Tin Machine seemed like a quartet of randomly selected individuals who were collaborating for some sort of prize. Reeves Gabrels had the clearest of motives—being in the band gave him international exposure and let him work with David Bowie on favorable terms. “Tin Machine” was just the handiest vehicle to do so; he would’ve been equally content as the next Carlos Alomar. For the Saleses, it was vindication for a decade spent on the margins, a classic example of sideman’s revenge.

Bowie seemed most taken by the abstract idea of being in a band, and he had a convert’s punctiliousness to the rules and traditions of his new sect. So he demoted the band’s rhythm guitarist and keyboardist, Kevin Armstrong, to a second-tier member (as a commenter pointed out, Bowie assigned Armstrong the “Ian Stewart” slot). For Bowie, a “band” apparently meant the Beatles mold of two guitars-bass-drums and four distinct visual personalities; even the Machine’s stage arrangement—Tony Sales stage right, Bowie center, Gabrels stage left—was close to the Beatles’ typical lineup (though Bowie should have taken the Lennon spot instead of Gabrels). Armstrong, although he would play with Tin Machine on its first tour, was a face too many for the LP cover/publicity tour, and perhaps Bowie felt that Armstrong, an unassuming-looking man, lacked the necessary visual “presence.”

So during the second round of Tin Machine sessions in Nassau, in late 1988, Bowie visited Armstrong’s bungalow to break the news that he wasn’t going to be a full Tin Machine member. According to Paul Trynka, Bowie delivered the blow politely and graciously, and he gave Armstrong prominent credit on the album sleeve, including a photograph. Armstrong was disappointed but seemed to bear Bowie no ill will, as he later worked on Outside. But after the 1989 mini-tour and a few early sessions for Tin Machine II, Armstrong was done, and went off to write songs with Morrissey.

Ironically, Armstrong was the one member of Tin Machine who seemed fully committed to the band—he was the only supporting player in a group of would-be lead actors. Each successful group has needed such a figure: the honest broker through whom other parties can negotiate, or just someone who’s funny or unobtrusive enough that he or she bothers no one (e.g., Ringo Starr, Joey Santiago, Rick Danko, Gillian Gilbert, Charlie Watts, Greg Norton, etc.). Armstrong was especially valuable in a garrulous collection like Tin Machine, as his rhythm guitar is sometimes the only thing holding tracks together, like the brittle-sounding riff low in the mix that keeps “Tin Machine” on course.

During the Tin Machine sessions, Armstrong co-wrote the music for “Run” with Bowie.* Unsurprisingly, as Bowie and Armstrong had worked on Blah Blah Blah together and as Armstrong had been lead guitarist on the subsequent tour, “Run” seems meant for Iggy Pop, especially the chorus, whose climactic “runnn” seems crafted for Pop’s baritone. Bowie claimed some ownership with his verses, whose vocal melody is similar to “Loving the Alien” and which he delivers at an angle, singing through bars and varying his emphases with each line. Built, verse and chorus, over a nonstop G-E-Am-F progression, “Run” offers some pleasures, like the guitar hook, Armstrong’s arpeggiated near-octave rise and fall pattern against which Gabrels prods and batters. But it ultimately comes off as mildly-ambitious filler on an overstuffed record.

Recorded ca. August 1988 at Mountain Studios, Montreux, and/or Compass Point Studios, Nassau, Bahamas, ca. November-December 1988. Played on most of the dates of the Machine’s 1989 tour.

* “Run” wasn’t on the LP issue of Tin Machine, so it could be considered a bonus track. But as the majority of people in 1989 (and later) bought the album on cassette or CD, both on which the track appears, “Run” (and “Sacrifice Yourself”) seem firmly part of the album proper. Even the official sheet music book includes the songs.

Top: “Cromacom,” “Western (Wailing) Wall, Jerusalem,” 1988.

18 Responses to Run

  1. Jeremy says:

    Yeah, this track is filler. Nearly there but is too indistinct in the end. Like Armstrong himself? Poor guy. Still, he scored a co write with Bowie and that ain’t bad.

  2. Maj says:

    I suppose the song’s got some potential but it sounds a bit cliché to me. It definitely would sound better with Iggy on vocals. Also with a more prominent bass.
    On the other hand it’s not just a few middle-aged guys wanking around with their guitars, it actually is a wholesome song, so…if produced a bit differently I might actually want to listen to it again.

  3. stigmata martyr says:

    I didn’t know Run wasn’t on the album! I bought cassettes by rote in ’89 and now have a bunch of squeeky mess with sound dropping out and horrible death rattle whine when I dare to play them. But the j cards inhibit me from throwing them out…big stacks of them, like a college rock time capsule sitting dormant and useless.

    Run is filler, it has a pleasant late eighties sound to it, the sort of album track Strawberry records would choose to play under the voiceover for their tv ads – ” available at Strawberry’s records and tapes!” there’s a proto grungeness as well in Run that I don’t really hear in the other tracks. Bowie seems to have had a very corporate attitude to what should have been a more freewheeling project. He had ambition in the sixties, fame(&drug issues) in the seventies, the eighties success seems to have created a crossroad in which his working process of the earlier times couldn’t work anymore or his relationship to that way of creating changed too much.He wanted success and to feel good about his output but couldn’t let go of his rugged individualism to sit back and enjoy being a band member even as he insisted to anyone listening that Tim Machine was a group and he was a member. Maybe he was trying to convince himself of that so he could function like a proper band member.

  4. An interviewer in ’89 startled Bowie by going for the jugular.

    He asked him how long would Tin Machine last.

    You could imagine that his bandmates surely were keen on hearing the answer.

    Bowie paused (quite briefly) before answering. I don’t recall the exact phrasing, but his answer was roughly : two or three albums.

    Tin Machine I, Tin Machine II, Oy Vey Baby. Two studio albums and, to bear out the slight uncertainty, a live album.

    Now, that’s rather precise. Or, to really, really speculate, maybe he found himself backed into a corner of his own making.

  5. timspeaker says:

    This track exemplifies what is so frustrating about the entirety of the Tin Machine project—decent songs with tons of unfulfilled potential. Had they considered the initial blast of songwriting as setting the table for the album (as Bowie had done for many years) for which DB would write belabored lyrics/polished melodies (of which he is peerless at producing) then the album would be exponentially stronger.

    Ah, Tin Machine. What could have been!

  6. Pinstripe Hourglass says:

    What’s interesting here about the band aesthetic is that Bowie, for a time, was trying to do the same thing with the Spiders from Mars. Ronson with his gold lame and blonde locks and Bolder with his goofy sideburns and cape both had distinct visual presences (not so much Woodmansey). RCA released publicity photos of the Spiders alongside Bowie: and on the Ziggy Stardust LP there are photos of Ziggy and each of the Spiders’ faces, all given the same amount of space: . There were loads of musicians on the Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane tours, but only the Spiders were visible on stage. See also the music videos from the Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane era, as well as Top of the Pops performances – the band is is visible in all of them. Contrast Bowie’s Top of the Pops video for “Heroes”, where he’s all by himself in a black void.

  7. Pinstripe Hourglass says:

    There are also photos I’ve seen from press conferences Bowie gave during the Ziggy era where he and the Spiders were all sat beside each other on the same desk, each with their own microphone. It seems deliberately designed to evoke the Beatles’ famous press conferences from their first American tour.

  8. diamond dog says:

    Bland bland bland its bside material and certainly sounds like a cast off it has a glossy edge missing from most of the album. The thing about tin machine was that someone like Bowie could not possibly hope to hide in a band of middle aged session men and call them equals , what was he thinking ? The material sounded leaded and uninspired for the most part and there is too much of it. In an alternative universe we had 5 songs of raw rock on one side and a B side of experimental soundscapes Mmmmm what could have been.

  9. PH says:

    I originally bought the album on LP, which as you say, didn’t contain “Run” or “Sacrifice Yourself”. But while the latter is a pretty decent number, “Run” to me has always sounded like B-side filler. The arrangement just plods along without any hooks, and the lyric seems lazy and uninspired. As a rule of thumb, whenever Bowie begins a song by carping on about wishing he was a sailor, you know it’s just an instinctive fallback device for when he has nothing to say. Think of “Shake It’s” opening line – “I feel like a sailboat adrift on a sea”.

    • Pierce says:

      There you go again PH, Let’s Dance bashing – but I must admit you have a point, the song is very average and not even filler (like you my vinyl copy is without it).

      PS: And doesn’t Red Sails blow your wishing-he-was-a-sailor theory out of the water?

      • PH says:

        Well, I have to bash something. I’ve been accused here in the past of being an unashamed fan-boy, presumably unable to listen to anything Bowie with a critical ear. No,”Let’s Dance” really did disappoint me at the time, and “Tonight” even more so. I did think about Red Sails as I was typing that, but it doesn’t really apply. It’s not songs of a nautical nature that I object to, but ones that open with him wishing he was a sailor/ feeling like a sailboat. It’s like an ex-bandmate of mine who, whenever he was stuck for a lyric would always write about going over the white cliffs of Dover.

  10. nijinska says:

    Oh come on, this one really is god awful. Plodding backing track that never gets off the starting blocks, an idealess lyric, and (worst of all) Bowie’s truly horrible vocal. Even his whinnying falsetto on Never Let Me Down’s more shameful moments was better than this dismal cowboy karaoke. I recognise that by this point he was running shy of anything that could possibly be tarred with the brush of artpop camp… but the ‘masculinity’ here is about as authentic (and as appealing) as a pub singer on a bad night.

  11. Momus says:

    Since I bought the vinyl album, this is the first time I’ve heard this song. I agree with Nijinska that it’s dismal; corporate, masculine, pseudo-American, vague. For me, Bowie has always been at his best when he’s been most unapologetically and archetypally British: crooked of tooth, quirky of imagination, humourous, detached, reserved, elegant, arrogant, eccentric. And this… ain’t.

  12. Diamond Duke says:

    Wow, some pretty brutal assessments for this song so far! 😦 Okay, it can’t exactly be called Bowie’s best, but it’s hardly outright awful, either. In fact, I think it’s actually one of my favorites from the first Tin Machine disc. Interestingly, while the song itself does appear to be a tip of the hat to Iggy, the chorus (whether intentionally or not) possibly alludes to Lou Reed’s Run Run Run, from the first Velvet Underground album.

    BTW, regarding Kevin Armstrong’s work on the later Outside: The title track to that album originally began life as a Tin Machine song called Now (which recycled the intro from the ’88 remake of Look Back In Anger). While that song was never properly recorded by Tin Machine, Bowie would later convert the song into the title track from Outside. (Armstrong would also play rhythm guitar on Thru’ These Architects Eyes.)

  13. Ofer says:

    Oh, I just figured out what the story of this blog most reminds me of:

    • col1234 says:

      please feel free to elaborate on this theory.

      • Ofer says:

        It’s rather simple really – bowie’s story mirrors charlie. The 60′ are the first part of the story, where the protagonist is a nice guy, but not vey clever. Then we have the 70’s – out of nowhere, perhaps thanks to an experimental surgical technique, the guy becomes a genius. Act 3 is the 80’s onward – the protagonist loses his wits and retreats back to being the simple guy he was in the first place, without having any chance of getting his mojo back. It’s just that so many of the songs in later entries are reminiscent of the early bowie posts, – it’s very similar to the way the short story is constructed.

  14. Brian says:

    Surprisingly okay, again the worst part is Bowie! Pretty Thing, Video Crime, and Run seem like sibling songs in this respect. Sacrifice Yourself came up as I was typing this and it seems to fit in with those other three as well- potentially good songs, but not David Bowie songs. Someone else could’ve done good songs with them but he wasn’t the guy for the job.

    Also worth noting is that I can no longer just type in “song bowiesongs” in google and get the song as the first result. I guess these entries weren’t read much.

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