Cat People (Putting Out Fire)

The Myth (Giorgio Moroder with David Bowie).
Cat People (Putting Out Fire) (single).
Cat People (Putting Out Fire) (LP remake).
Cat People (Putting Out Fire) (live, 1983).
Cat People (single edit, Inglourious Basterds, 2009).

The plan was for a tour, possibly, in 1981, with Bowie’s new band—anchored by Steve Goulding and featuring the battling guitars of G.E. Smith and Carlos Alomar—burning through the Berlin records and Scary Monsters and reviving standards, the way Bowie had already transformed “The Man Who Sold the World'” and “Space Oddity.”

The Lennon murder ended any chance of that. Bowie fled New York soon after the New Year, returning to Switzerland. There, in Coursier-sur-Vevey, Bowie hired an ex-Navy SEAL bodyguard and took classes in self-defense for celebrities, learning how to identify potential stalkers (he was advised to move, as some fans had found his address—this would be his last summer in Vevey). He skied, entertained Charlie Chaplin’s son and widow, doted on his 10-year old son. With the exception of a brief trip to London to accept an award, Bowie stayed in his Swiss exile, living like a well-apportioned hermit.

He didn’t want to record new material, either. Bowie had soured on RCA, which he blamed for poorly promoting his late Seventies records* while flooding the market with repackages like ChangesTwoBowie. Also, he still had contractual obligations to Tony Defries that wouldn’t expire until October 1982: Bowie hated that his old manager was still owed a piece of his mechanical royalties (it’s one reason Queen put out “Under Pressure,” a song he partially wrote, on their label and with a headline credit—that way Defries wouldn’t get a cut of it). Having only one more album on his RCA contract and almost clear of Defries, Bowie determined to wait everyone out. 1981 would be a deliberately lost year.

Well, not entirely. Paul Schrader had asked Bowie to work with Giorgio Moroder on the title song for Schrader’s garish remake of Cat People. In the summer of 1981, Bowie went to Mountain Studios in Montreux to meet Moroder, whose music he had enjoyed since Moroder’s Donna Summer productions. Moroder played him a moody three-chord piece he had worked up for the title theme, a slow builder that would have Bowie sing the opening two verses in his lowest register, then suddenly vault up to spark the refrain.

Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People (1942) is an eerie, wonderfully weird picture in which the (generally) off-screen monsters are shadow metaphors for frigidity, repression, xenophobia (an “all-American” guy marries a foreign girl whose “Old Country” past is dark and potentially lethal). It was far too nuanced for 1981. Schrader, taking the title and a handful of plot details and scenes from the original, turned Cat People into a bloodfest that he shot like a fashion spread. Cat People was an excuse for Schrader to shoot Nastassja Kinski, with whom he was infatuated, as often and as naked as possible, these scenes occasionally punctuated by gore-pieces, like Malcolm McDowell (Kinski’s cat-brother, who wants to mate with her: “we are an incestuous race,” he intones in a dream sequence) tearing off Ed Begley Jr.’s arm in a spray of blood.

Bowie crafted a ridiculous lyric that suited the film’s pretensions (Schrader said Kinski and McDowell’s relationship was a reworking of Dante and Beatrice—if Dante could transform into a panther). Paralleling Schrader’s own loose adaptation techniques, Bowie only vaguely referred to the cat people of the title, instead offering groaning banalities as “Fill this pulsing night/a plague they call the heartbeat.”

It didn’t matter, because the sound-picture Moroder created for Bowie gave him the license to go gloriously over the top. Bowie’s sepulchral croon in the opening verses (it seems like a near-parody of Jim Morrison at times) plays against Moroder’s minimalist percussive tracks—a repeating cymbal pattern, clattered sticks—and droning, yearning synth lines. And the sudden octave-leaping explosion of “putting out fire….WITH GAS-OH-LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINE!” that triggers the “full band” entrance is a magnificent moment, giving Bowie such presence that everything that follows, everything stupid and campy about the song (and there’s lots), is just burned away—Bowie rips into lines like “it’s been so long” or “you wouldn’t believe what I’ve BEEN THROUGH” as in a fever. The track goes on far too long, the backing singers eventually try to defuse Bowie, but there’s a lurid, pulp power to the track—the film it’s scored for seems unworthy of it.

Nearly two decades later, “Cat People” found its true role, used by Quentin Tarantino in Inglourious Basterds for a sequence that reveals the plans of the Jewish avenger Shoshanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent) to condemn and massacre a cinema full of Nazis. Used here, lines like “it’s been so long” or “judgement made can never bend” suddenly sharpened, gained bloody, righteous purpose. “Cat People” now seems written for Laurent, who was born two years after it was recorded; in her, the song finally found its muse.

Moroder’s soundtrack for Cat People (he performed all tracks solo save Bowie’s theme song, which only appeared in the end credits) followed the formula Moroder had perfected in his American Gigolo soundtrack—have a hit single as the centerpiece, then write variations around it (like the various incarnations of Blondie’s “Call Me” in Gigolo). So Cat People opened with a brooding instrumental version of the title theme, called “The Myth,” featuring some ominous Bowie humming.

Due to rights issues with MCA, Bowie couldn’t include the Moroder “Cat People” on his first record for EMI, as he had wanted, forcing him to remake the song with Nile Rodgers in New York. A collective lack of enthusiasm is audible on the second “Cat People,” which at times seems a deliberate ruination of the song, with Bowie and Rodgers botching everything great about the original (Bowie’s initial vocal leap is way too rushed here, while the drumming, by either Omar Hakim or Tony Thompson, kicks in far too early, and mixed in the stadium-ready gated sound of the Power Station). Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar overdubs seem superfluous compared to the minimalist work of Moroder or whichever anonymous session musician played on the original.

Recorded July 1981, Mountain Studios, Montreux, Switzerland (Moroder seems to have played much of the track, though the saxophonist David Woodford said he played on some of the Cat People material). First issued as a single in March 1982 (MCAT 770, both 7″ and 12″ versions, #26 UK) and on Moroder’s Cat People original soundtrack. The remake was cut at the Power Station, December 1982; on Let’s Dance, and also a B-side to the title track. Played live only during the Serious Moonlight tour, 1983.

*RCA, in turn, had never forgiven Bowie for abandoning the sound of Young Americans. Hearing that Bowie was working with Moroder initially raised their hopes until they discovered the partnership had resulted only in a single put out by another label. According to Christopher Sandford’s bio, one RCA executive, in a memo to a colleague, sighed that “it would be nice if DB went into the studio and recorded a real album.”

Top: ‘interieurblue,” “Sunglasses Mirror,” Paris, 1981.

73 Responses to Cat People (Putting Out Fire)

  1. Maj says:

    Okay….I never liked this song, I still don’t (was listening to it as I was reading this great write-up), not sure I ever will. It’s not so much a bias towards 80’s mainstream pop Bowie, but there is just not one thing I like abt this song (either version). Now, since I know how it came about I at least understand why it was released as a single but not even the octave GASOLIIIIIIIIINE leap saves this for me. The music is annoying, the lyrics are annoying & even poor Bowie himself is annoying.
    There are quite a few 80’s mainstream pop songs of Bowie’s I like but this is just ain’t.
    Anyway, thanks for this entry, was interesting to read about the RCA, Defries & self-defense stuff.

  2. ian says:

    The “lurid, pulp power” mindset is a pretty crucial way to read and enjoy this coming DB Decade. There’s just a different set of things to watch out for and enjoy. It also requires a willingness to enjoy the 80s production values. Now, I’m not saying that the coming 80s are on par with anything DB’s done— far from it— they just exist in a different dimension.

    A lot of the time, it’s going to be “how good’s the hook,” mixed with “is whatever occasionally vapid nonsense he’s singing on top of it bad enough to ruin the hook?” That reading lends a surprising amount of enjoyability to a song like “Never Let Me Down,” or, like you said, “Cat People.”

    But maaan, that ’81 tour would’ve been fanTASTIC.

    • Maj says:

      yeah, it would have. *cries into tea*
      Yep. This is a new, different era. I don’t neccessarily have anything against the 80’s production values, but there has to be something of value under them. That’s why e.g. Loving the Alien works, it’s a great song.

      Looking forward to an entry on Under Pressure. *nudge* *wink*

  3. giospurs says:

    I really love this song.
    I hadn’t actually heard it before I saw Inglourious Basterds (as I haven’t heard much post-Scary Monsters stuff) and maybe part of the reason I like it so much is Tarantino’s excellent use of it in the film. Sure, it’s over-the-top but so is much of what I love of Bowie. So maybe, I’ll enjoy the Let’s Dance era more than I’ve been led to expect…

  4. jeff yih says:

    Who was the keyboard player and bass player in the GE Smith band?

  5. Jeremy Earl says:

    For the record, 80’s production values mostly suck! Having got that out of the way I actually quite like this song. The first half is fantastic, but the writer is right, it’s too long and in the end it sounds like they don’t really know where to take it. The remake is perhaps the weakest track on Lets Dance, but the original, had he been able to use it, wouldn’t have suited the feel of LD. Actually the remake is a precursor of just where Bowie went wrong in the mid 80’s – bad remakes of earlier better versions of great songs. his heart just wasn’t in it.

  6. says:

    I don’t mind this song but it marks a sad milestone in this blog – the first entry of the post-canonical Bowie period, as we begin the slow trek across the desert (with occasional oases) that was his eighties career. Actually, I guess ’81-’83 is something of an interregnum phase, after he was truly great, but before he was truly terrible…

  7. spanghew says:

    Well, I know there are worse days coming, but…folks, I think Let’s Dance really isn’t a bad record. There are a number of new things Bowie brings in to that record, and the songs are, for the most part, pretty good, including a few classics (most notably “Modern Love”).

    The next two albums are a precipitous descent to the most dire record of his career, granted…(excepting the live Tin Machine album – which, I have declared, simply Does Not Exist).

    • Maj says:

      I know worse is to come. I’m perversly looking forward to this decade for this reason. Guess I must be a bit of masochist…
      I have a huge problem – unlike a lot of people, I don’t like Let’s Dance except for the singles. I gave the album a couple of listens over the years but still nothing. Maybe something will change now.

  8. diamond dog says:

    Its too long by a long way (the aussie 12 inch is longer!!!) and i was not sure at the time, but, i now quite like it ! The film its from is useless a dreadful remake but its so well used in Taranton’s film its a wonder it was not a hit again (though not too sure many got basterds). The opening is epic his voice is just spinetingling, the lyric a pointer to much of the 80’s output talking loud but saying nothing …but gotta say i do like it .

  9. Remco says:

    Have to agree with Maj here. I think Let’s Dance is just marginally less crappy than the two albums that follow, except for two of the singles (I really really really hate ‘Modern Love’ too). I’ve always chosen to ignore this portion of Bowie’s career, why bother when there’s plenty of good music around, so I’m really looking forward to the coming posts to see if I was right.

  10. diamond dog says:

    Must add that Lets Dance i think is unfairly dismissed but remember at the time it was all Bowie Alikes and jazz smoothies so the sound and intent of the album was very fresh sounding which with time has been lost. The music was warm the lyrics detached but more human it was a fresher Bowie who returned after a long period of waiting. He had to come back with something new otherwise he would be aping hinself and we had enough of those. What production do people not like in the 80’s? drum sound? what is it?as a lot of folks moan about 80’s material but suppose it depends on what you were listening to mush of the music i listen to at the time still sounds good , everything these days is bass driven and full of compression.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Dear me, I do wish people would stop wincing about ‘Tonight’ and ‘NLMD’. As stand alone items they are fine, they appear worse because they keep being compared solely with what came before.

    Could I politely make the point that unless you are fortunate to be old enough to have been present for every release as it appeared, (and an ever increasing number of us weren’t) the canon is not a chronological experience and therefore the acclaim afforded each release has a different hierarchy.

    I love this bog, but crumbs its getting wearisome hearing the bleating of ‘it all went wrong in the 80’s’. Some of us became fans in the 80’s.

    Having said that (and thank you for letting me get that off my chest); ‘Cat People’ (the original) was a huge disappointment to me when I first heard it. I imagined Moroder and Bowie would produce something akin to Moroders work with Sparks or Blondie or Donna Summer – all syncopated beats, electronica and drama. To me it sounds like a dirge, poorly arranged, badly produced and a huge missed opportunity.

    I much prefer the muscle and sweat of the Let’s Dance remake, even if it is forced – at least it sounds like someone making an effort rather than the smirking through a fumbled collaboration.

    • Remco says:

      In a way you’re right; some of us, myself included, are starting to sound like a broken record when it comes to his eighties output. For me however that has nothing to do with comparing them to stuff that came before, I genuinely dislike those albums. You might think they’re fine as stand alone items but some of us really don’t.

      • Jeremy Earl says:

        I pretty much became a fan in the 80’s but I never listen to Tonight and NLMD, however there are some hidden gems there and the last time I actually did listen to NLMD a few years ago I had to concede that it wasn’t as bad as I remembered it. Some times the weaker areas in an artists career can end up being the most fascinating. I’m looking forward to examining the 80’s.

    • David L says:

      Agree with just about everything you say. It’s not my favorite song by any stretch, but I dig the second Cat People for its wicked Stevie Ray Vaughan guitar licks and its rocker approach. Who came up with that main riff, anyway? It’s not evident in the original song.

  12. diamond dog says:

    I’m old enough to remember ziggy I’m sad to say. I became a fan around starman on top of the pops. I agree folk do go on about the 80,s material being bad but there are always gems on every album he made in the decade. I personally like cat people and the remake crackles with a more analog power though the vocals are not as good. Played live it was well received. He must have picked many fans in the 80’s let’s face it he was on the cover of evrerthing and constant airplay must have generated massive interest. I think in hindsight some material was laboured but at the time I enjoyed just seeing him be successful. Let’s face it and being crude he could take a shit and I would find something good about it.

  13. I was waiting at the record shop for every album after David Live, approximately, and by the time we got to Let’s Dance I was just ravenous for something new.
    It sounded huge and the lead guitar was magnificent and I actually thought he was giving it a lot of power in the vocal department.
    Cat People felt like a rush through of the previous version, though, cleaned-up and with energy but false, somehow. I could easily picture him shrugging, “Yeah, that’s good enough, we just needed another few minutes to fill the album and I can’t be arsed doing anything else.”
    Despite all the bollocks about somehow being led astray to make lots of money and new fans at this time, I think he was into it. It was just that he was also caught up in the times, like a lot of people. It was a truly awful time musically. The Smiths and a few others were wonderful, but the 1980s was shit for music.
    DB looked cool at this time, but he was arrogant and businesslike as you’ll maybe know from some bootlegged press conferences, not at all human, but not in a good spaceman-Dave way either.
    If he had died/retired the day before Scary Monsters was issued, well . . .
    I’m glad he didn’t die.
    But I await with interest this fantastic blog’s thoughts on what happens between Let’s Dance and 2011, because I’d worry over getting enough from 30 years to make one good Best Of CD.
    From the 1970s, they were all Best Of CDs.

    • Maj says:

      Oh I wouldn’t say most of 80’s music was shite. There was enough cool stuff going on, esp in the (dance) pop & alternative rock genres, but Bowie for some reason went with the least exciting stream. Let’s Dance was at least hip but then it went south. Or so they say.
      I totally realize he had it hard, he basically invented what was good abt the 80’s…so he really had a choice – repeat himself & get lost in the other acts or go in another direction again: huge succes & slow decay.
      I actually became a fan with Heathen & worked myself through Bowie’s dicography backwards. All of his 90’s & 00’s stuff is mostly great or at least good. I think it holds its own next to his 70’s stuff, it’s totally te same artist. It resembles what Paul McCartney’s been doing since mid-90’s: solid work with a bit of experimental thrown in. /Macca was a bit more successful at that, I’d argue. For me the best part of Outside are the songs not the concept or the segues inbetween (I tend to skip them)./
      Bowie’s 80’s output is a sign of times, yes, but not because the 80’s were that horrible musically, more because many 60’s & 70’s artists got kinda lost at that time too and for once Bowie was not an outcast, and perhaps he didn’t want to be.

    • David L says:

      I agree with you Craig, I think the 80s eventually sucked Bowie in, like just about everybody else. You can hear it in this track, even — the Moroder produced one — it already sounds quite different from anything he did previously, and very much a product of the 80s. That’s not to say that everything Bowie did in the 80s stunk, not at all. I agree with DD that Let’s Dance is a very good album, and the next two have their moments. But after LD he had thoroughly thrown himself into the role of 80s pop star and actually seemed to enjoy it … at least until the debacle of Never Let Me Down sunk in.
      Our esteemed blog host has touched upon it somewhat, but I wonder how much the Lennon assassination influenced Bowie not only in his personal life, but in his artistic life — was it a major factor in his going in a blatantly commercial direction. The added fame would seem to be a contradictory pursuit to someone seeking greater personal security, but with greater wealth comes greater security. He could really bury himself behind a wall of money after Let’s Dance.

  14. diamond dog says:

    Spot on craig Bowie was very business like he knew he had hits on the album and a clammering audience waiting to see him. I remember first hearing let’s dance and it was just superb. I must say I felt the same about blue jean as well the Bowie of old was gone there was a hint of the past but he was well into it. Take the video for blue jean great watching it on the tube special nowadays it can be dismissed at rubbish but back then each release was an event. Eventually I gave up on him as my taste moved to more indie material hip hop and prince but I was always intersted in what he was doing it just seems I spent the late part of the decade wanting him to do something more solid.

  15. Pinstripe Hourglass says:

    I can appreciate how one might be disappointed by Bowie’s post-Scary Monsters output, but some of it is quite good and if we’re to complain that every song isn’t “Life On Mars” then the next year of this blog is going to be very, very tedious.

  16. mike says:

    Hmmmm….so we’re gonna pretend the ’80s stuff didn’t suck in order to keep enjoying this blog? Cool! I’m on board! 😛

  17. Carl H says:

    I actually saw the Cat People film just because of this song. For being sleazy, perverted, fantastical exploitationesque cinema it’s actually quite an enjoyable film in it’s own perverted way. I think it’s great portraying the lost innocence/inevitable doom of the Natassia Kinski character (allthough her best role is inarguably in the magnificent Polanski’s Tess – Roman Polanski was also one of those older men obsessed with her along with Schrader). Either way the song was placed on the credits which is a bit of a waste- but it’s still a bit mighty. You actually want to stay through it.

    I’m a great fan of Moroder and Bowie, and I do think they deliver some pop magic here, so this song is a blast for me. I actually DO like some 80’s music.

  18. spanghew says:

    It’s okay – I’ll be the guy defending Bowie’s ’90s work – particularly the second half of the decade – when everyone else is all meh on it… In fact, I’ll be the guy defending the two studio Tin Machine albums (excepting tracks that Hunt Sales “sings” on).

  19. Brendan O'Lear says:

    It’s interesting to observe the comments on this site. Everybody who comes here is pretty much by definition a Bowie enthusiast, yet the discussion only really gets lively when Bowie drops a stinker (see Tonight). You can almost feel the anticipation and excitement as we are about to encounter some genuinely bad smells.
    Before we move on to outdo each other in our condemnation of Bowie’s various lapses, let’s pause to acknowledge what I think is the greatest sequence of work in the history of pop music (Space Oddity – Scary Monsters).
    Perhaps it was all down to that magical orange RCA label.

    • Jeremy Earl says:

      Actually i’d take it to Lets Dance – brilliant commercial album, not my favourite, but it perfected mass appeal without dumbing it down – a lesson for all would be pop artists. So really, a 14 year run more or less. Interesting that people are defending the 90’s before we even get going much on the 80’s! The 90’s were pretty great actually.

  20. Remco says:

    I appreciate that there are people who really like Tonight or NLMD, and I can even understand why they might be annoyed by the constant criticism of those albums but as I see it this is a forum where different Bowie fans express their different opinions and unless col1234 decides otherwise I think it should stay that way.

    Also I really enjoy criticizing stuff I don’t like, if I were a Muppet I’d be one of those old guys on the balcony, only less funny.

  21. col1234 says:

    hey everyone:

    I think the ’80s (aka the Slough of Bowie Despond) could be a very fun and interesting time here in the comments, as long as folks make credible arguments (watch out for strawmanning and statements like “you can’t be a real Bowie fan if..” etc) and please don’t get nasty and call each other names.

    i haven’t decided yet on final takes for a lot of the ’80s stuff (need to revisit a great deal of it) but generally it won’t be a very positive time. (though we’ve gotten two of the biggest turkeys IMO—the remakes of “Tonight” and “Neighborhood Threat”—out of the way already). I hope to challenge the settled thoughts of my youth—am very curious to see if Never Let Me Down is better than I recall it being—and if you see any weak arguments or ill-considered judgements, call me out on ’em.


    • Jaf says:

      I too am looking forward to the Eighties stuff being revisited. I’m firmly in the ‘most of it was shite’ camp but I have to say I still went and bought all of it at the time (and enjoyed some of it back then, esp Let’s Dance).

      One of the (many) great things about this blog is that it’s made me go back and re-discover Bowie tunes long forgotten. It’ll take a bit of work to get me to re-visit NLMD though… 🙂

  22. Gnomemansland says:

    Modern Love is pretty much the only decent 80s Bowie solo song. The Tin Machine studio LPs are very underrated (especially tracks like Bus Stop) and are way better than any of the 80s solo stuff – even if they were never really a proper band – Bowie’s ego is too big for that. The off the wall singles, Under Pressure, Absolute Beginners and then in the 90s, The Buddha of Suburbia are all fine. In comparison with the feast of the 70s it is all crumbs from the table though.

  23. I think Gnomemansland is pretty accurate. Actually, Absolute Beginners is pretty good, and the Live At The Beeb version showed he still likes it years later. And yes, there is some good stuff on Tin Machine even if it’s a mid-life crisis thing.
    After Space Oddity-to-Scary Monsters, any music god would be pretty much spent.
    Maybe instead of dallying occasionally with art, film and other ideas (and doing them well at times), he should have completely ditched music for a decade and given his all to film or art. Knowing DB, he would have become very good at it very fast, as his new toy.
    Then, music would have been fresh again and we might have got a stunning album in 1991, with DB having forgotten his comfy old methods and not caring what the fans expected.
    But if anyone deserved a rest after the ’70s, it was him.
    Does anyone else still have a feeling something sensational will come from him musically (even if it’s only amazing unheard demos), or is he gone for good? Or is a stunning return to form just wishful thinking?

    • Jeremy Earl says:

      I believe he’ll release a double album of a mixed bag of experimental and pop stuff and not bother to tour. He won’t be able to help himself and will record again. He’s deserved his rest though, to bring up his daughter.

    • “Does anyone else still have a feeling something sensational will come from him musically (even if it’s only amazing unheard demos), or is he gone for good? Or is a stunning return to form just wishful thinking?”

      just read this comment on the day the 3rd video from TND is released and it made me chuckle..

      • It made me chuckle, too, and I was still chuckling going up the hill to work this morning, giving it yet another listen and thinking, Fuck me, Dave, this is good shit! He has restored all my faith, and I am even replaying those 80s and 90s albums. They are sounding better, but not as good as The Next Day!

  24. diamond dog says:

    I cannot wait as sometimes the comments turn me on to some tunes I’ve not been too keen on , so I cannot wait. I love the reviews its a great piece of work and the comments from loads of knowledgable bowie fans are a treat. Please let’s not descend to arguements it spoils it for us all. Tin Machine was cathartic for bowie but in retrospect I never play em anymore , I would say buddha is seriously good only one tune I don,t care for sex and the church there are a few that are up there with instrumentals on low.
    Good or bad its bowie so count me in.

  25. ofer says:

    Production values are very debatable and every once a while (Once every album at the very least) bowie had still put some interesting composition out during the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s. What was almost entirely lost is the genius poet. Part for maybe A handful of songs in the years to come, the lyrics just aren’t very complex, interesting or compelling. Good songs can be revived with new stage productions and DB had done some justice with his 80’s materials in concert years later… But the lyrics – they can’t be changed and are the core problem of the rest of his career.

    As for “Cat people” – love it. Also no great lyrics, but one of his finest vocal performances, and i don’t really think anyone could guess the huge shift in style up until “Let’s Dance” came out.

  26. I’m very much in the minority on this one; not only is “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” one of my top twenty or so favorite Bowie songs, I actually prefer the remake. I hadn’t heard the original till I saw ‘Basterds, and found that version interesting but not compelling the way the Let’s Dance version is. I think it’s one of Bowie’s absolute best “belting” vocal performances, the keyboards’ rhythms are cold and terse, and the SRV guitar is blistering and unmistakably SRV. I love the start/stop, quiet/loud dynamics of the recording. I even like the lyrics; the color-coded beginnings to some of the verses, the verses themselves packed with compact imagery. The whole song is tight and has a poppy punch to it. For me, anyway.

    I also don’t think Let’s Dance is as bad an album as people say. This and the title track are songs I genuinely enjoy, and the pop-rock sound of the record is fun, if many of the songs themselves are forgettable. I classify this album with Young Americans, another mid-level record worth listening to but lacking strong songwriting. It’s certainly a record hurt by comparison, following the angular experimentation and abrasive sounds of Scary Monsters with accessible pop. If it’d come between Tonight and Never Let Me Go, or around the time of Tin Machine, it might be listened to more fairly.

    I think Let’s Dance is the moment when Bowie becomes a pop star the general public can enjoy, and I think some Bowie fans resent that; they prefer the outsider Bowie, the Bowie who’s theirs and theirs alone. This is not to say that Let’s Dance is as good as Scary Monsters or Low or Station to Station or Ziggy, but I stand by my Young Americans comparison; Young Americans didn’t give him the kind of popularity among the masses that Let’s Dance did, and it seems to me some of the backlash against Let’s Dance is from longtime fans not liking his popularity (especially at the cost of his edginess; Let’s Dance is a smooth, polished neighbor to the jagged-edged Scary Monsters).

    Even if you’re of the opinion that his post-Monsters work in the ’80s is garbage, that’s still only four albums. One thing to keep in mind heading into Bowie’s ’80s period is that this was when his acting career took off more. Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (love it or hate it), the international Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, a Broadway production of The Elephant Man (which is a very demanding role!)… It seems to me he spent more of his creative energies in that decade on acting than on music. Bowie only released five records in the ’80s (Scary Monsters on one end and Tin Machine on the other) — less than half of his ’70s output. That doesn’t help his average (although maybe if he’d done more records he’d just have more bad records and no more good ones, who knows).

    • Maj says:

      Well I personally never warmed up to the 80’s Bowie (and Young Americans for that matter) because the music just doesn’t resonate with me. I have no problem with Top 10 pop. I love the Pet Shop Boys, for instance, since we’re talking the 80’s.
      But there’s definitely something to hardcore Bowie fans not liking the concept of Bowie being a mainstream star. I remember reading in Marc Almond’s autobiography where he said Bowie lost him with Young Americans – and while he found the so-called Berlin trilogy inspiring, he never enjoyed Bowie’s output the same way he did the pre-Young Americans stuff.
      I don’t have it this way since I was born the year he released NLMD. 🙂 But I just never liked much of his 80’s music because I didn’t find it good, not even in the conext of what was in in those days. Not horrible but mediocre.
      What I’m looking forward to now is going through the 80’s songs one by one and maybe finding a couple of good songs hidden there.
      Also looking forward to piling a heap of sh… on his version of God Only Knows. 😉

      • Interesting about Young Americans, Maj. Makes sense. When someone like Bowie is so different and that’s something you relate to, it’s easy to feel betrayed (or at least disappointed) when he starts doing tours like Serious Moonlight, with fans screaming throughout entire songs.

        I was born in 1981, and the first times I heard Bowie were on classic rock or “mix” radio stations; I heard “Rebel Rebel,” “Changes,” “Space Oddity,” and “Let’s Dance” all at more or less the same time, without knowing what came first. I don’t mean to suggest his ’80s output is as strong as his ’70s (or his ’90s or the two ’00s records he made, for that matter), but I can say I listen to the Let’s Dance album more often than I put on The Man Who Sold the World.

      • rob thomas says:

        hi Maj- I’m enjoying your comments. I urge you to give Young Americans some serious listening. Two-thirds of it is absolutely stellar: go behind the soul rhythms and treatments and get into the darkness, ambiguity and emotional complexity. Keep us posted. Rob

      • rob thomas says:

        p.s. I’m talking ‘Win’, ‘Fascination’, ‘Right’, ‘Somebody up there..’ and ‘Fame’. As for the title track, even this blog’s brilliant exposition can’t make me like it. And let’s just pretend ‘Across the Universe’ never happened, shall we?

  27. Well said, Mutineer, there’s a lot of sense in your opinion. The good thing is, like Iain MacDonald’s fab book on The Beatles, these opinions are making me go back and listen again to these albums, and find new good points I overlooked before. Nice to see there is not one idiot among people who care about DB on here! He has made us an intelligent lot!
    By the way, has everyone seen the Outside press conference video?
    Just found it last night, and it’s a fascinating look at the man from that time, especially when a journalist asks if he’s wearing a wig – what a look DB gives him!
    DB comes over as totally into his music and a nice bloke, too.

    • I agree, Craig. I’ve barely listened to Tonight or Never Let Me Go at all, though I own both. I’m a much bigger fan of Scary Monsters, Let’s Dance, and Tin Machine than either of those two, and it’ll be interesting to revisit them all track by track this way.

      I still have a lot of backlog to go through on this site, too; I picked up somewhere around Diamond Dogs.

      ’90s Bowie has a lot more to offer than ’80s Bowie, to be sure. There are some real gems on Black Tie, Outside, Earthling, and Hours. And then the one-two punch of Heathen and Reality, both of which blew me away. And then, silence? Has Bowie made any public statements about having retired, or is that just something people infer?

      Thanks for the recommendation about the Outside press conference. Do you have a link?

  28. (Oops, I’ve been calling Never Let Me Down “Never Let Me Go.” You all know what I mean. 🙂 )

  29. David says:

    I always thought that this song would be great in a commercial, i.e. putting out the fire (with VASELIIIIIIINE).

  30. Maj says:

    XD the last two comments…(Jeremy Earl’s & David’s) totally had me laughing like a maniac. Thanks guys. 😉

  31. Jasper says:

    I love Cat People, in all it’s versions, it’s over the top pop, and embraces grander.

    To me Let’s Dance is the last of Bowie’s great albums, in comparison i think Loger has more problems. Let’s Dance is to pop what Bowie had been doing to rock, plastic soul or whatever sub genre we would like to file his albums in, when he did his best work.

    After this there are no album that are as good all the way through, but all the albums have good songs on them. When hearing Never Let Me Down I can’t help wishing to hear the songs played differently. In general I think Bowie has more problems with the way he treats his songs than with the the songs compositions, if that makes any sense? There are a lot of songs where I wish someone had banned him from keyboards (not piano) and synthesisers, too much programming and over producing and to little playing. That said, I liked all of the albums when they came out, always craving more Bowie, but everything doesn’t age well, and I’m looking forward to going through it all again here song by song.

    We are off course all coloured by where we step into the Bowie catalogue. I got Let’s Dance for my 14th birthday, and if you hold that record up to the light today I’m sure it will shine through it from being played. I was not aware of Bowie before the same summer, when going for summer vacation, my friend, a cool punk girl would play Christiane F on her ghetto blaster in the hallway of the train, a perfect setting for getting hooked on Bowie. After I got Let’s Dance I went to the local library that had a music section, and started to borrow his records, choosing the ones with the coolest covers, “Heroes” blew me away and is still my favourite record. I taped the records and drew the on the cassette coves.

  32. diamond dog says:

    I would love to hear the demo ‘s for never let me down as it does suffer from too much over the top synth , it needs to be stripped back. Day in day out would have been better as a tin machine style rock piece. The one thing lacking in Bowie’s 80’s output is funk non of it has any funkiness at all.

    • Jeremy Earl says:

      Apparently there are demos for the Tonight songs – meant to be rawer and better, but i’ve never heard of any for NLMD (or, NLMG)

      Lets Dance is a bit funky, but you are pretty much right – it was his white-bread decade.

  33. I said “Jim” after three notes. I don’t know if David was doing it deliberately, but man, this sounds like an outtake from “The Soft Parade.” Which makes me love it to pieces, of course: very compelling intro, and that octave leap y’all have been mentioning lashes out like, well, a panther. One of my favorite Bowie efforts ever, and I’ve been around since “Hunky Dory”, when I wrote his ads and worked with him on radio spots. I’m also extremely fond of “Chant of the Ever-Circling Skeletal Family”, on “Diamond Dogs”…maybe I like David best when he does Doors stuff.

  34. Chris, does Robert Fripp play on this?

  35. […] the song, I can’t add anything to the brilliant summary over at my favorite Bowie blog. Check it out for good notes about the production and a clear explanation of why Bowie didn’t […]

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