Queen Of All the Tarts (Overture)

queen is dead of all the tarts

Queen Of All the Tarts (Overture).

As its recording was used as pre-show music for much of the Reality Tour, was “Queen Of All the Tarts (Overture)” once intended as an album intro? If so, its demotion to bonus track was likely owed to sequencing—the Queen doesn’t sit comfortably amidst the more common tracks.

A track whose centerpiece is a two-tiered (possibly two-fingered) synth solo courtesy of the artiste himself, “Queen of All the Tarts” features the usual Reality impasto of guitar overdubs (Earl Slick, David Torn and Gerry Leonard all seem to make an appearance: is Torn playing the militant, jabbing line towards the outro?). The bassist (Mark Plati or Tony Visconti) sounds like he’s downed a few espressos; Sterling Campbell tracks in some thudding tom fills (there are also low-mixed sleigh bells).

Its lyric’s a repeated one-line refrain, essentially a vocalized keyboard line, with odd two-note harmonies (a multi-tracked Bowie souped in with Gail Ann Dorsey and Catherine Russell). It comes off like Bowie’s version of Queen’s “Flash’s Theme.” And don’t forget the parenthetical: if it’s an Overture, for which glam opera? It’s as if Bowie’s written an intro piece for a younger self, casting the song back in time. So Queen Bitch walks again, having grown more regal, if wearier, in her waning years.

Recorded: (rhythm tracks, vocals) January-February 2003, (lead guitars, lead and backing vocals, overdubs) March-May 2003, Looking Glass Studios, New York. Released 16 September 2003 on the 2-CD version of Reality.

Top: Jonathan Monk, Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before, 2003 (MoMA).

Book hype footnote: pre-orders available now, see top right box. Non US/UK people: check out Book Depository, which allegedly ships free worldwide.

23 Responses to Queen Of All the Tarts (Overture)

  1. col1234 says:

    & if Momus manages to find 10 points to say about this thing, he wins a prize

  2. Deanna says:

    This thing gets stuck in my head constantly. But I do think it was worth the $1.29 on iTunes, even if it sounds a bit like DVD menu music…there’s something really nice about it.

  3. Maj says:

    I’ve always loved this one.

    Ha. Don’t have much more to say about it though. Lovely in the best possible way.

  4. StevenE says:

    it’s good but no She Can (Do That).

  5. crayontocrayon says:

    Rather than Flash this one reminds me of the theme from Goldfinger. It’s very likeable for such a slight thing

  6. Vinnie M says:

    Oh man oh man – I’ve never heard this one (see, previous “ugh Reality cover art” discussions). This is pretty good! Reminds me a lot of early 2000s post-NY rock sound influence. (The Killers, for example).

    This very well could have been Reality‘s “Speed Of Life” is the lyrics were cut.

  7. s.t. says:

    Ack, this is dreadful. The first 20 seconds reminds me of the opening theme to CBS Storybreak. Very pop-prog, a la Queen.

    Good title though.

  8. Mr Tagomi says:

    I’ve always liked this a lot. Glad to see others think similarly. I had assumed most people would regard it as a bit of pointless fluff.

    To me it feels like an almost relentless downhill tumble of a song. No one will thank me for the comparison, but i have it sort of categorised with the Spice Girls’ Spice Up Your Life because of this.

  9. Momus says:

    1. There’s so much to say about this piece! But there isn’t the time or space, so instead I’ll restrict myself to ten points of interest in one detail, the diminished C# chord that first occurs at the twenty second mark. It’s an arpeggiated passing chord with a stabbing tenor sax part honking underneath it.

    2. Bowie has a special feel for diminished passing chords. In his songs they seem to represent transition: the passing of time, the relationship of retrospect to prospect, past to future, nostalgia to uncertainty.

    3. I’m not sure where Bowie learned his fondness for these “chords which ring changes”; could it have been from the “gypsy jazz” of Django Reinhardt? Or Robert Schumann, of whose Dichterliebe (1840) Beate Julia Perrey says (beautifully): “the diminished-seventh chord becomes a sonorous sign, surpassing at certain significant moments in Dichterliebe its traditional function as a passing chord. No longer transitional and promoting movement, it induces instead a sense of stasis, of rupture, or of concentrated inwardness. At these moments, when its effect is essentially one of defamiliarization, the chord assumes the status of a metaphor.”

    4. Transition and defamiliarization; who else in pop music has embraced these values as enthusiastically as David Bowie? And since this song is an “overture” to we-know-not-what, the diminished passing chord is totally appropriate here. Since these cascading triads bear no diatonic relationship to the current key, they point the listener forward to some sort of promised resolution, making us long for something which hasn’t yet arrived, isn’t yet clear. A nostalgia for the future, perhaps?

    5. Bowie songs which use diminished passing chords include Space Oddity, Changes, Quicksand, Golden Years, Absolute Beginners, Zeroes, and Buddha of Suburbia. They deal wistfully with time, nostalgia, transience. In Zeroes, for instance, we get one just after “a toothless past is asking you how it feels”. Soon Prince’s Little Red Corvette is driving past, indicating that something is over. In Golden Years, there’s a stabbed diminished chord after “years”. In Absolute Beginners the chord arrives on “nothing much to take” and “nothing we can’t shake”. In Quicksand it’s on “deceive”.

    6. Although this sort of passing chord can be conventional and a bit hokey — I think of it as “very 1950s ballad” — Bowie often resolves it in unexpected directions, making it a leap into the dark. In Zeroes it seems to resolve “wrong”, although nostalgic sitars soften the blow.

    7. The diminished passing chord is clearly the site of all that is spectral, evanescent, volatile. It often comes like an antithesis to the triumphalism of a sequence of major chords — here, for instance, we get a confident stomp (V2 Schneider-ish) from A# to F# to D# which suddenly spirals into something much more romantic and wistful; the passing chord leads into the minors Dm and A#m. There’s a similar chord in Ashes to Ashes, on the last syllable of “pisTOL”. As in Absolute Beginners, it heralds a negative lyric: there’s NO smoking pistol, just as there’s NOTHING much to take. And then we get “I’ve never done good things, I’ve never done bad things, I never did anything out of the blue…”.

    8. So much negation! So much regret! Nothing’s gonna touch you! Don’t deceive with belief! All things must pass! Shading impermanent chords with words! Sinking in a quicksand! If a major chord is a shout of confidence and aggression, a passing chord is passive, a wise sigh, a note of Buddhist resignation.

    9. If we were being Bowie, blocking out the instrumental with words, what would we sing? The stomping I-VI-IV section would possibly feature a description of our tarty queen — a withered rocker in leather, possibly Tiresias in drag — arriving at a nightclub. She’s painted on a poor face today. She’s a butcher passing for a little girl. By the time the diminished chord arrives the triumphalism is spent. We’re now learning something sad about this character: she’s out of time, lost her mind, an Alice lost in Wonderland.

    10. Our character is not just a tart, but the queen of all the tarts, human confectionery, living nostalgia, making an overture to we-know-not-what, we-know-not-whom. Maybe the song never got fleshed out, but maybe it never needed to be. The chord sighs perfectly well on its own, and just by being there it signposts former Bowie moments of negation and pointlessness, previous leaps into futures unknown but not unwanted.

  10. damkring says:

    My favourite track from the whole Reality era. The only other songs I listen to from those sessions are Pablo Picasso and Disco King. Really disappointing album. I remember thinking it sounded like diet-Tin Machine at the cinema event.
    The production on Queen is a little too polite for me; would have loved something a bit more aggressive, but I do really like it.
    So shoot me.

  11. Steve says:

    I think that elements of “Queen of All the Tarts” were incorporated into Bowie’s cover of “Pablo Picasso,” and the ‘mysterious-sounding’ bridge may have been the basis for “The Loneliest Guy.”

    Of course, on the other hand, maybe it was the other way around and this was simply intended to be a sort of “overture” just as the title implies, incorporating the various sounds of other songs on the album into a kind of album/show intro/preview.

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