Tonight

  1. Loving The Alien [7.10]

  2. Don't Look Down [4.09]

  3. God Only Knows [3.05]

  4. Tonight [3.43]

  5. Neighbourhood Threat [3.11]

  6. Blue Jean [3.10]

  7. Tumble And Twirl [4.58]

  8. I Keep Forgettin' [2.34]

  9. Dancing With The Big Boys [3.34] 

Bonus tracks on 1995 reissue:

  • This Is Not America [3.51]

  • As The World Falls Down [4.50]

  • Absolute Beginners [8.00]

Tonight

Released:

  • EMI America DB 1 - September 1984

  • Virgin CD VUS 97 - November 1995

  • EMI 493 1022 - 1998

  • EMI 7243 5218970 - September 1999

Personnel:

  • David Bowie: Vocals

  • Carlos Alomar: Guitar

  • Derek Bramble: Bass/Guitar/Synthesizer

  • Carmine Rojas: Bass

  • Sammy Figueroa: Percussion

  • Omar Hakim: Drums

  • Guy St Onge: Marimba

  • Robin Clark/George Simms/Curtis King: Backing Vocals

  • Tina Turner: Vocals on 'Tonight'

  • Iggy Pop: Vocals on 'Dancing With The Big Boys'

  • Mark Pender: Trumpet/Flugelhorn

  • Stanley Harrison: Alto Sax/Tenor Sax

  • Steve Elson: Baritone Sax

  • Lenny Pickett: Tenor Sax/Clarinet

Recorded:

  • Le Studio, Morin Heights, Canada

Producers:

  • David Bowie, Derek Bramble, Hugh Padgham

Following the Serious Moonlight tour, Bowie took a holiday in Java and Bali with Iggy Pop and his girlfriend Suchi. Since their last brief collaboration in 1979 Iggy's fortunes had taken another dip, and until David's success with "China Girl," he had been forced to tour almost incessantly. It would be misleading to write off Tonight purely as an exercise in generating songwriting royalties for Iggy Pop, but Bowie's wish to help out his friend certainly had a bearing on the end result.

 

Nile Rodgers was not invited back to follow up Let's Dance, a fact he attributes to Bowie's need to prove that his music could stand up without assistance from a celebrated hit-maker. His replacement nonetheless reaffirmed David's interest in black music: Derek Bramble, a comparatively unproven British producer then working with ex-Linx singer David Grant, was formerly the bass guitarist with Heatwave who had scored hits with "Boogie Nights" and "Always And Forever" in the late 1970s. Let's Dance engineer Bob Clearmountain was unavailable but suggested British producer Hugh Padgham, who had worked with XTC, Peter Gabriel and most successfully The Police; his production credits included their huge 1981 hit Ghost In The Machine. Padgham later admitted to feeling "a bit iffy about doing it just as engineer", but he swallowed his pride for the chance to work with Bowie. It was he who suggested the venue - previously used by The Police - and in May 1983 Bowie and Iggy Pop began recording Tonight in the unfamiliar surroundings of Le Studio in Morin Heights, near Montreal.

 

Derek Bramble was joined on guitars by Carlos Alomar and a band of Let's Dance/Serious Moonlight personnel, together with new additions Mark Pender, Curtis King and Guy St Onge, whose contributions on marimba (an instrument popularised during 1983 by the Thompson Twins, culminating in their anthemic Christmas hit "Hold Me Now") provide Tonight with its most distinctive instrumental identity. String arrangements were by Arif Mardin, whose work with Aretha Franklin had attracted Bowie's attention; he would later co-produce the Labyrinth songs. Keeping continuity with the Serious Moonlight tour brochure, the sax section was again dubbed "The Borneo Horns". The saxophones exert a particularly omnipresent influence on Tonight, marking the apotheosis of Bowie's 1980s 'horn section' preoccupation. The Borneo Horns would continue to flourish as an outfit: as well as reappearing on Never Let Me Down, they would play on Duran Duran's Notorious and release their own 1987 album, Lenny Pickett And The Borneo Horns, before returning to the Bowie stable many years later on 2002's Heathen.

 

Tonight features only two new Bowie compositions ("Loving The Alien" and "Blue Jean"), alongside two fresh Bowie/Pop numbers ("Tumble And Twirl" and "Dancing With The Big Boys"); the remaining five tracks are cover versions of songs by Iggy Pop and others. The dearth of new material seems sadly symptomatic of the creative blight that seized David in the wake of 1983. "I suppose the most obvious thing about the new album is that there's not the usual amount of writing on it from me," he told the NME. "I didn't really feel as if I had enough new things of my own because of the tour. I can't write on tour," - (says the author of Aladdin Sane and Young Americans) - "and there wasn't really enough preparation afterwards to write anything that I felt was really worth putting down. I didn't want to put things out that 'would do', so there are two or three that I felt were good things to do, and the other stuff. What I suppose I really wanted to do was to work with Iggy again...We're ultimately leading up, I hope, to me doing his next album." This prediction would be fulfilled with Iggy's Blah-Blah-Blah two years later. Despite Bowie's reservations, there was, according to Hugh Padgham "a bunch of songs" with "real possibilities" from the Tonight sessions which failed to reach the final cut.

 

One of the cover versions, The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows", had been shortlisted for Pin Ups a decade earlier. "I think that this album gave me a chance, like Pin Ups did a few years ago, to do some covers that I always wanted to do," explained Bowie. The new collaborations with Iggy Pop were a little more experimental. "We worked very much the way we did on Lust For Life and The Idiot," Bowie revealed. "I often gave him a few anchor images that I wanted him to play off and he would take them away and start free-associating and I would then put that together in a way I could sing." Iggy contributed backing vocals on "Dancing With The Big Boys", while David was joined on the title track by Tina Turner, whose massively successful comeback album Private Dancer was released in June, featuring a cover of "1984" that was the first of several Turner/Bowie crossovers during the period. (Tina Turner would later reveal that it was Bowie who, the previous year, had rescued her career after a downturn in her commercial fortunes following her separation from her abusive husband Ike. "In 1983 David Bowie did something very special and significant for me," Turner explained in 2004. "We were on the same label, but the decision had been taken not to re-sign me. David, however, had just had his contract renewed by Capitol, who wanted to take him out to dinner that night in New York to celebrate. 'I'm sorry,' he told them, 'but I'm going to The Ritz to see my favourite singer perform.' And that was me. The bigwigs tagged along and luckily it was a great show. Seeing it and the crowd's reaction turned round how Capitol viewed me. It was because of David that I got another deal, and everything else followed. I'll be ever thankful to him.")

 

During the Tonight sessions, David maintained the Let's Dance policy of playing no instruments himself. "I very much left everybody else to it," he confessed at the time. "I just came in with the songs and the ideas and how they should be played and then watched them put it all together. It was great!... Hugh Padgham and Derek put the sound together between them. It was nice not to be involved in that way." For long-term fans, this sort of talk was guaranteed to set alarm bells ringing. Another warning sign was the unusual length of the sessions. "Let's Dance was done in three weeks," Bowie later recalled. "Tonight took five weeks or something, which for me is a really long time. I like to work fast in the studio." At the time David claimed that Tonight was a genuine attempt to create a new kind of sound. "I've got to a point that I really wanted to get to where it's an organic sound, and it's mainly saxophones. I think there's only two lead guitar solos on it. No synthesizers to speak of, though there are probably a couple of swing sounds or something. It's really got the band sound that I wanted, the horn sound."

 

It appears, however, that the sessions were less than harmonious; in Strange Fascination Hugh Padgham reveals that Derek Bramble was in the habit of asking for unnecessary retakes: "I was trying to keep quiet and I could see David going 'Why?' Then I eventually said, 'Look, Derek, there's nothing wrong with that vocal, it's not out of tune. What are you doing?' I don't think Derek was used to anyone being able to do a vocal in one take...Eventually, it did get to a bit of siding up, with David and me on one side and Bramble, the producer, on the other." Carlos Alomar is less equivocal: "Derek Bramble was a really nice guy, but he didn't know jack-shit about producing." Whether Bramble was actually fired remains uncertain, but in Radio 2's Golden Years Padgham confirmed that there was "a bit of a falling-out", and he took over as producer for the tail end of the sessions. Padgham disliked many of the recordings (he 'hated' "Blue Jean" and "Tonight", preferring the 'more leftfield' compositions that had been abandoned), and now regrets that he 'didn't have the balls' to suggest that Bowie finish off the other songs. "But it is difficult," he tells David Buckley. "Who am I to say to Mr David Bowie that his songs suck?"

 

The combined successes of Let's Dance, the Serious Moonlight tour and Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence meant that Bowie's commercial stock had never been higher; Tonight entered the UK album chart at number 1 in September 1984. Mick Haggerty's rather attractive sleeve portrays a blue-skinned David set against a riot of photomontage, oil-paint daubs and stained glass lilies and roses, indebted to the work of Gilbert and George. At the time, most critics were happy with the album. In the NME Charles Shaar Murray commended the "dizzying variety of mood and technique," while Billboard noted that "the once and future Mr Jones takes yet another turn, saving more edgy, passionate dance-rock for the second side while throwing the spotlight on surprisingly restrained ballads and midtempo rockers, replete with dreamy rhythms and even lush strings courtesy of Arif Mardin." Rolling Stone was less accommodating, announcing that "This album is a throwaway, and David Bowie knows it." The album hit number 11 in America.

 

Posterity has not been kind to Tonight, now widely regarded as the first in a string of follies set to continue with Never Let Me Down. Certainly, the album lacks anything approaching the quality of Bowie's 1970s work, and it's with some justification that it has been written off as a slapdash act of appeasement aimed at his new mainstream audience. He later admitted as much: "I really liked the money I was making from the touring, and it seemed obvious that the way you make money is give people what they wanted, and the downside of that is that it just dried me up as an artist completely, because I wasn't used to doing that. What I'm used to doing is being very stubborn, obscure, confrontational in my own indulgent way."

 

Even in the act of promoting Tonight in 1984, Bowie seemed almost apologetic: "Recently I've used an accepted vocabulary, as Eno would say...I feel on the whole fairly happy about my state of mind and my physical being and I guess I wanted to put my musical being in a similar staid and healthy area, but I'm not sure that that was a very wise thing to do." By the time of Never Let Me Down, David was already dismissing Tonight. "It didn't have any concept behind it, it was just a collection of songs," he said in 1987. "It sounded sort of jumbled, it didn't hold together well at all...though if you take a song out of context and play it, it sounds pretty good. But if you play it as an album it doesn't work, and that was unfortunate."

 

In later years Bowie would effectively disown his entire 1984-1987 period. "I wasn't really interested and I let everyone tell me what to do," he said in 1993. "I let people arrange my songs. I let photographers choose stylists who brought along what they thought were great, trendy clothes. And I really couldn't be bothered...A wave of total indifference came over me." In 1989 he described Tonight and Never Let Me Down as "great material that got simmered down to product level. I really should have not done it quite so studio-ly. I think some of it was a waste of really good songs. You should hear the demos from those two albums. It's night and day by comparison with the finished tracks. There's stuff that I could really kick myself about. When I listen to those demos it's, 'How did it turn out like that?' You should hear "Loving The Alien" on demo. It's wonderful on demo, I promise you! But on the album, it's not as wonderful."

 

Nonetheless, despite its obvious flaws Tonight is often a more interesting and rewarding album than its predecessor. Clearly, there is nothing here as brilliant as the title track of Let's Dance, but while the rest of that album is little more than beautifully produced fluff, Tonight at least offers evidence of an experimental spirit. Bowie's unexpected reggae reworkings of "Don't Look Down" and "Tonight" are surprisingly successful, and while some of the remaining cover versions are mediocre in the extreme, the new songwriting is arguably superior to anything on Let's Dance. One is left with a frustrating sense of what might have been: "Loving The Alien" in particular is a superb piece of writing all but demolished by insipid performance and meddlesome overproduction. What emerges is certainly less of a commercial bullseye than Let's Dance, but at least it's a little less obvious into the bargain.

 

Significantly, Tonight was the first Bowie album that was manifestly behind its time: it may have reached number 1 but, unlike Let's Dance, it made little connection with what was cutting-edge in 1984. The sensation of the year was yet another Bowie-indebted act: fronted by long-time fan Holly Johnson, Frankie Goes To Hollywood combined scandalous cartoon-strip homoeroticism with razor-sharp Trevor Horn production to redefine pop almost overnight. Frankie was the new cheerleaders in a tidal wave of openly gay outrages whose assault on Thatcher's Britain left family-friendly heterosexuals like the new-look David Bowie stranded on the shore: Bronski Beat, Boy George and the newly solo Marc Almond were among the darlings of 1984's pop aristocracy. Meanwhile, Bowie's more cerebral heartlands had been claimed by the suburban angst-rock of The Cure and The Smiths, while the inexorable rise of Prince presented a colourful and credible successor to Ziggy Stardust. It was against just such acts that Bowie's music might have been evaluated in any previous year. Instead, on the basis of Tonight, he seemed content to compete with the likeable unchallenging pop of Duran Duran, Wham! and Nik Kershaw. The results speak for themselves.