Betty Wrong

July 6, 2012

Betty Wrong (original mix, The Crossing OST, 1990).
Betty Wrong (TMII).
Betty Wrong (Oy Vey Baby, 1991).

The first track to publicly emerge from the Tin Machine II sessions, “Betty Wrong” turned up on the soundtrack of the 1990 Australian film The Crossing, starring a young Russell Crowe. Given further overdubs for TMII (mainly two Bowie saxophone cameos and some woodblocks in the verses), the track was mooted as a possible single but instead wound up buried midway through the album.

“Betty Wrong,” like a few other TMII tracks, is evidence that Bowie was trying, if indifferently, to write more commercial material again—its hooky chorus could have been incidental music for a Coke commercial, and as such was well suited for the sub-Rebel Without a Cause scenario of The Crossing. Its intro, which seems slightly in hock to Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning,” suggests a more energetic track than its rather sickly verses delivered, though the chorus comes around quickly enough to keep the wheels rolling. Bowie’s lyric is in the vein of “Amazing,” a fallen man transported by love and pledging his faith in a broken time, though its decent lines (“nurtured on grime, good will and screams“) are overpowered by its duff ones (“the kiss of the comb/tears my face“).

During the last Tin Machine tour, Bowie and Reeves Gabrels put their composition on the rack, extending “Betty Wrong” over ten minutes with introductory and climactic guitar* and, especially, saxophone solos. The latter are some of Bowie’s most extravagant recorded performances on the sax, in which Bowie fulfills a teenage dream and tries to pretend he’s Eric Dolphy for a few minutes, though Bowie was far better at the R&B stylings of the big-toned tenor men of the Fifties, like Earl Bostic. At its best, Bowie’s sax added a swagger to “Betty,” particularly its intro, where the Machine now sounded like a bar band ripping into the Peter Gunn theme.

Recorded ca. September-October 1989, Studios 301, Sydney, and first appeared in October 1990 on The Crossing OST (Regular Records TVD 93336). Two other versions of “Betty” are circulating on bootleg: one’s just a slightly different mix of the released track, the other is an early instrumental take at a slower pace, with Gabrels still working out his solo ideas.

* Gabrels, in Musician, said of his closing blues solo “the chords are C#min7 to Amaj to G7 to G#min—I wondered what it would sound like if you had Otis Rush playing over something other than I-IV-V. The difference is to move one note in the right direction. The strongest statement that you can make is often the shortest distance: just a half-step away from the note that’s ringing. That’s hardest to hear.”

Top: “Visit to Moscow by Secretary General Manfred Wörner,” 14 July 1990 (NATO archives—who knew NATO was on Flickr?).