’87 and Cry

’87 and Cry (vinyl edit).
’87 and Cry.
’87 and Cry (live, 1987).

In March 1974, David Bowie left the UK for a tour and never returned. While he came back to London throughout the next 15 years, his home and his work were always elsewhere: Los Angeles, Berlin, New York, Switzerland. His music reflected the move, affecting new regionalisms: the American funk-necromancy of Station to Station, the “European” Berlin albums. By the Eighties, Bowie’s albums were stateless products of global capitalism. Take “Let’s Dance”: a record made in New York by a British singer, a Texan guitarist and (generally) NY-based black and Latino musicians, and whose video featured Australian aboriginals.

So it’s odd to find Bowie writing about Britain again, if vaguely, in “’87 and Cry.” It’s the beginning of a renewed interest in his home country that Bowie would develop further on his first songs with Reeves Gabrels and in his soundtrack to The Buddha of Suburbia. Much had changed in his absence. The Britain of 1974, despite the strange costumed figures appearing on Top of the Pops, wasn’t radically different from that of Bowie’s childhood in the late Fifties. The Britain of 1987, eight years into Thatcher’s reign, seemed to be another world: a cruder, flashier, more atomized place.

Of course, some of this was the jaundiced perspective of a 40-year-old exile griping about how things had gone sour back home, though Bowie thankfully avoided the reactionary tone of the Rolling Stones’ “Hang Fire” (“in the sweet old country where I come from/nobody ever works, nothing ever gets done”). And his second verse deflates his argument with a run of exhausted nostalgia: those were the days, boys, when men wore blue ties and women “dressed down for the enemy,” an oblique reference to the War. The lyric’s diffuse sense of anger and disgust, its provisional UK setting, may have come from personal irritations as well. Bowie’s half-brother Terry had killed himself in 1985 and Bowie was lambasted by the tabloids for not attending the funeral, while in 1986 the Sunday Times was serializing portions of Alias David Bowie, the first biography to fully excavate Bowie’s life in Bromley and Beckenham, loaded with interviews with relatives and friends who Bowie had long left behind.* The past was coming back, making claims on him.

Bowie, talking about the song during press interviews, downplayed its British qualities. While “Cry” began “as a kind of indictment of Thatcher’s England,” he said, “it took on all these surreal qualities of a pushy person eating the energies of others to get to where they wanted and leaving the others behind [hence “it couldn’t be done without dogs”]. It was a Thatcherite statement made through the eyes of a potential socialist, because I always remained a potential socialist––not an active one.

“Cry” was one of the hotter tracks on Never Let Me Down, with its running guitar interplay like a harder revision of Robert Palmer’s “Looking for Clues,” while the percussionist Crusher Bennett was finally put to good use, spicing the track up with cowbell, chains and shakers. Bowie contributed the brutal guitar solo centerpiece, an 11-bar whining between G and C. Things only go astray on the bridge, which manages the trifecta of being lyrically inane, gruesomely sung and harmonically jarring: the B-flat major seventh chord Bowie uses here (on “nothing looked good on you“) makes strategic sense, as it’s establishing F major as the song’s new key, but it makes for a grating transition to the G major-centered guitar solo.

Recorded ca. September-November 1986, Mountain Studios, Montreux and Power Station, NYC. On Never Let Me Down and also as the B-side of “Never Let Me Down.” I find yet again that LP edit, which trimmed 30 seconds of guitar wailing, is a more enjoyable cut. A regular during the Glass Spider tour.

* Nicholas Pegg was the first to suggest this theory. The authors of Alias, Peter and Leni Gillman, allegedly claimed that Bowie originally agreed to cooperate with them on the bio until he withdrew his support midway through the project.

Top: Noddy Guevara, “JEZ Flies! De Grey St. [Hull, UK], 1987.”

26 Responses to ’87 and Cry

  1. DBMethos says:

    Interesting to read that so many of the LP versions of songs on this album are trimmed, usually to their benefit. I may have to finally cave and buy one of the million copies that I see in used bins all the time.

  2. MC says:

    The clearest blueprint on NLMD for Tin Machine, but it’s really clumsy. The joins show far more than on the better TM songs, and the production screams 1987 so much that it gives the title a different meaning. On the other hand, the solo is pretty terrific; best thing about it.

  3. humanizingthevacuum says:

    This and “Too Dizzy” are the only listenable songs on the second side. Although I like Alomar’s rhythm strums punctuating each verse, the howlers on this one (“It’s just the ghost of a story/It’s just a one-dollar secret” – what?!) plus Bowie’s solo are grisly. What’d he need Reeves Gabrels for when he could wank on the guitar as noisily?

  4. Diamond Duke says:

    Not great, mind you…but one of the better tracks on Side 2. A brisk, energetic rocker with oblique political commentary, snazzy percussive work, and a nifty guitar solo from Bowie himself – that wonderful “diamond dog howl” rearing its mutant head once again! I pretty much agree with all the points made here by our host, and don’t really have much to add. And he’s right, the bridge is definitely the weakest part…

    Looking forward to the rest of the album. It only gets better from this point onward! 😀

  5. PH says:

    Not since “The Bewlay Brothers” have I had such a strong sense of having not the slightest clue of what Bowie is singing about. But while that particular song is at least loaded with fascinating poetic imagery, and an alluring -if frustrating- sense of unattainable mystery, ’87 and Cry is really just a lazily and clumsily cobbled together lyric.
    I personally think it’s so bad that Bowie should have been embarrassed to sing it live (but then, this must have been only a minor cringeworthy moment for him compared to all the other atrocities committed onstage during that ridiculous tour.)
    Lines like “when blue ties were for the big guys” are just incoherent dribble (Mayday or otherwise), while even yours and Mr. Bowie’s explanation of the lyrics fail to make any sense of the howlingly stupid line,”well it couldn’t be done without dogs”.
    Pity really, because the tune’s a decent little rocker, and I always loved that guitar solo, and all the cowbells and shakers. While Bowie was in such a revisionist mood with “Too Dizzy”, maybe he should have done a re-write of this one as well.

    • Momus says:

      >While Bowie was in such a revisionist mood with “Too Dizzy”, maybe he should have done a re-write of this one as well.

      25 years later he did exactly that and called it The Next Day.

  6. Anonymous says:

    An odd song. I can never make up my mind whether I like it or not. Still can’t make up my mind. I think that it was during this track that Bowie ‘flew’ accross the stage during the GS tour. One of the shows I saw in Sydney (I saw four) the mechanism failed and he had to sing it from the platform. Wonder what he was thinking at that time? Another F**k up no doubt!

    • Anonymous says:

      I forgot to sign on – it’s Jeremy!

    • Diamond Duke says:

      Probably deja vu for Bowie all over again! Remember when he used to get stuck out on the cherry picker during Space Oddity during the Diamond Dogs tour? 😀 Bowie has always been theatrical in terms of presentation, but notice that things tend to run a lot smoother the less he has to reply on props and gadgets. Quite tellingly, Glass Spider was the last time he ever attempted to do a show on that sort of scale.

  7. Gnomemansland says:

    “In March 1974, David Bowie left the UK for a tour and never returned. ” Great opening line – and indeed I had never thought of it like that. Bowie wasn’t alone of course in leaving the UK once success came; the Stones. Rod Stewart etc etc all buggered off – partly for tax reasons, partly for the lure of LA or St Tropez or wherever but most returned at some point to live or have a house or two. As you say Bowie never did , not to live anyway. One wonders whether if he had come back to blighty he might have not been so rootless and even written some half decent songs again.

  8. diamond dog says:

    Ridiculous lyric ridiculous stage presentation what more can one say. Its not a bad little rock tune and the guitar is ok a far sight better than the squalling horror of reeves gabrels.

  9. Pierce says:

    The middle eight is forgettable, the bridge (“And only you..”) is quite lovely. Bowie’s guitar squeals a highlight on this pretty good track.

  10. humanizingthevacuum says:

    If we’re to believe The Complete David Bowie, Bowie never took credit for another guitar solo. Do we know of any fact that contradicts this assumption?

    • Pinstripe Hourglass says:

      I thought he did some of the soloing on DIamond Dogs? Can’t remember which tracks though.

    • col1234 says:

      i don’t, though admittedly i’ve not researched the ’90s too much yet. But as Pegg is a pretty trustworthy resource, it’s likely true.

  11. humanizingthevacuum says:

    I meant after NLMD in case I wasn’t clear.

  12. diamond dog says:

    I thought most of diamond dogs was Bowie’s guitar work ? The only guitarist I have not liked was Gabrels too much string bending heavy metal squeal and soloing though me must be thanked for dragging zig back from up his own butthole.

  13. Frankie says:

    Never listened to this song more than once. I had dismissed the album when it came out. It was not what I wanted to hear at the time. I liked it less than Tonight. This posting makes listening to the track twice. It’s possible I might hear the album/song again, but not more than thrice in a lifetime. However, repeated revisits to The Man Who Sold The World and Earthling promises endless enjoyment to these ears. On ’87 and Cry the meaningless intro turns into a second-rate Tom Verlaine groove. There was something Verlaine-ish about the main part of the tune, if you’ve heard stuff from Dreamtime, perhaps you’ll understand – (but that album is better, man). Flashlight was released in ’87 and that didn’t make me cry as much as Never Let Me Down. Cry Mercy Judge instead. I think Bowie’s guitar-work was more of a homage to Marc Bolan’s Les Paul than anything else, but perhaps that’s going too far.

  14. Maj says:

    This is not exactly bad. I might even listen to it again…. I wonder what it would’ve sounded like if it were recorded as part of Scary Monsters. I’m not an electric guitar person but I generally like when people who don’t normally play it do play it: Bowie, Kate Bush. The results are always raw and …. interesting. 🙂


    I came this late to this entry because the e-mail notification ended up in the spam folder. I remember this being discussed here before…I never had any problem with this until this entry…so just putting it out there.

  15. I don’t really have much to say about this song (other than to question why songwriters EVER put dates in their titles), so I figure this is the place for my current hypothesis about 80s-Bowie and how we are all wrong about what went wrong.

    There is no denying that the music between Scary Monsters and Tin Machine was among Bowie’s most mediocre. Even Chris’s relatively fair and even-handed treatment of it (thanks for proving me wrong) can’t redeem some of these songs. But I think we miss the boat when it comes to laying the blame. The conventional wisdom is that the 80’s is when Bowie became a shallow imitator with no point of view, someone simply looking out for commercial success. But, if there’s anything to be learned from a chronological examination of his work like this one, it’s that that was ALWAYS the case.

    First he did bad Pete Townshend, then Anthony Newley before finally hitting his mark imitating Lou Reed and Marc Bolan. Eventually it was Kraftwerk and Neu! Later on it will be Nine Inch Nails and Goldie. It can be argued that Bowie didn’t stop imitating until his post-Earthling work, and even then he was accused of imitating himself. Bowie’s best work has come from imitating the RIGHT people- the ones he can do as well as or better than – and spinning it. I would argue that Bowie’s problem in the 80s wasn’t that he was doing anything much different than he always had- it’s that the inspirations he had to work with were either not very good or not appropriate for his process. When you’re the great appropriator and what you have to appropriate is Phil Collins, Chris De Burgh, Huey Lewis and Neil Young, this is what you get. Bowie wasn’t inspired because the 80s weren’t. I would argue things changed for him in the next decade beacue things changed for EVERYONE.

    • rob thomas says:

      Yeah, and Mozart spent a lot of time imitating Haydn, Pollock/de Kooning, Shakespeare/Marlowe…There’s always imitation/negotiation/rejection/re-invention as art moves forwards in time. Bowie didn’t have to appropriate the production values of Chris de Burgh- there was tons of interesting stuff going on, as commentators have mentioned.

  16. E. Hennessy says:

    Does anyone know why ’87 and Cry was “deleted” from the filmed version of the Glass Spider tour? It’s that section with the short clips in slow motion, where Bowie is being “tied up” by astronauts with long ropes. Right before “Heroes”. The only audio is some atmospheric tunnel-sounds with crowd noise over it.

    I’ve heard that technical problems were an issue during some of these shows, but the filming was done over two nights. Surely one of the two performances was usable? Or did Bowie dislike the song/performance/video capture so much that he chose to have it removed??

  17. rob thomas says:

    Chris, thanks for “trifecta” – a new one for me.

  18. Anonymous says:

    p.s. Chris- re. the picture for this entry: how did you come across an 80s photo from a Flickr stream of a Northern politico-crusty? I spent half an hour looking at his old festival pics and appearances at the Poll Tax Riots. Vive Crass!

  19. Brian says:

    As I dive further into the abys- er, this album, I am stricken by how poor the guitars sound on this album. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why it sounds so awful. Imagine if Bowie never had Ronson or Fripp, certainly there’d be a chance his 70’s work could be as awful as this. Thank god for Reeves Gabrels in the 90’s, many Bowie purists may despise him, but he was absolutely what he needed to be interesting again. Makes you wonder what the 80’s could have been like if they worked together sooner…

    As for this song, as soon as it was over I forgot what I heard. Finally something merciful on this album.

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