Shining Star (Makin’ My Love)

Shining Star (Makin’ My Love).
Shining Star (Makin’ My Love) (rehearsal, 1987 (fragment)).

“Shining Star (Makin’ My Love)” is a Frankenstein’s Monster of a song: even its title is a grotesque hybrid.* Its parts include: Bowie’s simpering, vaguely-rapped verses which at times sound as though he’s doing an Old Hollywood “Asian” accent (recall that Bowie used a borderline-racist accent on “China Girl” during the Serious Moonlight and Glass Spider tours); a Prince-inspired emoted pre-chorus; a “soul” chorus that’s meant to be a tribute to Smokey Robinson but which sounds more like Johnny Hates Jazz; and a mid-track eight-bar “Method” rap by Mickey Rourke.

Bowie’s lyric also seems cobbled together from a few bad ideas. It starts with a list of sub-Jim Carroll doper casualties, builds steam with a run of inane similes (life is a broken arrow, memory is a swinging door—I’m surprised we didn’t learn love is like a rose with thorns, too). Then in the chorus, Bowie tries to reboot the song and make it a generic soul ballad. All of this is delivered via one of Bowie’s most excruciating vocals on record, with the showboating high Gs on “happy ev’ry day of your LIIIIFE” apparently meant to distract you from noticing how poorly sung the rest of it is. The melody is so contorted, the lyric so ill-suited to it, that Bowie pronounces “Chernobyl” as “CheRR-no-BEEL” to make it scan.**

Then there’s the Rourke rap. Rourke and Bowie had met in London and briefly were a regular duo in the clubs; it was as though Rourke was auditioning for Bowie’s new “wild man” companion after Iggy Pop had sent in his notice. To be fair, as ludicrous as it is (“blew heads outta shape in the name of Trotsky, Sinn Fein, Hitler, cash down” (are these time-traveling mercenaries?)), the rap’s far from the worst offender in the track—Rourke sells his junk better than Bowie. Rourke’s not aping Run-DMC as much as Joe Strummer  or Paul Simonon (as apparently was Bowie: the way he sings “vermin…cowardice…lice” seems like a parody of “Straight to Hell”) in one of the Clash’s gonzo attempts at rap, like “Red Angel Dragnet.”

Bowie later tried to explain the song’s disjunction by saying it represented “how people are trying to get together in the face of so many disasters and catastrophes, socially around them, never knowing if they’re going to survive it themselves. The one thing they have got to cling on to is each other.” But if each scenario—grubby “street” life, cloud-headed romantic dreams—rings false, slapping the two together just doubles down on the mistake.

There’s a few minor things of musical interest—while the song’s harmonically minimalist, with just four chords, all of them are extended: a C major 7th and a C major 9th alternate as the tonic chord until a B-flat major 9th/D in the pre-chorus upends their dominance, using a D Minor 7th as a pivot chord. There’s also an out-of-nowhere bar of 5/4 in one of the last choruses, which just serves to throw an ugly song further out of whack. Just dreadful stuff, the sheer dregs of Bowie’s recorded life.

* As the song’s partially titled after an Earth, Wind & Fire hit and nearly plagiarizes its chorus in the outro, I suppose Bowie considered “Shining Star” to be an EWF tribute as much as a Smokey Robinson one, and some of his singing in the choruses does seem like an attempt to ape Philip Bailey.

** That said, it may be closer to the Russian pronunciation (still sounds comical when Bowie sings it, though.)

Recorded ca. September-November 1986, at Mountain Studios, Montreux and Power Station, NYC. On Never Let Me Down. Rehearsed for the Glass Spider tour but somehow didn’t make the cut.

Top: “Falk v010,” “My Computer Class, 1987, Kleinmachnow, East Germany.” Featuring “a kick ass KC85/II sporting 8 KiloByte RAM, a NO SMALL CAPS rubber round keyboard, a whopping “HD ready” 320×256 pixel screen, a “save me 10 times and you have one functioning copy” cassette recorder and an operating system called CAOS (Cassette Aided Operating System) with lovely BASIC.” My high school in Connecticut, in 1987, didn’t have anything better, though I think we had PASCAL by ’88.

46 Responses to Shining Star (Makin’ My Love)

  1. Shane James Bordas says:

    Have to say, the sheer venom of a lot of your posts gives me the distinct impression that you hate your subject. It’s the kind of anger people usually reserve for someone they were once in love with. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary. After all, it’s only a movie, Ingrid.

    For all it’s faults and strange choices, I will admit that I absolutely love this particular song and consider it to be one of the album’s few highlights. The dichotomy between the dark, odd lyrics and the sweet Smokey Robinson influenced vocal (not to mention that rap!) make it a pretty interesting pop song, whether you like it or not. Much more memorable than that forgettable throwaway ‘Julie’, anyway.

    • col1234 says:

      Come on: I don’t hate my subject in the least, and I fail to see where “a lot of my posts” are filled with “sheer venom.” I have written nearly 300 posts on this thing, and the vast majority have been positive. You think I’m off on this song? Fine–make your case. But mischaracterizing my writing and my motives does you no favors.

      • Sandra says:

        I think your review is funny, and ai understand your points, but for some reason I FREAKIN’ LOVE this song. It’s one of my guiltiest of Bowie pleasures (apart from the ones that require lubrication, those are most guiltiest). In fact I am making a video for my cover version of this song. I am trying hard to make it even more cheesier than the original.

  2. Jeremy says:

    Oh my god! Nuff said.

    Which one is you in that photo?

  3. Frankie says:

    I thought the song was a silly joke or a parody when I first heard it -with the fake hand clapping sound I used to get out of my low-budget beat box Dr. Rhythm -why would he use such a thing, I wondered with bafflement. Isn’t he rich?…. (With the exact same instrumentation, I prefer Iggy’s Zombie Birdhouse much better). That song sure made me twitch and when my friend during a listening session advised me that Bowie wasn’t joking but serious that’s when the shit hit the (Bowie) fan.

  4. giospurs says:

    This song is one of those that I simultaneously am horrified that it is part of the Bowie canon but also have to admit it is kind of catchy in a (extremely!) throwaway sense. Like if I heard it on the radio with no contextual information I wouldn’t dislike it, but as it is Bowie, I can’t help hating it. So if you remember that this is the guy that used to be Ziggy I think the venom is entirely justified Col.

  5. humanizingthevacuum says:

    Did you mean “Philip Bailey”? Philippe Wynne is with the Spinners.

    This is the worst sung entry in Bowie’s canon, especially “I can make you happy every GODDAMN SINGLE DAY of your liiiiiife.” I wrote about it at length here.

    • col1234 says:

      yes, good catch, Alfred.

      there was also another error I’ve corrected, left in from an earlier draft: no Robert DeNiro on “Red Angel Dragnet,” but Kosmo Vinyl imitating him. Also Paul Simonon is the main rapper on that one, I think.

  6. david says:

    I didn’t mind this at the time, but in retrospect it is a stinker. I think part of the problem is that the lyrics of social conscience feel crow-barred in. Whereas at one time he seemed able to write socially relevant couplets of the type on Young Americans, lyrics like ‘Dean was seen with a two bag purchase’ are excruciating.
    You mention Prince, and I think Bowie felt a little intimidated by him at the time, even making reference to him in interviews, with the consolation that he had moved on from that kind of writing. I also recall thinking that ‘Sign of the Times’ did a much better job of forming a pop song around street level issues, and I think Bowie was trying in some way to approximate his own version.

    As an aside, whilst I don’t always agree with some of the summations on your blog-something like ‘Chilly Down’ gets off lightly whereas you dislike ‘Time’ and ‘Loving the Alien’-I would never say your posts are venomous, and it’s your objectivity to Bowie’s material as a writer, as opposed to a ‘gushing fan’, that gives your blog kudos. As a Bowie fan going on thirty odd years now, I must say I look forward to reading your posts.

  7. Maj says:

    I made it to 1:30 mins into the song but then said NO & had to stop it.

    Too Dizzy is not worse than this. Come on.

    /Even a-ha’s worst songs of that time were better than this./

    Okay. I made it till the end of the song now. The rap is hands down the best thing about it.

    • No need to slag a-ha just to make a point about Bowie. They did some great work, and would have probably remained popular if they had been from an English-speaking country. They did a lot more than Take On Me.

      • Maj says:

        Oh I wasn’t slagging them off. I love a-ha. Do I love all theirs songs? No. Esp. a lot of what’s on their 3rd album. It was meant as gentle ribbing. I should have added a ;).
        If you read each and every one of my comments here you’d know I stand on exactly the same ground with you abt the band (they were even one of the reasons I started listening to Bowie). Btw, in the Girls post it’s actually Magne Furuholmen on the picture, Morten is obscured. But yeah, they were all cute back then. And the Ms don’t look too bad these days either.

      • Oh, wow, you’re right. a-ha was certainly a good looking band. And Harket does still look good.

  8. humanizingthevacuum says:

    From title to concept to falsetto, a-ha’s “The Sun Always Shines On TV” is one of the most obvious Bowie rips of the eighties — and one of the most beautiful.

  9. Pierce says:

    Innocuous and a complete flop.

    As usual, great review.

  10. Trevor says:

    Better than I could have wished for. As good a criticism as the the work is… Wrong. Thank you. Like an. Autopsy specialist. You were easy on too dizzy. T

    • Trevor Mill says:

      I must have been drunk when I wrote this. Sorry. The review and comments still bring a smile. Even the third time of reading. Never let me down indeed.

  11. MC says:

    This is one of the songs on NLMD that I really wanted to like at the time, because it`s such an oddity (not a Space Oddity, unfortunately). The thing is, it`s so infernally catchy in a really insidious way: like Too Dizzy, I can`t help feeling it could have been a massive radio hit (shudders)

    Now, I think it`s interesting as a token of Bowie`s creative problems at the time: the hamfisted “edgy“ lyrics wrapped inside the period r&b candy shell. It`s as if Bowie was trying to subvert his own pop success from within, but had no idea how. The result is an ungainly fascinating mess (and a song I know I`ll have stuck in my head for maybe weeks now).

    Keep the NLMD writeups coming! (Looking forward to Glass Spider meself.)

  12. James. P says:

    I have to shamefully admit, this is my all time favourite Bowie song of his entire career.
    I don’t know why, it isn’t sentimental, I don’t have fond memories of when it came out. I adore his vocals on it.

    Although I must conceed on Mickey Rourke, why Bowie thought he had anything positive to contribute to an album (other than his knarled face, for that ‘hard rock edge’, err).

    • actually, Mickey Rourke was still handsome at the time. He didn’t start looking like a lizard until the 90s.
      And kudos for having the guts to come on this forum and make that admission. I don’t agree with it, certainly, but it’s the iconoclasts that make these comments fun.

    • rob thomas says:

      shame indeed James- that’s an extraordinary choice for best-ever Bowie song! Do you have similar weird/totally indefensible choices for other artists/artforms? :>

  13. Remco says:

    I’ll say this for Bowie, at least he doesn’t do things by half. At his best he’s miles above everybody else but when he stinks he really stinks to high heaven. This song is very much a case in point.

    I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for your continued dedication, Chris. I can only imagine the horror of having to listen to this song repeatedly. You’re a braver man than I.

  14. Diamond Duke says:

    One thing about Never Let Me Down which makes it so frustrating to objectively evaluate is that so many of its negative aspects are so inextricably intertwined with its positives. Take Shining Star (Makin’ My Love), for example. As totally screwy as the song is in its totality, for the life of me I honestly cannot bring myself to hate it. Admittedly, it’s the kind of ’80s pop tune that the Manic Street Preachers would probably dismiss as – to use the title of one of their earliest singles – “Motown Junk“. But it’s so infectiously breezy and chirpy with its bouncy uptempo beat, and I actually kind of like the scraping percussion sound. (Another interesting bit of instrumental colour that makes the song perhaps a bit more interesting than it would otherwise be, kind of like the marimba on Tonight tracks.)

    The trouble is, what would otherwise serve as a perfectly serviceable late ’80s pop song – however below Bowie’s usual par – is badly smudged by his attempts at social commentary and relevance in the lyric. The references to crackhouses and Chernobyl come across as simply clumsy, and that Mickey Rourke rap duet is one of the all-time WTF?! moments in the Bowie canon! But still…Hey, what can I say? It’s still a fun track, whatever its defects. And more to the point, it makes me smile…

  15. PH says:

    I think that all the people who are dissing this song should try a little hypothetical exercise: pretend that you’ve never heard the tale about Mickey Rourke having sung a rap on this track. Go on, it’s really easy to do. After all, his vocals are virtually inaudible anyway.
    Even if you can’t get around this fact, is his appearance really such a crime against art?
    The entertainment world is riddled with examples of rock stars wanting to be actors, and movie stars wanting to be singers. And I don’t recall any such vitriol being directed at say, Scarlett Johansen recently when she put out an album. Or David Lynch when he sang guest vocals on Sparklehorse’s Dark Night Of The Soul. For the record, Mickey Rourke is one of my favorite actors of the 80s. He appeared in many Indie classics such as Rumble Fish, Year Of The Dragon, Angel Heart, Barfly, and more recently The Wrestler.
    Does this necessarily make him a good singer? Well no, of course not. But even if you can’t really hear his contribution to this track, his name should have brought some more Indie cred to the album, rather than all this criticism.

    • Frankie says:

      With pseudo-rockers/actors Billy Bob Thornton and Jessica Love Hewitt on the planet passing their garbage off as music, can you blame people for being jaded over an aging rock star using an boxing actor with a croaky voice?

  16. humanizingthevacuum says:

    Compared to the synthesized sparkles, awkward bridge, the lyrics, and the dreadfulness of Bowie’s singing — on every level — Rourke is the most blameless element.

    • PH says:

      What I really like about this song is that Bowie has couched one of his darkest lyrics ever (and he has written some pretty dark lyrics in his time) in the most jaunty, upbeat, feelgood tune, complete with handclaps and everything. It’s like a sourball in a candy covering.
      I really wish he’d released this one as a single at the time. I reckon it would have been a hit, and it would have been good subversive fun to hear people whistling this one around the watercooler.
      And I love the vocal too. Much of it is sung in that camp-y Ziggy era voice, which I’d been missing after all the years of crooning he’d been doing.

  17. Pinstripe Hourglass says:

    I actually kind of like this one. It helps that it’s not trying so desperately to be “serious”, like some of the other songs on the album. Dumb fun as opposed to a dumb chore.

    Far from his best, but hey, it’s Never Let Me Down. I take what I can get, haha.

  18. algeriatouchshriek says:

    My memories on 1987 are somewhat jaded, primarily by the passing of time, but also due to a hugely enjoyable period during my twenties… however I think one contemporary reviever (might have been in ‘Melody Maker’ or ‘Smash Hits’) picked SS(MML) as his ‘track-most-likely-to-be-a-hit’. Strange how things change is it not?

    There are not many Dave tracks I dislike but I do struggle with this one. Have you heard the 12″ remix? Its a bit of a thumper. I presume it was remixed because it was considered a possible single … do we know if it was released as a single anywhere?

    NB. Doctor Who / Bowie crossover – I got an honourable mention for my spotting of 40+ Dave references in this competition.

    That sound? Its me blowing my own trumpet 🙂

    • col1234 says:

      well done. looking at it now I picked up about 16, tops. is the paper scattered on the floor supposed to be “Conversation Piece”? well-played obscure reference, if so. Who’s the little girl supposed to be? drawing a blank on that one, but i’m sure it’s obvious.

      • algeriatouchshriek says:

        … apparently she’s a reference to ‘Life On Mars’ the TV show. Though I had her down as having ‘long blond hair’ as in ‘Sorrow’.

  19. friendlyadvice says:

    It’s great to see such a diversity of opinions. Even when he was not as inspired Bowie was at least interesting. Often his lesser work is just as fascinating as his greatest. Thanks Dave.

  20. diamond dog says:

    Despite one side of me thinking I should hate it , to be honest I do like this which I put down the the big soaring use of bowie’s voice. Rourkes rap despite its cheesy gimmick inclusion works and like others posted this would have made a decent single.

  21. princeasbo says:

    “a ‘soul’ chorus that’s meant to be a tribute to Smokey Robinson”

    Smokey seems to have a particular hold on (arf!) British musicians who feel obliged to pay homage; apart from a Beatles cover version, George Harrison recorded two tributes on his solo Lp 33 and 1/3 (1976) to the Miracle, “Pure Smokey” from Extra Texture and “Ooh, Baby (You Know That I Love You)”. Then there’s “When Smokey Sings” by 80s popsters ABC.

    I’m sure there’s more.

    Prince Asbo of Thrifty Vinyl

    • princeasbo says:

      Whoops — that’s poorly set out. To clarify: “Ooh Baby” is from Extra Texture (1975) and “Pure” is from 33 (1976)

      (Note to self: read over before leaving comments)

  22. One thing I get from NLMD is that Bowie was obsessed with Prince at the time. Though their musical style was worlds apart, persona-wise, Prince could be seen as the rightful heir to Bowie and I’m sure that niggled. To me, this is Bowie’s attempt to doa Prince song. The shout-out to him on Zeroes cements this feeling to me.
    Even as an 11-year-old I thought the rap was ludicrous.

  23. Sandra says:

    Justice for Shining Star! Fuehrerlings, Unite!!!

  24. crayontocrayon says:

    The ‘life is like a broken arrow’ line could also be a nod to Neil Young’s California ranch of the same name, what with Young was a cited influence on Time Will Crawl.

  25. StevenE says:

    Love this one. Deserves all the hate it gets but I love it all the same – I was thrilled when Bowie decided to make a Shining Star Pt.II some two decades later – by which I mean (She Can) Do That. Also awful, also wonderful. He’s still got it.

  26. Ramzi says:

    This song was worth it for stringing together the 4 best possible words in the English language: “Mickey Rourke guest rap”

    In all seriousness I actually like this song, I think the riff is solid. Nothing special by any means but catchy as hell in my opinion, deserved a song with better lyrics.

  27. Gomard says:

    Just dreadful stuff, the sheer dregs of Bowie’s recorded life (???) You’re flogging the wrong dead horse. The song is the last listenable one of side B It doesn’t deserve the beating and this blog doesn’t deserve that regrettable line. Sorry for this chastising comment

  28. Brian says:

    The guy who sang “Teenage Wildlife” sang this song. [Insert your choice of lamentation and.or profanity here]. That is all.

  29. Tyrell says:

    Somehow the way he sings in the first verse reminds me of Girl Loves Me.

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