Hammerhead

August 2, 2012

Hammerhead (B-side edit).
Hammerhead (album edit).

There are two official versions of “Hammerhead,” a Bowie/Hunt Sales composition: a minute-long instrumental, in which Bowie’s saxophone is soon elbowed off stage by a Reeves Gabrels guitar meltdown, that appeared uncredited at the end of Tin Machine II, and a mush-mouthed rant-thrash piece in the line of “A Big Hurt” that was issued as a B-side. As it turned out, they were the same track—the instrumental is the lopped-off coda of the master take.

Seemingly free-associated at the mike, Bowie’s lyric is a rapid-fire slurred ode to a femme fatale, with the woman in question compared to a shark, a boxer (including, apparently, the turn-of-the-century champion George Dixon), Cher, Bruce Lee (Bowie seems to mumble “enter the dragon” at one point) and a Forties film star. Bowie sounds out of her league in any case, especially as his jaw seems to have been wired shut.

If one of the themes of Tin Machine II had been an attempt to lampoon ultra-masculinity (with mixed results),”Hammerhead” seems a natural end point—it’s a male POV made lunatic and ridiculous, a manic spew by a man trying to comprehend a woman by comparing her to a run of celebrities and wildlife. Still, it works better as an instrumental.

Recorded ca. September-October 1989, Studios 301, Sydney. The full version (3:15 in length, YouTube has no versions of it currently up) was released in August 1991 as the B-side of “You Belong in Rock n’ Roll” and, in Germany, “One Shot.”

Top: Nick Hider, “Saturday, March 31, 1990: London’s Poll Tax riot.”