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QUALISAR (Bowie/Gabrels)

An instrumental track recorded by Bowie with Reeves Gabrels in 1999 for exclusive use in the Omikron computer game.


  • Album: Hunky Dory

  • B-Side: February 1974

  • Live: Santa Monica '72/RarestOneBowie/Bowie At The Beeb (Bonus Disc)/Live Nassau Coliseum '76 (included on 2010 Reissue of Station To Station)

  • Live Video: Best Of Bowie

This is Hunky Dory's least representative track - Rick Wakeman's piano is conspicuous by its absence, while Mick Ronson's guitar dominates the proceedings - and notwithstanding the excellence of the numbers surrounding it, it's "Queen Bitch" that reveals the shape of things to come. The last of the album's cycle of tribute numbers, it's an energetic pastiche of the Velvet Underground, and specifically the hardcore guitar and half-spoken delivery of Lou Reed. The scrawled sleeve-notes for the track read "Some V.U. White Light returned with thanks", referring to the seismic influence of Reed's "Waiting For The Man" and "White Light/White Heat" on Bowie's own songwriting. The lyric, too, is indebted to Reed's urban poetry, a coded portrait of seduction and betrayal larded with the sassy gay street argot of Greenwich Village. There are sly references to other icons, too: The narrator's friend is "trying hard to pull sister Flo", a nod to Reed's "Sister Ray" and also perhaps an allusion, more immediate then than now, to the backing singers Flo and Eddie who regularly whooped along to T Rex's breakthrough hits at the time. Another obvious inspiration (and a regular point of reference for Bolan as well as Bowie) is Eddie Cochran, whose "Three Steps To Heaven" provides the template for the riff. The chorus finds Bowie doffing his hat to yet another influence: "satin and tat" had long been one of Lindsay Kemp's favourite throwaway phrases when describing his taste in theatricality. Part of the genius of "Queen Bitch" is that it filters the archness of Bolan and Kemp through the streetwise attitude of Reed: this is a song that succeeds in making the phrase "bipperty-bopperty hat" sound raunchy and cool.

     The song was a favourite during Bowie's BBC sessions, and was first aired ahead of Hunky Dory in the concert set recorded on June 3rd 1971, in a quieter and less raucous rendition than later versions. An unreleased early mix of the album cut was included on the rare Hunky Dory sampler disc pressed two months later. Further BBC recordings were taped on January 11th and 18th 1972 (the second of these can be heard on Bowie At The Beeb), and yet another featured on Bowie's Old Grey Whistle Test appearance recorded on February 7th. Two fluffed takes of this performance, both of which peter out in the opening seconds, have been aired on various out-take shows over the years, notably ITV's Changes: Bowie At 50 documentary. The successful full-length take appears on the Best Of Bowie DVD.

     "Queen Bitch" featured on the Ziggy Stardust tour, the Station To Station tour (from which a spunky live version recorded on March 23rd 1976 appears on RarestOneBowie and Live Nassau Coliseum '76), and latterly the Sound + Vision, Earthling and A Reality tours. At his fiftieth birthday concert Bowie performed the song as a duet with Lou Reed himself. The original Hunky Dory recording features in the 2007 comedies The Heartbreak Kid and Run, Fat Boy, Run, in 2008's Oscar-nominated Milk, and in the Playstation 3 game Motorstorm: Pacific Rift. It provides a memorable backdrop for the climatic scene of Wes Anderson's film The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, for which Seu Jorge also recorded an acoustic version in Portuguese. Other artists who have covered "Queen Bitch" on stage or in the studio include Marc Almond, The Tragically Hip, Green River, Stilettos, Eater, Tobi Kai & The Strays, The Blue Thread, The Knifings, Birdbrain and The Hotrats. On BBC Radio 4 in December 2011, the particle physicist Professor Brian Cox chose "Queen Bitch" as one of his Desert Island Discs.


  • Bonus: Reality

Piped into the auditoria immediately before curtain-up on each show of A Reality Tour (hence, presumably, it's subtitle), "Queen Of All The Tarts" was included on the bonus disc that came with the initial pressings of Reality. It's a likeable piece, consisting of a splendidly dramatic series of instrumental swoops punctuated by multi-tracked vocals intoning the track's curious sub-Lewis Carroll title. The vocal quality is reminiscent of some of the 'hours...' B-sides, although the dynamics and synth-heavy arrangements are firmly in the Heathen and Reality mould, and there's some "Pablo Picasso"-style guitar work towards the end.


  • Album: Hunky Dory

  • B-Side: April 1974

  • Bonus: Hunky Dory

At the time of Hunky Dory's release in December 1971, Bowie revealed that "Quicksand" had been inspired by his first trip to America the previous February. "The chain reaction of moving around throughout the bliss and then the calamity of America produced this epic of confusion," he declared. "Anyway, with my esoteric problems I could have written it in Plainview or Dulwich." Several years later he would describe "Quicksand" as a mixture of "narrative and surrealism", and a precursor to the compositions of Low.

     Like all the best tracks on Hunky Dory, "Quicksand" combines a deceptively simple melody with a sumptuous arrangement and an almost impenetrable lyric. This is Bowie bewildered, disempowered and intimidated by politics and religion, "sinking in the quicksand of my thought", hemmed in by "logic" and "bullshit faith", rejecting "belief" and foreseeing "the death of Man". The song's "dream-reality" reprises the cinematic role-playing found throughout the album ("I'm living in a silent film...I'm the twisted name on Garbo's eyes"), as Bowie, "caught between the light and dark", ponders his "potential" in an increasingly sinister whirl of references to Churchill, Himmler, Crowley's "Golden Dawn" and, once again, Nietzsche's supermen. One particular allusion that has been misconstrued by many, including the compilers of most of the official Hunky Dory lyric sheets, is "You can tell me all about it on the next bardo". Far from invoking "Bardot", as in Brigitte, David is making one of his customary references to Tibetan Buddhism: a "bardo" is a limbo-like state of transitional existence between death and rebirth, whose duration depends on the individual's conduct during the previous lifetime, and is thus a concept entirely in keeping with the anxieties expressed throughout "Quicksand". It's a listless, withdrawn lyric apparently wallowing in depression, but for all its dark foreboding it's an exquisitely lovely song and a confirmed favourite among Bowie aficionados.

     A 1971 acoustic demo appeared on Rykodisc's Hunky Dory reissue, while a further, purely instrumental demo is said to exist on acetate. The definitive version was taped at Trident Studios on July 14th 1971. The addition of a vibraphone beneath the opening G chord seems to confirm a debt to the near-identical intro of "Ballerina", a track on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. Four takes of "Quicksand" were recorded, of which the last was included on the album. At Ken Scott's instigation, Bowie recorded no fewer than six passes of his acoustic guitar part, so that when it came to the mix, as Scott later explained, "it would start with the single acoustic in the middle of the stereo soundfield, then it would open out to a guitar on either side, then finally open to all the acoustic parts at the biggest part of the song, then diminish back down to one...I think it worked." An unreleased early mix, featuring more pronounced stereo separation and missing some of the string parts, was included on 1971's rare Hunky Dory sampler disc.

     "Quicksand" was performed during the final 1973 leg of the Ziggy Stardust tour, in a medley with "Life On Mars?" and "Memory Of A Free Festival". Thereafter the song was laid to rest until 1997, when Bowie recorded a new version for Radio 1's ChangesNowBowie. "It was somebody in the band that said I should do it," he explained in the broadcast. "I'd forgotten all about it, and since I've done it for you guys I've started using it on stage. I'd forgotten - it's a really lovely song." At his fiftieth birthday concert a few days later, Bowie performed "Quicksand" as a splendid duet with Robert Smith of The Cure, who later revealed to the NME that "You didn't get a choice of duet, which was annoying. David rang up and said, 'What song would you like to do?' so I started reeling of all these songs like "Drive-In Saturday", "Young Americans". Then he said, 'How about "Quicksand"?' and I thought, 'You bastard!'" Following the superb Bowie/Smith duet, "Quicksand" became the Earthling tour's regular curtain-raiser, with a revamped guitar intro borrowed from "The Bewlay Brothers". The song resurfaced on the 2004 leg of A Reality Tour.

     A notable cover version was performed by Seal during his MTV Unplugged appearance in 1996, while Dinosaur Jr. included a version on their 1991 album Whatever's Cool With Me. Seu Jorge recorded a Portuguese cover for the soundtrack of the 2004 film The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, and Aslan included a live version on their 2009 album Uncase'd. Emiliana Torrini's 2000 single "Unemployed In Summertime" (from her 1999 album Love In The Time Of Science) directly lifts the verse melody of "Quicksand" and duly includes Bowie in its songwriting credits. On BBC Radio 4 in November 2014, actor Damian Lewis chose "Quicksand" as one of his Desert Island Discs.

Queen Bitch
Queen Of All The Tarts (Overture)
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