Little Miss Emperor

Little Miss Emperor.

One seeming goal of Blah-Blah-Blah was to outplay Billy Idol at his own game—a game for which Iggy Pop had drafted the board and written the rules. And it worked: “Cry for Love” and “Real Wild Child” were the best Idol singles released in ’86, while the latter’s B-side, “Little Miss Emperor,” also annexed Idol territory. (“Emperor” was appended* to the CD and cassette versions of Blah and so spoiled the sequencing, as “Winners and Losers,” Blah‘s would-be epic closer, was now relegated to next-to-last.)

On “Emperor,” Erdal Kizilcay gave one of his most ferocious bass performances in the Blah sessions, a thunder-thudding line that locks into (but also pushes against) the Linn programming, and he has some other nice touches: the barren little piano line that transitions from chorus to verse, the synth violin phrase that crops up after Pop’s finished, or the panned L-to-R synth washes at the fade. Even the cliched staccato string samples (the Casio again?) are kept in moderation until the coda, where Kizilcay apparently was given the green light to pad things out for a minute.

Pop’s lyric, with lines like “your open arms they flinch/Joan Crawford style” and which riffs off the opening of Ginsberg’s “Howl,” is fine, if the subject—yet another imperious heartbreaker that Iggy’s obsessed with—is old news. The song’s just a bit dull, with the chorus melody in particular stuck in one gear, and the frenetic mix seems intended to distract the ear. But as B-side material (or album filler) “Emperor” works well enough.

Recorded late April-May 1986, Mountain Studios, Montreux, Switzerland. First issued in October 1986 as the B-side of “Real Wild Child,” and on the cassette/CD releases of Blah-Blah-Blah.

* The death of vinyl, well underway by ’86, was hastened by record companies offering conversion bribes in the form of cassette/CD-only bonus tracks. (“Murder by Numbers,” on Synchronicity, is the first of these I remember, though the practice dates back to 8-tracks.) Cassettes had been outselling vinyl since 1983, CDs would pass LPs in 1988, and by the spring of 1989, my mall record store had refitted their LP racks for CD longboxes and left their remaining vinyl stock in milk crates by the door, as if to encourage shoplifters. Bowie did his part, including extended mixes of many tracks on the CD Never Let Me Down, while the first Tin Machine album has two CD-only tracks. So the last Bowie album primarily sequenced for vinyl was Tonight, which is sad.

Top: “Subway, New York City,” 1986. I clipped this photograph from the New York Times nearly a decade ago, and don’t know who took it—if anyone does know, tell me and I’ll add the info. Also: video footage of the NYC subway in 1986.

10 Responses to Little Miss Emperor

  1. i always look forward to you coming down through my email box…you shine a whole other light on things..i had the linn…my favourite use of it is on prince *sign of the times*..all dry and demo-like..i had blah blah blah on cassette…i love ‘isolation’ on that record…iggy has such a lovely resonant low end to his voice..but the best moment for me is the bit in *shades*.that little bass accent round the end of the song is gorgeous..it was interesting watching someone like iggy make a completely unapologetic stab at getting some mainstream radio play….looking forward to your next post.

  2. Maj says:

    Not bad, not great…it’s on my version of the album, so I assumed it was a regular album track. Thanks for enlightening me, Chris.🙂
    The background synthy noise reminds me of something I heard on a-ha’s 80’s songs. Not sure which one in particular. Funny.

  3. Jeremy says:

    Hey, not bad. Still don’t like the drum sound though. Nice piano….

  4. diamond dog says:

    As a track its ok but as you say its badly sequenced , in the past I bought the cassette which had it tagged on the end. I remember the first cd I heard by eurythmics and it was great to hear a piece of music without crackles or hiss I was sold on cd as the replacement for cassette and vinyl. I’m glad I never dumped my lp’s though as I’ve yet to hear a cd that sounds better than the old vinyl pressings of Bowie. Despite various reissues and remastered editions non sound like the old vinyl apart from the RCA cd’s which are expensive now. I used to like extended cd only material and extended songs but now just look on it as padding. Classic albums are usually 40 mins and the older I get the more I’m going back to this classic length. Double albums are usually way to long to take in though there are exceptions.

  5. Jeremy says:

    The death of vinyl hey. Don’t know what that is about! Vinyl never went away for me and it’s steadily coming back! Ironically it will CDs that die and it will be downloads and vinyl, with CDs for burning – as if they are merely replacements for tapes!

    Bowie’s LPs do sound great on vinyl DD…

    • col1234 says:

      yeah, there’s a nice irony that the CD age–touted at the time as the “perfect” form of sonic reproduction and preservation—turned out to just be a (expensive) transition period between vinyl and downloads. I don’t think i’m overemphasizing how much the industry wanted vinyl dead by 1989, though.

      • Gnomemansland says:

        Yes I agree about how the music industry wanted to kill vinyl – your line “by the spring of 1989, my mall record store had refitted their LP racks for CD longboxes and left their remaining vinyl stock in milk crates” is also what happened in the UK in what was one of the biggest retailers HMV who similarly overnight tore out the vinyl racks and put in CD shelving and then put the remaining vinyl right at the back of the store. Many of us still wanted to buy records but they became much harder to get hold of. The Buddha of Suburbia was only released in the UK on Cassette and CD initially.

  6. diamond dog says:

    I used to like the vinyl releases britpop acts like Oasis who used to release vinyl with exclusive tracks that still are not available on cd. I loved the way paul weLlers first solo cd release had a break in the middle and the sound of a run out crackle and someone turning the lp over. I love the way its coming back let’s face it there is just something about holding vinyl.

  7. Phil Obbard says:

    Interesting to read this now and your observation about TONIGHT as the last Bowie LP sequenced for vinyl. Like many artists in the CD age, Bowie started releasing albums that didn’t make as much sense (if any) on vinyl, with two roughly 20-minute sides each…

    From 2016, it seems like two post-TONIGHT Bowie LPs actually do work well on vinyl: BUDDHA (if you count it) and of course BLACKSTAR. Both divide up neatly over two sides of a single LP.

  8. Jim Warren says:

    BLAH BLAH BLAH is my favorite Iggy album, no doubt because of the heavy Bowie influence. I think he was one of the greatest music producers of the time(s). I used to hope for a Bryan Ferry album produced by Bowie, but alas.. Anyway, Little Miss Emperor is one of my favorites, mostly for the way the song just barrels out and over you. I am not a musician so the nuances of mixing/sequencing etc. escape me. But this song makes me feel like I am on a roller coaster holding on for my life. For me, the song is exhilarating.

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