The first track to publicly emerge from the Tin Machine II sessions, “Betty Wrong” turned up on the soundtrack of the 1990 Australian film The Crossing, starring a young Russell Crowe. Given further overdubs for TMII (mainly two Bowie saxophone cameos and some woodblocks in the verses), the track was mooted as a possible single but instead wound up buried midway through the album.
“Betty Wrong,” like a few other TMII tracks, is evidence that Bowie was trying, if indifferently, to write more commercial material again—its hooky chorus could have been incidental music for a Coke commercial, and as such was well suited for the sub-Rebel Without a Cause scenario of The Crossing. Its intro, which seems slightly in hock to Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning,” suggests a more energetic track than its rather sickly verses delivered, though the chorus comes around quickly enough to keep the wheels rolling. Bowie’s lyric is in the vein of “Amazing,” a fallen man transported by love and pledging his faith in a broken time, though its decent lines (“nurtured on grime, good will and screams“) are overpowered by its duff ones (“the kiss of the comb/tears my face“).
During the last Tin Machine tour, Bowie and Reeves Gabrels put their composition on the rack, extending “Betty Wrong” over ten minutes with introductory and climactic guitar* and, especially, saxophone solos. The latter are some of Bowie’s most extravagant recorded performances on the sax, in which Bowie fulfills a teenage dream and tries to pretend he’s Eric Dolphy for a few minutes, though Bowie was far better at the R&B stylings of the big-toned tenor men of the Fifties, like Earl Bostic. At its best, Bowie’s sax added a swagger to “Betty,” particularly its intro, where the Machine now sounded like a bar band ripping into the Peter Gunn theme.
Recorded ca. September-October 1989, Studios 301, Sydney, and first appeared in October 1990 on The Crossing OST (Regular Records TVD 93336). Two other versions of “Betty” are circulating on bootleg: one’s just a slightly different mix of the released track, the other is an early instrumental take at a slower pace, with Gabrels still working out his solo ideas.
* Gabrels, in Musician, said of his closing blues solo “the chords are C#min7 to Amaj to G7 to G#min—I wondered what it would sound like if you had Otis Rush playing over something other than I-IV-V. The difference is to move one note in the right direction. The strongest statement that you can make is often the shortest distance: just a half-step away from the note that’s ringing. That’s hardest to hear.”
Top: “Visit to Moscow by Secretary General Manfred Wörner,” 14 July 1990 (NATO archives—who knew NATO was on Flickr?).