Round and Round

Around and Around (Chuck Berry, 1958).
Around and Around (Rolling Stones, 1964).
Round and Round (Bowie, studio, 1971).
Round and Round (Bowie, live w/Jeff Beck, 1973).

“Round and Round” (Bowie’s diminution of Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around”) nearly made Ziggy Stardust and nearly even titled the album. Sequenced to follow the annunciation of “Moonage Daydream,” the song was essentially footage of the Spiders in action. By the time Bowie returned to Trident Studios in early 1972 to finish the album, he’d worked up “Suffragette City.” As the latter sounded like Chuck Berry lost in a William Burroughs novel, it made an actual Berry cover redundant. Bowie stockpiled “Round and Round” for a future B-side.

Born from a jam and likely to expire in one, “Around and Around” had come out of Berry hanging out before a concert with some “on-the-ball musicians…playing standard sweet songs to gut-bucket rock and boogie.” Issued as the B-side to “Johnny B. Goode” and included on the 1959 LP Chuck Berry Is On Top, “Around and Around” was in the repertoire of any half-competent British beat group. (In June 1964 the Rolling Stones, in an act of competitive worship, cut a version of it at Chess Studios in front of Berry himself.) It was audience bait: its stop-time verses tantalizing dancers, its chorus releasing them. Offering the sweet promise of a club that’s never heard of closing time (until the cops kick in the doors), “Around and Around” was Mod solidarity: there are no girls to impress, no boys making a scene.

Where the Stones’ and the Animals’ covers had prominent piano, the Bowie/Spiders take hangs entirely on Ronson’s distorted Les Paul and Trevor Bolder’s bassline. Ken Scott recalled the track needing the fewest overdubs of any Ziggy Stardust-era cut. With little hope of matching Berry’s rhythms, the band set about clobbering the song, pushing up the tempo, knocking the guitar solo back until after the second verse, letting the track expire in a Ronson fusillade. It was the template for how Bowie and Ronson would record Pin Ups the following year.

Recorded ca. 8-11 November 1971. Issued as the B-side to “Drive In Saturday” in April 1973, and also included on the Sound + Vision box set. It was the final song of the final “Ziggy Stardust” show at the Hammersmith on 3 July 1973, though it was cut from the subsequent concert film (allegedly at the orders of Jeff Beck).

Top: Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry at Madison Square Garden, 6 May 1972.

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