Originally recorded as the theme song for Cat People, director Paul Shrader’s erotic remake of a 40 year-old horror film, the oh-so-eighties movie’s title song (subtitled Putting Out Fire) was the one where David Bowie was asked to come up with some words to music previously composed by Giorgio Moroder (a typical canny Moroder move when making a record).
A minor hit in 1982, the song 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’.
The track 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.
I know, right.
Though hardly a smash, the single became Bowie’s highest placed 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 though, 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.
They really don’t make ’em like that anymore.
Manchester notables 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…