This is the black hole of Bowie songs, bereft even of a title—various bootleggers have dubbed it “Zion,” “A Lad in Vein,” “Love Aladdin Vein” and “Aladdin Vein,” while Bowie, in his one public reference to the track*, said it was to be part of a musical called Tragic Moments. Nor has anyone turned up any direct evidence as to when it was made, though it was almost certainly cut in either the last Aladdin Sane sessions in January 1973, or (most likely) the Pin Ups sessions of July-August ’73, or (least likely) the early Diamond Dogs sessions of October-November ’73.
Nor is “Zion” really a composition, as Bowie just provides dummy lyrics over a series of improvisations (though the track’s not a jam—it’s definitely arranged and mixed). The track’s more of a vestibule between Bowie’s early ’70s work and the latter half of the decade: it’s a musical sketchbook burgeoning with ideas—melodies, riffs, rhythms—with Mike Garson developing on his “Aladdin Sane” piano solo, while also providing some gorgeous accompaniment on Mellotron, while Mick Ronson’s full-blooded guitar makes you mourn that he didn’t appear on Diamond Dogs. Some phrases and melodies in “Zion”‘s middle section turned up as connective tissue between “Sweet Thing (Reprise)” and “Rebel Rebel” on Diamond Dogs, while Bowie’s vocal melody, which ranges from music hall to the slightly Eastern (there’s a touch of “Silly Boy Blue” in it), seems an ancestor to a number of tracks on Low, Lodger and other later records.
* Nicholas Pegg points to an interview Bowie did with Martin Hayman during the Pin Ups sessions of summer ’73. Hayman, after hearing a rough mix of Pin Ups, then heard a demo of “perhaps seven minutes of…highly arranged, subtly shifting music with just a touch of vaudeville,” while Bowie said “there are no vocals on it yet, just my la-la-la-ing.” I agree with Pegg that this has to be “Zion.”
In the interview, Bowie described the demo as being part of “the next project,” about which he said “this is something I’ve always wanted to do…I envisage a scenario first, then the music.” So “Zion” is the earliest surviving piece from what would be a series of stillborn musical theatrical scenarios in late 1973, with various false starts and leftovers eventually making up the core of Diamond Dogs. “Zion” should have been called “Future Legend.”
Top: “WillemGT,” “Smoking blind accordion player,” London, 1973.