Shilling The Rubes

Shilling The Rubes (fragment).

The rumors were true. Many Bowie researchers had concluded that “Shilling the Rubes,” long considered to be a lost Bowie classic, was only just a working title for Young Americans, a name that bootleggers occasionally slapped upon another outtake. Then in 2009, a reel from Bowie’s Sigma sessions supposedly turned up in a Philadelphia street fair (it’s speculated that the tape went astray (cough) from the rest of the Sigma reels, which are housed in the Drexel University Audio Archive) and it subsequently sold on eBay for $15,000.

The tape, apparently a rough mix from early in the sessions (13 August), featured an early take of “Young Americans,” a rewrite of the Astronettes song “I Am a Laser,” an early version of known YA outtake “After Today” and the grail itself: “Shilling the Rubes.”

Only about a minute’s worth of each track circulated, apparently as a sampler for prospective buyers on eBay. So all we have of “Rubes” are an eight-bar intro in which Mike Garson’s piano faces off against Andy Newmark’s drums, and the first verse, which is an intriguing bit of sleaze by Bowie, suggesting that “Rubes” was revisiting the love-as-prostitution theme of “Sweet Thing.” The fragment cuts off before the chorus (if there was one), thus retaining “Rubes”‘ status as the great unheard Bowie song. One imagines the whole four-minute track will turn up someday (though there’s already been a gold-plated reissue of Young Americans), but until then “Shilling The Rubes” will remain largely imaginary.

Recorded 13 August 1974. Perhaps only one person on the planet besides Bowie can listen to “Rubes” in its entirety. And there’s of course the chance that the whole story’s fraudulent (though the outtake really sounds genuine), which would be fitting given the song’s title, an equivalent to “fooling the suckers.”

12 Responses to Shilling The Rubes

  1. David says:

    I’d never heard of ‘Shilling The Rubes’ but a bit of googling showed me that the mp3s mentioned above are still online at

    The song sounds great, so, be warned, it’s a frustrating listen, which is possibly why you didn’t include a link. Thanks again for the interesting info.

    • stuartgardner says:

      David, many, many thanks for that link. And how can it be that I’m the first to respond? I’m delighted to report that both files were still there a few moments ago, patiently awaiting my discovery, and that both are now snug and secure on my hard drive.
      You wise ones who follow, take note that the “I Am A Laser” fragment is quite a different animal from those on Vampires of Human Flesh and whatever that other collection of Scary Monsters session work is called.
      Christ, what I am getting out of this blog!
      Thanks again, David.
      And thanks again, Chris.

  2. ian says:

    Another interesting thing about these outtakes was the first line heard in “I Am A Lazer,” where DB goes “let’s hear it for The Gouster,” giving us another strong anchor on another known working title for Young Americans. (And dang that snippet sounds smooth, too.)

  3. Brian Andrew Marek says:

    Funny – I’ve seen British texts refer to “shilling the rubes” as an Americanism. I believe it’s actually carnie lingo.

  4. col1234 says:

    I’d meant to change that, as you’re right, it’s not really a British phrase. The only usage I found of the phrase, aside from being a title in various DB books, was in a New York Times Book Review article from 1974 on Erich von Daniken: von D “has been a paperback best seller the last six months and now a movie version is shilling the rubes.”

    • Fan edit of the track, which builds on a further extract (possibly the entire track?) that leaked a month or two ago. From the archives of a Philadelphia university perhaps? Can’t really see why this isn’t a part of the Who can I be now? Recall set, but then neither is After Today so what can you say really?

      • col1234 says:

        not the entire track–it’s looped after the refrain (which leaked a while ago). there’s another verse.

        the reasons why it’s not on the set are obvious–it’s a rough early-take recording with the occasional duff note on Bowie and the musicians’ parts. DB never released anything that “half finished” officially. was there a more completed version recorded? that’s the real question.

      • Matthew says:

        Let’s hope it exists. Surely shades of ‘Dodo’ in the intro?

  5. Anonymous says:

    I was hoping that more extras on a par with after today might appear on the box set but the unreleased and rare material is largely underwhelming really. I love this, it reminds me of candidate a little, I would love it if a more polished version surfaced but the listing for who can I be now suggests a move away from including even previously released rarities. The recall set doesn’t even have after today.

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