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T | The Songs From A to Z | T

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  • Album: Tonight

  • B-Side: November 1984

  • Download: May 2007

Credit where credit's due: "Tumble And Twirl" is one of the most undervalued of Bowie's 1980s recordings, and although its middle-of-the-road arrangement fails to repeat the success of Lodger's "African Night Flight" or "Red Sails", its absurdist sense of a musical culture-clash attempts something very similar. In this case the inspiration was Bowie's holiday with Iggy Pop in Bali and Java at the end of 1983. "The very rich oil magnates of Java have these incredible colonial-style houses with sewage floating down the hills into the jungle," Bowie explained the following year. "That stayed with me, and watching films out in the garden projected on sheets. It felt so bizarre to sit there in the jungle watching movies at the end of the garden through monsoon weather with rain pouring down. Images of Brooke Shields...It was quite absurd." Like several Tonight tracks, the composition emerged from Bowie's free-association partnership with Iggy Pop. "I think it worked out around fifty-fifty lyrics on most of the songs, but Jimmy's work stands out most obviously on "Tumble And Twirl"," said David. "I think that's obviously his line of humour. The lines about the T-shirts and the part about the sewage floating down the hill..."

     This isn't a comedy song, though; with its repeated refrain of "I like the free world", it's also an outsider's reaction to Indonesian society. Bowie: "I guess those circumstances make one quite fond of the "free world" because a country like Java or Singapore is most definitely not free. There's an extraordinary split between one class and another, far more exaggerated than any class system in the West. If I had the choice between Singapore or Java, I'd pick England! That's what I meant by that line, but when put in a musical structure these things take on a life of their own - as we know from past experience."

     Like most of Tonight "Tumble And Twirl" has dated badly; its spinning Latino arrangement, false endings and trumpet pips sound uncomfortably like the sort of thing you'd expect to hear coming from Kid Creole And The Coconuts or Wham! at around the same time. But the choppy rhythm guitar, the tumbling clatter of percussion, the tongue-in-cheek lounge-music backing vocals and the marvellous acoustic break make for an immensely likeable excursion into world music. And who could dislike a song that has the audacity to rhyme "dusky mulatto" with "nylons and tattoos"?

     An "Extended Dance Mix" was included on the 12" single of "Tonight", and was reissued as a download in 2007.

TURN BLUE (Pop/Lacey/Bowie/Peace)

An early version of "Turn Blue" was attempted in Los Angeles in May 1975 by Bowie, Iggy Pop and Warren Peace (see "Moving On"). Two years later the song was furnished with a new lyric co-written with poet and performance artist Warren Lacey, and performed during Iggy's 1977 tour (live versions appear on various Iggy releases), before being re-recorded for Lust For Life with Bowie on piano and backing vocals. That the original composition dates from the Young Americans period is obvious from the outset: "Turn Blue" is a sprawling ballad in the style of "It's Gonna Be Me".


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

  • A-Side: April 1976

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

  • Live Video: Live Aid

"TVC15" is Station To Station's odd man out, with a lyric of surreal comedy rather than existential angst, borne on a wave of honky-tonk piano and chirpy "Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh" vocals lifted from The Yardbirds' 1964 single "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl". It's apparently indebted to a story David was told by Iggy Pop, some time during 1975's hallucinatory madness, about his girlfriend being swallowed by a television set. Notwithstanding the eccentricity of the subject matter, it can't be entirely irrelevant to note that "TVC15" was the year's second major pop song about people being gobbled up be domestic audio-visual appliances: Helen Reddy's transatlantic smash hit "Angie Baby", a US chart-topper at the beginning of 1975, tells the spooky tale of a boy being devoured by a transistor radio.

     Another inspiration may have been the sinister images of mesmeric TV screens in The Man Who Fell To Earth, but there's nothing ominous about this jaunty, cartoonish confection, which is a jarring burst of exuberance among Station To Station's more anguished moments. The "transmission / transition" bridge not only recalls the silver-screen metaphors of many earlier compositions, but offers a playful alternative to the sinister transubstantiation of the title track's "magical movement".

     Carlos Alomar later recalled that the rough-and-ready nature of the track was a deliberate strategy, revealing that Bowie "really wanted it fucked up like when we did "Boys Keep Swinging", kind of loose and stupid. But then when it got to the end, he really wanted to drive it home."

     "TVC15" is something of a forgotten single: released in edited form to coincide with the European leg of the 1976 tour, it stalled at number 33, its prospects not helped by a truly bizarre Top Of The Pops performance on May 27th in which the song was "interpreted" by Ruby Flipper, the short-lived dance troupe who bridged the gap between the twin peaks of Pan's People and Legs & Co. In addition to the single version a number of further edits, ranging in length from 3'37" to 4'40", have appeared on compilations and promos over the years. The song featured throughout the Station To Station, Stage, Serious Moonlight and Sound + Vision tours, on the first and last of which David played sax for the number. "TVC15" resurfaced in the December 1979 Saturday Night Live set and again at 1985's Live Aid, where it rose to the occasion with some marvellously sleazy sax from Clare Hurst and a crazed piano line from Thomas Dolby. Among several cover versions is a rendition in the "Bowie Medley" from the Mike Flowers Pops' 1996 single "Light My Fire".

TV EYE (The Stooges)

From The Stooges' Fun House, "TV Eye" was performed during the 1977 Iggy Pop tour, from which live versions featuring Bowie can be heard on various Iggy releases.


  • Live Video: Once More With Feeling: Videos 1996-2004 (Placebo)

On February 16th 1999 Bowie teamed up with Placebo for a live performance of the 1973 T Rex hit at the Brit awards ceremony at London's Docklands Arena. Placebo had previously covered the song for the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack, but press coverage of the duet put the emphasis on Bowie's friendship with Marc Bolan. "When he lived in LA in the mid-seventies, we spent a lot of time jamming "20th Century Boy"," David told reporters. A month later on March 29th the duet was reprised for a Placebo gig at New York's Irving Plaza. Tony Visconti, who had produced Bolan's original, mixed the Brits version for possible release as a B-side to "Without You I'm Nothing", but the idea was dropped. The Brits performance was later included on Placebo's DVD compilation Once More With Feeling.

Tumble And Twirl
Turn Blue
TV Eye
20th Century Boy
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