W | The Songs From A to Z | W

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H| I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | WY | Z

WAGON WHEEL (Reed)

Co-produced by Bowie for Lou Reed's Transformer, this track is grounded in the classic Velvet Underground riff Bowie had already plundered for "Queen Bitch" and "Suffragette City". It has long been rumoured that "Wagon Wheel" was co-written by David, but the song's appearance in a 1971 jam session, recorded at Lou Reed's apartment and predating his collaboration with Bowie, would seem to disprove this.

WAIATA

On November 23rd 1983, during the Pacific leg of the Serious Moonlight tour, Bowie attended a Maori welcome of songs and speeches at the Takapuwahia Marae in Porirua, New Zealand. He had personally requested the meeting, and impressed the Maori elders with his interest in their culture. In accordance with Maori custom, he entertained the 300-strong gathering with a short composition he had written for the occasion, called simple "Waiata", the Maori term for "song". Performed a cappella with harmonies provided by the Serious Moonlight backing vocalists Frank and George Simms, "Waiata" had been hastily composed the previous evening. "David took George and I into his hotel room one night," Frank Simms recalled in 2008, "and he said listen, we're going to a party tomorrow, and I've been told what the nature of the celebration and the ceremony will be, and I'm going to write a quick little tune...with very simple lyrics, to show the Maoris how happy we are that we have arrived."

     The visit was filmed for posterity and received extensive press coverage ahead of Bowie's concert in Wellington the following night. Twenty-five years later, a live recording of this little-known performance was broadcast as part of a reminiscent Radio New Zealand documentary called Bowie's Waiata. Heard in isolation from its original context, "Waiata" teeters on the brink of schmaltz, but the palpable delight of those who were present, as witnessed in the recording and in the documentary, banishes any doubt that the song ably fulfilled the purpose for which it was composed: "We ran to the ocean and pledged far to go / To land in New Zealand and sing you our songs / We're happy and honoured to be here with you / We thank you for sharing the way that you do."

WAITING FOR THE MAN (Reed)

  • Live: Santa Monica '72/BBC Sessions 1969-1972 (Sampler)/Bowie At The Beeb (Bonus Disc)/Live Nassau Coliseum '76 (included on 2010 Reissue of Station To Station)

  • US B-Side: April 1994

  • Compilation: The Last Chapter/The Toy Soldier EP (The Riot Squad)

When Bowie first heard Kenneth Pitt's acetate of the then unreleased The Velvet Underground And Nico in December 1966, the song that besotted him the most was Lou Reed's classic snapshot of a seedy Harlem heroin score, which would go on to become one of his perennial cover versions. "I literally went into a band rehearsal the next day, put the album down and said, 'We're gonna learn this song'." David later recalled, "We learned "Waiting For The Man" right then and there, and we were playing it on stage within a week." In a 2003 article for Vanity Fair he added, "In December of that year, my band Buzz broke up, but not without my demanding we play "Waiting For The Man" as one of the encore songs at our last gig. Amusingly, not only was I to cover a Velvets song before anyone else in the world, I actually did it before the album came out. Now that's the essence of Mod."

     Bowie is said to have made an initial stab at recording "Waiting For The Man" in the same month during the David Bowie sessions, but his first full-blown studio version appears to have been cut with The Riot Squad on April 5th 1967, during the same session that spawned the Velvets-inspired curiosity "Toy Soldier". Taken at a rather sedate pace and featuring sax and harmonica breaks alongside David's slavish impersonation of Lou Reed, an endearing 4'04" cut (one of three takes from the same session) has surfaced on bootlegs, and also appears in markedly inferior audio quality on The Riot Squad's releases The Last Chapter: Mods & Sods and The Toy Soldier EP. This version features an unfortunate mishearing of one of Reed's lines, arising from David's initial misapprehension of the song's subject matter. As Tony Visconti explained, "A very young David Bowie didn't yet know that "the man" in Harlem parlance meant the drug dealer. So he naturally assumed it was a gay encounter involving money." It later fell to Visconti to explain this to David, whose Riot Squad version of "Waiting For The Man" renders the line "I'm just looking for a dear, dear friend of mine" as "I'm just looking for a good friendly behind."

     It's interesting to note that while Bowie's 1967 version follows Lou Reed's original chord structure, most of his subsequent renditions see a subtle but significant alteration in the second half of each verse, for which David uses a rising pattern of E - G - A - B or, on the 1976 tour, E - G - A - C: both rockier mutations of Reed's jazzier original sequence of E - A flat - A - F sharp. Intriguingly, during his live performance with Lou Reed in 1972, David reverted to Lou's chord sequence, while in 1997 the pair settled on a hybrid of Reed's original and Bowie's 1976 mutation.

     Although Bowie never cut an "official" studio version, four further recordings were made during BBC sessions on February 5th and March 25th 1970, and January 11th and 18th 1972. The earliest of these was edited from The Sunday Show before broadcast, and is now believed to be lost. The second, recorded by Hype with a rougher hard-rock edge than The Spiders' later versions, was released on the BBC Sessions 1969-1972 sampler, while the last, a tighter rendition and perhaps the best of the bunch, now appears on Bowie At The Beeb.

     "Waiting For The Man" made regular live appearances during the Ziggy Stardust tour, most memorably with guest vocalist Lou Reed at the Royal Festival Hall on July 8th. The Santa Monica '72 version appeared as a B-side in 1994, and again on the soundtrack of Cameron Crowe's 2000 film Almost Famous. The song reappeared on the Station To Station and Sound + Vision tours, and made a one-off appearance in Vancouver during Tin Machine's It's My Life outing. David was reunited with Reed for a splendid live duet at his fiftieth birthday concert.

WAKE UP (Arcade Fire)

  • Download: November 2005

In September 2005 Bowie twice joined forces with the Montreal band Arcade Fire on live performances of their anthemic single "Wake Up", taken from their 2004 album Funeral. The first took place at the Fashion Rocks concert at Radio City Music Hall on September 8th, the second during the encores of an Arcade Fire gig in Central Park a week later. With its melodramatic soundscape and sombre lyric touching on images of isolation, ageing and death ("Children, wake up / Hold your mistake up / Before they turn the summer into dust...With my lightning bolts a-glowing, I can see where I am going"), "Wake Up" seemed tailor-made for Bowie, and his duet with lead singer Win Butler was widely adjudged a triumph for both parties. The Fashion Rocks performance was later released as a download in aid of Hurricane Katrina relief charities, reaching number 5 in the UK iTunes chart, number 3 in the US and number 1 in several other territories.

WALK ON THE WILD SIDE (Reed)

Lou Reed's classic has its roots in a proposed US theatre adaptation of Nelson Algren's 1956 novel A Walk On The Wild Side, a searing portrayal of heroin addiction and prostitution. Reed had been asked to compose the music, and although the project was cancelled in 1971 it sowed the germ of Reed's sharp-shooting portrait of the characters who passed through Andy Warhol's Factory. "I always thought it would be kinda fun to introduce people to characters they maybe hadn't met before, or hadn't wanted to meet, y'know," he said. "The kind of people you sometimes see at parties but don't dare approach. That's one of the motivations for me writing all those songs in the first place." Thus "Walk On The Wild Side" acquaints us with a colourful parade of Warhol's "superstars" - Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Joe Dallesandro, the Sugar Plum Fairy and Jackie Curtis.

     Co-produced by Bowie, the Transformer track is equally renowned for Herbie Flowers's laid-back bassline and for one of pop's all-time great saxophone solos. This was provided by Bowie's former tutor Ronnie Ross, who had never heard of Lou Reed and had no idea that the red-haired rock star who had hired him was the same David Jones who had come for lessons at his Orpington house twelve years earlier. The penny dropped only when David emerged from the control room after Ross had recorded his solo. "I said, 'Hello. how have you been?'" Bowie recalled in 2003. "He said, 'Uh, all right, you're that Ziggy Stardust, aren't ya?' I said, 'You know me better as David Jones.' He said, 'I don't know you, son.' I said, 'See if you remember this: 'Hello, I'm David Jones and my dad's helped me buy a saxophone' - and Ronnie goes, 'My God!' That was so great that I was able to give him a gig. He had absolutely no idea that I had been that little kid who had been over to his house." Ross told the Gillmans that "He had make-up on and it didn't register at first. I was amazed."

     Bowie later described "Walk On The Wild Side" as "a classic, a wonderful song - absolutely brilliant", and it was on his insistence that the track was released as a single. Reed was opposed to the idea, convinced that the references to drugs, transvestism and "giving head" would guarantee airplay bans, and in some quarters he was right. "What kind of repressive culture would ban a song?" enquired Reed later. "There were versions in the United States that were only 14 seconds long, it'd just go "Bleep-bleep-bleep, do-do-do-do-do-do-do, bleep-bleep-bleep"." Nevertheless the 1973 single reached number 10 in Britain and number 16 in America, where it remains Reed's only chart hit. "I probably never would have had a hit with "Wild Side" if David didn't produced it," he said in 1997. "I haven't had a hit since then, so I assume it's because David produced it..."

WALKING THROUGH THAT DOOR see MADMAN

WARSZAWA (Bowie/Eno)

  • Album: Low

  • Live: Stage

The first of the ambient instrumental tracks that make up Low's second side was an attempt to capture the mood of the Polish landscape Bowie had experienced when travelling through the country by train in 1976. "Warszawa" is about Warsaw and the very bleak atmosphere I got from the city," he explained. Brian Eno's funereal synthesizers against Bowie's wailing, quasi-Gregorian nonsense-vocals conjure up a heady, almost Russian Orthodox atmosphere.

     The genesis of "Warszawa" is usually attributed to Brian Eno, who often worked alone at the Chateau d'Herouville during the Low sessions. "When he was finished making his 'sonic bed' David and I came back to do our bits," Tony Visconti explained. One day while Bowie and Visconti were attending a meeting in Paris regarding David's split from his manager Michael Lippman, Eno remained at the studio to look after Visconti's four-year-old son Delaney. Visconti later learned that Delaney had been "playing the notes A, B, C, repeatedly on the piano. Eno sat next to him and finished the phrase which became the opening notes of "Warszawa"." Young Delaney would grow up to become a successful musician: as Morgan Visconti, he later provided studio facilities for the recording of Bowie's last two albums, and played rhythm guitar on "God Bless The Girl".

     The completion of "Warszawa" was achieved via a musical equivalent of the lyrical cut-up technique Bowie had been using for years. He told Brian Eno that he wanted to compose an "emotive, almost religious" instrumental piece; Eno suggested that they begin by recording a track of finger clicks. "He laid down I think it was 430 clicks on a clean tape," Bowie explained, after which he and Eno divided the result into arbitrary portions, changing chords at the dividing lines to create a random and unpredictable backing.

     As was the case throughout Low, the vocals were recorded after all but Bowie and Visconti had departed; Brian Eno would later express surprise at discovering that Bowie had elected to add voices to "Warszawa". According to Tony Visconti, the vocal performance was inspired by "an old recording of a boys' choir from one of the Balkan countries" which Bowie had discovered. "To make him sound like a boy I slowed the tape down about three semitones and he sang his part slowly. Once it was back up to speed he sounded about eleven years old!"

     "Warszawa" was performed live throughout the Stage tour. It made a one-off reappearance courtesy of Mike Garson on Dutch TV's Karel in February 1996, before being revived once again for the 2002 Heathen concerts. The Low version featured briefly in 1984's Jazzin' For Blue Jean, while Philip Glass adapted the composition as the final movement of his 1993 Low Symphony. Nina Hagen recorded a cover of "Warszawa" on her 1987 album Love, and avant-garde saxophonist Simon Haram included a version on his 1999 album Alone... Joy Division, fronted by big-time Bowie fan Ian Curtis, were at one stage called Warsaw in honour of Bowie's track; they also included a song called "Warsaw" on their 1978 debut EP An Ideal For Living. Appropriately, Bowie's original recording featured in the soundtrack of 2007's Ian Curtis biopic Control, and it was also used in trailers for the BBC's 2006 adaptation of Dracula. Donny McCaslin and members of the Blackstar band recorded a cover version for McCaslin's 2016 album Beyond Now.

WATCH THAT MAN

  • Album: Aladdin Sane

  • Live: David Live/Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture

  • Live Video: Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars

Written in New York during the 1972 tour, "Watch That Man" is as different an album-opener from the Home Counties apocalypse of "Five Years" as it's possible to imagine. It's a sleazy garage rocker owing a debt to The Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar", but the most startling change since Ziggy Stardust is the ascendancy of Mick Ronson's storming guitar over Bowie's vocal, which apes the style of Exile On Main Street by lying so low in the mix as to be barely audible. Bowie was consciously chasing a rawer, Stones-influenced sound to shake off the tightly-produced Bolanisms of the Ziggy album; nonplussed, RCA initially asked Ken Scott to remix the track with a more up-front vocal, before changing their minds and going with the original. Although outclassed by other songs on the album, "Watch That Man" can be read as one of Bowie's most calculated changes of direction.

     In 1973 Bowie said that the lyric was an attempt "to pinpoint and exaggerate the incident" of the after-show bash which followed his inaugural Carnegie Hall concert the previous autumn, when his initiation into the drug-addled rock'n'roll Babylon of his first American tour had overwhelmed him with the notion that civilisation was collapsing. Such a despondent view of American society makes it an ideal opening gambit for Aladdin Sane. The Velvet Underground-style figure of the "Man" who is "only taking care of the room" may indeed be the archetypal supplier, coke-spoon in hand, while the panic-attack at the song's climax ("I was shaking like a leaf, for I couldn't understand the conversation / Yeah, I ran into the street") might describe the classic bad trip of the drugs novice. Some have opined that the song is a paean to Mick Jagger or to Andy Warhol, while another theory has it that "Watch That Man" commemorates David Johansen's performance at a New York Dolls gig at the Mercer Arts Centre in September 1972. Whatever the case, the kaleidoscope of images includes one of Bowie's many steals from the 1970 album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, as he paraphrases Lennon's line "The freaks on the phone won't leave me alone".

     "Watch That Man" featured in 1973's Ziggy Stardust dates and on the Diamond Dogs tour. January 1974 saw the release of Lulu's Bowie-produced cover version, recorded back-to-back with "The Man Who Sold The World" (of which it was the B-side) and again featuring David on backing vocals and Mick Ronson on guitar. This recording later appeared on David Bowie Songbook and Oh! You Pretty Things.

WATERLOO SUNSET (Davies)

  • Download: November 2003

  • Bonus: Reality (Tour Edition)

  • Japanese B-Side: March 2004

At the Tibet House Benefit concert on February 28th 2003, Bowie joined the legendary Ray Davies for a duet of The Kinks' much-covered 1967 hit. Following this collaboration David found time during the Reality sessions to record his own studio version of "Waterloo Sunset", which was released as the B-side of the "Never Get Old" download single, and as a bonus track on the "Tour Edition" of Reality. It may not be the most radical recording of Bowie's career, but it's a faithful, affectionate cover of an eternally wonderful song.

WATERMELON MAN (Hancock)

The Herbie Hancock jazz classic was played live by The Manish Boys.

WE ALL GO THROUGH (Bowie/Gabrels)

  • B-Side: September 1999

  • Bonus: 'hours...' (2004)

Described by Bowie as a "faux-psychedelic chanting drone", this B-side (a bonus track on the original Japanese release of 'hours...' and later included on the 2004 two-disc reissue) resurrects the minor-key melodies and tricksy chord changes of Tin Machine numbers "Amlapura" and "Betty Wrong", placing the ghosts of both in a "Thursday's Child" instrumental setting. Guitarist Reeves Gabrels later said that the composition began life as an instrumental track intended for his 1999 album Ulysses (della notte). The lyric revisits Bowie's sci-fi cut-ups with its "skeletal city" and "lunarscape", but returns to the parent album's embrace of the present, insisting that "we'll all be right in the now". A so-called "easy listening" version, which seems to be identical to the B-side recording, appeared in Omikron: The Nomad Soul.

WE ARE HUNGRY MEN

  • Album: David Bowie

Originally entitled "We Are Not Your Friends", this early number has been subjected to particular scrutiny owing to its embryonic dabbling in soon-to-be familiar themes of messiah-worship and Orwellian totalitarianism. The theme is the rise of a dictatorship prepared to take drastic steps to combat overpopulation, but despite some lively lyrics juxtaposing serio-comic extremes of ideology and gratification ("Who will buy a drink for me, your messiah?"), this is in truth a rather conservative-minded piece of juvenilia: the interjections of producer Mike Vernon voicing a comic-book Nazi, and engineer Gus Dudgeon as a Kenneth Williams soundalike newsreader, are more knockabout than chilling, while the implicit suggestion that abortion is some sort of nameless sci-fi horror betrays the suburban values that were still informing Bowie's songwriting at this stage. The track was recorded on November 24th 1966, and omitted from David Bowie's American release.

WE ARE THE DEAD

  • Album: Diamond Dogs

  • B-Side: April 1976

Perhaps because it's the only Diamond Dogs track never to be performed live, "We Are The Dead" remains one of the most criminally underrated songs in the entire Bowie canon. Belonging to the album's original conception as a musical Nineteen Eighty-Four, the lyric eavesdrops on Winston Smith's doomed love for Julia. In Orwell's novel the lovers repeat "We are the dead" to one another as the Thought Police approach to arrest Winston, but like all Bowie's best work the song transcends its original source to provoke other, less tangible resonances. When David whispers "I hear them on the stairs" we are reminded not only of Orwell ("There was a stampede of boots up the stairs"), but of "The Man Who Sold The World" ("We passed upon the stair").

     The lyric occupies the same brutalised territory as "Sweet Thing", moving from one ravaged tableau to the next and offering the album's most sinisterly evocative phrases: "Heaven is on the pillow, its silence competes with hell...It's the theatre of financiers - count them, fifteen round the table, white and dressed to kill..." The hushed tread of the electric keyboard, the roaming guitar feedback and the melodramatic multi-track vocal establish a nightmarish environment that is right at the heart of Diamond Dogs - which at one point was to be called We Are The Dead.

     Recording took place at Olympic Studios on January 16th 1974. The track was later included on the "TVC15" single as part of RCA's mid-1970s policy of short-changing fans with ancient B-sides. Cover versions have been recorded by a number of bands including Psychotics and The Passion Puppets, while Bowie's original appeared in the soundtrack of the 2005 film Three Dollars.

WE PRICK YOU (Bowie/Eno)

  • Album: 1.Outside

Recorded in January 1995, "We Prick You" offers early evidence of Bowie's dabbling in drum'n'bass styles, although it's still a far cry from The Prodigy-style squall of "Little Wonder". Instead the track is loaded with extraordinary buzzes and bleeps from the Eno camp while Bowie throws in an edgy, rhythmically slapstick vocal apparently "to be sung by members of the Court of Justice". This is a track that uses words as rhythmic and sonic information rather than as mere lyrics; Bowie described the result as "dotty". There's an air of sexual desperation in the face of impending apocalypse ("Wanna be screwing when the nightmare comes...wanna come quick then die"), and a hectoring, shouted chorus reminiscent of the trial climax of Pink Floyd's The Wall. According to Brian Eno's diary the original refrain was "we fuck you", while the track's working title was "Robot Punk". Eno also praises Carlos Alomar's "amazing contribution. He plays like a kind of liquid - always making lovely melodies within his rhythm lines, and rhythms within his melody lines."

     The treated loop of Bowie snapping "You show respect, even if you disagree" was originally intended to be a sample of the cultural critic Camille Paglia. "She never returned my calls!" laughed Bowie. "She kept sending me messages through her assistant saying, 'Is this really David Bowie, and if it is, is it important?' and I just gave up! So I replaced her line with me." Brian Eno added, "Sounds pretty much like her." The song was performed on the Outside tour.

WE SHALL GO TO TOWN (Bowie/Gabrels)

  • B-Side: September 1999

  • Bonus: 'hours...' (2004)

Funereal rhythms, phased vocal effects and programmed synthesizers herald another Berlin-era pastiche from the 'hours...' sessions. The lyric reiterates the album's banishment of past regret ("Never forget who you've been," advises David, but "Don't bring your things...only the fool turns around"). Presumably owing to confusion with "We All Go Through", the track was incorrectly labelled "We Shall All Go To Town" on the "Thursday's Child" CD sleeve.

WE SHOULD BE ON BY NOW see TIME

WE'LL CREEP TOGETHER (Bowie/Eno/Gabrels/Garson/Kizilcay/Campbell)

The Electronic Press Kit issued in advance of 1.Outside includes footage of Bowie and Brian Eno improvising this suitably nonsensical piece (the title is by no means official), which begins with David addressing an imaginary concert audience in a style recalling the opening of "Diamond Dogs", only this time in the style of a preening ham, adopting a plummy accent to declare "We are surely on our way upon the superhighway of information - as far as I'm concerned you are all number one packet-sniffers!" He then sings a short passage ("We'll creep together, you and I / Under a bloodless chrome sky") over a moody synthesizer backing not unlike some of the "Segue" accompaniments on the album.

     Two distinct recordings of "We'll Creep Together" - a longer edit of the above and a quite differently arranged five-minute version which reveals the number to be a genuinely beautiful song - were among the tracks leaked in 2003 (see "The Leon Recordings" for further details).

THE WEDDING

  • Album: Black Tie White Noise

On April 24th 1992, David Bowie and Iman Abdulmajid were married in a private ceremony at Lausanne's city hall. A little over a month later, on June 6th, the wedding was solemnised at St James's Episcopal Church in Florence. Exclusive access to the ceremony was enjoyed by Hello! magazine, which ran a lavish 24-page feature capturing the world's most photogenic bride and groom alongside best man Joe (who had celebrated his twenty-first birthday with his father in Mustique the previous week) and guests including David's 78-year-old mother Peggy, Iman's family, Yoko Ono, Brian Eno, Bono and Eric Idle (who later remarked, "There's a gag waiting to happen - Eno, Ono and Bono..."). Childhood friend and sometime backing vocalist Geoff MacCormack read Psalm 121 during the service.

     As the families were of different religious backgrounds, and as neither David nor Iman, though believers, practised any orthodox faith, it was decided that the music for the ceremony should be non-sectarian. "We both loathed "Here Comes The Bride", which is one of the least likeable bits of music that I have ever heard in my life," explained Bowie. "So for the entrance of the bride we chose a tranquil piece of music called "Evening Gathering", by a Bulgarian group. And I wanted it to be a personalised service, so Iman allowed me to take the lead and write music for the rest of the service - which I did."

     The result, intended to combine David's own cultural and spiritual sensibilities with those of his bride's native Somalia, was an instrumental composition later reworked in funkier form as the opening track of Black Tie White Noise. "The Wedding" fuses dance beats, distant backing vocals and Eastern-influenced saxophone cadences to create a sure-footed template for the album. "I had to write music that represented for me the growth and character of our relationship," David told Rolling Stone. "It really was a watershed. It opened up a wealth of thoughts and feelings about commitment and promises and finding the strength and fortitude to keep those promises. It all came tumbling out of me while I was writing this music for church. And I thought, "I can't stop here. There's more that I have to get out." For me it was a tentative step toward writing from a personal basis. It triggered the album."

THE WEDDING SONG

  • Album: Black Tie White Noise

After the fashion of Scary Monsters, Bowie closes Black Tie White Noise with a reworking of the opening track. It's dedicated to his "angel for life" Iman, and in his own words is "every bit as saccharine as you might want it to be." The ambient backbeats of the instrumental version are topped by the touchingly simple pledge that "I'm gonna be so good, just like a good boy should" - another of the album's subliminal throwbacks to the Berlin period, echoing a line from "Beauty And The Beast".

WEEPING WALL

  • Album: Low

Although some sources claim that an early version of "Weeping Wall" was recorded at Cherokee Studios in 1975 for the aborted The Man Who Fell To Earth soundtrack, Bowie was adamant in 1977 that the composition featured on Low is "about the Berlin Wall, the misery of it." On "Weeping Wall" Bowie plays every instrument himself, combining guitar, piano, xylophones and vibraphones in a piece indebted to the repetitious "accumulative" work of Philip Glass. The piece was realised in a similar manner to "Warszawa", Bowie marking a tape with numbers from 1 to 160 and introducing the instrumental sequences at arbitrary points. "Weeping Wall" made its concert debut during the complete performance of Low at the Roseland Ballroom warm-up show on June 11th 2002, appearing thereafter as Bowie's entrance music at the Meltdown concert a fortnight later before disappearing from the Heathen tour repertoire.

WHAT IN THE WORLD

  • Album: Low

  • Live: Stage

  • Live Video: Serious Moonlight

This is one of Low's catchier efforts at uniting art-rock with straightforward pop, setting a wall of synthesizer bleeps against a barrage of guitar sound, distorted percussion effects and some droning backing vocals from Iggy Pop - his only Low credit. Chateau d'Herouville studio engineer Laurent Thibault would later claim that the backing track was originally intended for Iggy's album The Idiot, and was recorded under the name "Isolation" (later the title of another, unrelated Iggy Pop song). Marking out similar territory to "Sound And Vision", the lyric reeks of insecurity and withdrawal ("Deep in your room, you never leave your room") and ends with another Bowie staple, the suggestion that his latest persona is finally authentic ("What you gonna be to the real me?"). There's a definite echo of Simon and Garfunkel's retreat song "I Am A Rock" ("Hiding in my room, safe within my room"), while the reiterated cry of "for your love" echoes the title of a 1965 hit by The Yardbirds.

     A reggae-style reworking featured throughout the Stage and Serious Moonlight tours, and the number was later revived for some of the Outside and Heathen concerts.

WHAT KIND OF FOOL AM I? (Newley)

Anthony Newley's song was played live by The Buzz

WHAT'D I SAY (Charles)

Ray Charles's 1959 US hit was played live by The Manish Boys

WHAT'S REALLY HAPPENING? (Bowie/Gabrels/Grant)

  • Album: 'hours...'

In October 1998 Bowie announced that the lyrics for one of his forthcoming tracks would be completed by the winning entry in a songwriting competition. The half-finished lyric of "What's Really Happening?" was duly posted on BowieNet, and it was revealed that the winner would receive not only a co-writing credit and a trip to New York for the recording, but also a $15,000 contract with Bowie's publishing company Bug Music. The press loved the story and devoted numerous column inches to irreverent speculation. It later transpired that among the 80,000 hopeful entrants were various members of The Cure.

     On January 20th 1999 the winner was named as Alex Grant of Ohio. "Opening my initial thoughts on "What's Really Happening?" for input on the web was a unique songwriting experience," Bowie declared in a press release. "Now, I am looking forward to the next step where I share the final formation of the cyber song with my co-writer, Alex Grant, and the web at large with a 360-degree interactive adventure." With backing tracks already laid down in Bermuda, the vocal and overdub recording took place at Looking Glass on May 24th 1999. The three-hour session, which was webcast live on BowieNet, culminated in Alex Grant joining Bowie to record backing vocals. David declared that "The most gratifying part of the evening for me was being able to encourage Alex and his pal Larry to sing on the song that he had written." He later revealed that Grant, "a born writer", was using his earnings to put himself through college on a literature course.

     "What's Really Happening?" is the first of two comparatively hard-edged numbers after the softer opening tracks of 'hours...', piling layers of rock guitar over a steely vocal melody borrowed from The Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On". The title reasserts the album's mistrust of reality and memory, while Grant's quasi-cyberpunk lyrics chime in remarkably well with the album's chronometric theme (but would David ever have written a line quite so 1970s Pink Floyd as "Hearts become outdated clocks / Ticking in your mind"?). There are further echoes of past compositions: the wailing backing vocals are straight from "Scary Monsters", while the repeated chorus line "what tore us apart?" is recycled from the Tin Machine number "One Shot".

WHEELS

This is the provisional title for one of the instrumental tracks recorded at Cherokee Studios in 1975 during the abortive soundtrack sessions for The Man Who Fell To Earth. Bowie's collaborator Paul Buckmaster later told Paul Trynka that the track "had a gentle sort of melancholy mood to it".

WHEN I LIVE MY DREAM

  • Album: David Bowie

  • Compilation: The Deram Anthology 1966-1968/David Bowie: Deluxe Edition (2010)

  • Live: David Bowie: Deluxe Edition (2010)

  • Video: Love You Till Tuesday/The Looking Glass Murders (included on the Love You Till Tuesday DVD)

"When I Live My Dream" became a familiar item in Bowie's early repertoire from the moment the album version was recorded on February 15th 1967. The subsequent array of different versions indicates that the song was highly regarded by both David and Kenneth Pitt, and certainly it's one of the most assured pieces of songwriting on David Bowie. What initially sounds like an innocuous love lyric unfolds to reveal a dark undercurrent of pain, and the notion of Bowie dramatising his emotions as a fiction on the silver screen ("Tell them that I've got a dream and tell them you're the starring role"), prefigures the cinematic fantasies of many later lyrics.

     A second version, rearranged by Ivor Raymonde and recorded on June 3rd 1967 just two days after the album's release, was proposed as a single in October following Deram's rejection of "Let Me Sleep Beside You"; it too was turned down. This second version was subsequently used in the Love You Till Tuesday film, which remained unreleased until 1984. Both versions appear on The Deram Anthology 1966-1968 and on David Bowie: Deluxe Edition.

     In 1967 the composition was unsuccessfully offered to Peter, Paul and Mary, while Bowie included a new recording in his first BBC radio session on December 18th 1967; this performance was later released on David Bowie: Deluxe Edition. At around the same time he was regularly performing the song in Lindsay Kemp's Pierrot In Turquoise, and it was included in David's abandoned cabaret act the following year. On January 24th and 29th 1969 David recorded a German vocal translated by Lisa Busch for the planned German transmission of Love You Till Tuesday, but in the event "Mit Mir In Deinem Traum" ("With Me In Your Dream", rather contrarily) was never released; the 3'51" track has since appeared on bootlegs. On July 26th 1969 David performed the number at the Malta International Song Festival, and six days later it won the Best Produced Record award at the Italian Festival Internazionale del Disco.

     Two further versions have appeared on bootlegs. The first simply features a different vocal sung over the backing of Deram's "Version 2", while the second, a shorter 3'35" recording featuring a wavery vocal accompanied on organ, was made for the 1970 television show The Looking Glass Murders, in which Bowie can be seen lip-synching to the song atop a step-ladder while beneath him Lindsay Kemp enacts Pierrot's mimetic demise.

     "When I Live My Dream" features in the soundtrack of the 1984 French picture Boy Meets Girl, while a beautiful Portuguese version is among the more unusual of Seu Jorge's covers in the 2004 film The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. In 2016 Bowie's original version was used in a commercial celebrating the 70th anniversary of Heathrow Airport.

WHEN I MET YOU

  • Soundtrack: Lazarus

Written for the musical Lazarus and performed towards the end of the show, "When I Met You" is an uptempo song of cautious redemption: a deeper, darker descendant of "Never Let Me Down" in which Thomas Jerome Newton - or David Bowie - looks back over "the scenes of my life" and testifies to the transformative power of a relationship that has changed everything (although, not unlike the similarly themed and softly ambiguous ABBA classic "The Day Before You Came", we're never actually told whether the momentous encounter has resulted in happiness). Amid insistent reiterations of the song's title, the narrator of "When I Met You" confesses that "I could not speak", "you opened my mouth", "you opened my heart", "I was the walking dead", "I was kicked in the head", "I was too insane" and "could not trust a thing", building to the final asseveration that "It was not God's truth before I met you." During the Blackstar sessions Bowie recorded his own version, an energetic cut featuring some complex multi-tracked vocals and a terrific bassline from Tim Lefebvre. The backing track was recorded on January 3rd 2015, the first day of the Blackstar sessions, and the lead vocal followed on May 5th.

WHEN I'M FIVE

  • Compilation: Love You Till Tuesday/David Bowie: Deluxe Edition (2010)

  • Video: Love You Till Tuesday

This 1968 composition is the kind of early Bowie song that divides critics, depending on how prepared they are to swallow its sugar-coated sentimentality. It takes the form of a little boy's monologue as he ponders the mysteries of the world, complete with the customary hint of mundane tragedy that runs through David's early songwriting: "I wonder why my Daddy cries, and how I wish that I were nearly five." The reference to "my grandfather Jones" might seem enticingly autobiographical, but like many Bowie lyrics of this period, the most significant influences are literary. There are echoes of Keith Waterhouses's child-narrated novel There Is A Happy Land, already plundered a year earlier, and an even closer match in Norman Nicholson's poem "Rising Five", which was originally published in his 1954 collection The Pot Geranium and offers the identical subject matter of a four-year-old boy wishing himself older. The poem opens: "'I'm rising five,' he said, / 'Not four,' and little coils of hair / Un-clicked themselves upon his head."

     A rough-and-ready demo dating from early 1968 incorporates an incongruous snatch of Cream's "I Feel Free" in its intro, and finds David singing an octave lower than on the later version. Not long afterwards "When I'm Five" was aired in a BBC radio session recorded on May 13th 1968, which remains the only full studio recording Bowie ever made of the song. Later that year he included it in his short-lived cabaret showcase, and in 1969 the BBC version appeared in the Love You Till Tuesday film, for which David showcased his movement skills by adopting an infant physicality as he wandered among the candles on top of a giant birthday cake. A subsequent 2'22" demo made with John Hutchinson around April 1969 suggests that "When I'm Five" was still under consideration for the Space Oddity album.

     In January 1969, while David was filming Love You Till Tuesday, Kenneth Pitt's protégés The Beatstalkers released a cover of "When I'm Five" as the B-side of their "Little Boy" single. David had been present at the recording the previous March and contributed backing vocals to the track, which features a markedly different arrangement from David's own versions, although vocalist Davie Lennox slavishly follows the idiosyncratic phrasing of Bowie's BBC session recording. This version later appeared on 2005's The Beatstalkers and the 2006 compilation Oh! You Pretty Things.

     Bowie's own version was given a successful and long-overdue polish for its inclusion on 2010's David Bowie: Deluxe Edition, a spot of judicious pitch correction ridding the track of the wobbly quality which is in evidence on the Love You Till Tuesday soundtrack.

WHEN I'M SIXTY-FOUR (Lennon/McCartney)

The classic Beatles number, then only a year old, was included as a comedic sequel to "When I'm Five" in Bowie's 1968 cabaret show.

WHEN THE BOYS COME MARCHING HOME

  • European B-Side: June 2002

  • B-Side: September 2002

  • Bonus: Heathen (SACD)

Released on some formats of the "Slow Burn" and "Everyone Says 'Hi'" singles, this out-take from the Heathen sessions is a slow and melodic number awash with strings, piano and plangent bass, creating a moody soundscape not unlike that of "Slip Away". The lyric revisits the album's themes of isolation, abandonment and disappointment, perhaps most closely echoing "5.15 The Angels Have Gone" as Bowie sings a melancholy lyric about stormy skies, foreign shores and disintegrating relationships, seemingly set against the background of soldiers bidding farewell to their loved ones as they set off to fight in a far-away war: "Making for some innocence and peace of mind, while the moon pulls up its net of souls / The sun presses down on my brave new world, but in truth I don't feel brave at all." There is a weary sense of history repeating itself while the defeated outsider looks on in despair: in an interview for the Daily Mirror in June 2002, Bowie pointed out that the events of recent months had demonstrated that "There's nothing to learn from history. As we've repeatedly shown, we're not willing to learn." At one point in the song David paints a melancholy self-portrait ("While I and the cobbled nag I ride stumble down another weary mile") which recalls his identification with the nursery rhyme "This Is The Way The Old Men Ride", which he mentioned at length at the time of Heathen's release. This is a beautiful song, one of the saddest and prettiest recorded during the Heathen sessions. Matt Chamberlain's shuffling drum part would be reused on Bowie's next album, looped by Tony Visconti to become the percussion track of "Bring Me The Disco King".

WHEN THE WIND BLOWS (Bowie/Kizilcay)

  • A-Side: November 1986

  • Bonus: Never Let Me Down

  • Compilation: The Platinum Collection/The Best Of David Bowie 1980/1987

  • Download: May 2007

  • Video: The Best Of David Bowie 1980/1987

The title song for Jimmy Murakami's animated feature completes Bowie's 1986 hat-trick of brilliant movie themes, this one built around a suitably ominous loop-the-loop guitar riff courtesy of co-writer Erdal Kizilcay. It's a mystery why this splendidly melodramatic number, which echoes the powerhouse style of Bowie's contemporaneous Iggy Pop collaboration Blah-Blah-Blah, didn't achieve greater chart success. The video, directed by Steve Barron with Murakami, superimposed Bowie's animated face and silhouette over a montage of clips from the film. It remains in comparative obscurity, its only official release being on 2007's Best Of 1980/1987 DVD. The song itself has fared little better: besides the accompanying 1980/1987 CD, its only other appearances to date are on the short-lived 1995 re-release of Never Let Me Down, the Chilean and German/Swiss/Austrian editions of Best Of Bowie, and 2005's The Platinum Collection, although things were redressed in 2007 by the release of a download EP which included the extended and instrumental mixes from the original single formats. The version used in the film itself, incidentally, is a shorter 3'05" edit.

WHERE ARE WE NOW?

  • A-Side: January 2013

  • Album: The Next Day

  • Video: The Next Day Extra

At 5.00am GMT on Tuesday January 8th 2013, David Bowie melted the internet. Unheralded and untrumpeted, the video of "Where Are We Now?" was dropped unobtrusively onto Vevo and YouTube. Within a couple of hours, David Bowie was headline news around the world, and by early afternoon both the single and pre-orders for The Next Day, announced simultaneously, were topping the iTunes charts. "Where Are We Now?" entered the official UK chart at number 6, Bowie's highest-charting single since "Absolute Beginners".

     "I couldn't sleep," Tony Visconti later told The Times. "I'd kept a secret for two years. I knew the release date for two months, it was a countdown, 47 days to go...the final day we were emailing each other. I'd say, 'I'm biting all my nails down, it's 2 hours and 35 minutes,' and he would write back, '2 hours and 26 minutes.'... Everyone had written him off. The next day he was very happy about how well it had been received. 'Well, what did you expect?' I said."

     The existence of the song, the video and accompanying album, and indeed the fact that David Bowie had spent the last two years in the studio, had been kept from all but his innermost circle. Even record company executives and publicists were in the dark until the eleventh hour. Alan Edwards of the Outside Organisation, who for many years had handled Bowie's PR in the United Kingdom, was informed of the single's existence just four days in advance, and suggested a subtle strategy to enhance the launch. With just a few hours' notice, a select handful of journalists were informed in the strictest confidence, among them the BBC arts correspondent John Wilson, who in turn contacted the editor of Radio 4's Today programme, who duly decided to run the story with the early morning headlines. "They wanted it to look like there had been no pre-planning," Wilson later explained in the 2016 documentary Music Moguls. "This thing was going to just drop from the sky - David Bowie just reappears. But obviously the cogs were all whirring behind the scenes. And the idea of David Bowie returning on the Today programme on Radio 4 is a very clever twist on the idea that this is just a pop star releasing a pop single. This is a serious cultural moment which deserves headlines."

     As well as priming traditional outlets, the PR team dropped hints to opinion-makers in the new media. "We had pre-warned influencers like Caitlin Moran and Dylan Jones that there was gonna be something interesting popping into their mailbox at 5.00am the next morning," recalled Alan Edwards. "And from there it just proliferated. They tweeted about it, and it went like wildfire on social media."

     "Where Are We Now?" came as a surprise even for some of The Next Day's musicians. "Tony Levin played bass on "Where Are We Now?", so I didn't hear it until it came on the radio," recalled the album's other principal bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, "but I remembered a discussion I had with [Bowie] about it. He's said he had this idea of writing a song about his time in Berlin. That was a very intense period for him: in all the time I've known him, he's often talked about that period, and he's not someone who's given to looking back at the past. It obviously left a very, very strong imprint on him. And boy, what a beautiful song."

     "When I heard "Where Are We Now?", I cried," confessed the track's drummer Zachary Alford. "It was a mixture of happiness that it was being released, that it sounded gorgeous, and hearing this vulnerability in a person that I know and think of as almost superhuman."

     "Where Are We Now?" is a song peppered with evocative references to the Berlin that David knew during the "Heroes" period, from the Dschungel nightclub he frequented with Tony Visconti and Iggy Pop, to the department store Kaufhaus Des Westens, popularly abbreviated to KaDeWe as in Bowie's lyric. But "Where Are We Now?" is no simple dip into the waters of nostalgia as the title softly suggests, Bowie is shifting between timelines, comparing and contrasting the divided Berlin of the Cold War days with the modern city of post-reunification Germany, and casting himself as "a man lost in time", observing them both. The lyric's repeated assertion that he is "just walking the dead" calls to mind The Self-Unseeing, Thomas Hardy's meditation on times past: "Here is the ancient floor, / Footworn and hollowed and thin, / Here was the former door / Where the dead feet walked in."

     The three words that David ascribed to the song for novelist Rick Moody are "interface", "flitting" and "Mauer" (the German for "wall"), and sure enough many of the changes wrought on Berlin since the Wall fell in 1989 are quietly anatomised in Bowie's lyric. After reunification, KaDeWe became something of a totem for former East Berliners, a temple of commerce epitomising their newfound capitalist freedoms. The Bosebrucke, crossed in Bowie's song by "twenty thousand people", is the bridge that made world headlines in November 1989 when it became the first major border crossing between East and West. Perhaps most poignant is the song's opening line: "Had to get the train from Potsdamer Platz / You never knew that, that I could do that" reminds us that the Potsdamer Platz, laid waste during the Second World War and subsequently bisected by the Berlin Wall, became the site of the most infamous of Germany's so-called "ghost stations", sealed off from the outside world between 1961 and 1989 because the railway briefly entered East German territory en route from one part of West Berlin to another. Thus, in Bowie's day, it was impossible to "get the train from Potsdamer Platz" - something which millions of passengers have done since the station reopened in 1992.

     The lyrics are set against an elegant, subdued instrumental track, initially recorded on September 13th 2011 and later augmented with overdubs, notably a beautiful piano part from Henry Hey to supplement Bowie's own playing. ""Where Are We Now?" is the very first track that I played on, on my first day of working with David," Henry Hey explained. "David had played a good bit of the body of the song on piano, and so what ended up on the album was a combination of his playing and my playing - bits and pieces. I believe that I played the entirety of the ending portion. The whole process was very organic." The combination of piano with Gerry Leonard's guitar recalls one of the song's precursors, the ten-year-old Reality favourite "The Loneliest Guy",  while another ancestor is "Thursday's Child", a similarly reflective piece in which the remembrance of things past is lent a melancholy power by means of a studied fragility: not just in the lyrics and arrangement, but crucially in Bowie's wavering, vulnerable delivery. David recorded his lead vocal for "Where Are We Now?" on October 22nd 2011, a few weeks after the backing track. When the song was unveiled, it didn't take long for remarks to begin swirling around the less informed corners of the media that Bowie had emerged from his long sabbatical sounding old and frail. Those more familiar with his work knew that he had employed character voices since his earliest days, and that the adoption of a fragile vocal quality to suit the mood and emotion of a particular type of song had been a colour on his palette as long ago as the likes of "The London Boys" or "Letter To Hermione". Nonetheless, in selecting "Where Are We Now?" as his comeback single, Bowie surely knew that there would be those who would jump to the conclusion that his voice had gone to pot: it was an audacious feint by an artist entirely in control of his work, a casual splash of misdirection which left egg on the faces of more than one critic when, in due course, they were invited to hear the pile-driving power of his vocals elsewhere on The Next Day.

     As elegiac and allusive as the song itself is the video of "Where Are We Now?", for which Bowie turned to Tony Oursler, the artist and sculptor whose trademark face-projections had been used to great effect in 1997's "Little Wonder" video and on the subsequent Earthling tour. "At first I wondered if I'd be able to live up to a project like this, given the gravity of the situation, the surprise of coming back after ten years of silence," Oursler later admitted to Uncut. "But I listened very carefully to what David was saying and he already had this crystallised, fully articulated image for the video in his head. There were a few things that we teased out together, so it's a kind of overlapping collaboration that gave birth in my workshop." The live elements of the video were shot over two days in Oursler's studio, while the lyrics were flashed over grainy footage of Berlin. Bowie's features initially appear as a distorted avatar alongside those of Oursler's artist wife Jacqueline Humphries, mapped onto the blank faces of a two-headed animal puppet which subsequently became a last-minute addition to the exhibits in the V&A's David Bowie is retrospective. "Those dolls you see," explained Oursler, "those doppelganger electronic effigies, are a trope I've been using in my work since the early nineties. David used those in '97 for his fiftieth birthday party at Madison Square Garden, which was the first time we really did anything together. So he took me to his studio, where he had them out of storage, and said: 'Let's just use these.' It was wonderful to see the birth of this song riding in on some kind of electronic magic carpet in my crazy studio."

     Nothing in a Bowie video is ever entirely devoid of meaning: even accidents, like Steve Strange extravagantly stooping to disentangle his costume in the "Ashes To Ashes" video, become elegantly co-opted into the masterplan as gestures heavy with implication. But by the time we reach "Where Are We Now?", the game has moved into a new phase, and there's a sense that Bowie is now toying with his audience, mischievously throwing in images and details which he knows perfectly well will be seized upon and feverishly deconstructed. The evocative items of bric-a-brac littering the artist's studio in the "Where Are We Now?" video (a diamond, a dog, a snowflake, an eyeball, a baseball, an empty bottle, a rearing cobra) offer enough material to keep the imaginative Bowie-spotter busy for weeks, but upstaging them all is the T-shirt that David is seen wearing when, three minutes into the clip, he finally appears in corporeal form, standing alone in the studio and clutching a spiral-bound notebook. Emblazoned with the words "m/s Song of Norway", the T-shirt is a blatant plant for the Bowiephile, intended to trigger thoughts of the 1970 film Song Of Norway, in which Hermione Farthingale's role as a dancer played a significant part in the traumatic separation long since established as a cornerstone of the Bowie legend. Song Of Norway it was which, in the words of "An Occasional Dream", "danced you far from me" - and so its referencing in this video provides a ready-made signifier of wistful nostalgia and youthful regret. Yet in the midst of all this, the T-shirt's prefix "m/s" sounds a note of caution: it turns out that the Motor Ship Song Of Norway was an Oslo-registered cruise liner launched in 1970, bearing no connection whatsoever with the film besides the shared name. The ship continued to sail under the name Song Of Norway until 1997, so we must assume that David encountered the liner at some point over the years and, prompted by the obvious resonance, invested in a souvenir T-shirt. But that's by the by: this is David rifling through his own mythology, cocking a playful snook at those who make the mistake of regrading his work as some kind of meticulously constructed roman-á-clef in which every element is a clue to be decoded. Yet at the same time he is demonstrating that a T-shirt from a Scandinavian cruise ship, when dropped at the right moment into the right music video, can be miraculously transformed into an objet trouvé pregnant with pathos and meaning - offering as effective a summary of Bowie's entire creative methodology as he ever articulated.

     For those who enjoy such curious coincidences, it must be recorded that after 1997 the m/s Song Of Norway underwent several changes of ownership and name, before ending her days as the Asia Star Cruises vessel Formosa Queen, under which name she was finally sold for scrap in November 2013, just a few months after she was commemorated in the "Where Are We Now?" video.

     Another delightful echo is the fact that the title of this song happens to be the first thing we see in the opening shot of Moon, the 2009 debut feature by David's film director son Duncan Jones. The film begins with the words "Where Are We Now?" flashing up on screen, followed by the voice-over: "There was a time when 'energy' was a dirty word. When turning on your lights was a hard choice. Cities in brown-out, food shortages, cars burning fuel to run. But that was the past. Where are we now?" A deliberate echo? A Jones family in-joke? A complete coincidence? We may never know. Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, David Bowie can't give everything away.

     "Where Are We Now?" was subsequently incorporated into the musical Lazarus, in which its performance was once again accompanied by video projections of Berlin.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE GOOD TIMES GONE! (Davies)

  • Album: Pin Ups

Unusually among the Pin Ups set, "Where Have All The Good Times Gone!" (the exclamation mark was added by Bowie on the sleeve notes) was not a chart hit in its original version. Originally a 1965 B-side for The Kinks, the song's instantly identifiable Ray Davies riff is ideal for Mick Ronson's scrunchy style, while Bowie is well suited to a domestic-disenchantment lyric of the kind so beloved of his own mid-1960s songwriting. "I would often try to go for a more obscure song because I felt it would give me more freedom to play around with the arrangement," David later said of his general approach to cover versions. "In that particular case, I think I stayed pretty close to the original arrangement. But the idea of doing the more obscure songs was something that really appealed to me."

     During renditions of "Aladdin Sane" on the 1996 Summer Festivals tour (notably at the Loreley Festival on June 22nd), Gail Ann Dorsey would occasionally sing the title, while Bowie responded with a snatch of The Kinks' "All Day And All Of The Night".

WHERE'S THE LOO see ERNIE JOHNSON

WHISTLING

The performing rights organisation BMI lists this mysterious title as a Bowie composition.

WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT (Reed)

  • Live: Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture/Bowie At The Beeb (Bonus Disc)

  • A-Side: October 1983

  • Live Video: Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars/Serious Moonlight/Glass Spider

The Velvet Underground classic, originally from their 1968 album of the same name, achieved an even greater impact on Bowie's career than "Waiting For The Man". It became one of his perennial live standards, rivalling the likes of "Heroes" and "Rebel Rebel" for sheer staying power in his concert repertoire. It's the song referred to in the scrawled sleeve-notes of Hunky Dory, where David dedicates "Queen Bitch" to Lou Reed with the words "Some V.U. White Light returned with thanks".

     Eminently suited to The Spiders' raucous live sound, "White Light/White Heat" was played regularly throughout the Ziggy Stardust tour, including a notable performance with Lou Reed at the Royal Festival Hall on July 8th 1972. The Spiders gave the song a tighter, more conventional rock shape than the original Velvet Underground cut, and introduced a descending chord sequence as the song approached its climax (A - G - F# - F) which remained a feature of most of Bowie's subsequent renditions. Two studio versions were cut for the BBC radio sessions on May 16th and 23rd 1972; the first of these, a tight and exuberant rendition benefiting from Nicky Graham's madcap boogie-woogie piano, can now be heard on Bowie At The Beeb. A third version, begun during the following year's Pin Ups sessions but abandoned at the backing-track stage, was later resuscitated by Mick Ronson, who added his own vocal for his 1975 album Play Don't Worry.

     In 1983 the live cut of "White Light/White Heat" from the final Ziggy concert was released as a single to promote Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture, doubtless in an attempt to cash in on the fact that the song had just been revived for the same year's Serious Moonlight tour. Thereafter it reappeared on the Glass Spider, Sound + Vision, 1996 Summer Festivals, Earthling, Heathen and A Reality tours. Further versions featured in Bowie's Bridge School benefit set on October 20th 1996, his ChangesNowBowie BBC session, and at the fiftieth birthday concert, for which he was joined on guitar by Lou Reed.​