It’s Tough

August 6, 2012

It’s Tough (early take/mix).
It’s Tough (“final” mix).

Slated for Tin Machine II until late in the day (it was replaced by a track cut in the March 1991 final sessions for the album, either by what proved to be the master take of “If There Is Something” or the newly-recorded “One Shot”), “It’s Tough” was then sunk into the memory hole, with no public trace of its existence until a few versions leaked in 2008. According to one source (recounted on the TW message board), Bowie played a rough mix of a provisional TMII to an Australian friend, who called “Tough” the weakest track, a verdict with which Reeves Gabrels allegedly concurred. So “Tough” was kicked off the album, knocked down to a proposed B-side and ultimately shelved.*

The Machine had spent time working “It’s Tough” into shape, hardening the “Lust for Life”-esque bassline, tweaking its intricate multi-guitar intro (while sounding like a synthesizer pattern, the intro’s base is more likely a rapidly-picked guitar, close to the opening of the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House”) and revising its structure: earlier versions had overused the “it’s tough! but! it’s okay!” refrain, while the apparent final take has an additional verse and a jabbing Bowie saxophone solo.

Bowie also scrapped some luridly violent lines (“someone driving a 4×4 threw acid on her face/she told the cops that she hacked him up/with the sharpened edge of his license plate“) in favor of a more obscure lyric that quotes Dean Martin at one point. While his earlier vocal had been more committed to malice, there was still a sharpness to Bowie’s observations, a spit in his delivery, that had been lacking in his work for over a decade: All the rats are winning…Squeezing out a generation/waiting for the next…So I lie! lie! lie! It’s the return of the Thin White Duke to a Los Angeles about to boil over in 1991. A repeated “I’m not ready for this” serves as a prayer and an excuse (& echoes a Mekons song from a few years before).

Listening the various bootleg versions of this track is an exercise in frustration, as any one of them have more kick and power than the lesser half of Tin Machine II. Cutting “It’s Tough” was a blunder, foreshadowing Bowie’s odd sequencing on Black Tie White Noise.

Recorded ca. September-October 1989, Studios 301, Sydney, with poss. overdubs 1990-March 1991. Unreleased.

* The “final” version of “Tough” likely comes from a promo CD of Tin Machine II that was assembled before its last recording sessions (recall that Bowie was shopping around the TMII tapes for a year, looking for a label).

Top: Ed Newman, “Dancing at Zydeco Fest, Plaisance, Louisiana, 1991.”

You Better Stop

July 26, 2012

You Better Stop.

An outtake from the Tin Machine II sessions in Sydney, “You Better Stop” (its bootleg title) is another Hunt Sales blues, here dominated by dueling cock-of-the-walk guitar licks. Reeves Gabrels apparently cut multiple overdubs, as the various guitars in the solo all seem to be his, which suggests “Stop” had evolved beyond a studio jam and was being considered for inclusion on the record. At first I had thought it was a version of Sonny Rhodes’ soul classic, but its lyric, a barely-audible string of blues cliches, is different and at one point Hunt cues the band with “bridge!” So evidently “Stop” is a half-completed original, and it has as much going for it as the two official Hunt-penned Tin Machine tracks.

Recorded ca. September-October 1989, Studios 301. Unreleased.

Top: “Doublejeopardy,” “Thailand, 1990.”


July 12, 2012


Unknown before surfacing on bootleg in 2008, “Exodus”* is another of the “surf” instrumentals that Tin Machine was playing around with (see “Needles on the Beach”). While no lost masterwork, the track’s general jauntiness, Reeves Gabrels channeling Robert Fripp on Eno’s “St. Elmo’s Fire,” Tony Sales’ exuberant bassline and Bowie (or Kevin Armstrong) subbing for Hunt Sales’ cymbals via a rapid-strummed acoustic guitar, gives “Exodus” a life and a bright spirit that’s missing from a few tracks that made the cut for Tin Machine II.

Recorded ca. September-October 1989, Studios 301, Sydney. Unreleased.

* The title is possibly a bootlegger’s. It’s unclear what was intended for the track—another instrumental like “Needles”, or as a rhythm track for a scrapped or redesigned song.

Top: Corinne Day, “Kate Moss in a telephone booth,” Borneo, August 1991.

Needles on the Beach

July 9, 2012

Needles on the Beach.

Though Tin Machine II wound up a stitched-together, incoherent record, it began with Bowie and Reeves Gabrels working in a general theme: life in the rotten South Pacific. Drawing from Bowie’s recent vacation in Java and an earlier trip to Borneo with Iggy Pop (see “Tumble and Twirl”), Sara Terry’s (Gabrels’ wife) work covering child prostitution in Thailand and the Machine’s stay in Sydney while recording, a recurring image was a spoiled tropical paradise, whether corrupted by the West or by the eternal human verities of greed and lust. A few of these songs—“Shopping for Girls” and “Amlapura”—made it onto the final record, but another variation on the theme, the Machine’s attempt at a jaundiced surf music, was ultimately shelved.

The instrumental “Needles on the Beach,” which finally appeared on a “surfbilly” compilation on a Boston indie label in 1994 (arguably the most obscure official release in the Bowie catalog), got its title from Gabrels noticing that the tide on Bondi Beach would often bring in used syringes. There’s a musical joke baked into the song as well, as some of its chord changes are from Jimi Hendrix’s psychedelic surf track “Third Stone from the Sun”—specifically the progression when Hendrix, in the original recording, murmurs “to you I shall put an end, then you’ll never hear surf music again.”*

A set of alternating eight-bar runs, “Needles” has a once-repeated structure of variation 1 (Gabrels’ guitar riff (similar to the opening of Hendrix’s “Third Stone”) & drum shuffle), variation 1, variation 2 (slightly altered guitar riff and straight-on drums), variation 1, and variation 3 (three-chord descending phrase by Gabrels). On the released version, “Needles” is faded before the final repeat of variation 3, which ends with a full close and a Gabrels pick slide, à la Dick Dale. Either Bowie or Kevin Armstrong plays a dreamy rhythm guitar that’s barely audible in the released mix.

Recorded ca. September-October 1989, 301 Studios, Sydney. Released in October 1994 on Beyond the Beach. Thanks: Ian McDuffie.

* Allegedly a buck-up message intended for Dick Dale, who had colon cancer at the time.

Top: Ross Giblin, “Jerry Nepia and Rajee Patel surfing at Titahi Bay [New Zealand], 15 January 1991.” From the Alexander Turnbull Library.