Neighborhood Threat

Neighborhood Threat (Pop, 1977).
Neighborhood Threat (Bowie, 1984).

From tragedy to farce. Bowie’s version of “Tonight” is dismal, but there was at least a commercial logic to remaking it: Bowie’s cover could have been a hit, in theory. Bowie’s remake of “Neighborhood Threat,” however, is just baffling. Even by Iggy Pop’s standards, the original “Neighborhood Threat” is a bit of ridiculous street posturing—it’s basically a Blue Oyster Cult song with much dumber lyrics and worse playing. It’s salvaged in part by the dagger-thrusts of the verses’ vocal melody, though it goes a bit dull in the choruses, which end with a shrug.

Bowie’s remake likely was an act of charity. Tonight‘s producer Hugh Padham recalled that during the album sessions Bowie would reminisce about how he had “rescued” Iggy, and the excess of Pop co-compositions on Tonight (five in all) suggest that Bowie was all but sending money to Pop via Western Union. Tonight, dire as it was, was a platinum #1 record, and Paul Trynka estimated it made $100,000 or more in royalties right off the bat, a good chunk of which would be owed to Pop.

Still, Bowie could’ve covered something more appropriate than “Neighborhood Threat,” which he inflated into a wretched spectacle. Gated drums pushed so high in the mix they sound like cannon fire, backing singers who seem to have been recruited from Les Miserables auditions, cliched guitar work by the beleaguered Carlos Alomar, a synthesizer arrangement (likely by Arif Martin) that Laura Branigan would have considered too over the top. Bowie seems torn between singing it straight (and failing) and camping it up (and failing). Arguably one of the worst recordings that he made in his life.

Recorded 4-20 June 1977, Hansa, Berlin; on Lust For Life. Bowie’s remake was recorded ca. May-June 1984, Le Studio, Morin Heights, Canada.

Top: Dennis Hopper and Nicholas Ray in The American Friend, Wim Wenders, 1977.

33 Responses to Neighborhood Threat

  1. Brendan O'Lear says:

    Glad that we’ve moved on from Tonight!
    I’ve never heard Bowie’s version of this. Not sure if I want to click on that link.
    Without any evidence, I always thought the numerous Iggy Pop covers were motivated by two factors. One was the charitable impulse mentioned, as according to my highly fallible memory Iggy Pop was almost permanently on tour around this point, playing ever smaller venues. The other was perhaps a greater sense of ownership of those particular songs, both this one and Tonight, melodically at least, sound like Bowie, except for that Blue Oyster Cult guitar. I can understand why he did it, but not what he did. And I feel qualified to say that without ever hearing his version!!

  2. diamond dog says:

    Surely the glass spider has to be the worst? That is a laugh riot.

  3. algeriatouchshriek says:

    Neighbourhood Threat is my favourite track on Tonight. Still, there’s no accounting for taste is there? I love its mental pace, corporate backing vocalists and cheesy synth lines. Should have been a single instead of lumpy old ‘Tonight’. Top ten hit defo. Ah… The Singles That Could Have Been … we all have a list don’t we?

  4. Jeremy Earl says:

    Yeah I’m torn with this track. I usually love Bowie’ melodrama and bombast but the 80’s production is just terrible. Many an act in the 80’s were ruined by the production techniques of that time. I don’t mind Iggy’s version but it certainly isn’t the best track on LFL

  5. algeriatouchshriek says:

    ee ee i i oh oh oh oh

  6. diamond dog says:

    It’s not that bad at least its brisk and springs along at a good pace , not around for too long. Its such an odd song to cover , its beyond me why even bother ? i can honestly say i don’t think too much of the original by Iggy i think it was chosen out of charity.
    Tonight is such an odd lp its opener is one of Bowies best since Teenage Wildlife. Its strange and seems very very lazy.
    I have to disagree about the production its superb on the vinyl but the arrangements are a bit lacking the backing vocals are cheese .
    Its still better than GLASS SPIDER!!! god that is a piece of dung very cringe worthy that spoken intro is incredible!!!
    Back on subject Iggys version is very silly the lyric is plain dumb is it an ode to homeless people? im confused .

    • Gozomoto says:

      I always thought it was an ode to his own predicament hanging out on the streets of LA and probably scaring many a square with his antics. Not my favorite track either (and Bowie’s cover is just plain upsetting).

  7. Nice amateur dramatics, horrid production values. Why did studios want to make drums sound like drum machines? DB would have been torturing himself at this point. Make another Let’s Dance? Nah, I’m rich at last. Help a mate? OK. Compared to his hunger before, say, Ziggy, or the Berlin albums, he did it half-heartedly and in two minds. Did he ever really recover from this album?

    • 2fs says:

      Yes. Granted, it was a bit of a struggle…but I will submit that from Outside onward, everything was mostly successful at least, and at times (Outside itself, Heathen) right up there with his best work. And after NLMD, there was a rising curve up to the consistency after Outside (and yes, that DOES TOO include Tin Machine…although I have decided that rumors of an official live TM album are a vicious lie, from some alternative reality: does not exist, does not exist…)

  8. diamond dog says:

    At the time and amongst a great amount of drivel pumped out in the mid 80,s the album was forgivable it was I think bot till prince released sign of the times that the goal posts were moved and tonight began to sound like a lazy collection. Let’s not forget he had the ability the opening track is very good indeed and blue jean is a good piece of pop. I think it was Bowie and Visconti who changed drums into drum machine sound alike in the low sessions. Whoops.

    • David L says:

      “amongst a great amount of drivel pumped out in the mid 80,s”

      That says it all, really. I mean, how many artists were making consistently good music in the 80s? U2, the Police, Smiths, maybe Prince? The 80s were a black hole musically, as if some artistic paralysis had spread over the world and infected everyone, turning musicians into muzack zombies. Even movies released in the 80s are horribly dated by their soundtracks. Poor DB was just caught up in the landslide, and he was always a reflection of his times. In my opinion, though, he bounced back nicely in the mid to late 90s and his last four albums are quite good overall.

      • Marion Brent says:

        Au contraire, there was tons of interesting stuff happening in the eighties! In the early eighties you had all the post-punk stuff and New York dance music, and then in the late eighties you had rave & house music, hip hop, shoegaze, a whole jumble of interesting things. But there was a slump in the middle, let’s say 84 and 85. It was probably the moment rock died, and the interesting things in popular music from then on were not really happening in rock.

        Iggy’s Neighborhood Threat is perhaps one of the weaker tracks on Lust For Life. Bowie’s remake I find is bland and innocuous rather than egregiously wretched, as Tonight is.

      • Toby says:

        oh, boy, i could disagree and say that ’85 and ’86 was also great. on a big artists level we get ‘Graceland’, ‘Hounds of Love’ and ‘So’, and in the sidelines stuff like Cocteau Twins, Sonic Youth, Wipers, Talk Talk, Thomas Leer, Arthur Russell, Jon Hassell and Robert Wyatt’s greatest work and great stuff coming out of New York hip hop, early house music etc.

        Like any decade, the ’80s was a mixed bag,

  9. ian says:

    Goodness knows what he would have done with “Fall In Love With Me.”

  10. gonemansland says:

    Sure there were interesting things going on musically in the 1980s but it was a decade when these developments stopped being concentrated (or perhaps resolved?) in the mainstream of popular music. From the late 1950s up until the 1980s you have a steady progression; not always linear but a development of ideas, a testing and stretching of sonic possibilities in popular music. Bowie, magpie that he always was helped to distill and develop these ideas throughout the 1970s. In about 1981 popular music looses this forward traction and begins to splinter into a series of sub groupings (file under…..) the mainstream continues but has been going nowhere since and nor has Bowie.

    • Brendan O'Lear says:

      Total agreement with the above point.
      In addition, I would add that popular music was simultaneously losing its predominant position at the vanguard of mainstream popular culture. It’s not so much that Bowie ‘loses his mojo’ from around this time, it’s more a case of his losing his context. Much of his post-eighties output is at least the equal of his 70s stuff taken in isolation, but it loses it impact/value in the fragmented post-eighties popular music environment.

  11. diamond dog says:

    I think Bowie music was being done better by ayoung vanguard of musicians who were now old enough to use Bowie as a direct influence and therefore a whole wave of popular music was a direct result of his work. Synth pop took over in the early 80’s numan,new romantics etc it was people becoming stars from an influence in the 70,s like the beatles in the 60’s. The whole Bowie sound look etc was everywhere so by the mid 80’s he could not stand apart as stated previously. In the end music had caught up with him and he had nothing to take from music , no influence to draw from. I remember playing the Tonight lp to death and not thinking it too bad considering but it was not going to influence or set any trends, it was bland. As I said before I think Prince came was taking over his position of influence Parade etc are still great to hear. Tonight sadly not but I think he was treading water.

  12. ian says:

    The interesting thing about Bowie’s post-80s-inspiration-dearth period is that he was excited about music again, but the music he was excited about were artists who had already been influenced by him. The rest of his work is a struggle against the knowing/unknowing circle, or (to be even weirder about it), the orobourous of inspiration (think of the image on that one).

  13. diamond dog says:

    ive dug out Tonight and im playing at full blast…menorys are flooding back neighbourhood threat sounds better played really loud , the production on the vinyl is very good indeed the drums are very good, we then get to tumble and twirl …not sure what thats all about now? Tshirts , borneo and leon.
    I keep forgettin is awful and is now my no1 dreadful Bowie song Tonight is a masterpiece. Dancing with the big boys is Pop returning the favour with backing vocals mirroring how Bowie used to shadow Pop@s vocals and im sure i liked the remix better as they used to play it at my local nightspot Legends in MAnchester. Everyone should dig it out its quite a dance big band sound Loving the Alien is quite breathtaking on vinyl…im gonna keep playing it i like it far better than GLASS Spider.

    • David L says:

      Agreed on “I Keep Forgetting”, the definition of album filler.

    • Jeremy Earl says:

      I’ve got Tonight on vinyl as well – bought it when it came out. Dancing with the big boys is pretty cool. Tumble and Twirl? I seem to recall that Bowie went on a holiday to Borneo…

  14. diamond dog says:

    Tumble & twirl is unforgivable it is very poor , the 12 inch single of blue jean had remixes of dancing with the big boys which were pretty dancable in an 80’s way.
    if a few tracks were edited in favour of some of the singles from this era it would be a pretty good album (dare i say it) lets not forget we speak as if he has always produced top notch albums …ive never been a fan of Lodger as a whole piece. It would make a great EP , theres a few i dislike and this was a growing trend.
    would be interesting to hear any demos

  15. normball says:

    Bowie is a rorschach. He holds a mirror up to the current vogue, and when he’s not being lazy, sometimes peers ahead. In that context, this song is perfect.

  16. diamond dog says:

    Only by a very small amount LOL

  17. Mr Tagomi says:

    This is a fantastic website, full of really sharp analysis. But I must disagree with your opinion of Bowie’s version of Neighbourhood Threat.

    Despite the 80s-ness of the production and the insouciant backing voices, I think Bowie has turned the song into a sharp and efficient little exercise in pop/rock (or whatever). An equal of the original, if you ask me.

    20 years ago I hated the song, along with the rest of the album apart from “Loving the Alien” and “Blue Jean”. But I re-listened to it a couple of years ago after ignoring it for a very long time. And I found myself liking this and “Dancing with the Big Boys”.

  18. The lyrics are naff, it is overproduced, but it has a beat and you can hum to it.

  19. christopher says:

    ‘much dumber lyrics’…

    the song is written from the perspective of one face down in the mud of urban and societal decay…and you expect him to sound like a scholar? iggy’s version is layered with musical integrity, it is clearly the writer of this has none.

  20. Erik Saunes says:

    I’ve always loved this song, ever since 1984. Remains one of my Bowie-favorites, of which there is a whole bunch, of course. I love its beat, its drive, and Bowie’s fantastic, deep, powerful voice. The only good news on an otherwise dreadful album.

    • mlindroo says:

      Each to his own, I guess … I know I am probably in the minority but I absolutely adored Bowie’s version from the first time when I heard it back in 1985. Loved the guitar solo & horns, loved the drums, loved the fierce call-and-response between Bowie and his backing singers.

  21. ric says:

    Seem to remember thinking this re-used the ‘riff’ (such as it is) from Madman, but I’ve not really listened to either for a couple of decades….

  22. Brian says:

    I have a ‘China Girl’ opinion of this song. I can tolerate Bowie’s cover but Iggy’s is the definitive version. Unlike China Girl, this isn’t good enough.

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