Shadow Man

April 12, 2010

Shadow Man (studio demo, 1971).
Shadow Man (Toy, 2000).

“Shadow Man” was demoed in an early session for a Hunky Dory sequel LP. As Bowie had yet to develop the Ziggy Stardust concept, the new record began as a random collection of songs, including some Arnold Corns leftovers, remakes of “Holy Holy” and “The Supermen,” Biff Rose, Chuck Berry and Jacques Brel covers, and a couple new pieces (which include “It’s Gonna Rain Again” and “Only One Paper Left,” tracks the bootleggers still haven’t unearthed).

Bowie soon shelved the Neil Young-influenced “Shadow Man” once the Ziggy concept took hold and never attempted a full studio version. While its messiah-superhero title figure seems like a rough draft of the Ziggy character, “Shadow Man” comes off a bit stale, hobbled by the dreary earnestness of its lyric and its plodding tempo.

Recorded on 14 September 1971 and never released. In 2000, Bowie cut a grandiose revision of “Shadow Man” for his aborted Toy LP and later issued it as a B-side of  the 2002 singles “Slow Burn” and “Everyone Says ‘Hi’.”

Top: Doisneau, “Les Jambes du Métro, Paris, 1971.”


March 9, 2010

Bombers (first performance, BBC, 1971).

The grotesque “Bombers” is a throwback to the psychedelic comic-strip songs of Bowie’s first LP. Pilots, having received the all-clear sign, drop their bombs on a waste dump inhabited only by a old man. The smoke clears and the old man’s still sitting there, so they keep dropping bombs on him; the Pentagon and Queen Elizabeth II get involved, nothing is revealed.  “A skit on Neil Young,” Bowie called it in 1972, so maybe “Bombers” is a parody of something like “After the Gold Rush.”

Bowie debuted the song at his BBC session in June 1971, a performance that’s restrained and tasteful compared with the bizarre studio take, which features doo-wop bassman vocals doubling Trevor Bolder and what may well be Bowie’s all-time-worst studio vocal.

Bowie considered putting “Bombers” on Hunky Dory but ultimately cut the track (though it was included an early promo version of the LP). He kicked around the idea of using it on a later record (including a stillborn LP meant to bridge the gap between Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust) but finally consigned it to the bottom drawer. First performed at the BBC on 3 June 1971, and recorded between June-August 1971. Finally released on Ryko’s 1990 reissue of Hunky Dory.

Top: The legendary Green Lantern #85, August-September 1971, “Snowbirds Don’t Fly.” (O’Neil/Adams).

Man In the Middle

March 5, 2010

Man In the Middle.

If “Queen Bitch” was Bowie remaking the Velvet Underground in his own image, “Man In the Middle,” the proposed B-side of the unreleased second Arnold Corns single, is just a rank imitation. Bowie gets Freddi Buretti to do a fairly inspired mimicry of Lou Reed’s voice circa Loaded, complete with having Buretti sing “it’s the symbol of a new age.”

By the time the single was cut, the pointlessness of the Arnold Corns project was apparent and so Bowie wisely cut his losses and went to work on Ziggy Stardust. Buretti would design costumes for Bowie from the Ziggy to the Diamond Dogs eras, and then seems to have vanished from the public eye sometime around 1975.

Recorded 17 June 1971. Slated to be a single c/w “Looking For a Friend,” but never released.

Top: Seminal 1971 publication (is that a sacrificed raven?).

Almost Grown

February 26, 2010

Almost Grown (Chuck Berry, 1959).
Almost Grown (Geoff MacCormack with David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars, 1971.

It’s my love of poetry. A lyric is poetry with a melody—a message with a melody. And phrasing is all mathematics. If it’s eight beats to two bars, then you can sing 18 syllables. It’s always best to sing 15, though, so you can grab a breath now and then. In fact—you won’t believe it—but my biggest influence was my mathematics teacher. Music is so much mathematics that it’s pathetic.

Chuck Berry, interview with Guitar Player, February 1971.

At David Bowie’s June 1971 BBC performance, his friend Geoffrey MacCormack sang Chuck Berry’s “Almost Grown.” Berry was back in vogue, part of a rock ‘n’ roll revival coinciding with the rise of glam: Marc Bolan closed T. Rex’s “Get It On” quoting Berry’s “Little Queenie” and Berry himself got a cross-Atlantic #1 in 1972 with the atrocious “My Ding a Ling.”

“Almost Grown” hymned middle-class respectability: a teenager’s got a job and a car, he’s doing okay in school and by the last verse he’s domesticated. Finely attuned to his audience’s moods, Berry saw by the end of the Fifties that many were graduating, getting drafted or married and having children. So in “Almost Grown” Berry flattered them, told them adulthood hasn’t snuffed them out yet. He sang his aspirational middle-class narrative over a dirty jump blues, winking that beneath the kid’s vows of responsibility are dreams about sex (Berry leers “got my eye on a little gurrrrl”) and spending money.

The BBC session was the first time Bowie, Mick Ronson and Woody Woodmansey had played together in over a year and it was Trevor Bolder’s first-ever (nerve-wracked) performance with Bowie-—he bungles a few transitions and gets taken by surprise when Ronson (and possibly Mark Pritchard?) plows into a second solo chorus. A third-rate performance when compared with Berry’s single (which, to be fair, boasted backing vocals by the Moonglows, Etta James, and Marvin Gaye), the BBC broadcast documents a band listening to itself and working out kinks. While Bowie and the Spiders would play “Almost Grown” at a few gigs in 1971, they soon swapped it out for Berry’s more raucous “Around and Around,” whose stop-time structure they used in the last verse.

Recorded 3 June 1971. MacCormack, who was going by “Geoffrey Alexander” at the gig and later went under the name Warren Peace, would continue to work with Bowie, co-writing “Rock and Roll With Me” and singing on tours and Station to Station.

Looking For a Friend

February 24, 2010

Looking For a Friend.

In the summer of 1971 David Bowie briefly fancied himself a starmaker, despite the fact that most of his own records hadn’t sold and he was still mainly known as the singer of a novelty one-hit-wonder about the moon landings. That didn’t deter him from trying to build a stable of amateur singers and “celebrities,” the primary inspiration being Andy Warhol’s Factory.

His work with The Arnold Corns and his recruitment of Mickey King to sing “Rupert the Riley” were the first of these designs, but when Bowie showed up at the BBC’s Paris Cinema Studio in early June for a radio broadcast by John Peel, he went the whole hog. This was Bowie’s first radio appearance in over a year, but rather than just showcasing himself and his new band, he brought along four other singers—Mark Carr Prichard (from The Arnold Corns), his old friends Geoffrey Alexander and George Underwood, and Dana Gillespie, for whom Bowie had just written “Andy Warhol.” The resulting session was something of a glam hootenanny, and as such is one of the odder moments of Bowie’s career.

Prichard sang Bowie’s “Looking For a Friend,” which was slated as the b-side to the Corns’ second single (never released). Prichard was the Corns’ lead guitarist and would play on the studio recording of “Friend” a few weeks later (while Freddi Buretti took over on vocals). It’s a standard blues rocker in the line of Crazy Horse or the Faces, with a rousing chorus and a (fairly) openly gay lyric. “Don’t have to be a big wheel/don’t have to be the end,” the singer tells his prospects—after all, a cruiser is the purest of democrats.

Recorded for the BBC on 3 June 1971, while the Arnold Corns single was cut on 17 June 1971. “Looking For A Friend” was recorded again in late 1971 during the Ziggy Stardust sessions and again never released.

Top: “Normko,” “Ladbroke Square, 1971.”

Rupert The Riley

February 23, 2010

Rupert The Riley.

“Rupert the Riley,” the silliest and most endearing of Bowie outtakes, is Bowie’s ode to his car, a Riley Gamecock. With its sound effects, nightclub saxophone and its droning engine of piano, bass and hummed backing vocals (the last similar to those in Fairport Convention’s “Cajun Woman“), it could be a rough mix from Roxy Music’s first record.

The track was another go at creating a fake rock & roll singer. Bowie had already tried out Freddi Buretti (alleged lead singer of The Arnold Corns), and now he gave a song to a character known as Mickey or “Sparky” King (whose stage name, at least for this unreleased single, was Nick King). King was part of the Bowie circle in the early ’70s: in Bowie’s words, he was “a ‘club boy’ who I encouraged to sing.” King lived brightly, dangerously and not long—around 1974 he was stabbed to death by someone allegedly hired by one of his lovers, a colonel who King was attempting to blackmail. He left behind only this happy ghost of a song.

Recorded 23 April 1971 by the “Nick King All Stars” and never released, though it made the shortlist for Bowie’s greatest hits/rarities box set Sound and Vision. There are two versions, one with a Bowie lead vocal and the other (linked here) sung by the late Mr. King, with Bowie on backing vocals.

Top: 1971 Bentley T1.

Moonage Daydream

February 19, 2010

Moonage Daydream (Arnold Corns single).
Moonage Daydream (Ziggy Stardust LP).
Moonage Daydream (BBC, May 1972).
Moonage Daydream (live, 1972).
Moonage Daydream (live, 1972).
Moonage Daydream (live, 1973).
Moonage Daydream (live, 1974).
Moonage Daydream (live, 1996).
Moonage Daydream (live, 1997).
Moonage Daydream (live, 2002).

I first heard “Moonage Daydream” when I was 16 years old, which is when you should first hear it. I was in my car, listening to some dubbed cassette of Bowie hits, when suddenly:

I’m an ALLIGATOR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I’m a MAMMAPAPA coming FOR YOU!!!

Teenage bliss. I can’t remember what my exact response was, but it was along the lines of “Jesus! What is this?”

I had bought in. “Moonage Daydream” intends to shock, its spectacular opening a battle between power chords (Mick Ronson hitting hard twice on D, then F#) and Bowie’s dramatics (the excitement furthered by the taste of silence between each chord and sung line). But the track quickly settles down into a groove and its choruses are moody and wistful—it delays the fireworks that Ronson and Bowie promise in its first four bars. The first solo isn’t Ronson but a duet between a pennywhistle and a baritone saxophone.

So “Moonage Daydream” can stand for all of Ziggy Stardust, a vaguely conceptual rock LP about a fake rock star whose songs both parody and subsume rock & roll. As Ziggy is pop music about pop music, so the lyric of “Moonage Daydream” is fused from old rock & roll phrases—“I’m an alligator” come from “See you later alligator,” all the “far outs” and “freak outs” are pilfered from the hippie LPs, while a bizarre line like “you’re squawking like a pink monkey bird” sounds like it was lifted from a lost novelty hit of 1960 (as the solo was, see below). It also could be the pseudo-Russian pop music of Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, or a botched translation—as if an extra-terrestrial who had been monitoring our radio and TV broadcasts had fashioned an imitation of what it took to be our national musics. Bowie later claimed that was the idea all along.

Bowie wrote “Moonage Daydream” to be the debut single of his “fake band” project, The Arnold Corns, and then refigured it as part of Ziggy Stardust‘s early conception as a West End stage show. So from its inception, the song was meant to serve as entrance music, a character piece for a fraudulent character, whether impostor pop idol (the Corns’ non-singer Freddi Buretti) or plastic rock star (Ziggy Stardust, who Bowie would later claim on stage was the song’s author).

The Arnold Corns project petered out after two singles, only one of which was released, as Bowie focused on designing the Ziggy character and his never-quite-comprehensible storyline (Hunky Dory and Ziggy were recorded back-to-back, with some Ziggy songs preceding Hunky Dory ones, hence the timeline confusion).

What’s missing from the Corns “Moonage Daydream” (beyond Ronson’s guitar) is the sense that anything’s at stake—the Corns single, voiced by Bowie but allegedly sung by the cherubic Buretti (he’s the male equivalent of Chantale Goya in Godard’s Masculin-Feminin), is drearier than much of the music it’s mocking. The Ziggy “Moonage Daydream” works in part because the song was taken out of Bowie’s head and invigorated by Ronson, whose guitar heroics are matched by his string arrangements, bassist Trevor Bolder and producer Ken Scott (who put the phasing effect on the swirling strings at the end of the track).

By the time of the Spiders’ last concert at the Hammersmith in July 1973, teenage girls and boys in the audience were singing along to every word of “Moonage Daydream,” holding their hands to their faces while they sang the chorus, falling in love with themselves as much as they were with Ziggy. Using the strength and delusion of adolescence, the belief that the world somehow has been left open for you, they took the lie and made it sing to them.

Every night you knew that “Moonage Daydream” was going to be the one that really lifted them. Then we’d go and follow on from there to the end.

Trevor Bolder, 1976.

The Ziggy recording is the sum of its players. Bolder doesn’t get that much credit as a bassist, but his work on “Moonage Daydream” in particular is assured and inventive—he starts by anchoring Ronson’s opening chords, then serves as the main melodic voice in the choruses (his descending line, going down the frets from the D string to the A to the E, mirrors the wordless harmony vocals).

And then there’s Ronson. In the studio, Bowie drew a diagram for how Ronson’s guitar solo should sound—it started out as a flat line, grew to form “a fat megaphone-type shape, and ended in sprays of disassociated and broken lines,” Bowie recalled years later. Ronson looked at the chart, went off somewhere (he often wrote arrangements in the bathroom), and came back and performed a solo that exactly followed Bowie’s directions.

The Arnold Corns single version was recorded in April 1971 and released as B&C CB149; the Ziggy Stardust track was cut on 12 November 1971. (Bowie was inspired to suggest a baritone sax/pennywhistle solo from the B-side of The Hollywood Argyles’ “Alley Oop,” “Sho’ Know a Lot About Love,” which featured a fife and bari sax. “I thought that’s the greatest combination of instruments. It’s so ludicrous—you’ve got this tiny sparrow of a voice on top and a huge grunting pig-ox of a thing at the bottom,” Bowie said in 1997.) Bonus note: the solo’s descending minor-chord sequence (Bm/A/G/F#) is cited by Wikipedia as an example of the “Andalusian cadence.”

Bowie debuted “Moonage Daydream” on a BBC session of 16 May 1972, and played it in most shows of the Ziggy tour (the performances linked above are from Dunstable, UK (21 June 1972), Santa Monica, Calif. (20 Sept. 1972) and the final Spiders show of 3 July 1973, which features Ronson’s ultimate version of his guitar solo, all delays and feints). It’s turned up in a few tours (mainly the Diamond Dogs tour ’74, and some of Bowie’s ’90s shows) since.

Lightning Frightening

February 16, 2010

Lightning Frightening.

“Lightning Frightening” was first officially released as a bonus track on Ryko’s CD reissue of The Man Who Sold The World, which noted the track was from that LP’s sessions. However, a consensus has formed over the past decade that “Lightning Frightening” was recorded a bit later, anywhere from very late 1970 to (best guess) the Arnold Corns sessions of March-April 1971.

That’s because in part the ever-reliable Nicholas Pegg notes that “Lightning” is pretty much a blatant rip-off of Crazy Horse’s “Dirty Dirty,” from Crazy Horse’s self-titled LP released in February 1971. If you buy this theory (I certainly do—just listen to ’em back-to-back), then Bowie’s “Lightning Frightening” couldn’t have been cut any earlier than that (though it’s possible, though unlikely, that Bowie had an acetate of the record prior to its release).

I’ve dwelt on this minutiae because the actual song is a dud. Three chords—A, G, E—repeated over and over again; a chorus that seems like it was designed for a English instruction class; some vague talk about “farmland” and being free. Bowie’s saxophone, some harmonica and slide guitar serve as distractions.

Top: Fassbinder, Whity.

How Lucky You Are (Miss Peculiar)

February 12, 2010

How Lucky You Are (Miss Peculiar).

“How Lucky You Are” (called “Miss Peculiar” on some bootlegs) likely came from the same songwriting sessions that produced the Peter Noone singles “Oh! You Pretty Things” and “Right On Mother,” but it’s hard to imagine Noone singing this one, a remake of “Under My Thumb” with additional doses of sadism: “When you sleep, you sleep by me…when you walk, you follow—two steps behind!”

It’s a cad’s anthem, its chorus serving to further rub Miss Peculiar’s face in it—I know I’m a creep, but you’re going to be lost when I walk out the door, the singer crows. The harsh waltz rhythms of the verses and outro give the performance a taste of cabaret (suggesting it may have started life as another Bowie tribute to Jacques Brel, though it also hints at Bowie’s future Kurt Weill tribute “Time”). An odd, unpleasant song that Bowie eventually abandoned.

Top: David Buckley, “Lovecraft Sex Shop, London, 1971” (Tottenham Court Rd.)

Right On Mother

February 8, 2010

Right On Mother.

“Right On Mother” is something of an answer record to “Oh! You Pretty Things,” bridging the generation gap depicted in the latter. It’s also a happier remake of “Uncle Arthur,” in which the parent, rather than sabotaging her son’s relationship with his new girl, is instead welcoming of it.

Still, there’s also something disturbing about the song, whether in the boy’s elation that his mother knows “I’m a man!!!” or the last lines, where the singer apparently dumps his girl off so he can spend the night with mum.

Recorded ca. late 1970-January 1971 (some websites list it as a 1968 recording, which doesn’t seem to fit—it was obviously part of the demo package that Chrysalis Music sent to Peter Noone in late 1970/early ’71). Noone recorded it as the B-side to “Walnut Whirl” (RAK 121, October 1971) with Bowie on piano.

Top: “Shoreditch Street Washing,” 1971.