Originally recorded as the theme song for director Paul Shrader’s erotic remake of a 40 year-old horror film Cat People, the movie’s title song (subtitled Putting Out Fire), where David Bowie was asked to write words to music previously composed by Giorgio Moroder (a typical Moroder move when making a record), was something of a ‘lost’ soundtrack recording until Quentin Tarantino rescued it for a memorable scene in his 2009 war film Inglorious Basterds.
Tarantino, while working at the Video Archives, was always pretty pissed that an incendiary recording such as Cat People was thrown away into the end credits. He and his cohorts agreed that if they got that song for their film, they’d make a twenty-minute sequence built around it. So in his Nazi-scalping, bold and loudly brilliant masterpiece, Tarantino did just that.
One of the first Bowie songs I remember hearing, Cat People, in keeping with the dark and brooding tone of the 1982 movie, has some gorgeous goth rock influences (and a slightly more intriguing debt to Toyah Wilcox on the synth work) “with Bowie singing in a deep baritone croon while being backed up by a female chorus”, wrote Nicholas Pegg in The Complete David Bowie.
The incendiary octave leap on the word ‘gasoline’ has also been called ‘a magnificent moment’ and ‘among the most thrilling moments he ever committed to tape’.
It was nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Original Song in Motion Picture, but sadly lost out to Up Where We Belong by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes.
The single became Bowie’s biggest solo hit in America since Golden Years six years previously in 1976. The full-length 6:45 version appeared on the soundtrack album (appearing alongside a track titled The Myth, which used some of Bowie’s wordless humming guide vocal), and the 12″ single, while a 4:08 edited version was issued on the 7″ release.
“The second verse, which begins “Feel my blood enraged”, was left off the updated version The Dame recorded with Nile Rodgers on the following year’s Let’s Dance album. Most people generally prefer the stronger, atmospheric original version, which was included on Rykodisc’s 1993 American greatest hits release Bowie: The Singles (1969-1993) but, tellingly, not on the UK equivalent – EMI’s The Singles Collection.
On the verge of officially The Greatest Comeback In Music History, Tina Turner’s foxy but faithful live cover was a regular concert opener on her 1983 tour, and acted as a thank you to the Dame for helping her get signed to EMI that year.
August 4, 1983 saw Bowie on a day off from the Serious Moonlight Tour, where he’d been including the Nile Rodgers-helmed Let’s Dance reinterpretation of the song in his own setlist, checking out the lady Tina in Chicago, where he’d played the night before. See if you can spot him in the crowd.
That voice, that stage presence, those legs; TT turns 79 in November. They really don’t make ’em like this anymore.
BONUS: New Order have done a spiffing thing, and, as I witnessed during a barnstorming gig in Buenos Aires, have started slipping in a bit of the intro to Cat People (the Moroder version, natch) into their live version of an even doomier Joy Division classic. Oh, what an Atmosphere…