We All Go Through


We All Go Through.
We All Go Through (Omikron end credits).

“We All Go Through” and “What’s Really Happening?,” particularly when heard back-to-back, can seem like Bowie’s Pepsi challenge: which is the “real,” which is the “impostor” song? Each track could be the work of an outside lyricist writing in the voice of Bowie; each feels like a synthetic recreation of “the Sixties” as processed through the late Eighties.

“We All Go Through,” with its sturdy E major structure, its skip-rope verse melody and easy rhymes, is the happier-sounding of the pair. Even Reeves Gabrels, who plays the most restrained solo of his recorded life with Bowie, seems in gentle spirits (Gabrels later claimed he’d written much of its music as a potential instrumental track on his solo record). The grim “lunarscape” of the verses, cities of Mammon and noise, bows to the communal bliss of the choruses, with their confident strides up from C major to E major (“right in the noooooow”).

It worked as the payoff song for Omikron: the Nomad Soul, a victory lap for gamers who’d knocked off all the villains and got to return home to their world. Lifted out of the game narrative, the lyric became more troubling: the shuffle of words in the refrain turned the cliche rock lullaby of “we’ll be all right” into “we’ll ALL be right”: no compromise with or acceptance of another’s view needed—we pass into heaven as our righteous selves. “We are the morning song,” Bowie promises, a possible nod to Lucifer, “son of the morning,” which makes one wonder just exactly we’re all going through to become. (“‘Dog’ (a scrambled God) is in every word,” Bowie also offers.)

It’s one of the ‘Hours’-era tracks most hobbled by the relative cut-budget production (“Sowing the Seeds of Love“-era Tears for Fears did this stuff better): the synthesizers masked as a string section make the “faux psychedelic chantin’ drone” (Bowie’s description of the song) a bit watery. There are pleasures in the mix: the jabbing Bowie harmony vocals in the later verses (“hooouur by hoouuur” he tolls like some distorted bell), the little bass hook Mark Plati develops in the outro, the crisp acoustic work (by either Bowie or Gabrels). But “We All Go Through” comes off as being trapped in an interim state: there’s a grander song in here somewhere.

Recorded ca. April-May 1999, Seaview Studio, Bermuda; overdubs (Plati’s bass) at Chung King Studio and/or Looking Glass Studio, NYC. Released 20 September 1999 on the “Thursday’s Child” CD single (Virgin 7243 8 96265 2 0) and later included on the 2004 reissue of ‘Hours.’

Top: Toshichika Goto, “Tokyo, 1999.”

34 Responses to We All Go Through

  1. James says:

    Excellent track ! Could have appeared on Buddha with a different instrumentation of course.

  2. s.t. says:

    This is one of my favorite B-sides of the era. It openly basks in Bowie’s classic sounds like its older brother “Safe,” but with the loose dreaminess of “Planet of Dreams.”

    I would be perfectly happy with a whole album of songs in this vein. It’s not an epic, but, like the songs of Lodger and Buddha, I think that’s part of the appeal.

    At the very least, it’s more enjoyable than Zeroes, Bowie’s last attempt to conjure the 60’s using a late 80’s filter…

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      This is similar to what I was going to say about it.

      I really love this one. It’s crammed full of hooks.

      I actually think that the plasticky production somehow suits the song in this case. I’m not sure it would retain its charm if given a more ‘authentic’ production in the vein of Heathen.

  3. fantailfan says:

    “Sowing the Seeds of Love,” actually. One of my faves of the late 80’s psychedelic revival. It fits in well with XTC’s “King for a Day” and ’67 Beatles outtakes refitted for cartoon soundtracks (“It’s All Too Much”) which happened to appear on CD in 1987. Which leads me to wonder how much release of The Beatles on CD that year affected musicians of the day.
    However, 1999 is not 1989, so I wonder what Bowie was thinking.

    • col1234 says:

      yes–thanks. mental block of mine: have always heard it as “sowing seas”

      • stuartgardner says:

        Chris, Wikipedia has a very interesting article on mondegreens and various relatives of mondegreens whom I’d never heard of.

  4. Maj says:

    This one could have been on Buddha, would fit right in, with a tighter production. Reminds me of the vibe of that album more than the Hours.

  5. crayontocrayon says:

    To my ears the guitar is in a non standard tuning which would be quite a rarity for a Bowie song. The song reminds me of a more chilled version of Led Zep ‘Friends’ – particularly when the synth kicks in on ‘through it sometimes’ in the chorus and in the outtro. a bit of a drone to it.

    One of my favourite B sides, I love the backing vocals in the verse and is relaxed and tense at the same time. While the main solo is, as pointed out, remarkably restrained for Gabrels, there is plenty bubbling away under the surface in the second half of the song. Maybe it was a little too upbeat to fit into hours which is a great shame as I care for it a good deal more than some of the tracks that made the cut.

    • AB says:

      I care for it more than *all* the ‘Hours’ tracks. It has direction and goes somewhere, whilst remembering to throw in some fun hooks for the listener.

  6. stuartgardner says:

    Is it “morning” or “mourning” song, as I had assumed?
    “Dirty Boys” calls back to this, obviously (“Me and the boys, we all through”).
    I love the track. By the way, do any artists rival Bowie and Elvis Costello for their number of high quality bonus songs?
    “Cities of Mammon and noise;” ooh, I like that.

    • s.t. says:

      I nominate Radiohead as a contender.

    • col1234 says:

      could be either! no official lyric. “mourning” works as well

    • postpunkmonk says:

      As much as I like Bowie and Costello B-sides, I think that Pet Shop Boys own that category. To the point where I think “Alternative” is their finest album.

      • AB says:

        Those Pet Shop Boys B-Sides are full of audacious chords and experimental tracks. I learnt a lot about songwriting from them.

        Still, I think the B-Side champions would be the Beatles, then Suede, though some might argue for Oasis, but they always left me cold.

        I’d also nominate Island-era Pulp: Stacks, Ansaphone, Mile End, PTA, Like A Friend, Cocaine Socialism etc.

      • col1234 says:

        I cast my vote for Costello: Radio Sweetheart, Big Tears, Tiny Steps, Psycho, Dr. Luther’s Asst., Ghost Train, Girls Talk, Just a Memory, his version of Withered and Died, etc.

      • postpunkmonk says:

        AB – Suede are in a class all their own by having more B-sides than album cuts! But The Beatles leave me cold, personally. I’m indifferent to them.

      • Diamond Duke says:

        Don’t forget about the Manic Street Preachers. They’ve had quite a few cool B-sides (see the 2003 Lipstick Traces comp for proof!): Prologue To History, Bored Out Of My Mind, Mr. Carbohydrate, Donkeys, Comfort Comes, We Her Majesty’s Prisoners, Dead Trees And Traffic Islands, Sorrow 16, Socialist Serenade, Just A Kid, Close My Eyes, and many, many more!

        The Manics have done quite a few cover tunes on B-sides, as well, ranging from McCarthy’s We Are All Bourgeois Now, Guns N’ Roses’ It’s So Easy, Burt Bacharach’s Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, The Clash’s Train In Vain, Nirvana’s Been A Son, Wham!’s Last Christmas (performed live by frontman James Dean Bradfield on acoustic guitar), and a righteously smoking take on the Happy Mondays’ Wrote For Luck!

      • postpunkmonk says:

        Diamond Duke – I’ll have to take your word since I’ve never heard Manic Street Preachers!

  7. Yep. Always thought this was the best of the b-sides andin this case better than the a-side with its hideous backing vocals.

  8. Bruised Passivity says:

    Desperately want to like this one, gorgeous melody, unusually restrained Reeves guitar and intriguing lyrics but the production is sooooo awful I just can’t warm to it. 😦 Perhaps a live, stripped down version would have been more to my liking but it seems unlikely it was ever performed outside the studio.

  9. Momus says:

    1. This song is a good (but far from the best) example of a Bowie technique which I’ve always thought of as a cinematic transition achieved through words alone: call it the pun-pan.

    2. The best use of the pun-pan (a homophone, or word-sound that means two things, achieving a transition between two scenes) is of course in Space Oddity: “Can you hear me Major Tom? Can you hear me Major Tom? Can you… here am I sitting in a tin can”.

    3. We’re set up for a threefold repetition of the dramatic and increasingly desperate phrase, but right in the middle of the third iteration “hear” becomes “here” and the perspective shifts from Ground Control’s view to Major Tom’s.

    4. It’s something Bowie loves to do in his lyrics, a kind of cubism or relativism which revels in the chaotic complexity of multiple perspectives. Rather than clarifying and simplifying a scene, the pun-pan embraces a certain (telling and realistic) confusion. Major Tom and Ground Control might be using the same phonemes, but they’re experiencing the same “now” with completely different feelings, interests, frames, emphases, chemicals.

    5. The cut-up method is another way to achieve a multiplication of perspectives, but I like the simpler use of a pun as a dissolve between scenes, especially a pun which interrupts a repetition, seeming to taunt the listener with: “You thought I was going to say x, but instead I said y!”

    6. There’s a connection with Brechtian alienation devices, because the listener is not only getting expectations tripped up, but is also being led away from being able to make simple identifications with characters in the song. Are we on the ground, or up in orbit? Are we the technocrats, or the alienated, rebellious astronaut? Or both, or neither? Or someone else entirely, God or the narrator?

    7. But it’s also a technique we associate (especially when it’s signposted, as it is here, with pastiche psychedelic music) with 1960s drugs, and especially acid, but more particularly with that peculiar collision in 60s culture between whimsy (John Lennon “in his own write”, Spike Milligan, Syd Barrett, Dylan’s stream-of-consciousness sleevenotes) and fragmented, altered perception.

    8. “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” asks the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland. There is no answer, but for an acid-laced “lad insane” the best non-answer is probably a pun, and a transition.

    9. So, over descending chords, this song rings teasing changes out of various phrases. “We’ll all be right… in the now” winks in the direction of Ram Dass’ 1971 hippy treatise Be Here Now, and also perhaps at Oasis, who had filched it in 1997 for an album title. (Which might answer the “why now, in 1999?” question, and might explain Toy’s reassessment of the 1960s: I don’t think Bowie liked Oasis, but he couldn’t ignore their return to the 1960s, and was surely tempted to remind listeners that he’d actually *been there then*.)

    10. “We all go through…” is almost an allusion to Bowie’s joke song Over The Wall We Go (“all coppers are nanas”) until it morphs into “we all go through it sometimes”, abstracting and universalising the “going through” (and of course changes are mostly what Bowie has made us quite aware of going through).

    11. Other pun-pans here take us from “hour” to “our”, from “morning” to “mourning”, from “nobody sighs any more” to “nobody’s eyes any more”, from “lunarscape” to “loon escape” (over the wall we do indeed go, out of the asylum and up to the moon!), and so on.

    12. There’s a famous children’s song that uses a similar technique, sliding from scene to scene and homophone to homophone in a constant effort to avoid obscenity: “shove it up your / Ask no questions, tell no lies, ever seen a copper doing up his / Flies are a nuisance…”

    13. The pan-pun works best when it’s used as an audacious transition in a fairly conventional song with a strong narrative line, like Space Oddity. We All Go Through doesn’t have a strong narrative line (understandably; coming from a video game, it leaves the storyline to the game), so what we’re left with here is a writer giving us a series of transitions without scenes on either side of them. It’s somewhat pointless, like watching a series of dissolves that never resolve, puns that never pan.

    14. For this reason, it certainly doesn’t rid me of the feeling that Hours is a contractual obligation album released by a man very much going through the motions. But why not? Not only was 1999 an exciting time to be doing a video game soundtrack, it was also a year in which record labels made $28 billion from CD sales, their biggest profit peak ever, but also in a sense the beginning of their slow pan down the… pan.

    • col1234 says:

      I should just cut and paste this for the proper entry, as it’s leagues better than what I wrote. hats off, Nick

    • s.t. says:

      A panoply of pantastic points! It needed a name, so pun-pan shall it be.

      I would argue, though, for two variations of this device, one being more cinematic, and the other being a simple gag. Like Dead Against It (“telling me she’s dead again”), this one seems less concerned with narrative progression, and more concerned with sounding clever. Both can nevertheless address the task of “playing with your miiind, maaan,” making us feel like we’re being toyed with, controlled. Long live the pun-panopticon!

    • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

      Momus, the children’s song that I remember employing this trick went:
      “Ask your mum for sixpence to see the nude giraffe, freckles on his face, and freckles on his Aunty Mary had a canary she also had a duck, she took them down behind the stove and taught them how to fried eggs for breakfast, fried eggs for tea”, and so on, and so forth.

    • Mike F says:

      Every once in a while Momus schools us all.

      There is an old fashioned American song with a big pun-pan on the transition from verse to chorus called “Shaving Cream.”

    • AB says:

      Madonna’s ‘Cherish’ tried this, to lesser effect: “So tired of broken hearts and losing at this game before I start this dance I’ll take a chance on telling you I want more than just romance”. ‘Before I start’ is the end of the phrase, and also the beginning of the next one. Ok, it’s not that interesting, but it’s Madonna, you have to take what you can get.

      There’s also this childhood rhyme:

      Miss Susie had a steamboat
      that steamboat had a bell
      Miss Susie went heaven
      that steamboat went to…

      Hello operator
      give me number 9
      If you diconnect me
      I’ll kick you from…

      Behind the ‘fridgerator
      there was a piece of glass
      Miss Susie sat upon it
      and broke her little…

      Ask me no more questions
      tell me no more lies
      the boys are in the bedroom
      zipping down their…

      Flies are in the medow
      bees are in the park
      Miss Susie and her boyfriend
      are kissing in the

      D-A-R-K, D-A-R-K
      Dark, dark, dark

      darker than the ocean
      darker than the sea
      Darker than the black boys
      chasing after me

      I know I know my ma
      I know I know my pa
      I know I know my sister
      with her 40 acre bra

      • col1234 says:

        if i recall there was some awful 80s novelty song with the same schtick–sung by a guy in a Dylan parody voice. “Polka Dot Undies” or something like that.

  10. Diamond Duke says:

    We All Go Through is certainly one of my all-time favorites from the ‘hours…’ sessions. I always thought it was a wonderful example of the Bowie/Gabrels firm’s sense of melodic craftsmanship, and that it would have fit seamlessly onto Tin Machine II, having much in common with the likes of Amlapura and Betty Wrong (as well as the more recent Safe, although I personally like that one a lot better). Frankly, this would have made a far better album track than If I’m Dreaming My Life, in my opinion.

    BTW, that “dog is in every word” is yet another one of Bowie’s “dog” references (see I Pray, Ole and ’87 And Cry for some relatively obscure examples), either deliberately or accidentally recalling his masterwork Diamond Dogs

  11. afterall says:

    If O became E, then we could hear through our Oars and row with our Ears…

  12. Stolen Guitar says:

    Hi Chris and a (belated) Happy New Year to everyone on this site.

    Just listened to the radio interview, Chris, and was very heartened to hear that my favourite Bowie song coincides with yours! Great to hear, too, that the book will emerge next year…’Pushing Ahead of the Dame’ would be a great title for it (if I’m not being tiresomely repetetive!)

    Apropos your entry for this song, it seems, to my eye, that your really struggling to say ‘anything’ about ‘Hours’, so poor is its (that’s the record, not your entries) condition. It’s a work of genius to be able to keep us enthralled when the primary source is so impoverished. Roll on ‘Heathen’!

    Thanks for the last couple of years; I’ll miss you and the others when it’s all over.

    PS As you’ve already stated your love for ‘StationtoStation’ are you, like me, not dumbfounded at how little acknowledgment this song receives for its absolute majesty and almost complete prescience for what was to come in its wake? It’s Bowie’s supreme masterpiece amongst many and I believe it stands very good comparison with its equivalents from the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Beach Boys…you name ’em.
    Sorry, I’ll stop now…!

    PPS Great entry from Momus…Cole Porter would concur, too, as Mimsie Starr gets pinched in the Astor Bar!

  13. Mitja Lovše says:

    This song is O.K. and all, yet it screams late 90’s to me and I always thought that was the problem with the album it was suppose to be on. Bowie was always putting his stamp on popular genres, but here he was merely going thru motions. Unless that was the plan all along…

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