Hammerhead (B-side edit).
Hammerhead (album edit).

There are two official versions of “Hammerhead,” a Bowie/Hunt Sales composition: a minute-long instrumental, in which Bowie’s saxophone is soon elbowed off stage by a Reeves Gabrels guitar meltdown, that appeared uncredited at the end of Tin Machine II, and a mush-mouthed rant-thrash piece in the line of “A Big Hurt” that was issued as a B-side. As it turned out, they were the same track—the instrumental is the lopped-off coda of the master take.

Seemingly free-associated at the mike, Bowie’s lyric is a rapid-fire slurred ode to a femme fatale, with the woman in question compared to a shark, a boxer (including, apparently, the turn-of-the-century champion George Dixon), Cher, Bruce Lee (Bowie seems to mumble “enter the dragon” at one point) and a Forties film star. Bowie sounds out of her league in any case, especially as his jaw seems to have been wired shut.

If one of the themes of Tin Machine II had been an attempt to lampoon ultra-masculinity (with mixed results),”Hammerhead” seems a natural end point—it’s a male POV made lunatic and ridiculous, a manic spew by a man trying to comprehend a woman by comparing her to a run of celebrities and wildlife. Still, it works better as an instrumental.

Recorded ca. September-October 1989, Studios 301, Sydney. The full version (3:15 in length, YouTube has no versions of it currently up) was released in August 1991 as the B-side of “You Belong in Rock n’ Roll” and, in Germany, “One Shot.”

Top: Nick Hider, “Saturday, March 31, 1990: London’s Poll Tax riot.”

6 Responses to Hammerhead

  1. Diamond Duke says:

    I think the two kindest things one could say about the uncredited album version of Hammerhead are that: 1) It’s mercifully brief at a length of about 1 minute, and doesn’t overstay its welcome, and 2) It’s instrumental, so we don’t have to put with a hapless David attempting to yammer has way out of a case of writer’s block. (Although it was rather nice of him to namecheck his former TV duet partner from ’75! ;))

  2. I actually think the backing track kicks a fair amount of ass, but as with any of the Machine’s more raucous moments, Bowie sounds really out of his element here.

  3. david says:

    Not heard the B side edit before,could be a Lodger outtake. I’m not sure I like it, but it does sound at least like he had purpose whilst composing the piece.

  4. Roman says:

    I really like the way the album finished with this instrumental coda. At the time I thought it was very sophisticated.

    With it being an instrumental and Bowie’s sax being so up front, I suppose the point of it is to remind the listener that it was a group effort.

    However I can’t stand the full version that came out on a CD single. It’s simply garbage.

  5. humanizingthevacuum says:

    I can’t wait for “Pretty Pink Rose,” my favorite of the period.

  6. tin man says:

    Very good tune… coupled with “Goodbye Mr. Ed”.
    One of Hunt Sales’s favourite(Hunt… THE bête noire of the average Bowie fan…, fantastic drummer, talented singer & showman; such a rock’n’roll jester… “beautiful but evil” as David used to present him to the crowd).

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