Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Here Today and Gone Tomorrow (Ohio Players, 1968).
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow (Bowie, 1974).

David Live was near-universally regarded as the worst record Bowie released in the ’70s. It earned one star in the Rolling Stone Record Guide; Lester Bangs called it “a dismal flatulence”; Christgau, giving it a C-minus, wrote it was “the artiste at his laryngeal nadir, mired in bullshit pessimism and arena-rock pandering.” Bowie, in 1977, admitted he had never even played it; Tony Visconti, who had been hired to help turn a set of spotty concert tapes into a 2-LP album, called it “one of the quickest and shoddiest albums I’ve ever done.”

Some of the problem was technical, as the Philadelphia concerts had been dismally recorded: the backing singers and musicians often had wandered off-mike, requiring players to redo their performances in the studio, while the overall sound was a weak struggle between tinniness and murk. The final mix was mainly the work of engineer Eddie Kramer at Electric Ladyland studios (Visconti recalled Kramer ridiculously “conducting” the mixing desk, throwing his head back while he slopped together what would become David Live).

Sound quality scarcely mattered to RCA, who wanted to rush-release a live record before Bowie resumed touring later in 1974. After all, the mid-’70s were the banquet years for the double-LP live album, and the sight of their thick, cracked spines, their seed-littered gatefolds, would likely be the equivalent of Proust’s madeleine for a whole generation. Frampton Comes Alive. The Song Remains the Same. Cheap Trick At Budokan. Bob Dylan At Budokan. Made in Japan. One More From the Road. Double Live Gonzo. On Your Feet Or On Your Knees. Wings Over America. Live! Bootleg. Miles of Aisles. Eagles Live. Kiss Alive! Live Bullet. Waiting For Columbus. Yessongs. All the World’s a Stage. Love You Live. Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends. And so on (even Barry Manilow had a 2-LP live album, on which he sang a medley of his self-penned TV commercial jingles). They were greatest-hits records as well as party soundtracks, and perhaps one reason David Live didn’t work is that it wasn’t a party record at all—it seemed like an aural remnant of some kabuki performance, Bowie’s rock “standards” reworked as cabaret songs.

Visconti managed to salvage David Live when he remixed it in 2004 and re-sequenced the tracks in order of performance, making the record richer and more coherent. The wisest move was to restore to the playing order Bowie’s cover of the Ohio Players’ “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow,” one of the show’s better performances.

“Here Today And Gone Tomorrow” (Bowie discarded the conjunction) was one of the first Ohio Brothers singles, from 1968, and it’s more Southern soul than the slick urban funk the band would make its name on in the ’70s. Centered on Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner’s guitar and deliberate in its pacing (the chorus doesn’t arrive until nearly halfway through the song, and only appears once more, after the entire process repeats), “Here Today” has the singer lamenting a woman who blows through town like a sailor or a gypsy, leaving him (and many other guys, apparently) heartbroken.

Bowie’s version, as with “Knock on Wood,” hardly deviates from the original, though Earl Slick’s guitar is arguably hotter than Bonner’s. Bowie takes the song at a faster pace, and where the Ohio Players drift off in a half-minute coda of resignation, Bowie keeps repeating the chorus, as if repeating his lament long enough would somehow cauterize the wound.

Recorded 8-12 July 1974 at the Tower Theatre, Philadelphia (first released as a bonus track on the Ryko CD reissue of David Live, and sequenced properly on the 2005 reissue). Performed only during the Philadelphia shows.

Top: Gedney, “Girls on train,” London, 1974.

8 Responses to Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

  1. bombadear says:

    Yes the original David Live was truly turgid. It was one of those records which having spent ones pocket/birthday money on one tried to like but never could quite. But the remix is considerably better (for once).

  2. snoball says:

    In some ways the remixed David Live is my favourite live Bowie album. It’s more assured than Santa Monica ’72, although it doesn’t have much of that earlier album’s charm. It’s punchier than Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture, that other great cut’n’paste live Bowie album. And compared to Stage, the older songs have space to breathe in the way they’ve been reworked, unlike the later album where the Ziggy material especially is done at a run, as though Davy has a hot date waiting for him and just wants to get this annoying concert business out of the way.

  3. diamondog says:

    Ive got to say ive always loved David Live , the re working of his back catalogue i think is one of the bravest moves he ever made and i like it for the most part.Your hearing familiar songs given a freshness like no other performer ever did, his standards given new life. I only realised there was a poor mix when i watch Cracked Actor ,as a lad it to me sounded totally weird and i preferred David Live .Listen to any of the boots and they may sound more pleasing and traditional but they don’t play as well or have that eerie edge if there was a problem with the musicians it hardly shows they play superbly.

  4. sekaer says:

    I read somewhere that David Live is coveted by guitar players way beyond Bowie people because the extraordinary playing of EARL SLICK. It is one of the most shattering guitar performances I’ve ever heard. He is the secret weapon of a live album that I’ve always liked. Keep up the great posts!

  5. Joe the Lion says:

    David Live, perversely, always reminds me of Christmas. I was given the reissue for Christmas (along with Aladdin Sane) in 1990 when I was thirteen. Nothing is guaranteed to make me feel more festive than the opening of All The Young Dudes (it’s the first track I skipped to)!

    Even when I judge it more objectively, I think David Live is a great album. Made better in the recent remaster, but I always loved the ‘reimagining’ of the songs, and particularly Earl Slick’s playing.

  6. Gloria Wilson says:

    I happen to think David Live is a great album. Not a party album but a story. I love it!!!! Loved it then and live it more now!!!

  7. Tra McPeak says:

    When David Live came out, I hated it. Five years later, it became my favorite album. (I met Tony Newman in a bar in Nashville playing with Dee Murray! He listened to me go off about his performance on David Live. That lick before the lead on Suffragette City still kills me.) I loved the Ryko reissue because of the extra tracks, but, especially because you got to hear the complete piano from Side A Sweet Thing to side B Changes without the interruption of changing records. I didn’t like the Virgin remix. Too much saxophone and piano. It pushes Earl Slick to the side. The rough, raw, out of order to fit the vinyl original really shakes my tree. AD, BC ordered so you could flip both records and keep the order. Still my favorite record of all time.

  8. The Idiot says:

    I’ll jump onboard with the David Live defenders. It’s one of those supposedly awful records where reputation far outstrips reality; you listen and wonder what about it could possibly warrant the kind of criticism it’s received. It’s just not *that* offensive, even in its weakest moments. Minor flaws blown up to gargantuan proportions by Bowie doubters in need of a punching bag.

    * Necessary disclaimer that I fully realize the above sound likes fanboy drivel.

    Also for all the cocaine-induced indulgences of the tour, my thoughts upon last listening to the David Live version of the Sweet Thing suite: very tasteful.

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