Sacrifice Yourself

Sacrifice Yourself.
Sacrifice Yourself (live, 1991).

Although written by Bowie and the Sales brothers, “Sacrifice Yourself” is Reeves Gabrels’ show, the latter offering a performance as loud as it’s merciless and unprincipled. Given a slightly unusual chord structure* and a punishing tempo to work with, Gabrels begins by imitating an air-raid siren (veering from left to right speaker); he defaces the opening guitar riff with a wailing overdub, mocks Bowie’s two-note chorus melody with a set of exuberant guitar lines and, two minutes in, knocks the track down and throttles its life out.

Beneath the din (Hunt Sales fills whatever few spaces Gabrels has left open) is a three-verse Bowie lyric with some affinities to “I Can’t Read,” as its subject is a similar spent-out artist figure who’s become respectable, rich and empty, one who’s fumbling around for any sort of inspiration—God, or an eroticized death—which the chorus suggests isn’t worth it. Surprise yourself: keep yourself alive isn’t the most inspirational wisdom, but in a diminished, broken time as the Tin Machine period, it’s some form of solace. The last verse ends with a quote from “Suffragette City” and a collective moan.

Recorded ca. August 1988 at Mountain Studios, Montreux, and/or Compass Point Studios, Nassau, Bahamas, ca. November-December 1988. While it was initially downplayed—“Sacrifice Yourself” didn’t make the LP’s sequencing and was issued as a B-side to “Under the God”—it became a favorite of Tin Machine’s live sets.

* As “Sacrifice Yourself” is in A major, the B chord (II) here ought to be a B minor chord (ii). Instead, by becoming a major chord, B serves as the secondary dominant: the V chord of A major’s V chord (E, in this case). So much of the song, in both verse and chorus, is a struggle between secondary dominant and dominant (B and E): essentially a war between two equally-matched powers.

Top: Charles Peterson, “Nirvana, Bainbridge Island, 1988.”

14 Responses to Sacrifice Yourself

  1. david says:

    ‘Some days he feels so empty,Just a talking head.
    Married to a Klingon,Who could cream him in the press…’
    And Angie’s memoir was just around the corner.
    Another good Bowie song in the classic lyrical tradition, completely ruined by the dirge again.

    Its tough revisiting this album again, because I was truly excited by it when it first came out, because he seemed energized again, but now in retrospect a lot of it sounds like the desperate last gasp.

    • Diamond Duke says:

      Funny you should mention Angie, because I was just thinking the same thing! OK, granted, the image of a Klingon is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when conjuring the image of the former Mary Angela Barnett in one’s mind, but when it comes to the woman’s…how shall I say?…mercurial temperament and overall volatility, I think it’s not necessarily an unfair description. (Quote the man himself: “Living with Angie was like living with a blowtorch.”) Fortunately, our man Bowie would later do the smart thing and get hitched with a Chameloid. Much more compatible, I would imagine. (I’m sorry, I just couldn’t resist showing off my Trekkie credentials! ;))

  2. snoball says:

    “Keep yourself alive” might also be a reference to the Queen single of the same title from 1973, the subject of which was ‘don’t bother trying to get famous, it’s ultimately a disappointment’.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think this must be true because even before I realised the link in the lyrics, I heard Gabrel’s guitar referencing the intro to ‘Keep Yourself Alive’. That little ascending riff played twice in between :47 and :59 is very similar to May’s guitar at the beginning of the Queen song.

  3. Wait, does this mean we’re finally done with TM1?


  4. Diamond Duke says:

    Another one of my favorites from TM1! OK, I guess it could be described as slight in terms of its place in the overall DB canon, but it’s still a brisk, energetic, no-nonsense rocker with a snappy guitar riff and lyrics which are genuinely funny and incisive without being overly didactic a la Crack City (even if they do come across as being just as first-draft as most everything else on this disc).

    BTW, I’m guessing the Suffragette City paraphrase “Wham bam thank you Charlie / Vanity is all” refers to cocaine. Yeah, not much of a stretch there, right…? (And the “vanity” part possibly refers to a mirror? And I can’t help thinking of a line from the Beastie Boys’ Car Thief. Adam Yauch R.I.P.

  5. Maj says:

    I quite like this, actually. The guitar, even Bowie’s yelping isn’t too annoying here. Though I think the song would’ve worked better as an instrumental. But good. Short and good.

  6. diamond dog says:

    As one of the guys above said its hard to revisit as it was a rebirth and back to business album when released but now its horrible …plain and simple. Not much to like here for me.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I hear shades of ‘Tales of Brave Ulysses’ by Cream in the verse melody.

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