It works ’cause we said it worked.
John Lennon, 1980.
The one-minute “Future Legend” is almost the entirety of the Diamond Dogs LP “concept.” Not for Bowie the libretto and motifs of Pete Townshend’s Quadrophenia, or the painstaking dreamscape theater of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. As a narrative, Diamond Dogs barely exists. Its story is told only in abstracts: the back cover and inner sleeve of the LP, and the record’s first two songs.
Bowie neither had the time for nor the interest in making his songs a narrative, even a loose one. As he told William Burroughs, he got distracted easily, and while he seemed to like the idea of making odd concept records, he managed to avoid the grim business of actually having to write one. And time was pressing: Bowie was going on tour again in the spring of ’74, needed a new record, and didn’t have the material for an LP on the Diamond Dogs idea alone (hence the scrapped 1984 songs were used to fill a side).
Bowie could argue he had a fine precedent: the king of all concept records, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. As John Lennon later said, Sgt. Pepper’s‘ “story arc” consists of the LP cover, the title song, maybe “With a Little Help From My Friends,” and then the “so-called reprise,” as Lennon described it, late on the second side. The rest of it was a set of random Beatles compositions: if they fit together, it was only because the listener wanted them to.
So “Future Legend” is stage setting for an absent play, with the SF juvenilia of the lyric (“fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats,” etc.) set against a rolling scrim of ominous music—air raid sirens; dog howls; synthesizer washes; “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” on electric guitar; what sounds like an impersonation of Scott Walker singing “Any Day Now”; lost children wailing in the streets. The obvious influence is the aural montage opening minutes of Lou Reed’s Berlin. “Future Legend” ends with canned applause and genocide.
Recorded ca. mid-January 1974.