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  • Album: Station To Station/Station To Station (2010)

  • Live: Stage/Live Nassau Coliseum '76 (included on 2010 Reissue of Station To Station)

  • Live Video: Serious Moonlight

As well as unveiling the sinister figure of the Thin White Duke, the album cut of "Station To Station" has the distinction of being the longest studio track Bowie ever released. Scintillatingly performed and gorgeously produced, it represents one of the high watermarks in his studio work. David is in superb voice and Earl Slick's guitar is never finer, wailing across a relentless plod of piano, drums and rhythm guitar in the first half, before igniting over the first flowering of the classic Murray/Davis/Alomar rhythm section in the galloping climax.

     The opening sound effect of a rampaging train acknowledges the influence of Kraftwerk's 1974 album Autobahn, which begins with the sound of a car revving up and driving across the stereo speakers. Kraftwerk later returned the compliment on 1977's Trans-Europe Express, whose title track includes the lyric "From Station to Station back to Dusseldorf city, meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie" over the synthesized sound of a speeding train (the line commemorates an actual meeting in mid-1976, a photo of which appeared in Kraftwerk's video at the appropriate moment). Another likely influence is Tangerine Dream's Edgar Froese's second solo album, Epsilon In Malaysian Pale, was released in September 1975 and begins with treated sound effects of a train.

     However, the railway motif of "Station To Station" is something of a red herring. Certainly it expresses what David later called the album's "wayward spiritual search", restating the travelling metaphor familiar from earlier compositions: the stations recall the "new surroundings" of "Rock'n Roll With Me", and the "mountains on mountains" reprise the questing motifs of "Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud" and The Man Who Sold The World. But, as Bowie confirmed, the title actually alludes to the Stations of the Cross, the sequence of fourteen landmarks on Christ's path to the crucifixion, each a symbolic stopping-place for prayer in the carvings of medieval churches. What is less widely understood is that, in the maelstrom of spiritual confusion and occultism which infused his 1975 worldview, Bowie conflates the Stations of the Cross with the Sephiroth, the ten spheres of creation which form the basis of the thirteenth-century Jewish mystical system known as the Kabbalah.

     Foremost among Bowie's reading in the summer of 1975 was The Kabbalah Unveiled by S L MacGregor Mathers, chief of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and life-long adversary of Aleister Crowley (he was responsible for Crowley's expulsion from the Order). According to the Kabbalah the divine sphere of the Godhead, or Crown of Creation, is called Kether, while the sphere of the physical Kingdom is known as Malkuth. For Bowie, whose work since the late 1960s had systematically pondered transmutations between divine and mortal states of being, these teachings offered fertile ground: expanding on his lyrical tradition of messiahs, supermen, fallen gods and transcendentalism, the migration from the celestial to the earthly was now expressed as "one magical movement from Kether to Malkuth". The spheres exist at opposite ends of the Tree of Life, a Kabbalistic pattern which Bowie had adopted as a talismanic protection at the time (he can be seen drawing it on the floor in the contemporary photograph reproduced in subsequent reissues of Station To Station).

     Alongside the Kabbalistic coding are further references to Aleister Crowley, previously mentioned in Bowie's man-and-superman song "Quicksand". The Thin White Duke's propensity for "making sure white stains" refers to Crowley's first book, the obscure White Stains, another treatment of the Gnostic myth of the Fall; the combined sexual, racial, occult and drug-related significances of the title would rebound on Bowie in 1976. Given that this album follows hard on the heels of the making of The Man Who Fell To Earth (and uses a monochrome still from the film on its front cover), it can be no coincidence that Bowie is here "flashing no colour": in his distressed mental state, he presumably wishes to fall to earth himself, rejecting his experimentation with the Tattva system which advocates "colour-flashing", a process of combining complementary colours to heighten consciousness and transport magicians to the astral plane.

     It is also worth noting the likely influence of another rock musician whose interest in the occult in general, and Aleister Crowley in particular, were reaching a peak at around the same time: Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page had been an occasional acquaintance ever since he had played session guitar on some of David's earliest recordings, and in 1975 he embarked on a relationship with heroin which was, if anything, even more fearful than Bowie's cocaine dependency. Led Zeppelin's magnum opus Physical Graffiti was released in March 1975, just a few months ahead of the Station To Station sessions, and it's possible to discern in the latter's title track a distinct flavour of the groove, tempo and sense of building tension created by the famous rising riff of Physical Graffiti's standout track "Kashmir" - another epic-length album cut on which music and lyrics combine to evoke a troubled spiritual journey.

     But "Station To Station", endlessly fascinating and allusive as it is, casts Bowie as yet another, more classic model of both magician and Duke. Standing "tall in this room overlooking the ocean", he is not just David Bowie in his secluded Los Angeles villa, but a timeless Prospero, "lost in my circle", preparing to break his wand and abjure his magic. Hence the misquotation from The Tempest ("Such is the stuff from where dreams are woven") giving way in the torrid finale to an altogether more optimistic paraphrase of Cole Porter's "I Get A Kick Out Of You" ("It's not the side-effects of the cocaine / I'm thinking that it must be love"). Casting out the supernatural and the angelic ("does my face show some kind of glow? / It's too late"), Bowie appears to be throwing himself on the mercy of temporal power, cushioning himself with drink and toasting "the men who protect you and I". In conceding that "the European canon is here", "Station To Station" draws the blinds on the coke-fuelled horror of his Los Angeles interlude and paves the way for a long, slow recovery.

     It is, then, entirely appropriate that the sound of "Station To Station", more than any other track on the album, should point the way towards Bowie's next musical phase, just as "Rock'n Roll With Me" had presaged his soul-singer period two years earlier. "As far as the music goes, Low and its siblings were a direct follow-on from the title track," David remarked in 2001. "It's often struck me that there will usually be one track on any given album of mine, which will be a fair indicator of the intent of the following album."

     The V&A's David Bowie is exhibition turned up an early handwritten lyric sheet for "Station To Station", riddled with crossings-out and amendments, and reading more like something from the Diamond Dogs album: "You look like a bomb / You smell like a ghost / You eat like the terminal girl / You escape to the bridge / But the men hurt your back / You sit and you piss dark water / You're silent but aware / You're seething but warm / You sword-play to reach our daughters / The return of the Thin White Duke / Throwing darts in lovers' eyes."

     A radical 3'40" edit was prepared by RCA for a mooted single in France, but although a few copies were pressed the single was never released, making it a prized collector's item. This edit, which omits the entire opening sequence and begins with the "Once there were mountains" section before concluding on an earlier fade, was later included among the single edits on 2010's Station To Station: Deluxe Edition, and as the B-side of 2015's picture disc of "Golden Years".

     "Station To Station" provided the opening number throughout the 1976 tour, and subsequently featured in the Stage, Serious Moonlight, Sound + Vision, summer 2000 and A Reality tours. It made a memorable contribution to Ulrich Edel's 1981 film Christiane F. Wir Kinder Vom Bahnhof Zoo, in which Bowie lip-synched to the Stage version in a concert scene filmed at Manhattan's Hurrah Club in October 1980. A cover version by The Melvins appeared on their 2013 album Everybody Loves Sausages, and in July 2016 the house band at the USA's Republican National Convention, led by sometime Bowie guitarist G E Smith, welcomed presidential nominee Donald Trump with a heroically inept rendition of Bowie's classic of cocaine psychosis and Aryan dictatorship. Who said satire was dead?


  • Album: Station To Station/Station To Station: Deluxe Edition (2010)

  • B-Side: July 1976

  • Bonus: Station To Station/Stage (Expanded 2005 Reissue)

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

One of Bowie's classic hybrids, "Stay" manages to be funk, soul and hard rock all at the same time, showcasing Earl Slick's lead guitar to fine effect against Station To Station's superb rhythm section. As David later acknowledged, the chord sequence is identical to that of the Young Americans out-take "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)", with only the slightly brisker tempo of "Stay" preventing the two tracks from playing simultaneously in perfect harmony. The rhythm guitar riff, among the best on any Bowie recording, was created by Carlos Alomar who told David Buckley that the track was recorded "very much in our cocaine frenzy". It's an anxious confessional about the inscrutability of ships that pass in the night ("You can never really tell when somebody wants something you want too"), epitomising the combination of racking self-doubt and confidently stylish production found throughout the album.

     The full-length album cut became the B-side of RCA's superfluous "Suffragette City" single in the summer of 1976; in America and other territories a heavily edited 3'21" version was released as an A-side backed by an edited "Word On A Wing". The 7" edit subsequently turned up on the soundtrack album Christiane F. Wir Kinder Vom Bahnhof Zoo, and again on 2010's Station To Station: Deluxe Edition.

     Before the release of Station To Station "Stay" was previewed in an excellent live performance for CBS's The Dinah Shore Show on January 3rd 1976, and went on to become a staple of Bowie's concert repertoire, featuring in the Station To Station, Stage, Serious Moonlight, Sound + Vision, Earthling, 1999-2000 and Heathen tours. A superb live version recorded at Nassau Coliseum on March 23rd 1976 appeared on Station To Station's 1991 reissue and, in remixed form, on Live Nassau Coliseum '76, while another fine recording, this time from the BBC Radio Theatre concert on June 27th 2000, was included on the Bowie At The Beeb bonus disc. A hat-trick of excellent live recordings was completed by the appearance of a fast, furious and previously unreleased version from the 1978 tour on the 2005 reissue of Stage.

STAY (Williams)

Not to be confused with the above, Maurice Williams and The Zodiac's' 1961 hit was played live by The Buzz.


  • Album: The Buddha Of Suburbia

  • Album: 1.Outside

  • A-Side: November 1995

  • Video: Best Of Bowie

This is one of The Buddha Of Suburbia's more conventional tracks, dropping a riff borrowed from the Spencer Davis Group's 1966 hit "Gimme Some Loving" into a setting that is pure late-1970s Roxy Music to forge a compassionate, melodic pop song for grown-ups. It seems to concern the give and take of a mature relationship, but it's just possible that the lyric also confronts the latest round of kiss-and-tell revelations made by Angela Bowie on chat-shows and in print when the so-called gagging order of her divorce settlement had expired in early 1993 ("Slinky secrets hotter than the sun...Cold tired fingers tapping out your memories...All your regrets ride roughshod over me / I'm so glad that we're strangers when we meet"). If this is an accurate reading - and it probably isn't - light-hearted lines like the "I'm in clover / Heel-head-over" couplet suggest that any bitterness is well reined in.

      In most estimations "Strangers When We Meet" was one of the less thrilling tracks on the otherwise radical Buddha Of Suburbia, and it came as something of a surprise when Bowie elected to re-record it in 1995 as a last-minute addition to 1.Outside. This version abandons the spacey synth effects in favour of a lusher, more rounded arrangement augmented by Mike Garson's piano and Reeves Gabrels's guitar, holding long, sustained notes á la "Heroes". Arriving at the end of 1.Outside's art-rock insanity "Strangers When We Meet" seems even more incongruous, resolving all the album's angst and black comedy in a soothing slice of conventional pop. Still, released as a double A-side with the re-recorded "The Man Who Sold The World" it made for a fine single which deserved better than its feeble number 39 peak. An American promo CD added a further single edit of the Buddha Of Suburbia version.

     The single was accompanied by a handsome Sam Bayer video which lacked the bite of his promo for "The Hearts Filthy Lesson" - again sepia-tinted and set in a dusty artist's studio, it consists of Bowie flirting with a rag-doll ballerina and vamping to camera. Equally lacklustre, unfortunately, was a live performance for Top Of The Pops on November 10th 1995 during rehearsals for the UK leg of the Outside tour, but matters were redressed by an excellent rendition on BBC2's Later...With Jools Holland on December 2nd, and another for French TV's Taratata on January 26th. The song featured throughout the Outside and Earthling tours.

     An alternative 5'10" mix of the Buddha Of Suburbia version, featuring different percussion effects and a more prominent electric guitar line, appeared on a rare 1993 promo cassette.


The 1967 Beatles classic was occasionally performed live by Bowie's multimedia trio Feathers.


A Solomon Burke number performed live by The Manish Boys.


  • Album: Low

Although originally written and, in some form or another, recorded for Bowie's abandoned soundtrack of The Man Who Fell To Earth, "Subterraneans" was reinvented during the Low sessions as a portrait of Bowie's new surroundings: "Subterraneans" is about the people who got caught in East Berlin after the separation," he said in 1977, "hence the faint jazz saxophones representing the memory of what it was." The result is one of the most melancholy tracks Bowie ever committed to disc, taking as its cue the reversed-tape trick he had previously used at the beginning of "Sweet Thing", and building the resulting blurts of sound into a bleak ambient edifice over which he wails semi-comprehensible vocals after the fashion of "Warszawa".

     "Subterraneans" was reworked as the first movement of Philip Glass's 1993 Low Symphony, and was performed live with Nine Inch Nails during the US leg of the Outside tour, augmented by lyrics from "Scary Monsters". It was later revived in more conventional form for 2002's Heathen tour.

SUCCESS (Pop/Bowie/Gardiner)

Bowie co-wrote and co-produced this track on Iggy Pop's Lust For Life, also contributing piano and backing vocals, for which he is joined by the instantly recognisable Sales brothers. Three-quarters of the future Tin Machine gamely join in a Simon-Says singalong, dutifully repeating the increasingly daft lines Iggy throws at them during the play-out ("I'm gonna do the twist...I'm gonna hop like a frog....I'm gonna go out on the street and do anything I want...Oh shit!").

     Bowie's original ideas for the recording did not meet with his friend's approval. "He wanted me to sing like a crooner," Iggy Pop later revealed, "and I thought it was completely horrible. So I waited until he walked out of the studio and I changed everything. When he came back, he found it very good."

     "Success" was released as a single - without success - in October 1977, and later appeared on the soundtracks of 2005's Lords Of Dogtown and 2009's Suck. The song was covered by Duran Duran on 1995's Thank You.


SUCKER (Hunter/Ralphs/Watts)

Produced by Bowie for Mott The Hoople's All The Young Dudes.

SUE (OR IN A SEASON OF CRIME) (Bowie/Schneider/Bateman/Bhamra)

  • A-Side: November 2014

  • Compilation: Nothing Has Changed

  • Album: Blackstar

On June 1st 2014, Bowie dropped into the 55 Bar, a jazz club in New York City's West Village. He was there to check out an experimental quartet whose members included saxophonist Donny McCaslin and drummer Mark Guiliana. Having taken in the show, David left without introducing himself, but not without being spotted. "A server was like, 'Wait, was that David Bowie?' McCaslin later told Rolling Stone. "It started dawning on people."

     Ten days later, McCaslin received an email from David, inviting him and Guiliana to meet and discuss a new project. "I thought, 'This is David Bowie, and he chose me, and he's sending me an email?'" McCaslin said. "I tried not to think about it too much. I just wanted to stay in the moment and do the work."

     The work in question was Bowie's first major project since The Next Day, initially motivated by his desire to work with Maria Schneider, the composer and bandleader whose New York-based Jazz Orchestra had been touring, recording and regularly winning awards since its formation in 1992. Bowie and Tony Visconti had seen the orchestra perform at New York's Birdland and, in Visconti's words, had been "totally floored by the beauty and power of her music." When Bowie contacted Schneider in the spring of 2014 she found him full of enthusiasm. "His energy was that of a very young person diving into everything with fearless joy and abandon," said Schneider. "Not to say he wasn't serious. He was very clear about what he did and didn't like."

     The project began with a demo that Bowie had already recorded at home. "He brought it over and we sat and listened to it to see if we could do something with it together and have me arrange it for my band," said Schneider. "I sat at the piano and played around with harmony a bit and said, 'Maybe I can imagine doing something with this.' We got together several times and fooled around with ideas." Schneider's input would result in a co-writing credit, and the song also incorporated melodic elements of "Brand New Heavy", a 1997 single by Paul Bateman and Bob Bhamra, a duo who recorded under the name Plastic Soul.

     Workshop sessions were held at Euphoria Studios in Manhattan. "Over the course of three long sessions in a rehearsal studio, [Maria] and core members of her band jammed over the bassline for several hours," explained Tony Visconti, who co-produced the track with David. "After this, Maria and David met to finalise the arrangement and structure." At this point, additional musicians were enlisted to augment the sound of the orchestra: it was Schneider who recommended that Bowie check out Donny McCaslin's band at the 55 Bar, and she also drafted in avant-jazz guitarist Ben Monder, an occasional member of her orchestra. "I had not played with Maria for a while prior to this project," Monder later told Yahoo Music, "but she said she could hear my sound for that particular track, so David met with me and Donny." Monder found Bowie friendly and welcoming: "We had just one rehearsal for the Maria Schneider session and he was very down to earth, very nice. He seemed to make an effort to make you feel like you weren't in the presence of a rock deity."

     The track was recorded on July 24th 2014 at New York's Avatar Studios (Magic Shop, venue for The Next Day, being too small to accommodate the 17-piece orchestra). David handed out lyrics at the start of the session: "It was only then that we learned it was called "Sue"," recalled Visconti. In keeping with her usual method, Schneider's arrangement allowed the musicians considerable freedom in their playing. "Aside from David and Maria's overall direction, the chart I was reading from was quite minimal," Mark Guiliana  said. "More of a guide, rather than specific notation."

     "This is truly modern jazz," said Tony Visconti. "They don't play bebop, there's nothing traditional about them." He described the result as "a daring collaboration" and "a monumental track". Never before had Bowie strayed so far into the realm of experimental jazz - the only track that comes close in his previous oeuvre is "South Horizon" on The Buddha Of Suburbia. Schneider's intricate arrangement incorporates blasting trumpets and flugelhorns, rasping trombones and bass clarinets, Guiliana's tumbling percussion and McCaslin's aria on tenor saxophone. "It's one of the most soulful saxophone solos David and I have ever heard," Visconti later told Mojo. "It always made us weep, especially the end part. He's such a passionate player."

     Against this edifice of sound we find Bowie at his most histrionic, intoning and emoting an obscure lyric which opens with an echo of "The Informer" ("Sue, I got the job"), and closes with an echo of a very old song indeed ("Sue, I never dreamed"). What unfolds in between is a psychological drama of betrayal ("Sue, I found your note that you wrote last night / It can't be right you went with him") and of murder ("Sue, I pushed you down beneath the weeds"). David was an avid reader of poetry, and there's a distinct flavour here of Robert Browning's dramatic monologues: the narrators of "Porphyria's Lover" and "My Last Duchess", two of Browning's best-known poems, are both murderers seeking to justify the killing of a woman.

     Besides Guiliana, Monder and McCaslin (who played soprano as well as tenor sax on the track), the remaining Maria Schneider Orchestra musicians who played on the original recording were Ryan Keberle (trombone soloist); Jesse Han (flute, alto flute, bass flute); David Pietro (alto flute, clarinet, soprano saxophone); Rich Perry (tenor saxophone); Scott Robinson (clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet); Tony Kadleck (trumpet, flugelhorn); Greg Gisbert (trumpet, flugelhorn); Augie Haas (trumpet, flugelhorn); Mike Rodriguez (trumpet, flugelhorn); Keith O'Quinn (trombone); Marshall Gilkes (trombone); George Flynn (bass trombone, contrabass trombone); Frank Kimbrough (piano); and Jay Anderson (bass).

     The original recording of "Sue" was released as a 10" vinyl single and download on November 17th 2014 (November 28th in the USA). Alongside the full-length 7'24" version, the single included a 4'01" radio edit. "Sue" also featured on the compilation Nothing Has Changed, released on the same day. The radio edit was accompanied by a stylish monochrome video directed by Tom Hingston, who had previously created the found-footage clip for "I'd Rather Be High". Shot in London, Hingston's video is a noirish assemblage with echoes of The Third Man, as a silhouetted figure flits in and out of the lamplight on dingy backstreets and beneath bridges, on whose walls are projected the lyrics alongside studio footage of a bespectacled Bowie performing with the orchestra, filmed by Jimmy King during the New York session.

     In February 2016, the original recording of "Sue" netted Maria Schneider a Grammy Award for Best Arrangement (Instrumental and Vocals) - by which time a new version had been unveiled on Blackstar. During the previous year's album sessions, Bowie elected to re-record "Sue" from scratch, using the core quartet of McCaslin, Guiliana, Jason Lindner and Tim Lefebvre. Recorded On February 2nd 2015, the first attempt took the Maria Schneider version as its template. "We tried to play a quartet arrangement of that," explained Jason Lindner. "We also tried another version that was not trying to copy or emulate that arrangement." A stripped-away version featuring just drums, bass and Bowie's voice was abandoned - "it didn't really work," explained Donny McCaslin, who went back to the Schneider score and devised a fresh adaptation which would form the basis of the album cut. The finished article reins in some of the original's freeform style in favour of a harder, punchier attack, driven by Guiliana's relentless drums, a brilliant, stammering bassline from Tim Lefebvre, and a series of atmospheric guitar overdubs from Ben Monder. Recorded on April 23rd and 30th, Bowie's new vocal is less grandstanding, more brittle and nuanced, providing the final excellent touch to a recording which outclasses the nonetheless fine original.

     "For this version he wanted a bit more edge, a bit more urgency," said Mark Guiliana. "We played it more stripped down and a little faster. The energy of this track is really special - again, David encouraged us to really go for it." Tim Lefebvre noted that Bowie and Visconti "gave us eight bars to just rage. Mark and I had played a lot of live drum'n'bass together, and it's shocking and amazing to hear that on a David Bowie record. They allowed us to do what we do." The eight bars in question can be heard towards the end of the track: a furious pulsing thrash recalling the squallier moments on Earthling.


  • Album: Ziggy Stardust

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

  • B-Side: April 1972

  • A-Side: July 1976

  • Live Video: Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars

Originally rejected by Mott The Hoople in January 1972, "Suffragette City" was repossessed to become one of the last tracks recorded for Ziggy Stardust, completed at Trident on February 4th. With its stomping Little Richard piano, driving guitars and celebrated casual-sex whoop of "Wham bam, thank you ma'am!" (filched, as Bowie later confessed, from the title of a track on Charles Mingus's 1961 album Oh Yeah), the song quickly established itself as one of the pivotal Ziggy numbers. Depending on how much gender-bending one wishes to read into the lyric, it's either a laddish request to be left alone with a girlfriend ("don't crash here, there's only room for one and here she comes!") or else, in the same vein as "John, I'm Only Dancing", it's an AC/DC switch from boyfriend to girlfriend ("I gotta straighten my face...I can't take you this time"). Notably Bowie addresses his male friend as "droogie", a direct reference to A Clockwork Orange: Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film adaptation was a major influence on Ziggy's cultural grab-bag, dictating both costumes and pre-show music on tour.

     "Suffragette City" sees one of Bowie's earliest uses of the ARP synthesizer, an instrument that would later form the backbone of his Berlin albums. Here it's pressed into service to provide the ersatz saxophone blasts underscoring the guitar. "David had this idea for a big sax sound, bigger than anything he could play," Ken Scott told Mark Paytress, "so we hooked up this huge synth, fiddled around until we got the closest sound to a sax as possible, and left Mick Ronson to play the right notes.

     A new version was included in Bowie's BBC session recorded on May 16th 1972, and this excellent cut, distinguished by some sharp guitar work from Mick Ronson and boogie-woogie piano from Nicky Graham, now appears on Bowie At The Beeb. Despite already having appeared as the B-side of "Starman", the album original was reissued as an A-side in 1976 to promote ChangesOneBowie. Not surprisingly, it failed to chart.

     "Suffragette City" featured throughout the Ziggy Stardust, Diamond Dogs, Station To Station, Stage, Sound + Vision and A Reality tours. As something of a primal rock classic it's been covered by countless artists in the studio or on stage, including U2, Alice In Chains, Duran Duran, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Big Audio Dynamite, Andy Taylor, LA Guns, The Horrors, ABC and Tony Hadley (as a duet on their joint 2005 tour), Scissor Sisters and Franz Ferdinand (in a duet at the V Festival in August 2005), Wakefield featuring Mary-Kate Olsen (in the soundtrack of the 2004 film New York Minute), Boy George (on his 1999 rarities compilation The Unrecoupable One Man Biscuit), Frankie Goes To Hollywood (on extended formats of their 1986 single "Rage Hard"), Steve Jones (on 1989's Fire And Gasoline), Poison (on their 2007 covers album Poison'd!), Camille O'Sullivan (on 2008's Live At The Olympia), The Zutons, Camp Freddy, and even sometime Bowie choreographer Toni Basil. A version by The Spiders From Mars, fronted by Joe Elliott, appears on the 1997 live album of The Mick Ronson Memorial Concert. Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine used a sample of Bowie's original on their 1991 track "Surfin' USM". Seu Jorge recorded a Portuguese cover version for the soundtrack of the 2004 film The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, while Bowie's original recording surfaced once again in the soundtracks of 2005's Lords Of Dogtown and 2007's The Heartbreak Kid, in a 2008 television commercial for the Xbox 360 game Rock Band, and in Come Together, a 2011 episode of the Channel 4 comedy series Campus.



  • Album: Heathen

  • Bonus: Heathen

  • French/Canadian B-Side: September 2002

  • Live: A Reality Tour

  • Live Video: A Reality Tour

The dark sonic textures and bleak lyrics of Heathen's sinister opening track led many reviewers to suggest that the song may have been inspired by the events of September 11th 2001. Certainly it's easy to see how such a conclusion might have been reached: the opening lines ("Nothing remains / We could run when the rain slows / Look for the cars or signs of life") are delivered with burned-out emotion against a backdrop of layered backing vocals and a repetitive bleeping guitar loop which seems to recall the tales told by New York firefighters of mobile phones ringing plaintively in the silent wreckage.

     However, any such resonances are entirely coincidental, because "Sunday" was in fact among the first songs to be written for Heathen and predates the 9/11 attacks by several weeks. "It was quite spine-tingling to realise how close those lyrics came," Bowie later remarked. "There are some key words in there that really just freak me out." Far from being a blighted cityscape, the inspiration for "Sunday" was in fact the barren beauty of the mountainous countryside surrounding Allaire Studios. "Strangely enough, you don't always write what you want to write," David told Interview magazine the following year. ""Sunday" and "Heathen" were two pieces I didn't want to write, but this place was just dragging the lyrics out of me. I would get up very early in the morning, about six, and work in the studio before anybody else got there, assembling what I wanted to do as that day's work. And often the lyrics would come as I was sort of putting the music together. It was absolutely terrific. And the words to "Sunday" were tumbling out, the song came out almost written as I was playing it through, and there were two deer grazing down in the grounds below and there was a car passing very slowly on the other side of the reservoir. This was very early in the morning, and there was something so still and primal about what I was looking at outside that there were tears just running down my face as I was writing this thing. It was just extraordinary."

     Tony Visconti later recalled that "Sunday" "took a long time to make, and every time we added a layer of sound from either us or a visiting musician, the song grew to be more and more of an emotional experience." The result is a superbly atmospheric album opener which establishes Heathen's core themes of spiritual uncertainty and existential fear. Both melodically and lyrically, "Sunday" is descended from a long line of compositions such as "The Motel" and "The Dreamers", and perhaps in particular the spiritual quest lyrics of Station To Station: the line "All my trials, Lord, will be remembered" is strongly reminiscent of "Word On A Wing". The quasi-monastic chanting style of Tony Visconti's backing vocals ("It sounds like a synth," the producer later revealed, "but I taught myself how to sing two notes at once after studying Tuvan and Mongolian music for years") not only recalls some of the Low tracks but also reinforces the song's devotional atmosphere, paving the way for a beautiful, aspirational series of chord changes as the lyric strives to resolve its spiritual search and emerge onto a better, angelic plane: "Now we must burn all that we are / Rise together through these clouds / As on wings". But, as suggested by the sudden explosion of percussion and volume on Bowie's final swooping cry of "Everything has changed", it's at best an uncertain state of transcendence.

     The song's title neatly encapsulates the album's sense of an uneasy balance between the spiritual and the secular: it might be no more than a bland diary entry, or it might just as conceivably carry the religious connotations obviously associated with Sunday (a day, incidentally, which features in a surprisingly large number of David's lyrics from "The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell" to "Julie", and from the reminiscences about "church on Sunday" in "Can't Help Thinking About Me" to the Sunday meetings of lovers in "Rubber Band" and "Love You Till Tuesday").

     A remix by Moby, adding an upbeat rhythmic backing which lends a commercial sheen but robs the track of some of its original texture, was included on the bonus disc issued with initial pressings of Heathen. The rarer "Tony Visconti Mix", which sets a more recognisable variation of the album version against a beat-box percussion loop, ominous rumbles of thunder and a closing string solo, appeared on some European formats of the "Everyone Says 'Hi'" single and on the Canadian release of "I've Been Waiting For You". "Sunday" was performed on the Heathen and A Reality tours, an excellent live version appearing in the BBC radio session of September 18th 2002, and another, recorded in Dublin in November 2003, on the album and DVD of A Reality Tour.


  • Album: The Man Who Sold The World

  • Compilation: Revelations

  • Live: Sound + Vision/Santa Monica '72/Bowie At The Beeb (Bonus Disc)

  • Bonus: Hunky Dory/Ziggy Stardust (2002)/Aladdin Sane (2003)/Ziggy Stardust (2012)

Having made its debut in Hype's live set earlier the same month, the first attempt at recording a studio version of "The Supermen" was made at Advision Studios on March 23rd 1970 during the same sessions that yielded the single version of "Memory Of A Free Festival". Two days later another version was recorded at London's Playhouse Theatre, as part of a BBC radio session in advance of The Man Who Sold The World sessions. It was to prove the end of the road for drummer John Cambridge, who had been with Bowie since the Space Oddity album. Unable to handle a "tricky little bit" in the complex time signature, Cambridge was unceremoniously sacked the following month. "I just couldn't get it right and even Mick was saying, 'Come on, it's easy,' which makes you feel worse," Cambridge later recalled. According to Tony Visconti the removal of Cambridge was principally Ronson's doing. The March 25th BBC version, officially released for the first time on the 2016 vinyl edition of Bowie At The Beeb, does indeed feature some dodgy drumming, together with a fine vocal performance from Bowie and some marginally different lyrics. Confusingly, a different version often labelled by bootleggers as the BBC take is in fact a studio demo, possibly the one recorded on March 23rd.

     The successful album take of "The Supermen", featuring apocalyptic echo-tracked drumming from Cambridge's successor Woody Woodmansey, is a melodramatic helping of Teutonic fantasy, dabbling again in the Nietzschean overtones prevalent throughout the album. The barrelling timpani-rolls recall Richard Strauss's most celebrated composition Also Sprach Zarathustra, a Nietzschean fanfare famously used as the theme music for another Bowie source, 2001: A Space Odyssey. David had been reading Jenseits von Gut und Bose and Also Sprach Zarathustra during the early part of 1970, and chilly observations derived from both can be found throughout The Man Who Sold The World and Hunky Dory. Here, as in "Saviour Machine", the theme arises from Nietzsche's proposition of the superman's rejection of temporal morality, but Bowie superimposes a nightmarish fairytale of the "tragic endless lives" of immortal beings "chained to life", while "sad-eyed mermen" suffer "nightmare dreams no mortal mind could hold". Within this mythic Wagnerian landscape (whose "mountain magic" recalls the fairytale setting of "Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud"), "man would tear his brother's flesh" in the desperate quest for "a chance to die".

     Another likely inspiration, albeit a considerably kookier one, is a track on Biff Rose's 1968 album The Thorn In Mrs Rose's Side, a ubiquitous influence on Bowie's work at around this time. "Paradise Almost Lost" is a 1948 poem by the American humorist Joseph Newman (the uncle of actor Paul Newman), which Biff Rose recites in the sort of fashion that the word "idiosyncratic" exists to describe. The poem is more tongue-in-cheek than apocalyptic, but the narrative is surely too close to be coincidental, particularly as the metre is identical and can be sung along to the melody of "The Supermen" ("I'll tell about those ancient days / Ere history penetrates the haze / Ere human eyes were there to gaze / When earth was all primeval...With lightning flash and thunder roll / An angry God demanded toll / And so he dug a hellish hole / And thrust them in the chasm").

     In an interview for Zygote magazine during his first trip to America in early 1971, Bowie explained that "The Supermen" was based on "purely a mystical thought, a humanoid that lived forever, even though his gods were dying. It's a murderer, a guy capable of murdering someone who found a way to kill people; he would be the new god." He went on to compare "The Supermen" with an episode of Star Trek - almost certainly 1968's Day Of The Dove - which he had seen repeated on American television: "I saw an interesting thing the other night on one of the Star Trek shows. Gassy show. When that embryonic force got into the spaceship and neutralised all their weapons yet kept them fighting each other inside the ship and thriving on that energy. If that had stayed around it would have been like that, it probably would have approached the Superman." In the same interview David used a familiar phrase which would soon crop up in another of his lyrics: "The Supermen", that was the seed of an idea of Homo Superior I was toying with. The coming of the New Man. I've written a lot of songs around that theme..." Bowie's first demo of "Oh! You Pretty Things", in which the "Homo Superior" take centre stage, would be recorded soon after his return to Britain just a few days later.

     "I set "The Supermen" as a period piece," David said in 1973, "but I think it was a forward rather than a backward thing." Three years later he told another interviewer that the song was "pre-fascist", explaining that in 1970 he was "still going through the thing when I was pretending I understood Nietzsche...and I had tried to translate it into my own terms to understand it, so "Supermen" came out of that."

     On November 12th 1971 a radically rearranged version was recorded during the Ziggy Stardust sessions at Trident, alternating soft, acoustic verses with explosive, Ronson-led choruses. It was originally donated to the 1972 Revelations compilation, later appearing in a different mix on 1990's Hunky Dory reissue and 2002's Ziggy Stardust repackage, while a further 5.1 remix appeared on the DVD included with the vinyl edition of 2012's Ziggy reissue. It was the 1971 version that Bowie chose to emulate in live performances during the Ziggy Stardust tour, and although it's more of a piece with the classic Ziggy sound, my money's still on the timpani-banging rollercoaster of the original album recording. In Strange Fascination Tony Visconti describes the first version as one of The Man Who Sold The World's "outrageous sonic landscapes...kind of prescient for the sound that Queen eventually came up with - not only the vocal style, but the high-pitched backing vocals and the guitar solo, too."

      In its "alternate" form "The Supermen" was taped for two further BBC sessions on June 3rd and September 21st 1971 (the second of these, a superb recording, now appears on Bowie At The Beeb), while a live version from Boston on October 1st 1972 later appeared on the Sound + Vision Plus CD and on 2003's Aladdin Sane reissue. An acoustic revival, with tempo and phrasing more faithful to the original version, was included in the 1997 ChangesNowBowie session. "The riff that I used on that I actually revived on Earthling," David confessed in the accompanying interview. "You've got to spot it!" The riff in question, recycled for "Dead Man Walking", was apparently given to David by Jimmy Page back in 1965 during the session for "I Pity The Fool". "He was quite generous that day," said David, "and he said 'Look, I've got this riff but I'm not using it for anything, so why don't you learn it and see if you can do anything with it?' So I had this riff, and I've used it ever since!" "The Supermen" subsequently reappeared on the Earthling and A Reality tours.

SURVIVE (Bowie/Gabrels)

  • Album: 'hours...'

  • A-Side: January 2000

  • Live: Bowie At The Beeb (Bonus Disc)

  • Bonus: 'hours...' (2004)

  • Download: July 2009

  • Video: Best Of Bowie

  • Live Video: Best Of Bowie/VH1 Storytellers

"There's something I find really authentically early seventies about the writing structure of "Survive", Bowie declared of one of his favourite 'hours...' tracks. Although a prime exhibit of the alleged Hunky Dory style which pre-release hype suggested was to be the album's keynote, in fact "Survive" offers a deft blend of old and new, locking a classic twelve-string Bowie intro with a gradual build into a soaring Reeves Gabrels guitar break, but discreetly subjugating both to one of the most beautiful melodies Bowie ever created. There are definite reminders of Hunky Dory's slow ballads but perhaps the closest ancestor is "Starman", whose luxuriant lead guitar sound and Supremes-influenced Morse Code guitar bleeps are resurrected to great effect. The shuffling drumbeat and stop-start verse melodies, meanwhile, are vaguely reminiscent of "Five Years".

     Like "Something In The Air" the song reviews an extinct relationship, although once again Bowie was keen to explain that it referred to nothing specific. "There was a time in my life where I was desperately in love with a girl," he told Uncut, "and I met her, as it happens, quite a number of years later. And boy, was the flame dead! So in this case on the album the guy's thinking about a girl he knew many years ago, and she was 'the great mistake he never made'. See, I know how it feels, but it's not part of my current situation. I'm much too jolly."

     There are references to Bowie's age-old fantasies of escape and identity ("Give me wings, give me space / Give me money for a change of face") and, as elsewhere on 'hours...', an awareness of encroaching age ("Who said time is on our side?"), resolving into a determination to survive the mistakes of the past and forge ahead. "Survive" is a complex, compassionate achievement and undoubtedly one of Bowie's finest songs of the 1990s. It was a regular highlight of the 1999-2000 tours, and among numerous television performances were fine renditions on Channel 4's TFI Friday on October 8th 1999 and, as a pre-recorded insert, BBC2's TOTP2 special on November 3rd. Three further versions were taped at the BBC's Maida Vale studios on October 25th for broadcast on various radio stations, and another live recording, this time from the BBC Radio Theatre concert on June 27th 2000, later appeared on the Bowie At The Beeb bonus disc. The song resurfaced on the Heathen tour, featuring in yet another BBC session on September 18th 2002.

     In January 2000 "Survive" was released as a single, remixed by UK producer Marius de Vries with additional guitar by Karma County's Brendan Gallagher, who later revealed that de Vries "had a great idea of reintroducing several of David Bowie's music periods into his production of "Survive" - a bit of "Space Oddity" acoustic guitar, some Mick Ronson electric circa "Jean Genie", and a bit of angular Adrian Belew kind of stuff as well." The video, shot in London by Walter Stern, depicts Bowie sitting alone in a dingy kitchen, gazing blankly ahead in deep thought as he waits for an egg to boil. As the song begins to take flight so does Bowie's egg, quickly followed by his table, his chair and himself, until he is floating in mid-air and clutching at the cooker for support. By the end all has returned to normal. It's a hallucinatory, curiously moving little drama that perfectly echoes the song's reflective, daydream quality, and once again hints obliquely at Bowie's past work - in this case the trippy anti-gravity and kitchen scenes in the classic "Ashes To Ashes" video.

     The first CD single included a PC-playable version of the video, while the second featured a live version recorded at the Elyseé Montmartre, Paris, on October 14th 1999, plus a video of the same performance. Both these videos appeared on the Best Of Bowie DVD, while the single edit also appeared in the soundtrack of the Omikron computer game and as a bonus track on the 2004 reissue of 'hours...'. Yet another live performance became available in 2009 with the release of VH1 Storytellers, while a cover version by the Dutch band Moke was released as a single in 2010.


  • Bonus: Ziggy Stardust/Ziggy Stardust (2002)/Ziggy Stardust (2012)

In 1990 "Sweet Head" took Bowie fans entirely by surprise: until its appearance on Rykodisc's Ziggy Stardust reissue, even the best-informed aficionados knew nothing of its existence. Even then they nearly didn't get to hear it - Rykodisc's Jeff Rougvie later revealed that Bowie initially barred its release, "and then two months later he changed his mind and said we could put it out." The edit later included on the 2002 reissue of Ziggy Stardust goes a step further, opening with some additional studio banter between David and the band, and in the same year the song won a little extra familiarity with its inclusion on the soundtrack of the film Moonlight Mile. A 5.1 remix appeared on the DVD issued with 2012's vinyl edition of Ziggy Stardust.

     No timorous demo but a fully polished recording from the Ziggy Stardust sessions, "Sweet Head" casts a intriguing light on the album's development. Completed on November 11th 1971, it boasts a hard-edged guitar sound, a driving tempo and a furiously quickfire vocal line, which interestingly makes direct lyrical reference to Ziggy himself - something otherwise found only on the title track. It's possible that "Sweet Head" was dropped because Bowie was reluctant to put all his eggs in one basket by overloading the album with "concept".

     The riff's similarity to that of "Hang On To Yourself" might also account for the song's drop into obscurity, but equally noteworthy is the fact that the lyrics are particularly strong for their time and would doubtless have courted controversy. Like a nastier version of "Five Years", there are references to Clockwork Orange-style "mugging gangs", "spicks and blacks" and "burnt-out vans", together with a swaggering messianic self-image that pushes the album's religious imagery to the borders of blasphemy ("Till there was rock you only had God"). As if that weren't enough there's a running streak of innuendo about the act suggested by the song's title, culminating in a cheeky "While you're down there" which anticipates Bowie's famous guitar-fellatio act on the 1972 tour. This is Ziggy as sexed-up godhead, a preening and phallic "rubber peacock" dispensing rock gratification ("Ziggy's gonna play, and I'm just about the best you can hear!") in return for sexual favours and mindless worship. Sinister, exhilarating, dumb and magnificent, it's quite beyond belief that "Sweet Head" was dropped from the album and lost for nearly twenty years.


Lou Reed joined Bowie on stage at the Royal Festival Hall on July 8th 1972 to duet on The Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane" (from 1971's Loaded). In the same month Bowie produced Mott The Hoople's cover version for All The Young Dudes. Reed's guide vocal for Mott, recorded at Trident with Bowie on backing vocals, has appeared on bootlegs. Five other heavily bootlegged demos from the All The Young Dudes sessions ("It's Alright", "Henry And The H-Bomb", "Shakin' All Over", "Please Don't Touch" and "So Sad") also purport to feature Bowie, but his presence on the tracks is doubtful: he is unlikely to have played guitar with Mott and his voice is nowhere to be heard.


  • Album: Diamond Dogs

  • Live: David Live

  • Bonus: Diamond Dogs (2004)

Although "Sweet Thing", "Candidate" and "Sweet Thing (Reprise)" are listed as three distinct tracks on Diamond Dogs, they segue seamlessly and are musically inseparable, so we'll discuss them together.

     The sequence enjoyed a gradual gestation, as evidenced by the entirely different version of "Candidate" included on 1990's Diamond Dogs reissue and by the 1973 demo popularly known as "Zion", which provided a prototype for elements of the "Sweet Thing" melody. However, neither of these early tracks remotely hints at the quality of the nine-minute sequence which dominates the first side of Diamond Dogs.

     "Sweet Thing/Candidate" not only offers the strongest evidence of the album's "concept" pretensions, but is also the arguable highlight of Diamond Dogs and one of the great Bowie recordings. Beginning with a slow fade-in of reversed instrumentation resolving into a sublime piano line from Mike Garson, "Sweet Thing" drips with decadence and decay as Bowie paints "a portrait in flesh" of sex as a drug-like commodity ("if you want it, boys, get it here"), and of love reduced to a series of hasty assignations in the ruined doorways of Hunger City, where the physical intimacy means "putting pain in a stranger".

     Bowie's vocal performance is among his finest ever, achieving spectacularly dexterous swoops between sepulchral bass and full-throated falsetto howls. Then, from the low-key intensity of its opening, the song shifts gear into "Candidate", where densely written cut-ups tumble relentlessly across the rising noise of fuzzy, demented guitars. There are disquieting images of violence in the references to Charles Manson, Cassius Clay and "les tricoteuses", the women who knitted at the foot of Madame Guillotine, while Bowie himself seems half destroyed by "rumours and lies and stories they made up", consumed by the fakery of his own stage creations ("My set is amazing, it even smells like a street, there's a bar at the end where I can meet you and your friend"), and driven to distraction by his own promiscuity ("I put all I had in another bed, on another floor, in the back of a car, in a cellar like a church with the door ajar"). As the melody self-destructs beneath the accelerating chant of the lyric, "Candidate" expires in a final image of flailing despair: "We'll buy some drugs and watch a band, and jump in a river holding hands." Thereafter the melody resolves, via a desperate squall on the saxophone, into a resigned reprise of "Sweet Thing" in which David grimly concludes that he might as well "let it be" because "a street with a deal" is "all I ever wanted"; but then, after a momentary echo of "Changes" on Garson's piano, the accelerating bad trip returns with a nightmare excursion into rumbling rock guitars and squeals of feedback, finally fizzling out on the threshold of "Rebel Rebel".

     The title "Sweet Thing", if little else, may have been filched from a track of the same name on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, an album that had left its mark on Hunky Dory a couple of years earlier, but otherwise the "Sweet Thing/Candidate" suite demonstrates fresh enthusiasms. The lyrics are among the most clearly indebted to the Burroughsian cut-up method of which David often spoke at the time, and he is known to have asked his musicians to play "in character" during recording: percussionist Tony Newman recalled Bowie telling him to imagine himself as a French drummer-boy watching his first guillotine execution during the "tricoteuses" section. It is also here, some three years before Bowie's Berlin period, that we find the first evidence of Krautrock beginning to influence his music: the sequence of chugging drums, bass and squealing guitar leading into "Rebel Rebel" is appropriated lock, stock and barrel from "Negativland", a track on Neu!'s 1972 debut album.

     There are inevitable parallels between "Sweet Thing" and Bowie's own increasingly high-octane lifestyle at the time of the Diamond Dogs album, suggesting that the lyric is a desperate confessional, offering no resolution beyond self-lacerating despair. "When it's good it's really good, and when it's bad I go to pieces" might be Bowie's watchword for the mid-1970s. It's a stunningly bleak glimpse into the abyss and remains one of the most comprehensively imagined and dramatically performed of all Bowie's recordings.

     The "Sweet Thing/Candidate" sequence was performed throughout the Diamond Dogs tour, but was dropped from the Soul show and was never played again. On July 9th 1974, in the same week that Bowie's Philadelphia concerts were taped for David Live (which features a tense rendering of the sequence), Ava Cherry recorded her own version of "Sweet Thing" at Sigma Sound studios, backed by Michael Kamen and members of the tour band. This recording has never been released, but in 2016 a 10" acetate copy emerged, backed by Cherry's recording of Kamen's song "Everything That Touches You". Another cover version appeared as the B-side of "My Gurl", a 2006 single by Joan As Police Woman.

     A 2'57" mix of the "Candidate" section from Diamond Dogs, which fades up after "Sweet Thing" and down before "Sweet Thing (Reprise)", appeared on the soundtrack album of the 2001 film Intimacy and on 2004's reissue of Diamond Dogs. In January 2005 the SAS veteran and bestselling author Andy McNab included "Sweet Thing" among his choices on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs.

     In June 2011 a pair of David's original handwritten lyric sheets for the "Sweet Thing/Candidate" medley were auctioned at Christie's by the songwriter and record producer Jon Astley, fetching £8750. Best known for producing The Who's 1978 album Who Are You, Astley was working as an engineer at Olympic Studios at the time of the Diamond Dogs sessions, and was present at the recording of the "Sweet Thing" sequence in January 1974. He revealed that Bowie had allowed him to keep the lyric sheets in exchange for staying at the studio after hours to work on Lulu's version of "The Man Who Sold The World". Riddled with crossings-out and emendations, the manuscript offers an intriguing insight into the song's development: of particular note are several variant lines in the "Candidate" sequence, which here opens: "It's a street - like any other street / With a guillotine on one side - home on the other side / The corridor's amazing, they're built like a street / There's a bar at the end where the condemned meet."

Station To Station
Strangers When We Meet
Strawberry Fields Forever
Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)
Suffragette City
A Summer Kind Of Girl
The Supermen
Sweet Head
Sweet Jane
Sweet Thing
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