Without You I’m Nothing

October 11, 2013


Without You I’m Nothing (Placebo).
Without You I’m Nothing (Placebo and David Bowie, single).
Without You I’m Nothing (Placebo and Bowie, “live” video).
Without You I’m Nothing (Placebo and Bowie, UNKLE remix).
Without You I’m Nothing (Placebo and Bowie, Flexirol Mix.)

Having played live with Placebo on “20th Century Boy,” Bowie now wanted to cut something with them in the studio. Yet as the band had just put out their second album and with Bowie consumed by his own growing heap of new projects, there was no time to work on a fresh track.

The original plan had been to do a studio take of “20th Century Boy.” Then, perhaps recognizing how superfluous this recording would have been (and with Tony Visconti mixing the BRIT Award performance of “20th Century Boy” for possible use anyhow), Bowie said he wanted to sing harmony vocals on a remix of “Without You I’m Nothing,” the title track of Placebo’s new record. Brian Molko, on vacation when he heard this change of plans, rolled with it. “When [Bowie] calls up and asks to sing on something, you don’t say no.”

Molko later admitted there had been “too many slow songs for a second album,” and there were few slower than the title track, a brooding obsessional whose title the band had taken from a Sandra Bernhard film and which was also meant “as a message to each other. And it’s a message to our fans—-which is that old Judy Garland thing,” Molko later said.

Bowie’s vocal begins as a lower harmony to Molko’s lead, holding back his strength until the chorus, when he swoops over Molko. Bowie gave a gravity to the song, but it had too much gravity already; he wound up being an intriguing color in a washed-out landscape. The liveliest version of the track was the eight-minute Flexirol Mix, which isolates Bowie’ s most dramatic vocal spots and uses them as sound effects.

Recorded (Bowie vocal) 28 March 1999, Looking Glass Studios, NYC. Released 16 August 1999 as FLOORCD 10. The video used footage of Bowie and Placebo’s live performance of “Nothing” during an encore on 29 March 1999 at Irving Plaza, NYC.

Top: Placebo, a cheery Bowie, a pensive Visconti pose for insert of CD single (Frank Ockenfeld).