gambit for the album proper. "Plan" later became the B-side of the 7" "Valentine's Day" picture disc.
PLANET OF DREAMS (Bowie/Dorsey)
Compilation: Long Live Tibet
This exclusive track on the 1997 charity album Long Live Tibet, credited to David Bowie and Gail Ann Dorsey, is a rather old-fashioned affair propelled by a grandiose piano somewhere between late-1970s Elton John and Talk Talk's "Life's What You Make It". The slight lyric has a vague echo of Lou Reed (David sings of "the poor huddled on the kerb" and "pain that comes and goes"), an impression pushed home when Gail launches into a "do-do-do" backing vocal straight from "Walk On The Wild Side".
PLAY IT SAFE (Pop/Bowie)
Bowie's only collaboration on Iggy Pop's 1980 album Soldier was recorded in May 1979 at Rockfield Studios in Monmouthshire, during a break from promoting Lodger. As well as co-writing the song Bowie sang backing vocals with various members of Simple Minds, who were recording Empires And Dance in the neighbouring studio. Simple Minds had initially asked Bowie to play saxophone on one of their tracks, but David declined and roped them into the Iggy session instead.
PLEASE DON'T TOUCH see SWEET JANE
PLEASE MR GRAVEDIGGER
Album: David Bowie
Bowie's first recording of this number, made on October 18th 1966 at R G Jones Studios under the working title "The Gravedigger", was believed lost for over forty years until an acetate was unearthed by a private collector in 2007. Featuring a minimalist electric organ and a comparatively conventional vocal in place of the elaborate sound effects and comically bunged-up delivery which distinguish the later version, the original runs to a far shorter 1'54" and includes a couple of minor lyrical variations.
This initial recording was part of the three-song package with which Ken Pitt succeeded in selling Bowie to the Deram label, and on December 13th 1966 "Please Mr Gravedigger" was re-recorded for inclusion on David Bowie. Reinvented more as an experimental tone-poem than a song, the album version features no instruments: instead atmospheric sound effects of church bells, birdsong, thunder and rain underscore David's a capella vocal, delivered in a congested whine and punctuated by sniffs and sneezes, as he enacts the role of a grumbling child-murderer, contemplating his next victim in the shadows of a Lambeth graveyard. It's hardly Anthony Newley, but it's certainly a black joke at the expense of music-hall numbers like "Oh Mr Porter", pop hits like the Marvelettes' "Please Mr Postman" and perhaps a macabre response to the mid-1960s vogue for bubblegum "death-discs" like "Leader Of The Pack". In his biography Starman, Paul Trynka proposes that the song is "obviously" a "tasteless and exploitative" response to the jailing just a few months earlier of the Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.
Engineer Gus Dudgeon painted a vivid picture of the recording session for David Buckley, indicating that even at this stage in his career Bowie was adopting unorthodox studio methods in order to get into a role: "What I remember is Bowie standing there wearing a pair of cans with his collar turned up as if he was in the rain, hunched over, shuffling about in a box of gravel. And you thought Brian Wilson had lost it!" Dudgeon also revealed that he had mixed feelings about Bowie's comic contraction of the doomed "Mr Gravedigger" to "Mr G D": "They're my initials and it bugs me!"
The stereo and mono versions of the David Bowie album use subtly different mixes of the backing track, distinguishable by the contrasting bursts of nightingale song throughout the number. Unlikely as it may seem, Bowie performed a mime to the backing track of "Please Mr Gravedigger" on German TV's 4-3-2-1 Musik Fur Junge Leute on February 27th 1968.
Recorded in Montreux in September 1978, this unreleased track from the Lodger sessions is a stately, ambient synthesizer instrumental in the tradition of Low's second side, its closest relative probably "Art Decade".
PORT OF AMSTERDAM see AMSTERDAM
PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST see FANTASTIC VOYAGE
THE PRETTIEST STAR
A-Side: March 1970
Album: Aladdin Sane
Compilation: Sound + Vision/The Best Of David Bowie 1969/1974/Space Oddity (2009)
Bonus: Re:Call 1
Reputedly played down the telephone in December 1969 as part of David's marriage proposal to Angela Barnett (she was spending Christmas in Cyprus while waiting for her British visa to be reinstated), "The Prettiest Star" is unlikely ever to be hailed as one of Bowie's key songs - but his vow that "One day...you and I will rise up all the way" is a rousing mission-statement on the eve of the decade he and Angie were to conquer. Like many Bowie compositions of this vintage, it owes a debt to Biff Rose's 1968 album The Thorn In Mrs Rose's Side, the finger pointing in this case to "Angel Tension": for Bowie's "staying back in your memory", read Rose's "going back in memory", while the tempo, phrasing and chord changes dispel any reasonable doubt that the number was in David's head when he composed "The Prettiest Star".
The original version was begun at Trident on January 8th 1970, Bowie's twenty-third birthday, and completed on January 13th and 15th. Not long afterwards the song received its first public airing in the live BBC session recorded on February 5th. The single appeared a month later on March 6th, a fortnight ahead of the Bowies' wedding. As the follow-up to "Space Oddity" it received considerable coverage in the music press, garnering positive reviews in the NME" ("a thoroughly charming and wholly fascinating little song...the self-penned lyric is enchanting, if somewhat enigmatic - and the melody is haunting and hummable...I like it immensely"), Music Business Weekly ("an immediately infectious number and a very strong follow-up"), Record Mirror ("a melodic and interesting production...chart cert") and Disc & Music Echo ("a lovely, gentle, gossamer piece...the most compact, catchy melody I've ever heard. A hit indeed"). Such predictions were quickly dashed, however: the single sold fewer than 800 copies and failed to chart. With the help of photographer Vernon Dewhurst, who had shot the portrait featured on the cover of the Space Oddity album, David arranged for a promo copy to be sent to Sacha Distel, whose hit "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" was riding high in the charts. However, any hope that Distel might record a cover version was short-lived: the French crooner's enthusiasm for "The Prettiest Star" was no greater than that of the record-buying public.
The 1970 mono single was later included on Sound + Vision and Re:Call 1, while a previously unavailable stereo version mixed in 1987 by Tris Penna appeared on The Best Of David Bowie 1969/1974, 2003's reissued Sound + Vision, and the 2009 edition of Space Oddity. Although it's one of Bowie's more pedestrian recordings of the period, sounding positively turgid by comparison with the sparkly Aladdin Sane version, it's assured a place in the history books by virtue of its lead guitarist being one Marc Bolan. The two future stars had known each other since 1964, and the ties had been reinforced by Tony Visconti's production work with both. In 1969 Bowie had supported Bolan on tour, and mutual jam sessions at Visconti's flat were commonplace. Bolan's appearance on "The Prettiest Star" (and possibly on the re-recording of "London Bye Ta-Ta" which was cut during the same session) was instigated by Visconti, who also hired drummer Godfrey McLean and bassist Delisle Harper, members of the band Gass with whom the producer had recently cut a single. "I thought they were great musicians so I gave them a break," Visconti later recalled of the Gass players. "The bassist didn't do so well, so I played the bass as an overdub. I never worked with any of them again afterwards." As for Bowie's collaboration with Bolan, Visconti believed that "that was the only time when they could have worked together; the only time their egos would have allowed it. But you could tell the rivalry between them was there. Marc was OK about it. He loved the fact he'd been asked to play electric guitar on that record because he'd only just out of his acoustic days on his own releases. But June, Marc's wife, sat through the playback, announced that the best thing about the record was Marc's playing, and walked out of the room." Many years later, Bowie recalled that "I don't think we were talking to each other that day. I can't remember why, but I remember a very strange atmosphere in the studio. We were never in the same room at the same time. You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife."
Later in 1970 Bolan's chart career took off, depriving Bowie of Tony Visconti but, it has often been suggested, offering the essential competition that would galvanise him into action. Once Ziggy Stardust had assured Bowie's place in the rock firmament two years later, his old friend's jealousy was never far from the surface: at the end of 1972 Bolan told the press that "With no disrespect to David, it's much too soon to put him in the same class as me," and that Bowie was "very much a one-hit wonder, I'm afraid." The pair's much-vaunted rivalry has been the subject of many a secondhand anecdote, but Visconti, uniquely qualified to discuss the subject, told Dave Thompson in his book Moonage Daydream that the relationship was a complex one: "Marc was in rivalry with everybody. He simply couldn't stand attention going in anyone else's direction. He was a total megalomaniac, God bless him. David, on the other hand, is very gregarious, a very open-minded person, and apart from a normal, healthy type of rivalry he was never obsessed with Bolan...David always loved Marc, he loved to be with him, he would come home after a social session with Marc feeling quite hurt after Marc had taken too many digs at him...But there was a lot of love between them...Bowie never had anything but kind words to say about him." Despite a few mid-1970s jams in Los Angeles, the two only worked together in public once more (see "Sitting Next To You").
In addition to its appearances on various Bowie compilations, the 1970 recording of "The Prettiest Star" was later included on the 2002 Marc Bolan box set 20th Century Superstar, the 2007 compilation The Record Producers: Tony Visconti, and the soundtrack of the 2005 film Kinky Boots. Meanwhile, in 1973 "The Prettiest Star" was re-recorded in its more familiar Aladdin Sane version, complete with 1950s doo-wop backings and a meaty guitar solo from Mick Ronson. The lyrical references to screen starlets and "the movies in the past" fit snugly with the nostalgic Hollywood themes found elsewhere on Aladdin Sane. This version provided inspiration for one of the most underrated British guitar talents: Marco Pirroni, best known for his work with Adam Ant and Sinead O'Connor, said in 1999 that "Mick Ronson was a huge influence on The Ants," and described the Aladdin Sane take of "The Prettiest Star" as "the best guitar sound ever...Ronson has got this brilliant, over-driven, mad guitar sound. I'm still trying to get that sound today." Ian McCulloch pulled of an excellent impersonation of it on his 2003 cover version, recorded for Uncut magazine's Starman CD and released as a B-side on the same year's single "Love In Veins"; McCulloch also included the number in his live repertoire. A version by former child actor and future film composer Simon Turner (at the time a teenage protégé of Jonathan King, who attempted to market him as Britain's answer to David Cassidy) was released without success as a single in 1973, and later appeared on the 2006 compilation Oh! You Pretty Things.
PRETTY PINK ROSE
A-Side: May 1990
Originally demoed in early 1988 (see "Like A Rolling Stone") before becoming a Tin Machine reject, "Pretty Pink Rose" was brought to fruition in January 1990 when it was re-recorded for inclusion on Young Lions, the fifth solo album by Sound + Vision tour guitarist Adrian Belew. "I sent him five tracks that didn't have any vocals," said Belew later, "and he sent me back a song called "Pretty Pink Rose" that he hadn't used but thought it might fit in with my album. We went to record that in New York and because we'd been rehearsing for the tour, his voice was shot. He said, "I'm sorry, but I can't sing it today." I said okay, I'd work on another song that hadn't got vocals and he could go home and rest. But he said, "Let me hear that." He began writing lyrics and about half an hour later, he'd finished a song called "Gunman". I was amazed. He then went in and sang it two or three times and that was it."
Both "Gunman" and "Pretty Pink Rose" subsequently appeared on Young Lions in May 1990 while the latter was released as a single: some formats featured the full-length album version, while others opted for a shorter 4'09" remix which dropped Belew's guitar from the intro and removed the second verse, instead substituting a further iteration of the third (possibly to avoid offending the usual suspect's with "The left wing's broken, the right's insane...Have a nice day, it's a killer, turn a cheek, it's a Christian code"). A slightly longer 4'16" version of the single mix appeared on US and Spanish promos, while Adrian Belew's 2007 download album Dust features an instrumental version on which Bowie intones the deathless spoken prologue: "She had tits like melons - it was love in the rain." (There is, of course, a precedent for the appearance of such lofty subject matter among Bowie's discarded lyrics: for further melon-related hilarity, see "Oh! You Pretty Things").
Although credited to "Adrian Belew featuring David Bowie", "Pretty Pink Rose" is dominated by David's vocal performance: Belew gets to sing the second half of each verse and the choruses are shared, so it's certainly a duet, but the overwhelming impression is of a Bowie single in all but name. It's a great song, too, powered along by searing guitar and featuring some fabulously barmy lyrics ("She's the poor man's gold, she's the anarchist crucible, flying in the face of the despot cannibal..."). The video, directed by "Time Will Crawl" veteran Tim Pope, features Bowie and Belew in their Sound + Vision regalia, succumbing to the charms of Julie T Wallace (then familiar as the star of the BBC's sexual melodrama The Life And Loves Of A She-Devil), resplendent in traditional Russian dress. The single didn't chart, which is a pity as it might have been a hit if released under Bowie's name. "Pretty Pink Rose" was performed throughout the Sound + Vision tour.
Album: Tin Machine
Although the title conjures up memories of past glories (and in case of doubt, the chorus goes "Oh, you pretty thing!"), this is sadly one of the least engaging tracks on Tin Machine. The initial stop-start dynamics are fun, owing an obvious debt to "Don't Bring Me Down", one of the Pin Ups covers originally recorded by (who else?) The Pretty Things, but the track degenerates into one of Tin Machine's blustering rock-outs - and the laddish, sexist lyrics are beyond the pale. When Q asked him about the line "Tie you down, pretend you're Madonna," Bowie slipped into the least appealing side of his 1989 idiom ("Hey, we were hanging out with Sean and he told us a few things! You know what I mean?") before back-pedalling rapidly ("Nah, it's a throwaway. I was just trying to think of a - it's such a silly song anyway.").
A performance-style excerpt of "Pretty Thing", featuring Bowie gliding above the crowd on a hydraulic arm, was included in Julien Temple's 1989 Tin Machine video. The song was played on both Tin Machine tours.
THE PRETTY THINGS ARE GOING TO HELL (Bowie/Gabrels)
Australian A-Side: September 1999
B-Side: January 2000
B-Side: July 2000
Bonus: 'hours...' (2004)
Starting life as an instrumental track originally intended for Reeves Gabrels's solo album Ulyssses (della notte), "The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell" was furnished with lyrics by Bowie, whose self-referential title simultaneously recalls "Oh! You Pretty Things", "Pretty Thing", 1960s beat group The Pretty Things (as covered on Pin Ups), and Iggy And The Stooges' Raw Power track "Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell". According to Gabrels, the track was "one of the first songs we recorded, but one of the last to get completed vocals. The main guitars took me about 20 minutes to do in London, February 1999, and the vocals are largely from a rough vocal demo done in May 1999. I thought that it was going to remain unfinished but it lived through David's period of dislike for it to become a fan favourite."
The result is the rockiest piece on 'hours...', fusing a chugging glam-punk bassline with "Little Wonder"-style blasts of guitar and some manic "Diamond Dogs" cowbell percussion. The nervy references to "reaching the very edge" and "going to the other side" restate Bowie's efforts to position himself outside the mainstream, but he explained that the lyric was chiefly inspired by the same source as 1973's "Aladdin Sane": "I think these are rough times," he told Uncut. "It's a tough period to live in. And I was thinking of that Evelyn Waugh idea of the bright young things, the pretty things...I think their day is numbered. So I thought, well, let's close them off. They wore it well but they did wear themselves out, y'know, there's not much room for that now. It's a very serious little world."
The darkly funny observations that "they wore it out but they wore it well", with its promise of a damnation that is at least stylish, recollects the cultural critiques of "Teenage Wildlife" and "Fashion", as does the quasi-Biblical enquiry "What is eternal, what is damned? / What is clay and what is sand?" This is Bowie at his most mischievous, turning the tables on his own premonition in "Changes" that "pretty soon now you're gonna get older" when he crows, "I found the secrets, I found gold / I find you out before you grow old."
A remixed version featured in the film Stigmata, whose soundtrack album was released two months ahead of 'hours...'. The Stigmata album mix differs from the minute-long snippet heard in the film itself, and yet another variant Stigmata version appeared on the "Survive" CD single. The Stigmata version also featured in Omikron: The Nomad Soul, while the original recording was later used in the soundtrack of the 2001 film Fat Girl. The song replaced the "Thursday's Child" single in Australia and Japan, yielding a further edit which also appeared on a US promo. This and the two Stigmata mixes were later included as bonus tracks on the 2004 reissue of 'hours...'.
The little-known video, directed by Dom and Nic of "I'm Afraid Of Americans" fame, was shot at New York's Kit Kat Club on September 7th 1999. In keeping with the retrospective mood of the album, the video features David rehearsing the number on stage while being haunted by life-size puppets of four of his past incarnations: Ziggy Stardust, the dress-wearing Man Who Sold The World, the Thin White Duke and the "Ashes To Ashes" Pierrot. The puppets, constructed by Jim Henson's Creature Shop at a reported £7000 each, appear to represent one of Bowie's most pressing concerns as an artist: the constant struggle to avoid being overwhelmed by his own past. Canadian actor Chad Richardson secured the supporting role of Bowie's young alter ego after imitating his Ziggy-era mannerisms at an audition. Richardson told reporters that "at the very end of the video, where I'm the new Bowie re-born, it was very cool because Bowie was watching...and he said, 'Oh my God, it's unbelievable. You've got all my moves down proper. I can't believe it'." Sadly the video was never released. "It was abandoned after we found that the puppets ended up looking like puppets," David explained a year later. "What I mean is it didn't have the East European darkness that Dom and Nic had wanted to achieve. Some of it is downright funny and I'm sure it will make its way onto a video compilation one of these days - to be a source of endless amusement to you all and another form of Chinese torture for myself." The video eventually turned up online in 2014.
"The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell" was played live on the 1999-2000 dates; a live version recorded in New York on November 19th 1999 appeared on some formats of the "Seven" single.
THE PRINCE'S PANTIES (Williams)
This whimsical Biff Rose-style number about a prince who gets eaten by his dogs (the "panties" of the title) was composed by the American songwriter Mason Williams, best known for his guitar instrumental "Classical Gas". Both tracks appear on his February 1968 album The Mason Williams Phonograph Record, and later the same year "The Prince's Panties" was among the numbers performed by Bowie's multimedia trio Feathers. Williams's distinctive "panting" delivery in his original recording may have inspired David's "running out of breath" moment in "When I'm Five", recorded the same year.
PRISONER OF LOVE (Bowie/T.Sales/H.Sales/Gabrels)
Album: Tin Machine
A-Side: October 1989
Download: May 2007
Video Download: May 2007
This is one of Tin Machine's more conventional offerings, an uncomplicated blues-rocker constructed around a twanging, Hank Marvin-style riff strangely reminiscent of Blondie's "Atomic". Despite featuring the catastrophic line "Like a sermon on blues guitar, love walked into town," it's actually quite an affecting lyric, a combination of lover's vows and worldly advice ("just stay square," exhorts the new, socially conscious Bowie) addressed in part, he explained at the time, to his then partner Melissa Hurley. "The fact that my girlfriend is young, very naive and kind of straight is, for me, something I just would like her to retain for as long as she can," he said in 1989. "Cause there is so much crap out there, you know, and there's nothing wrong with being like that. That's why it's got a very kind of corny "Just stay square" line in it." Also contributing to the lyric was bassist Tony Sales: "I enjoyed writing the lyrics to that with David," he recalled many years later. "We sat in the studio throwing shit back and forth, and I enjoyed the experience very much. It was a highlight of my career really."
The fade-out features a paraphrase of Allen Ginsberg's 1955 poem Howl ("I've seen the best minds of my generation laid down in cemeteries..."), previously quoted on Iggy Pop's Bowie-produced track "Little Miss Emperor". The line may have originally reached Bowie via The Fugs, whose 1965 debut album The Virgin Fugs includes the track "I Saw The Best Of My Generation Rot". It's also worth noting that Prisoner Of Love is the title of Jean Genet's final work, an exploration of the Palestinian conflict completed just before his death in 1986.
"Prisoner Of Love" failed to chart as Tin Machine's third single, despite the added incentive of live tracks recorded in Paris during the 1989 tour, on which the song was also performed. The so-called "LP Version" on the extended formats was in fact a marginally longer version of the single edit. Julien Temple's 1989 Tin Machine video featured an except from a staged performance of "Prisoner Of Love" in blue-tinted slow-motion, while a full-length version accompanied the single release. The latter video was released as a download in 2007.
In the autumn of of 2005 Bowie recorded a guest vocal for this track on Return To Cookie Mountain, the third album by New York City's avant-garde stylists TV On The Radio, a band whose dense hybridisation of musical forms, ranging from jazz and doo-wop to trip-hop and psychedelia, alongside their lyrical excursions into apocalyptic imagery, twisted metaphor and liberal rage, made them ideal Bowie collaborators. The album was recorded at producer and multi-instrumentalist Dave Sitek's Stay Gold Studio in Brooklyn, and according to lead singer Tunde Adebimpe, Bowie's involvement was the result of a chance encounter. "Dave [Sitek] and I were selling paintings in Soho and wound up giving one to this dude who happened to be David Bowie's doorman," Adebimpe told an interviewer in 2006. "Dave passed along some of our music to this dude and left his phone number. Bowie called Dave a few weeks later and asked to hear some of our new material." Guitarist and singer Kyp Malone takes up the story: "When we were working on the new songs, we dropped them all off for him to listen to and invited him to be a part of whatever he wanted to be a part of. He wanted to be a part of that song, so he came in and sang on it." Asked if he had found the experience daunting, Malone replied, "It was more surreal, not intimidating. I never expected to be in a situation where I'm at a mixing board asking David Bowie to enunciate a consonant."
When the album was released in July 2006, Dave Sitek spoke enthusiastically of Bowie's involvement: "He respected what we were doing and he wanted to be a part of it. He didn't want to be showcased or anything, he didn't want to be in charge of it. It was done in the most altruistic spirit that someone could record." Sure enough, David's contribution to "Province" is by no means prominent, forming part of an egalitarian three-way mix with the voices of Malone and Adebimpe. The torridly melodramatic lyric is full of the sort of meaty metaphor that Bowie always enjoyed, arriving via "bursting stars" and "falcons tumbling" at the conclusion that "love is the province of the brave". The textured backing and avant-garde production forge a soundscape not dissimilar to other Bowie favourites of the period like Kristeen Young and Arcade Fire. "Don't bend," Dave Sitek later remembered Bowie telling him, "Stay strange." In July 2007, a year after the album's release, "Province" was issued as a limited edition vinyl single.
PUG NOSED FACE (Bowie/Gervais/Merchant)
Ostensibly composed off the cuff at the expense of the hapless Andy Millman during Bowie's unforgettable 2006 cameo appearance in Extras, the comic ditty officially registered with the performing rights organisation BMI under the title "Pug Nosed Face" was in fact a joint effort: David wrote the music, while the lyrics were the result of his three-way collaboration with the show's writers and stars, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. "I sent him the script," Gervais later explained, "and I said we thought maybe it could be quite retro, something off Hunky Dory with an anthemic chorus, like "Life On Mars?" He went, "Oh,sure, I'll just knock off a "Life On Mars?" And I laughed and went, "Oh yeah, that did sound quite insulting, didn't it?" He knew what to give us. He gave us uber-Bowie. "See his pug-nosed face..." The crew were singing it for about a week." The piano accompaniment was mimed by Bowie on screen, and played off camera by session pianist Clifford Slapper.
Life imitated art on May 19th 2007 when, introducing Ricky Gervais to the stage at the High Line Festival, Bowie led the audience at Madison Square Garden in an impromptu rendition of "Pug Nosed Face". It was the last song that he performed in front of a live audience.
Around the time of the David Bowie sessions at Decca Studios - possibly on March 8th 1967 - David recorded a cover version of "Pussy Cat", an easy-listening novelty later recorded by Jess Conrad and released as the B-side of his 1970 single "Crystal Ball Dream". Some uncertainty surrounds the song's authorship: the Jess Conrad B-side is credited to Kal Mann and Dave Appell, the US duo best known for "Let's Twist Again", but this seems to be a clerical error deriving from a mix-up with a different song called "Pussy Cat" which the pair wrote for Chubby Checker. Whatever the case, Bowie's version was not adjudged a success, and this obscure rarity remains unreleased.