David Live was near-universally regarded as the worst record Bowie released in the ’70s. It earned one star in the Rolling Stone Record Guide; Lester Bangs called it “a dismal flatulence”; Christgau, giving it a C-minus, wrote it was “the artiste at his laryngeal nadir, mired in bullshit pessimism and arena-rock pandering.” Bowie, in 1977, admitted he had never even played it; Tony Visconti, who had been hired to help turn a set of spotty concert tapes into a 2-LP album, called it “one of the quickest and shoddiest albums I’ve ever done.”
Some of the problem was technical, as the Philadelphia concerts had been dismally recorded: the backing singers and musicians often had wandered off-mike, requiring players to redo their performances in the studio, while the overall sound was a weak struggle between tinniness and murk. The final mix was mainly the work of engineer Eddie Kramer at Electric Ladyland studios (Visconti recalled Kramer ridiculously “conducting” the mixing desk, throwing his head back while he slopped together what would become David Live).
Sound quality scarcely mattered to RCA, who wanted to rush-release a live record before Bowie resumed touring later in 1974. After all, the mid-’70s were the banquet years for the double-LP live album, and the sight of their thick, cracked spines, their seed-littered gatefolds, would likely be the equivalent of Proust’s madeleine for a whole generation. Frampton Comes Alive. The Song Remains the Same. Cheap Trick At Budokan. Bob Dylan At Budokan. Made in Japan. One More From the Road. Double Live Gonzo. On Your Feet Or On Your Knees. Wings Over America. Live! Bootleg. Miles of Aisles. Eagles Live. Kiss Alive! Live Bullet. Waiting For Columbus. Yessongs. All the World’s a Stage. Love You Live. Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends. And so on (even Barry Manilow had a 2-LP live album, on which he sang a medley of his self-penned TV commercial jingles). They were greatest-hits records as well as party soundtracks, and perhaps one reason David Live didn’t work is that it wasn’t a party record at all—it seemed like an aural remnant of some kabuki performance, Bowie’s rock “standards” reworked as cabaret songs.
Visconti managed to salvage David Live when he remixed it in 2004 and re-sequenced the tracks in order of performance, making the record richer and more coherent. The wisest move was to restore to the playing order Bowie’s cover of the Ohio Players’ “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow,” one of the show’s better performances.
“Here Today And Gone Tomorrow” (Bowie discarded the conjunction) was one of the first Ohio Players singles, from 1969, and it’s more Southern soul than the slick urban funk the band would make its name on in the ’70s. Centered on Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner’s guitar and deliberate in its pacing (the chorus doesn’t arrive until nearly halfway through the song, and only appears once more, after the entire process repeats), “Here Today” has the singer lamenting a woman who blows through town like a sailor or a gypsy, leaving him (and many other guys, apparently) heartbroken.
Bowie’s version, as with “Knock on Wood,” hardly deviates from the original, though Earl Slick’s guitar is arguably hotter than Bonner’s. Bowie takes the song at a faster pace, and where the Ohio Players drift off in a half-minute coda of resignation, Bowie keeps repeating the chorus, as if repeating his lament long enough would somehow cauterize the wound.
Recorded 8-12 July 1974 at the Tower Theatre, Philadelphia (first released as a bonus track on the Ryko CD reissue of David Live, and sequenced properly on the 2005 reissue). Performed only during the Philadelphia shows.
Top: Gedney, “Girls on train,” London, 1974.