Born In a UFO


Born In a UFO.

Half a year after Bowie’s surprise return, it turned out that the surprise return wasn’t quite done yet. The Next Day Extra, announced in September 2013, offered four new tracks, along with compiling previous bonus tracks and remixes. It was, cynically, a means to get fans to buy the album again and, generously, a way for Bowie to get more songs out, rather than letting them languish for decades in his vaults, like all the alleged Lodger outtakes.

So what was The Next Day Extra? How should it be considered? As a new EP? As a digestif for an overstuffed album? As just more ones and zeroes sent into the ether, more disconnected music for a time when sequenced albums are antiquated?

The Extra tracks were mainly cut during the Next Day sessions but had needed more time to cook, Tony Visconti said, with further overdubs done in early 2013. But they didn’t sound too labored over. If anything united the Extra tracks, it was a sense of Bowie letting his hair down. No longer having to establish the Back-From-the-Dead Bowie, he could sneak out a couple of loopy, SF-themed songs that few people (relatively) would ever hear. Sharing an overbearing, blotto production aesthetic, the four Extra tracks now seem, with two years’ distance, to be a brief loud party held before the next scene change.

“Born In a UFO” is a case in point: a cracked parody of Bruce Springsteen (obviously in its refrain, but the verse melody also has a pinch of “It’s Hard to Be a Saint In the City“), with a Dylan nod (“‘there’s no direction home,’ she pleads”) and even some of Toni Basil’s “Mickey” in the rising keyboard lines (played by Bowie). A homage to SF serials Bowie had watched as a boy in Beckenham and Fifties novelty songs like the Earth Boys’ “Space Girl,”, it’s also a workable metaphor for falling in love with the “right” person at last: she or he can seem like they fell out of a spaceship one day, sent here to upend your life.

Zachary Alford said the song began as a reworking of a “leftover from Lodger,” (though there’s a chance he was recalling another song whose title Bowie later shifted to the released “UFO”). If so, you can see a few common threads—“UFO” shares the gonzo mood of “Red Sails” and has some vague similarities, chord-wise, to “DJ”: more in its sense of movement, with three rising chords as a hook (F-G-Ab in “UFO”, Am-Bm-C in “DJ”). Visconti and Alford (or Sterling Campbell) hammer the hell out of things; Earl Slick gets the “Andalusian” guitar solos. Bowie plays a suburban loser made hysterical by lust, though more for his alien inamorata’s fashion sense (“an a-line skirt,” “her clutch bag,” “silver hair, trapezoid flanks” and, best of all, “I was so in love with her lavender vest!“). All she’s missing is a bipperty-bopperty hat.

Recorded: (backing tracks) ca. July 2012, The Magic Shop, NYC?; (overdubs) fall 2012-spring 2013, Magic Shop; Human Worldwide, NYC. Released on 4 November 2013 on The Next Day Extra. Thanks to “Crayon to Crayon” for musical insight, as often.

Top: Maj Halova, “Žižkov Television Tower,” Prague, January 2015 (“there are babies climbing our rocket-like TV tower”). Maj has been commenting for many years, and it’s always nice to see her take on a new post. Thanks, Maj.

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37 Responses to Born In a UFO

  1. Jubany says:

    Quite a Frankestein, this one: the verse melody is also lifted, note by note, from Shopping For Girls.

  2. Phil Obbard says:

    “Space Girl” is like a lost Stan Freberg track! Great find. As for “Born in UFO”, once again, an entry in this blog makes me revisit/rethink a track I hadn’t spent much time with before, seeing it only as b-side material.

  3. Maj says:

    Again, thanks for including my photo on this blog, Chris! 🙂

    As for the song….full of promise, but it never delivers and, well, it’s a bit of a crap song, really.

    It does have one good bit in it, the “she was not like the Other girls”, I like the melody there. The rest? A bland pastiche.

    (Oh, and thanks for letting the Mickey ear worm back into my head, took me weeks to get rid of it after Doctor Who’s Missy put it there. Thanks a bunch!)

  4. patr100 says:

    Unfortunately when DB returns to a “space” theme in most , if not all, of his latter work post Ziggy, it usually bodes badly. excepting the junky Major Tom. Whatever the ironic origins, parody or not, this is pretty awful.

  5. david says:

    There’s some kind of appropriation thing going on with this title, ‘Atomica’ and ‘Like a Rocket Man’, something that has to do with provenience and possessor-like reclaiming a cultural musical artifact and making it your own.

    Of course, Eltons Rocket man was a cynical bastard offspring of Space Oddity, a dilution of being otherworldly.

    Born in a UFO is the reverse, a line drawn in the Martian soil, a pronouncement over the blue collar,denim rocker Born in the USA.
    Because if 1983 was Bowie’s most successful year,figure headed by the most overtly normalized version of himself (persona), 1984 was Springsteen’s (authenticity).

    Except, with its off kilter Logderisms, ‘Boss’ vocal styling’s and lyrics about Alien girlfriends, it fails to make any impact in it’s sci-fi silliness, diminishing the different worlds as being somewhat less substantive on Bowie’s part.

    Perhaps that’s his point-as with Debbie Harry when she sang “You’re hair is beautiful-tonight’ in Atomical, it’s Bowie acknowledging that detachment has meant elevating the superficial.

  6. Dave L says:

    Well I think this song is a load of fun, something which is sorely missing from the main album. Love the guitar on this one and Bowie’s voice.

  7. gcreptile says:

    Could have been a fun song, but it’s a bit half-hearted in the end, with a boring instrumentation. It’s “the old rock star winks at the audience while starting to cover a witty, anarchic song from his youth with his veteran live band”.

  8. nomadetech says:

    One of those that should have never been heard.

  9. s.t. says:

    I’ll take “Honey Bee (Let’s Fly to Mars)” over this any day.

  10. Momus says:

    1. Do even the biggest fans fall for these marketing scams in which “fans buy the album twice”? I know I don’t, and I’d consider myself one of the more motivated. With these Extras, I did what I’m sure most people do: I went to YouTube and listened, deciding with most of the tracks (including this one) that I never needed to hear them again. (I have a soft spot for Like A Rocket Man, even if it does very obviously rip off Help.)

    2. Early Visconti Next Day interviews saw him boasting they had enough material in the can for a second album, so when the Extras stuff came out it seemed pretty obvious that a decision had been made to skip the second album (The Day After Next) and just throw the remaining material out there in haphazard fashion.

    3. The reception of this new stuff was very underwhelming at the time, and the YouTube view-counts bear out the world’s indifference: 3,188 views? Even a Tin Machine live b-side could do better than that! It shows that once the effects of the “January Surprise” had worn off, Bowie’s late-career problem of audience fatigue and media indifference had returned. Despite being one of the biggest celebrities in the world, he must wonder: “What do I have to do to get people to listen to my music, to get radio to play it?”

    4. But these after-thought tracks actually tell us quite a lot about The Next Day’s conceptualisation. Chris talks about Bowie letting his hair down at a loud party, but I get a different impression: one of oddly clueless calculation — “Will this be popular if I make it sound like The Boss?” — or possibly, rather, of ventriloquism and parody. Whence this obsession with Springsteen, The Beatles and Dylan, whence these satirical gestures (the muscular offbeat guitar chord even parodying, with ham-fisted irony, the one in Born in the USA)?

    5. I think the answer may be that Bowie is still a “queen bitch”, still engrossed by his rivals with the peculiar blend of admiration and envy that rockers (or actors, or painters, for that matter) tend to feel for each other. Dylan, Warhol, Springsteen, Bolan, all were the subject of slightly ambiguous tributes from early Bowie, almost comedy skits which summed them up, did a funny impression, pinned them to a board, stole some thunder. No wonder these “tributes” were often coolly received.

    6. These are The Next Day’s “extras”. Extras is also the title of the Ricky Gervais series Bowie appeared in. The comedy in Extras is generated when low-status extras meet a variety of crass, selfish, prejudiced, burnt-out celebrities backstage. Each encounter is an object-lesson in the futility of fame. It’s also an opportunity for the real celebrities to send themselves up, parody themselves, and show their worst sides. Bowie’s cameo has him being cruel and catty.

    7. Now, might there be a connection here? The Next Day’s Extras all seem highly parodic: Elton John here, The Beatles and Springsteen there. It’s as if Bowie is meeting various music stars the way Gervais’ Andy Millman does, and witnessing parodies of their most crass and obvious tics. Like a snide upstart, a bitchy actor backstage, Bowie impersonates in order to appropriate, and appropriates in order, perhaps, to summarise and supersede.

    8. I like to think this song is about Amanda Lear. She’s “not like the other girls” because she was actually born a man in Asia, and transformed into a (disco) woman and a (surreal) westerner after an affair with Dali. She’s from space, all silver tinfoil and artificiality. She’s been observing human women from afar, and now she’s come to show that she could do better than that. Bowie falls for her, naturally. Unnaturally.

    9. Space — in Bowie’s work, in western culture in general — used to represent unfamiliarity, artificiality, the unknown, the alien, the last frontier. To venture into space was to face the new, the odd, the strange, and very possibly your own death. In this song, one of the characters is from space — geometric, silver, trapezoid — and the other “born under a stone” (which seems to paraphrase Beckett’s line about the human condition: “They give birth astride the grave”). Death and strangeness unite them: it’s a marriage made in the heavens.

    10. But with repetition, all that is strange and dangerous becomes tame and safe. Space in a Bowie song is the equivalent, now, of Bing singing Christmas carols in front of a log fire. Things have a way of flipping over into their opposites. Rock, once the sound of rebellion, becomes the sound of ultimate conformity. The extras, bitching backstage about those dreadful celebs, suddenly become even worse stars themselves. And, as stars, they come to face the vast indifference of the public. 3000 YouTube views for a bad pastiche of Born in the USA? “Just… riff-raff, everywhere,” as Andy Millman would say.

    • Mr Tagomi says:


      A great word that I picked up reading Brian Aldiss’ Helliconia trilogy.

      I like those extra songs, especially Atomica. I think they’re clever and witty and have a nice vein of silliness running through them.

    • postpunkmonk says:

      1. Do even the biggest fans fall for these marketing scams in which “fans buy the album twice”?

      Oh, please. This fan had been paying attention during the Columbia era. The album would be released with a 2xCD special “collector’s edition” dropping in time for the xmas season [keep dreaming] chart action goosing. After seeing the pattern with “Heathen” and “Reality,” I dug in my heels for the inevitable “The Next Day – Extra” and purchased it once, almost a year after “The Next Day” dropped. Ten years had passed without a Bowie album. What was one more year waiting? It’s not as though I had purchased the last two on the day of release! That ship had sailed.

      • Anonymous says:

        Wasn’t it possible to buy the Next Day Extra tracks on iTunes separately without having to purchase the whole album again? (It’s possible to buy those tracks separately now, and I assume that that was the case when the TND extra tracks were first released.)

      • postpunkmonk says:

        You are so right. But I’m all about physical copies that don’t need to be backed up. Critical Bowiephiles could download the new material in bulk, separate from the original album, or perform surgical download strikes. Fair enough.

      • Mr Tagomi says:

        I got the extra songs by buying the Extra EP at the time.

        I was annoyed for a day or two while I was under the impression they would not be available separately. Then I learned about the EP so I wasn’t annoyed any more.

        It would have been pretty outrageous to expect fans to buy the album again.

    • colincidence says:

      It must be painful for the mother when you’re born a man.

  11. Mike F says:

    Uncle Bowie and the Zany Outer Space Band do “Born in a UFO.” I’m sure it was more fun for him to record it then it is for us to listen to it.

  12. Brendan O'Lear says:

    When Visconti first talked up the unreleased TND material, my heart immediately sank. He has a lot of interesting things to say on the technical side of recording, but he’s almost invariably off the mark – perhaps intentionally? – on other things. So I didn’t have high hopes; my highest hope was for another Lodger-type vault.

    With one or two exceptions – most notably Some Are – I think Bowie has been dead right about what and what not to release of his own songs. I think he knows when he’s missed. He’s a little less reliable when it comes to other people’s songs.

    This is one that really shouldn’t have seen the light of day. Like a lot of TND, there’s the feel of a middle-aged man playing with his rediscovered transit. I’m sure Iman was glad to see had himself a hobby and he was getting himself out of the house again, but on so many of these songs he doesn’t really seem to have anything to say.

    Keep your silence to yourself. As someone once said.

  13. colincidence says:

    Note how much fun he’s having on the vocal track in this. Lots of silly bits – particularly, a bizarre ad lib vocalisation as the instrumental ends.

  14. ERayLankester says:

    B side via B movie, and a blast while it lasts. I think comments have been excessively harsh on what is essentially a goofy joke, with wibserfully odd lyrics. He’s having fun; so did I.

    Now, on the other hand, Atomica…..

  15. SoooTrypticon says:

    I actually like this one.

    At first, I was kinda mad that Bowie would waste his time on these “Weird Al” numbers… but then this and “Rocket” grew on me.

    There’s a manic engery to them- and maybe that’s because they borrow/pillage so much from other bits of pop. Plus, as said above- the vocals are a lot of fun. I’d put these in the same camp as “Gemini Spaceship.” Bowie revisiting camp.

    I also think they’re some of Bowie’s best “little sad stories” he’s written in a while. Unlike “Set The World On Fire,” Bowie’s setting moods and invoking drama without name dropping. He’s describing, not telling. It’s a bit more mysterious- and they’re great little comic books. I’d take these over many of the tracks on the album proper.

    Chris, looking forward to your take on “Informer.” You think it’s got a foot dipped in the STS recordings? Possibly in homage, or maybe even a “saved for later” outtake re-recorded?

  16. Galdo says:

    I kinda liked the ‘Blackstar’, but it seems the real name of the song and album is just ‘★’, actually. I don’t know why, maybe to give it a more esoteric feeling? I prefer the old name.

  17. Mike F says:

    Mr. B is all over the place now. The Last Panthers theme music, Lazarus, and most importantly all of — SpongeBob Squarepants the Musical!

  18. Deanna says:

    Ooh, we’ve done it, we’ve finally reached my all-time Least Favourite Bowie Song.

    Glad that’s over with. God it’s bad.

  19. Silvery Jim says:

    One of my favourites from the whole Next Day era, probably because it is silly and a bit throwaway. Much closer to the reasons I have loved Bowie for 30 years than the bulk of the album. Same goes for So She etc. Funny – Hours, Heathen & Reality had conditioned me to expect more from the off cuts than the album itself hence my chosen format of the initial release was the Japanese issue featuring the most bonus material.

  20. I love this song. These Frankenstein extras are gaudy, for sure, and I like that. I like the sound of DB cutting loose. Or, a bit looser, anyway. “God Bless the Girl,” “UFO,” and “Like A Rocket Man” are fantastic. (I’m all for DB reclaiming that title, EJ’s song is the pits…and for him to doubly ridicule it with “Like A…” is even better.)

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