I’ve Been Waiting For You


I’ve Been Waiting For You (Neil Young, 1968).
I’ve Been Waiting For You (The Pixies, 1990).
I’ve Been Waiting For You (Tin Machine, live, 1991).
I’ve Been Waiting For You (Neil Young, live, 2001.)
I’ve Been Waiting For You (Bowie, 2002).
I’ve Been Waiting For You (Live By Request, 2002).
I’ve Been Waiting For You (live, 2002).
I’ve Been Waiting For You (live, 2002).
I’ve Been Waiting For You (live, 2003).

The Sixties are definitely not with us anymore…the change into the music of the Seventies is starting to come with people like David Bowie and Lou Reed…they don’t expect to live more than thirty years and they don’t care. And they don’t care. They’re in the Seventies. What I’m tryin’ to say is these people like Lou Reed and Davie Booie or Bowie, however you pronounce it, those folks—I think they got somethin’ there, heh heh. Take a walk on the wild side!

Neil Young, 1973.

Sometime in June 2001, David Bowie drove up from New York City to West Nyack, where Tony Visconti had a modest studio in a modest house. His girlfriend cracked that Bowie would step out of his limo, take one look at their place, say that he’d forgotten something in NYC and head home. Instead, Bowie was Visconti’s lodger for a few days.

Since the late Nineties, the two had planned to make an album but Bowie had felt the times, and his moods, hadn’t been right. Now he’d cooled to a proper degree. He was in the vestibule of life, an eye on each door. That April, his mother had died at 88. A month later, Freddi Burretti, his former project, muse and costume designer, had died of cancer at age 49. And he was a father again at 54, with an infant daughter at home.

Meeting in NYC earlier that spring, Bowie and Visconti spent a day listening to recent albums (Beck’s Midnite Vultures, among others) and “looking for little creative tags to incorporate for the new album,” Visconti wrote in his autobiography. Struck by how Bowie had harnessed old addictions into socially acceptable habits, brewing pot after strong pot of coffee on the hour (he was even trying to shake cigarettes), Visconti wrote: “I couldn’t help thinking how great it was that we’d survived the indulgences of rock ‘n’ roll. We were alive and sober.”

Alive and Sober could’ve been the new album’s title. Visconti found in Bowie, with whom he hadn’t worked on an LP since the Carter administration, a new deliberateness that could pass for maturity. “His knowledge of harmonic and chordal structure had vastly improved,” he said. “This had already been good when I last worked with him, but now there was more depth to his melodic and harmonic writing.”

Aware that “Bowie and Visconti” would generate scads of expectations for fans and the aging portion of the music press, the pair figured that some measure of grandiosity was inevitable. So Visconti proposed a “magnum opus” concept: a group of songs sharing an autumnal feel, fattened with “layers of layers of overdubs,” which suited Bowie’s introspective mood (he was still expecting Toy to be issued any month). But Bowie was adamant that he wanted the album to sound fresh, not to traffic in expected memory. It would be compared to Scary Monsters, sure, but it shouldn’t sound like Scary Monsters. It would be old age made new.

In West Nyack, they cut four demos in Visconti’s loft studio. Visconti had started using Pro Tools and Logic Pro, and he took pains to show Bowie how the software worked. “I cut up beats and sections of a song, made beat loops and pasted them in other places.”

The next day they drove north, up to the Catskill mountains, where there was a recording studio called Allaire.


A swath of the Hudson River Valley and the hunched shoulders of the Catskills is something of a rock ‘n’ roll historical theme park. The Band’s “Big Pink” house is in West Saugerties; Steely Dan’s Annandale-on-Hudson and Barrytown are across the river; Mercury Rev‘s Opus 40 is off the NY Thruway; the former Bearsville Studios (Todd Rundgren, etc.) is near Woodstock, where Dylan once crashed his motorcycle on Striebel Road. Off to the west is Bethel, where the Woodstock Festival took place (its 1994 sequel was in Saugerties, the catastrophic 1999 edition farther upstate, in Rome).

Southwest of Woodstock is Mount Tonche, atop whose crest the Pittsburgh Plate Glass heir Raymond Pitcairn built a summer manse, Glen Tonche, in 1928. Pitcairn, a devoted enemy of the New Deal and foe of indulgences like child labor laws, erected an 18,000-square-foot hideaway with a commanding view of the Ashokan Reservoir. Its fleets of rooms were garnished with what Bowie described as “very American but aristocratic pieces of work,” like sections of yachts: it’s as though a tide of wealth had ebbed through the house, leaving behind a wrack of costly toys.

The Pitcairn family sold Glen Tonche in the mid-Nineties to the musician Randall Wallace, who converted some rooms, like a dining hall blessed with 40-foot-high ceilings, into recording studios.*

Bowie and Visconti, who’d been tipped off about Wallace’s Allaire Studios by the guitarist David Torn, were on a reconnaissance visit. They were stunned by the place, by its imposing isolation. “This is not cute, on top of this mountain: it’s stark and it has a Spartan quality about it,” Bowie recalled. Though not far from Woodstock, Allaire seemed to exist in another sylvan dimension: a luxurious human colony nestled in a wood-world of black bear, wild pigs and deer.

It was almost an epiphany that I had,” Bowie told Interview in June 2002. “Walking through the door, everything that my album should be about was galvanized for me into one focal point…I knew what the lyrics were already. They were all suddenly accumulated in my mind.”

As we’ll see, the area’s feeling of refuge appealed to Bowie. In the following years, he’d buy a whole side of a mountain in the area, and he’s still up in the Woodstock region, an occasional sight at local coffee shops.


At Allaire, Bowie and Visconti ran into the drummer Matt Chamberlain, who was recording an album with Natalie Merchant and T-Bone Burnett at the time, and they quickly decided to recruit him. Having booked their drummer and their studio, the pair began work in July 2001, with Bowie settling his family in a cottage on the grounds.

The album that became Heathen was (initially) one of the more sparsely-assembled works of Bowie’s recorded life. It was The Buddha of Suburbia in a grander key. For the first sessions at Allaire, the players were only Bowie (guide vocals, guitars, keyboards, Stylophone, even occasional drums), Visconti (bass, guitar, recorder) and Chamberlain (drums, loops). A routine fell into place. Bowie rose at 5 or 6 AM to work on songs in the studio or write lyrics, while Visconti and Chamberlain woke at a more civilized hour, exercised and showed up around 10:30 AM, upon which Bowie would present them with their “songs of the day,” Visconti said. As dinner at Allaire was 7 PM sharp, that marked the cut-off point. Bowie would keep working at night while Visconti and Chamberlain watched DVDs or sacked out early. “This certainly wasn’t a rock ‘n’ roll life, by any stretch of the imagination,” Visconti wrote.

Still, the pace was vigorous enough that in roughly two weeks the trio cut basic tracks for 19 songs. Bowie wrote a sequence of brooding, lengthy pieces early in the sessions, so as to get the heavy stuff out of the way first, he said (see the next four entries). But he’d also drafted a list of prospective covers that he’d wanted to try.

Over the years, this blog hasn’t been very kind to Bowie’s covers. The likes of “Across the Universe,” “God Only Knows,” “Bang Bang,” “Kingdom Come,” “I Keep Forgettin’,” “It Ain’t Easy” and so on form a rather grim canon. But now there was an urgency, a lightness to his covers on Heathen (and Reality). Maybe all of his lyrical dwellings on cyclicality and fleeting time played a part; maybe, rather than just singing over some track that his musicians cooked up, actually working out songs on guitar or keyboard let him take firmer root in the compositions. Something had fallen away, some bitter strain of ambition, some habit of overthinking that had hobbled so many of his earlier takes of others’ songs. He became an inspired interpreter at last; he sounded at home singing someone else’s lines.


The three covers on Heathen, along with being spry lightweights set against the slab-like big bruiser tracks, were memory tokens. So start with Neil Young’s “I’ve Been Waiting For You.” This was Bowie paying a debt to an old influence (he’d been consumed with Young while writing Hunky Dory: you can hear Young’s melodies and phrasings in “Kooks” and “Bombers,” even “Bewlay Brothers”) as well as a nod to his departed collaborator Reeves Gabrels. Tin Machine had played “I’ve Been Waiting For You” during its 1991-92 tour, with Gabrels on lead vocal and wearying lead guitar.

On Earthling‘s “Dead Man Walking,” Bowie had toyed with the image of Young and Crazy Horse converting rock and roll into some earth-worshiping religion; old men stomping about on stage like Tolkien’s Ents. Bowie also used Young as a map of how to age in a music where old age is a personal failing. As he told the Kansas City Star (9 May 2004):

When things go bad, I’ve always looked to my peers and, in a way, my musical mentors to see what they’ve done in similar situations. Neil Young and Bob Dylan have done similar things: They have both made a few disastrous albums, but they always end up coming back to the point of what they started in the first place. You’ve got to go back to what you were doing when you were rooting around with experimentation, ideas that are going to work for me, not my audience.


Singing “I’ve Been Waiting For You” had another angle. The track was from Young’s 1968 debut album. Much like Deram’s David Bowie, Neil Young is a first impression of a mutable performer, the work of an ambitious, dreamy man who’d struck loose from a band and wanted to sound out his whims. So Young and David Briggs had rotated through Los Angeles studios during summer 1968, cutting overdubs, playing games in the mixes (a favorite move was to shimmer guitars back and forth across the stereo spectrum) and spending days on guitar tones (“that record is a masterpiece of tones,” Briggs later told Jimmy McDonough. “We got tones nobody’s ever got except Hendrix.”). Young’s debut has an piece for string quartet, dolorous folkie ballads, unending folkie ballads, a Western movie theme and a few beautiful obsessional songs devoted to a typical set of unattainable, mystifying women.

The latter songs channeled Jimi Hendrix, of whom Young was in awe (“there was no one even in the same building as that guy,” he later said of Hendrix). In particular there was “I’ve Been Waiting for You,” with its “Foxy Lady”-esque heavy breathing and its squall of a guitar solo, for which Young’s guitar was sent through an organ’s Leslie speaker and then piped directly into the soundboard.

Anchored in A minor, the song’s reappearing D9 chord (“for a woman,” “with the feeling“) is a liberation declined: instead of using the D9 as a means to brighten into A major (or move to D), the song sinks back into A minor. It reflects how Young’s been passively waiting for some life-redeeming woman, who’s always just about to appear and never does. (Also take how the intro/later chorus opens with a D suspended 2nd chord that aches to resolve to D major but the sequence instead cools into, naturally, A minor). A brief obsessional, “I’ve Been Waiting for You” is a single verse, a refrain with a descending chromatic bassline for drama (“waiting for you...and you’ve been coming to mee“) and Young’s piped anguish via guitars.

On Neil Young, the track was the future: the Neil Young of the Seventies (and 2000s) roamed around in its confines. Everything Young would become was corked in it; the feel and the weight of his grand old age was there already, summoned up in a track that a 23-year-old cut in summer 1968, happily oblivious to what would become his life.


Bowie knew the track from his days listening to Young, but “I’ve Been Waiting for You” was also one of Kim Deal’s favorite Neil Young songs. During the Bossanova sessions, the Pixies knocked off a version of the song and issued it as a B-side. They dumped the loping bassline/clopping drums of the Young original (the rhythm section was Poco, basically) for a drum track that was all hard business. Black Francis and Joey Santiago warred over it. Deal sang blankly, indulging in none of Young’s mystics; there was a cold rasp in how she delivered “a woman with a feeling…of losing once or twice.” Though playing the searcher, she had some sympathy for the pursued.

So for his cover, Bowie used the Pixies’ structure of recycling half the verse after the solo and halving the solo’s length, and he added a few Tin Machine flavors, like the wailing harmony vocals that he’d sung to buttress Gabrels on stage (here, they were a distorted-sounding synthetic “choir,” an effect he’d use on “Sunday,” among other tracks).

He recruited for lead guitar Dave Grohl (it was a mailbox transaction: Bowie sent the tapes to Grohl, who recorded his parts and sent them back), who was working up his current role as genial Gen X ambassador from classic rock. Grohl’s playing was fine if not memorable, with Grohl worrying the solo’s underlying chords in a less cheeky way than Santiago had on the Pixies version. Bowie should’ve had a go at the guitars himself (for all we know, he did): his whining Diamond Dogs tone would have been an nice spice in the mix.

The guitars came under fire from the drums, with Chamberlain’s dominant position in the mix seemingly won in battle. In the verse, Bowie sounded more callow than Young had in 1968 but in the refrains, a second vocal sunk down an octave gave his hopes a dimension of menace. How long has he been waiting, after all? In the closing refrain, Bowie sang “long time now” as if he could taste every hour of every wasted year. Having thrashed and wailed for three minutes, the track gave up the ghost with an unmoored bassline, a guitar clanging like a ship’s bell and the choir of bottled voices snuffed out in a breath.

Recorded: (basic tracks, vocals) August-September 2001, Allaire Studios, Shokan, New York; (guitar solo) Dave Grohl’s home studio, ca. October 2001; (overdubs) October 2001-January 2002, Looking Glass Studios, NYC. Released 10 June 2002 on Heathen and also as a Canadian-only CD single (Columbia 38K 3369).

* The Glen Tonche estate has been up for sale for years: it’s yours for $4.5 million.

Top: Vassilis D. Gonis, from series “Christina Hoyos at Lycabetus Hill Theater,” Athens, 2001. (“I started this blog…to send my photos out there to the world with the hope of communication and as a motivation to keep clear away from the depressing feeling that comes along with the economic crisis in Greece.”); Walters-Storyk Design Group, Allaire Studios, New York (from without; from within); Neil Young at Roskilde Festival, 2001; Bowie’s philtrum as CD single art.

52 Responses to I’ve Been Waiting For You

  1. fantailfan says:

    Inneresting thing about Neil Young the album: He never did anything as lush again. Because it was so time-consuming (and had to be remixed because of a studio tool whose name escapes me) he grew to loathe it, though not as much as Time Fades Away. Young unmoored himself from the studio and from then on basically confined himself writing songs that could (a) be played live and (be) be ripped off in the studio as quickly as possible. In this, Bowie is the exact opposite of Neil Young except in one important respect, vocals.
    Stray thoughts: This is Bowie’s first well-done cover; and Neil Young has not done covers to any great degree, probably because he knows his limits. (I’ve probably said this before.)

    • col1234 says:

      the ” Haeco CSG Encoding System”. If you want a lot of info on this mix, see this YT: http://youtu.be/rzLw8JhIpcc

    • fantailfan says:

      Heh. I meant to say (b) be not (be) be.

    • StevenE says:

      Bowie’s definitely not been afraid to embarrass himself when it comes to coverings songs he loves, but I don’t think this is quite his first well-done cover.

      Nite Flights and It’s Hard to be a Saint… are both great though perhaps obviously inferior to the originals. But Bowie’s canon would be a poorer place without songs like Nature Boy, Sorrow, See Emily Play and especially Wild is the Wind – and I enjoy some of his live covers too, like Waiting for the Man. And then there are his Iggy covers of his own-ish material too.

      I actually really like all his covers from here on out – Cactus is one of the few times I’ve been able to enjoy a Pixies cover (themselves arguably one of the all-time greatest cover bands: Winterlong, their take on Narc – and In Heaven remains a live staple and a segue into new material). His later take on Love Missile F1-11 is unexpected, inexplicable but great I think.

      I think the question of whether Bowie was able to handle non-original material was settled pretty definitively by the Baal EP! But this song does mark the start of a great run.

      • simonkaye says:

        I agree – Nite Flights and Hard to be a Saint are both pretty great.

      • Ididtheziggy says:

        And I really love “Wild is the Wind”. One of Bowie’s great vocal performances.
        And yes, The Pixies did great covers. Even the Reid’s had to admit that is how “Head On” should sound.

      • s.t. says:

        Oh man, Head On is so good. I never listen to the J&MC version.

        I also love Theme from Narc, Wild Honey Pie, In Heaven, and Winterlong. The only cover of theirs that I’m not really into is this song.

      • s.t. says:

        Also, Frank Black’s “Hang On to Your Ego” is good fun. It kind of sounds like recent Animal Collective.

      • StevenE says:

        Frank Black also did a great if very unPixies-like cover of Elvis’ Song of the Shrimp.

        Honeycomb’s a great album all round. IMO Frank Black’s solo-discography is one of the all-time greatest and mystifyingly underrated canons. The sheer volume of it would be impressive on it’s own, but the fact that so much of it is just so good it becomes almost difficult to process, like staring into the sun.

        He’s definitely not cool, but he is a genius. I suspect that without Kim Deal the band may never have had a commercial breakthrough (albeit initially probably quite a modest one) that they did, but it gives me a not insignificant measure of happiness that there’s a place for people like Frank Black in the charts. Pixies mk.II are at number six in the UK album charts as I type.

      • Ididtheziggy says:

        Funny that this thread turned into a Pixies conversation. If only there was a more appropriate time to talk about them coming up.

      • BenJ says:

        “See Emily Play” and “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” both enliven Pin Ups. Syd Barrett and Ray Davies are wildly different songwriters – as witnessed by the fact that one burnt out after a couple of years as a professional musician/songwriter and the other has had a decades-long career even if much of it has been flawed – but Bowie connected to both of them better than, say, Pete Townsend.

        As for “I’ve Been Waiting for You” it’s not a bad track. I do like his cover of “Cactus” better, though, as it gives his theatrical side more of a chance to play.

  2. MC says:

    Welcome back, Chris. Great, illuminating piece, as always. In complete agreement as far as DB’s covers of this period, from the beautiful Nature Boy on down. I remember thinking he had a decent Pinups 2 in him if he wanted. One slight caveat: I always found I’ve Been Waiting For You to be the (relative) weak link of the Heathen remakes, being somewhat stodgy and plodding compared to the other two. Still not bad. It seems to me that part of Bowie’s intent here was to render the song a la Crazy Horse (or maybe that was Dave Grohl).

  3. roobin101 says:

    Impressions: the song is tasteful but ho-hum whoever seems to sing it. The only offensive thing on the Bowie version is the wailing FM rawk guitar.

  4. simonkaye says:

    Blimey, this is a fantastic write-up. They’re somehow getting better and better.

    I always liked this song, and this version of it – Bowie, as you say, injects more menace and sinister intent into it than the Pixies managed to. For me it’s tonally of-a-piece with the Police stalker anthem “Every Breath You Take”.

    I thought Grohl did a pretty good job, too – and I’m certainly glad that Gabrels never got his hands on it.

  5. dsbarrick says:

    I have no words to describe how remarkable your blog is.

  6. s.t. says:

    On its own, it’s a commendable cover–I enjoy it more than the Pixies’ somewhat lackluster take. But, along with the other covers on the album,this song really brings something important to Heathen: levity.

    There is a touch of menace here, but it’s a playful menace. It sounds like everyone’s having fun. Dave Grohl injects enough sass in his squall to recall Reeves, but never distracts from the song. The drums are solid, Bowie’s vocals are just right. It all comes together nicely.

  7. Ramzi says:

    Interesting how he puts more menace in the song than the Pixies did, but his version of Cactus is far less menacing and creepy than the original.

    • StevenE says:

      Black Francis’ take on the song sounds like a potential serial killer, Bowie comes off like a lascivious old man (which still works).

  8. crayontocrayon says:

    With Toy being essentially a covers album, you would expect Bowie to be in good form when it comes to revising songs. In fairness the dodgy cover versions had been much fewer for many years prior to Heathen and there are plenty of good covers in the bank too.

    As for this, it’s fine but maybe a little on the bland side. Not a fan of Grohl’s very stock-rock guitar. Far more interesting under the surface are the sweeping loops that play in and out with the delayed vocal echo in the first verse and later on the ‘bottled chorus’.

  9. Diamond Duke says:

    A funny bit of serendipity…I’m actually going through a big Neil Young phase right now! To be honest, I really haven’t been cranking out any Bowie for a while. But then again, I’m very much like that with my favorite artists. I get into something to an almost obsessive degree, and then after a couple of months – sometimes more than half a year! – I shift gears and get into something else. (Although I will come back to the Duke eventually!) And by the freakiest of coincidences, I’m right in the middle of Neil’s self-titled debut right now! (I just recently got done listening to The Old Laughing Lady on my Sony Walkman MP3 player.)

    While I think that Bowie’s cover of Cactus is Bowie’s best cover tune from the “Visconti reunion era” I think I’ve Been Waiting For You comes in a very close second. MC might have a point regarding Bowie’s rendition having a bit of a Crazy Horse vibe about it (although in fact Young wouldn’t make his debut with Crazy Horse until Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere a year later). Dave Grohl’s guitar playing is competent enough, although admittedly somewhat anonymous, and not really identifiable as the work of the guy from Foo Fighters. Say what you will about Reeves Gabrels, but I think he would have provided greater personality and color. (No serious diss there, I am an admirer of Grohl and Foo Fighters.)

    Bowie and Young are two of my favorite artists. What I think both of them share is the desire not to get sidetracked by the trappings of popular success, and a willingness to destroy their popular image in order to create something new. (The obvious examples of course are Bowie’s retiring of Ziggy Stardust after the Hammersmith Odeon performance in ’73, and Young’s “destroying” his laid-back, sensitive singer-songwriter persona from Harvest with the scorched-earth rage of the live Time Fades Away the same year.)

    Interestingly enough, your above quote from Young regarding the passing of the ’60s and the increased relevance of Bowie and Lou Reed in the ’70s comes from 1973, the year in which Neil cut his dark masterpiece Tonight’s The Night (although it wouldn’t actually be released for another two years). In fact, the track Lookout Joe (actually recorded during rehearsals for the Time Fades Away tour), with its imagery of drag queens, junkies and street wheelers, seems almost a salute to the underworld territory of Reed (or writer Hubert Selby Jr. before him), as well as anticipating the frazzled, dystopian paranoia and sense of mutation in Bowie’s Diamond Dogs (the title track in particular). Neil Young certainly had a more informed sense of zeitgeist than most others in his peer group. Someone like David Crosby certainly had very little use for glam rock, and certainly none for the later punk rock movement. Tonight’s The Night is in fact a requiem for a dream – in this case the utopian ’60s dream (“I’m not going back to Woodstock for a while!”), as well as a kind of Irish wake (in the words of Billy Talbot), a raucous elegy for fallen friends Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry (“standing on the sound of some open-hearted people going down”).

  10. Diamond Duke says:

    The Pixies’ take on this song is interesting, but I much prefer their version of Winterlong

  11. Welcome back my friend. Great take on a reasonably forgettable Neil song and a reasonably forgettable Bowie cover.

    • CosmicJive says:

      Not a huge fan of this either. Its my least favorite of the three covers. It just sounds so dull. It lacks attitude or something; the production, the guitars… it’s all too perfect to my taste.

  12. Nick 7 says:

    Not sure why, but I always hear this as the second part of a three part thing at the middle of Heathen, starting with Afraid and ending with I Would Be Your Slave. The old bell clanging with the choir at the end seem to look back to Sunday, though.

  13. Nick 7 says:

    Chris, I don’t often read blogs, and found yours by chance only recently, but have enjoyed it immensely. I went through the categories alphabetically, and what a strange and exhilarating journey, moving back and forth in time over nearly 50 years. I think your work shows great tenacity and sensitivity, and you write very elegantly.
    Looking forward to the book – hope you can use the same pictures or similar to illustrate, but I suppose that would be complicated?
    The comments also have been very enjoyable (and illuminating at times). As I sit here I’m thinking of one, maybe from Brendan O’Lear (is it really true if you buy him a scotch he’ll buy you a beer?) where he describes carrying around with him a 7 inch of Sound and Vision, even though he didn’t have a record player at the time! Maybe I’ve misremembered some or all of that, but it struck a chord with me.

    • Brendan O'Lear says:

      Tightfist tendencies were not the reason for the lack of a record player. At least, not my own! Yes, it was Sound and Vision and I only had my imagination to let me know what “New Career in a New Town” on the b-side sounded like. Suffice to say, I didn’t have that much imagination at that age.

      We all misremember and that’s one of the joys of this blog: remembering, misremembering, and then re-misremembering. Very much looking forward to this next chapter and I’m glad we’re taking our time.

      Interesting to read about the guitar part- literally phoning it in. And it shows.

      If it’s written on t-shirt, then you’d better not do it.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Man, I’ve been waiting for you to return with this blog

  15. Maj says:

    Hello Chris, nice to be here again, commenting on a new article! 🙂

    Thanks so much for including the links. I do know Young’s original (started listening to him bc of Bowie actually, way back when) but never heard the Pixies version, or Young’s live version…you can hear the progression there, and it’s quite fascinating.

    I suppose I could do with less sax in there (I know, blasphemy!) but other than that it really is a successful cover.

  16. Momus says:

    1. The default supposition (and of course it may well be wrong, but it’s a reasonable assumption at the outset) is that a cover version suggests a lack of inspiration to write one’s own material.

    2. Of course, a cover may well be other things: a repayment of a musical debt, a public acknowledgement, a statement of affinity, an admission that the covered song is the definitive take on a certain subject, an attempt to understand, an attempt to appropriate.

    3. When two artists you like get in a fight, you might feel obliged to take sides. (Morrissey, Bowie, can one still like them both? Joni, Dylan?) But what happens when an artist you adore proclaims affinity with one you hate? I became a Bowie fan (and I mean that in the most tribal sense) partly in order not to be a Neil Young fan. It was a very careful and conscious choice: Neil Young was all denim and cheesecloth, whining and sincerity.

    4. You can be more purist, as a cult follower, than the leader of the cult himself. It took me a long time to realise that certain vocal timbres and mannerisms in the Bowie oeuvre were Youngisms. Bowie was an encyclopaedia of borrowed gestures; impurity was essential. In exchange for allowing the leader his impurity, the follower was somehow absolved of the need to buy records by Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Neil Young. The best bits were all encoded in Bowie already. Money saved.

    5. You take a song recorded in the 1960s, one that shoots out of the speakers and has a certain ramshackle charm, with a compressed, muffled, bounced-down sound. Now you re-record it in digital, with all that new thunder, bite, detail and clarity. You’re making it better, aren’t you? More treble, more bass, more crunch, more professionalism, less vulnerability. That’s how they would have wanted it to sound in 1968, isn’t it?

    6. “Been so long”, “waiting so long”, this is a line that recurs with wearying frequency in late Bowie. It’s become a sort of internal cliche in the canon. It starts with Look Back In Anger, recurs in Cat People. It’s about getting older, and the weary feeling that brings. And — whether the awaited character is the angel of death, or a woman, or it’s just about how sick you are of putting out fire with gasoline — each time you hear the line you feel older and wearier. Well, you literally are older.

    7. Woodstock, relics of the 1960s, the hippy counterculture settling into geriatric senescence in upstate New York in the early 21st century. Bowie, as ever, is being super-attuned to his surroundings. And the mountain studio does look beautiful. But isn’t it disappointing that it’s all so backward-looking? This is a new century, and weather-vane Bowie could have gone to China or booked a studio in Somalia and been influenced by that. Instead he’s following the cue of Q and Mojo magazines: retromania, rawk reverence, digital remakes of the endless 1960s.

    8. In his Ricky Gervais sketch (and we don’t know how much was improvised) Bowie is first seen telling a young black woman an anecdote about a singing surgeon and a Decca A&R man. “You won’t know Decca,” he says. Of course she won’t; it’s been so long.

    • Mike F says:

      I guess there’s no need to buy records by Bowie since all the best bits were all encoded in Suede already.

    • #7! That’s big for me when it comes to late-era DB. Is it just the mega-stardom, that tempted him out of really radical work? As I continue to explore his later career, I’m pleasantly surprised at the complexities at times, but there are many times I find myself back at your #7.

  17. Sky-Possessing Spider says:

    You nailed it Momus. I was never a fan of Neil Young either- and consciously so. All that denim and whining and sincerity as you say bbbrrrr just leaves me cold. Growing up in the punk wars I always adhered to the edict that you should never trust a hippie, and they didn’t come much more hippie than Neil.
    It was no coincidence that the stereotypical lentil-eating hippie in The Young Ones was named Neil, and I always took great delight when Rik and Vyvyan the punk would beat him up (in a cartoon fashion of course.)
    Then to my horror the 90s dawned, the wheel turned and Neil Young was suddenly, perplexingly in vogue once again, while even more criminally Bowie was considered yesterday’s man, crucified for committing the unforgivable sin of being, well, kind of crap in the 80s. Like he was alone there.
    As such, I think this song is the only real flat spot on the album. This one and probably Slow Burn, which for me never really goes anywhere. The rest of the album I love though…

    • Stolen Guitar says:

      Slow Burn…’not really going anywhere’…’a flat spot on the album’?? SPS, you cannot be serious? Slow Burn is the last great song that Bowie’s produced. It’s the last coruscating flame of his dying star. I’m in shock.

      I know I’m slightly off song here and there will, no doubt, be lots of discourse on this song when Chris comes round to it but I just couldn’t ignore the comment, SPS.

      I need to lie down.

      PS Great to have you back, Chris.

      PPS Not sure I can fully agree with Momus and his anti-Neil Young stance. I do agree in principle about the hippie shit idealism that was merely a mask for charlatans such as Richard Branson, Felix Dennis and many others who revealed their true colours at a much later and more profitable date. Young, though, did react positively to the re-generative power of punk through Rust Never Sleeps and the much earlier Cortez the Killer, which is, for arguments sake, as quantum mechanics is to an abacus when compared to the so called anarchy and revolution of Green Day and their ilk. Oh, and Rocking In The Free World absolutely does what it says it will do. I’m not a big fan of his but I do think he’s much more complicated and deserving of some respect than many of his fellow travellers from the 60s onwards. Led Zep, McCartney, The Stones…not much left there, is there? At least Lydon’s still flying the flag for…oh!, butter? Ha-ha!

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        Sorry Stolen Guitar, I guess it just comes down to personal taste. To me Slow Burn just doesn’t have a hook. I’m not a fan of skipping tracks per se, and like to listen to an album in its’ entirety. But I’m always pleased when Slow Burn meanders off into the ether, and the far more enjoyable Afraid kicks in…
        I’m equally perplexed that you think this was his LAST great song, and the last flickering flames of a dying star. In my opinion Bowie’s genius is far from spent, as last years brilliant and unexpected return proved.
        No arguments on Led Zep. They were always shit, and the Stones are a perfect bore. But John Lydon can schill butter until the cows run dry as long as he comes back with great albums like This Is PIL. Lollipop Opera is an absolute hoot.

    • humanizingthevacuum says:

      Lots of received wisdom in this post about Neil Young.

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        That’s what it feels like when people slag off somebody you love and admire.

    • fantailfan says:

      I’m a fan of both. Neil Young self-mythologizies himself, writing “Journey Into the Past” when he was 24, and having the audacity to release a 3-LP retrospective in 1977. He falls into self-caricature at times, and gets into ruts (or off the road entirely) – the one about the car, the dope songs, the one about the girl who got away, the one about hallucinations, feedback over feedback. Young also skewered the hippies – “I’m not goin’ back to Woodstock for a while, though I long to hear (?) that lonesome hippie smile. I’m a million miles away from that helicopter day. No, I don’t believe I’ll be goin’ back that way.”
      He also dismissed the whole CSNY super group thing even though that’s where he’s made his money.

  18. Although he’s had some good covers before this one, I definitely think that Heathen is the first album where his covers actually rival the originals. (Not that it’s a contest or anything–perhaps “they hold their own” is a better way of putting it.)

    I’m particularly fond of his version of “Cactus,” and “Gemini Spacecraft” is great as well, even though it’s practically a different song from the original.

  19. Stolen Guitar says:


    Of course, it’s subjective and one man’s meat is another man’s poison, etc, but doesn’t Townsend’s strangled guitar line move you? Not to mention Bowie’s fantastic vocals, which are reminiscent of some of his greatest singing performances? Moroder’s Cat People, Wild Is The Wind, DJ… are you not taken back to those former glories whilst listening to Slow Burn? Oh well…it’d be a boring world if we all liked the same things.

    Last year’s record only reinforced for me that Bowie’s star is, as all stars will, fading into obscurity. It’s the natural progression; everything dies, even our heroes. The legacy, however, lives on and his music will always be around and always be relevant. With the exception of Where Are We Now?, which is beautifully elegiac and serves as a perfectly appropriate requiem for a great artist, the record was not, as was being widely and, might I say, wildly proclaimed as a triumphant return. Of course, I was as pleased as any Bowiephile that he’d made another record, if only because it indicated that he was in good health, and I hope he’ll continue to do so but the evidence is inescapable. The star is dying. It’s normal and I’m no longer sad about it in the way I was in the late 80s and 90s and Slow Burn was, for me, the last great gasp.

    On Lydon, I’m with you all the way. My intention was diverted by my poor prose and I meant no disparagement to him. A true genius of our time and, lauded though he is, given no way near enough credit for the enormous part he played in punk’s largely successful mission to get the world, if only temporarily, back on an even keel. It cannot be stated enough times that the culture of Western civilisation would be markedly different and very much poorer than it is without the incalculable input of that one band.

    There were others, too, that had similar impacts and transformative powers, not the least our very own hero, but I would argue that the Pistols were more important even than the Beatles.They were in at the beginning and brilliantly making it all up on a fairly blank canvas as they went along, whereas the Pistols had to not only revive a dying patient but also sweep all of the rubbish away, too! I think Walter Benjamin’s great These on Philosophy in History, in which he uses Paul Klee’s painting Angelus Novus to describe progress, is a good analogy for the enormity of the challenge the Pistols faced in 1976. Long may they continue to sweep…and churn!

    • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

      I had a close listen to Slow Burn tonight, paying particular attention to those strangled Townshend guitar lines you mentioned, which no doubt reference Heroes and Teenage Wildlife texturally.Sorry to say but this song just doesn’t really do anything for me.
      However, if we’re talking late period fantastic vocals from Bowie which are reminiscent of his greatest singing performances, then for me you can’t go past The Motel, Outside, No Control and Thru These Architect’s Eyes from 1. Outside.
      I have to say that Bowie was in damn fine voice on that album.

  20. 2fs says:

    I think imagining Neil Young as u(be)r-hippie rather oversimplifies: what about his often cockeyed theatricality – the oversize “amps” and Jawa roadies, the making movies with Devo, the suddenly deciding to record a record entirely with synthesizers? I think there’s always been more to Young than an aging hippie – I think, quite often, he’s more *playing* an aging hippie than actually being one.

    • humanizingthevacuum says:

      I get complaints about Young’s voice, and I’ve got problems with After the Gold Rush but Sky-Possessing Spider confusing Young for Graham Nash or David Crosby puzzles me. If he was a hippie, he sure didn’t act or record like one, which is why I’m going to play Arc and Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising side by side again.

      • Maj says:

        I was born in ’87, I pretty much familiarised myself with Young’s music only thru Bowie, which means I didn’t get to know him thru either the hippie or grunge movements and honestly I don’t get the disparaging hippie talk* here in the comments at all. If anything he seems like a proto-punk to me. He’s not a great singer, his guitar playing can get pretty rough (intentionally-ish), there’s this DIY feel to him (starting to think Jack White is not only his chum but his son, really). For me it’s not easy to put him into a box either as a person or as a musician.

        *I know the hippie thing turned into crap (well as any movement ever, really) but it did produce some great music (not least Cygnet Committee as a by-product) which combined many musical influences together…rock, country, blues, gospel, Indian music, classical music, folk etc etc. Don’t trivialise it, don’t pile shit on it, please.

      • s.t. says:

        I think the hippie/psychedelic movement produced some wonderful music. Much of it ridiculous (Jefferson Airplane, the Doors, Silver Apples, The Incredible String Band), but damn inspired. Sure, the ideals were silly and naive, but so were those of punk. Not surprisingly, many formerly cheeky and snotty punks quickly veered into bleaker territory once they got a taste of reality (Devoto, Lydon, Sioux, Curtis).

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        The fact that Neil played in a band with a bunch of boring old squares like Crosby, Stills and Nash says it all really…

      • humanizingthevacuum says:

        Well, Bowie worked with Mick Jagger, Derek Bramble, and Reeves Gabrels. People are there to be used.

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        I think you’re missing the point here HTV. I only cited CSN to highlight Neil’s hippy credentials, and to counter your assertion that I was somehow confusing him with them. My point being that they are cut from the same cloth (tie-dyed kaftan obviously.)

  21. 2fs says:

    (I think the deleted spam comment from “Katerina” was supposed to go with “Cracked Actor”…)

  22. rob thomas says:

    Don’t know Neil Young at all. Just heard the his and DB’s side by side: I much prefer the Young, to my surprise (lots of uneducated ‘hippie shit’ prejudice on my part).

    Bowie doesn’t sound like his heart’s in it, and the arrangements try to make up for this.

    Now off to find ’10 Neil Young tracks you should hear before Tin Machine’…

  23. jbacardi says:

    I haven’t read all the comments here, so forgive me if I’m rehashing others’ observations, but to my ears anyway there’s a trashy sort of swagger to Bowie’s arrangement of this song, with the guitar and voice(?) blend’s ooh-aahs and the strutting rhythm, especially compared to Young’s more lockstepped groove. Love both versions, but I think Bowie really nailed this cover.

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