Lucy Can’t Dance

Lucy Can’t Dance.

Do you accept–or disclaim–any credit for Madonna’s shape-shifting career?

I have to leave that to you guys. But I would get behind it [her career] a lot more if I really felt anything for her music. It’s conventional in the extreme. I guess I’ve seen too much, because I don’t really find her provocative, either.

David Bowie, interview, 1992.

While Nile Rodgers gamely talked up Black Tie White Noise during its release, he later said he’d been frustrated and disappointed with the record. In a long, hilarious rant to David Buckley, Rodgers groused that his hands had been tied throughout the sessions, that Bowie was running away from making the radio-friendly smash that the world expected from a Rodgers/Bowie collaboration (“Star Wars 2,” as Rodgers called it). Instead, Bowie seemingly wanted to make a private album on a platinum budget (“This record is about my wedding,” he said, to which Rodgers replied: “But David, no one cares about your wedding! Let’ s make a hit!“) and kept rejecting the guitar licks that Rodgers played him (“maybe the licks I thought of stank…but I knew they couldn’t all suck!“). Rodgers tried to use Iman, a friend of his, as an intermediary, but she backed her husband.

The problem was that a decade had passed since Let’s Dance, and Bowie had been through the crucible of the Never Let Me Down debacle and the Tin Machine years. He couldn’t make himself commit to a record that pretended the past 10 years hadn’t happened: he couldn’t make Star Wars 2. Compromising his songs, guessing at a sound that a mass audience would find palatable, had only gotten Bowie Tonight. So the intentions of producer and singer had reversed. In 1982, Rodgers, trying to make a name for himself outside of disco, had wanted to make an art-rock record like Scary Monsters: it was Bowie who pushed for a more marketable sound. Now Rodgers, a long-established hitmaker, wanted to have another #1 album to his name, while Bowie wanted a stranger, jazz-influenced, club-oriented record.

Nothing baffled Rodgers more than the fate of “Lucy Can’t Dance” (“a guaranteed number 1 record,” he later said. “Imagine Nile Rodgers and David Bowie come out with a song called ‘Lucy Can’t Dance’? I was already accepting my Grammy“). An easy choice for a lead-off single, “Lucy” instead was nearly shelved, Bowie only relenting by including it as a CD bonus track. Bowie’s never said why he did this. Perhaps the song’s cheery, trebly sound clashed with the rest of the album; perhaps he thought “Lucy” was such an earworm, such a piece of candyfloss, that it offered too easy a pleasure, that he would look ridiculous miming it on Top of the Pops.

Like “You’ve Been Around,” “Lucy” was a half-decade-old composition. Originally called “Lucille Can’t Dance,” it dated to the 1988 Los Angeles session where Bowie had demoed “Pretty Pink Rose.” While the original demo isn’t circulating, so it’s unknown how much the lyric changed in four years, the final “Lucy Can’t Dance”* is Bowie’s vicious take-down of an artist that many at the time considered to be his successor: Madonna.

As with Gary Numan, Bowie lacked his typical generosity of spirit towards his contemporaries with Madonna, to whom he could be cutting, even cruel (making a joke about Madonna getting beaten up by Sean Penn on “Pretty Thing”). Whether it was paranoia, that a younger, hungrier artist was taking some of his best bits, or just an old con artist deprecating an up-and-coming one, as he could easily see the seams and wires that the audience was missing, Bowie’s general dismissal of Madonna is understandable, if petty and regrettable (imagine the music the two could have made together).

So “Lucy Can’t Dance” is a piece of well-aimed snark, targeting Madonna at a time when her cultural presence was inescapable (it was the era of the Sex book, one of the most tedious and expensive pieces of pornography ever released). “Lucy, I know what you’re going to do” (because he’s already done it)…now you’re looking for God in exciting new ways” (as if predicting Madonna’s Kabbalist period). Who died and made you material girl? (a sharply clever line, making the typical play on “material girl” but also suggesting that Madonna only took form when someone else (cough) had left the stage). And the chorus refrain, Lucy can’t dance but she knows what the noise can do, is a pitiless indictment of an artist who has no soul but who approximates the music of those who do.

Of course, all of this could have been said about Bowie as well, and he knew it: Bowie’s lines in the bridge (“So I’ll spin while my lunatic lyric goes wrong“) mock his own penchant for word-salad lyricism and his own cracked ambitions. But all the best put-downs have a taste of self-mockery in them (“Like a Rolling Stone” is arguably about Dylan himself as much as Edie Sedgwick, or whoever the intended target was): it just adds sting to the venom.

A rather shapeless song, “Lucy” was built of long sets of verse/refrains that alternate between A major and G major, and a D major-based chorus, linked by a harmonically-chaotic bridge (rambling up from B minor (“pursuing your frenzy“) to a G major (“sexual noise”)/G minor (“you live and you die“) switch-up to close on a diminished E chord (“eye“)). Its vocal phrases keep to a few patterns: a fourth-descending line in Bowie’s lower register (the opening lines of the verse; the chorus hook), a double-tracked rising-and-dipping line that’s up an octave (“did the world just explode...”) and the nagging “da da da da-da da-DA-da-da” hook.

Rodgers shaped the track to pop on the radio, loading it with hooks: showers of clacking percussion (the opening burst sounds like pencils being rattled in a metal can), his low-mixed, underwater- sounding guitar fills, trumpet blasts, a unyielding synth bass. All for naught: the song slipped out, barely noticed, offering only a suggestion of an alternate 1993 in which “Lucy” fought it out with Madonna singles on the radio.

Recorded ca. summer-autumn 1992 at Mountain Studios, Montreux and the Power Station, NYC. Released as a CD bonus track on Black Tie White Noise, though it was issued as a promo single in the Philippines in 1993.

* “Lucille” suggests Bowie was considering an early rock & roll reference at first (either/both the Little Richard song and BB King’s guitar). “Lucy,” in addition to being easier to sing, may also be a nod to The Linguini Incident, as it was the name of Bowie’s co-star Rosanna Arquette’s character (& in another Madonna tie, Arquette had co-starred with Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan). And of course, Nile Rodgers had produced Madonna’s Like a Virgin soon after he’d made Let’s Dance.

Top: Madonna, still from the “Erotica” video, 1992.

80 Responses to Lucy Can’t Dance

  1. Maj says:

    Heh. that Bowie quote about Madonna reminds me of Madonna bitching about Lady Gaga. Time is funny. Stuff repeating and all that.

    I have to say I never actually listen to the lyrics of Lucy… There’s Lucy who can’t dance, da-da-da and some eggs and post-modern song. Um? I never really thought about it deeply enough to come up with the Madonna interpretation. I might have read about this before, actually, but must have forgotten.

    Well, Lucy sure is an ear-worm. It’s kind of in the Laughing Gnome category, only with less interesting lyrics. 🙂 Which would explain why Bowie shelved it. That man has a life-long problem with being embarrassed by the non-pseudo-intellectual pop he writes from time to time. 😉 I know many dismiss McCartney for his silly pop songs but at least he never seemed to be embarrassed by them: he can write silly pop, he can write rock songs, he can do experimental stuff etc. Bowie though….not so brave or not clueless/arrogant enough.

    For the record, I hate quite a few of Macca’s silly pop songs but I like that as far as I know, he’s always stood by them.

    • Diamond Duke says:

      Funny that you should mention Lady Gaga, because I just recently read some comments made by Marilyn Manson – yet another Bowie disciple – with regard to Gaga which are practically interchangeable with Bowie’s comments about Madonna (basically damning with faint praise)… 😀

  2. MC says:

    I find it hard to credit Nile Rodgers’ assertion that Lucy Can’t Dance would have been a Grammy-winning #1 hit single, as it’s always struck me as one of DB’s more annoying compositions, not hideous like, say, Too Dizzy, but really, really nagging, like a mosquito buzzing frantically for your attention. (There again, this could be the formula for many a hit song!)

    Even though the “material girl” line really jumps out at you, I never quite realized that it was an extended dig at Madonna. The pettiness of this makes me dislike the track even more, and could be another reason DB was anxious to shelve it, I suppose. I must say, I do get a kick out of the Fred Astaire-ish line about “putting all my eggs in a postmodern song.”

  3. gcreptile says:

    A quite good song, though not as good as Rodgers thinks it is, in my opinion. I am most impressed with the drum’n’bass anticipating rhythmic figures. Maybe it is a minute too long and a bit too weird to be a massive chart success. Bowie’s voice is too distorted and the lyrics are too strange. Still, it would have made for a better single than ‘Miracle Goodnight’. And ‘Lucy can’t dance’ certainly reminds one of ‘Let’s Dance’.

    • BenJ says:

      It’s kind of weird that Nile Rodgers wanted to make this the single, since he had such a profitable collaboration with Madonna in Like A Virgin. If anything, Bowie may have saved him some awkward encounters by shelving it.

    • I think the simple fact that Rodgers gave himself top billing in his little Grammy fantasy is evidence that he was thinking with his ego rather than his rational mind.

  4. humanizingthevacuum says:

    “A quite good song, though not as good as Rodgers thinks it is” is my thought exactly. As for Madonna, her Imperial Phase (1985-1992) ended with Erotica, the saddest, most clubcentric album since her debut – a fantastic record which nevertheless underperformed and resulted in a wilderness period. She didn’t lose her knack for writing and singing good songs but her command of the pop moment was gone.

  5. Ian McDuffie says:

    Up there with “It’s Gonna Be Me” and “It’s Tough” with the could-have-beens. Funny that the line goes “guess I put all my eggs in a postmodern song,” then proceeds to dump those eggs out of the window.

    As much as I’d love to defend the song to my grave (and hey, y’know, I’ll still do so), it is a little overlong, and it is pretty one-note for a ‘hit.’ But I can imagine, even in the stretching-it-out singles market of the early 90s, a three-minute edit tearing it up.

    As for the alternate history collabo between Madge and The Dame, I feel like it would either go full on disaster like “Dancing in the Street,” or a more restrained back up Bowie performance, like the TV on the Radio vocal he did (or the Scarlett Johanson song, I guess). Though really, that’s just because pretty much every song ever could benefit from a hushed backup croon…

    • col1234 says:

      I agree this song needed a single edit like no one’s business–at least 2 minutes could’ve been trimmed without a loss.

      A Bowie/Madge combo would’ve been more in line w/some crazed thing like “Dancing with the Big Boys”–shrieking lines at each other over a house beat or something. but yeah, it easily could’ve approached Jagger/bowie territory.

      • J.D. says:

        As has been noted somewhere else here on Paotd, perhaps the most momentous db duet occurred with Annie Lennox taking it upon herself to out-dame the dame, and winning the night, at the Freddie Mercury tribute.
        Think we’ve all seen the performance clip, but : have a look at the ‘rehearsal’ clip of the Under Pressure vid for the volcanic Ms L getting it done; even db looks rather impressed … It had been years since he’d seen emotion like that pouring off his stage ..

  6. I also never made the connection between this song and Madonna. And, I mean, it’s right there!

    I think a lot of what is going on in this song would be used to much better effect in “Jump They Say.” Where that song used club beats in an interesting way, and added interesting details to prevent a sort of monotony, this song is kind of monochromatic. I listen to it fairly regularly, but I don’t believe it’d have been an enormous hit.

  7. tin man says:

    Sounds a little bit like “absolute beginners” but with less human presence & more drum machine; superfluous… sorry David!

  8. gnomemansland says:

    The worst thing about BTWN is Nile Rogers and his crappy yesteryear funk production, sad old Chic riffs and general pants instumentation. Of course Bowie did employ him but…

  9. david says:

    Something about this song never sat right for me, and I think it’s in the message not the groove-because I’m with Nile on this one, I think it hits all the right ‘Pop’ notes.
    For me, reading between the lines, there seemed to be not just a sleight at both at the next generation of young upstarts, but more so at his critical stock takers.’ Just a few simple words like I love you, I need you Live and you die in the blink of an eye’. and then ‘Guess I’ll put all my eggs in a post modern song’, it almost seemed like Bowie was bemoaning the measure by which he was being accountable, which was high brow, something he felt resigned and obligated to do, something that was certainly remiss with it came to Madonna’s critical acclaim. So I sensed that it was a bitter little thumb of the nose, to those who had hated the vacuous romanticism of his 80’s catalog, which in turn for me, made me think that he still held cack like ‘Too Dizzy’ in some regard.

    In fact there was an interview in which, he was still holding NLMD as an album of perfectly great songs, which he pulverized in production.

    • humanizingthevacuum says:

      Oh yeah. In a long Rolling Stone interview from summer ’93, Bowie was stil insisting Tonight and NLMD boasted good songs, as if insisting on his pop bonafides By 1995 he was somewhere else. Pop songs and non-linear Gothic hypercycles don’t mix, I suppose.

  10. Diamond Duke says:

    What can I say? It’s a quite fun and deliciously catchy song, if not exactly high on what one might call “substance.” As far as not including it on Black Tie White Noise, I think Bowie made a smart move, and for two reasons: 1) If he had, it would have made for a pretty clear-cut case of “Which one of these is not like the others and doesn’t quite belong here?” Whatever one’s thoughts on the merits of BTWN as a whole, Lucy Can’t Dance would have sat rather awkwardly in the same company as You’ve Been Around, Nite Flights and Pallas Athena. (Even such obviously commercial fare such as Miracle Goodnight and The Wedding Song is deeper and quirkier.) And 2) If by chance Bowie had taken this admittedly fun piece of lightweight fluff into the Top 10 and had a smash hit, it would have resulted in just exactly the same type of pop-star pigeonholing that he’d been trying to escape from ever since Never Let Me Down and Glass Spider, and I think he was trying to avoid that. Admittedly, BTWN does attempt to walk a fine line between Berlin era-style ambient art-funk and commercial dance pop, albeit not always gracefully…

    • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

      To me, Bowie crediting “Lucy Can’t Dance” as a bonus track is as pointless as the producers of “Lost In Space’ crediting Johnathan Harris (Dr. Smith) as a Special Guest Star. They both belong in, and in many ways, are the star of the show.

      • Diamond Duke says:

        Too bad it’s no longer on the single-disc version, though. The single-disc 2003 re-master has only the 12 main tracks. You’d have to track down a copy of the big, deluxe 2-CD + DVD package to get it anymore (or a used copy of the original ’93)… 😦

      • col1234 says:

        well, you can get a used copy of the original BTWN for 23 cents on Amazon right now, so it’s not like the thing is that hard to find.

  11. Portsmouth Bubblejet says:

    There seems to be more than a nod in this song to “Sally Can’t Dance”, Lou Reed’s barbed critique of Edie Sedgwick.

    Somewhat fittingly, it was the title track of an album where Reed cynically tried to court the record-buying public while simultaneously undermining the project by his own evident disinterest.

  12. Sky-Possessing Spider says:

    I’ve never understood this tendency of Bowie’s to self-sabotage at various points in his career. To me, this would have been a perfect lead-off single. Mosquito-like or not, it’s as catchy as hell.
    As for the prospect of Bowie and Madonna making music together, I can only be thankful that it never happened. Bowie’s track-record for dueting with boring, mainstream artists in the 80s never yielded any memorable results.
    Also Chris, I think you’re a bit harsh on Bowie for his joke about Madonna on “Pretty Thing”. The lyric is “tie me down pretend you’re Madonna”, which is not about condoning Sean Penn for beating her, but a reference to her admitted predilection for S&M and bondage, which she was intent on boring the world with at the time with “Hanky Spanky” and her tedious, over-priced SEX book.

    • twinkle-twinkle says:

      I concur with you here my friend – as regards the bondage and Madonna thing. Ye gods – thank f*** Bowie never recorded with her! Her lyrics and vocals are awful and producers do the rest. As for being provocative and sexy? I can’t say I ever warmed to her as a person either; two or three albums ago a friend of mine worked on one of her albums. Not a good experience.

  13. Mike F says:

    The backstory on this is fascinating. After three Tin Machine albums, I think having a hit would have been a smart move even if it was mindless bubblegum. I don’t think Lucy is a #1 smash but it certainly is Top 40 material.

    Bowie should have left the DA DA DA vocals to backup singers so he sounded less dopey. On tour, he could have a done an art rock version of the song to preserve his sanity.

  14. Mike F says:

    Not only should Bowie have released the single, he should have put a Madonna look alike in the video and had a fake feud with her. The publicity would have pushed the single up the charts. Madonna would have done an answer record which would have generated more publicity.

    With a guaranteed hit single, Bowie could have confidently done his jazzy, Scott Walker baritone album tracks without commercial compromises.

    • Pierre says:

      You’re a genius. It would have been un-Bowie but fantastic considering the need for DB to get back on top.

  15. Momus says:

    Cool is a set of tastes, reflexes and instincts formalised into a personal etiquette. I think it is a facet of Mr Bowie’s scrupulous cool that he dislikes Madonna, just as it’s part of his cool that he has refused a knighthood. British royalty and Madonna have a lot in common, come to think of it.

    That said, I think the coolest thing to do, when someone offends your sense of cool, is to make it impossible for people to put you and that person anywhere near each other in their heads. That means excising all direct reference to the offender.

    • twinkle-twinkle says:

      Rather than disagree with some of the thoughts I found around here, I’ll just say that you sum things up so eloquently every time. You are pretty cool yourself and I hope, like Bowie and Francis Bacon, we never see you knighted either, ‘Sir’.

      • humanizingthevacuum says:

        A fabulous approach to recording music, so fabulous that Bowie himself used it — and since he’s co-producer on most of his albums, not as expensive.

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Hi, again. Can anyone really seriously compare Bowie and Madonna? I’m not even going to grace the thought, it’s ridiculous.

        Well, except to say – put Bowie and Madonna in separate cells – monk-like, not as in, “I didn’t do nuffink, I’s bin framed!!” – give them a pen, paper and instrument of choice – piano, guitar – and a simple ‘one take’ means of recording. Come back later and judge the musical results.

        You wouldn’t even need to bother opening Madge’s door, just throw away the key.

      • humanizingthevacuum says:

        Sure. It’s been done repeatedly over the years, most recently upthread.

  16. Mike F says:

    Was it “scrupulous cool” to put out a flop single with Al B. Sure (whose career lasted 5 minutes)?

    • Momus says:

      I think Mr Bowie probably knew New Jack Shit about New Jack Swing, except that it was hot at that moment and would be an easier form of current black music for him to reference than rap. I’d have preferred an MC Hammer duet myself, with the pants synchronicity that could have resulted.

    • ragingglory says:

      heh gotta give you that one LOL bowies worst song, just embarassing

  17. humanizingthevacuum says:

    I suppose I shouldn’t expect generosity from Bowie regarding the greatest pop artist of the last thirty years — why should a putative pop star tip his hat to another?

  18. Jeremy says:

    Wow, I had no idea that this track was about Madonna! It would have been a hit though, which begs the question – why did Bowie even bother getting in Rogers if he didn’t want to make a commercial album?

  19. Brendan O'Lear says:

    I think Bowie’s comments about Madonna may have been borne out of genuine bafflement. Nothing more.
    I remember seeing her ‘perform’ in a club before she was famous; she was way down the bill leaping around the stage miming to a song like an attention-seeking, but very uncoordinated, child. Nobody in the audience was watching. After she came off stage, she was standing near me. Alone. I felt pity and embarrassment for her. And even more so for any living relatives she may have had. It was a huge surprise when I found out years later that she had become famous.
    I can’t pretend to have followed her career at all, but I’ve never understood which part was supposed to be interesting. I suspect Bowie was just expressing a similar puzzlement.
    The song itself reminds me most of Shake It on Let’s Dance, which I remember being identified as a surefire hit in reviews for the LP. Lightweight at best.

    • joeb says:

      I was always surprised Shake It was never a single, sure its pure 80s piffle but there were far worse hits during that decade and I would’ve slotted that as a single any day over Without You

    • Pierre says:

      I also have a story about her, in early 1982 after she came out with Holidays, me and my partner booked her to come sing in a club in Montreal (Lime Light), anyway she was scheduled to come in summer 1983. Mind you we never heard from her management again..after Like a Virgin came out.

  20. joeb says:

    i think the main difference between bowie and madge is, barring a few last gasps in the early 90s, once Bowie saw he was never going to be a world-shattering pop act anymore he settled comfortably into an elder statesman role which suited him very well throughout the late 90’s – early 200’s. Compare that to Madonna’s recent attention grabbing antics and all the ridiculous stuff she’s said in the past year, desperately trying to remain “shocking” or controversial (most recently: “We have a black muslim in the White House!!”)

    Another anecdote worth mentioning is that it was madonna who inducted Bowie into the R&R Hall of Fame in ’96

  21. humanizingthevacuum says:

    I’m not sure Madonna can become an elder statesman, and who’d want her to? I don’t intend this as snark: I just don’t know what other roles she can play besides the gadfly – or, like Bowie, to keep silent. As long as she can still offer the occasional “Hung Up” she ain’t going anywhere, for better or worse.

  22. Tin Man says:

    Anglo-Saxon middle-of-the-road popular songs; seems to feature the story of Madonna (an interchangeable Figure with interchangeable songs & interchangeable choreography… like many others). Bowie’s got the potential of a huge artist. At his best, he creates at the crossroads of mainstream (the middle-of-the-road trip…) & avant-garde.
    Stuff like “Lucy can’t dance” is weak & deepless… so, i can’t understand the way the average Bowie fan cared for BTWN & spit upon the Tin Machine Era… which i think carried much more Soul, Creativity, Fun & has got this “into improvisation” thing. These days, i listen a lot to Hard Bop, real Funky jazz…, & more precisely Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers…, One of Hunt’s Reference & Idol.

  23. Ofer says:

    This mediocre track aside – Bowie was absolutely right about Madonna. The comparison between the two always puzzled me. Bowie was the man who at his best was one step ahead of everyone else, wheres Madonna’s career had always been about buying the new fad. The duke was about discovery; The material girl was, well… all about the money. This of course became more transparent in later years, with her Superbowl show last year, surrounded by hip black musicians, being an almost grotesque demonstration of the relationship between pop music and capitalism and colonialism.

    • humanizingthevacuum says:

      It’s not fair to dismiss Madonna on the basis of a Superbowl (!!) performance. That’s like my arguing for Bowie’s irrelevance based on the Glass Spider tour.

      • Ofer says:

        I don’t think this performance is widely regarded as a nadir, but I take your point; nevertheless, I find Madonna’s entire career surprisingly short of redeemable qualities.

    • humanizingthevacuum says:

      I’m amused but not surprised that fans of one of the great pop stars of the last 40 years should have no room for another, even if Bowie himself is guilty of being “all about the money” (as if there’s something wrong with that!). Sigh.

      I’ve never understood the praise for Bowie as being One Step Ahead. What made him a canny performer was, among other things, giving trends a high art gloss (glam rock + Orwell/Burroughs = Diamond Dogs) , and even more fascinatingly, making this marriage POP MUSIC that sold!. A David Bowie who didn’t keep an eagle eye on the pop chart simply wouldn’t be David Bowie: he’d be another underemployed avant gardist.

      Besides being a marvelous songwriter with a killer ear for choruses (anyone who thinks her producers deserve the credit should ask himself why from 1982-2000 and intermittently in the new millenium the consistency is unwavering), Madonna had the same voracious appetite for sounds and looks. I can’t think of any New York disco that sounds like “Burning Up.” I can’t think of any pop hit — in 1989! — that sounds like “Like a Prayer.”

      • col1234 says:

        “A David Bowie who didn’t keep an eagle eye on the pop chart simply wouldn’t be David Bowie: he’d be another underemployed avant gardist.”

        quite true. He would be, I think, someone quite like Scott Walker, which will be the gist of that entry when we get to it.

      • Ofer says:

        He was ahead of his time in many respects; But even accepting your theory, he was ahead of his time in that he was able to see what’s going on in the charts at the time and ask what could be done with that, from a very deep modernist perspective. Madonna has none of that: Even if you really like her songs – and I don’t – I think it’s fair to ask what did she, well, do, from a wider cultural perspective. It is a very personal opinion, but I find almost none of her outrageous doings conceptually interesting or innovative. Her peer Kylie was in many ways a much better Bowie successor.

      • humanizingthevacuum says:

        No greater example of Madonna’s impact on culture exists that a fan site dominated by men can now shrug at the thought of a performer whose songs and videos — in that order — gloried in sluttishness. I’m old enough to remember the primness of women performers. Not Chaka Khan, not Stevie Nicks, Joplin — nobody needed more than Madonna. Never again would “slut” be an insult hurled at girls by guys who went on the ride they paid for but hated themselves in the morning. Madonna’s problems with male critics: (a) she’s a woman (b) she didn’t allude to Brel, Orwell, or Klimt in interviews (c) her musical roots are in dance/disco, and I suspect there are – still! in 2012! — listeners who sniff at dancing or the idea that a dance song could be as sublime as any rock.

      • Ofer says:

        Madonna didn’t invent post-feminism, nor did she pioneer it in the charts; she did, however, make the most extreme commercial use of it and had tied her identity with it. I know, 70’s critics said similar things in regard to Bowie’s use of many trends; I think they failed to see the depths of Bowie’s innovation and personal take on the materials he took on, which i fail to see in her case.

        Also, Madonna is a self-proclaimed material girl, which means a part of her one image of herself is one of a business woman, a cynic. That in itself is kind of innovative I guess, the unapologetic-not-ironic capitalist drive, but that’s innovative in a way I myself find kind of amoral, and a very important part of what made pop culture (Bowie included) decline so astonishingly in the 80’s.

      • humanizingthevacuum says:

        Bowie also said “The church of man love is such a holy place to be” before spending the rest of his life either ignoring its implications or dismissing it in the most cynical fashion. Which was worse?

        I’d argue neither. It’s beside the point. Pop artists will steal from any trash pail for a look, a sound, a hook. Madonna was as savvy as Bowie in this regard.

      • Maj says:

        humanizingthevacuum, you’re making some great points there. I’m only familiar with Madonna on the basis of her greatest hits and her post-Ray of Light albums but I do agree with you on a lot of what you write.

        I understand she borrowed a lot of from the club scene and brought it to mainstream, just as Bowie did with stuff like cabaret and Kraftwerk-ish intrumental experiments etc…only he never really made them AS mainstream. 🙂

      • Diamond Duke says:

        Regarding your comment about not being able to think of any pop hit that sounded like Like A Prayer in ’89…I seem to remember someone pointing out a strong similarity between that song and Bowie’s Underground from Labyrinth in ’86, in the sense that both songs are kind of gospel/dance hybrids…

      • my dislike for Madonna certainly has nothing to do with her being a woman, or a pop star, or a slut. My dislike comes from the fact that she is not a good singer, she isn’t a musician, and aside from a few songs she isn’t much of a songwriter. I was and remain a huge Cyndi Lauper fan – why? She can sing. And she can play instruments. And she writes interesting songs! I liked Cher in the 80s and 90s, and Tina as well, and they certainly weren’t demure. I even can defend Gaga – at least she can play the damn piano. But for the life of me I have never figured out what it is Madonna can DO aside from generally acting life a self-absorbed vampire.

  24. tin man says:

    I agree with you Ofer…, simply grotesque !

    • Roman says:

      “Madonna’s problems with male critics: (a) she’s a woman (b) she didn’t allude to Brel, Orwell, or Klimt in interviews (c) her musical roots are in dance/disco, and I suspect there are – still! in 2012! — listeners who sniff at dancing or the idea that a dance song could be as sublime as any rock.”

      Well put, humanizingthevacuum.

      While feminism isn’t an issue I’d wave a flag for, I do think a lot of the criticism against Madonna in this thread is, even unconsciously, due to the fact that she is a highly sexualised woman who has conquered a “man’s world.”

      If there was a male equivalent to Madonna who was alive, still working and relevant, then I doubt there would be posters lining up to make the incredible assumption that this artist with decades of peerless success was simply talentless, boring and stood for nothing.

      • Ofer says:

        But again, Madonna was a prominent artist in a generation who’s contribution to culture (Or at least a major part of it) was cementing the hidden pop-music notion that you didn’t have to “stand” for anything – the generation in which critics no longer made a distinction between highbrow and lowbrow, and the assumption became – much like in your comment – if it struck a chord with the masses, it must have been “good”. In a way that was liberating, and it’s hard to argue with, but that’s pure Postmodern-capitalist logic, and it took over pop-music culture much more then any other art form – I can give you a handful of super-successful male play-writes that no critic thinks much of.

        My English just doesn’t cut it for this argument, by the way. Hope at least a tiny bit of my point still comes across.

      • humanizingthevacuum says:

        But, Ofer, Bowie DID record pop music. What’s Low but Neu! and Eno given a pop sheen? If he was a cult artist, record executives wouldn’t have offered to buy the album from him, believe me. Moreover, Bowie is one of the figures responsible for erasing the line (thank goodness!) between high- and lowbrow that you miss.

      • Ofer says:

        I love pop music. If anything I said implied otherwise, i’m really not getting my point across. And as I said there was something very liberating about leaving behind the distinctions between high and low. But there is a difference between showing that the pop-culture confines could be a place for great art, and the 80’s twist on it, in which in order to be cool you had to “understand” why the slickest commercial shit was actually amazing.

  25. Sky-Possessing Spider says:

    Yeah, I’m with you too Ofer…except for the bit about Kylie!
    In many ways, I feel that Madge was a natural successor, not to Bowie (perish the thought), but to Deborah Harry, THE female Pop icon of the late 70s -early-80s. I recall Deborah saying in an interview, that sometime around 1982-3, Chris Stein, her boyfriend and fellow Blondie member fell seriously ill, and she took time out from her career to help nurse him back to health.
    Perhaps you could argue that Blondie were in decline by then anyway, after the disappointing Hunter album. But either way there was suddenly a void in the Pop landscape, and into it, unfortunately stepped Madonna, who possessed a lot of push and determination, but not even a fraction of Debbie’s class, beauty, songwriting savvy, or sex appeal.
    There’s a cable music channel here in Oz called MAX who have made the connection too. Every once in a while they have a Blondie vs: Madonna special, like a title fight, and play 5 or 6 of each other’s songs head to head. Then, to my horror, they declare Madonna the winner, and fawn all over her like the rest of the world does.

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Hear, hear! Kudos to Sky-Posessing Spider for mentioning the elephant in the room; Debbie Harry – a far better analogue to Madonna than Bowie. I especially like your assessment of Madonna’s vs Debbie’s capabilities. I always found Madonna meretricious to the extreme. And was old enough [20] to not see any value to her naked grabs for attention. Perhaps if she could didn’t have a whiny nasal singing voice, or could write songs that interested me, I could have overlooked her battleship-sized character flaws. Unfortunately, at the height of the Reagan/Thatcher era, such flaws were deemed by society’s rulers to be “assets.” Surprisingly, I once did own her first album.

      I bought it in early ’83 in a used record store fifty cent bin as a promo album that some DJ had dumped at a record store I frequented to get his coke money. I bought it because it was inexpensive and on Sire records, until then, a reliable spearhead of the New Wave movement. But this was just a mediocre disco album. I was let down. Better still, I was exposed to it/her in a cultural vacuum. I had no idea who she was. There were no videos. There was no promotion of her at this point at all save for the gold-stamped slab of PVC in my possession then. There was no cultural/intellectual baggage surrounding her at this time. Really, there wasn’t until her second album. And it’s a very poor debut record. At least I got to judge it without any prejudices. Apart from “Borderline” [a good disco song] there is nothing on it to listen to more than twice. The best thing about buying that album for fifty cents? A year later, I sold it to another used record store for $3.00! Yes, I made a profit off of Madonna!

  26. tin man says:

    Madonna is for sure a true performer. She’s probably a hard worker… the fact is that she’s still there. I don’t care if she’s cynic or amoral, she’s a business woman who belongs to our times & i don’t have any problem with these points.
    She just doesn’t move me at all…, that’s all… everything’s said, i don’t have to justify (that’s my problem & that’s not a problem at all… i just don’t care… ), it’s not because “she didn’t allude to Brel, Orwell, or Klimt in interviews” (but she spoke about Georges Bataille… so, we’re not far !!!), not because “her musical roots are in dance/disco”.
    Predictable… that’s how i see her when considering her “art” (image, music) & her way of life…
    For me, Bowie’s far more interesting… with weak (also predictable) & fantastic creations.

  27. Patrick says:

    This mediocre (to poor) track is in danger of becoming that which it partly parodies. I am also somehow reminded of Zappa’s Dancing Fool.

  28. J.D. says:

    Some of this thread feels a little reminiscent of a Tiger-Beat exegesis on who’s more dreamy, donny osmond or david cassidy…

    What might be noted in our Pop Culture archaelogy dig here, is that Bowie was tilting at windmills that didn’t exist for Madonna, and Madonna mastered some arts & sciences of her own era that hadn’t existed for Bowie.

    For M, hard to divorce any discussion of her career from the evolving form of the Music Video as a critical new medium. At the extreme, “Rain”, say, she & partners & label were investing millions of dollars in a four-minute technicolor Madge Themepark: shot on film, in hollywood, by all-pro insiders, with all the extras and art direction anyone ever dreamed about … Much of her career rose or fell on the the weeks-on-air that the Vid captured, and mostly, the airplay was endless and fostered longterm cd sales. The song, the hook, was important, but the Video was critical; just as anyone trying for the Pop throne these days must factor social media & you-tube.

    For DB it was the ability to punch thru on ‘underground fm radio’ in the late sixties with a novelty track like Space Oddity, and then gear that up for the all-england and then trans-atlantic morphs that were to come. For Bowie it was mastering the art of the Lp concept album, and many would say defining it at its peak. As a writer he was after big things, too, on a dylan/lennon scale, which Madonna never could approach from her choreography + song/dance platforms.

    But just as Bowie couldn’t have come on viably without forerunners like Bolan and Iggy Pop, the same is true for Madonna who stepped right into the ‘chameleon’ archetype that DB had structured over the years.

    • humanizingthevacuum says:

      I didn’t get into the semiotics of her videos because I had no wish to turn this discussion into a sneering dismissal of Madonna as Just A Video Artist. In any case, as a boy whose parents never got MTV, she came across as a radio presence — and what presences “Open Your Heart,” “Live to Tell,” “Like a Prayer,” “Deeper and Deeper,” and “Hung Up” were.

      • Brendan O'Lear says:

        I honestly don’t think it’s sneering, although I can see why it may come across as that. I think it’s far more a case of people just not getting her. Quite a few people whose opinions I respect say good things about her but I just can’t see any of it. I just see predictable Pan’s People/Hot Gossip choreography with uninteresting and apparently interchangeable songs running in the background. I’m prepared to accept that says far more about me being out of touch with western popular/youth culture than it does about the merits of Madonna. And I think that is equally true of Bowie; he didn’t get Madonna either because he was no longer really in touch with that culture. That’s a much bigger problem for him than me since it’s his job and, as implied upthread, Bowie is far less interesting without the mainstream appeal/popularity.

      • J.D. says:

        Well on the one hand, even though the Beatles released music on 78-rpm discs (really), no one will ever discuss their oeuvre outside of the Lp era that it defined.
        No artist (with the exception of one Mr Jackson) took the Music Video format as much to heart, or as much to the bank, as did Team Madonna. So her career owns it, and vice versa.
        The idea of ‘touring a new record’ had even become a kind of replay to the video, and if I recall, Ms M was accused more than once of lip-synching to playback whilst dancing up a storm in those bob-fosse inspired routines.

        Giving equal time to db, the very same hollywood insiders that did Madge’s intentionally OTT ‘Rain’ video, in vintagey style, did ‘Jump They Say’ for Bowie in jacques-tati mode; from the same director and cinematographer right thru the rank & file. So lots of the same machinery behind the curtain.

        And let’s not forget to mention that Video had already killed the Radio Star.

  29. Mike F says:

    I wonder why Bowie wanted to suppress “Lucy” while he was comfortable with the similar bubblegummy “Dead Man Walking.”

  30. “Imagine the music the two could have made together.” Please, no, I’d rather not. While I find Petty Bowie embarrassing (no one over the age of 30, let alone 45, should ever be caught playing junior high bully), Madonna is only Bowie-esque in her ability to change costume at appropriate moment. She can’t write, she can’t sing- she can only provoke. And Lucy Can’t Dance.

  31. vincenzo says:

    bel servizio da provare, complimenti per il blog 😉 Continuo a seguirvi, aspetto con ansia nuovi aggiornamenti!!

  32. Roger says:

    Da-Da-Da-Daa DaDa Da-DaDa-Daa

    I love the song actually, very catchy stuff. And Bowie’s voice is really crazy in this one. Like someone is grabbing him in the nuts with a wrench, lol.

    As for Bowie doing something with Madonna? No comments.

  33. Ramzi says:

    “Imagine Nile Rodgers and David Bowie come out with a song called ‘Lucy Can’t Dance’? I was already accepting my Grammy“

    God, I love Nile Rodgers so much.

    • Ramzi says:

      speaking of Rodgers (I’m aware I’m the only one speaking on a post from 2012 but still), how aware would he have been of the whole Madonna thing, given his professional relationship with her?

  34. type40ttc says:

    I actually kind of like the first three and half minutes of this song. (I was listening to it again today, hence the posting 3 years later. Ha.) I keep trying to think how it would have sounded with a different set of players and a wholly different production, maybe more along the lines of Fripp (who also knows what the noise can do), Alomar, Davis, etc., or (gulp) even as a Tin Machine song. Not to take anything away from Rodgers and his imaginary Grammy, but… 😉

  35. I’m lucky in that I’m huge on Madge and Bowie. I think they are THE two best/most influential artists of their eras.

    Christopher, I find that you’re sustained and sneering attacks on Madonna are borne out of ignorance, rather than just misogyny. You probably just know a few of her famous hits and , more importantly, her overwhelming media image. And I’m guessing you are a little older and not a fan of club dance pop. Quite simply, Madonna completely transformed that genre and gave it a depth and variety that would have seemed impossible. Yes she can do ultra commercial albums like Confessions and Hard Candy but she can also write moving concept albums such as Like A Prayer, Ray of Light, Music, etc. And have you ever heard Mer Girl? Oh Father? Secret Garden? Till Death Us Do Part? Live To Tell?

    Can I also add that Bowie became a a big Madonna fan himself. In 1998 he recorded a tribute message to her (look it up on YouTube) essentially recognising her genius. I’m guessing in 1992, her all conquering domination was still raw to him. Time and Distance has allowed him to see the woods for the trees.

    PS: Madonna does play instruments. She started out as a drummer and wrote her early hits on keyboard and guitar. Not that it should matter, she’s such a great songwriter, producer and performer and just a bit of background reading on your part might have allowed you to understand that.

  36. ragingglory says:

    Bowies comment that he could get Madonna more if the music had something going for it is spot on quite frankly, he had her pegged, she has no songs, not one, nada, nothing.

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