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OCTOBER 18th - 20th 1973


  • David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar, Tambourine, Harmonica

  • Mick Ronson: Guitar, Backing Vocals

  • Trevor Bolder: Bass

  • Aynsley Dunbar: Drums

  • Mike Garson: Piano

  • Mark Pritchett: Guitar

  • Ava Cherry/Jason Guess: Backing Vocals

  • Geoffrey MacCormack: Backing Vocals, Percussion

  • Marianne Faithfull: Guest Vocals

Repertoire included:

1984/Dodo | Sorrow | Everything's Alright | Space Oddity | I Can't Explain | Time | The Jean Genie | I Got You Babe

American audiences deprived of an autumn 1973 tour were appeased by a specially mounted "live" performance for NBC's rock show The Midnight Special. Directed and produced by Stan Harris, and recorded over three days before a 200-strong fan club audience at London's Marquee, The 1980 Floor Show captured a fascinating moment of transition between Pin Ups and Diamond Dogs.

In some ways the show's visual elements amounted to a short-lived resurrection of Ziggy Stardust, whom David was proposing to take to the West End stage at around the same time in a full-blown rock musical. Resplendent in his Ziggy hairstyle and backed by a troupe of dancers in cobweb outfits, David showcased a new parade of costumes designed by Freddie Burretti, Kansai Yamamoto and David's old colleague Natasha Kornilof. They included a red basque decked with ostrich plumes, a body-stocking decorated with leaping flames, and a curious half-leotard fronted by a keyhole motif. This last was inspired by a costume Bowie had seen in a picture from Tristan Tzara's 1923 production La Coeur a Gaz, inspired by the Zurich-based Cabaret Voltaire. "I have always loved Tristan Tzara's outrageous stage clobber," David wrote many years later in Moonage Daydream, "and eventually, in the late Seventies, staged three songs for Saturday Night Live based very heavily on his wonders." The most controversial of the new costumes was a fishnet body-stocking with a pair of gold lamé hands that clutched at David's chest as if from behind. A third hand, grasping his crotch, was removed at NBC's insistence, only for recording to be delayed when what remained of the outfit proceeded to reveal more than it should. Ken Scott recalled that Bowie, miffed by the costume alteration, "proceeded to do his best to mess up the re-takes. I think in the end they inter-cut between the two, but they did it really badly and it's noticeable on the final version." Bowie later remarked that the show was "shot abysmally".

David in a new parade of costumes designed by Freddie Burretti, Kansai Yamamoto and Natasha Kornilof-The 1980 Floor Show
David in a new parade of costumes designed by Freddie Burretti, Kansai Yamamoto and Natasha Kornilof-The 1980 Floor Show
The 1980 Floor Show - October 18th-20th 1973
David in a new parade of costumes designed by Freddie Burretti, Kansai Yamamoto and Natasha Kornilof-The 1980 Floor Show

In most respects, however, The 1980 Floor Show reflected new interests rather than past glories. The playlist derived mainly from Pin Ups and Aladdin Sane, but the most prominent feature was the new "1984/Dodo" medley, billed as a preview of Bowie's forthcoming adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Matt Mattox's elaborate choreography, including an opening sequence in which the dancers' whirling bodies coalesced into a series of tableaux spelling out the title of the show, indicated Bowie's growing stage-musical aspirations: Mick Ronson and the rest of the band were visually sidelined in favour of a theatrical presentation of Bowie the performer.

The musicians were drawn largely from Pin Ups personnel, with the addition of Arnold Corns guitarist Mark Pritchett. Vocal backings were provided by The Astronettes, a three-piece group created by David as a showcase for his new girlfriend Ava Cherry. The two had first met in New York at the beginning of the year, and during the Pin Ups sessions had spent time together in Paris, where Ava was dancing in a ballet production. At the time of The 1980 Floor Show she was working with David on the ultimately abandoned Astronettes album and, for a while, co-habited with the Bowies in their new Oakley Street residence. She would become a familiar figure in David's circle over the next two years.

A surprise addition to the show was Marianne Faithfull, the 1960s starlet and sometime partner of both Brian Jones and Mick Jagger, who appeared in a backless nun's habit, wimple and all, to duet with David on a stunningly off-key cover of Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe". She also performed a couple of solo numbers, including her 1964 hit "As Tears Go By". Support for the 65-minute broadcast came from The Troggs and from Carmen, a Hispanic Los Angeles glam outfit whose debut album Fandangos In Space had been produced by Tony Visconti. He and his wife Mary Hopkin were in attendance for the recording, as were Angela and Zowie, Lionel Bart, Dana Gillespie and sometime Pork performer Wayne County. Another new arrival was Amanda Lear, the cover star of Roxy Music's 1973 album For Your Pleasure, who was enlisted as MC for the event. She took the stage billed as "Dooshenka", presiding over the show in the style of a space-age Marlene Dietrich. Like Marianne Faithfull and Ava Cherry, she too became intimate with David at around the same time.

The 1980 Floor Show - David Bowie with The Astronettes
The 1980 Floor Show - Mariann Faithfull with David Bowie

Recording began on October 18th with the solo sets by Carmen and Faithfull. The bulk of Bowie's contribution was shot on the following day, which was also when The Troggs performed their set. Each number was performed several times to allow the re-positioning of the three-camera unit. The third and final day, on which the set was closed to the press and audience, was devoted to the title-sequence choreography, various pick-up shots and close-ups, and the elaborate staging of the current single "Sorrow": as the dance troupe adopted frozen positions and the saxophone solo was mimed by a dancer in a silver top hat, David appeared in a two-piece suit and crooned the song to Amanda Lear.

NBC elected to censor more than Bowie's costumes. He had agreed to substitute the word "swanking" in the appropriate place in "Time", while "goddamn" in the same number and "screw" in "Dodo" were later blanked out for the broadcast. Some sources have long maintained that "Rock'n'Roll Suicide", another song with a potentially controversial lyric, was filmed in its entirety and cut from the finished show, but no such footage has ever seen the light of day, and doubts must be raised by the fact that it is nowhere to be found on the exhaustive six-hour video of out-takes which circulates among collectors.

The 1980 Floor Show saw David's final stage appearance with Mick Ronson and Trevor Bolder, the two Spiders who had survived the transition into the Pin Ups sessions. On the last night of shooting at the Marquee, Bowie and Ronson sat together in the dressing room. "We just nodded at each other, he looked over and grunted," recalled Ronson later. "Then he went back to doing his face. And that was the end of me and David." It wasn't quite, of course; many years later the pair would reunite in the studio and on stage.

Change was in the air. Ava Cherry, whom David was hyping as "the next Josephine Baker", was opening his eyes and ears to America's contemporary black music. Amanda Lear's interests in Continental art and cinema were also exerting an effect on David, who was already veering towards the decadent European trappings popularised by the previous year's smash hit film Cabaret. Although the stage productions of Ziggy Stardust and Nineteen Eighty-Four never materialised, the album and live show that took their place combined Orwell's vision with a potent combination of these new influences.

The 1980 Floor Show was premiered in America on November 16th 1973. Although NBC has subsequently screened both full-length and edited versions, the programme has still never been aired in Britain.

The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg

The Complete David Bowie

by Nicholas Pegg

New Edition: Expanded and Updated

"This is the best Bowie reference book one could ever hope for"

Tony Visconti

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