46 Responses to Scream Like a Baby

  1. Jeremy Earl says:

    I find the differences in the lyrics between the earlier take and the finished track interesting. Always been a favourite of mine this song – it’s so over the top. Dystopian on a personal level, deep and scary (he got hat title right). Great write-up!

  2. Maj says:

    Love this song. Great to hear I Am Laser, which I haven’t had a chance to listen to before. I love the relative simplicity of this recording compared to the final version on Scary Monsters.
    This just is a very strong song, whichever version of it you listen to, really. Interesting to see how long it took for it to get on an official record, shows you what a…potent…songwriter/musician Bowie really was in the 70’s.

  3. spanghew says:

    Singer “Pink”‘s fascist ravings in The Wall would seem of a piece with Bowie’s brutal anti-other dystopia here…

  4. spanghew says:

    Uh, not the real singer Pink – the character in Pink Floyd’s The Wall (for all you readers who aren’t in your forties…)

    • col1234 says:

      ha! i did had to do a double-take upon first reading that. “Pink? the “get this party started” Pink had some fascist ravings?”

  5. David may have been traumatized by too many viewings of A Clockwork Orange or too close readings of 1984. I think Bowie drew from that well more times than was necessary. In retrospect, of course.

    • David L says:

      good point. I don’t think one can overemphasize how much movies influenced Bowie’s writings …

  6. Brendan O'Lear says:

    On the point of Visconti’s familiarity with ‘I am a laser’, wouldn’t he have been even more familiar with it from the ‘Young Americans’ sessions?

    • stuartgardner says:

      Thanks, Brendan. Those fragments are new to me. Amazing how much is out there, eh?

  7. Anonymous says:

    An impressive article. I do wish though that Numan had a writer-fans who could make his case better. He’s so much more than a Bowie wannabe. Are Friends Electric? is the musical masterpiece of that era.

    • col1234 says:

      hey, I really like Numan, in relatively small doses. Though DB’s contempt of him at the time is kinda enjoyable to review, I must admit.

      • Jeremy Earl says:

        Yeah, it is entertaining. As I may of said before, my favourite comment of Bowie’s about Numan was that he “never meant cloning to be part of the 80’s.”

      • I’ve always thought of Numan at that time as being much more derivative of Foxx-era Ultravox than Bowie; he openly admitted that his chief inspiration was Systems of Romance.

  8. Marion Brent says:

    Scary Monsters seems to me to be the midpoint of his strategy of recycling himself, which worked well enought to begin with but had increasingly diminishing returns. On Lodger he remakes Sister Midnight, and has two other songs with the same chord structure. On Scary Monsters he remakes two old songs (one of which he also uses as a reprise), does a cover, and also has a song that references a previous hit. Three years later, Let’s Dance has only five songs that hadn’t already appeared in some form or other. (Five songs in three years – from the man who recorded the bulk of Diamond Dogs in three days!) And of course the less said about Tonight the better…

    • Brendan O'Lear says:

      I remember making pretty much the same point to a Bowie-bore friend not so long ago. However, one of the things I’ve learnt from this series is just how consistent Bowie has been in recycling and reworking stuff that he didn’t nail first time round. Right from the beginning. Things like lifting a vocal melody from Ching-a-ling and rehashing it on Saviour Machine don’t seem backward looking, because it is such an obvious improvement. If you go through the ‘classic’ Bowie albums (Space Oddity – Let’s Dance), it’s only on Heroes and Station to Station that he doesn’t try to rework something he has recorded before in another form. For someone supposedly who has always presented himself as moving forward, Bowie has kept a very keen eye on his back catalogue.

      • Marion Brent says:

        Good point. Although when it comes to recycling, I guess Bowie has nothing on Lou Reed, who spent most of the seventies remaking old Velvet Underground songs.

    • Jeremy Earl says:

      I can imagine that there is going to be plenty said about Tonight 😉

  9. Pinstripe Hourglass says:

    Very good write-up. I’m not saying much on these entries because Scary Monsters isn’t an album I’m very familiar with, but I think you really captured Bowie himself in this entry.

    Gary Numan is long, long overdue for a major critical reevaluation.

  10. Maj says:

    Even though I’m not a fan of Gary Numan (I listen to a couple of his songs from the late 70’s but that’s it) I always thought Bowie was especially mean to him, uncharasterically so for him. Or at least for my perception of him. I wonder if they ever had a personal encounter that somehow pissed off Bowie…(since Numan said his Asperger’s syndrome made him appear arrogant/rude)? It’s not like Numan was the only Bowie-inspired artist at that time, and he was hardly a clone.
    Oh well, nobody’s perfect, right.
    I wonder if Bowie ever felt any remorse for being so harsh on Numan, esp. after the Asperger’s reveal.

    But I won’t lie I find reading Bowie’s put-downs of Numan very amusing.

    • Ian C says:

      According to Numan, and it can be found in his autobiography, there was a particular incident when filming for the end of 1979 Kenny Everett show, where both he and Bowie were scheduled to appear – in the end, Numan’s view is that Bowie got him taken off – the Numan contribution, ‘I Die: You Die’ was shown on a later programme.

  11. diamond dog says:

    Always thought of scream as a lesser relative to cygnet committee , quicksand and obviously bewley bros with its shadowy authority figures and insanity etc. I was unaware of the astronettes version till I found a bootleg with the sessions on recently. Bowie is amazing the way he sees something to recyle in such a non event original. I suppose songwriters constantly rehash past efforts.

  12. Gnomemansland says:

    Many of the most successful songwriters both recycle their own tunes and lyrics and indeed when they start those of others. In Bowie’s case the process of integration especially in the early years is laid out as his influences are all too apparent. He reached a sort of sweet spot between 71 and 77 in which the process of songwriting of combining or montaging all the different ingredients became almost effortless ( though the studio out takes suggest is wasn’t always seamless), From 78 onwards the process becomes more laboured and he gradually looses his touch and he begins to start to repeat himself rather than blend the elements to create something new.

    • Marion Brent says:

      Yes, I’d say this is about right although I’d put the effortless period at ’71 to ’75. He was straining by the time of Station To Station – only five original compositions, all stretched to their limits. Eno and Berlin were (highly successful) ways of deflecting the problem for a while, which reappears with Lodger.

    • Brendan O'Lear says:

      Very good point well made. On the point of ‘repeating himself rather than creating something new’ after around 1978, isn’t that a charge that could be leveled at mainstream pop music in general? I have a feeling you made a similar point quite a long way back. (Apologies if it wasn’t you.)

  13. diamond dog says:

    I don,t have problem with the recycling, all artists do it ..let’s face it the stones have been doing it for donkeys years. If Bowie wrote something years ago he has every right to dredge it up and re-use or re-write. As long as it is relevant to the other material it accompanies. I don,t personally think in this collection he was struggling coming up with material. I think your missing the point with Station to station it contained 6 songs of such quality and epic feel that if anything of lesser quality had been included it would have detracted. I think the main prob with his later work is he is not as on the ball with editing out weak stuff. He should have extended some of the tunes here and let em roll on longer.

    • Jeremy Earl says:

      I agree with you DD, all artists recycle – it’s part of the creative process and we’re all better off for it (because we get the end results!). It doesn’t mean that someone like Bowie is looking backwards and that’s bad because he’s all about going forwards and changing – it’s just a process. It’s hard to keep being brilliant and Bowie kept it up for much longer than most artists – I am very forgiving of his waning years as it’s hard to be constantly inspired, but yes, he could have been better at editing out the weaker stuff later, mind you, he did get rid of Too Dizzy eventually!

  14. Maj says:

    I’ve read about that but that still doesn’t explain Bowie’s behaviour. That just makes him apper a paranoid diva… Guess he had a bad day…he was still a rockstar trying to get clean, after all.

  15. diamond dog says:

    Although much maligned now Let’s Dance was totally inspired, lest we forget everyone was imitating funky or electro Bowie he came back with a broad stroke success and an inspirational sound. Go and dig it out …you may be surprised. Sad I know but I kinda like some of the material on Never let me down ,again it needed editing as there is too much on it and the quality radar was off.q

    • Jeremy Earl says:

      I agree totally – Lets Dance is a great album, it’s a great commercial album. Bowie’s made great experimental albums but to a lesser degree he can make great commercial albums and Lets dance was a success. I’m not saying it’s up there with his best albums but it is underrated.

  16. Jeremy Earl says:

    This has no relevance to Scream like a Baby, but it’s cool – one guy’s encounter with Bowie in the 70’s, my girlfriend found it, don’t let the astrology stuff put you off:


  17. Carl H says:

    I actually think I am A Laser is better than Scream Like A Baby. Ava Cherry has such a presence, and seems literaly dangerous. Especially when she’s talking about her “golden shower”. She could’ve been big.

    What the DB version has got that the the Astronettes hasn’t is better musicians and a better ending, and also better lyrics. But still I think I am a laser has more nerve to it. Sorry DB!

    • Maj says:

      I know exactly what you mean, Carl. Even tho I knew only Bowie’s final version for years and years, I now also prefer I Am A Laser. Even though Scream has better lyrics & musicians. But I usually always prefer demo & imperfect versions over polished studio versions, so that’s one of the reasons. Another reason is Ava’s presence, the “it” she adds to the song. And another reason is the sparse arrangement itself, it puts the melody of the song in the foreground, whereas in Scream it’s sort of burried…

  18. I am amazed at the number of people here defending the I Am A Laser lyrics over Scream Like a Baby. Thatt lyric is Bowie at his least oblique and most straightforward, which generally means the lyric is embarrassing. “A heart so big and true?” Really? As for Ava’s golden shower…I don’t personally find the idea of someone urinating to be a daring lyric, just really kind of silly.

  19. KG says:

    Revisionists, apologists, nostalgia fans and kids who think post-punk era was cool because Mum and Dad said so need to know that Gary Numan is not the Godfather of anything let alone electronic music (Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” pre-dates Numan by two years). Credit due he stormed the UK albums/singles chart in July 1979 by unusual means then repeated the same feat a few months later, so with his success being out of the blue he was met with amazement and derision therefore a Bowie-esque novelty act kept afloat by a microscopic but loyal obsessive fanbase. Gary Numan = Flavour of the Month Fluke.

    How many people remember his other hits ?.

  20. john says:

    Well said KG. Numan is an flukey has-been. Bowie rules.

  21. KG says:

    Yeh John, Bowie does rule. David has more talent in his little toe than that third-rate plagiarising money grabbing tax-avoiding self-obsessed musical parasite Numan. It wasn’t that long ago Numan was slagging Bowie off for his lack of output but he was silenced when David put out the amazing “The Next Day”. Sorry I had to get that off my chest. 😀

  22. harlan says:

    Numan bangs on about how his career nosedived circa. 1980 like it was a shock to society and had a right to be long term successful. He blames Radio 1, blames negative press, blames it on lack of promotion….wah!wah!….it’s because you’re a clown. keep plagiarizing others Numan and slagging of Bowie because it’s the only way you can sell your buy product to your cult sheep. Good luck with the retro album tours. “I hate nostalgia” my backside.

  23. danmac says:

    For what its worth, I seem to remember the NME or Melody Maker review of Scary Monsters at the time suggesting that “Sam” was in fact Sid Vicious

  24. sonia says:

    Some Numan songs are listenable but I just chalk it down to the monkeys and typewriters department. Too many singers and groups like this make their living off of their fans false praises. Numan will always be the man who does cars to many. Bowie has innovation and variety. No contest.

  25. harlan says:

    Now of course it’s ‘cool’ for celebrities to say how much they admire Numan pathetic brown nosing freaks. Not so unique now you’re accepted by the rose tinted new generation media mafia are you Mr. Webb?.

    Anyway came on to say how much I’m still enjoying Bowie’s next day album still sounds amazing after about 100 listens. ;D

  26. Bryan says:

    Numan the c*** of the highest order has just been given a Q award well there’s no accounting for taste in the 21st Century or 1979 come to that. Another ego boost to the thin white puke of the adolf hitler memorial space patrol. What an insult to Mr. Bowie.

  27. karl says:

    rest in peace David x

  28. s.t. says:

    Just noticed that Alan Moore cited David Bowie as an influence for V for Vendetta. Perhaps it was the general queer droog vibe that he wanted to channel, yet it’s plausible he was inspired by this particular song.

  29. Abetterfuture says:

    When I listen to side two of Scary Monsters I hear Scream Like a Baby and Kingdom Come as a couplet, a pair of songs that together tell a single story. Scream Like a Baby telling the story of the roundup of the “undesirables” and the beginning of the “reprogramming”. Then “Kingdom Come” tells the story after the reprogramming and vague about whether the story teller is still incarcerated or like Winston Smith in 1984 back in society but under monitoring. (“Up in the tower {guard tower or white tower?} they’re watching me, hoping I’m gonna die – ie –ie”.” )

  30. I was in a bar just after the Fashion single had been released. An obnoxious disco princess went to the jukebox, put on Fashion, and started showing everyone her John Travolta moves. Obviously the song went right over her head. So I went over to the jukebox to see what the B side was: Scream Like A Baby! Perfect! I put my quarter in and cleared the dancefloor in about thirty seconds.

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