As David Bowie’s classic album from 1973 celebrates its 45th anniversary, here’s forty-five factoids about the Sane from the Dame. Come in and grab a seat, this is pure rock canon stuff, folks.
1. Released by RCA Records on April 20, 1973, Aladdin Sane was The Dame’s sixth album but the first he released as a superstar; coming ten months after his previous long-player, 1972’s legendary breakthrough, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.
2. Aladdin Sane is brilliantly flawed in some essential way. If the album feels like a slightly unfocused and less coherent project than Ziggy that’s because it was. Lacking the thematic narrative and flow of its predecessor, the majority of the album was rush recorded at breakneck speed at Trident Studios in London in January 1973, between the first and second legs of Ziggy’s 45 date US tour, with some earlier recordings laid down as the band stopped off in New York City and Nashville, Tennessee.
3. On the surface, Aladdin Sane is a solid if somewhat random pile of songs that never quite gels. Luckily most of those songs are pretty damned good, though Bowie’s lyrics had started to show the influence of cocaine, a habit which would almost consume him by the time of 1976’s Station To Station. Given that Bowie was fooling around with the likes of Cyrinda Foxe and Claudia Lennear — and many others — if this album has a theme, it would be mass adultery and Stones homage, sprinkled with Glam and Americana in liberal doses.
4. Mindful of complaints of Ziggy Stardust’s tinny sound and weedy vocals, the album beefs up and broadens the Spiders From Mars’ aural tapestry. It’s Ziggy on steroids, but even then Aladdin sounds like he must be the jock big brother who probably gave Ziggy Stardust wedgies after football practice. Musically, Aladdin Sane is a deceptive little beast, coming on like a down and dirty rock album, but then Bowie being Bowie, he sneaks in high art references and knows what they mean. Then, thanks in no small part to the new addition of jazz pianist Mike Garson, David layers the cake with weird avant-garde flourishes and makes it sound like rock and roll. Perhaps he really was a genius after all.
5. In 1995, in the midst of promotional duties for his Brian Eno-produced art-crime opus, Outside, Bowie summed up his artistic doctrine: “One thing that Brian and I realised is that he tends to take things from the street or from low art and elevate them to a high-art status and I do precisely the opposite. I steal from so-called high art places or often take elements from the avant-garde and reduce them or demean them down to the street or vulgar level.” We didn’t always get it then, the multi-faceted stuff. But it was Art with a capital ‘A’. High and low, with himself as the canvas. “I have always loved contradictions,” The Dame explained. “There are no absolutes, there is no one form for me. There never has been.”
6. In a way this is as much guitarist Mick Ronson’s album as much as David’s, and Aladdin Sane is the second and final time Ronno received arrangement credits on a Bowie LP. It’s also the only time Ronson was credited with mixing duties, which was usually the sole task of producer Ken Scott. “We wanted to make it that much rougher,” remembers Scott. “Ziggy was rock ’n’ roll but polished rock ‘n’ roll. David wanted certain tracks to go like The Rolling Stones – unpolished rock n’ roll.”
7. Bowie often had a penchant for being the English Iggy Pop, but even in 1973, he had too much of an effete pop sensibility to sound too ‘heavy’ like a lot of American-flavoured rock did, and we can all be thankful the Spiders didn’t turn into a lighter shade of Deep Purple. Sticking to what they know best, the rhythm section of bassist Trevor Bolder and – making his last appearance on a Bowie record – drummer Woody Woodmansey play stiffly and wisely didn’t try to get funky. As with Ziggy, the Velvet Underground and Stooges influences are very much present, which gives Bo Diddley mutations like the insistent Panic In Detroit the necessary edge.
8. The singer somewhat glibly described the album as “Ziggy goes to America”, as most of the tracks were observations he composed on the road during that first ten week tour of the States (glitteringly and rawly captured on 2008’s official bootleg album Live Santa Monica ’72), which accounted for the place name subtitles following each Bowie composition on some original RCA pressings. David had become, as ever, his environment, translating the bricolage of ideas, inspirations and sensations, and presenting us with a snapshot of his times. It’s a United States he spied through bus and limo windows and from hotel balconies: a country of empty spaces and bankrupt cities. For Bowie, America had validated his imagination — the dystopian worlds he had been describing in song for years had turned out to be real places, filled with glamorous decay and casual murder. From New York to Texas to California, he’d been harassed and even attacked by strangers. “It was really happening. Suddenly my songs didn’t look out of place,” he said, with arch bemusement. He should be on by now…
9. Watch That Man (New York) is the album’s raucous opening gambit. One of those loud and proud honky-tonk glam numbers that is Bowie’s blatant annexation of the The Rolling Stones sound, particularly the soupy sonics of the previous year’s Exile On Main Street. Indeed, the spectre of Jagger/Richards and co looms large over the entire Aladdin Sane project, as we’ll get into throughout this feature.
10. With a level-triggered ambience, Watch That Man’s downright druggy lead vocal is submerged beneath Ronson’s guitars: at times sounding like a trebly part of the horn section. Producer Ken Scott, trying to get a Stones meets Spector wall of sound, pushed all the instruments up in the murky mix, drowning Bowie’s voice in the process. MainMan, Bowie’s management company, balked and asked Scott to bring the vocals up front: “Then a couple of weeks later I got a request from RCA: ‘Can you do another mix with the voice louder?’ And I did it, and they obviously thought the original mix worked better as well, because that’s what’s on the album.” Bowie and Ronson revisited and re-recorded Watch That Man just a few months later, with lead vocals provided by Lulu, one of The Dame’s numerous lust interests in ’73. And much like The Man Who Sold The World – the A-Side it was backing – it somehow managed to make David’s own version sound almost demo-like.
11. Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?) (RHMS “Ellinis”) locks to a delectable Doors groove but like Rachmaninov on acid, the virtuosic Garson takes it somewhere else entirely with an incomparably deranged plinky-plonk solo that is so thrillingly off-kilter it often seems to go against the music. Throwing in a bit of The Champs’ Tequila for good measure, it’s hinting at Ziggy’s all night hangover and brilliantly so.
12. After a stormy flight that scared the living daylights out of him, David didn’t fly for five years, from autumn 1972 to spring 1977. So at the end of his first US tour he took the American liner RHMS Ellinis back to England, with some interesting reading matter for company: Vile Bodies, the 1930 satire of decadent London high society in the interwar period. Originally titled Bright Young Things (which went on to become a Stephen Fry film with a stately if unused theme song by Pet Shop Boys), the book detailed twenty-somethings caught up in a “mad and illogical whirl of extravagant parties and other pointlessly important social affairs.”
13. Who was the frivolous, romantic young buck, the punningly-named A Lad Insane? David’s older brother Terry Burns, who was incarcerated at Cane Hill mental asylum, or even closer to home?: “I don’t really think he’s me,” Bowie told Circus magazine at the time, not entirely convincingly. And if you’ve ever wondered sometimes about the track’s scaremongering subtitle (1913-1938-197?), here he is again: “Aladdin Sane was based pretty fundamentally on the Vile Bodies novel of Evelyn Waugh. I thought it was terribly effective about the air of ridiculousness just before the War. So mine was a follow-on. He covered that war, and I invented a war and did my bright young things before that war. So, it was kind of quasi-literary.”
14. Drive-In Saturday (Seattle-Phoenix) was written on a long and sleepless train journey from — you guessed it — Seattle, Washington to Phoenix, Arizona and was inspired in part by David catching sight of some serious moonlight illuminating “seventeen or eighteen enormous silver domes,” hence the intriguing couplet “Perhaps the strange ones in the dome/Can lend us a book we can read up alone.” In this superb slice of hi-fi sci-fi, Bowie describes the curious scenario of a future, post-nuclear holocaust age in which sex has to be re-learnt through watching old porn films. Would you Adam and Steve it?
15. The first Bowie song to be inspired by the retro-fit-future pastiches of Roxy Music — the only glam contemporaries who could make his songs sound conventional — Drive-In Saturday was Sane’s the second single in the UK (the US opted for Time, complete with “wanking” lyrics that went over the heads of most Americans). It’s an intricate slice of synth-laced, doo-wop topped ’50s ‘futuristic nostalgia’; where the story is told from the perspective of an inhabitant of the future looking back in time, with David’s characteristically impressionistic lyrics offering up Mick Jagger and future PinUps cover star Twiggy as erotic household gods. One of The Dame’s most under-rated 45s, the song was hardly ever attempted live after 1974, nor did it appear on a greatest hits collection for twenty years. Is it any wonder Drive-In Saturday has been relegated to B-movie status in the Bowie singles canon? It certainly doesn’t deserve to be.
16. Panic In Detroit (Detroit) has a leading man. A fading revolutionary/sex symbol whose final act is suicide, though he graciously leaves behind one last autograph. Inspired by Iggy Pop’s stories of the 1967 Detroit riots and the rise of the White Panther Party, this semi-protest song’s main ingredient was Bowie’s encounter with a former classmate from Bromley Tech, after a concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall the previous September. This nondescript middle-class British kid from Kent had become a drug dealer operating out of South America, and had come to the show in his private plane. Che Guevara and Mick Ronson to a ‘cisco meet.
17. Cracked Actor (Los Angeles) opens with some monstrous Ronno power chords and a flash of Bowie on harmonica. One of the album’s ballsy rockers, it tells the bawdy story of an ageing Hollywood star in a naked and wired encounter with a prostitute. The song became a theatrical centrepiece of Bowie’s Diamond Dogs show of ’74 when he would act out the song wearing sunglasses, regal robes and snogging a real dead skull (à la Hamlet). He was still pulling the same stunt on the Serious Moonlight tour a decade later. The track also gave its title to Alan Yentob’s acclaimed BBC documentary of the Diamond Dogs shows, the Los Angeles concert audio reels of which were later stolen from Television Centre and in 2017 were used for Parlophone’s official live album of the same name.
18. Time (New Orleans)* may be a cabaret-quoting, overblown vaudevillian melodrama but it’s also a much needed Eurocentric breather from the grungy Americana of the preceding pair; boasting more superlative piano work from Garson, as well as a coruscating and cacophonous prog rock solo from Ronno. Previewing Aladdin Sane in a January 1973 interview, David spoke about how he was powerless to stop his lyrics acquiring a life of their own:
19. “I’ve written a new song on the new album which is just called Time, and I thought it was about time, and I wrote very heavily about time, and the way I felt about time – at times! – and I played it back after we recorded it and, my God, it was a gay song! And I had no intention of writing anything at all gay. When I listened to it back I just could not believe it.”
20. Camp, crass and more than a little pompous — it’s the one song that Freddie Mercury would have hocked his last bottle of Brut to have written — Time’s music hall histrionica was perfectly suited to the stage, where it served as recitative between the rockers, a moment for The Thin White Dame to smoke a cigarette and play the weary roué. So it’s no surprise the track was central to Bowie’s two most theatrical tours — the 1974 Diamond Dogs show, where he sang it sitting cross-legged behind an enormous black hand, and 1987’s Glass Spider, where the singer was borne aloft atop the infamous inflatable arachnid wearing fibreglass angel wings. Spinal Tap for sure, but the performance was one of the few redeeming features about Glass Spider. Actually, it was probably the only redeeming feature about Glass Spider.
21. The Prettiest Star (Gloucester Road) was reputedly written for Bowie’s first wife Angie and originally the follow-up single to Space Oddity, his first hit. Warm and gentle but not particularly memorable, it sold less than 800 copies in its first week, failing to chart. A month after its March 1970 release The Dame was recording proto-heavy metal. Hand just for the hell of it, here’s Ian McCulloch minus Echo & The Bunnymen running through a pub rock version at, appropriately enough, Jack Daniels’ in Glasgow.
22. Three years later, the Spiders’ sparkly remake turned a pretty ditty into a gritty doo-wop pastiche, with Ronno replicating Marc Bolan’s guesting guitar lines on the original almost note for note. With its ’50s aesthetic meets wonderfully modern chordal twists, the re-recording provided divine inspiration for one of Britain’s most under-rated musicians, one-time Siouxsie & The Banshees and Adam & The Ants axeman, Marco Pirroni. Marco recalled that “Mick Ronson was a huge influence on the Ants,” and The Prettiest Star has “the best guitar sound ever. Ronson has got this brilliant, overdriven, mad guitar sound. I’m still trying to get that guitar sound today. Aladdin Sane made me want to play.”
23. A veritable velvet goldmine of a track, The Prettiest Star is probably the only one of the remakes laid down at the Aladdin Sane sessions that is a patch on the original. Though the ‘sax’ version of John, I’m Only Dancing isn’t exactly shabby. For the record, the list of previously existing recordings newly tackled at the album sessions includes: All The Young Dudes (reclaiming the hit Bowie gave to Mott The Hoople earlier in 1972); John, I’m Only Dancing (re-recorded for the Aladdin Sane because the basic proto-punk version that was a one-off single after Starman didn’t fit sonically); The Prettiest Star (the 1970 original had never been issued in the US; plus David’s management team Mainman had lost the master tape, which is now in the hands of a prominent collector of early Bowie); We Should Be On By Now (1971 demo became Time).
24. When Rykodisc, the Boston-based American independent label that won the rights to repackage Bowie’s back catalogue in 1989, kicked off their campaign with the beautiful Sound +Vision box set, they included the ‘sax’ take of John fully expecting to have other Aladdin Sane outtakes to use as bonus tracks on their reissue of the album proper the following year. No further material was in the offing from the Bowie camp, as the label’s former supremo, Jeff Rougvie recalls: “In hindsight, if I’d’ve known we were using all the (available) Aladdin-related rarities on the box, leaving us without anything for the Aladdin album, I might’ve had a re-think.” Talking of remakes, there’s one more, and it’s loud and it’s tasteless and you’ve almost certainly heard it before…
25. Let’s Spend The Night Together (Bristol) is the second song on Aladdin Sane to be penned in the 1960s, and the album’s token cover version. The Bristolian suffix is my own appendage, but had Bowie done his research when scribbling out his track credits (say, by asking his new friend Mick Jagger, for instance) he’d have discovered how Marianne Faithfull often recounted how Jagger wrote the Rolling Stones classic for and about her in 1966 following their first night of passion at a hotel in the Somerset city.
26. Flash forward seven years and 1973 was the year The Dame got to know Faithfull and the Jaggers a whole lot better. While Mick’s first wife Bianca Jagger has always maintained an elegant, dignified silence, David’s first wife Angela is happy to repeat the well-worn story of finding Bowie and Jagger dancing in the sheets at David and Angie’s rented townhouse in Oakley Street, Chelsea. Marianne went one better and in her 1994 memoir, Faithfull: An Autobiography, provided graphic details of her attempt to give Bowie a blowie at the same property, only to discover he’d shaved his public hair into a heart shape, and “couldn’t keep it up.” Aw, at least his heart was in the right place.
27. With a few exceptions (Wild Is The Wind, Nite Flights) it’s generally the cover versions on Bowie albums that are the weakest links, and Let’s Spend The Night Together is no exception. David didn’t remake songs so much as ‘Bowie-ize’ them in some eccentric way that, if truth be told, made sense only to him. See, but don’t hear, his cover of Tom Verlaine’s Kingdom Come or John Lennon’s Across the Universe. In the same way that Beatles songs seem to defy real criticism, most of Bowie’s retreads just exist in their own bizarre category, neither good nor bad, you just sort of accept them.
28. The first and hopefully the last time Let’s Spend The Night Together was included on an official compilation album was EMI UK’s The Best of David Bowie 1969/1974, released in October 1997. The 20-track set was the first release under the new catalogue deal EMI, the last remaining British owned major record company, had successfully negotiated with the Bowie camp earlier that year, driven by and tied to his revolutionary but risky bond offering. EMI had handed over an advance of $5million – nowhere near to the huge sums being bandied about in the press at the time. Despite the looming corporate carve up of EMI between Warner Music and Universal, the licence was quietly extended in December 2012 with the Parlophone Label Group assuming project management duties.
29. At that point, Bowie was on the last leg of his Earthling tour and had no time or inclination to get involved with the album and pretty much left its conception to label manager Tris Penna, who faxed me over a provisional tracklist. Faxes! Remember them? The one thing that jumped out was how incredibly Aladdin Sane-heavy it was. On top of the pair of expected singles (Jean Genie and Drive-In Saturday) was Aladdin Sane’s title track and the Stones cover, and a further two tracks from the Sane sessions: the ‘sax’ re-recording of John, I’m Only Dancing and, for the first time on a Bowie album, a wonky, plodding version of All The Young Dudes that Tris admitted he’d lifted straight from a barely legal CD entitled RarestOneBowie: “There wasn’t time (to locate the master tape). No one’s sure where it is and we have to get this album out and start recouping the money we paid David.”
30. In addition, Penna had intriguingly included his own unofficial 1987 remix of the original Prettiest Star (master tapes, master tapes!), making seven tracks with the sign of the Sane, more than a third of the entire collection. I was more than a little direct in my response, telling Tris that Aladdin Sane was “horribly over-represented” and please could he ditch the “tacky, hammy Stones cover” and replace it with something from Hunky Dory? Say, Queen Bitch or, even more topical, Andy Warhol, which The Dame had recently resurrected in concert and in a movie, Basquiat. His measured response: “I know that you mean but in the context of this album it sort of works.”
31. Interestingly, Let’s Spend The Night Together offers a foretaste of the same manic glam urgency that Bowie would pump into his second album of 1973, the stop-gap covers project PinUps, particularly the version of the Easybeats’ Friday On My Mind. OK, perhaps it’s not bad enough to ruin an otherwise decent record, and I guess that bit near the end where he ad-libs, commanding his paramour to “do it!” is kind of cool.
32. The Jean Genie (Detroit and New York) was the first of the tracks to be recorded. Laid down on 6 October 1972 at RCA Studios in New York, it was played live the next night at a gig in Chicago, released as a single at the end of November, and in the UK Top 20 by Christmas, becoming one of Bowie’s best known songs. A primal if derivative stomper overlaid with some charming Mod harmonica (intended to sound like Jagger’s harp on the Rolling Stones’ first LP), Jean Genie is a clever fusion of vintage rock ’n’ roll and R&B records, underpinned by an unashamed rewriting of Bo Diddley’s I’m a Man. It was also Bowie’s first Top 3 single in his homeland, rising to No.2 in January just as he was celebrating his 26th birthday. Famously, the single that kept it from No.1, the blitzkrieg pop of The Sweet’s Block Buster, was also released by RCA and employed the same Muddy Waters-inspired guitar riff.
33. In the aforementioned exchange of faxes in 1997 between EMI A&R dude Tris Penna and this writer, I mentioned Jean Genie was a curious choice to open the 69/74 album he was compiling. “EMI did some research and we found that it was Bowie’s best selling single of the period,” Penna told me. “That’s interesting. I would have expected Space Oddity,” said I. “Are you using the original single mix, by the way? It’s never been issued on an album.” A pause. “I didn’t know there was a different mix. Again, I’m not sure there’s time to find it now,” came the reply. The ‘mono’ single mix was eventually issued on CD for the first time on the 30th Anniversary Edition of Aladdin Sane in 2003.
34. As a whole, Aladdin Sane was always woefully under-represented in Bowie’s live set lists over the years, with the Outside (’95) and Heathen (2002) shows skipping the album altogether, and Jean Genie (and sometimes Panic In Detroit) its only representation on outings such as the Isolar and Isolar II tours of 1976 and 1978, and the Sound + Vision shows of 1990. Pretty ironic considering Jean Genie was Bowie’s most played song in concert, featuring on almost every tour since its release.
35. Lady Grinning Soul (London) is one of the most eloquent and moving items in the illustrious Bowie canon. And it’s even more amazing when you realise it was a last minute addition to the album, bumping off the John, I’m Only Dancing re-record at the final hour because David thought there wasn’t enough original material. He had a point. By the time Aladdin Sane was released five of its ten tracks had already been available in some form.
36. Melodramatic, filmic and flamenco, the Lady of the song is Aretha Franklin’s Lady Soul. She’s got a ticket to somewhere, and it’s the big screen, because this Bowie’s James Bond theme that never was. Though its sumptuous but delicate melody was perhaps better suited for the more reflective closing credits rather than your typical bombastic 007 opener. Go for it, Garson:
37. “Lady Grinning Soul brought out the romantic playing in me that comes from composers like Franz Liszt and Chopin. I mixed this with elements of Liberace and Rodger Williams, which were styles of music that were always put down because they were so mainstream. I played in a very un-dissonant way here, where Aladdin Sane is about as dissonant as you can get.”
38. The Dame was always one to wear his influences and passions on his gaily-cuffed sleeve and among an album littered with Stones vibes, it’s no surprise that the Lady in question is said to be Claudia Lennear, the black American soul singer who’d famously inspired Jagger and Keith Richards to write Brown Sugar in 1969, and another ex-squeeze of Mick’s that Bowie had been dating in ’73. With an impressively heartfelt vocal, it’s one of the most intensely personal songs Bowie ever wrote, one he refused to perform live and one he felt so strongly about that producer Ken Scott recalls it was the only song he can remember David being present for its mixing.
39. There is a school of thought that the muse of Lady Grinning Soul is actually the French model turned singer, man turned woman, Amanda Lear. Tall and vampish, Amanda had also begun an affair with David in 1973, and would go on to perform with him, Marianne Faithfull and yet another Bowie love interest, Ava Cherry (fronting the short-lived Astronettes), on his Midnight Special one-off telly concert, the 1980 Floor Show. It’s a plausible theory, until you study David’s track notes for 2008’s iSelectBowie compilation: ‘This was written for a wonderful young girl whom I’ve not seen for more than 30 years. When I hear this song she’s still in her 20s, of course.’ Lear, the cover girl of For Your Pleasure – the second Roxy Music album issued a month ahead of Aladdin Sane – was 33 at the time.
40. Although rarely aired at the time, Aladdin Sane was the first Bowie album trailed by a single with a promotional video, which was shot for Jean Genie by photographer Mick Rock in San Francisco with a minimum of sophistication but a maximum of style. Strangely, for such a visual artist, Aladdin Sane was also the last Bowie album trailed by a single with a promotional video until 1977’s Heroes. David’s next two clips were for old songs, Space Oddity and Life On Mars?, with a film for Be My Wife, the second single from Low, taking place four years later.
41. Aladdin Sane was David Bowie’s first No.1 record, staying at the top in Britain for five weeks and keeping EMI’s ‘Red’ and ‘Blue’ Beatles compilations in their place. And like the man himself, some of his chart stats liked to follow a trend: PinUps assumed pole position just six months after Aladdin Sane, adding to the tally of five Top 10 singles to make make Bowie the most successful chart act of 1973. In the UK he went on to have further chart-topping albums in every year that ended in a 3 except for 2003’s Reality, which peaked, somewhat ironically, at three. In case you’ve been living on a freecloud, the other LPs in question are Let’s Dance (1983), Black Tie White Noise (1993) – both produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers – and The Next Day (2013), helmed by Tony Visconti. In 2016 Visconti, never one not to let his ego get in the way of a good quote, told Uncut magazine: “I liked those (Ziggy and Aladdin) records musically, but I think I could have done a better job. They don’t have the weight of a rock album; they sound a bit thin to me.” Poor Ken Scott. No wonder Bowie ditched him and brought TV back in the fold.
42. Just in case you thought that was some kind of fluke, Bowie even topped the album charts in other years too. Case in point: 1974’s Diamond Dogs, 1980’s Scary Monsters, 1984’s Tonight, 1990’s ChangesBowie, 2002’s Best of Bowie and 2016’s swan song, Blackstar. All in all, David has had 11 long players reach pole position in Britain, placing him as the sixth most successful album chart act of all time, behind The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Madonna, Robbie Williams, and, er, The Rolling Stones. Grrr!
43. Not only is it a definitive ’70s record, Aladdin Sane is an iconic album cover and Bowie’s most famous photographic image bar none. Although the red and blue thunderbolt lensman Brian Duffy painted on David’s face is one of his most recognisable and most copied looks, he never actually wore it on stage. For the Aladdin artwork, the lightning insignia was intended to be a stark visual signifier of the character’s schizoid mind within. However, the origin of the idea was far more prosaic. In the Mick Rock book, Moonage Daydream, Bowie wrote:
44. “The flash was taken from the High Voltage sign that was stuck on any box containing dangerous amounts of electricity. I was not a little peeved when Kiss purloined it. Purloining, after all, was my job.”
45. Ken Scott, stalwart producer and engineer of the album you’ve just been diligently reading about, has the last word: “Generally the people David surrounded himself with were the ones he knew would work within the ideas he was thinking of. And I think that’s what started to change after Aladdin Sane, he realised he wanted to moved on to something different. So that’s why he got rid of The Spiders — and ultimately me — after PinUps. The last thing I did in the studio with him was a medley of two songs, 1984 and Dodo. And the entire time we were mixing – that was only the second time he ever came along to a mix session – he kept on referring to a Barry White album. He was already thinking toward that American soul/white-soul kind of feel. That’s what he wanted it to sound like, although it took him a couple of albums to actually get to that point.”
*Although credited as being written in the Louisiana city of New Orleans, sections of Time were based on an earlier demo, We Should Be On By Now, which had originally Bowie penned for his old school chum George Underwood in 1971. Layered with metaphors, it refers to the actor or performer held up backstage and waiting to go on, hence the first verse mention of “waiting in the wings” (though the latter also acts as a reference to the prospect of the grim reaper hovering over the song).
Touring is known for its long and lonely periods in between performances, often cited as a reason for a lot of artists’ drug use; in this case quaaludes and red wine, and the generally missed double meaning of Billy Dolls by other Bowie biographers (OK, I’m looking at you Nicholas Pegg, David Buckley and Chris O’Leary). It’s not just the obvious nod to Billy Murcia of the New York Dolls (who’d died of a drug overdose in London the previous November — the day Bowie completed the writing of Drive-In Saturday in Phoenix — but also amphetamine in capsule form. Billy Whizz, a character from the Beano comic, was a British slang term for speed, also known as just Billy or Whizz; also, dolls is used as a term for capsule drugs in Jaqueline Susanne’s cult 1966 novel Valley of the Dolls, while “other friends of mine” could well be referencing cocaine, which had started to creep into Bowie’s life. The lyric “I Looked At My Watch it said 9:25/and I think ‘Oh God I’m Still Alive” is a steal from Chuck Berry’s Reelin’ And Rockin’: “Well I looked at my watch, it was 10:05/Man, I didn’t know if I was dead or alive.”