Julie

Julie.

A rare piece of subtlety from the Never Let Me Down sessions, “Julie” was naturally thrown away as a B-side (it was possibly cut because of its similarity in places to “Bang Bang,” suggesting that it began life as Bowie reworking Iggy Pop’s song). Like “Zeroes,” “Julie” seems intended as a “Sixties” pop song—as though Bowie wanted for the song to sound like a cover of a falsely-remembered older hit. It helped that the name “Julie” itself has a storied rock ‘n’ roll pedigree—the Crescendos, the Lettermen, Bobby Sherman and the Cuff Links all used it for singles, in part because it’s such an easy rhyme generator: “truly,” “you and me,” “eternally,” etc.*

There’s also a connection to “Janine,” an actual Bowie Sixties pop song also concerned with deception and ill-matched love. In “Janine,” however, there was a sense of play—Janine might be an affected ingenue, but the singer was just as much of a fraud, and there was a smile in Bowie’s singing, in all of his blustering attempts to win a round against her. It was a love affair in a house of mirrors. In “Julie” the lyric depicts a far sadder, if obscure scenario–the singer knows Julie doesn’t love him, that she’s consumed with another guy, but he’s willing to settle for the mere appearance of love, even in his imagination (there’s also the implication, in the second verse, that the singer killed the guy that Julie really loves, and that he’s desiring her while she’s mourning). The story’s more directly told in Bowie’s vocal, which is solitary and in a narrow range for the opening verse, double-tracked at the octave for the second, and which soars to his higher register for the delusive, desperate chorus, eventually joined by Robin Clark and/or Diva Gray.

While the track, with its synth bass and drums, is dated-sounding and the mix seems slightly off-balance (all the electric guitars are crammed into the right channel, while a lower-mixed acoustic in the left), its guitar tracks (Peter Frampton and Carlos Alomar, I’m assuming) give the song some blood and muscle, with Frampton giving some tasteful lead coloring in the chorus: it’s reminiscent of his sitar lines on “Zeroes.” One of the few late Eighties Bowie songs to have escaped its time with some dignity, its later inclusion on Never Let Me Down reissues was a minor injustice corrected.

Recorded ca. September-November 1986 at Mountain Studios, Montreux, and the Power Station, NYC. Released 23 March 1987 as the B-side of “Day-In Day-Out” and on CD reissues of Never Let Me Down.

* Of course, there’s the chance Bowie’s inspiration came from more contemporary tracks: Daniel’s “Julie” from Eurovision 1983 and Shakin’ Stevens’ cod-zydeco UK #1 “Oh Julie” from 1982.

Top: Jeanette Montgomery Barron, “Beatrix Ost-Kuttner and Adeleheid Ost, Virginia, 1987.”

14 Responses to Julie

  1. Jeremy says:

    You know, I liked this song when it came out and I still have a fondness for it, perhaps because it was actually better than many of the tracks on the actual album. Flawed but likable -a nice obscurity helping to possibly rescue a bleak time.

  2. david says:

    I never really liked this one, because it seemed a bit too much like he was trying to ape Dire Straits sound with a touch of Springsteen. I also couldn’t abide Frampton at the time, and he’s all over this- although my assessment of him has mellowed over the years. Still, I’m looking forward to reading what you have to say in regards to his contribution on the album and subsequent tour.

  3. Remco says:

    It sounds like he re-used the melody for the line ‘I’m yours till the end’ for ‘Survive’ on “hours..” I much prefer the latter but this song is quite enjoyable, a lot better than most of the stuff that ended up on the album.

  4. PH says:

    To me it just sounds like a bog-standard love song that could have been written by any number of mediocre artists.Bowie himself would have tossed it out in his sleep. It doesn’t engage me at all.I find it inferior to most of the album and absolutely understand and agree with its’ relegation to a B-side. Sorry.

  5. Ofer says:

    Oh, to be inside of the man’s mind when he had decided to release all that terrible trash-music when he could still have given us this absolute minor-mediocre-piece! Truly a lost filler!

  6. Frankie says:

    I related to the lyrics personally. I must confess there was a Julie in my life… and he captured that head-space convincingly and kudos to him for it. But for the music, I was let down. If you took away his voice there wouldn’t be anything remotely characteristically Bowie that I usually listen to him for. It even verges on 80s Rod Stewart, I might say, but his stuff was played more convincingly. And if I really wanted to hear some good Rod Stewart, I’d play Gasoline Alley instead.

  7. Ian McDuffie says:

    Y’know, I’m really into this one, in the same way that I give Blue Jean a pass for being catchy enough to ascend from the need to be high art. That little triplet synth line that pops up, the noodly guitar that snakes through, and the chorus’ melody are all really pretty touches. It’s catchy, and fun, and isn’t mildly offensive like, say, “Too Dizzy.”

  8. algeriatouchshriek says:

    If ‘Julie’ had been the A side and DIDO the B side it would have been a bigger hit. This is accessible, simple and catchy unlike the straining cacophony of DIDO. In only DJ’s had flipped it over. Sigh.

  9. Maj says:

    Yeah, it’s not a bad song. It reminds me of a-ha’s songs of that time. Mainly the melody, but I suppose the meaning of the lyrics would fit into the melancholic Norwegians’ songs too. :)

  10. Diamond Duke says:

    Very nice! A rather pleasant, breezy little ditty. Again, it’s not one of Bowie’s greatest songs ever, but it’s not without an effervescent sort of charm. :D It’s actually rather less familiar to me than the other songs on Never Let Me Down, mainly because I don’t (yet) have the 1995 re-issue which features this as one of three bonus track. Frankly, I also think this would have made a better album cut than certain other tracks which did make it onto the album! ;)

  11. 87Fan says:

    One of my favorite Bowie songs. I adore this track. I always hoped he’d play this one live on tour, just to surprise folks.

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