“Bus Stop” hailed from Bowie and Reeves Gabrels’ stillborn attempt to write a musical of Steven Berkoff’s West, but the song was lively enough that they kept it in the mix for Tin Machine, on which it served as an oasis of wit and brevity. It helped that as the song pre-dated the “first take” rule, “Bus Stop” had a polished lyric, with some of Bowie’s funniest and sharpest lines in years (the “shrieking and dancing till four AM/another night of muscles and pain” could refer to a number of activities, some spiritual, others not). A young East End man tries to reconcile his skepticism about God with his lover’s fervent belief, which seems to work for her; he’s on his knees with her at the bus stop, grunts out a muffled “hallelujah” at the end of it. It’s a spiritual song that’s almost entirely centered on the body, from the feet to the grumbling stomach.
Set firmly in D major, “Bus Stop” is just three chords, two 12-bar verses and two 8-bar refrains, with a brief outro.The version cut for Tin Machine was built on a tension-release guitar riff that calls back to the Damned’s “New Rose.” With Hunt Sales again dedicated to bludgeoning his snare four times a bar, his brother mainly provides fills on bass, like the fifth-spanning arc of notes to cue the move to G major in the verse (0:30, 1:03). The song spins to an end with a brief guitar battle between Gabrels and Kevin Armstrong—Armstrong holding his ground, Gabrels trying to outflank him.
When Tin Machine went on its 1989 tour, Bowie turned “Bus Stop” into a country music parody (an apparent inspiration was Mick Jagger’s country burlesques: “Dear Doctor” and “Far Away Eyes.”) Of all the popular music genres, country had been the one no-go zone for Bowie: the closest that he’d ever come to it was “Bars of the County Jail,” a 1965 demo, which was more an English folk ballad with a few lines borrowed from imported TV Westerns. Still, working-class British culture had had a storied relationship with country music, with the likes of Jim Reeves and Slim Whitman getting #1 albums in the UK at the height of the counterculture (Marcello Carlin recently wrote an incisive piece on a Whitman LP that hit #1 in 1976). The countrified version, while fun, slightly oversold the joke.
The original “Bus Stop” was cut ca. August 1988 at Mountain Studios, Montreux, and/or Compass Point Studios, Nassau, Bahamas, ca. November-December 1988. “Country Bus Stop” was unveiled at the Machine’s first official concert in NYC on 14 June 1989 and a live version from Paris the same month was included as a B-side of the “Tin Machine” CD single. Bowie kept the countrified “Bus Stop” around for the Machine’s 1991-1992 tour, then never played it again.
Top: “Mikey G Ottawa,” “Boom Box, Montreal, 1987.”