Hallo Spaceboy


Hallo Spaceboy.
Hallo Spaceboy (Pet Shop Boys remix).
Hallo Spaceboy (Lost In Space mix).
Hallo Spaceboy (Double Click mix).
Hallo Spaceboy (with Nine Inch Nails, first live performance, 1995).
Hallo Spaceboy (with Nine Inch Nails, live, 1995).
Hallo Spaceboy (Later With Jools Holland, 1995).
Hallo Spaceboy (Det Kommer Mera, 1996).
Hallo Spaceboy (Karel, 1996).
Hallo Spaceboy (with Pet Shop Boys, TOTP, 1996).
Hallo Spaceboy (with Pet Shop Boys, Brit Awards, 1996).
Hallo Spaceboy (live, Phoenix Festival, 1996).
Hallo Spaceboy (live, Loreley Festival, 1996).
Hallo Spaceboy (with the Foo Fighters, 50th Birthday concert, 1997).
Hallo Spaceboy (Pet Shop Boys, live, 1997).
Hallo Spaceboy (BBC, 2000).
Hallo Spaceboy (live, 2002).
Hallo Spaceboy (live, 2002).
Hallo Spaceboy (live, 2003).
Hallo Spaceboy (live, 2004).

Brion Gysin died of a heart attack on Sunday morning, July 13, 1986. He was the only man I have ever respected. I have admired many others, esteemed and valued others, but respected only him. His presence was regal without a trace of pretension. He was at all times impeccable…Brion was suffering from emphysema and lung cancer. He knew he had only a few weeks to live. I was preparing to go to Paris when Brion died. I have this last glimpse through a letter in her own English, from my friend Rosine Buhler:

“…After occurs a dreamlike talk about to have a large house by the sea in August, the shadowed room where all is burning hot outside. Brion said he knew he would sleep well and was really happy of that good day. He wanted no help to lift himself up from his green armchair, and went to his room. I was watching his tall straight way to walk, his secure path…only kings and wild people have this way.”

William S. Burroughs, introduction to Gysin’s The Last Museum.

Brion Gysin liked to say he was a man from nowhere. Even his name was a mistake: his mother had christened him John Clifford Brian, but a passport clerk, misreading Gysin’s crabbed handwriting, swapped in an “o” for an “a” in the latter name (“like the famous wine of Bordeaux, Haut Brion,” Gysin said.) Born in London during the First World War, which claimed his father, he lived in Canada, New York, where he was a ship welder and Broadway costume designer, Tangier, where he ran a restaurant called The 1001 Nights, whose house band was the Master Musicians of Joujouka, and Paris, where he died.

In life and art he was transient—he was Bowie’s world-roaming Lodger in the flesh. Gysin could never commit to one spouse: he was a poet, historian, mystic, painter, filmmaker, musician, inventor (of “the Dreamachine,” a trance-inducing flickering light-box that he thought would make his fortune and didn’t). He had a habit of leaving a city soon before something occurred—an exhibit, a new publisher—that could have “discovered” him.

For Bowie, Gysin was most obviously influential as being the creator of the cut-up method in 1959; a method that came about, Gysin said, when he tried to apply the techniques of painting and film (collage and montage) to the assembly of words, He started by slicing through a stack of newspapers and making poems out of the shreds. By the mid-Sixties, Bowie was cutting up his lyric sheets, throwing pieces in the air and seeing what came from picking them up; three decades later, he had custom-made software to do the equivalent. But Gysin also served a symbolic role for Bowie, as an image of an unrefined creativity. Gysin made being a dilettante into a noble calling. Life is a game, not a career, as he said.

He might’ve lived a much more traditional artistic life, but he was always outside of that, and that was very much to his advantage as an artist.

John Geiger, on Gysin.

“Hallo Spaceboy” is, among many other things, a eulogy to Gysin: a tribute to a force of motion that was stilled only by death. You’re so sleepy now…your silhouette is so stationary…Don’t you want to be free? Even if Bowie hadn’t consciously intended to reference Gysin (“If I fall, moondust will cover me” (a line heard in the Pet Shop Boys’ remix of “Spaceboy”) were rumored to be Gysin’s last words*), the latter’s ghost still possessed the song. The Pet Shop Boys remix used Gysin’s cut-up to rip a hole in the song, transforming it into a sequel to “Space Oddity,” much to Bowie’s initial dismay.

Unlike friends like Burroughs and rivals like André Breton (who had Gysin’s paintings yanked from a surrealist exhibit in 1935), Gysin left no definitive works; there was no Naked Lunch or Surrealist Manifestos to his name, only a series of pieces scattered across various mediums: scripts, sound poems, novels, calligraphic paintings, the Dreamachine. A body of work treasured by a few, and remaining fundamentally obscure. Gysin’s most public legacy was a method used by rock stars like Bowie and Mick Jagger to write pop lyrics. But Gysin had lived his entire life as a performance. Lacking commercial ambitions and any desire for a mass audience, Gysin was a free agent, a man who spent decades on this planet without having any sort of “proper” occupation (his stint as restauranteur was as domestic as he ever got); he was a figure who earned respect by keeping in flux.

On Outside, Bowie was trying to reconcile, as he’d done time and time before (see the Glass Spider tour), his ambition to be considered an avant-garde artist with his more prosaic reality: that he was a pop star who was still on a major label, and who was still mainly known for singing about Major Tom and dueting with Mick Jagger. So figures like Scott Walker and Gysin wound up in the sediment of Bowie’s art-rock album, as potent but discarded influences, especially in the last stages of recording Outside, when Bowie had scrapped his Leon song-montages in favor of a fresh run of hook-filled pop songs like “Spaceboy.” If he was burying Gysin, he’d do it to the sound of slamming drums.


“Spaceboy” is a negative of “Moonage Daydream.” “Daydream” opens with Mick Ronson’s slammed power chords and Bowie’s solo vocal, a double-hook (“ALL-i-GAH-tor! BAM-BLAMMM!”) so captivating that the rest of the song is a homage to it. “Spaceboy” begins with 16 bars of suspense: a swirl of synthesizer loops, an ominous chopping loop mixed right, a distorted guitar line. There’s a sense that something’s coming to break this into pieces, a tornado glimpsed on the horizon, and thirty seconds in the hook finally arrives. Instead of the expected guitars, it’s a moving wall of percussion, a cannonade of electronic beats and crushing 4/4 drums undergirded by a low-mixed bassline and dirtied by static bursts of distorted guitar. It’s a sonic cancer at the heart of the song, perversely giving it strength.

The “Moonage Daydream” intro hook was glam in miniature: here, dream this: go! “Spaceboy” wasn’t open, but an imposition—the hook found you out, hunted you down, and all you could do was submit to it and bang your head. BAMBAMBAMBAMDUNNADUNNADUNNA (there’s a bit of “Detroit Rock City” in it). In the choruses, two distorted guitars spit and tear, shifting from a B to a G chord and back (that’s the main harmonic sequence of the song, which also moves to a brief A major progression in the bridges). When Bowie comes in for the first verse, “Spaceboy” shifts back to its initial state of dread. The beat’s out there, and it’s coming back. By the second verse, a muted strain of it pounds beneath Bowie’s vocal, triggered by “Spaceboy!”; before the second chorus, Bowie holds off the onslaught for a few bars, whispering “moondust” before the door is kicked in. Everything in the mix serves as a counter-rhythm: there are ping-ponged electric guitars, snapping riffs back and forth; later, there’s a mouse-chase across Mike Garson’s piano. A muttering Bowie curses across the spectrum, his inaudible syllables sounding like crash cymbals.

One starting point was Eno’s “Third Uncle” (esp. via Bauhaus); another was the Swiss industrial band the Young Gods, who were as much an influence on Outside as the more-hyped Trent Reznor. Particularly the Gods’ T.V. Sky (1992): “Skin Flowers,” for instance, with its buzz-swaths of guitar and its relentless beat, is an ur-“Spaceboy” (the hollered “OUTSIDE!” also might’ve attracted notice); see also the juxtaposition of guitar loops and percussion fills on “Dame Chance.” (And Bowie’s 20-minute Leon suites seem in part inspired by T.V. Sky‘s closer, a 20-minute song-churn called “Summer Eyes.”)

Conjured up in a handful of days in the studio, “Spaceboy” was a liberating track for Bowie, who rode its beat and reveled in the trash. This chaos is killing me! he screamed, sounding delighted to die, mocking his past selves with “do you like girls or boys? It’s confusing these days.” And some of the song was due to Reeves Gabrels, uncredited.


In mid-1994, a few months after the first Leon sessions, Gabrels returned to Switzerland to work on overdubs and new recordings with Bowie. No other musicians from the Leon sessions were around (including Eno) except for an occasional visit by Erdal Kizilcay. Towards the end of a month-long stay in Montreux, Gabrels played Bowie an “ambient” instrumental piece, which he then recorded as a demo. Bowie recited some lines over the track, including “moon dust,” which Gabrels said Bowie had found in a book of poems he was reading in the studio (he speculated the poet was John Giorno).

After [Bowie’s] vocal/spoken word tracks were done, I did a bunch of long sustain guitars thru a vocal formant patch from an Eventide 4000 signal processor (which makes it sound like a human voice) and I used a slight variation on the ava rava middle eastern scale,”** Gabrels wrote on his website. That was the end of it. On a subsequent visit to Montreux in late 1994, Gabrels asked about the track, provisionally called “Moondust,” and Bowie said “he didn’t feel there was anything special going on with that piece and that he’d pretty much forgotten about it.”

However, Bowie seemed to have remembered “Moondust” during the final Outside sessions in New York, in January 1995. On 17 January, using Carlos Alomar and the drummer Joey Baron, Bowie broke the song down to a handful of chords, reducing the original track “to almost nothing,” Eno recalled in his diary. “I wrote some lightning chords and spaces…and suddenly, miraculously, we had something.” Bowie quickly came up with the “hallo spaceboy” vocal hook, and the track was completed within days.

Bowie played “Hallo Spaceboy” for Gabrels when the latter turned up at the Hit Factory. “When I pointed out the similarities in harmonic motion [to “Moondust”] and the lyrics (etc.), there was zero interest in doing what the writers I continue to work with would have done, what I have done in this situation, and what I consider to be the fair, honest, and right thing,” Gabrels wrote. Having already fought Bowie and Eno to get co-credit for himself, Kizilcay and Sterling Campbell for Leon songs like “Hearts Filthy Lesson” and the segues, Gabrels felt he couldn’t win on a new front. “Because…I will always owe David a debt of thanks for dragging me into the music major leagues…I eventually dropped the subject.”

But a few years after an apparently sharp breakup with Bowie, Gabrels was ready to let it rip. “The track “Spaceboy” follows the chord changes of my original “ambient” track which was dismissed as just being “ambient” and not really a song or contributing to the existence of “Spaceboy” (which if it did contribute, writing credit should be shared). At its most basic level, [if] I hadn’t come up with the ambient track, that ball would would never have rolled itself into a song. I found it odd to have my original piece of music treated as though ambient music has no chord changes or melody and that people who write ambient music cannot copyright their songs to protect their ideas as it isn’t really writing music. (Someone should tell Eno.) What I really wonder about is the poet who wrote “Moondust”…his name isn’t in the writing credits either. But then again those are just words in a certain order, right?

Bowie has never commented on this claim, and to be fair we only have Gabrels’ side of the story, from ten years ago; Gabrels has never released “Moondust” for people to make their own comparisons. From Eno’s diary entry, it seems that the track was pretty heavily overhauled, from new guitar riffs to new chords, and one can see Bowie’s perspective: “Spaceboy” was a new song he had alchemized out of an unpromising ambient jam track. But this begs the question of who actually “authors” rock songs, as Bowie’s songwriting credits can seem arbitrary: Mick Ronson never got a single credit for songs that he obviously contributed riffs and melodies to; Dennis Davis and George Murray are credited for “Breaking Glass” but not “Stay,” and so on.

But God can be an ironist sometimes: Bowie’s “stolen” song was soon enough stolen from him.


Writers don’t own their words. Since when do words belong to anybody? ‘Your very own words,’ indeed! And who are you?

Gysin, “Cut-Ups Self-Explained,” Brion Gysin Let the Mice In.

Neil Tennant had started as a music journalist, so he had an eye for a lead. When Outside was released, he saw an obvious interpretation of “Spaceboy” that its author apparently hadn’t considered, or had deliberately avoided. In none of the dozens of interviews Bowie gave to promote Outside did he say that “Spaceboy” was connected to “Space Oddity” and “Ashes to Ashes.” (He even directly denied the connection during a press conference: “I only used [the word] ‘space’—there’s nothing about it that’s even remotely like ‘Space Oddity,’ frankly.”] When the Pet Shop Boys offered to remix “Spaceboy,” Bowie quickly agreed, as he seemingly let anyone remix his songs. But when Tennant told Bowie he was going to sing new lyrics and would use “Space Oddity” to get them, Bowie was taken aback by Tennant’s “nerve.” He went into the studio with Tennant, allegedly to get the performance right, but one wonders if he was irked about it.

After all, Outside was supposed to be his fresh, pre-millennial record, crafted to speak to a new audience, and now here was Major Tom/Starman come back again. The revised “Spaceboy” threatened to convert the project into yet another spew of Baby Boomer nostalgia, to throw Bowie back into his past. What saved “Spaceboy” from being cheap audience-bait was Tennant’s use of cut-up. He broke the well-worn words of “Space Oddity” into strange, fresh alignments:

Ground to major bye-bye Tom
Dead the circuit countdown’s wrong
Planet Earth is control on?

Still, the remix shifted the song’s axis. Bowie had written off Major Tom on “Ashes to Ashes”: he’d drifted off into the inexplicable and was content to stay there, roll end credits. Now, with Tennant’s new verse in “Spaceboy”, Bowie had been cast as Major Tom again, against his will; he was a fly caught on wax paper. This chaos is killing me! now became the words of Major Tom, strung out in heaven, worn through with transcendence and longing for death. Bye bye love! No longer just Gysin, dying in Paris, but Bowie’s own legend, being exhumed only to be buried again.

All Bowie could do was play along. The remix was issued as Outside‘s third single and it nearly broke the top 10 in the UK—it was Bowie’s highest charting post-1995 until “Where Are We Now?” this year. In the two performances Bowie and the Pet Shop Boys gave of it, Bowie looked immaculate and ageless, thrashing about on stage, but he also looked trapped. Tennant calmly sang (or mimed) his interrogation, while Bowie struggled against a song that now seemed to confine him.

It was a fitting ending, or as fitting as you get these days. “Spaceboy,” one of the last great Bowie pop moments, never quite seemed his own property; it was fluid, a coalescing held together by a beat that seemed to invade it. Bowie spent the last decade of his performing life singing “Spaceboy” again and again, trying to get it back under his thumb, sometimes succeeding (using three drummers to beat the song into shape at his 50th birthday party), sometimes seeming as though he was covering it.

Recorded ca. January-February 1995, Hit Factory, NYC. Released, in its Pet Shop Boys form, as a single in February 1996 (BMG/RCA 74321 353847, #12 UK). A 12″ remix, the Lost in Space mix and the Double Click mix were included on a promo 12″ and later on the 2-CD Outside reissue. “Spaceboy” was played on seemingly every TV show in Europe, including Jools Holland (2 December 1995); Det Kommer Mera (Sweden) 19 January 1996; Taratata (France) 26 January 1996; Karel (Dutch) 29 January 1996, and a broadcast from the BBC Radio Theatre on 27 June 2000. A recording from the Phoenix Festival in 1996 was issued on a bonus CD single that came with the French edition of Earthling. “Spaceboy” was a regular in most of Bowie’s last decade of touring.

Sources: Back in No Time: The Brion Gysin Reader (ed. Jason Weiss); John Geiger, Nothing Is True–Everything Is Permitted (pretty much the only Gysin bio).

* Nicholas Pegg wrote without attribution that “if I fall, moondust will cover me” was rumored to be Gysin’s last words. I’ve found no other reference to this, via the Internet and by rummaging through the libraries of Smith College and Amherst College, so I’ll conclude this claim is false unless someone points me to a source that I’ve missed. Gysin did use “moondust” in his novel The Process (1969) (“a familiar indigo rag flutters out of the sand where I look for my guide to find him, too, buried in moondust.“) I’ve found no reference to a Giorno poem mentioning “moon dust” either. The line could just as well be Bowie’s.

** I think Gabrels meant the Ahava Rabbah, or the Phrygian dominant scale. Maybe not? Ava rava, anyone?

Top: Chloe Sevigny, Kids (Clark, 1995); Gysin, Burroughs and stone-faced ancestors (via BrionGysin.com); various Spaceboys.

68 Responses to Hallo Spaceboy

  1. James says:

    The remix was dire. But the song stands the test of time. it’s a classic Bowie song (or Gabrels…) Alomar and Gabrels must have had some lively discussions about co-writing credits, Alomar after all wrote most of mid-seventies Bowie song’s intros (Golden Years for one thing). Remember Alomar being quite sarcastic in the mid eigthies about David’s demo, saying they were very very basic. But what can one do against a superstar.

    • Brendan O'Lear says:

      Bowie’s songwriting credits are always interesting. It seems fair enough for someone like Keith Christmas to have a grumble but Gabrels comes across as not knowing his place.

      By way of very tenuous link, and an excuse to wallow in nostalgia, I just came across this. (I never knew that Ronson was a bingo player.)


    • Gnomemansland says:

      Once worked in a record shop where the manager disliked Bowie mostly he said because he stole the ideas and work of others. Must admit at the time (1982) I was rather bemused by these claims, indeed Bowie’s ability to synthesise things seemed to be one of his strengths. Over the years though have begun to appreciate just how much Bowie’s best work has owed to his collaborators. Without Ronson no MWSTW, Hunky, Ziggy, probably no Diamond Dogs on which Bowie does his best to play Ronson guitar. Of course without Bowie himself none of these creations either and one can say OK so if these collaborators are so sharp where are their great solo albums? Well Ronson’s solo LPs are pretty good once your realise that you are hearing his contribution to the Bowie project not him copying Bowie. The big difference is that wherever possible Bowie takes the full songwriting credit and musically at least so much of his material should at the very least give a co composition credit to the musicians.

      • Brendan O'Lear says:

        It’s a good point. I always used to keep in mind Bowie’s comment about taking a look at what most of these people have achieved without him, but following this blog has changed my perspective quite a bit. (But Ronson’s solo albums are not really that good, are they!)
        But to be fair to Bowie, it must be difficult to draw the line. For example, should Dennis Davis get a credit for the opening to Sound and Vision? (Those three blasts alone being greater then any Gabrels contribution I can think of.) If Ronson, why not Garson on Aladdin Sane? And I also think Bowie’s given out a few co-writing credits that may not have been fully earned.
        I think Eno’s comment sums it up best: whoever is paying the bills gets to decide. (Your manager was wrong by the way.)

      • col1234 says:

        Yeah, Eno’s on the money. The Garson solo on “Aladdin” is a good case in point–it’s well established that the entire solo was his doing, that Bowie had only told him to play over two chords and then just vetoed solos he didn’t like. But I think Garson didn’t complain because it’s a jazz standard that a supporting player’s solo doesn’t count as “composing.”

        take Miles Davis’ “So What”: credited solely to Davis, but the recording is obviously in great part the work of Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley and Paul Chambers.

      • Gnomemansland says:

        There are of course many shades of grey when it comes to credits. I vaguely recall at least one musician successfully suing for a song writing credit for a top 20 hit on the strength of his violin part being integral to the song. BUT that isn’t really what meant; I was thinking more where Bowie has only the sketchiest of outlines for a song, or even takes the chord progression from one of the musicians and turns it into a song. Sure one can say what price originality most pop/rock/blues progressions are nicked from somewhere but that isn’t really the point Bowie should do the decent thing more often and give credit. As for ENO much as HCTWJ is one of my favorite LPs he has a track record of nicking stuff; when he was working with Talking Heads he and Byrne were about to take all the credit for the songs until the rest of the band said “hang on a minute – these funk backing tracks didn’t just write themselves”.

    • fluxkit says:

      The PSB mix is the song, to me. That’s the version I’d consider a classic. The hammering, NIN-lite version on Outside gets a bit grating and more boring.

      • fluxkit says:

        And I only even heard the PSB mix last autumn. I never was exposed to it until finally watching the Bowie Best of video collection. It has more style and you can dance to it rather than just pogo and thrash.

      • waki says:

        I just discovered that PSB version of Spaceboy, thanks to this post, and cannot even stand it. Tried thrice but have to stop each time after a minute of painful trial. I confess am allergic to disco beat x sound. As for the argument that you can better danse on that version, I would reply, “the robots are going to town… Beep beep!” (Fashion, Scary Monsters –Sorry, I was 10 then and it’s in my blood since). There is tremendous deep raw power hugely and refinedly channeled in Outside, with a very distinctive sound as an outcome –supposed to reflect the year it was produced. So if one danses on something Outside related, one would better try and harness one’s guts too, with some sophistication hopefully, and no escape. To me that’s part of Bowie’s call. When the current ‘chaos is killing’ us, dansing –if that’s an appropriate reply– has to bring an answer somehow. Obviously the PSB version does not belong there and I am completely puzzled how it came to be. I hear only compromission (not even talking about the lyrics/topic). To me Outside is not meant for a ‘good boy good girl’ dance. Confusing, these daaays…

  2. MC says:

    Great track – should have been the first single (the album version – never much cared for the Pet Shop Boys mix, much as I admire the cheeky Major Tom reference)

    Another great piece; fascinating backstory for a track that always seemed to me a straightforward barn-burner.

  3. The Pet Shop Boys mix is fabulous: if anything the track sounds fathomless, weirder, and more androgynous.

  4. Cansorian says:

    Great write up. I had no idea who Brion Gysin was or his connection to Bowie/Burroughs and the cut up technique. Thanks for that bit of education.

    Even though the PSB mix sands down quite a bit of the edges of Hello Spaceboy, I’ve always liked it. Tennant’s idea to cut up the Space Oddity lyric was a simple but inspired choice. Plus their voices sound great together, especially in the little call and response bit.

  5. Patrick says:

    I’ve always disliked this track, specially the PSB remix. While DB often references his past, whatever his denials, I think he does it here in a lazy way partly because the track is so weak, being little more than a perpetual B side remix fodder without much meat. While I’m an admirer of early PSB, their later work became predictable and superficial (not in a good way), and their version kind of epitomises that decline. They also as you say, force Major Tom back, but you can hardly blame listeners making the connection previously and DB couldn’t rewrite the past here in the skilful way Ashes to Ashes did, mostly because the music was just not good enough. In Hallo Space Boy It’s Bowie playing Bowie rather than Bowie playing any other character or even himself. They did get to work with that Trendy Uncle Dave though, so that must have been nice for their CV.

  6. Ramzi says:

    I’ve recently become a huge fan of the original – a high energy song that I think best encapsulates the industrial rock atmosphere he was going for in Outside (at least out of the singles anyway). However I think it’s always lacked something when performed live, and the PSB version is indeed dire.

  7. Scarymonster says:

    Although I had enjoyed the album version, its reinterpretation by PSB was a stroke of camp genius that deserved to be a much bigger hit.

    Bowie’s re-appropriation of his 70s gender-bending accoutrements for the performances with PSB – the incongruous stilletoes and, for the Brits performance, a single ostentatious diamante earring – was a joy to behold. An acceptance that his most testosterone-driven track had been emasculated and, at the height of that most laddish of movements, ‘Britpop’, utterly refreshing to these ears.


  8. gcreptile says:

    So, this is the song that made me a Bowie fan. For me, it started here. I used to be a giant PSB fan in those days (Sadly, they’re harmless and boring today, in my opinion.) so I had to buy the single. The remix is still more a PSB song than a Bowie song for me – because of the synthesizers. Today, I think it’s not quite as excellent as I thought back then, though still good. Something is missing though. The added verse and the jungle beat do not quite push the song to the limit. The original version is a very different beast, I was a little shocked at first. It’s all brutal energy and confusion. I think I prefer that version today. And it works excellently in the context of the album. (Thanks for the reference to another outsider artist!) Anyway, I remember the CD single having a version of Moonage Daydream and The Heart’s Filthy Lesson on it. There was a fourth track that I forgot about. But that was my gateway drug into Bowie, the 1990 Singles Collection followed, then I can’t remember, did I buy Outside or Earthling first? I bought Earthling within a week of its release though, so I was a convert already.
    The PSB/Bowie collaboration was an unlikely one, but for me it shows how music fans, or young people like myself back then, can explore a whole new world through these collaborations. They CAN be a gift (or a commercial calculation…). After all, if these artists found something to agree on, the listener might as well. Within this context, I also thought about who Bowie collaborated with, and with whom he didn’t. There are some obvious omissions, Scott Walker, of course, David Sylvian (the better Gary Numan?), and most of all, David Byrne.

  9. Roman says:

    What I didn’t like about the PSB’s single, is that for the first time in Bowie’s career he was nakedly chasing a hit. Hearts and Strangers had both relatively flopped and for the first time since his breakthrough, a major Bowie release was going to lack a hit single on it. Even the three albums prior to Ziggy all eventually had hit singles on them by 1974.

    His performance on TOTP in 1996 was also cringe worthy – not due to David himself but because the kids cheered when their real idol sang – Chris Tennant – rather than when Bowie sang. It really hit me then, how much work Bowie still had to do to be relevant again at street level.

    • Maj says:

      What was Let’s Dance then? Thrying to be a hardcore cabaret metalhead? 😉

      Also, it’s Neil. Unless you were trying to invent a new name for PSB…Chris Tennant. You could also try Neil Lowe. Hm…

      • Roman says:


        Wow – I said ‘Chris’? Doh! Apologies.

        Of course he’s chased hits before Hallo Spaceboy. But never so tactlessly. Let’s Dance is a pure commercial sound from it’s inception.
        Hallo Spaceboy is industrial rock which, without Bowie’s involvement, was deconstructed into a pop song with the sole intention of storming the charts – as Bowie had proved that he could no longer do so when left to his own devices (though his choice of singles had probably a lot to do with it).
        How Bowie rates the song is reflected in how many times he’s played it compared to the original.

  10. postpunkmonk says:

    Now here’s a song I quite liked from “Outside” in its original, brutally concussive form. This was Bowie at his most abrasive since “Tin Machine” and I actually liked it. The punishing arrangement was the most successful appropriation of industrial rock on the album for me. I only ever heard the PSB version when I got the “Best of Bowie” DVD set, and quite frankly, it made no impact on me, even though I collected PSB from ’85-’93. Not much of a song, but it is exciting as hell. Almost King Crimson-like in its punishment/reward methodology… except the “reward” portions of the song aren’t all that melodic, only “softer.”

  11. Diamond Duke says:

    Once again, kudos for a very impressive write-up. I had come across the name of Brion Gysin before, in books about Bowie and the Rolling Stones, and I did know that he was the originator of the “cut-up” technique later popularized by Burroughs. But as of today, I still haven’t read any of his work. Maybe one of these days…

    While like most fans, I prefer the punishing industrial assault of the Outside original, I do think the PSB remix is alright (and Tennant’s “cut-up” of Space Oddity is admittedly rather clever). I’m actually not all that familiar with the Pet Shop Boys’ music. I have thought about getting a best-of compilation of theirs. I know they’ve done some videos with Derek Jarman, many of whose films I’m a great fan of (in particular Caravaggio, War Requiem and Edward II), and as with the Smiths my interest is mildly piqued by the connection. But I’m also kind of thinking it might be a little bit too “dancey” for my tastes. (Just to let you know where I’m coming from by way of example, even though I’m getting slightly off-topic, I vastly prefer Joy Division to New Order. I have both the Heart And Soul and Retro box sets, but I’ve probably listened to Heart And Soul 10 times more than I’ve listened to Retro. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I’ve even listened to anything by New Order, while the Joy Division songbook is pretty much seared into my consciousness. I’m probably a bit too “rockist” in many ways, as much as I’m loath to admit it sometimes.)

    Anyhoo…where was I? Oh yes, Hallo Spaceboy! This was one of the standout cuts for me when I first got the Outside album, which as I’ve stated before was my first (non-compilation) David Bowie album. I was certainly very impressed at how a classic-rock veteran (albeit a left-field one) could create such an aggressive, contemporary-sounding racket, and a seemingly effortless one at that! (Not to mention the fact that in the ’80s he had seemingly thrown in his lot with the pop mainstream.) But that’s just a testament to Bowie’s fluidity of expression and his creative openness, qualities which separate him from the rest of the pack. Granted, after Earthling, his work would turn more inward and become less concerned with issues of zeitgeist or relevancy – at least in a superficial sense. Not that that was necessarily a bad thing…! 😉

    • humanizingthevacuum says:

      PSB were the best singles artists between 1986 and 1989, and maybe best album artists too. Their powers faded slowly over the nineties as waning songwriting powers fought with changing dance trends, but Bilingual still had it.

      • col1234 says:

        Bilingual’s a tough one for me—sometimes it sounds like the beginning of the end, other times it sounds vital. Tie between “Behaviour” and “Very” as the best PSB albums for me.

      • Patrick says:

        From the moment I first heard “Wesr End Girls” I thought , what a “cool” and audacious record which seemed to come out of nowhere but actually took a little time to break. Their earlier work was often excellent but Tennant’s voice is very limited and when the music got clichéd and tired they just ended up going on too long. They should have broken up.
        trivia: The singer in my brother’s band in the 80s (you won’t have heard of them) used to share a flat with Chris Lowe. Said he was always messing about with keyboards.

  12. Mr Tagomi says:

    This is my favourite song on Outside.

    I think it’s the only one that fully hits the bullseye in the way that several songs did on Earthling.

    Funnily enough, I was always under the impression that it was a deliberate sequel to Ashes to Ashes. I must have picked up a garbled version of the story relating to the PSB remix.

  13. Mother says:

    Great write up, exceptional as always. not a fan of this track or album, although Thru These Architects Eyes is quite nice. Never looked so forward to Earthling!

  14. Momus says:

    There’s a lot to be said for absolutely primal, monolithic headbanging, and this song is an extraterrestrial moai idol.

    The stereo-jumping guitar riff is lifted from an Iggy Berlin-period song, and I’m tormenting myself trying to remember which one. Ricky Gardiner, anyway.

    The Pet Shop Boys jumped the shark with Bilingual, in my view. I say that sadly because I used to be such a fan that I got called “the third Pet Shop Boy” in reviews.

    There’s nothing sadder or more pathetic than musicians consumed by copyright or credit-inspired vendettas. Fripp in particular seems to spend his days beating a drum of victimhood. I’m sure that’s a major reason he never got the Next Day call.

    Genius steals, and David Bowie has always been a genius.

    This blog continues to be The Best Thing On The Internet.

      • humanizingthevacuum says:

        And Bowie’s played it fairly straight with songwriting credits: “Fame,” “Breaking Glass,” “Rock and Roll With Me,” the entirety of “…hours.”

    • David L says:

      I thought Fripp did get the call but turned it down? Or was that another Bowie guitarist. Whoever it was he almost ruined the secret before the secret albums release …

      • postpunkmonk says:

        Let me set this straight. Fripp has published a diary on the web for nearly 20 years. He was the first musician to blog, way before they deemed it “blogging.” He often relates the content of his dreams. He related a dream where he was recording with Eno and Bowie, a not unlikely dream scenario if you’re Robert Fripp. Somehow, Visconti got wind of this but wires got crossed so that Fripp’s dream became recast as a security leak. Even though Fripp was never asked to play, got it? If Fripp ever got the call, his wife would have insured that he went through with it, trust me! That scenario worked for Nick Cave and Grinderman. If Bowie called, Fripp would have his marching papers from his wife!!

      • David L says:

        From the Rolling Stone Q&A with Visconti:

        … Now one person did leak it, but nobody believed him . . .


        Robert Fripp! He was asked to play on it, he didn’t want to do it and then he wrote on his blog that he was asked. And nobody kinda believed him. It was a little flurry for a few days, but everyone said, “How could that be true? We haven’t heard it from anyone else?”


    • Gnomemansland says:

      Hmmm Baby on the Idiot kind of does the stereo riff thing.
      Next Day could have been so much better with some Frippery on it the guitar playing is to say the least leaden – you can only steal if there is something worth nicking I guess.

      • humanizingthevacuum says:

        The last two PSB albums are boring but on a purely formalist level — putting aside Bowie’s lasting value as icon and media manipulator — their catalog is shockingly low in embarrassments, far more so than Bowie (who as a Great Artist often had to fail big).

      • Momus says:

        Ah yes, I think you’re right, it is Baby!

  15. Pinstripe Hourglass says:

    I may be the minority here, but I really do love the remix more… of course I’ve always had a thing for Tennant’s voice. He always sounds so old, doesn’t he? I think Tom Ewing commented on this in his Populist entry on “West End Girls” – he’s such an old, lost soul. It’s a nice mix with Bowie’s voice, which by Outside was really starting to show (sound?) its age, I think. Of course, it did pull Bowie further into the direction of the melancholy and reflective, which is probably something he wanted to avoid at the time. He seems to have embraced it now, though.

  16. Jeremy says:

    Fantastic write-up!

    Awesome track really, both the original and the remix.

  17. Ofer says:

    While the write-up is very interesting and well written, I disagree with the premise. I don’t think bowie sang the original in concerts because he was trying to reclaim the song – he just knew it was a far better version. I think the only reason the PSB version was released as a single in the first place is that perhaps after an initial shock, bowie was drawn to the idea of scoring another major Tom hit without actually having to ‘take the chance’ that comes with writing it himself.

    The PSB version was probably the first bowie song I ever heard, being a hit single in Israeli radio when I was nine years old. It had no impact on me. The original song is one of the two tracks I really love on the outside album.

  18. Maj says:

    First of all, even though I became a PSB fan years later after becoming a Bowie fan, I nevertheless love them a lot and there’s no surprise that I ended up loving their version/remix as much as I love Bowie’s album version. Both versions work really well. Bowie’s has more balls and insane-ness; PSB’s drive home the whole Major Tom thing and very smartly might I add…but no surprise. We’re dealing with Neil Tennant here. I see the discussion above grew into criticising their discography and where exactly they jumped the shark (they haven’t yet, btw…Bowie can wish to have such a strong no big ups and down discography) but since this is a Bowie blog, I won’t comment on that any further.

    I actually think I heard the PSB remix version first because it was on a cassette best of of Bowie’s…that must have come out in 2002, along with the videos DVD. Back then I didn’t know them almost at all (apart from hating Go West on the radio) but after I got over my dislike of dance beats I instantly took a liking to that track. Hearing the album version a few months later was interesting but it obviously made sense in context of the album. It took me a while to get used to the assault that this version is but as of 2013 I do like both versions equally. They’re both so different, so there’s room in my brain for both.

    Now to Chris’s piece. I don’t even know if I ever heard about Gysin and if I did I quickly forgot him, so this was all a very interesting read. Ditto the evolution of the song and the credit where credit is due issue. Why does Eno always seem to get credit with Bowie and the poor guitarists do not? Hm.

    Neil Tennant was at Bowie’s early Ziggy gigs in Newcastle in ’72, he even got an autograph from Bowie. Well it really is Bowie’s own fault, he created a whole generation of fans/musicians and expected them to ever forget what was the spark that made them who they were? Oh I totally get him but I also get them.

    And I’m gonna end it here before I start rambling even more.

  19. I’d take Gabrels’ account of the situation with several very large grains of salt. Lest we forget, this is the guy who got the most co-writing credits of any Bowie collaborator ever.

    • Maj says:

      But how much of it did he get after Tin Machine ended? I honestly never pay attention to this sort of thing TBH, but it seems to me Bowie always gave credit to Eno, whatever his contribution (vs. Ferry who did not credit him on the first two Roxy albums, only started doing so on their collabs from 90’s onwards). It’s just interesting, that’s all.

      • Stolen Guitar says:

        With you on this, Maj. As I’ve stated previously, ad nauseum, Bowie ‘overcredits’ Eno and, more or less consistently, ‘undercredits’ his other many and varied collaborators. Can’t imagine why…Is Eno indispensible to him? Just how much of Eno is there in the ‘Berlin Trilogy’? I know Eno had bugger all to do with StationtoStation and that’s enough to convince me that Bowie’s wrong if he really does think that. Not to mention Ziggy, Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane, etc…

        By the way, for what it’s worth, I also believe that Eno’s contribution to Roxy is overstated. Ferry was the best lyricist (and that includes Bowie) of his age and Manzanera, Mackay and, especially, Paul Thompson were no slouches either.

        Eno’s a dilettante and Bowie, too, always has it in him but what separates Bowie is his musicality and his recognition that he he needs a strong musical hand on the tiller, hence Ronson, Visconti and Alomar, plus others such as Garson, Slick and the fabulously sublime duo of Dennis Davis and George Murray.

        Do love Here Come the Warm Jets, though…and Another Green World, Films, Airports, etc! What do I know?!

        Love this song and the Pet Shop Boys reworking of it ,too. It’s sufficiently different enough to mark it out as a separate entity, unlike Lulu’s and Nirvana’s MWSTW’s, both of which remain popular and liked by fans and others alike. Rather like Sinead O’Connor’s version of Nothing Compares 2 U, perhaps?

        Great work, as ever, Chris and now I’m fixing my sights on Slow Burn…ha-ha!

      • s.t. says:

        Totally agree about Roxy Music. Eno was an important element in the first two albums, but mostly as a fiddler and filterer. Bryan’s songs then were quite distinct, and to be honest it took me a while to warm to Eno’s simpler, more naive writing style on his early solo albums. I do love it now, but it seems obvious that the bulk of the Roxy aesthetic was provided by Ferry, with additional musical contributions made by Manzanera and MacKay (no offense to the solid but obedient rhythm section), and some general sonic wackiness provided by Eno.

  20. Roman says:

    I remember one of the tabloid’s took a shot at Bowie, accusing him of ripping off the then current Babylon Zoo’s 1996 Spaceboy hit – and thus – in true UK-tabloid style – ignoring the inconvenient fact that Bowie’s original was out a year earlier.

  21. Jeremy says:

    Regarding the credit issue. In jazz the guy who comes along and plays or say’s “I’ve got this phrase or motif” is the author of the track, even though all the other players improvise around it and basically create the final version. That’s how they solved the problem in what is essentially an improvising genre. In rock/pop music I guess someone has to make the decision as to what constitutes an adequate contribution to get a writing credit – so why not the principal writer?

    As for Gabrels issues – well so what if Bowie used the phrase moondust will cover me over his ambient track and then later used it as part of the lyric for HSB? Ringo coined the phrase – a hard day’s night and a few others I can’t quite think of and he didn’t get a credit because he didn’t go and write a song around it. Bowie and Eno may have been inspired by the phrasing of Gabrels track but Gabrels didn’t write the resulting track. I’m on the side of Bowie here.

    Also with Ronson we must not confuse writing with arranging – and also remember the diagram Bowie drew for the solo in Moonage Daydream? (found in one of the Ziggy reissues) This gave me insight into that collaborative process. It is, though, a can of worms I admit….

    • s.t. says:

      Yes, I agree. With regard to Eno and Byrne vs. the rest of the Talking Heads (mentioned earlier), from what I read it seems as if David and Brian would take random hooks and fills from jams and construct wildly elaborate compositions quite different from the original jams. Subsequently, the other members would listen to the demos and tighten them up, adding a much needed technical proficiency. To me, Eno and Byrne seem like the songwriters in that case, and the others, while important for the final product, were in the backseat creatively.

      Similarly, Gabrels’ throwaway demo may have been the germ that festered into the disease known as Hallo Spaceboy, but it was Bowie and Eno who did the cultivating.

      • Gnomemansland says:

        Clearly this one could run and run and most people on here seem very happy with a classic auteur reading of the composition process with as Momus puts it Bowie as genius. This notion of the figurehead genius author is very much a modern day construct and suits the whole intellectual property lobby nicely. The cord progression, arrangement and embellishment of that progression, recording and production all play and equally important part in making a record. All other things being equal Next Day would be immeasurably better for having Fripp on it, same songs, same singer but much better final artwork. In another way ENOs contribution to early Roxy is so important. Ferry’s songs and vision but once ENO left things quickly become dull and stuck. Adorno was right popular music is largely formulaic and repetitive it is often the arrangement and production that add the nuances we all love.

      • Stolen Guitar says:

        In reply to Gnomemansland, I would point out the three great Roxy albums that followed Eno’s departure and thereafter some flashes of brilliance, such as The Same Old Scene, Trash…Plus, look at Ferry’s run of brilliant solo albums in the 70s. Sure, Eno’s contribution to popular music is not insignificant but I’m merely stating that he’s overpraised, especially where Bowie’s concerned.

        Agree with you about Adorno, it’s a law of diminishing returns and dilution. Better to burn out and not fade away. Look at the Stones…

      • s.t. says:

        Yes, Eno mentioned that “Stranded” is his favorite Roxy album (though of course he could have been trying to win some contrarian points).

        Gnomemansland, you mentioned that the figurehead genius meme is perfectly suited for the intellectual property lobby, but intellectual property is the whole framework for this conversation. I’m sure Bowie and Eno have no problem mentioning that Reeves’ demo helped get their ideas going with this track. But Reeves seems to be saying that he deserves royalties for the track, which is all about intellectual property. Similarly, Eno added some very important touches to Roxy’s sound, but the songs were Ferry’s babies, and he would only agree to an idea if it aligned with his larger vision.

        Perhaps we should treat song credits like films, and break contributions down to more specific components. In that case Bowie would be the writer and director, Eno the cinematographer, and Reeves could get a “based on a short story by” sort of credit. I have no problem with that, but as things stand, it’s just “songwriting” credit that has to be fought out, and in that case, I side more with those in leadership roles.

    • CosmicJive says:

      The whole Bowie/Gabrels dynamic was very different to the Ronson/Bowie or Alomar/Bowie dynamic. A lot of that had to do, I think, with Bowie and Reeves starting out as sort of ‘equals’ in Tin Machine; being members of the same band. While the others were guitarists in Bowie’s backing bands.

      Didn’t Ronson himself say he wasn’t a writer but an arranger? I think someone should only get a songwritingcredit for being involved in the creation of the chord structure of the song. Not the coloring of it. At the time of Ziggy David clearly wrote the songs on his acoustic guitar, we’ve heard the demo’s. Mick did an excellent job coloring those demo’s adding nice guitar- and string parts. But I don’t think he should have gotten a songwriting credit for that.

      The Spaceboy-Moondust thing is a bit more difficult to judge. When Eno says he stripped it down to ´almost nothing´ implies that ´some´ of the original structure which Reeves composed did remain. If that´s true I think Reeves should´ve gotten a credit. But we´ll never now for certain since it hasn´t been released and we can´t compare the two.

      • Mr Tagomi says:

        One interesting remark I remember Bowie making somewhere was that he was surrounded in the studio by people who were far more musical than he was.

        He gave the example of someone like Reeves telling him that he was using the “wrong” chord in a song for a proper progression.

      • Diamond Duke says:

        I once read something Gabrels said in an interview, to the effect that the reason he and Bowie ultimately fell out was that he had gotten used to the idea of Bowie being the singer in his band and not the other way around! And when push came to shove, he ultimately failed to remember whose name it was on the albums.

        Mr. Tagomi,
        Also, Bowie once stated in an interview that because he was so often surrounded by people in the studio who were technically so much more instrumentally proficient, that he would often defer to the other musicians when it came time to lay down certain instrumental parts. And while it would often come out sounding technically better, it wouldn’t quite sound the way he heard it in his head. One of the reasons why he has a good rapport with producer Tony Visconti is that Visconti actively encouraged his greater involvement, in terms of playing in the studio. In particular, he was very much involved in the playing on albums such as Low and Heathen.

        During the ’80s, Bowie was particularly deferential toward his producers and fellow musicians, allowing first Nile Rodgers and then Carlos Alomar and Erdal Kizilcay a lot more leeway in terms of the shaping of the tracks. And this relative lack of involvement is no doubt one of the reasons why he doesn’t look back at the Tonight/Never Let Me Down era very fondly. While recording Let’s Dance, the actual intent was to make a “singer’s vehicle” type of album, one in which all he had to do was sing. But I think perhaps the success of that record led him to pull back in terms of musical involvement, not wanting to rock the boat in terms of his own artistic and creative idiosyncracies.

        I also remember once he said something interesting about the Diamond Dogs tour, that the musicianship was excellent, but that the sound of the numbers from the Diamond Dogs album somehow failed to capture the sort of raw, ragged, punky energy of the original versions because in a way it was “too good.”

  22. s.t. says:

    I had never heard of Brion Gysin. Actually, in my youth—and partially due to Bowie, but also people like Genesis P-Orridge—“Burroughs” was just short-hand for “cut-up literary technique,” so it’s interesting to learn that another artist deserves that (likely overly reductive) honor.

    Hallo Spaceboy is one of the highlights of Outside, in my opinion. but I find the PSB mix to be underwhelming. The Boys (like Frank Zappa) are constantly recommended to me by people I respect, yet I can’t connect with their work. There just seems to be too much distance. Perhaps I can only take so much “clever” in my music.

    Anyway, excellent post.

  23. Sky-Possessing Spider says:

    I’m with you on this one s.t. I have “West End Girls” and ” It’s a Sin” on a couple of 80s compilation cd’s I’ve put together, and that’s all the Pet Shop Boys I need. As for Frank Zappa, I find that whole frat-boy humour like “watch out where those huskies go, and don’t you eat that yellow snow” about as funny as a fart in a wet-suit.

    • s.t. says:

      Yes, thank you! I could rant on a bit more, but I fear I might pull the comment thread way out of Bowie territory, let alone Hallo Spaceboy. So, I will only say that Zappa’s chaos does not come close to killing me.

  24. AlonInSeine says:

    I always thought that the PSB remix is actually a re-recording of the original, I can’t hear one bit of the album track in the remix.

  25. Michael says:

    After reading this I checked out the live version on Youtube from Jools Holland.

    It’s incredible, the vocals are spot on, there’s a violence to the guitar that isn’t on the record. It comes together like a murder. It’s incredible.

    • damkring says:

      The Jools Holland performance has always been my favourite version of Spaceboy. The later Reeves-less live performances were very weak, in my opinion. Stuff like Battle For Britain sounds watered down on the Reality tour. Slick just ain’t nasty enough for the Outside/Earthling tracks.
      The PSB remix is not my bag at all.
      Wonderful blog/site. Very addictive!

  26. Banstyle says:

    As a long time Bowie fan who more or less ignored his 90s output (aside from …hours) I’ve been listening to a lot of Outside and Earthling after finding this blog. While I find Outside to be a particularly enjoyable album if you remove all the clutter in between the actual songs, Hallo Spaceboy is actually one of my least favorite tracks from it. I find it rather repetitive and the lyrics don’t really go anywhere. It seems more like just a bunch of random ideas or “trying to sound hip” phrases thrown together to make a hit. For me it doesn’t come close to These Architects Eyes, The Motel, Outside, or Strangers When We Meet as the high water marks of Outside.

  27. Mr. George Gordon says:

    I always felt the album track was just okay, a kind of empty and sparse thing that went on and on- DB’s habit of doing first take vocals in the 90s’ makes him seem not especially engaged- the version of this that absolutely kills is when Mark Plati restyled it with a tighter and more prominent bassline/drum hook, heard on the 2000 BBC Theatre live album. That, and it’s evolution on the Realty Tour CD- these are the only versions of the song for me. They’re tight and rocking, whereas even the live versions with Reeves just sound like a racket.

  28. Jason says:

    The best place to start PSB wise for songwriting and an all round maturity of an album I would have to say ‘Behaviour’ from 1990.

  29. Anonymous says:

    This is essentially Bowie conquering Eurodance with the help of the greatest anti-rock duo of all time. Brilliant.

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