SHOPPING FOR GIRLS (Bowie/Gabrels)
Album: Tin Machine II
Hard on the heels of the horror that is "Stateside" comes one of the most undervalued Tin Machine songs, based on a subject brought to Bowie's attention by Reeves Gabrel's wife Sarah. An investigative journalist by trade, she had spent the six months immediately prior to her press engagement on the Glass Spider tour working on a news project called Children Of Darkness, during which she had investigated such scandals as child slavery in South American silver mines, child soldiers in Uganda, and child prostitution in Thailand and the Philippines.
By contrast with the unattractive stridency of the political lyrics on the first Tin Machine album, Bowie displays an admirable lightness of touch in "Shopping For Girls", a quietly furious song about underage sex tourism in the Far East. The lyric is one of his best, evoking a culture of emotional and educational deprivation by dint of some hard-edged wordplay (the familiar acoustic becomes "A small black someone jumps over the crazy god," while the punchline to a well-known tasteless joke, "That's a mighty big word for a nine-year-old", coldly exposes the horror and the premature worldliness of a ruined childhood). There are echoes of the brutal assignations of "Cracked Actor" and "Time", but here there's no shred of residual glamour to counterbalance the sordid reality: "These are children riding naked on their tourist pals, while the hollows that pass for eyes swell from withdrawal...You gaze down into her eyes for a million miles, you wanna give her a name and a clean rag doll."
"Shopping For Girls" was performed during the It's My Life tour, and later unexpectedly revived in Bowie's BBC session for ChangesNowBowie. This slower, acoustic version was an improvement on the original, allowing a wordy song the necessary breathing space denied by its stodgy Tin Machine II arrangement. In 2008 a marginally different mix of the original version was leaked online.
SHOUT see FASHION
SILLY BOY BLUE
Album: David Bowie
Live: Bowie At The Beeb (Bonus Disc)/David Bowie (2010)
Compilation: The Last Chapter/The Toy Soldier EP (The Riot Squad)
This is one of Bowie's outstanding Deram tracks and, recorded on December 8th-9th 1966, it's also among the earliest evidence of his emerging Buddhist phase. He had told Melody Maker the previous February that "I want to go to Tibet. It's a fascinating place, you know...The Tibetan monks, lamas, bury themselves inside mountains for weeks and only eat every three days. They're ridiculous - and it's said they live for centuries." David's dabblings in Buddhism would inform several other tracks of the period, but "Silly Boy Blue" is the first and the most obvious: the lyric addresses a "Child of Tibet" and references Lhasa, Potala, reincarnation and even "Yak-butter statues", alongside other Buddhist terms such as "chela" and "overself". In 1968 - 1969 an adapted version would provide the backing for David's Tibetan mime sequence Jetsun And The Eagle.
David's brief association with The Riot Squad in the spring of 1967 saw him mount another recording of the number: during the same April 5th session at Decca Studios which spawned "Toy Soldier" and "Waiting For The Man", no fewer than seven instrumental takes of "Silly Boy Blue" were recorded to create a backing track for one of The Riot Squad's live routines. What emerged was a more conventional beat-style rendition than the album version, featuring prominent drums and bass, reversed guitar effects, organ and flute. A simpler acoustic version of "Silly Boy Blue" recorded with The Riot Squad, this time with David on vocals, appears on The Last Chapter: Mods & Sods and The Toy Soldier EP. David later performed the song during Lindsay Kemp's mime production Pierrot In Turquoise, and further new recordings featured in his first two BBC radio sessions, taped on December 18th 1967 and May 13th 1968. The first of these remains close in style to the album version and can be heard on David Bowie: Deluxe Edition, while the second, available on Bowie At The Beeb, showcases an expansive Tony Visconti arrangement for strings, keyboards and percussion which really opens up and enriches the song's potential: as Tibetan cymbals and gongs echo around him, Bowie chants "Chime Chime Chime" during the instrumental section in tribute to his Buddhist teacher and friend Chime Youngdong Rimpoche.
Like many of David's songs "Silly Boy Blue" was pitched to other recording artists, and although rejected by Judy Collins, Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother & The Holding Company, it was taken up by Billy Fury, whose cover appeared as the B-side of his unsuccessful March 1968 Parlophone single "One Minute Woman", and was later included on the 2006 compilation Oh! You Pretty Things. In America the song was apparently recorded by the obscure Elephant's Memory, who later went on to work with John Lennon.
The melody of "Silly Boy Blue" reappeared almost note-for-note in the chorus of Right Said Fred's 1991 hit "Don't Talk Just Kiss" - conscious or not, it certainly wouldn't be the band's first connection with Bowie.
The 2'56" demo which has appeared on bootlegs was recorded with The Lower Third at R G Jones Studios as early as October 1965. Its entirely different lyric, a tale of a teenage runaway with shades of "Can't Help Thinking About Me", has more to do with suburban London than distant Tibet, while the bass guitar and handclap interjections will be instantly recognisable to fans of The Beatles' "I Want To Hold Your Hand".
A new studio version of "Silly Boy Blue" was among the songs recorded during 2000's prolific Toy sessions. Although officially unreleased, this magnificent 5'33" recording has leaked online and reveals itself to be a highlight of the Toy sessions, featuring a sumptuous string arrangement and retaining the "Chime" chant as used in the 1968 version. On February 26th 2001, David gave a spectacular live performance based on the Toy arrangement at the Tibet House Benefit concert at Carnegie Hall, backed by the Scorchio Quartet and a troupe of monks from the Drepung Gomang Buddhist Monastic University.
This mysterious Bowie composition is thought to date from around 1967.
SILVER TREETOP SCHOOL FOR BOYS
This little-known Bowie composition, reprising the David Bowie album's atmosphere of psychedelic whimsy with a dash of obscure menace, was supposedly inspired by a newspaper report David had seen about a pot-smoking scandal among the boys of Lancing College, although the dates make this problematic: the song was demoed in the spring of 1967, and the Lancing boys weren't expelled until October. "Silver Treetop School For Boys" was among the repertoire of Bowie's short-lived bandmates The Riot Squad; raw rehearsal try-outs, with no David in evidence and lead vocals sung by bassist "Croak" Prebble, appear on the The Riot Squad's releases The Last Chapter: Mods & Sods and The Toy Soldier EP. At around the same time David recorded his own demo.
The rhythm track and verse melody, not to mention the title itself, owe more than a little to Jeff Beck's singalong classic "Hi-Ho Silver Lining", a hit in the spring of 1967. On May 22nd, just as "Hi-Ho Silver Lining" was spending its fourth week in the top twenty, Kenneth Pitt sent Bowie's demo of "Silver Treetop School For Boys" to producer Steve Rowland. Nothing came of this, but later the same year the song was recorded and released by two different groups. The Slender Plenty's version was first off the mark, released as a single on Polydor in September. The better-known version by The Beatstalkers, a Scottish band managed by Kenneth Pitt, appeared in December as the B-side of their CBS single "Sugar Chocolate Machine"; it later surfaced on David Bowie Songbook, Oh! You Pretty Things and 2005's The Beatstalkers CD. Unlike The Beatstalkers' subsequent Bowie cover "Everything Is You", David made no contribution to the recording.
In October 2004 a copy of Bowie's original demo, previously believed lost, was offered for auction on eBay but failed to reach the vendor's reserve price. This poor-quality 2'38" recording has since found its way onto the internet. A second, more accomplished Bowie version exists in private hands.
SISTER MIDNIGHT (Pop/Bowie/Alomar)
Live: A Reality Tour
Live Video: A Reality Tour
Written in January 1976 during rehearsals for the Station To Station tour and performed at several early US dates, "Sister Midnight" was a collaborative effort: Carlos Alomar devised the guitar riff, Bowie wrote the first verse, and Iggy Pop completed the lyrics. Rehearsal recordings for the 1976 tour reveal the song's origins in the Carlos Alomar-driven funk groove that had shaped earlier compositions like "Fame" and "Stay", an element largely eliminated from subsequent renditions as the song's colder, spikier characteristics began to emerge. Iggy's stark and definitive studio version, produced by David and featuring a revised lyric, was recorded at the Chateau d'Hérouville in late June at the commencement of sessions for The Idiot, which takes its title from the song. It was released as a single in America, but failed to chart.
"Sister Midnight" appeared throughout the 1977 Iggy Pop tour (live versions feature on various Iggy releases), and was performed by Iggy and David on CBS's The Dinah Shore Show on April 13th. Although David never recorded his own studio version, the melody was later revamped with another new lyric (only "can you hear it at all?" survived from the original) as "Red Money", the closing track on Lodger. Bowie introduced snatches of the original "Sister Midnight" into "Young Americans" on some dates of the Sound + Vision tour, and later revived the number in full for A Reality Tour. In 2007, Iggy's original recording featured in the soundtrack of Control, Anton Corbijn's biopic of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, whose work was heavily influenced by The Idiot and the subsequent Bowie/Pop Berlin albums.
SITTING NEXT TO YOU (Bowie/Bolan)
Although Marc Bolan's career took off ahead of Bowie's, with an uninterrupted run of 11 top ten singles which firmly established him as glam's first superstar, he failed to maintain his early momentum. Unlike Bowie, Bolan was unable or unwilling to present a moving target, and with glam on the wane his music deteriorated catastrophically. "Sadly, Marc would never develop further than the three-minute single," Tony Visconti later told Barney Hoskyns. After spending the mid-1970s languishing in Los Angeles and Monte Carlo in much the same cocaine blizzard as Bowie (but, unlike Bowie, with no classic albums to show for it), Bolan began a cautious recovery in 1976 with his hit "I Love To Boogie", followed in March 1977 by his best album for some time, Dandy In The Underworld. At around the same time Bolan told Record Mirror that he was planning to release a joint album with Bowie, "doing a side each. What a combination it's going to be. The two greatest musical influences of the seventies joined together!" This was pure fantasy, based on nothing more than an idle conversation he had had with David in America some years before; but later in 1977 Bolan was thrown an unlikely lifeline as the presenter of a teenage pop show for Granada Television, and it was on the set of Marc that the two old sparring partners met once again.
Bowie was in the midst of his publicity push for "Heroes", and it was primarily in order to showcase the title track that he agreed to appear. Recording took place on September 9th 1977 at Granada's Manchester studios where, despite all manner of provocative circumstances, spirits were high. Bowie was apparently untroubled by the discovery that Bolan's studio band included Herbie Flowers and Tony Newman, two members of the infamous David Live pay revolt of 1974, and despite some biographers' attempts to portray the occasion as a bitter battle of egos, the only major mishap was the late arrival of guest band Generation X. For the climax of the show, David was to join Marc on a brand new number called "Sitting Next To You" which the pair had co-written for the occasion. The studio schedule had over-run and there was only time for one messy and abortive take, which degenerated into chaos when Bolan fell off the stage a few seconds into the guitar intro. The electricians pulled the plugs and apparently Bolan ran to his dressing room in tears, only emerging when Bowie suggested they try to salvage something from the footage. Everyone, Bolan included, saw the funny side as the tape was replayed. "Oh, that's really Polaroid!" David is said to have remarked, "You've got to keep that ending!" They did, but Bolan would not live to see it aired. Seven days later, in the small hours of September 16th, he was killed in a car crash just off Roehampton Lane in Barnes. Accompanied by Tony Visconti, Bowie attended the funeral at Golders Green on September 20th, and subsequently established a trust fund for Bolan's son.
In addition to the brief televised snatch of "Sitting Next To You" - little more than a "Jeepster"-style guitar intro - around twenty minutes of audiotape exists of Bowie and Bolan rehearsing the song with its Buddy Holly-style chorus ("What can I do? Ooh-hoo! Sitting next to you!"). Some sources refer to the number as "Sleeping Next To You" or "Standing Next To You", but "sitting" is the word clearly sung on the tape. These rough rehearsal takes are neither as complete or as satisfying as "Madman", 1977's other Bowie/Bolan composition.
Bowie co-produced and played piano on this track from Iggy Pop's Lust For Life.
SKUNK CITY (Bowie/Bolan) see MADMAN
SLEEPING NEXT TO YOU see SITTING NEXT TO YOU
Live: A Reality Tour
Live Video: A Reality Tour
One of the undoubted highlights of Heathen, the majestic "Slip Away" is a sweeping ballad whose wistful piano, soaring strings and heartfelt chorus immediately evoke classics like "Space Oddity" and "Life On Mars?". The lyric is a melancholy meditation on lost happiness and faded glory, idiosyncratically expressed through the perspectives of two puppets from the obscure low-budget children's television series The Uncle Floyd Show. Fronted by pianist and entertainer Floyd Vivino, the show began airing on New Jersey networks in January 1974 and continued on and off, amid fluctuating fortunes and ever-changing TV channels, until 1999, when the Cablevision network finally sounded its death-knell. An anarchic and irreverent early evening children's variety show pitched somewhere between Banana Splits and The Muppet Show, Uncle Floyd enjoyed its first flush of success on the WTVG channel in the late 1970s, when it began to attract wider media attention and enticed guest bands like Squeeze and The Ramones to perform in the studio. During one recording in 1980 the show's performers were astonished to see David Bowie in the studio audience, singing and clapping along to the signature song "Deep In The Heart Of Jersey". David went backstage afterwards to tell the cast how much he loved the show, revealing that he watched it every night during his make-up sessions for The Elephant Man. When the flabbergasted performers enquired how he had first come across the show, he told them he had been introduced to it by another fan, John Lennon.
"Back in the late seventies, everyone that I knew would rush home at a certain point in the afternoon to catch The Uncle Floyd Show," David recalled in 2002. "He was on UHF Channel 68 and the show looked like it was done out of his living room in New Jersey. All his pals were involved and it was a hoot. It had that Soupy Sales kind of appeal, and though ostensibly aimed at kids, I knew so many people of my age who just wouldn't miss it. We would be on the floor, it was so funny."
Although Uncle Floyd was joined by a supporting cast of human entertainers, the show's central appeal was his interaction with the many and varied puppet characters, foremost among whom was Oogie, a clown-faced wooden alter ego voiced and operated by Floyd himself in the manner of a ventriloquist's doll (no ventriloquist himself, Floyd would wait for the camera to cut to a close-up of Oogie's face during their conversations). Another favourite puppet was Bones Boy, a cynical wisecracking skeleton doll whose catchphrase "Snap it, pal!" became one of the show's trademarks.
The Uncle Floyd Show inspired fierce devotion among its homegrown New Jersey audience, but never achieved the hoped-for transition to nationwide success. The nearest it came was in 1982, when the series enjoyed a brief period of national syndication by the broadcasting giant NBC, but it was soon pulled after the customary complaints (one station denounced it as "garbage", and many others objected to the perceived religious irreverence of a character called Brother Billy Bobby Booper). By 1983 the show was once again relegated to the New Jersey cable circuit.
Hence, in Bowie's "Slip Away" lyric, the wistful image of the abandoned puppets recalling how fame was once again within their grasp ("Once a time they nearly might have been / Bones and Oogie on a silver screen"), and the knowledge that their brief moment of glory is now no more than a series of radio waves travelling ever deeper into space ("Oogie knew there's never ever time / Some of us will always stay behind / Down in space it's always 1982"), and that the show, as it recedes into history, will be known only by the few who saw it ("No-one knew what they could do / Except for me and you / They slip away..."). But the greatness of "Slip Away" lies in the fact that its meditative beauty effortlessly transcends the specific and eccentric lyrical references: as a song of loss and yearning, its themes are universal.
"Slip Away" was originally recorded in 2000 under the title "Uncle Floyd", for inclusion on the aborted Toy album. Co-producer Mark Plati later recalled that it was among the last of the Toy tracks to be completed, its lyric not composed until the mixing sessions at Looking Glass Studios: "David went off on his own to complete the lyric while I started mixing the track," Plati explained. "By the time I had a decent rough mix, he was finished. In typical style, he sang around ninety-five percent of it in the first take - it gave Hector [Castillo, studio assistant] and me the chills. It was intense, a feeling not at all hindered by the haunting violin from Lisa [Germano] and the many spooky-isms from Gerry [Leonard]...For the outro, we employed a chorus of people rounded up on the spot - Sterling Campbell and Holly Palmer, Coco Schwab, Sean McCaul of the Looking Glass staff, and a band called Stretch Princess who happened to be recording in Studio B with Pete Keppler. Whoever was in the building with vocal cords got hauled in."
Leaked online in 2011, the unreleased 6'14" Toy version opens with a lengthy excerpt of dialogue taken from The Uncle Floyd Show (a ploy later revived during the song's live performance on A Reality Tour), and features small but significant differences in phrasing and arrangement, as well as minor variations in the lyrics ("Bones and Oogie on a million screens" rather than "Bones and Oogie on a silver screen"). It's interesting to note that drummer Sterling Campbell, who plays on Toy but not on Heathen, performs the same distinctive trick-shot triplet motif just after the "Coney Island" line which he later recreated on the Heathen and A Reality tours, but which is absent from the Heathen version.
In 2001 the song was revamped from scratch for Heathen, benefiting from some characteristically stately and grandiose Tony Visconti production. In addition to the majestic washes of synthesized strings, plaintive bar-room piano and fluid bass, "Slip Away" is notable for once again featuring the Stylophone, the electronic toy famously employed on "Space Oddity" and brought out of retirement in 2000 for use on a number of tracks including David's cover of "Pictures Of Lily". "Somebody from England had sent me one with the original Rolf Harris boxing on it, and I was absolutely delighted," he said in 2002. "I hadn't seen the thing since '69, '70, whenever it was. So I used it as the solo instrument for "Pictures Of Lily" with, I thought, great results...I said, I really should start using this again on something. So I put it with my collection of old synthesizers. I've got a lot of old stuff that I've kept over the years, that I really dragged out for this album." The pulse of low-tech synthesizers and reversed-tape trickery that opens and closes the track recalls the experimental textures of Bowie's Berlin albums, in particular "Subterraneans". "You hear [the Stylophone] really well at the end of "Slip Away"," David pointed out. "Tony suggested that I cover the top note of some of his string parts with it, and it gives them a kind of lift."
The 5.1 remix of the track on the Heathen SACD is marginally longer than the CD version. David's Stylophone made regular live appearances on the Heathen and A Reality tours, during which the magnificent live performance of "Slip Away" was a popular highlight.
European A-Side: June 2002
Compilation: Best Of Bowie
If "Slip Away" harks back to some of Bowie's classic ballads, then the next track on Heathen revisits another vintage Bowie sound: the futuristic revamping of the old-fashioned R&B style epitomised by tracks like "Heroes" and "Teenage Wildlife". Both songs are instantly recalled in the rolling bassline and soaring lead guitar of "Slow Burn", although the shifting chords, doom-laden lyrics and soulful saxophone harmonics offer something entirely new.
As most reviewers noted at the time, "Slow Burn" is distinguished by an excellent lead guitar performance by The Who's Pete Townshend, returning to the Bowie stable 22 years after his contribution to "Because You're Young". Bowie described Townshend's performance on "Slow Burn" as "the most eccentric and aggressive guitar I've heard Pete play, quite unlike anything else he's done recently." The collaboration came about after a meeting in October 2001, by which time the main Heathen sessions had already been completed. "He came over to New York to do the Concert For New York," explained Bowie, "and I was on that too. But rehearsals kind of took everything over and we got no time to do any recording, so he had to go back to England. I sent him an MP3 of it, and then he sent his parts back on Pro-tools, so we just transferred it in the studio. So it was kind of done by mail, the entire thing."
Three months later, on January 29th 2002, further overdubs were added by The Borneo Horns, the three-man sax section last heard on Never Let Me Down. At the time Bowie cited "Slow Burn" as "probably my favourite track on the album so far," describing it as "moody and sad, with a strong R&B feel."
"Slow Burn" continues Heathen's preoccupation with what David referred to as "a low-level anxiety", and, like the album's opener "Sunday", it was popularly but inaccurately suggested by reviewers that the lyric referred in some way to the events of September 11th 2001. In fact, as Bowie explained, the anxious intimations of "fear overhead" in "this terrible town" were grounded in feelings he had been nurturing long before the terrorist attacks. Indeed, many of the same concerns can be traced to earlier Bowie compositions. The sense of urban paranoia ("The walls shall have eyes and the doors shall have ears / But we'll dance in the dark and they'll play with our lives") echoes dozens of lyrics on albums like Scary Monsters and Diamond Dogs, while the portentous menace of the line "These are the days" had already been put to good use in both "Under Pressure" and "The Dreamers". But this is not to say that "Slow Burn" lacks individuality; on the contrary, it's one of the strongest compositions on Heathen. Tony Visconti's razor-sharp production abounds with splendid touches such as the tight saxophone blasts that punctuate the second verse, while his recording of David's voice is strongly reminiscent of its treatment on "Heroes".
The 5.1 remix of "Slow Burn" on the Heathen SACD is marginally longer than the CD version. As the debut single from Heathen, "Slow Burn" made several live television appearances in 2002, including a Top Of The Pops performance pre-recorded in New York on June 2nd. A 60-second video clip directed by Gary Koepke, featuring Bowie interacting with child actress Hayley Nicholas in a recording studio which turns out to be in space, was used as a TV commercial to promote Heathen; Koepke's full 3'55" "Slow Burn" video, this time in monochrome and ending on a subtler reveal of a spacesuit, remained unreleased until it was posted on YouTube in 2016. In mainland Europe the single appeared on June 3rd 2002 on two separate discs: a card-case CD backed by "Wood Jackson" and "Shadow Man", and a maxi CD featuring the same tracks plus "When The Boys Come Marching Home" and "You've Got A Habit Of Leaving". Both formats featured the album version of "Slow Burn", while the 3'55" radio edit appeared on a promo CD and later on Best Of Bowie. The UK single, originally scheduled for July 2002, was cancelled. Unexpectedly for a number that had initially been marketed as the album's flagship song, "Slow Burn" disappeared from the Heathen tour repertoire after just two concerts, making its second and last stage appearance at Meltdown on June 29th. A cover version by Films Of Colour was released in 2011, while two years later The Killers' frontman Brandon Flowers confessed to taking the bassline from "Slow Burn" for their 2004 hit "All These Things That I've Done".
A SMALL PLOT OF LAND (Bowie/Eno/Gabrels/Garson/Kizilcay/Campbell)
Bonus: 1.Outside (2004)
Falling somewhere between the accumulative symphonic sound of Philip Glass and the avant-garde jazz of pianist Mike Garson, "A Small Plot Of Land" is one of 1.Outside's more challenging tracks, a cold, pared-down arrangement for drums and piano over which atonal howls of guitar, bass and ghostly voices builds into a pandemonium of sound. According to the Outside tour brochure, the song is "To be sung by the residents of Oxford Town, New Jersey," and Bowie's lyric seems to be an almost Biblical lament. The doomed plight of the "poor dunce" who "pushed back the pigmen" and who "never knew what hit him" recalls Bowie's early classic "Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud", and the observation that "prayer can't travel so far these days" taps into 1.Outside's theme of pre-millennial paganism. The line "swings through the tunnels and claws his way" is plainly indebted to Scott Walker's "Nite Flights" ("turns its face into the heat and runs the tunnels"), covered by Bowie only a year earlier. Indeed, the entire recording is without doubt influenced by Walker, whose superb 1995 album Tilt, although released after the 1.Outside sessions, bears uncanny similarities with this track in particular.
In October 1994 Bowie discussed the as-yet unheard "A Small Plot Of Land" in an email conversation with Brian Eno published in Q magazine. Eno revealed that he was working on "a new beginning to that song which I like very much. It's an atmospheric piece about 90 seconds long using your "poor soul" phrase played very slowly and forming long drifting overlays. In the background is a sound like motors or machines or transmissions of some kind. I think it's lovely..." This certainly isn't the finished album track, although it might be the early, percussion-free Eno mix used in Julian Schnabel's 1996 film Basquiat to underscore the emotional aftermath of Andy Warhol's death. Eno later recorded in his diary that Schnabel considered this mix (included as a bonus track on the 2004 reissue of 1.Outside) "Much better than what went on the record". Another version of the Basquiat mix, with an extended intro featuring David's multi-tracked voice chanting "No, no, won't fly", was included on an in-house Virgin promo cassette entitled B-Sides.
Bowie gave a magnificent unadorned live performance of "A Small Plot Of Land", taken at a languid tempo and accompanied only be Mike Garson on piano, at a charity function in New York on September 18th 1995. In its more familiar album arrangement, the song was played throughout the Outside tour, prefaced on some early dates by David launching into a murderous cockney monologue which pointed up the title's obvious connection with the subject matter of "Please Mr Gravedigger" ("I kicked 'im in the 'ead, and he got dead when I kicked 'im in the 'ead...so they put 'im under the earth, poor sod. Fuck 'im. Never liked 'im anyway..."). In 1996 a further instrumental remix was used as the theme music for Andrew Graham-Dixon's excellent revisionist BBC series A History Of British Art. A superb cover version by Donny McCaslin and his Blackstar bandmates appeared on McCaslin's 2016 album Beyond Now.
SO NEAR TO LOVING YOU (Jones/Rodriguez/Solly)
An unrealised Manish Boys composition rehearsed in 1965.
SO SAD see SWEET JANE
Bonus: The Next Day/The Next Day Extra
Tracked on May 12th 2011, with Bowie's lead vocal not recorded until October 23rd 2012, the slight but pretty "So She" was relegated to the status of a bonus track. Opening with a rockabilly guitar which is soon swept away on a sea of drums, keyboard and strings, the song feels like a hotchpotch of familiar ingredients from the Bowie store cupboard: the lolloping beat takes us back to "Days", while the ambient guitars and layered vocal harmonics are reminiscent of 'hours...', particularly when a hint of the Hawaiian-inflected slide guitar from "Seven" pops its head around the door. When Bowie sings "Further out to sea", there's a melodic echo of the opening line of "Space Oddity", a recurring figure in Bowie's work which had earlier resurfaced in "The Motel", "Battle For Britain" and "Something In The Air" among others. The lyric, too, seems like a lucky dip of Bowie tropes: the sky, the moon, the sea, loneliness, isolation, a female figure who arrives like an angel of comfort. "I am far from the best interpreter of Bowie lyrics," Tony Visconti told the NME in 2013, "but I'll stick my neck out..."So She" is a wistfully sung love song. It kind of makes me feel romantically sad. Harmonically it is quite sophisticated for such a short piece." Indeed it is. It's a song that many an artist would give their right arm to create; for Bowie, it's an agreeable throwaway.
A SOCIAL KIND OF GIRL
Originally demoed in May 1967 as "A Summer Kind Of Girl" (the oft-cited title "Summer Kind Of Love" is apocryphal), this early Bowie song was re-recorded about a year later with a new set of lyrics. Like both of the variant titles, the composition suggests an attempt to ape the style of The Beach Boys: David sings in a corny Californian accent and there are falsetto backing harmonies in abundance, albeit set against a verse melody that borrows flagrantly from The Beatles' "Help!" The chief difference between the two versions lies in a darkening of the lyric. The first one, "A Summer Kind Of Girl", is an innocuous enough account of a girl whose presence brightens the world ("She's a walking picture of a golden beach in June...The clouds are scared to show their faces...She can change the bleakest hour into a summer's day," and so on). A year later, the revised version offers something more cynical and bitchy. The jolly opening gambit of "She's a friendly girl, know her awfully well, she's a social kind of girl" gives way to the revelation that the heroine's sociability won't allow her to settle for just one boy: "Freddie loved her yesterday, Tom's today's romance / Who can say what tomorrow brings, maybe you stand a chance". And then, in characteristic early Bowie style, the knife twists: "Someday soon the boys will tire, and she will stand alone at night, a lonely girl just feeling blue". The marriage of a bleak lyric to a sunny Beach Boys setting is an amusing jeu d'esprit, but few would uphold this song as Bowie's most successful composition of the period.
SOFT GROUND (Allen)
Produced by Bowie for Mott The Hoople's All The Young Dudes.
SOME ARE (Bowie/Eno)
This out-take from the Low sessions was mixed in 1991 for release as a bonus track. Although co-credited to Brian Eno, the original composition is rumoured to predate Low: some sources have alleged that it was written in Los Angeles in 1975 as part of Bowie's abandoned soundtrack for The Man Who Fell To Earth, and was intended to underscore the sequence near the end of the film in which Mary-Lou and Nathan Bryce spend Christmas together, although Bowie himself denied this, describing "Some Are" as "a quiet little piece Brian Eno and I wrote in the Seventies." It's a soft, emotive recording over which David's breathy and indistinct vocal captures fleeting images of "sleigh-bells in snow". In 2008 it became the most obscure track chosen for inclusion on the compilation iSelectBowie, in whose liner notes David pointed out that "The cries of wolves in the background are sounds that you might not pick up on immediately. Unless you're a wolf. They're almost human, both beautiful and creepy." Emphasising the song's impressionistic elusiveness, he suggested that it might conjure up "Images of the failed Napoleonic force stumbling back through Smolensk. Finding the unburied corpses of their comrades left from their original advance on Moscow. Or possibly a snowman with a carrot for a nose; a crumpled Crystal Palace Football Club admission ticket at his feet. A Weltschmerz indeed. Send in your own images, children, and we'll show the best of them next week."
The version re-orchestrated by Philip Glass for the second movement of his 1993 Low Symphony was played as pre-show music on the Outside tour, and later appeared on the 2001 compilation All Saints.
SOME WEIRD SIN (Pop/Bowie)
Bowie co-wrote and co-produced this track on Iggy Pop's Lust For Life, also providing keyboards and backing vocals. It was performed on Iggy's 1977 tour, from which a live version featuring Bowie can be heard on the 1977 set.
SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME
Album: Young Americans
Bonus: The Gouster
Developed from Bowie's earlier composition "I Am Divine" and briefly considered as a title for the Young Americans album, "Somebody Up There Likes Me" was recorded at Sigma Sound in August 1974. The title derives from the 1956 biopic starring Paul Newman as the boxer Rocky Graziano, but the lyric addresses a wider cult of celebrity. David described it as a "Watch out mate, Hitler's on his way back" warning, and his portrait of the charismatic, media-obsessed politician "on everybody's wall, blessing all the papers, thanking one and all, hugging all the babies, kissing all the ladies" is all too clear. Significantly, the lyric could just as well describe any celebrity (even a rock star - David added that the song was "your rock and roll sociological bit"), and exposes the implicit fiction of image-construction and the hollowness of fame and adulation: "Worlds away when we were young, any man was judged by what he'd done / But now you pick them off the screen, what they look like, where they've been." Yet again, Bowie warns us to choose our leaders carefully - a theme he would soon pursue to dangerous extremes - but "Somebody Up There Likes Me" muffles its ominous tone behind a slick, shimmering wall of saxophone and synthesizer, and you have to listen quite carefully to deduce that it's not just another smoochy soul number.
One of the album's provisional track-listings, written in David's hand, lists the song as "Somebody Up There Loves Me". An early mix was granted its first official release on the mock-up of The Gouster included with 2016's Who Can I Be Now? box set. The song was performed occasionally during the Soul tour, receiving its live premiere on October 10th 1974.
SOMEDAY see BLAZE
SOMETHING I WOULD LIKE TO BE
Little is known about this song, which was demoed in the autumn of 1967 and was among those offered to John Walker, late of The Walker Brothers, following a chance encounter with David on November 8th when they shared the bill on the Dutch television show Fenkleur. Kenneth Pitt's erroneous suggestion that the song was recorded at Bowie's BBC session on December 18th 1967 has long been disproved.
SOMETHING IN THE AIR (Bowie/Gabrels)
Soundtrack: American Psycho
B-Side: July 2000
Bonus: 'hours...' (2004)
There are countless evocative echoes of Bowie's past in the building intensity of "Something In The Air", whose chorus chords reprise "All The Young Dudes" while the hushed verses, with their ambient "Albatross"-style guitars and fragmented vocoder vocals, recall "Seven Years In Tibet". A snatch of the melody (on the lines "nothing left to save" and "place of no return") echoes the opening line of "Space Oddity", while lyrics like "We lay in each other's arms but the room is just an empty space / I guess we've lived it out" recollect old laments like "An Occasional Dream". The repeated cry of "I've danced with you too long" resurrects the "last dance" of "Under Pressure" and, as Bowie himself pointed out, the song's coda includes an obvious homage to "I'm The One", a 1972 recording by Annette Peacock, whom David had approached that same year with a view to performing on Aladdin Sane.
Even the title hints at a tantalising relevance to Bowie history: Thunderclap Newman's unrelated one-hit wonder "Something In The Air" topped the UK chart during the Space Oddity sessions in July 1969, which tempts one to read suggestive David/Angie resonances into lines like "We used what we could to get the things that we want / But we lost each other on the way". Ultimately, though, "Something In The Air" is a bigger song than that; it's a study in regret which portrays, in David's words, "somebody who really can't stand the relationship he's in, so he's kicking out his partner." Like all his best compositions it operates in an elliptical, elusive territory, addressing universal truths and specific moments simultaneously. It's a grandiose, heartbreaking song, and one of the highlights of Bowie's 1990s output. It was played on the 'hours...' tour (fine versions were recorded at the BBC session on October 25th 1999 and for Later...With Jools Holland on November 29th), and a live version recorded in New York on November 19th 1999 appeared on some formats of the "Seven" single. An edited version of the album cut appeared in the Omikron computer game. In 2000 a Mark Plati remix appeared over the end credits of the film American Psycho and was later included as a bonus track on the 2004 reissue of 'hours...', while the original version was used in the soundtrack of Christopher Nolan's 2001 film Memento.
SONG FOR BOB DYLAN
Album: Hunky Dory
"This is how some see BD," was David's summary of this little-regarded track at the time of Hunky Dory's release. The title parodies "Song To Woody", Bob Dylan's 1962 paean to his idol Woody Guthrie, but Bowie's tribute becomes a harangue rather than a eulogy. Addressed directly to "Robert Zimmerman", highlighting David's growing preoccupation with layers of identity, the lyric suggests that the radical folk-rocker of old school should implore his "good friend Dylan" to return to his songwriting roots ("gaze a while down the old street") and come to the rescue of those who have lost faith ("Tell him they've lost his poems...Give us back our unity"). In this respect Bowie is following the example set by Country Joe & The Fish, whose 1970 song "Hey Bobby" had issued a similar plea (Hype supported Country Joe McDonald at The Roundhouse), and by the so-called Dylan Liberation Front founded in the same year, whose mission was to "free Bob Dylan from himself". There's a sense, too, in which Bowie is staking a claim on Dylan's territory: in 1976 he told Melody Maker that the song "laid out what I wanted to do in rock. It was at that period that I said, OK, if you don't want to do it, I will. I saw the leadership void."
The glam chorus pilfers incongruously from The Velvet Underground (the titles of "Here She Comes Now" and "There She Goes Again" effectively provide the hook), while celebrating the power of Dylan's "old scrapbook" to rout the world's corruption. In his evocation of the goddess Athene, Bowie renews Hunky Dory's plea for the artist to be visited by inspiration. "Song For Bob Dylan" thus seems to be both tribute and reprimand, and a reminder amid the album's cryptic amoralities that, two years on from the protest numbers on Space Oddity, Bowie still identifies himself at least in spirit with a more polemic school of songwriting.
"Song For Bob Dylan" was premiered at Bowie's BBC concert session recorded on June 3rd 1971, with lead vocals by schoolfriend and erstwhile King Bee George Underwood, who would also sing lead vocal on a demo version recorded at around the same time. As David's rambling introduction at the BBC concert made [un]clear, at this early stage it was called "Song For Bob Dylan - Here She Comes". It was the earliest number to be attempted during the Hunky Dory sessions at Trident, with the first take recorded on June 8th 1971, but it proved a particularly problematic song to nail, and there were numerous rejected retakes over the coming weeks until the final version was taped on August 6th. The song featured frequently during the early Ziggy concerts, before disappearing altogether in mid-1972.
SONG 2 (Albarn/Coxon/James/Rowntree)
During tour rehearsals in July 2003, David and several of his band saw Blur in concert at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom. Bowie sang Blur's praises for months thereafter, and during A Reality Tour would often launch into a short burst of their 1997 hit between numbers.
SONS OF THE SILENT AGE
Live: Glass Spider (2007 CD/DVD Release)
Live Video: Glass Spider
This is one of the outstanding tracks on "Heroes" and also among the most unsettling. The cloud of depression and retreat that hangs over so much of Bowie's Berlin work is here manifested in a cryptic portrait of shadowy characters who, perhaps like Hitler's Nazis, "stand on platforms, blank looks and no books" and "rise for a year or two then make war". Interspersed between the mystic, almost catatonically droned verses - also showcasing one of Bowie's finest saxophone performances - we get triumphant bursts of "Bowie histrionics" as David howls pledges of eternal love.
Like the cursed immortals of "The Supermen", the sons of the silent age "don't walk, they just glide in and out of life" and "they never die, they just go to sleep one day". This last line is another of Bowie's many borrowings from Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris, the stage revue which had introduced him to "Amsterdam" and "My Death" a decade earlier. Brel's song "Les Vieux" features in the show under the English title "Old Folks", and in the translation by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman it includes the line "The old folks never die, they just put down their heads and go to sleep one day." In its turn, "Sons Of The Silent Age" proved influential: Bowie's lyric includes the names of two made-up groups, "Sam Therapy and King Dice", which in due course inspired real bands. King Dice formed in New York in 1991, while Sam Therapy were founded in the 1980s by Brian Pendleton, the original rhythm guitarist with The Pretty Things - two of whose songs Bowie had covered on Pin Ups back in 1973.
"Sons Of The Silent Age" was performed on the Glass Spider tour, during which guitarist Peter Frampton took over vocal duties for the choruses while Bowie concentrated on a piece of gymnastic choreography with dancer Constance Marie. The song was later reworked by Philip Glass as the fourth movement of his 1997 "Heroes" Symphony.
A-Side: October 1973
Album: Pin Ups
B-Side: October 2013
Live Video: Serious Moonlight
Originally recorded by The McCoys as the B-side of their 1965 single "Fever", then covered by The Merseys to become a one-hit wonder in 1966, and quoted the following year in The Beatles' "It's All Too Much", "Sorrow" received a beautiful Bowie makeover in 1973 to become one of the highlights of Pin Ups and an obvious choice of single. Entering the chart just as Deram's reissue of "The Laughing Gnome" peaked at number 6 (rumour has it that RCA delayed "Sorrow" for this very reason), it pulled focus onto David's new work and spent a healthy five weeks in the top ten. Bowie turns in a convincing forgery of Bryan Ferry's affected consonant-dropping baritone, lending credence to the rumour that he was stealing the march on Ferry's own covers project These Foolish Things. Melodically "Sorrow" ploughs the same commercial sax-and-strings furrow as Bowie's contemporaneous Lulu recordings, and like them it belongs to that short-lived moment when the Ziggy hairstyle was still in place but the leotards had given way to double-breasted jackets and ties.
As the current single, "Sorrow" was included in NBC's The 1980 Floor Show in October 1973, with Bowie singing a new vocal over the Pin Ups backing track. Two weeks later, a planned appearance on Top Of The Pops fell victim to a last-minute disagreement over backing tapes: David had been due to perform at Television Centre on October 31st, but the instrumental tracks he supplied had been prepared at Trident without a Musician's Union representative present, leaving the BBC insistent that the backing be re-recorded in an hour at Television Centre. Bowie refused and the appearance was pulled. It hardly mattered: David's stock had never been higher, and "Sorrow" became one of his biggest hits, its fifteen unbroken weeks in the UK top 40 unmatched by any of his other singles.
"Sorrow" was subsequently featured in the Soul and Serious Moonlight tours; the performance from the Serious Moonlight video later became the B-side of 2013's picture disc reissue of the single. One of several unreleased Marius de Vries mixes of the 1999 track "Seven" features the addition of the opening lines of "Sorrow" to the final chorus.
Album: Tin Machine II
The 1989 Tin Machine gigs occasionally featured a raucous hard-rock version of this Hunt Sales composition, reworked for Tin Machine II as a slushy ballad. Although marginally less hideous than "Stateside", Hunt's second stint as lead vocalist is another unwelcome intrusion, dragging the album in the direction of Bryan Adams at his most schmaltzy or Roger Waters at his most self-indulgent. Ironically Hunt's drums, often such an intrusive presence, are here at their most restrained. The acoustic guitar intro and Bowie's soft saxophone breaks promise more than the song, an uninteresting "didn't mean to hurt you" ramble, ever manages to deliver. "Sorry" was again performed on the It's My Life tour, and in 2008 a pair of longer versions from the studio sessions were leaked online.
Album: Ziggy Stardust
Only the most overworked imagination could slot this song directly into a Ziggy Stardust narrative, but the sublimely melodic "Soul Love", with its tight guitar work and charming sax solo, provides a perfect bridge between the apocalyptic foreboding of "Five Years" and the glam meltdown of "Moonage Daydream". As so often on the Ziggy album, part of the song's appeal lies in its open acknowledgement of the music of Bowie's formative years, here manifested in a strumming riff which calls to mind Ben E King's R&B classic "Stand By Me", a transatlantic hit in 1961. Compared with the rest of the album it initially seems an unusually compassionate song, a series of wishful moments in love: a mother grieving at her son's grave, the son's love of the ideal for which he died (and thus the further resonance of Mary grieving at Christ's tomb), a pair of young lovers believing in their "new words", and the love of "God on high". But on closer inspection there's a nihilistic undercurrent and a cynical re-reading of love that stands in sharp contrast with Bowie's earlier songwriting: he rails against "idiot love" which "descends on those defenceless" and bleakly concludes that "love is not loving". These are sentiments reflected in a comment he later made regarding his short but passionate relationship with Hermione Farthingale: love, he said bleakly from the darkness of his 1976 cocaine pit, "was an awful experience. It rotted me, drained me, and it was a disease."
Other vignettes revive Bowie's scorn for institutions and causes: the dead son/Christ "gave his life to save the slogan", reprising the futility of "Cygnet Committee" and prefiguring "Tony went to fight in Belfast" later on the album. "The priest", already a character in "Five Years", here "tastes the word" amid "the blindness that surrounds him", recollecting the "bullshit faith" of "Quicksand" and clearing the way for a secularised "church of man, love" (or, in a more provocative reading, the "church of man-love") in the following song.
"Soul Love" was recorded at Trident on November 12th 1971. The song made a couple of appearances on the 1973 American tour, and again for the first two Serious Moonlight shows, but its only stint as a regular live fixture was on 1978's Stage tour. The excellent Stage version was released as a single in Japan.
Mick Ronson recorded an unlikely Country & Western solo version in 1975. Inelegantly re-titled "Stone Love (Soul Love)", it remained in the vaults until appearing as a bonus track on various 1990s Ronson re-releases. On February 22nd 2002 Chocolate Genius opened the Tibet House Benefit concert - at which Bowie was also performing - with an acoustic version of "Soul Love", while Cerys Matthews included a cover on her 2006 Open Roads EP and performed the song live at around the same time.
SOUND AND VISION
A-Side: February 1977
US A-Side: December 1991
Download: June 2010
Download: October 2013
RCA officials who had thrown up their hands in horror at Low were placated by the meteoric success of its first single, which hit the top 3 in Britain to become Bowie's biggest hit, reissues excepted, since "Sorrow" in 1973. Dennis Davis's distorted snare-drum, the insistent plish of cymbals, the emotive backing vocals of Tony Visconti's wife Mary (formerly Mary Hopkin of "Those Were The Days" renown), and the layered washes of synthetic strings played by Bowie himself, contribute to one of his most distinctive and brilliant recordings. The infectious rhythm and catchy melody seem strangely at odds with the fragmentary lyric, a depressive meditation on retreat and creative bankruptcy characteristic of Low's sombre introspection. "Pale blinds drawn on day, nothing to do, nothing to say," muses Bowie dismally as, recalling "Quicksand", he finds himself anxiously "waiting for the gift of sound and vision".
In 2003 Bowie described "Sound And Vision" as "a very sad song for me...I was trying very hard to drag myself out of an awful period of my life. I was locked in a room in Berlin telling myself I was going to straighten up and not do drugs anymore. I was never going to drink again. Only some of it proved to be the case. It was the first time I knew I was killing myself and time to do something about my physical condition."
In common with the rest of Low, Bowie's vocals were added after the studio band had packed up and left; Tony Visconti recalled that even his wife's backing vocals were "recorded before there was a lyric, title or melody." Mary Hopkin was visiting the Chateau d'Hérouville with the couple's young children, Delaney and Jessica, when she was asked to make her contribution to the song. "Iggy Pop was also visiting at the time, so it was a lovely, congenial atmosphere," Mary recalled in 2011. "One evening, Brian called me into the studio to sing a quick backing vocal with him on "Sound And Vision". We sang his cute little "doo doo" riff in unison. It was meant to be a distant echo but, when David heard it, he pushed up the fader until it became a prominent vocal - much to my embarrassment, as I thought it was very twee. I love the song and I'm a great admirer of David's work."
Released in February 1977, "Sound And Vision" was an instant turntable favourite and its lengthy intro was co-opted by BBC television to back its programme trailers. It was this exposure that helped boost sales of the single, which Bowie himself did nothing to promote. Despite no video, Top Of The Pops appearance or even so much as an interview, "Sound And Vision" became a huge hit - at least in Britain. It proved too much for the American singles market, only managing number 69 and signalling the end of Bowie's short commercial honeymoon in the US until 1983.
In an unusual experiment, a 12" promo issued in America in 1977 featured a seven-minute remix consisting of "Sound And Vision" segueing into Iggy Pop's "Sister Midnight". RCA would attempt a similar strategy three years later when "Space Oddity" was combined with "Ashes To Ashes".
Low's 1991 reissue came with a bonus remix by David Richards which allowed an unpleasant honking saxophone to disrupt the original's textured atmospherics. In the same year this version and two further remixes appeared on an American single by 808 State; credited to "David Bowie vs 808 State", these were released on a download EP in 2010. October 2013 brought another download, this time of a stripped-back remix created by Sonjay Prabhakar for a Sony smartphone commercial. "Sound And Vision 2013", as it was called, was otherwise available only on a CD-R promo.
Despite being the Berlin albums' biggest commercial hit, "Sound And Vision" received only one performance on the Stage tour, at Earls Court on July 1st 1978; this one-off rendition later appeared on RarestOneBowie. The song was later revived for the Sound + Vision, Heathen and A Reality tours, while an excerpt of the original studio recording was featured in the stage show Lazarus.
The melody of Mary Hopkin's "doo doo doo doo" backing vocal is echoed in the Doves' 2002 single "There Goes The Fear". Among the artists who have covered "Sound And Vision" are Franz Ferdinand, The Sea And Cake, Anna Calvi and Beck. Bowie's original was among the track's heard in the 1993 BBC serial The Buddha Of Suburbia, and on BBC Radio 4 in May 2015, cyclist Bradley Wiggins chose "Sound And Vision" as one of his Desert Island Discs.
Album: The Buddha Of Suburbia
B-Side: November 1993
Bowie's favourite track on The Buddha Of Suburbia anticipates the more experimental tracks on 1.Outside, notably "A Small Plot Of Land". Mike Garson's piano improvisation is here at its wildest, prompted by a constantly shifting background of rhythms and atmospheric effects peppered with Bowie's saxophone and Erdal Kizilcay's plaintive trumpet. As Bowie explained, "all elements, from lead instrumentation to texture, were played both forwards and backwards. The resulting extracts were then intercut arbitrarily giving Mike Garson a splendidly eccentric backdrop upon which to improvise. I personally think Mike gives one of his best ever performances on this piece and it thrills on every listening."