New York’s In Love

New York’s In Love.
New York’s In Love (live, 1987)

“New York’s In Love” is in contention for being Bowie’s most crapulent original composition. The lyric, built on a central metaphor that Bowie blends to mush—New York’s like a sexy yuppie lady! She’s clean but she’s dirty! Watch her strut her stuff!—is atrocious, with even the few decent scene-setting opening lines (“the clouds are stuck like candy floss“) grating when you know that in a 1987 interview, Bowie took Mark E. Smith to task for writing “fourth-form poetry.”* As for the yo-yoing vocal melody, Bowie could barely handle it in the studio—he’s audibly straining on “Go Go Boys” and “fam-i-ly” in the second verse—and the live version linked above documents some even more ragged singing.

In its weak defense, “New York” was likely one of the Never Let Me Down songs most intended as a big production number for the tour—hence its chorus, which is paced leisurely enough (nearly a bar between each vocal phrase) to allow time for dancers to move to their next positions, and whose melody, nearly the same phrase repeated nine times, asks little. (The chorus also has a modestly interesting progression, with a C major 9th chord challenging the song’s E major tonality.) Carmine Rojas’ tight, driving bassline is the only thing seemingly holding the track together at times, while the meat-handed guitar solos are Bowie’s own: it’s the “raw” sound Bowie had in mind when he assembled Tin Machine, though he hedged his bets by hiring a guitarist with chops.

Inspirational lyric: “New York’s in love/goo goo goo GOO goo goo.” Unintentional hard truth lyric: “No one knows they’ve had their day.”

Recorded ca. September-November 1986, Mountain Studios, Montreux and the Power Station, NYC. On Never Let Me Down (it’s extended for a murderous 30 more seconds on the CD) and performed during the Glass Spider tour.

* Bowie said the intention was to show “that real vain aspect of big cities. They’re so pompous and big and in love with themselves.” No comment. In this same lively interview, with Musician in August 1987, after dissing the Fall, Bowie also ridiculed the Jesus and Mary Chain, calling them “awful” and “sophomoric—like the Velvets without Lou.”

Top: Ted Barron, “Game 7 of the World Series, Vazac’s Bar, New York, 1986.”

37 Responses to New York’s In Love

  1. diamond dog says:

    Another good read on a dreadful song. Love Bowie slating other artists it shows how painfully out of touch he was ….what a cheek. Cannot see Mark e smith losing any sleep over his outbursts maybe if Bowie had took an artistic leaf out of his book we would not be reading a review of such a dire piece of music.

  2. nate says:

    i honestly am so waiting for the day you get to Shining Star

  3. Jeremy says:

    Wow you are really getting through these! It’s like pulling teeth.

    Another unmentionable song. Shows how out of touch he was by dissing the Mary Chain and Smith – I’m not even a Fall fan but jeeze!

    Still, we love him and really in comparison to other artists he’s released very few duds. I’m speaking as a fan of Tin Machine’s first LP and his 90’s stuff, sans half of Black Tie ( I know some Bowie fans don’t rate this period, but I do). So I can forgive these sins…..

    • PH says:

      I like The Fall, but as for their lyrics, well I really couldn’t say,as to me they are mostly inaudible – uh! But Bowie was spot on about The Jesus and Mary Chain though. They ARE like The Velvets without Lou Reed or even Doug Yule, or any decent tunes.

  4. Jeremy says:

    By the way, is that Gerry Garcia in that photo – centre with beard? (the white guy with the beard obviously!) The guy below him looks familiar as well, with the glasses…

    • col1234 says:

      no I think it was just my friend Ted’s local bar at the time, so I don’t think Garcia was hanging out there. i’ll ask him, though.

  5. Maj says:

    I suppose I understand why you guys would think this is better than Too Dizzy but to me…it’s on the same level. I don’t hate either of them, I don’t really care TBH.
    Interesting you mentioned Lou. Mistrial (which I think came out a year earlier) is probably…well not probably, it IS a not very good album either but his song which also mentiones “New York” and “love” in it, is pretty much a jewel. Talking about this one:

    Of course the songs are different in both “message” & musical aspect. My point is that Lou Reed knew how to write a good song abt New York even in the midst of his less prolific output*.
    Maybe Bowie didn’t really get the feel of the city down until Heathen…because the whole New York’s In Love song just rings false.

    *Just a side note. I’m not an expert on Lou Reed. Feel free to let me know about the multitude of NYC-inspired shitty songs he’s recorded. Is anything like that on Lulu? 😉

  6. humanizingthevacuum says:

    Lou Reed was one of the few sixties artists who recorded his best work in the eighties: the Doom Trilogy of The Blue Mask, Legendary Hearts, and New Sensations are what I hoped he’d record in the mid seventies.

    Mistrial, although a dud, is still superior to NLMD.

    • PH says:

      Wrong. Lou’s best work were those four Velvet Underground albums in the sixties. And his 70s solo albums like Transformer, Berlin, Sally Can’t Dance, Coney Island Baby, Rock’n’Roll Animal and Lou Reed Live destroy anything that he did in the 80s with the exception of New York.

      • humanizingthevacuum says:

        I meant solo. Berlin is sodden and miserabilist. I don’t mind the others, especially CIB and RRA.

      • PH says:

        Yeah, Berlin is miserabilist, but somehow still hugely enjoyable. I particularly love “Lady Day”, “Carolyn Says1” and “Sad Song”.

      • Pierce says:

        You didn’t mention Street Hassle. His masterpiece. Those 80s albums you mention are brilliant. Good call.

      • Remco says:

        I have to violently disagree with humanizingthevacuum here. As far as I’m concerned Lou (solo) followed pretty much the same trajectory as Bowie: amazing in the seventies, very disappointing in the eighties. Granted, his eighties work isn’t nearly as bad as Tonight or Never Let Me Down but stuff like ‘Heavenly Arms’ makes me want to puncture my eardrums.
        Also Lou recovered a lot quicker than Bowie did, ‘New York’ is amazing and there’s a lot of good stuff after that as well.

  7. Roger L says:

    I’m loving this chronological progression. I encountered many of these “legacy” artists in the ’80s struggling with their fame, their age, their waning talents in the era of MTV. My first Lou Reed record (cassette actually) was Mistrial and it, bless its heart, directed me backwards to other more interesting work. Likewise the Let’s Dance/NLMD-era Bowie. Without those records how many people would have gone back and reaccessed (or certainly understood in a new way) Low or the glam-y/cheesy Hunky Dory era or appreciated the left turn that was Low?

    Cheers, R

  8. Sigmata Martyr says:

    In some ways I think the record companies were treating any new output by the older artists as an anchor to flog their back catalogs even if the artists themselves were sincere in putting out the new work. And if you didn’t have a hip parent or older sibling to let you in on some of this stuff, that was a pretty successful way of gaining new intrest.

    It doesn’t always work though, my husband is still horrified that I know most of Robert Plant’s solo work and zero Led Zepplin.

  9. Diamond Duke says:

    Don’t hate this one, but I don’t really love it, either. You see, I think that’s what frustrates people so much about Never Let Me Down: It’s a disappointing album on so many levels, but ultimately it’s got a weird, wired pizzazz about it that makes it extremely difficult to actively detest. (Well, obviously a lot of people actively dislike it very much! But hey, I can only speak for myself here!)

    New York’s In Love is ultimately one of the more dispensable items in the Bowie canon, but I must say that the whole instrumental end section has got a stompingly wicked groove! It actually harkens back to some of Bowie’s funkier ’70s work (Look Back In Anger, the Springsteen cover It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, What In The World), although quite obviously not as good!

    I’m also reminded of a statement that Bowie once made in a 1984 (or ’85?) interview where he once made a statement regarding Dancing With The Big Boys from Tonight, to the effect that it represented a harder-edged sound that he was hoping to perfect on the follow-up album. Never Let Me Down somewhat falls short of perfecting this particular sound, although it’s a step up from the bulk of the Tonight album. Tin Machine also further builds on this trend, although Bowie’s attempts there are ultimately thwarted by overcompensation. I would argue that he came as close to perfection with that sort of hard-edged rock sound with 2003’s Reality (particularly the slamming title track)!

    • nijinska says:

      Ha you’re so right… while there’s so much of NLMD that makes me cringe – you can hear the legacy crumbling away chunk by chunk – I find it all perversely ‘listenable’ at the same time, particularly on this track. Maybe it’s the precise nature of that listening that’s the problem – after a while the experience just deteriorates into aural wallpaper with no specific reason to exist. There’s nothing wrong with great innocent pop but this is decidedly ungreat pop (and I’m not so sure about its innocence either).

      I’m loving every moment of this blog at the moment. I’m amazed that the discussion of NLMD has already generated more much comment than I’d ever have predicted… this one clearly REALLY matters to people!

  10. Diamond Duke says:

    P.S. col1234, you may think of the extended CD version of this song as “murderous,” but said extension is probably the best part of the whole song! 😀

  11. Pierce says:

    Well said. Very average track, but enjoying revisiting this album again. I must say I do like Bowie’s couple of little solos in this track, very distinct sound and style.

    • Diamond Duke says:

      Oh yeah, that “diamond dog howl” is certainly recognizable anywhere! 😉 (Although I’m hearing a few trickier bits that could quite easily be Frampton trading off with Bowie. Not that Bowie isn’t at least halfway decent, but I tend to think of his playing style as a bit more minimal…)

    • Maj says:

      Yeah. it’s probably the best thing abt the track. I like the minimalism, personally. Too bad he couldn’t bring more of that minimalism to the other parts of the song… on the other hand, it’s not like the skeleton of the song is that great, so a different production would most likely not make a great track out of it either…

  12. Portsmouth Bubblejet says:

    Did you see the poll of favourite Bowie tracks that’s just finished this evening on the “I Love Music” site? An interesting selection, with a few surprises – but virtually nothing from the mid-eighties onwards.

    There’s a lot of praise throughout their poll results for the writing on this blog, and rightly so.

    • col1234 says:

      yeah, i made mention of it in the twitter. as i said to ian, it’s interesting that Lodger’s reputation is apparently on the rise, and Outside is consolidating at the post-Scary Monsters consensus fave.

      Sadly but unsurprisingly, every single one of the top 60 songs has already been done on this site, so the good times are over! we’re in the Iron Age of DB now.

      & anyone reading from ILM, thanks to whoever compiled all the links and for all the nice things said about the blog.

      • Portsmouth Bubblejet says:

        ‘Lodger’ has always been my second-favourite Bowie album, just behind ‘Low’, so I was pleasantly surprised to see how well it did in the poll.

      • PH says:

        Outside is my favorite post – Scary Monsters album. It’s the most bonkers concept album since Diamond Dogs. Probably even more so. It was great to see him hook up with Eno again. I hope you are kind to it when you get there.

      • David L says:

        Col — just a suggestion, and you may have already mentioned it or thought of it … as we near the end of David’s output next year, it might be fun to do a few top 10 lists on this site. Everyone could offer their top 10 all-time Bowie songs (maybe design our own dream Bowie album — with two sides, of course, as in the vinyl days). Top 10 Bowie albums. Top 10 Bowie outtakes. Or guitar solos, or vocal performances.

  13. simonh1965 says:

    I came to Bowie with Scary Monsters (though I was familiar with some of his seventies work through my older sister), and was hugely disappointed by Let’s Dance and Tonight. I was heartened on buying Iggy’s Blah-Blah-Blah that he was aiming at a similar vibe for his own next album, including the use of Erdal as main collaborator. The subsequent album was heart-rendingly awful. There was none of the clarity of BBB, the soundstage was cluttered and the songs were wretched. I’ve tried twice to listen to this album in the last couple of days but it made me sick at heart and had to come off the player.

    It probably isn’t all that bad an album, but I still can’t get past the crushing disappointment of it, the third stinker in a row.

    • David L says:

      You were far more perceptive than me (I?), Simon. I loved this album when it came out. I would have loved the sound of Bowie brushing his teeth, I’m guessing. I can’t explain my wrongheadedness, other than I started with Let’s Dance and that formed my perception of who he was at the time.

      Now, I can clearly see the debacle that NLMD is. I can’t even listen to it now. And when I do, I find the songs on this album are quintessential Earworm. They get in and won’t leave, like some sonic disease.

      • simonh1965 says:

        I did listen to this, and Tonight, repeatedly at the time, but it was because they were the new Bowie album, not from any intrinsic merit I felt they had, and they fell off my radar pretty quickly.

        From the point of view of NLMD, of course, the first Tin Machine album begins to look like a renaissance.

  14. dm says:

    Finally coming round to giving this album a chance, I’m surprised that this is the first truly crap track. The lyrics, vocal and bits of the arrangement (the little ‘oriental’ pentatonic keyboard licks) seem a pastiche of early Roxy Music… just not a very good one.

  15. I believe there’s a new drug out.
    It’s called speed, I wrote a song about it
    Conceptually a la Bowie.
    But it’s been lost in the vaults of the record company
    By our manager
    So instead our new 45 is ‘Girlies’
    Yours, brattingly.

  16. Brian says:

    Nothing to say about this one, can’t even muster a second listen to try and find something to say about it.

  17. MikeB says:

    The live version in the link is the most atrocious thing I think I’ve heard him perform.

  18. electronymph1 says:

    Love Bowie, love The Fall. Thought Bowie embraced originality?

  19. Versus says:

    I always thought this song was about a girl who has her NY moment…whoever the “it” girl of the moment might be; whether Bowie had a particular girl in mind or was just imagining/abstracting was my question.

    I like this song actually, and there’s not much of the late 80s – 00s Bowie that I particularly like. He found his groove again in recent years, closer to his untimely death.

  20. Tyrell says:

    The intro sounds like an early outtake of Magic Dance. And the guitar of Bowie (in the middle) is surprisingly good. Unfortunately there is nothing else worth to mention regarding this one.

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