Julie

March 12, 2012

Julie.

A rare piece of subtlety from the Never Let Me Down sessions, “Julie” was naturally thrown away as a B-side (it was possibly cut because of its similarity in places to “Bang Bang,” suggesting that it began life as Bowie reworking Iggy Pop’s song). Like “Zeroes,” “Julie” seems intended as a “Sixties” pop song—as though Bowie wanted for the song to sound like a cover of a falsely-remembered older hit. It helped that the name “Julie” itself has a storied rock ‘n’ roll pedigree—the Crescendos, the Lettermen, Bobby Sherman and the Cuff Links all used it for singles, in part because it’s such an easy rhyme generator: “truly,” “you and me,” “eternally,” etc.*

There’s also a connection to “Janine,” an actual Bowie Sixties pop song also concerned with deception and ill-matched love. In “Janine,” however, there was a sense of play—Janine might be an affected ingenue, but the singer was just as much of a fraud, and there was a smile in Bowie’s singing, in all of his blustering attempts to win a round against her. It was a love affair in a house of mirrors. In “Julie” the lyric depicts a far sadder, if obscure scenario–the singer knows Julie doesn’t love him, that she’s consumed with another guy, but he’s willing to settle for the mere appearance of love, even in his imagination (there’s also the implication, in the second verse, that the singer killed the guy that Julie really loves, and that he’s desiring her while she’s mourning). The story’s more directly told in Bowie’s vocal, which is solitary and in a narrow range for the opening verse, double-tracked at the octave for the second, and which soars to his higher register for the delusive, desperate chorus, eventually joined by Robin Clark and/or Diva Gray.

While the track, with its synth bass and drums, is dated-sounding and the mix seems slightly off-balance (all the electric guitars are crammed into the right channel, while a lower-mixed acoustic in the left), its guitar tracks (Peter Frampton and Carlos Alomar, I’m assuming) give the song some blood and muscle, with Frampton giving some tasteful lead coloring in the chorus: it’s reminiscent of his sitar lines on “Zeroes.” One of the few late Eighties Bowie songs to have escaped its time with some dignity, its later inclusion on Never Let Me Down reissues was a minor injustice corrected.

Recorded ca. September-November 1986 at Mountain Studios, Montreux, and the Power Station, NYC. Released 23 March 1987 as the B-side of “Day-In Day-Out” and on CD reissues of Never Let Me Down.

* Of course, there’s the chance Bowie’s inspiration came from more contemporary tracks: Daniel’s “Julie” from Eurovision 1983 and Shakin’ Stevens’ cod-zydeco UK #1 “Oh Julie” from 1982.

Top: Jeanette Montgomery Barron, “Beatrix Ost-Kuttner and Adeleheid Ost, Virginia, 1987.”