Strangers When We Meet

riots

Strangers When We Meet (promo mix).
Strangers When We Meet (Buddha of Suburbia).
Strangers When We Meet (Outside.)
Strangers When We Meet (single edit, video, Outside).
Strangers When We Meet (live, 1995).
Strangers When We Meet (The Tonight Show, 1995).
Strangers When We Meet (Top of the Pops, 1995).
Strangers When We Meet (Later with Jools Holland, 1995).

“Strangers When We Meet” appears on two Bowie albums, neither of which it suited. On Buddha of Suburbia, its first, sparser incarnation stood out as the most “standard” track of the record, though it sounded undercooked when compared with the effulgence of “Untitled No. 1.” Realizing that he’d thrown away a possible hit on an album that wasn’t released in the US, Bowie reworked “Strangers” in the last sessions of Outside, for which it served as the closing track.

On Outside, the bright chorus melody of “Strangers” was a payoff for a listener who had endured a long, dark, claustrophobic album. Coming after a set of 18 “segues” and generally ominous tracks, “Strangers” felt like a boarded-up window being pried open to let in the sunlight. That said, “Strangers” also sounded like a bonus track, like something appended to the album after it was used in a film.

“Strangers” seems at heart one of Bowie’s transient songs, one more suited for the stateless company of “Holy Holy,” “John, I’m Only Dancing,” “Under Pressure” and “Alabama Song” than it was for any album. It was a pure single that Bowie instead netted and mounted in two different tableaux. And while it felt like a hit, “Strangers” wound up a relative obscurity. Released as Outside‘s second single, it was eclipsed by its B-side, a so-called “live” version (it wasn’t) of “Man Who Sold the World.” “Strangers” only reached #39 in the UK and didn’t chart anywhere else in the world but Sweden. Had it been Outside‘s lead-off single, or had Bowie put it out ahead of the album in, say, spring 1995, perhaps it could’ve had more space to thrive in.

Its commercial failure was a shame, as “Strangers” has one of Bowie’s sturdiest melodies and most haunting lyrics of his later years. It should have been ranked with “Absolute Beginners” and “Modern Love” as one of Bowie’s beloved “silver age” hits; “Strangers,” rather than “Jump They Say,” feels like it should have been the last big Bowie pop moment. Perhaps it was too somber for its time; the doomed, conflicted relationship that dominates its lyric denying any easy access for a listener.

“Strangers” began as another of Bowie’s trawls through the past while he was making Buddha, as the song is built on the bassline of the Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’” (which Bowie had already used, jokingly, in his “Join the Gang”). Bowie was also playing with the associations that its title phrase summoned up. “Strangers when we meet” was associated with adultery: it had titled a Kirk Douglas film about tortured adultery and had been the chorus hook of Leroy Van Dyke’s jaunty ode to adultery, “Walk on By” (“just walk on by/wait on the corner/I love you but we’re strangers when we meet”). In all its uses, the secret lovers in question had to play-act as strangers in public, reserving their true feelings for behind closed doors.The Smithereens had a song in the Eighties that continued these associations—don’t look my way, I’ve still got a wife, I really love you, remember, but we’re going to be strangers on the street.

So Bowie’s lyric took this set of expectations and undermined them. Rather than being any sort of secret lovers, the couple in the song are so brutally alienated from each other, are so consumed by passive/aggressive emotional violence, that they often literally cannot recognize who they once were. There’s an emotional numbness, with the singer’s world bled free of color. “All our friends, now seem so thin and frail,” Bowie begins. The TV shows a blank screen, religion has no consolations, nor does nature (“splendid sunrise, but it’s a dying world“). Sometimes the couple even forget each other’s names. The man weeps in bed, cringes when she tries to embrace him.

The twist is, as the final chorus comes around, that the singer masochistically welcomes this state. Numbness, disassociation, alienation are at least some sort of feeling. Better to serve in hell, as the line goes. As the end chorus begins, with the beat slightly increasing in tempo, Bowie tears into his lines with a sudden, growing conviction. ALL your REGRETS ride ROUGH-SHOD over me, he sings. I’m so GLAD…I’m so THANKFUL…I’m in CLOVER…HEEL HEAD OVER that they’re strangers. Because then they can pretend to fall in love again.

strangers

Bowie didn’t alter the song’s structure when he remade it for Outside. “Strangers” remained a standard progression in A major, with the verses banked to quickly sweep in the dominant chord, E, (“secrets”) after a tense pit stop on a B eleventh chord (“thin and frail”). The choruses reverse course, beginning on E (“violence”) and quickly shuttling back home to the tonic, A (“the sheet”).

The revisions were more subtle, and owed to the greater cast of characters in the studio: Mike Garson, often keeping to the bass end of his piano, offers small commentary and a lovely, ruminative solo; Reeves Gabrels discards the agitated, jabbing hook in the original track’s verses for a set of subtler colors (he also provides a few what-the-hell noises, like the Fripp-esque “elephant roar”  in the intro). Kizilcay on bass plays a similar groove as his performance on the original (it’s also possibly Yossi Fine on bass here) while the drumming, whether Sterling Campbell or Joey Baron, is more dynamic. (The revision moved “Strangers” from the dance floor to a locked room, especially given the diminished presence of the synth drum “march” pattern that had been the backbone of the Buddha version.)

For me, the Outside version’s superiority lies mainly in Bowie’s vocal. His singing on the remake seems an extended critique of his earlier performance. The original found Bowie strong, confident, in full form as “Bowie,” happily delivering on expectations. The double-tracked close harmonies of the chorus emphasized the hearty strengths of its melody and Bowie took the closing lines as a series of hurdles, delighting in his rhymes, bringing the song to a close as if he was landing a plane. On Outside, this bravado has fallen away. Bowie begins in a near-conversational tone, in what sounds like his “gumshoe” Nathan Adler voice—he’s acting, playing a ridiculous role, and in the first chorus he breaks down. His emphases land on unexpected beats: he sings “strangers when we meet” now, letting the last word trail off—it gives a more provisional feel to the line, the singer fixating on the “when,” knowing that they may never meet again. And in the closing chorus, the naked beauty of his voice (accompanied by a ghostly, lower-mixed backing vocal) makes the climactic lines a series of painful, hard-fought delusions.

It’s one of his finest, most beautiful, autumnal songs—Bowie would spend his some of his last decade as a performer (well, until this past Tuesday) playing variations of the character, someone betrayed and bewildered by life, that he unveiled on “Strangers.” Whether he ever bettered it is another question.

Recorded: (original) June-July 1993, Mountain Studios, Montreux; (remake) ca. January-February 1995, Westside Studios, New York. A longer, different mix of the original “Strangers” appeared on a Dutch promotional cassette—its most notable differences are the lack of the “Gimme Some Lovin’” hook and a greater emphasis on the synth drums. The remake of “Strangers was released in November 1995 as RCA/BMG 74321 32940 2 (c/w “Man Who Sold the World,” #39 UK—the UK CD single also had “Get Real,” one of two “official” Outside outtakes.) Performed on the Outside and Earthling tours as well as on the Tonight Show on 27 October 1995, TOTP on 9 November 1995 and Jools Holland on 3 December 1995.

Top: “Allison DC,” “Riot Grrrls, Gay Rights March,” Washington DC, April 1993.

90 Responses to Strangers When We Meet

  1. jopasso says:

    Wonderful writing, and I agree with the fact that the Outside version is better.

    In my post-1980 Top-10

  2. David B says:

    Good piece. First time I’d heard the original in donkeys’ years. Just one addendum: the title is nicked from a novel by my old mucker Evan Hunter (aka Ed McBain). Bowie is more likely to have got it from the movie version, which starred Kirk Douglas and Kim Novak.

  3. On the Buddha version of the song, there also seems to be a subtle reference to his 1988 version of Look Back in Anger. That little riff at 2:18 of that song reappears throughout Strangers When We Meet starting at 0:23.

    Loved this song as soon as I discovered it. I have a weird connection with Bowie’s music, having discovered a lot of his 90s material before his earlier work and maybe it’s just the nostalgia, but Outside remains one of my favourite Bowie albums and definitely my favourite of his 90s albums. Looking forward to your review of this period.

    • Maj says:

      Ditto here. I started with Heathen (at 15) & then moved back in his discography. So apart from the “hits” I familiarised myself with his 90′s work before I even heard the 70′s albums in full.

      Don’t think it’s just nostalgia. I think it shows the longtime fans tend to get it wrong when they dismiss an artists’ later work (and not saying all or even most of the guys visiting this blog do this, btw.). The quality was there. The problem in Bowie’s case is he’s just way too good. I think Cole Porter wrote something about that. ;)

  4. david says:

    Someone suggested the song could have been David looking back on his relationship with Angie, and given your analysis, the theory does hold water. Its a lovely song regardless, and I used to prefer the Outside version until recently, when i started listening to Bhudda (thanks to this blog) again.
    Loved the Outside era video however, which I believe may have been inspired by a painting by Egon Schiele.

    • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

      I’ve always interpreted this song as a bitter riposte to Angie. This song coincides with the release in 1993 of her dirt-dishing memoir “Backstage Passes”,after the gag that had been placed on her as part of their divorce settlement had expired, and she was free to write a more salacious update of her 1981 memoir “”Free Spirit’. In the book, among other things, she accuses Bowie of being passive aggressive, hence the line “my poor soul all bruised passivity’. But the telling line is “cold tired fingers, tapping out your memories”.
      It’s a clever little lyric though, with a kiss-off line disguised as a standard boy meets girl image. Like Sinatra’s “Strangers In The Night”, the natural assumption is that the couple will go through the exciting process of getting to know each other from scratch, when what Bowie is really saying is, should I happen to pass you in the street I’ll look the other way like I don’t know you. I love the line “heel head over” as opposed to head over heels too. That’s pure Bowie. And yes, I think the Outside version is the better of the two.

    • Maj says:

      Which painting? Btw, nice seeing I’m not the only one loving the video.

  5. Mr Tagomi says:

    “Keeled over”, I think it is.

    I liked the Buddha version better, but I must admit I’ve never given the meaning of the lyrics any thought at all. Just heard them as sounds really.

    I’ll have to re-listen to the Outside version in the light of this new knowledge.

    • col1234 says:

      I still think it’s “head heel over,” which sounds like what it likely was: a cut-up switchabout of “head over heels.” there’s a wonderful brutality and weirdness to the line, it’s very Bowie.

  6. Brian says:

    A very minor thing: the “Fripp-esque” elephant sound is really Belew’s thing (ie King Crimson’s Elephant Talk; Belew’s own Last Rhinoceros). I saw the reformed KC’s first concert one fall in London during a semester abroad (’81?), and Adrian performed the elephant noise with his back to the audience– presumably a trade secret. It _was_ like nothing I’d heard before. I saw them again in the spring at Toad’s Place in New Haven and by then I guess others had figured how to make the noise so Belew didn’t turn his back.

    At the time I lost interest in Bowie with Let’s Dance and Tonight so all this 90s stuff is new to me and fun to explore in step with this blog. It is striking, as someone who has followed Belew’s career with interest, how much Reeves Gabrels seems indebted to him for sound and style. I think Gabrels’ way of trying to go beyond Belew was to abandon restraint, at least in the Tin Machine stuff covered so far; and that does get tiring. I did prefer the Gabrels’ version of You’ve Been Around so perhaps he evolves.

  7. col1234 says:

    also, there’s a new Earl Slick interview about the record. Most of the ‘turn of the century’ gang is back on rhythm–Dorsey, Campbell, Alford. Same guitarists as on “Reality.”

    http://ultimateclassicrock.com/earl-slick-david-bowie-new-album-interview/

  8. humanizingthevacuum says:

    “Its commercial failure was a shame, as “Strangers” has one of Bowie’s sturdiest melodies and most haunting lyrics of his later years. It should have been ranked with “Absolute Beginners” and “Modern Love” as one of Bowie’s beloved “silver age” hits; “Strangers,” rather than “Jump They Say,” feels like it should have been the last big Bowie pop moment.”

    We’re in complete agreement: the only time his cut-up lyrics moved me, thanks to that gorgeous vocal. All the stresses fall on unexpected places.

  9. timspeaker says:

    Glad to read your concise, warm regard for Strangers. Certainly one of my very, very favorites of the 90′s comeback. Agree whole-heartedly that the Outside version is superior.

    Interesting to me to read your lyrical analysis, as I had a totally different take. Strangers holds great meaning to me personally, so I guess my interpretation had much to do with my affinity for it. Thanks for the new perspective.

    Can’t wait for you to go “Outside”! Peerless writing as usual.

  10. King of Oblivion says:

    Not to hijack this thread but there’s an excellent critical round-up of “Bowie’s greatest obscurities” over at The Quietus. “Strangers” is among the choices…

    http://thequietus.com/articles/04884-david-bowie-beyond-the-hits

  11. Bill S. says:

    I first encountered the song on Outside, and that’s still my favorite version. As much as I liked the other songs on that album (although I never much liked the interstitial stuff), “Strangers When We Meet” was clearly the highlight for me. It’s gorgeous and touching, and I was always puzzled that it was never mentioned when other fans would talk about their favorite late-era Bowie songs. (It’s fun to sing along to, too.)

  12. Diamond Duke says:

    One of my all-time favorite David Bowie tracks! An absolutely lovely song, and I also prefer the Outside version over BOS. A pity that the single never charted in the UK or US, or that it’ll probably never show up on a compilation. Truth be told, I’d never heard the Buddha original until almost a year ago, when I got a copy of the 2007 re-issue. The original’s nice enough, but I find it a bit on the “tech-y” side, and I prefer Gabrels’ “Heroes”-style guitar and that absolutely gorgeous Mike Garson solo on the re-make. And it feels like much more of an organic “band” piece than the original.

    BTW, the Outside performance has a very strong “Heroes” vibe about it (meaning the song). I would say that it’s one of a handful of post-1980 Bowie songs which might be called “Sons Of ‘Heroes’” (the two others being Teenage Wildlife before it and Slow Burn after).

    I know I’ve probably said this before in a comment for a much earlier entry, but Outside was actually the first David Bowie album I ever purchased (on CD). Before that I only had the Best Of 1969/1974 compilation. Quite a few of my favorite ’90s movies (Seven, Lost Highway) featured its songs in their soundtracks and I was curious enough to make the purchase. I’m glad I did! It wouldn’t be until well over another decade until I would seriously delve into the Bowie catalogue, but Outside pretty much marks the beginning point of my “fantastic voyage.” Fitting enough that I should come full circle right here, right now, at the very moment Bowie begins yet another chapter in a long musical career! :)

    • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

      Hi Diamond Duke. Just on the subject of “sons of Heroes”, you might be interested to know of a track that Í’ve always considered a father of Heroes, which is “Mother Whale Eyeless” by Brian Eno on his 1974 album “Taking Tiger Mountain”. Listen closely about two thirds of the way into the song when the wavery synthesizer kicks in and you’ll hear what I mean.

      • Diamond Duke says:

        To some extent, I can see the resemblance, especially when one considers that Eno himself is the co-author of “Heroes”, but I’ve always considered the true father of that song (at least musically speaking) to be the Waiting For The Man from The Velvet Underground & Nico. And of course Bowie has covered that particular number many, many times! :)

  13. It’s one of my favorites, and an excellent counterexample to those who say Bowie never did anything truly great after Scary Monsters. It’s a real shame this song (particularly the Outside version) wasn’t the massive hit it rightfully deserved to be.

  14. gcreptile says:

    Thank you for this summary. I already said it before, but for me it’s Bowie’s best song post-’Absolute Beginners’ which, in my opinion, marks the definite end of his prime. I also prefer the Outside version, but then I’ve heard that one first. Outside was when I started following Bowie’s career. I only heard the Buddha version last year, and I appreciate its muscle, but I think the song’s melancholy is better served by Bowie’s fragile lyrics and Garson’s piano ‘tears’. And I think Bowie agrees with our high assessment. He knew it should have been a hit. Maybe Heart’s Filthy Lesson scared the people away who liked Bowie for his pop music….
    By the way, I am really looking forward to you covering Outside, especially how you will do it. The outtakes, the segues, the concept…

  15. Maj says:

    Well, Strangers is only one of my very favourite Bowie songs ever. If I made a list of top 10 Bowie songs, it would make it there. I even own it on a CD single. I’ve only bought up to 10 CD singles in my life. I just ADORE the song. Now this is out of the way…

    Never heard the promo version and I quite like it. Probably better than the Buddha version, they’re very similar, obviously, but the promo one has a more interesting, less clear sound.

    There can’t really be any real discussion over which studio version of Strangers is better, Outside version just wins hands down but still, this is a great song, not just a well recorded one, so any version of it makes for great listening.

    Don’t think I knew Strangers wasn’t the lead single to Outside. I usually don’t pay attention to these things when I go through artists past discographies. An epically stupid decision. But then wasn’t he trying not to be pop but to be as artsy as possible at that point in time? ;)

    I’m so glad Bowie didn’t decide to go the way of lovers who pretend not knowing each other…Marc Almond did it (to a certain extent) in Soft Cell’s Say Hello Wave Goodbye over a decade earlier and so I’m not sure I would buy something like this from Bowie. It’s not really his style. Alienation though…his wheelhouse!

    // I’d like to bring your attention to a song that partly features the same theme (only partly and then takes it to a totally different direction) – and it’s a song that’s too good not to keep sharing:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUVvpircaxo //

    Back on track. Garson’s piano on this is brilliant. I know I should appreciate his more experimental Bowie work but he always grabs me the most when he plays something straightforward, which makes sense melodically. This is one of the cases.

    And great point about Bowie’s vocal here, Chris. It’s one of my favourite vocals of his. And it seems to me he liked singing it back then. His live (vocal) performances of it are all great.

    And lastly…the video. Chris didn’t comment on it but what everyone else thinks?

    I personally count it among my favourites. Simple set video, a dance with a ragged doll. It sums up the song quite well, but at the same time comes off as quite warm and almost charming, and still creepy enough.

    Btw, the official Vevo channel has a slightly better quality of the video:

  16. humanizingthevacuum says:

    Because I discovered Ferry and Bowie in ’93, I overrated their most recent product. In Bowie’s case I gave “Outside” an ecstatic review in my college paper; “Earthling” got a slightly less enthusiastic one (only “hours” sounded then and now like a wheeze). Although I’ve cooled on the first three nineties post-TM records, I still adore “Strangers…” and admire about a quarter of “Outside.”

    Maybe Chris will address the phenomenon I myself have written about elsewhere: Bowie’s stock with the kids. Even in ’95 (after the Nirvana cover!) my generation regarded him suspiciously — a throwback who wouldn’t go away. It wasn’t until ’97 when I noticed a real shift in his reputation, which kept growing again until it peaked in the early 2000s.

    • col1234 says:

      yeah, that certainly is going to be a topic at some point in these entries. I was 23 yrs old, living in NYC, when Outside came out, and I don’t recall it having much of an impact at all (will mention this when we get to it, but my memories of “i’m afraid of americans’ are associated with this shabby gay bar I lived near—i think because it was on the showgirls soundtrack, that sucker was on loud, constant rotation there in ’95-’96)

      • humanizingthevacuum says:

        “….Americans” was on the “Showgirls” soundtrack? Wow. That early?

      • col1234 says:

        early version. sorta equivalent to the Buddha “Strangers.”

      • Since I was likely a regular visitor at the time, I am more than a little curious as to what shabby gay bar you’re referring to. I am going to guess one of two, since they always had Bowie on the jukebox: The Bar or Dick’s Bar.

        As for the impact Outside had on the kids, I can only say that one 18-year-old reporter for the NYU newspaper with a similarly inclined editor devoted two pages to a review, and while it created no revolutions it was one of the few things I ever got mail on in those days.

      • col1234 says:

        oh good lord, it may have been Dick’s Bar if that was in the east Seventies or Eighties. don’t remember for sure though. could be conflating it with another rat-trappish allegedly straight bar up near 96th st.

      • Nope, I was way off- I never went uptown in those days. :) Probably Candle Bar, then. Ah, memories.

    • Stolen Guitar says:

      Why do you think his reputation, his ‘stock with the kids’, recovered in the early 2000s? I myself find it puzzling why any one in their late teens or early twenties in the nineties/early noughties would have bothered with Bowie, or Ferry for that matter, based solely on their records (please, not product) of that time. True, ‘Outside’ was a distinct improvement on the execrable ‘NLMD’ but it’s still streets away from former glories that might just as well well have been recorded in the Ice Age for all their relevance to young people of the time.

      When I was 12 yrs old ‘Ziggy’ was released and The Beatles, who I just could not relate to in any way, shape or form were a mere few years gone. They seemed positively prehistoric to me, as did Elvis, and of course, a mere four years later, The Sex Pistols would push those two artists even further back into the cultural cupboard. Of course, with maturity and hindsight I can now relate to the absolute genius of The Beatles, and Elvis is the one true source (as in the ‘spark’ that lit the flame… not the originator, before you all crucify me!) of most of the music we recognise as rock, pop, whatever. There is no Bowie without The King, after all!

      But when I was in my teens, Bowie, Roxy and punk dominated my life to such an extent that they shaped my identity and future life. It’s not difficult to see why this period had such a profound and long lasting effect on popular culture and its follwers, myself included, and, even though I’m now most definitely entering the evening of my life, and very content to be doing so, I still wonder how younger people, like yourself could have been hooked on Bowie, Ferry et al during their leanest, most fallow and almost barren years. It’s either a testament to Bowie and co. or the music must really have been bad at that time! I recognise that you, and others on this blog, have retrospectively gone back to the earlier, greater music and it goes without saying that, as popular music lovers of discernment and good taste, you have grown to love Bowie as much as my generation does.

      I don’t think ‘BTWN’ or ‘Outside’ would have hooked me in as they seem to have done others. How did you get ‘it’? Because, quite clearly, you did and have remained to do so. Most of the people I come across who are in their 30s/40s have no real resonance with Bowie and are, in fact, really quite dismissive of his achievements. I do understand why one might form that opinion, based solely on the late 80s and mid 90s records, but that’s what you, and many others on this blog, were hooked in by. How come? I’m curious, that’s all. Naturally, I’m delighted that you, Chris and others of your generation feel this way about Bowie and, as an old git, I’m very glad to have your company.

      And now, of course, we have shared ‘product’ (ha-ha)…ok, music, that is contemporaneous to us all. Time to rejoice and stop playing ‘StationToStation’ on a loop..!

      • humanizingthevacuum says:

        Music was doimg quite fine in the early nineties! Hip-hop, r&b, and house were at their peaks. But Ferry and Bowie’s obsession with artifice fascinated this proto-queer kid.

      • Stolen Guitar says:

        Yes, I, too, thought music in the 90s was, well, fine. But if it’s artifice you’re after, then these two are (were?) as good as it gets!

        And now… Gaga? Manson? I’ve no idea how they’ve even managed a record, let alone the gazillions they’ve flooded the airwaves with…break it to me gently, I do know that it’s not meant for me, but haven’t we taken several steps backward?

        Just an observation on artifice, re Bowie. I believe the quality of his music is intrinsically bound to the level of artifice and performative behaviour he employed (ie anyone but David Jones). In other words: the more fantastic the persona, the better the music. Hence, the terrible extended video for ‘Blue Jean’…

      • Maj says:

        Okay then…not sure if I haven’t posted My Story here before but you asked…I shall deliver. Not sure if it’ll answer your question but…

        I started to get into popular music when I was about 12/13, mostly just by listening to the radio & once in a while I could afford to buy a cassette for my pocket money. The stuff on Czech radios in ’99-2001 was pretty much dance stuff and pop-rock. Now, since I was never your usual child I didn’t connect to any of it very much. I’ve always loved history and I started to like music by people considerably older than me (apart from The Beatles, a-ha for instance, who at the time did very melancholy rock/pop…ideal for a 13 y-o!). Then I started to read music mags and buy stuff which got good reviews (now can think of Placebo or No Doubt). I became aware of Bowie (a long entry in my popular music encyclopedia), artists who I listened to mentioning him…and then Heathen came out. The album got a great review in the mag I was reading and since the cover is quite memorable I decided to give the album a listen when I noticed it in a booth at my music shop. First track was blah, nothing much happening. Second track…well I liked that one a lot! By the time I got to Slow Burn I already decided to buy the album. If you’re a 15-yo person who is not quite like the majority of her peers, and doesn’t particularly connect with the stuff the majority of their peers do and talk abt at the time, people like Bowie and Kate Bush are your people. I actually can’t remember which of them I discovered first but both gave me something most of the current music could not – it wasn’t so much about the quality (there’s always been a lot of great music and shit music in the world…I’m sometimes astonished abt the crap the 60′s & 70′s produced), it was about a different mindset. Funnily enough some of the stuff Bowie sings about on Heathen connects with the stuff a-ha or Leonard Cohen write about…so there was something familiar for me there. And then, when I started to go through his discography new worlds were unlocked. The rest, as they say, is history.

        A note: I see a lot of female DB fans online, fawning and drooling. Youtube is a great thing. Your new discovery might be a septuagenarian or dead, but on YouTube you can witness them being all young, full of inspiration and full of life. i discovered Bowie pre-Youtube, so for me it was mostly about music (even though he is definitely not an unattractive guy). But I finally decided to give Roxy Music a listen years after getting to know about their existence (being put off by those women on the covers of their albums, pretty much :D ) and so I looked them up on YT (which started in 2005, so it must have been shortly after that). Do The Strand, 1973 Musikladen…..the song was amazingly bonkers-ly great but I’m not gonna lie, the alien outfits, pretty hair and Ferry’s white suit worked for me the way they worked for people back in the day. Kids these days are not restricted to what the artist is doing at the time, what he’s saying and what he looks like…that’s my second point.

        Is there anyone younger than me here? A decade ago I was used to being the baby but surely at 25 I’m no longer one. But I’m not sure if any of the teenage Bowie fans visit this blog. They’re probably busy on Tumblr, looking at them cute pictures of Ziggy. And I can’t blame them, whenever I had the access to internet, in my early Bowie days, I’d spend them looking at pictures too. :)

        Sorry for the long, OT post, guys.

      • Remco says:

        I was nineteen when Outside came out. I first heard it at a friend’s house, he then played both discs of the Singles Colection and I was hooked for life. I still really love Outside, perhaps because it was my first album, you can never tell with these things.

        I wasn’t alone in this either. Maybe it was his association with bands like Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, etc. etc. etc. but everybody who was into alternative rock in the mid-nineties seemed to be into Bowie too. The first time I saw him live was when he was headlining a Belgian festival for the Eathling tour and there was a definite vibe all day, like the Godfather was coming. He didn’t disappoint.

        So, as far as I’m concerned he definitely did connect with a new audience, but maybe it was only in Europe, I don’t know.

      • Stolen Guitar says:

        Thanks Maj and Remco; I do get what the non-musical attraction to Bowie was. His almost ever present sense of otherworldliness and just his sheer difference alone are gifts from heaven to teenagers everywhere and in any time period. But…the music? Surely, now that you’ve fully explored the back catalogue, you must prefer the 60s and onwards to ‘Scary Monsters’ period over this? And do you still listen to ‘Heathen’ and ‘Outside’, respectively, as much, now that you’ve heard his older material?

        As Patrick says, a little further on, there have been some kind, almost amnesic, reactions to the new single and a revisionism that has all but obliterated, certainly for those of my generation, the awful wilderness years. I mean, I’m very happy that he’s well enough to record and still be ‘around’ and not embarrass himself, as opposed to that complete ass Rod Stewart, but a small part of me does wish that he’d remained retired. The muse always, always departs, for everyone, and I think his left a while ago, but, while she was here, she was unmatchable. I don’t blame him though; he’s an artist. He has no choice.

        I’m extremely heartened that very young people love him, though. His legacy will endure through you and others like you; my generation cannot help but feel that we’ve had the best and that this later period, with a few notable exceptions, was an endurance born out of our fierce love for him. And that’s why I’ll be hanging on every brilliant word from Chris and the rest of you from hereon in until the end of the road…

      • Maj says:

        Well…while arrangement and production choices can make or break a song, I mostly concentrate on melodies. Which could be why I like so many different styles of music. So while all the techno stuff on Earthling for instance is a distraction, the fact that eg. Battle for Britain has a great melody at its core is more important to me. Bowie in general is a great melody writer, sadly he lacked this between ’83 & ’93 (with some exceptions) – and that was his biggest problem, not the fact he couldn’t properly decide on a “sound”.
        If the whole Outside was just songs, it could have easily been on the same level with Monsters or Hunky (Ziggy is a wee bit overrated but I used to connect to it as an adolescent)…maybe Low, as my favourite Bowie albums. Sadly it’s only halfway the way I’d want it to be, and therefore not even on the same level with Diamond Dogs. As for Heathen…I think I’ll go back to loving this album when I’m in my 50′s…
        It’s a very big and varied discography, and each era has something for me. Yes, the 70′s were the most prolific one. Hell, even Bryan Ferry released 3 albums in 1973…they were young and had interesting stuff to write about – not everyone can be like Cohen…with his work getting more interesting with age, or Kate Bush, who’s so quirky in her approach she can write songs inspired by the pi number or Yeti. It’s hard not to repeat yourself, once you’ve found your “thing” – and I do think Bowie has a thing, alienation (in different forms) – but he didn’t manage to carry it on to his commercial phase and keep using it as his inspiration. Anyhoo. For me there’s good stuff throughout the whole Bowie discography, and there’s plenty of it right from the mid-60′s to 2013. ;)

      • A well-known comics editor acquaintance of mine once said to me (and probably others) that the “best” comics are the ones you read when you were 10 years old. You may still enjoy comics well into your adult years, but you will always be comparing them to the ones you read at ten. Meanwhile, some other kid will come along and you will be astounded that he could like the comics that were coming out when you were twenty. Since I worked at a comics museum at the time it was easy to see how right he was. While I will always love “Justice League International” and wonder how anyone could like “Justice League,” there’s always someone twenty years older telling me how much better “Justice League of America” was and an 80-year-old who thinks it all ended in 1950.

        To a certain extent I think that’s true of all art, though that “golden” age will vary. The reason forty- and fifty-year-olds may no longer care about Bowie COULD be indicative of the fact that he no longer does good work. Or it could simply be that they will never be teenagers again.

        The fact that people are still discovering Bowie’s work and that we have had people here defending his eighties output and now his nineties says to me that maybe his “bad” stuff just isn”t as bad as you think it is and his “good” stuff isn’t as good. I think the same could be said to the forty-year-old Star Wars fan and the fifty-year-old musical theater fan and the forty-five-year-old Doctor Who fan and the lady who has been watching Eastenders from the very start.

        “And I tried to find the answer in the friends I’d made or beds I’d share- well, anywhere. But with other people’s music ringing in my ear, I couldn’t sing, well, anything. And I thought if I could just be twelve again – or was it ten? Well, anyway- it seems to me I knew the secret then. It’s so simple, twelve. It’s so simple, ten. It was simple there.”

  17. Momus says:

    I’m afraid I’m going to have to be the lone dissenting voice on this one. I’ve always found Strangers a very tiresome song. It’s Bowie-by-numbers, and even somewhat Billy Idolish with its chugging rock ordinaire, its chords so keen — as Chris points out — to “quickly shuttle back home” to the dominant, its ebow guitars so glibly and bathetically referencing “Heroes”, and its video looking like random outtakes from Heart’s Filthy Lesson. It sounds like a song Bowie thought would be a crowd-pleaser, but completely lacks the emotional resonance of justified crowd-pleasers like Absolute Beginners (or the new single, for that matter).

    • Momus says:

      (Thought experiment: put the “those midwives to history” section from Teenage Wildlife into the middle of this song.)

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      I remember a review once describing it as a song that Tina Turner might have sung, and I think it’s possible to hear that in it all right.

      All the same, I like it.

    • Stolen Guitar says:

      Clever, Momus! They certainly share a similiar musical melancholia. As does Heroes (though not lyrically) and my personal favourite late song, Slow Burn. Can’t understand why that wasn’t a hit…Stil, I’m sure Chris, along with the rest of you, will enlighten me when we get round to it.

    • Patrick says:

      I’m kinda with Momus on this track. Underwhelmed. It’s the sort of song that tries to be profound and meaningful but mostly becomes cliched and ultimately bland.

  18. Anonymous says:

    So typical of this song that even its entry here is overshadowed by events elsewhere. For some reason it seems destined to remain in the shadows.
    For all the talk of ‘characters’ over the course of Bowie’s career, there have only ever really been three: the outrageous rock star, the artist trapped inside a rock star’s body, and the man coming to terms with his past. For me, Bowie always works best when we believe he is the ‘character’ singing the song and that’s one of the reasons reactions to this Tuesdays song was so positive: the first time you hear the song we shouldn’t mention he seems so frail and vulnerable that you’re not sure he’s going to make it to the end. It’s also the reason my initial reaction to SWWM was very similar to that of Momus: I thought it was Bowie ticking boxes. I didn’t believe in the reflective, slightly defeated singer. However, these days I think it’s up there with the very best; it doesn’t need any qualifying adjectives.

    (Brendan O’Lear, by the way)

    • michael says:

      I think the point about Bowie’s characters is an interesting one (although there must be more than three). Lots of the nonsense being written (not on this site) about the new song being too nostalgic, backward-looking etc misses the point that he was doing that at least as early as Aladdin Sane in respect of his own stuff and on the first album in respect of others’ but also always doing other things at the same time. It’s not as if he hasn’t been pretty self-conscious about it either, giving lazy journalists the gift of ‘Changes’ even before he hit it big.

      To bring it back to Strangers When We Meet, it seems to me one of those transitional as well as transient songs, like those mentioned in the post, which suggests a way-out to something new but doesn’t quite get there. So it kind of leads to Outside but is a bit too straight or to Heathen but is not quite elegiac enough. That may be why I tend to like these orphan songs – like John I’m Only Dancing or Absolute Beginners even – that are hints of directions, characters or even dead-ends not taken or not taken for a while.

      • Brendan O'Lear says:

        I think you’re probably correct. Maybe I should have said three convincing characters. And yes, once he had come to terms with being a famous singer, there wasn’t much else for him to write about besides looking back on his own work. Or perhaps, I should say that there wasn’t much else he could write well about. And yes, once more; the orphan songs are some of the most interesting.
        *I was just reading something with Visconti – who as we all know likes to talk and is not always the most reliable witness – saying that they recorded 29 songs. We may all still be here for at least one more Christmas song than anticipated.

  19. NiggyTardust says:

    Is it safe to assume that the next entry will be Leon Takes Us Outside and it will more about the Album in general than the song itself (which is hardly a song at all)?

    • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

      I guess so. I’ll see all you number one packet-sniffers then….

    • col1234 says:

      not quite. we’ve got some v. weird stuff to get through first. these entries will also be about the album, too

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        Are you referring to the Outside outtakes? I’ve downloaded a whole albums worth of them from You Tube – hence the “packet sniffers” reference.

      • col1234 says:

        yep. will break them down into 3 or 4 entries

      • Maj says:

        oh dear. despite my Twitter name, Outside outtakes are a bit too much for me to take. but at the same time there’s a bigger chance we’ll get through them here, with Chris’s guidance. ;)

  20. MC says:

    I’m going to be a voice of dissent from the other direction and say I’ve always much preferred the BOS version, though it may be simply because I heard it first (as per gcreptile and other commenters with the opposite viewpoint) For me, the arrangement has a wonderful synthetic, whirring charm; it segues beautifully into Dead Against It. (I never felt it stood apart particularly from the rest of Buddha.) As far as Bowie’s vocal performance here, for me he manages the tricky feat of being powerful and somehow humble at the same time. By contrast, the remake always seemed flabby to me, with Bowie’s overly studied vocal sounding like a take that should have been left on the cutting-room floor. I really felt at the time that it was akin to the dullish Cat People revision on Let’s Dance. The fact that it was so self-evidently tacked on at the end of the album as a potential hit single didn’t help matters.That said, I haven’t actually heard the Outside version for a while, so I should give it another chance, having now read so many beautifully-worded appreciations of it. (I will here second the widely-expressed opinion that this blog has some of the best and most thoughtful readers on the web. :)) Incidentally, it’s occurred to me that, of all major rock artists, few have re-recorded their songs as often as Bowie as, and generally to so little effect. (The remake of The Supermen being a clear exception.) Is DB unprecedented in that regard, or are there others who have done this nearly as often and ‘m just not aware of them?

    I can’t resist offering my two cents on the new song, but my desire to construct a well-considered opinion is for the time being somewhat outweighed by the HOLY CRAP!!! factor. Still can’t quite believe that new DB music is actually on the way. Now may be the time to ask, Chris, assuming that DB’s recording career is now ongoing again, will you continue to add to the blog once your entries on The Next Day are completed a year (ish) from now?

    • col1234 says:

      if he keeps putting out records, i’ll keep writing about them. but i can’t imagine there’s going to be that much more new stuff (of course, I say this and then in 2015 he’ll put out a 4-CD boxed set of new stuff, subtitled “Eat This, Pushing Ahead of the Dame”

      • Momus says:

        Tony Visconti’s saying in today’s round of interviews that there’s enough material for two albums! From The Times:

        “The two have created 29 songs together of late, making a second album almost inevitable. “We’re not going to give up on the songs that haven’t made this one,” Visconti says.
        “We’re going to go back and look at them because they’re spectacular musical pieces, they just haven’t been finished lyrically. I think he’s on a roll, and will possibly return to the studio later this year. If people don’t like this album then maybe he won’t, but it doesn’t matter to him. He told me what he wants to do is make records.”

      • col1234 says:

        also the Robert Fripp rumor, which I publicly poo-pooed on here, turns out to be somewhat true (Fripp was asked but didn’t play on the record)

      • You have to admit, thay title would certainly make your day.

  21. the Memorialist says:

    not my favourite song of TBOS & Outside. Deals too much with classic pop & not astonishing at all. I can listen to that tune with pleasure cause this belongs to the Outside Era which i found & still find so Great…, but shadowed by “chef d’œuvres” like The Voyeur or Hallo Spaceboy, Motel, Deranged, Wishfull… Small Plot…

  22. diamond dog says:

    strangers is the kind of tune that glistens with past glories and is a reminder of what a great tunesmith he is and was before he became humble old david bowie. It should have closed the album it is one of his best in a lean period. Bowie obviousily thought it worth another push as he appeared to push the remake on various shows.
    I myself wonder what in gods name attracted new fans during outside period as when it was announced to me it seemed a cheap shot getting eno and characters back and listening to outside i was not impressed it did not move me at the time and after a few listens i have not listened again so will do when we get there.

    • Maj says:

      My relationship to Outside is interesting…I only ever listened to it in its entirety about 3 times but at the same time I’ve always been kind of fascinated by this period and I actually own quite a few memorabilia from this period…because I found it visually interesting. But I never listen to the segues and all that stuff. At the same time I LOVE most of the actual songs on the album. Not only Strangers, which is a pretty old fashioned song (and therefore my favourite – I love pre-rock 20′s century pop music and Strangers could be a 30′s song with some tweaking), but also the more weird ones (except for The Motel which many seem to love but I just don’t quite “get”). I’m really curious to see if my relationship to this album is going to change in any way because of this blog – and I’m really curious about you and others here who don’t listen to it or don’t like it. I’m quite excited about the next few months on this blog! :)

      • The Pataphysical Hunt says:

        “I love pre-rock 20′s century pop music and Strangers could be a 30′s song with some tweaking”.. really???? tell me about the artists you’re thinking about??? Strangers as a 30′s song… i’m quite surprised!

      • Maj says:

        Heh, it just crossed my mind as I was typing it. But I think it could work. I’m definitely not an expert on music of that time period, and I don’t particularly care for recording artists of that time but I do like songs that were written back then. Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Jerome Kern, and thanks to Bowie also some of Kurt Weill’s stuff… Songs that still get recorded these days, pretty much.

      • Maj says:

        Oh, and to answer your question…for Strangers…it could be a Weill song. Or maybe I’m just hearing things, and in that case, completely ignore me. ;)

      • King of Oblivion says:

        I ripped my copy of Outside song-by-song and listen to it sans-segues. Still really like it that way. I think the segues really limited the appeal of Outside for a lot of people.

    • col1234 says:

      what’s your take on the new song, dd?

    • The Pataphysical Hunt says:

      For a lad like me, aged 26 in 95, Outside was for sure the best Bowie “thing” i could have been waiting for. Except for the TM days which had more to do with Bowie working with a power trio feat. a real weird Guitarist (sort of the “late 60′s sound trip” + elements from post-modernism & deconstructionism), Outside was an artistic resurrection; sort of anti BTWN manifesto which truly spoke about & for its epoch; that was the same kind of feeling i felt with Earthling maybe (certainly more spontaneous than Outside). “Strangers”… it is far more “mainstream production”; “i can’t read” from TM 89 was far more innovative… and that’s the way i love Bowie!

      • Patrick says:

        As we’re moving onto it , before the blog gets into the songs detail. I’ll give my take, from memory on 1.Outside. I didn’t hear it in it’s entirely til some time after its release. Then in my 30s, Bowie’s star in terms of looking forward with critically acclaimed new work , had fallen. In a sense , perhaps he had little to lose. I’ve said it before, but if you first came to Bowie, a teenager growing up with the 70s work, it’s hard not to feel an anti climax. With the late 80s, there was a gradual disillusionment, then with the next decades an “accommodation” that had to be got through. Which is why for me and I suspect for many older fans, there is always a nervous ambivalence about the new Single and album or any new material from him, tempered by the relief that he at least is not as ill as rumoured.
        You can see in the media reports on the new single how a historical revisionism has taken place as the “difficult” later 80s and 90s work has been conveniently forgotten as if he were unfrozen from a time capsule, not for 10 years but at least 30.
        Yes. we have to move on, the vintage Bowie , the legendary Bowie is in the past but we nostalgically cling to that construction because it is part of us, a projection of our youth. Forgive us.

        Strangers might be one of the more conventional tracks on Outside? I have to say that I deleted Outside from my collection (along with Earthing – which I’m sure we’ll come to) I really didn’t think I would want to listen to them again. I was that unmoved. DB was clearly pushing a kind of narrative “concept” for the songs on Outside , with the characters etc almost like the soundtrack to an imaginary novel but unlike 1984′s influence on Diamond Dogs, this was more hardcore Sci Fi veering into pretension:
        “Subtitled “the Ritual Art-Murder of Baby Grace Blue: A non-linear Gothic Drama Hyper-Cycle,” (yeah , whatever) .
        but if the music was good, I wouldn’t care what motivated it or what device was employed. I mean Eno’s randomness previously aided some of DB’s best work. Perhaps this idea of a narrative to drive and hang the music on was most recently revisited by DB on B of S but that narrative was given by another.So on this album we had a conventional invented narrative coupled with a return to Eno’s deliberate unconvention and use of eg “flash cards” etc
        I think the spoken elements on Outside were offputting if I recall.
        As always I do look forward to revisiting the tracks and perhaps changing my opinion on some. What’s the aural equivalent of hindsight? Hindsound?

  23. col1234 says:

    the first “big” Outside post should come tomorrow or Thurs.

    • diamond dog says:

      I first heard the new single col on the radio 1 breakfast show and strsight away i got an enormous rush of nostalgia and connected with it. I got rather emotional as its been so very long since i heard anything new and realised in a moment of clarity its been 40 ive been listening to him. i felt for the first time in my life very. ….old. Its nostalgia Gripped on hearing again and it brought a wellling of emotion. Its a brave first song and i do hope the album is as good as this glimpse. Its in much the same style as loneliest guy and very affecting. Lets hope we don t get the throw away stuff like on reality.

  24. Roman says:

    Strangers was accompanied by Bowie’s most boring ever appearance on Top of the Pops. I remember been stunned at how mundane it was – standing there and miming it and then it was over. To compare it to all his previous appearances was depressing – even the ones with Tin Machine or Pet Shop Boys or the unshown Time Will Crawl. It was as if someone told him before hand that no matter how good your performance will be, the song, as a single, stiffs and will, no matter what, flop.

    Anyway, the vocals on the Outside version are amazing. It beggars belief that anyone could prefer the sketchy-demo-ish Buddha version. Each to his own, I suppose.

    • humanizingthevacuum says:

      It competes with the Leno performance of the same year as his dullest. The vocals were histrionic and embarrassing. Jamie Foxx, not yet the Hollywood star, poked fun at his detachment (with hand gestures he suggested Bowie was high).

    • Patrick says:

      The TOTP “performance” is of course helpfully linked above.
      Just watched it. Looks like wasn’t planning to stay around , and he had a cab waiting, as he kept his coat on!

      • Stolen Guitar says:

        Sunglasses…in a darkened studio? Suggests desperation. Contrast this TOTP performance with ‘Slow Burn’ in 2002. He knew it was a much better song and his performance amplifies it. Sorry, Chris, I know your quite a way off from ‘Heathen’…I’ll shut up about this bloody song for now!

      • Patrick says:

        Perhaps fearing the worst, maybe the glasses were an anti projectile defence. Pity he wasn’t wearing them at the ill fated lollipop incident concert.

  25. col1234 says:

    by the way, everyone should follow the tumblr for a while if you’re interested in various Outside trivia, side-notes, etc:

    http://bowiesongs.tumblr.com/

  26. As a “song” (forget for a moment the qualifier “Bowie”), this is a very, very good song. In terms of melody it is strong and lovely to listen to, the lyrics are oblique but understandable enough that even the “squares” can follow along. As a “Bowie song” I can understand why someone would be underwhelmed. It’s almost straight-forward. But it deserves praise on its own merits. Like most everyone else I prefer the 1.Outside version. Buddha’s vocal is buried too deep and the instrumentals are too tinny. It’s a song that requires grounding to work.

  27. Samizdat says:

    ” “Strangers when we meet” was associated with adultery: it had titled a Kirk Douglas film about tortured adultery and had been the chorus hook of Leroy Van Dyke’s jaunty ode to adultery, “Walk on By””

    As a related postscript, Hanif Kureishi included a short story, Strangers When We Meet, in his 1999 collection Midnight All Day. It features a couple having an affair who arrange a weekend away, only for her to arrive, husband in tow. Difficulties ensue. Midnight All Day is possibly the peak of Kureishi’s fertile late 90s purple patch, the prose is tight and refined – cold even – masking the emotionally damaged crew of characters. I love it.

    Also of note is Kureishi’s Gabriel’s Gift novel, which features an ageing rock star of the name Lester Jones who seems strangely familiar…

  28. Kavita Joshi says:

    awesome writing and wonderful blog dear..thanks a lot for sharing..I am enjoying reading your posts

  29. crayontocrayon says:

    A note on the ‘I’m in clover’ line, it curiously echoes a line from a song by the Christy Minstrels which contains the earliest recorded use of the phrase ‘hunky dor(e)y’. Whether Bowie was aware of this or not I have no clue and it’s likely just coincidence but you never know.
    ‘One of the boys am I,
    That always am in clover;
    With spirits light and high,
    ‘Tis well I’m known all over.
    I am always to be found,
    A singing in my glory;
    With your smiling faces round,
    ‘Tis then I’m hunkey dorey.’

  30. Brian says:

    The Outside version is my favourite Bowie song, and I saw the Outside tour in Milan in 1996. Despite many people in the audience not speaking English, and thus not understanding the lyrics, everyone knew from the mood and the melody that it was the great romantic song in the set, the one to raise your lit cigarette lighter and wave in time to.

    Once a decade or so Bowie writes an epic love song (in the 1980s Absolute Beginners, in the 2000s I Would Be Your Slave) and Strangers When We Meet is the 1990s masterpiece.

    To me it marks the start of his ‘classic’ late period sound that continues on Heathen. It’s like a summary of his aesthetic: cut-up lyric, long sustained guitar notes and swoopy synth sounds, Garson’s baroque piano flourishes, the vocal sad and fragile and lost and alienated and yet utterly majestic.

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