Dead Man Walking


Dead Man Walking.
Dead Man Walking (single edit, video).
Dead Man Walking (“house” mix).
Dead Man Walking (Moby Mix 1).
Dead Man Walking (Moby Mix 2).
Dead Man Walking (Top of the Pops, 1997).
Dead Man Walking (Late Night with Conan O’Brien, 1997).
Dead Man Walking (Jack Docherty Show, 1997).
Dead Man Walking (acoustic w/ Gabrels, radio, 1997).
Dead Man Walking (acoustic w/ Gabrels, Live 105, 1997).
Dead Man Walking (live, 1997).

There’s something sage-like about [Neil] Young, this grand old man of American rock, a pioneer loaded with integrity…

Bowie, 1997.

People my age, they don’t do the things I do.

Neil Young, “I’m the Ocean.”

He idly considered writing an ode to his former co-star Susan Sarandon, using as a kick-off point the title of her most recent film. But upon seeing Neil Young and Crazy Horse play one night,* Bowie found “Dead Man Walking” better suited someone who’d become the California redwood of rock musicians.

He’d discovered Young during his “oddball folkie” period of high influence, ca. 1970-1971, when other favorites on the Haddon Hall turntable were Biff Rose and Ron Davies. And it was Young’s After the Gold Rush Bowie was listening to when he learned his son Duncan was born. “Kooks,” the song he wrote in commemoration, was also a tribute to Young, both lyrically (“we believe in you“) and instrumentally (Trevor Bolder’s trumpet solo on the track is a close cousin to the one on Young’s “Till the Morning Comes.”)

Like Bowie, Young’s finest work came in the Seventies; unlike Bowie, his Eighties were commercially barren, his records seemed willfully obscure. In his crooked way, Young was doing what Bowie had tried with his “Berlin” records—to erase a persona that he felt trapped in. While in the Seventies he’d slaved to be contrarian, driving “into the ditch” after a time in the middle of the road, Young still mainly played two alternating roles: heavy rocker and somber folkie. So in the Eighties he rubbished the idea of “Neil Young.” He made a synthesizer album, a country record, a blues-bar album and a Fifties rock ‘n’ roll tribute LP that led his label’s head David Geffen to sue him for making “unrepresentative” albums.

Around the turn of the Nineties, Young seemed to settle on being “himself” again and soon was anointed the only Baby Boomer musician who wasn’t a joke. He was slower, craggier, he looked like someone’s hippie dad, stumping around on stage. But he became immaculately hip, recording with Pearl Jam, touring with Sonic Youth; he seemed more of the time than his counterparts a generation younger.

What Bowie seemed hell-bent on being in the Nineties—a 50-year-old rocker who was still in the bloodstream of current music—Young simply was. And he did this not by playing drum ‘n’ bass or Pixies riffs, but the same old first-gear/second-gear grind, feedback-bloodied, juddering, two-guitars-bass-drums music that he’d played in the Sixties. He had stood still and the world had revolved back around to him.

Bowie was taken by the idea of Young as some kind of shaman figure for audiences half his age. Watching Young and his old bandmates in Crazy Horse channel music seemingly through their bodies, he thought “there was a sense of grace and dignity about what they were doing, and also an incredible verve and energy. It was very moving, watching them work under the moon,” he said.

In another interview, he expanded on what he’d seen that night. During a long instrumental section of a song, “they began to dance, turning around, like in a tribal circle, very slowly. And it seemed to me that they were doing that to catch back their dreams, to find youth again, to not allow the energy to escape…”Dead Man Walking” is a sort of homage to rock and roll that is still young while we are all growing old.”

The song’s second verse is Bowie’s dream memory of that night, a realization that he, too, had become a crazy old man dancing under the moon:

Three old men dancing under the lamplight
Shaking their sex and their bones
And the boys that we were..

dead man yowling

So one tributary of “Dead Man Walking” began the night Bowie saw Young play. Another was a far older stream, starting in a London studio one day in January 1965.

Two ambitious young men are in the room that day: one is an 18-year-old from Bromley who’s cutting his second-ever single, a muddled cover of Bobby Bland’s “I Pity the Fool.” The other, despite being just 21, is a storied professional guitarist, a studio hired gun who quietly exudes cool and who’s happy to show off his latest gear: in this case, a fuzzbox. So David Jones sings “Pity the Fool,” and Jimmy Page doubles on lead for it. Page doesn’t think it’s a hit, and it isn’t. As if in recompense he plays Jones a riff that he’s not going to use. It’s a lumbering sway between two chords, a brontosaurus stomp. Duh-nuh duh-nuh dunna-nuh duh-nuh. Page doesn’t realize just how much of a packrat he’s talking to. Jones will keep the riff in his head: he’ll use it on “The Supermen” five years later, then he’ll revive it in another lifetime, in New York in 1996.

In its old age, Page’s riff was still basically the same: E-flat and F major, a steady foot-clomp of harmonic rhythm. But on the studio take of “Dead Man Walking,” the riff is a beast in a cage. It collides with a second Reeves Gabrels synthesized guitar line, which buzzes along and jabs at it. Its rhythms are overwhelmed by synthesizer arpeggios, tea-kettle feedback noises, various percussive loops. Yet despite this it still has its power: whenever the riff plays to close out a chorus, it’s a gavel pounding, making the other jabbering voices fall in line for a moment.


“Dead Man Walking” was nearly abandoned during the Earthling sessions until the co-producer Mark Plati spent five days salvaging the song, painstakingly putting a mix together that was built on a dramatic arc. As Plati said, the track “begins completely programmed and ends completely live.” It opens with solitary synthesizer flourishes and ends with the sound of live musicians making themselves heard above the din: Zachary Alford’s snare fills and hissing cymbals, Gail Ann Dorsey’s bass (she’s often gliding between notes, as if looking to outflank the rest of the band, and while she holds back during Alford’s solo, she slides in afterward and lays down a sinuous foundation for the outro) and Mike Garson, who closes out the song by playing a new, Latin-sounding melody on his piano, as if saying: no, look we could go here now just at the fade.

Bowie opens his verse with an older man, perhaps an entertainer, watching a clip of his youth on a screen, recalling some show or deal in Atlantic City. He gets up, dismisses his idle thoughts while he “walks down the aisle”: (he’s on an airplane? or maybe he’s getting married again). As the pre-chorus begins, with its downshift to E-flat minor, he feels oddly clear of the past, as if he’s suddenly outlived it: in a marvelous line, he feels “older than movies.” Like Young, he’s been around enough that the world’s swiveling back round to him. A counterpoint chorus, Bowie holding on two alternating notes, finds him hanging in mid-air, spinning slack through reality, falling “up” through time. Just before the riff kicks in (it’s the “earthling” of the song, its gravity well), as he sings across a four-chord descending progression (A-flat through G minor and F-sharp, ending on the riff’s bedrock F major), he tweaks his nose and dives away:

And I’m gone!
Like I’m dancing on angels
And I’m gone
through a crack in the past..

It’s bluster, playing japes: he can’t shed the weight of the past. He’ll wake up in his torn Union Jack coat and dried makeup and feel the hangover deep in his bones. (This is essentially the acoustic revision of “Dead Man Walking” that Bowie and Gabrels played for a number of TV and radio spots in 1997. It’s lovely and graceful but it’s an old man’s song now.) The chorus lines subtly acknowledge this, with their echoes of Young’s “Sleeps With Angels” (a man mourning a kid who took his old path and went astray) and, in perhaps the ultimate Bowie in-joke, his lost “Shilling the Rubes,” where a woman is played for a sucker by a man who’s skipped out on her (“Gone! the day he left town!”) The title line itself is a cruel joke: he’s escaped the past and wound up a zombie.

But there are a few moments in the song—whenever the riff’s playing (it’s like an extended middle finger pointed at time) or during Gabrels’ jabbing solo that has him relentlessly moving down his guitar neck, or when Alford slips in a sharp little tom-snare fill (4:52)—when Bowie seems free, when he’s gone lighter than air, toe-tapping on an angel’s head. It’s a youth of the mind, sure, but that’s really all youth ever was.


Recorded August 1996, Looking Glass Studios, NYC. Released as Earthling‘s third single in April 1997 (RCA 74321 475842, #32 UK). The single mix lops four lines from the pre-chorus (moving from “older than movies” straight to “And I know who’s there”), which does get to the chorus hook faster (Bowie used this edit for his acoustic versions as well), but diminishes the narrative of the song—its pleasures come a bit too easily.

There were a mind-fogging array of mixes. In Britain, there was a 12″ single with the House Mix and the Vigor Mortis remix (BMG/RCA 74321 475841 (oh, for the sunny days of “BOW 5″) as well as a promo single (RCA/BMG DMW02) that had the Moby Mix 1, the This One’s Not Dead Yet Remix as well as the two previous mixes. The EC and the US offered different variations, including a Moby Mix 2 on a US promo 12” that was later included on the 2004 reissue of Earthling. There were three acoustic versions of the song broadcast in 1997 subsequently issued on CD (including the Conan O’Brien performance): please see the Illustrated DB entry for more details.

Top: Shakey and Crazy Horse, ca. 1996 (found this on Tumblr–don’t know photog. if someone does, let me know.)

* Bowie claimed this was the Bridge Benefit Concert that he’d played with Young in October 1996. However, Earthling was mainly cut in August 1996. So perhaps Bowie rewrote the lyric to “Dead Man” after the Bridge show, or in interviews he confused that show with his memories of an earlier Young concert, or he was just making it up. All seem plausible.

50 Responses to Dead Man Walking

  1. Patrick says:

    Re: Top photo
    Google Search by Picture search says :

    It’s by Paolo Brillo
    His flickr Photostream is here
    (I’m not logged in so can’t find it with the set . i think he has an explicit “don’t use without permission” disclaimer so maybe contact him to clear it?

    Uncut Magazine - February 2021
  2. 87Fan says:

    I really just never understood why this was a single (even back when it was released, I was just “meh” on it). I never really liked the album version of this song, and I wouldn’t have minded if it was left on the cutting room floor, but I love the acoustic treatments and some of the mixes are good enough to play in the background when I’m doing something else. So I guess I’ll just continue to skip the album version and listen to the variations.

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      I’m the opposite. I really love this one. I love the album version and the acoustic version equally.

    • s.t. says:

      Proof that taste is not objective!

      In my more critical moods, I feel as if “Dead Man” is one of the very few saving graces of Earthling, and think tracks like “Satellites” and “Last Thing” were actually culled from random scraps of audio files found on Plati’s hard drive at the eleventh hour.

      Of course, in my more typical mood, I find Earthling to be a breezy, effortlessly enjoyable collection of sounds, though a good deal on the fluffy side.

    • 1969 OK ! says:

      87… and cry, cry… cry !!!

    • prankster36 says:

      Fascinating. I saw the Conan O’Brien performance when it originally aired and thought the song was wonderful. I’m just now learning about the drum ‘n’ bass album version and…yeah…maybe it’s the closed-mindedness of age, but switching to acoustic really saved the song as far as I’m concerned.

  3. humanizingthevacuum says:

    Loved the Neil Young bits. As for DMW, I wrote (in a review for my college paper) that it was best song since 1984. Not sure I agree now, despite loving the live versions.

  4. s.t. says:

    This may be the greatest moment on Earthling for me (with one possible exception to come). One of the fully fleshed out “songs” of the period, complete with a satisfying chorus and those wonderfully evocative lyrics.

    One of the cruel jokes of this song is that if most people in the US were to hear it, they would dismiss it as a cheap knock off of Madonna’s “Ray of Light,” which came out a year later. Musically, both are energetic techno/disco anthems by an older star trying to revive their brand, and the lyrics share a lot in common too, especially the mix of metaphors for rapid flight with a more reflective side. I think “Dead Man” got some attention in Europe, but it was ignored in the States, while “Ray of Light” signaled the rejuvenation of Madonna’s career, at least until her own Madonna (i.e., Lady Gaga) came to usurp her spotlight.

    As an aside, I always thought the lyric was “through the crack in the pants,” which seemed to me to be a classic Bowie crudity (we can assume that if it’s a crack in a young pairs of pants, one escapes to a mountain), or at least an obvious example of his cut-up method. I’m a little disappointed to find this more reasonable lyric!

    • col1234 says:

      i like “crack in the pants” more than the real version (well, I think he says “past”–maybe it is ‘pants’)

      • That line may be in another pair of pants.

      • s.t. says:

        True, “Letter” mentions pants. Two on the same album would be overdoing the novelty, I guess.

        Too bad Stephin Merritt didn’t get that memo, and forcibly rhymed “in it” with “in-FIN-ite” on two songs from the same Magnetic Fields album.

  5. Patrick says:

    Having listened only so far to the album track, it’ s not that bad, vocals, so so, musically a bit obvious in places and the production suppresses and neutralizes it, as if there is a better track in there that might come out live or in a different mix, so I’ll check out the other versions shortly.
    Anyone else get hints of that earlier track, was it “Judy can’t dance?”

    • Diamond Duke says:

      Actually that’s Lucy Can’t Dance – and yes, I did note a strong similarity! 😉

  6. gcreptile says:

    I think it’s my favorite track on the album. It bristles with energy and when I was 14, it expanded my mind. It’s the span of the song, from those brutal beats to Garson’s piano. A rollercoaster ride.
    So it recalls Neil Young… interesting, that artist does nothing for me. Yes, he was Kurt Cobain’s ancestor, but Grunge was too plain for me, I need a little more polishing. I’m still happy to find out what these songs are actually about – even on the throwaway tracks like “Law”.

  7. Maj says:

    Yay! Neil Young made it on this blog! 🙂 I might have even started listening to Neil before Bowie, but it never went to such depths as my Bowie obsession. I suppose while amazing, his output is too samey for me (well, apart from the 80’s I guess!). I used to listen to a lot more acoustic guitary folky stuff as a kid and an early teenager. That’s why I connected with Bowie’s ’68-’71 output first, after all.
    Dead Man works for me on the album. There’s a lot of interesting stuff happening at once but it mostly works well together. It could be shorter though (maybe like the single version).
    As much as I like acoustic versions of songs this song only works with the full band, the acoustic versions were anaemic, suddenly made the song sound uninteresting. This song needs to be a big racket to achieve its full potential.
    I have to say I completely forgot Dead Man had a video. I had to click on the link to remember what’s even in it (*yawn*). Whenever I hear this song I see some sort of urban shaman or something. Missed opportunity there (but something tells me they had a tiny budget).

    • fantailfan says:

      I started listening to Neil after Bowie, but in each case not heavily until after all of my favorite Eighties’ bands (except R.E.M.) had broken up.
      They’re kind of alike (male, English or of Anglo heritage, former cocaine addicts, driven, lone wolves), both playing at being Americans (or at least the vision of American that they hold in their heads). Both have got far more out of their talent than anyone would have predicted, seeing them in their youth. They each made the transition from coke-fueled madmen into mellow(er) middle age, and now into Elder Statesmen of Rock. After Bob Dylan, another driven lone wolf, the most significant survivors of the Sixties.

  8. col1234 says:

    i’d meant to throw this in somewhere in the entry, but didn’t: a candidate for Bowie’s dorkiest-ever dance move is the aerobic “walking in place” thing he does in the TOTP clip

    • s.t. says:

      David Byrne pulled it off better in “Stop Making Sense.” For me, nothing will ever beat Bowie’s “moves” in Dancing in the Street video.

    • Patrick says:

      HA! Just watched it. Hilarious. Gale Ann Dorsey , by contrast , I think looks particularly fetching in horns, Hooves and Tail. That woman is so cool. Always looks great on stage.

  9. l'âme du monde à cheval says:

    I always liked this song. Good mixture of raw electric guitars, fleeting electronic adornments & pure rushes of adrenaline injected straight into the heart. Sugary, paradoxical… but diabolically effective: Bowie with Garson… en formidable queue de comète !!!

    Pop on the cherry: Floria Sigismondi’s video… a Tribute to Francis Bacon.

  10. Sky-Possessing Spider says:

    I’m always amazed at how completely the “cool” wheel turns. For years The Beach Boys were considered to be just a slightly naff little California surf band who wrote pleasant enough, though hardly earth-shattering pop tunes. Then one day in ’95 I picked up a copy of MOJO with a list of the 500 greatest albums ever, and was gobsmacked to find “Pet Sounds” at the top of the list, and Brian Wilson proclaimed to be a tortured genius.
    Similarly, for years Johnny Cash had ZERO credibility points as a grizzled old country and western singer beloved by Mums and Dads and redneck Christians everywhere. Then one day, for no apparent reason all the hip rockers suddenly started citing him as someone who had lived a truly righteous rock’n’roll lifestyle,and were clambering over each other to sing duets with him.
    Then there’s Neil Young. During the punk wars, he was held up as a figure of ridicule, representing everything that was hippy, long-haired and uncool. It’s no coincidence that the despised hippy in The Young Ones household was called “Neil”, and was treated with contempt by the ultra-punk Vyvian and Rik. You can imagine my disgust then, when Neil Young suddenly and inexplicably became cool again, and was held up as the “godfather of Grunge”, while the world largely ignored Bowie, who after an 80s hiatus, had returned to making great music again. Who was up next for re-appraisal I wondered – Lawrence Welk??
    I guess every decade rails against the previous one, so the boring flannel shirt revolution of the 90s can be seen as a backlash against the style-obsessed 80s. But by God, that didn’t make Pearl Jam any easier to take at the time. Before I sign off, I’d like to shout out to my old mate
    Twinkle-Twinkle, who I haven’t heard from in a while. Yo’, are you still out there Twinks?

    • col1234 says:

      Peter, I really love the wonderful splenetic hatred you bring to these comments. Seriously.

      I’ll only offer this: successive generations take what they want from the past. My mother saw Sly and the Family Stone live in 1969. When she mentioned this, I was stunned and asked her to recount every minute, which baffled her: Sly and the Family were stupid bubblegum crap that she’d outgrown. What did I care about it?

      in the same way, where N. Young might have been hated by the punks, the early 90s generation found in him a compelling figure: an arty, pissy weirdo who had managed to keep his voice heard for decades, who liked feedback and loud guitars and smoking grass. He worked for them, as much as Serge Gainsbourg (a joke in the ’60s.. a Continental sleazebag who seemed to have been generated from the French edition of Playboy) worked for Stereolab and Beck. The old can’t choose how the young will pillage them: thus is always the brutal way of life.

      • Patrick says:

        This reminds me of a quote by the English painter and occasional writer on artist, (Sir) Lawrence Gowing. In an interview he once said, “for art to progress, each generation must misunderstand the previous one”.
        Crudely in art historical terms, many movements are seen, consciously or not at the time , as reactions to previous ones, such as POP art reacting to abstract expressionism, minimalism/conceptualism to capitalist art and hyper realism, etc.
        Also in musical terms , the youth often seem to look further back a decade or more for inspiration to distance themselves. to go against the grain and prevailing tastes, almost for the sake of it.

      • s.t. says:

        Very true. I tried to get my brother into some infectious K-pop songs that I thought were a perfect update of the bottled tight sex-repressed gushiness of 60’s girl groups. To my surprise, he was horrified by the update, saying that at least with the classic stuff there’s a distance that helps with appreciation. Most people are not quite as brutally lucid when they’re doing it, but historical distance does provide the luxury to pick and choose as you wish, at your own pace (rather than the overflow that usually happens when music first gets promoted), and with a dash of irony if needed.

        Rick Rubin did wonders for Cash’s legacy. Most people nowadays likely own “Delia’s Gone,” but they don’t have “Daddy Played Bass” or “I Still Miss Someone.”

        With Neil Young, I think it was mainly the fact that the Seattle punks who eventually kick-started grunge (and other non-coastal places like Oklahoma) were decidedly non-purist in their tastes. They openly worshiped Black Sabbath, Queen, Bowie, as well as underground stuff like Black Flag, Negative Approach, Husker Du, etc. So it’s not surprising that they looked up to Neil, especially with that killer grunge riff on “Into the Black.” And as far as the Flaming Lips go, Wayne Coyne owes quite a bit of his output to Neil (he just rode a crazier horse).

        The Pet Sounds thing is a little more strange. It felt almost overnight, and now that album is critically untouchable. Saying that the lyrics are corny is like saying that someone’s baby is ugly; people are horrified. I’m not quite sure how that happened.

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        Not really hatred in the case of any of the artists mentioned, just a surprise at how in each case their critical stocks seemed to change all of a sudden for no apparent reason. I actually like Johnny Cash’s version of Nick Cave’s “The Mercy Seat” even more than the original. I don’t hate Neil per se, he’s just not my cup of hemlock. But it always irritated me that the same fans that were suddenly fawning over him en masse for making a lot of guitar racket in Crazy Horse, were simultaneously condemning Bowie’s Tin Machine guitar racket, and ignoring his brilliant 90s output.

      • humanizingthevacuum says:

        I don’t know what to tell you, SPS. Neil Young returned to a sound and ethos in which he’d excelled as far back as 1969 (!) while Bowie in Tin Machine gave it a dilettantish try in Tin Machine and, exceptions aside, recorded a lot of crap. But, hey, get excited: Young’s late nineties are as uneven as Bowie’s!

    • humanizingthevacuum says:

      Really? I may have missed a couple of nasty remarks but Young was the only sixties guy revered by punks around the time of RNS.

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        Well, I don’t think Tin Machine was crap at all. I see it as a necessary purging of the sound and fans that he’d picked up in the 80s by going mainstream. I loved Tin Machine from the first time I heard the opening bars of “Heaven’s In Here”, where I recall thinking “y-e-es at last”. The whole Tin Machine venture was brilliantly executed: two albums, then it was all over. Didn’t overstay its’ welcome. But as so often seems to be the case on this forum, you and I will simply have to agree to disagree.

    • humanizingthevacuum says:

      Also, Sky-Possessing Spider, I don’t know if you’re paraphrasing purported punk reaction to Neil Young or giving your own opinion, but there is nothing — nothing, I’ll repeat — between “Harvest” and “Rust Never Sleeps” that suggests hippie bloat or complacency. He consciously strove to alienate his audience, and largely succeeded.

      • col1234 says:

        i greatly agree with this. Neil Young’s goal in the ’70s, post-“Harvest” was to bloodily kill the “hippie Neil” of “Helpless” and “Heart of Gold,” and he did a pretty damned good job of it

  11. Ramzi says:

    I’ve been fascinated by the complete switch from Earthling to Hours in the short space of a couple of years, but your insight into this song may prove to be the answer. I find it strange: he was doing the whole drum’n’bass/industrial rock thing in his albums and gigs, yet at the time he also started doing acoustic versions of songs (the bridge benefit, this), so that was possibly an indication to his shift towards…something a man of his age should’ve been doing, perhaps. But yeah, great article as per.

  12. Mr Tagomi says:

    That the riff is essentially the same one as The Supermen would probably never have occurred to me. Great bit of insight.

    I’d also never have thought that this song related to Neil Young.

    Brilliant as much of his post-Earthling music is, I think it would have been great if there had been more stuff of Dead Man Walking’s ilk.

    This is completely off-topic, but while it’s on my mind can I mention that I really love that metaphor from an earlier article of the Leon/Outside project being a huge dirigible designed to lift Bowie to the heights he’d reached effortlessly in the 1970s.

    Maybe a trifle harsh on the later Bowie, but still a great metaphor.

    • col1234 says:

      to be fair, the Superman riff thing is pretty old hat among Bowie writers. Pegg, several biographers have all mentioned it.

  13. vicshere says:

    My two No. 1 heroes in the same post, ah, sweet summer’s day! Great stuff as ever.

  14. Jim says:

    I’ve been catching up with this blog over the last few months and, as I’ve got to the post Tin Machine era, one thing that’s occurred to me is that, in common with a lot of artists, Bowie’s work since the advent of CDs and, later, mp3s, has suffered from the lack of a limit on album length imposed by the format. Every album from Black Tie White Noise onwards could be improved by being trimmed to about 42 minutes, i.e. one piece of vinyl. Instead, while they all have some great songs on them, taken as complete albums they lack impact and coherence, and can be quite tiring to listen to and difficult to really love. (Including ‘bonus tracks’ of varying quality on the CD versions doesn’t help either, as it fuzzies up the boundaries of what is and what is not supposed to be part of the album.)

    I wonder if this is one of the reasons why none of these albums has been generally accepted within the canonical list of ‘great Bowie albums’.

    • Diamond Duke says:

      No offense, but I think a little gratitude is in order. Frankly, I’d rather have the odd mediocrity here and there than not have any new music from Bowie at all. After a sabbatical of 10 years from the album format, I was just grateful to see that he actually hadn’t retired after all! 😀

      To be perfectly honest, even the lesser tracks by the greatest artists have their points of interest (all the way down to the likes of Too Dizzy). Truth is, Bowie on the odd “off” moment is better than a good chunk of other people when they’re firing on all cylinders! I think that Earthling itself, even though it’s certainly not my all-time favorite Bowie record, is a solid piece of work overall. (And besides, isn’t that the whole joy of making our own mixes and playlists? We can make up our own minds what to include or delete from the Bowie canon! 😉 And something tells me that David himself wouldn’t have it any other way!)

    • Stolen Guitar says:

      Well, CD was (is?) limited to about 70 mins, I think, but I do believe you’ve got a point regarding the dilution of quality that the digital era appears to have brought about.

      After all, if you can more cheaply produce something, whatever it is, then the economics of capitalism demand that more of that product be produced. Ergo, more shit floating around than before.

      Bowie wasn’t constrained by cost when he made ‘StationtoStation’ but he was limited by studio time, availability of musicians (and, reputedly, dealers!) and the demands on his own time. Most of these challenges have been or,rather, can be more readily overcome in the digital age.

      I’m just grateful that he made the record in the analogue age…God knows what he might have tacked onto those two sides of triptych perfection.

      Not posted for a while but hugely enjoying ‘Earthling’ in a mini renaissance period for me. Take back any and all disparaging remarks re: Little Wonder, and how did I overlook ‘Battle For Britain (The Letter)’ first time around?

      Thanks for the reawakening, Chris, and all you other Bowiephiles out there.

      PS Found this on Wiki: ‘The first major artist to have his entire catalogue converted to CD was David Bowie, whose 15 studio albums were made available by RCA Records in February 1985, along with four Greatest Hits albums.’

      Well, he was always running before he could walk!

      • Jim says:

        I think CDs are either 74 or 80 minutes, so yeah, there’s a limit there, but for me it’s far too high. I think it’s a rare album that can really work as a sustained act of communication between artist and listener, over that kind of length.

        For me it’s about more than just the ratio of high-quality to low-quality work (although that’s important too), it’s about the relationship you’re able to build with the album as a listener.

        When it comes to the post-Tin Machine albums, I’m on Team Outside, and I think that album more than any of the others illustrates what I mean. I don’t dislike any of the tracks on Outside, but there are just too many of them, some of them are too long, and some of them are too similar. It makes for a tiring listen. Cut it down to 42 minutes, on the other hand, and you’ve got a tight, cohesive artistic statement that bears comparison with the 70s work, for me.

        Maybe I’ve just got a short attention span.

      • Maj says:

        I’m with you on that, Jim.

      • Brendan O'Lear says:

        Yes, the switch to the CD format has always been a pet peeve of mine. In addition to the bloat, there is the structure that the two-sided vinyl album imposed. It’s not really 40 minutes; it’s more like 18 minutes per side in which to construct a dynamic. Although he’d probably hate to be regarded in this way, he worked best when restricted. Most of the canonical (another word for RCA) albums have a clear sense of Side 1 and Side 2. And they almost all have openers and closers. CD – and EMI resources – allowed him to meander and that sometimes brings out the worst in him.
        The Earthling album is a case in point: it has a true opener but I’ve no idea where it ends. Maybe I’m just another with attention-span issues.

      • postpunkmonk says:

        Jim – Brother, you hit a nail on the head regarding “Outside!” Any single track [save for the segues, which I’d delete whole cloth] is fine. Put it all together and it becomes insufferable to me. Therefore an ideal Bowie album to enliven a shuffle mix but nothing I enjoy listening to. Too bad I don’t do “shuffle mixes.”

        Another band who especially worked that CD length action was The Cure. I can’t say I enjoyed any of the albums that came after “The Head On The Door” too much. All of them could have benefitted from some judicious editing. After “Wish” I gave up.

    • Iain Sheldon says:

      I think there’s a lot to this, and the brilliance of Blackstar perhaps provides the answer. The album seems to have been constructed very much with producing a quality vinyl output in mind. The exception for me though is the much maligned Outside. It’s a difficult album to get into….but when you do it’s incredibly rewarding. I wish I’d bothered to take the time while he was still with us 😦

  15. Diamond Duke says:

    Anyhoo…regarding the song itself:

    Probably my favorite from Earthling overall! Dead Man Walking somehow manages to be both quite groovily danceable and melodic and a tesosterone-charged headbanger at the same time – a combination that actually very few disciples of Trent Reznor and Al Jourgenson know how to do very really effectively. (And with a riff from the mighty Jimmy Page – played by Reeves Gabrels – that certainly comes as no surprise.) As Patrick pointed out in a comment above, there’s also a strong similarity to Lucy Can’t Dance from the Black Tie White Noise sessions, thereby establishing a strong link between Bowie’s industrial/jungle adventurism with his already firmly established interest in dance, funk and R&B territory! And I truly love Gail Ann Dorsey’s vocal work on this track (stongly reminiscent of Clare Torry’s famous Great Gig In The Sky vocal for Pink Floyd). In fact, when I first heard If You Can See Me from The Next Day, it strongly reminded me of the Earthling period (albeit a tad more “proggy,” without the electronic beats) because of the re-introduction of Gail’s voice! 😀

    And Mike Garson’s piano outro is cool, too… 😉

  16. postpunkmonk says:

    Back to the song discussed, I have to say that “Dead Man Walking” is my fave rave cut from “Earthling.” Though I enjoy all of the album with the exception of “Telling Lies,” this is my go-to cut for post “Scary Monsters” Bowie making a rip-snorting, hard-rocking, yet Krautrock influenced tune like I had missed for so long from him. The propulsive, motorik rhythms that the song is built upon always work for me. The detail and variation of the arrangement keep unfolding like a puzzle as the song progresses with various “movements” to maintain my interest for the whole of the LP cut; climaxing in Mike Garson’s infectious yet playful samba rhythms that never fail to give me chills at the end. I think the LP mix is the bomb. The 7″ edit on the video eviscerated the song to my ears. I’ve not heard any of the many remixes, but holding the original in such high regard as I do, I’m not likely to. Especially since I have yet to hear a Bowie remix from the 90s that I cared for. At all.

  17. I have to say I love the acoustic version of “Dead Man Walking” far more than what was on Earthlings. It sounds so classic Bowie – and reminds me of Low & Station to Station.

  18. Galdo says:

    I was reading this post while listening to ‘Dead Man Walking’ and the funny thing is the song and I reached the ‘Three old men dancing under the lamplight’ part at the same time.

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