the crossroads of hamburgers & boys: Bowie and Diamond Dogs (and Glenn Hendler’s “Diamond Dogs”)


I don’t often post book reviews here, but I was lucky enough to be sent review copies of the two newest additions to Bloomsbury’s always-interesting 331⁄3 series of books, David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs by Glenn Hendler (hopefully the spelling of his name will be consistent on the cover of the non-advance edition) and D’Angelo’s Voodoo by Faith A. Pennick, which I’ll cover in a different post.

Hendler’s book was of immediate interest; I’ve been listening to David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs (1974) for literally (though not continuously) half of my life. When I first started this blog, names for it that I rejected included ‘The Glass Asylum’ (from the song Big Brother) and ‘Crossroads and Hamburgers’ (actually based on a mishearing of a line in perhaps-best-ever-Bowie-song (or group of songs), Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (reprise) which is really ‘the crossroads of hamburgers and boys’, arguably a better name for a website, but perhaps overly misleading. The Glass Asylum already exists and is anyway not especially relevant. But I’ll name this site properly one day).

For years, Diamond Dogs was my favourite Bowie album, only pushed into second or third place (it changes quite often; currently #1 is Station to Station and #2 is Young Americans) because I listened to it so much that it had become hard to listen to without skipping bits.
But despite listening to it to the point where I felt like I knew every second of the album, and reading a lot about Bowie over the years (though not the lyrics apparently – I presume I just thought I knew them), Glenn Hendler’s little (150 page) book taught me a lot that I didn’t know and hadn’t considered – and, even better – sent me back to the album with fresh ears, and made me fall in love with it all over again.

As a  semi-professional music journalist myself (Hendler, incidentally, isn’t one; he’s a Professor of English, though he writes on a variety of cultural & political topics) I’m very aware that there are many people who believe that music writers should focus solely on the music at hand and leave themselves out of it. This is, thankfully, not how the 331⁄3 series works, and in fact none of my own favourite music writers – Charles Shaar Murray, Jon Savage, Caitlin Moran, Lester Bangs etc etc – write from any kind of neutral position. And really, anything about music beyond the biographical and technical information is subjective anyway, so better to be in the hands of someone whose writing engages you. For me, the test of good music journalism (not relevant here, but will be for the Voodoo review) is whether the writer can make you enjoy reading about music you don’t already know, or maybe don’t even like – something which all of the aforementioned writers do.

331⁄3 books always begin with something about the writer’s history with the music that they are talking about – and it’s surprising the difference this makes to a book. For me, reading the opening chapter of Mike McGonigal’s My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless (Loveless came out when I was at high school and was very much a fan of the scene that had grown up in the long gaps between MBV’s releases; Ride, Lush, Slowdive, Curve etc etc etc) was such a strange experience – he describes encountering the band’s music in what comes across very much as a grunge, ‘alt-rock’ milieu – that, although I liked the book very much, it felt so far removed from how I saw the band that it was oddly dislocating, like it would be to read a sentence that began “Wings frontman Paul McCartney” or, more pertinently to this article, “David Bowie, vocalist of Tin Machine.”

the 1980 Floor Show

Anyway; in this case, the author’s relationship with his subject stretches all the way back to the his first real encounter with the music – and strangeness – of Bowie, when as a 12 year old, he saw The 1980 Floor Show on NBC’s Midnight Special, filmed in 1973, which acted as a kind of fanfare for the as-yet-unreleased Diamond Dogs. This setting is important, because anyone coming to Bowie now has grown up with all of his incarnations – and the fact that he had various different personae – as background. I first knew him as the barely-weird-at-all Bowie of Let’s Dance, a pop star who was not noticeably stranger or even (stylistically/musically at least) obviously older-looking than the other acts in the charts at the time (also in the top ten during Let’s Dance’s reign at number one were the Eurythmics (Sweet Dreams (are Made of This)), Bonnie Tyler (Total Eclipse of the Heart) and Duran Duran (Is There Something I should know). The fact (not in itself so unusual in the UK) that Bowie had an earlier existence as some kind of glam rock alien of indeterminate gender was almost invariably commented upon by DJs and TV presenters in the 80s and that is a very different thing from becoming aware of him when he was a glam rock alien of indeterminate gender, especially since – in the USA at least – he was yet to really break and in ’74 was a cult figure with a surprisingly high profile, rather than one of the major stars of the previous two years.

In his book, rather than making a chronological, song-by-song examination of the album (though he does dissect every song at some point), Hendler examines the array of different inspirations (musical, literary, cultural, political, technical) that informed the writing and recording of the album, as well as looking at where it lies in relation to his work up to that point. Those inspirations; Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (Bowie’s original intention was to write a musical based on the book, but after that was vetoed by Sonia Orwell he incorporated the material he’d written into Diamond Dogs), Andy Warhol and the superstars of his Factory, some of whom were then in the UK production of his play Pork, the gay subculture of London and the post-apocalyptic gay subculture of William Burroughs’s novels, Burroughs & Brion Gysin’s ‘cut-up’ technique, Josephine Baker, A Clockwork Orange, the soul and funk that was to take centre stage on Young Americans, the Rolling Stones, the post-industrial decay and unrest of Britain in the mid-70s – are all audible to varying degrees on Diamond Dogs, a kind of linguistic stratigraphy* that mirrors the album’s layers of sounds and instruments and makes it both aurally and figuratively one of Bowie’s most richly dense albums.
*thankfully, Glenn Hendler never writes as pretentiously as this

Bowie & William Burroughs in 1974 by Terry O’Neill

When reading the book, two phrases other writers wrote about the Diamond Dogs era came to mind, which I think reinforce Hendler’s own conclusions about the album;

it […] single-handedly brought the glam rock era to a close. After Diamond Dogs there was nothing more to do, no way forward which would not result in self-parody or crass repetition” David Buckley – The Complete Guide To The Music of David Bowie*, Omnibus Press, 1996, p.37

*incidentally, a intriguing detail reported by Buckley but sadly not mentioned in Hendler’s book is that the territory of ‘Halloween Jack’ (the only named member of the Diamond Dogs) who ‘lives on top of Manhattan Chase’ was inspired by stories told by Bowie father (who at one point worked for Barnardo’s) of homeless children living on the rooftops in London.

And, even more to the point:

The last time I’d seen him [Bowie] had been the last day of 1973, and he’d been drunk and snooty and vaguely unpleasant, a game player supreme, a robot amuck and careening into people with a grin, not caring because after all they were only robots too; can trash be expected to care about the welfare of other trash?
Since then there’d been Diamond Dogs, the final nightmare of glitter apocalypse Charles Shaar Murray, ‘David Bowie: Who was that (un)masked man?’(1977) in Shots From The Hip, Penguin books, 1991, p.228

This sense of Diamond Dogs’ apocalyptic extremism is addressed throughout Hendler’s book; the record may not be a concept album in any clear, narrative sense (indeed, the Diamond Dogs, seemingly some kind of gang, are introduced early on but only mentioned once thereafter), but its fractured, non-linear progression and its musical maximalism (should be a thing if it isn’t) actually imbues the album with a far stronger overall identity than Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane had before it. In fact it works more like a kind of collage than a conventional story. related to this, an important point that the author brings up early on concerns the role of the Burroughs/Gysin cut up technique. Although this is often used to explain (or rather, not explain) the more lyrically opaque moments in Bowie’s 70s work, Hendler stresses that this was a creative tool rather than a kind of random lyric generator. As with the use of Eno’s Oblique Strategies cards on Low a few years later, the cut up was used as a way of stimulating the imagination, not bypassing it. The lyrics to songs like Sweet Thing clearly benefit from the use of randomised elements, but these were then used to create lyrics which have an internal sense but which crucially also scan and rhyme when needed, something that would be fairly unlikely in a purely random process. The result is something like the experimental fiction that JG Ballard had pioneered earlier in the decade (most famously in The Atrocity Exhibition) which come across as sometimes-gnomic bulletins from the unconscious, filtered through a harsh, post-industrial geography, but never as random gibberish. What Hendler draws attention to (that I had never consciously noticed in all my years of listening) is the strangely dislocated perspectives of the album’s songs, where the relationship between the narrator/subject/listener are rarely clear-cut and often change within the course of a single song.

Bowie working with cut-up lyrics in Olympic Studios, 1973 by Roger Bamber

The most obvious example is in one of the book’s best parts, the exploration of Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (reprise) (the crossroads and hamburgers song). Although, lyrically, the song’s focus is all over the place, it never feels disjointed, and until reading about it, I’d never really considered how ambiguous it all is. Although seen through a kind of futuristic lens, thanks to the album’s loose concept (established by the album’s sinister and slightly silly intro, Future Legend), when I listen to it now, it feels very much like a condensed/compressed 70s version of Hubert Selby Jr’s notorious Last Exit To Brooklyn (1964) with its shifting viewpoints and voices and its pitiless depiction of what was – for all the novel’s controversy – the normal life for many people in the underclass of any big city. Like Selby, Bowie doesn’t help the audience by indicating who is speaking or when but places us in the centre of the action (essentially violent gangs and male prostitutes), making the listener in fact, (at times) the ‘sweet thing’ of the title (though at other times Bowie adopts that role too) not that that had ever occurred to me before. It’s a mixture of menace, sleaze and impending violence, the ‘glam’ sheen of glam rock rendering it all at once romantic and dangerous – and full of unexpected details. I had obviously always heard the line ‘Someone scrawled on the wall “I smell the blood of Les Tricoteuses”’ but I hadn’t bothered to find out what it was he said or what ‘Les Tricoteuses’ were (the old ladies who reportedly/supposedly knitted at the foot of the guillotine during the Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution, it turns out) and therefore didn’t pick up on the way the percussion becomes the military marching snare drum. Bowie was always about theatre, but this song absorbs the theatrical elements so seamlessly into its overall structure that drama/melodrama, sincerity/artifice, truth/deceit. seduction/threat become one vivid and affecting whole. I would say the song is bigger than the sum of its parts, but there are so many parts, going in (and coming from) so many different directions that I don’t think that’s true – but it somehow holds together as a song or suite of songs; almost a kind of microcosm of the album itself.

Elsewhere, my other favourite song, We Are The Dead (directly inspired by Nineteen Eighty-Four) is dissected brilliantly, highlighting the way (again, I hadn’t noticed) that Bowie absorbs the key ideas of the novel into his own framework; this is one of the few songs aside from the title track that mentions the Diamond Dogs and, without being jarring (or at least no more than intended) sets the originally very 1940s characters of Winston Smith and Julia (not that they are named) and his timeless themes of power, sex (and the relationship between the two) and totalitarianism into the 70s post-apocalyptic dystopia that owes more to Burroughs and the street-life milieu of Lou Reed’s lyrics than it does to Orwell himself. Like the use of cut-up techniques to stimulate his own imagination, Bowie’s absorption of these disparate elements created something new and powerful that concentrated Bowie’s interests and obsessions as well as holding up a distorting mirror to the times in which it was created.

But this has gone on long enough and, rather than rewriting or paraphrasing Hendler’s book – one of the best books on Bowie I’ve read – I’ll go and read it again while listening to Diamond Dogs.

Guy Peellaert’s iconic painting for the Diamond Dogs cover


Play For Today – Current Playlist 8th February 2017


The world is not making me very happy at present (my thoughts on all that are covered to an extent here, so I won’t go on about it) – but I am still enjoying music at least, so here’s a selection of things that are currently sounding good to me:

Diamanda Galás and John Paul Jones – The Sporting Life (Mute, 1994) – I always find it surprising that a vocalist as completely extreme and melodramatic as Diamanda Galás can be as straightforwardly moving as she (sometimes) is – pretty pop by her standards, but a great album, with John Paul Jones creating perfect settings for that amazing voice.

Apokrifna Realnos
Apokrifna Realnos

Apokrifna Realnost – Na Rekah Vavilonskih (AnnapurnA Productions, coming March 2017) –  I would never have expected to love an album of archaic ritualistic/devotional music clandestinely recorded in Macedonia in the late 80s; but there you have it. It’s unsettling & deeply beautiful.

Teksti-TV 666 – 1, 2, 3 (Svart Records, 2016) The Finnish guitar-overlords are credited with playing a weird amalgam of punk, rock, shoegaze, krautrock etc; and I suppose they do, but the songs on this album are, underneath the noise and strangeness, pretty catchy indie rock that I wouldn’t expect to like but really do – it’s a great album.

Sauron – The Baltic Fog (Wheelwright Productions, reissue 2017) I wrote at length about this great Polish black metal release for Echoes and Dust, so won’t say much here. But it has all the atmosphere you’d expect from mid-90s black metal and some good tunes.

Heavy Tiger – Glitter (Wild Kingdom Records, 2017) – Very easy to like Swedish rock that is (lazy comparison) like The Ramones meets The Donnas with added glam attitude (plus good songs)

Heavy Tiger by Niclas Brunzell
Heavy Tiger by Niclas Brunzell

Blake Babies – Innocence & Experience (Mammoth Records, 1993) – On the whole I prefer Juliana Hatfield solo, but this compilation of the Blake Babies is pretty great.

David Bowie – Station to Station (RCA, 1975) – One of my favourite albums, this just seems to get better and better. Even if it just consisted of the supremely creepy title track & Word on a Wing it would be one of the best things Bowie ever recorded.

Makaya McCraven – In The Moment Deluxe Edition (International Anthem, 2016) – There’s so much amazing music in the 28 tracks here, plus literally some of the best drumming I’ve ever heard; superlative, brilliant jazz.

Tom Waits – The Heart of Saturday Night (Asylum, 1974) – Unsettling times sometimes call for comforting music, and this warm, funny, poetic and melancholy album is one of my favourites.

If I Could Kill Myself – Ballads of the Broken (self-release, 2017) – If you are unconvinced by (or just despise) depressive black metal this will probably not change your mind. Lo-fi, raw and revelling in the miserable characteristics of the genre, it’s not (and I assume isn’t meant to be) subtle, but has atmosphere and good tunes aplenty.



Inevitably, the releases of the year, 2016 (Part One)

Last year, I ended up writing multiple ‘releases of the year’ lists because I kept forgetting great things and having to add more posts to include them. I feel like keeping it (relatively) concise this year but will probably end up doing the same again.


Anyway, I thought I’d group things differently this time, so here are a few (non-exhaustive) groups of things that all fall into my ‘releases of the year’. They aren’t in any order of preference aside from the ‘release of the year’ itself, which will come last of all. I use the term ‘releases’ because, although it sounds far less good than ‘albums of the year’, I am including all sorts of releases. There aren’t really any rules (aside from year of release, obviously) because why would I make any? And so…

Hellos of the Year (new artists/debut releases)

All years are probably good for new artists and 2016 was no exception

Kib Elektra – Blemishes (Bezirk Tapes)


I’ve written about Abi Bailey‘s Kib Elektra at length here as well as reviewing the EP for Echoes and Dust so will keep this brief. Kib Elektra’s debut is a brilliantly orchestrated collection of contrasting textures and sounds, organic, electronic,earthly and celestial; and the songs are great.



ThrOes – This Viper Womb (Aesthetic Death)


An impressive debut in every way, This Viper Womb is remarkable for the balance between precise detail and overall effect; it’s an emotionally involving, musically intense journey – brutal but subtle, extreme metal that doesn’t fit easily into any pigeonhole.



Naia Izumi – various releases


Guitarist/singer/composer/etc Naia Izumi has released a series of fantastic and wide ranging EPs throughout 2016. Her style is not easy to define, but it incorporates elements of math rock, R’n’B, blues, ambient music… Lots of things, but all done with feeling and amazing instrumental skill – listen here


Zeal & Ardor – Devil Is Fine


Sometimes classified as black metal but really a kind of blackened blues, Zeal & Ardor’s music has deep, but varied roots and a spooky atmosphere all of its own. Listen here



Debz – Extended Play (Choice Records)


Again, I’ve written about this elsewhere, but this EP is a refreshing and messy mix of grungy pop, punk and peculiarity.



Candelabrum – Necrotelepathy (Altare Productions)


Unhinged but hugely ambitious Portuguese black metal, Necrotelepathy is a true symphony (while not being remotely ‘symphonic’) of rusty, shrill, clanging and nasty black metal that lasts for a long time (two songs, 33 minutes) but has a strangely cleansing effect on the ears.



Dia – Tiny Ocean (Manimal Records)


A lovely EP of shoegaze-infused baroque pop, or something like that. I wrote about it here and you can check out Dia here. Hopefully lots more to come.




New-old Releases of the Year

Many, many great reissues this year, these were ones worthy of attention:

Uriah Heep – …Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble (deluxe edition, BMG records)


I’ve written about this at length elsewhere, but in short – one of the great (and not as respected as it should be) heavy rock albums of the 1970s, remastered, repackaged and with another disc with a whole new, previously unreleased version of the album, great sleevenotes etc etc etc. The reissue of the almost-as-epic Salisbury is just as great. If the (presumably forthcoming) Look At Yourself and Demons and Wizards maintain the quality, 2017 already has something going for it.



Thus Defiled – An Unhallowed Legacy (Shadowflame Productions)


Not quite as lavish than the Uriah Heep reissues (Shadowflame’s budget presumably somewhat less than BMG’s), but just as iconic; two classic turn-of-the-millennium releases from UK black metal overlords Thus Defiled, packaged nicely, sounding fantastic: classic stuff.

David Bowie – Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976) (Parlophone)


I can only dream of having the vinyl version, but whatever the packaging, this is Bowie’s best (i.e. my favourite) period, treated with respect and sounding perfect. I just wish the missinGouster songs were there.

Established artists, latest Releases of the Year

  In no order…

Iggy Pop/Tarwater/Alva Noto – Leaves of Grass (Morr Music)


A criminally overlooked record, perhaps because of Iggy’s great but more conventional Post-Pop DepressionLeaves of Grass is an EP of readings from Whitman’s book of the same name, with atmospheric electronic backing. Iggy proves himself an unexpectedly, but on reflection not surprisingly brilliant interpreter of Whitman’s poetry. I wrote more and better about it here


Wardruna – Runaljod – Ragnarok (By Norse)


Not so much a recreation of the lost music of the viking age as an imagining of it through immersion in the culture, literature and instruments of the era, as well as in the natural landscapes of Scandinavia, Kvitrafn’s latest album is harder to define than it is to feel. The atmosphere is primal and traditional, while not really following any musical traditions; sonically Runaljod – Ragnarok is as much an archaic, organic version of an Eno or Vangelis record as it is ‘folk music’, but somehow the authenticity of Wardruna’s vision and passion makes it feel like a window into a living past.

Egor Grushin – Once


Once made a big impact on me partly because of the deeply worrying socio-political context in which it was released (my review of this album for Echoes and Dust goes on about it), but months later, its graceful, logical beauty is still deeply soothing.



SubRosa – For This We Fought The Battle of Ages (Profound Lore)


Inspired by Yevgeny Zamyatin’s classic 1921 dystopian novel We, SubRosa’s themes of freedom and control couldn’t be more prescient, and the album is suitably challenging, aggressive and epic. By far their greatest album to date.




end of part one…

next: more releases of the year, including the Goodbyes of the Year

Play For Today – Playlist December 9th 2016

1. Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now (Sub Pop, Feb 2017)  

Not listened to it many times yet, but the forthcoming album from singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop is sounding pretty good so far

photo: Laura Guy

2. David Bowie – Diamond Dogs (RCA, 1974)

The death throes of Bowie’s glam period are infinitely more interesting (to me) than the Ziggy era, I love this album.

3. Bethlehem – Bethlehem (Prophecy Productions, 2016)

Stunning return to form for Germany’s ‘dark metal’ overlords.

4. The History of Colour TV – Something Like Eternity  (Cranes Records/Weird Books, 2017)

The third album by Berlin indie/shoegaze/noise rock trio The History of Colour TV has some powerfully Sonic Youth-like squalling as well as some really good tunes.

5. Ma Rainey – Black Eye Blues (1930)

maHeartbreakingly sad but also funny and rebellious blues performance by one of my favourite blues singers, with brilliant guitar playing by Tampa Red

6. Heikki Sarmanto Serious Music Ensemble – The Helsinki Tapes, Vol 1, 2 & 3 (Svart Records)

Great, previously unreleased live recordings from the Finnish jazz scene. I was initially a bit disappointed when a singer appeared on some of the recordings, but in fact ‘The Pawn‘ from Vol 2  (featuring Maija Hapuoja) is a moody ‘Riders on the Storm‘-esque masterpiece.

7. Daniel Land – In Love With A Ghost (2016)

Much as I hate the term ‘dream pop’, it does suit a lot of the lovely, gently melancholy music on this album

8. Baby Tears – Succubus Slides (Choice Records, 2016)

Cool and unusual hip hop/trap type stuff, she has a style that is not quite like anything else (disclaimer – that I know of)

9. Isasa – Los Días (La Castanya, 2016)

The second album by Spanish guitarist Isasa has a mellow, slightly hungover charm, it’s spare, basic sound, accentuating his beautiful guitar playing and the atmospheric power of the tunes.

10. Tom Waits – Nighthawks At The Diner (Asylum, 1976)

One of my favourite Tom Waits albums, a funny, boozy and cheerfully melancholy live album (albeit recorded in somewhat contrived surroundings) I hadn’t listened to it for ages but I love it just as much as always.

11. 11Paranoias – Reliquary For A Dreamed Of World (Ritual Productions, 2016)

Forbiddingly sludgy and somewhat psychedelic doom with, crucially, great songwriting to make it more than just a cool sound – an addictive album.

12. Effie – Pressure (2016)

I was sent the promo of this single in the spring and just never got around to listening to it because I assumed it wouldn’t be my cup of tea; and it isn’t really. But it’s pretty good r’n’b/pop really, and she’s got a very cool voice.

13. Mithras – On Strange Loops (Willowtip Records, 2016)

Supercharged progressive death metal, maybe their finest album to date

14. The Fall – Grotesque (After The Gramme) (Rough Trade, 1980)

Maybe my favourite Fall album (definitely one of my favourites; so many great tunes, best of all ‘Gramme Friday‘, ‘Impression of J. Temperance‘, ‘Container Drivers’ – actually they are nearly all great.

15. The Staple Singers – Will The Circle Be Unbroken (Buddha Records, 1969)

Re-release of some of the family’s early gospel recordings, incredibly soulful and atmospheric.


Play For Today – current playlist


It’s been a while, so without further ado or elucidation, here’s some of what’s on the turntable (and equivalents) at present:


Kristin Hersh by Billy O’Connell

1. Kristin Hersh – Wyatt At The Coyote Palace (Omnibus Books, 2016)

2. Jingo de Lunch – Perpetuum Mobile (We Bite Records, 1987)

3. Rachel Mason – Das Ram (Cleopatra Records/Practical Records, 2016)

4. Naia Izumi – Natural Disaster EP (self-release, 2016)

5. Hobbs’ Angel of Death – Heaven Bled (Hell’s Headbangers/High Roller Records, 2016)

6. Suzanne Vega – Lover, Beloved; Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers (Amenuensis Productions, 2016)

suzanne-vega-billboard_6507. Bessie Smith – The Complete Recordings, Vol 1 (Columbia/Legacy)

8. Ghosts of Sailors At Sea – Red Sky Morning (Faded Maps, 2016

9. Dorje – Centred & One EP (Invisible Hands Music, 2016)

10.Drudkh/Grift – Betrayed By The Sun (Nordvis/Season of Mist, 2016)

11.The Mothers of Invention – Burnt Weenie Sandwich (Reprise Records, 1971)

12. Gentlemans Pistols – Hustler’s Row (Nuclear Blast, 2015)

13. Kaada/Patton – Bacteria Cult (Ipecac, 2016)

14. Maki Asakawa – Masi Asakawa (Honest Jon’s, 2016)

15. Nightsatan – Nightsatan and the Loops of Doom (Svart records, 2014)

16. Pilot – From the Album of the Same Name (EMI, 1974)

17. Haar/Ur Draugr – split (ATMF, 2016)

18. Wardruna – Runaljod – Ragnarok (By Norse Music, 2016)

19. Scott Walker – Scott 3 (Phillips, 1969)

20. The Stupid Daikini – Everything is Fine (self-release, 2015)



Play for Today: 21st January 2016


It’s fair to say the past week or so of my listening (and writing) has been derailed somewhat by the passing of David Bowie. There’s been (and is) so much online about the mawkishness/validity of feeling bereaved over the death of Bowie/famous people in general and there’s no need to add to that.


All I can say is I used to go on about Bowie almost as much as I do now, and, true to my obituary elsewhere on this site, whatever my mood since his passing, one or another of his songs has suited it perfectly.

Listening to Bowie now is inevitably sadder than it used to be. His work has always been notable for its artificial quality, the adoption of various personae etc, but, unless you don’t believe in being emotionally engaged/moved by works of fiction there’s no contradiction in being affected by his apparently non-personal songs, especially given his brilliantly written lyrics. Anyway, here’s the playlist for today and the past week or so…

bowie 5The Gouster Sessions 1974 (fragment) – This is so frustrating, tantalising and great; the song fragments; Shilling the Rubes, I Am A Lazer, After Today and the rough version of Young Americans come from what is currently my favourite Bowie period and the recording has just a little more grit than the finished album. Bowie and his band sound on top form and the bits of studio banter sound amazingly relaxed and fun given Bowie’s apparent drug intake and exhaustion during that time. I wish the full sessions would turn up and be released.

We Are The Dead (from Diamond Dogs, 1974) – Not morbid humour on my part. I’ve loved this song bowie 4(and Diamond Dogs in general) for years (its only fairly recently been supplanted as my favourite Bowie album by Young Americans) and I’m not sure that he ever sang a song better than this. The part in the first verse where he sings ‘I looked at you and wondered if you saw things my way’ over the ominous churchy organ part (so to speak) is to me one of the greatest moments in all Bowie-dom. Hugely atmospheric, perfectly articulated and chilling/moving/ominous. For years I thought the chorus (or semi-lack thereof) let the song down, but I’m not so sure now.

Big Brother (from Diamond Dogs, 1974) – Surely one of the most dodgy and creepy anthemic songs ever written, Bowie sings it like he really does want someone to fool us/shame us etc.  What a great chorus, when he finally hits the high ‘oooh’s (no less lame way of putting it) in the last choruses it becomes uplifting like stadium music is supposed to be; even if the stadium he seems to be evoking is in Nuremberg.

bowie 6Word on a Wing (from Station to Station, 1976) – Speaking of ideologically dubious Bowie material, Station to Station must be one of the creepiest albums ever recorded by a mainstream pop artist; not least because its melange of decadent European culture, emotional withdrawal and exhaustion and overtones of religious and magical yearning are imbued with a dark romanticism. Word on a Wing is just beautiful and weary though.

Sound & Vision (from Low 1977) Bowie at his most withdrawn and sombre still managed to be musically adventurous as well as writing a bona fide catchy pop song; not many people do that.

The Buddha of Suburbia (from the Buddha of Suburbia soundtrack, 1995) – On the whole, Bowie copyright protected imageseems not to have been (in his music at least, but see below) an especially nostalgic person. But writing the music for the TV adaptation of Hanif Kureishi’s 70’s-set drama allowed him to look at his early work as others saw it, and this breezy yet yearning song is extremely moving, if you’re me.

Drive In Saturday (from Aladdin Sane, 1973) – Despite what I just wrote above, Bowie’s early work is often nostalgic, but not so much for his own past as for the recent past as seen from the future; the retro-futurism of songs like The Prettiest StarDrive In Saturday  was similar to the ’50s in space’ atmosphere projected by early Roxy Music and seems to have been the raison d’etre for the covers album Pin Ups (1973). Drive In Saturday has a really nice tune.

bowie 3Lady Stardust (from Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars, 1972) – A beautiful, brilliantly produced and performed song that exemplifies everything glam-era Bowie stood for; sexy, glamorous, gender-ambiguous and an immaculate pop song too. Sigh.


Petty Obsession: Hair Metal you never hear in the movies



With the resurgence of all things 80s in the last decade, it was inevitable that hair metal would have some kind of renewed popularity, but even so, its respectability is surprising. Mötley Crüe for instance, seem to have far more credibility now than they did (in the UK at least) back in the 80s. Which is nice and all, but it’s a bit disappointing that posterity has largely selected the same tired selection of Guns ‘n’ Roses, Def Leppard & Bon Jovi songs as definitive of the era. Especially sad when there were so many great albums released that failed to have much impact, even the first time round. Such as…

Easy Action – Easy Action (Tandon, 1983)

This Swedish glam band was influenced by 70s glam rock and especially by Hanoi Rocks (look at the album cover) and featured singer Zinny Zan (later of Shotgun Messiah) and Kee Marcello, who would resurface a few years later in Europe. Pretty much every track is a perfect bubblegum glam masterpiece; so much so that Poison pinched the melody of ‘We Go Rocking’ for their own classic, ‘I Want Action’. There are two versions of this album; the original is the best as they re-recorded standout track ‘The End of the Line’ in a less good, slow version for the rerelease.

The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: All of them! (except maybe the somehow not-so-great opening track ‘Rocket Ride’)

D’Molls – Warped  (Atlantic, 1990)

D’Molls were from Chicago and their self-titled debut of 1988 featured a couple of truly great hair metal anthems (notably ‘D’Stroll’ and ‘777’) alongside a lot of forgettable dross. Not so follow-up Warped, which despite being released at the tail end of the glam era is as sleazy and catchy as ever, but with a lot more heart.

The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: several, including the great ‘My Life’ and über-ballad ‘This Time It’s Love’

Faster Pussycat – Faster Pussycat (Elektra, 1987)


If there was any justice in the world this album would be as well known as Appetite For Destruction – in many ways Faster Pussycat are similar to early G’n’R, but they have far more character and a kind of New York Dolls-ish soulful atmosphere which is admittedly less MTV-friendly than Axl and co. Taime Downe is, to my ears a far more likeable vocalist than Axl, and whereas G’n’R always seemed destined for stadiums, Faster Pussycat are more suited to the sleazy dive; and they sound all the better for it.

The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: take your pick – ‘Bathroom Wall’ or ‘Ship Rolls In’ would be as good as any.

Fastway – Treat or Treat OST (CBS,1986)

Fastway weren’t really a hair metal band; but (partly thanks to the movie it was written for) Trick or Treat is totally a hair metal album.

The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: They already were, but ‘After Midnight’ is a towering AC/DC style classic.



Glorious Bankrobbers – Dynamite Sex Doze (Planet, 1989)

It’s surprising that Swedish glamsters Glorious Bankrobbers aren’t better known; their version of hair metal is tougher and more rock ‘n’ roll than many of their contemporaries; far more in tune with modern taste in fact, being somewhat similar to bands like Duff McKagan’s Loaded (albeit with catchier tunes).

The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: ‘Hair Down’, despite some fairly laughable lyrics.


Hanoi Rocks – Two Steps From the Move (CBS, 1984)

Hanoi Rocks were arguably the architects of hair metal; but they mostly weren’t actually metal at all, as this classic pop/rock album proves. 1983’s Back To Mystery City is even less hard-edged but just as good.

The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: ‘Don’t You Ever Leave Me’ – the perfect hair ballad, or on a more classic hair metal note, ‘High School’



Dogs D’Amour – In the Dynamite Jet Saloon (China, 1988)

On the whole, UK glam bands tended to imitate the style and sound of their US counterparts, but the micro-scene that included Dogs D’Amour and The Quireboys had an altogether rougher, more shambolic (not to say drunken) atmosphere. The music was scruffier too; less metal, more romantic, but on this classic sophomore release Dogs D’Amour managed to keep it all together and produce a set of classic and predictably whisky-sodden rock anthems.

The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: ‘How Come It Never Rains’ – simply a great, melancholy-yet-uplifting rock song.

Helter Skelter – Welcome to the World Of Helter Skelter (Noise, 1988)

SILLY but great, this album has more than its fair share of ultra-catchy, not at all heavy songs and one misleadingly hard rock opening song. The cover art is almost like a kids TV version of the Pretty Boy Floyd album. The band did in fact have a silly furry mascot.

The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: so many to choose from but today I’m saying towering feelgood anthem ‘Innocent Girls’


Kingpin – Welcome to Bop City (CMM, 1988)

kingpinThe best glam metal album ever? 100% glam and tacky and 100% metal, Kingpin was Zinny Zan’s follow-up to Easy Action. After the album bombed they relocated to the US, changed their name to Shotgun Messiah and re-recorded this same album in a slightly inferior form. They still weren’t massively successful though.

The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: ‘Don’t Care ‘Bout Nothin’ – but they are all appropriate



Anthem – Gyspy Ways (King, 1988)


Japanese glam, less well known than Loudness or E-Z-O but probably a bit better than both.


The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: ‘Midnight Sun’




Lion – Dangerous Attraction (Scotti Bros, 1987)

Strangely unknown album, full of great, classy hair metal, a tiny bit like Ratt, only marginally heavier.

The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: ‘In the Name Of Love’





Madam X – We Reserve The Right (Jet, 1984)

Most famous as being the band where the Petrucci sisters (of Vixen) and Sebastian Bach (of Skid Row) started out, this album is essentially a hair metal cheese festival: great. Sadly, Sebastian was not in the lineup that recorded the album.


The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: ‘We Want Rock’



Nasty Idols – Gigolos on Parole (HSM, 1989)



This slightly weak Swedish glam album is strong on attitude but sadly not songs; there are a couple of great ones though.


The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: Undoubtedly ‘Gimme What I Want’ – classic.



Phantom Blue – Phantom Blue (Shrapnel, 1989)


Quite heavy for a glam-ish album, this is simply excellent 80s metal made by glamorous ladies.


The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: ‘Why Call It Love’




Pretty Boy Floyd – Leather Boyz with Electric Toyz (MCA, 1989)

One of the all-time great hair metal albums; look at the cover! Plus, every song is a sleazy, feelgood anthem. They were just too late to be huge, but they should have been.

The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: ALL OF THEM




Shout – In Your Face (Music For Nations, 1989)

If the idea of Christian hair metal seems anything other than genius to you then I pity you. Like all hair metal, Shout are inherently ridiculous, but take it to another level. At the same time, it’s just good; kind of Whitesnake-ish bluesy hair metal, with lots of heartfelt, nearly-but-not-quite-preachy lyrics.

The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: ‘Waiting’



Show & Tell – Overnight Sensation (Medusa, 1988)

Quite bad indie hair-metal but they WANT to be famous so badly that they can’t help being likeable. Plus they do have a couple of songs that survive the threadbare production values.

The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: ‘Hairspray Blues’




Sleeze Beez – Screwed, Blued and Tattooed (Atlantic, 1990)


 Very Americanised Dutch glam; and good stuff too, a bit like White Lion.

The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: ‘Stranger Than Paradise’





Tigertailz – Young & Crazy (Music For Nations, 1987)


The ultimate UK hair metal band. Despite their very MTV image there is a British tinge to their hair metal sound, kind of Duran Duran-meets-Motley Crue.

The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: ‘She’z Too Hot’




Alien – Cosmic Fantasy (Ultranoise, 1984)


I don’t know much about Alien, but this is a very peculiar mini-album, a mix of classic hair metal and some spacey psychedelic bits – not great, but SOME of it is great.


The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: ‘Don’t Say Goodbye’




Wrathchild (UK) – Stakk Attakk (Heavy metal records, 1985)

Complete trash with a 70s glam rock feel and some classic, basic anthems.

The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: ‘Trash Queen’





Coney Hatch – Friction (Vertigo, 1985)

Maybe more ‘melodic hard rock’ than true hair metal, but utterly 80s and very good, this album has a plethora of catchy, atmospheric tunes.

The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: ‘The Girl From Last Night’s Dream’




Celtic Frost – Cold Lake (Noise, 1988)

Famously disastrous for Swiss black/death metal legends Celtic Frost, this is a uniquely dark & sleazy glam classic that sounds like no other.

The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: ‘Petty Obsession’




Nitro – O.F.R. (Rampage, 1989)

Hair metal taken to its farthest extreme, this is a horrendously overbearing album made by a group of over-talented music teachers. A headache waiting to happen, but it does have its moments.

The song that should be used on the soundtrack to some lame movie: ‘Freight Train’