‘The baddest shit on the planet’ – that was Weather Report keyboardist/co-founder/chief composer Joe Zawinul’s assessment of his band’s music.
He wasn’t alone – many credit them as the greatest jazz/rock unit in history, pretty impressive considering they developed out of a ‘scene’ that also included The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return To Forever and Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters.
Curt Bianchi has run the acclaimed Weather Report Discography website for many years and now expands his study to create the excellent ‘Elegant People’, an elaborate history of the band which features a myriad of exclusive interviews, photographs and information.
It has Brian Glasser’s effective Zawinul biography ‘In A Silent Way’ in the rear-view mirror but emerges as a very different proposition. Bianchi initially looks in detail at the formative years of Zawinul and co-founder/saxophonist Wayne Shorter, with sobering tales of the young Zawinul’s experiences in wartime Vienna and fascinating insights into Shorter’s extended periods in the bands of Maynard Ferguson, Art Blakey and Miles Davis.
The sections on Weather Report’s formation around 1970 are fascinating. Columbia’s marketing of them as a ‘progressive’ – rather than ‘jazz’ – band led to some interesting dichotomies; Shorter and Zawinul were already established superstars in their field but often had to engage in fairly menial/minor promotional work just to get a foot in the door with rock audiences. We also learn about the other potential band names that hit the cutting-room floor before ‘Weather Report’ appeared.
Bianchi then expertly traces the group from those early days as a kind of ‘chamber’ jazz/rock unit to their status as a ‘power band’ around the arrival of bassist Alphonso Johnson and drummer Chester Thompson in 1975, and the subsequent boost with the recruitment of Jaco Pastorius and Peter Erskine.
Bianchi brings the albums to life with great gusto. There’s a rare photo from the Night Passage sessions at The Complex in Los Angeles, and the last-ever photo of the Jaco/Erskine band taken at the Power Station in NYC, with Jaco almost a ghost at the back of the shot (shades of that famous final Syd Barrett photo with Pink Floyd). Elsewhere there are ticket stubs and even session track sheets.
And fans of Weather Report’s 1980s music can rest assured that Bianchi doesn’t give that era short shrift – there’s almost as much about the last few albums Sportin’ Life and This Is This (and many of Zawinul and Shorter’s post-Weather Report projects) as there is about commercial breakthroughs Black Market and Heavy Weather.
So ‘Elegant People’ is surely the ultimate Weather Report book – it’s an absolute must for fans and those wanting a deeper dive into the band’s music.
The early 1980s was a pretty good period to start out as a musician.
If your ears were open and you had a half-decent hi-fi/radio, there were some truly inspirational players around and a host of different styles vying for your attention.
But the burgeoning muso couldn’t quickly get onto YouTube or download an app to learn a new skill or technique.
Music education also wasn’t exactly in a great place, if the drum lessons at my comprehensive school were anything to go by…
You could see great homegrown bands and big-name American sessioneers playing live on ‘The Tube’, fork out an extortionate sum for the dreaded instructional video, or go to a live clinic (I gave up pretty quickly on these after seeing a guy called Lloyd Ryan, who supposedly ‘taught’ Phil Collins how to drum, even though Phil’s name is spelt incorrectly on his website…).
So you generally had to make your own fun (cue the violins…); jam with friends, play live whenever you could, and grab whatever bits of technical info that were passed around.
‘Rockschool’ was a bold attempt by the Beeb to bring modern music education right into the home. First airing on 1st November 1983, it featured a studio band (Deirdre Cartwright on guitar, Henry Thomas on bass, Geoff Nicholls on drums) breaking down basic contemporary arrangements, styles and instrumentation.
A US version also started in 1985, featuring the UK band and hosted rather excellently by Herbie Hancock. And then season two, broadcast in late 1987, brought in keyboard player Alastair Gavin.
That was the series that really hooked my muso pals and I (and check out the brilliant, none-more-’80s intro music below).
But even back then we were dubious as to how proficient the studio band actually were. They certainly paled in comparison to the great US players of the decade.
But they were engaging, knowledgeable presenters and it was just a great way of seeing some musical heroes like Omar Hakim, Bootsy, Jan Hammer, Larry Graham, Andy Summers, Tony Banks and Allan Holdsworth demonstrating their craft.
Could you bring back ‘Rockschool’ now? It seems unlikely given the relatively solipsistic nature of ‘rock’ music education these days.
YouTube is chock-a-block with technically brilliant players, but the general musicianship of bands has probably never been worse. Here come those violins again…
Could it be that the ’80s spawned more ‘drum-based’ songs than any other music decade?
New recording technology meant that the drums had never been louder and prouder in the mix. Stylistically, influences from ’70s fusion and classic soul/R’n’B were still fresh and relevant.
Hip-hop and go-go brought a funky swing. Metal and punk added a unashamedly aggressive dimension. And let’s not underestimate The Collins Effect: Phil brought a lot of attention to the drums.
Here are 28 notable grooves from the decade. My definition: pieces of music where the drum parts are intrinsic to the architecture of the piece.
Eagle-eyed readers will spot lots of shuffles here – fast ones, slow ones, medium ones, half-times. Bernard Purdie and John Bonham’s influences apparently loomed large. Play ’em loud…
28. Joan Armatrading: ‘The Key’ (1983) Drummer: JERRY MAROTTA
27. Cameo: ‘She’s Strange’ (1984) Drummer: LARRY BLACKMON
26. Japan: ‘Still Life In Mobile Homes’ (1981) Drummer: STEVE JANSEN
25. Lee Ritenour: ‘Road Runner’ (1982) Drummer: HARVEY MASON
How does he find time to fill out the groove with all those 32nd notes on the hi-hats? With such solidity? Only the master knows.
24. Steve Khan: ‘Uncle Roy’ (1983) Drummer: STEVE JORDAN
Apparently Khan’s instruction to Jordan was to play an ‘Elvin Jones type of thing’ on this half-time shuffle. He completely ignored the guitarist and came up with an outrageous groove , turning the snare off, smacking the crash/ride cymbal as if his life depended on it and adding some tasty footwork for good measure.
23. U2: ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ (1983) Drummer: LARRY MULLEN JR.
Love or hate the track, it was the beat of choice for air-drumming schoolkids across the land (at least it was at my school). You can even hum it.
22. TONY WILLIAMS: ‘Sister Cheryl’ (1985)
In essence, Tony ‘straightens’ out the jazz swing ride cymbal/hi-hat pattern, adds some snare backbeats and then dials in almost a Latin feel. It’s a revolutionary beat on an album full of them (Foreign Intrigue).
21. Weather Report: ‘Volcano For Hire’ (1982) Drummer: PETER ERSKINE
Maybe Joe Zawinul came up with this pattern, but it’s superbly played and certainly one of the most striking and powerful in WR’s illustrious drumming legacy.
20. INXS: ‘What You Need’ Drummer: JON FARRISS
Fleet-of-foot dancefloor funk/rock smasher from one of the best groove drummers of the ’80s.
19. China Crisis: ‘In Northern Skies’ (1989) Drummer: KEVIN WILKINSON
A different kind of half-time shuffle, with crossed hands, neat ghost notes and a nice tom-tom emphasis on the ‘3’.
18. Prince: ‘Dance On’ (1988) Drummer: SHEILA E
Sheila unleashes her ’70s fusion chops on this curio from Lovesexy. Quite unlike anything else in her or the Purple One’s discography.
17. Joni Mitchell: ‘Be Cool’ (1982) Drummer: JOHN GUERIN
LA session legend Guerin ended his 10-year sideman gig with Joni playing this inspired take on a medium jazz swing. Holding two brushes, one marks out time with triplets and other ‘brushes’ in quintessential jazz style.
16. Level 42: ‘It’s Over’ (1987) Drummer: PHIL GOULD
One of many crafty, original ’80s grooves from the Isle Of Wight sticksman, this one was achieved by playing 16th notes on the hi-hat with both the foot and the hands. On a good system you can really hear the subtleties.
15. Jeff Beck: ‘Space Boogie’ (1980) Drummer: SIMON PHILLIPS
Of course it takes its cue from Billy Cobham’s famous ‘Quadrant 4’ double-bass-plus-ghost-notes shuffle, but Phillips’s beat is in 7/4 and bloody hard to pull off. He maintains the intensity remarkably well and throws in some killer fills.
14. Jeff Beck: ‘Star Cycle’ (1980) Drummer: JAN HAMMER
Another classic from Jeff’s There And Back album, the composer/keyboard player takes the sticks himself for a classic, still-funky, displaced-snare groove. Hammer has always been a superb drummer – check out his First Seven Days album for more evidence.
13. Weather Report: ‘Molasses Run’ (1983) Drummer: OMAR HAKIM
Lots to choose from in Omar’s prestigious ’80s discography but this one sticks out. His beats have a sense of structure befitting a natural songwriter/arranger (which, of course, he is too).
12. Joni Mitchell: ‘My Secret Place’ (1988) Drummer: MANU KATCHE
Kind of a variation on number 8, this cyclical groove almost IS the song.
11. Bennie Wallace: ‘All Night Dance’ (1985) Drummer: BERNARD PURDIE
Another classic from the shuffle master on this track from the saxophonist’s hard-to-find Blue Note album Twilight Time, this managed to incorporate both of Purdie’s trademarks: ghost notes and hi-hat barks.
10. Adam & The Ants: ‘Ant Rap’ (1981) Drummers: CHRIS HUGHES, TERRY LEE MIALL
There are two or three grooves on this and they’re all corkers. The song led to an outbreak of desktop hand-drumming by schoolkids in the early ’80s, driving teachers to distraction.
9. Grace Jones: ‘Warm Leatherette’ (1980) Drummer: SLY DUNBAR
Trust Sly to come up with two such original takes on the shuffle.
8. Paul Simon: ’50 Ways To Leave Your Lover’ (1982) Drummer: STEVE GADD
What a treat to hear and see this classic live version from Central Park, possibly with some tiny deviations from the recorded take. Much imitated, never surpassed. And check out Gadd’s superb extended coda.
7. John Scofield: ‘Blue Matter’ (1986) Drummer: DENNIS CHAMBERS
One of the great beatmakers of the ’80s or any other decade, the Baltimore master busted loose with two classic go-go grooves for the price of one.
6. Van Halen: ‘Hot For Teacher’ (1984) Drummer: ALEX VAN HALEN
Modern Drummer magazine said it best: ‘The song begins with Alex pounding out a fairly complex floor-tom pattern featuring the ever-popular hairta rudiment, played over shuffling double bass drums. Add some tom hits and then a driving ride cymbal, and you’ve got one of the most classic drum tracks of the ’80s—or any decade.’
5. The Police: ‘Murder By Numbers’ (1983) Drummer: STEWART COPELAND
Yet another ingenious variation on the medium jazz swing, Copeland turns 4/4 into 6/8, adds some weird emphases and catches the ear every time.
4. King Crimson: ‘Frame By Frame’ (1981) Drummer: BILL BRUFORD
At Robert Fripp’s prompting, Bruford plays the lion’s share of the beat on one of his Octobans, not the hi-hat. From the classic album Discipline.
3. Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers: ‘We Need Some Money’ (1985) Drummer: RICKY WELLMAN
The right foot that floored the drumming world.
2. Toto: ‘Rosanna’ (1982) Drummer: JEFF PORCARO
Impossible to leave out this half-time classic. Porcaro fused The Purdie Shuffle with a Bo Diddley beat to create a monster.
1. John Martyn: ‘Pascanel (Get Back Home)’ (1981) Drummer: PHIL COLLINS
Phil came up with numerous cool variations on Harvey Mason’s ‘Chameleon’ beat in the ’80s, but this is my favourite. It’s basically ‘Chameleon’ but with a very groovy triplet figure inserted between the hi-hats and snare. From the classic Glorious Fool album.
So here’s the second instalment of essential drum albums from the 1980s (check out part one here), a selection of the decade’s movers and shakers who either pushed the boundaries, flew somewhat under the radar or simply made the music sound better.
19. Chuck Brown And The Soul Searchers: Live ’87 Drummer: Ricky Wellman
Alongside Keith LeBlanc, Jonathan Moffett and Dennis Chambers, Wellman played some of the scariest single bass drum of the decade, laying down the go-go template that would influence everyone from Trevor Horn to Miles Davis (who headhunted Wellman in late 1987).
18. Nik Kershaw: The Riddle (1984) Drummer: Charlie Morgan
Another somewhat underrated Brit sessionman, Morgan does exactly what’s right for the songs with a lot of panache. His ghost-note-inflected grooves on ‘City Of Angels’ and ‘Easy’ are treats for the eardrums.
17. Tackhead: Friendly As A Hand Grenade (1989) Drummer/programming: Keith LeBlanc
Included because of the sheer variety of grooves, both human and machine-generated. Some beats bring to mind the sounds of electro and early hip-hop, but Keith also provides precise, tight, funky grooves on the kit.
16. XTC: English Settlement (1982) Drummer: Terry Chambers
He was not subtle but the unreconstructed Swindon powerhouse could mix it with the best of ’em when it came to rock. Strongly aided by the dream Lillywhite/Padgham production/engineering team, his cavernous grooves always hit the spot. Currently residing in the ‘where are they now’ file (Or is he? Check out the comments section below… Ed.).
15. Power Tools: Strange Meeting (1987) Drummer: Ronald Shannon Jackson
Ex-Ornette/Ayler collaborator and serious Buddhist Shannon Jackson cut a swathe through ’80s drumming with his striking solo albums and occasional projects like this frenetic trio alongside Bill Frisell and future Rollins Band bassist Melvin Gibbs. Free jazz with balls and humour. Play LOUD.
14. Roxy Music: Avalon (1982) Drummer: Andy Newmark
Hard to bet against this masterpiece of tasteful, empathetic song-accompaniment. Even more impressive is the revelation that Newmark was usually the last musician to overdub, replacing a skeletal drum machine part.
13. Nile Rodgers: B Movie Matinee (1985) Programming: Jimmy Bralower
Much-in-demand NYC programmer Bralower wasn’t every drummer’s cup of tea but he came up with many memorable, catchy beats on Nile’s forgotten second solo album. Even classy ballad ‘Wavelength’ chugs along to what can only be described as an electro groove.
12. Yes: Big Generator (1987) Drummer: Alan White
Possessing one of the crispest snare sounds of the decade, White played 4/4 rock with lots of surprises – both listener and band alike have to be on their toes – and conversely also made the most complex arrangements sound completely natural.
11. Grace Jones: Living My Life (1982) Drummer: Sly Dunbar
Sly came up with not one but two classic, much-imitated beats on this album (‘My Jamaican Guy’, ‘Nipple To The Bottle’) and also proved he could play rock with the best of them. Mark Knopfler and Bob Dylan were definitely listening.
10. Mark King: Influences (1984)
We knew he’d started his musical life as a drummer but finally hearing the results of his misspent youth was well worth the wait. He gives his heroes Billy Cobham and Lenny White a serious run for their money on this varied collection, from Level-style funk to Latin-tinged jazz/rock.
9. King Crimson: Discipline (1981) Drummer: Bill Bruford
Impossible to leave out. Aided by Robert Fripp’s ‘rules’, the Surrey sticksman redefined rock drumming for the new decade, adding unusual timbres and taking the emphasis off the hi-hat. He also delivered one of the great over-the-top performances on ‘Indiscipline’.
8. Weather Report: Sportin’ Life (1985) Drummer: Omar Hakim
The fusion supergroup’s penultimate studio album is also one of their best, and Omar is a big reason why. His touch on the hi-hats and ride cymbal is instantly recognisable, and he swings hard on the inspired cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’.
7. Stewart Copeland: Rumble Fish (1983)
Not for nothing was the ex-Police man calling himself The Rhythmatist around this time: he hits anything and everything (xylophone, drum kit, marimba, piano, typewriter) to create a colourful, unique soundtrack for Francis Ford Coppola’s black-and-white curio.
6. Sadao Watanabe: Maisha (1985) Drummers: Harvey Mason, John Robinson
A superior example of big-budget ‘smooth jazz’ before it became a cliché, Mason and Robinson split the drum duties and perfectly compliment each other. The latter particularly lets his hair down a bit more than usual, particularly on ‘Paysages’.
5. Simple Minds: Sparkle In The Rain (1984) Drummer: Mel Gaynor
Slinky, powerful grooves from South London’s answer to Omar Hakim. He has the walls of Shepherds Bush’s Townhouse studios shaking with his uber-beats on ‘Up On The Catwalk’, ‘Waterfront’ and ‘C Moon Cry Like A Baby’.
4. Level 42: A Physical Presence (1985) Drummer: Phil Gould
An exciting live performance from one of the great British drummers. His top-of-the-beat feel and crisp sound suggest a mix of Billy Cobham and Bill Bruford, and he could also lay down explosive multi-tom fills to match both of them.
3. Chick Corea Elektric Band: Eye Of The Beholder (1988) Drummer: Dave Weckl
Love or hate Corea’s Scientology-infused, neo-classical jazz/rock, Weckl’s stellar performance on this album was beyond question. He delivered a gorgeous sound, a total mastery of the drum kit and stunning chops when required.
2. Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop (1989) Drummer: Terry Bozzio
One of the loudest drummers this writer has ever heard in concert (Hammersmith Odeon, December 1989), Bozzio delivered some of the fastest double-bass playing on record (‘Sling Shot’) and also unique takes on reggae (‘Behind The Veil’) and funk (‘Day In The House’).
1. The Clash: Sandinista! (1980) Drummer: Topper Headon
The rebel rockers embraced rockabilly, reggae, dub, calypso, punk and even funk on this ambitious triple album, but they wouldn’t have been able to go there without the versatile London sticksman.
The general critical consensus is that Tonight represents the nadir of David Bowie’s career, the only true stinker in his discography.
It’s been described as a quickie cash-in on the Let’s Dance formula, a concession to his new ‘Phil Collins’ audience and a charity album for Iggy Pop. Only three years after its release, Bowie himself was virtually disowning it.
But it’s a fascinating, occasionally superb collection by arguably the greatest album artist in rock history. David tries out a lot of styles and gets away with most of them. And it could have been a lot worse.
So I’m putting it squarely alongside Heathen, Black Tie White Noise, David Bowie, both the Tin Machine studio albums, hours… and several others in the prodigious second tier of DB albums.
In the summer of 1984, Uncle David was competing with the shiny British New Pop acts of the era – Duran, Wham!, Culture Club, Thompson Twins, Nik Kershaw, Howard Jones, Frankie, Bananarama – and to some extent beating them at their own game: Tonight went straight in at number one in the UK album chart.
But writer Nicholas Pegg made an interesting point aboutitssound in his superb ‘Complete David Bowie’: David was apparently more taken with the ‘straight’, poppier artists of the era than the edgier acts such as Bronski Beat, The Smiths, The Cure, Marc Almond etc etc.
Tonight took five weeks to record, two weeks longer than Let’s Dance. It was tracked in Quebec, Canada during May 1984, only a few months after the end of the ‘Serious Moonlight’ tour.
Lenny Pickett’s Borneo Horns were retained from the live dates and there were some holdovers from the Let’s Dance sessions: Omar Hakim on drums, Carmine Rojas on bass, Sammy Figueroa on percussion.
But Nile Rodgers wasn’t asked back to co-produce (it’s oft forgotten that David was also a great producer). It was a decision that apparently baffled and disappointed Rodgers. Instead, ex-Heatwave bassist Derek Bramble was brought in on the strength of his work with Lynx, David Grant and Jaki Graham.
He probably hoped he would be the new Nile, but it wasn’t to be. He played some great bass, guitar and synths on the basic tracks but was given the boot only a few weeks into the project. Police/XTC/Peter Gabriel/Genesis man Hugh Padgham – initially only employed as the engineer – was asked to finish off the album as co-producer.
Hugh has since expressed dismay at the choice of songs, saying that a few new Iggy/Bowie compositions were left unfinished (perhaps later used for Blah-Blah-Blah) because Bowie ‘couldn’t be bothered’ to finish them.
It’s hard to disagree – if ‘God Only Knows’, the title track and ‘I Keep Forgettin’ had been replaced by some new tunes, Tonight could have been a corker.
But it ain’t bad. And the critics all pretty much loved it at the time. It may have been a huge shock if you were brought up on Ziggy Stardust and Hunky Dory, but I came in around Scary Monsters. It seemed a natural progression.
Mick Haggerty’s sleeve design splits opinion too – it’s either a witty Gilbert & George pastiche or a garish bit of mid-’80s tastelessness. Judge for yourself. Oh, and get the 1990 Rykodisc version of Tonight if you can find it rather than the 1999 EMI remaster.
Interesting reggaefied cover of a track from Iggy’s album New Values. Featuring a sublime David vocal, some excellent Bramble bass and a gorgeous horn/synth arrangement embedded in the mix, reminiscent of Gil Evans’ soundworld. Play loud.
3. ‘God Only Knows’
A great David vocal though very curious MOR arrangement of this Brian Wilson composition. Cavernous drums, soaring strings and acoustic guitar high in the mix. Fascinating though only really defensible if viewed as a kind of Scott Walker homage.
Shorn of the shock heroin-overdose intro heard on the original from Iggy’s Lust For Life album. But it’s hard to defend this rushed, underwhelming filler which flopped as Bowie’s 1984 Christmas single. Even Omar sounds out-of-sorts on this. But let’s cut them some slack – David helped save Tina’s career. According to her, David dragged the bigwigs of Capitol Records out to see her perform live in New York against their wishes, prompting them to re-sign her.
5. ‘Neighbourhood Threat’
This perky techno-rocker, also originally from Lust For Life, features a fine vocal from David in ‘cyborg’ mode and brilliant drumming from Omar. It works very well but sounds unlike anything else on Tonight. Weirdly, Bowie dismissed it in 1987, saying ‘it wasn’t the right band to do that song. It sounded so tight and compromised.’
6. ‘Blue Jean’
A brief, harmless bit of ‘sexist rock’n’roll’ in Bowie’s words, a portrait of a woman he fancied in a magazine ad. Padgham works his magic on Omar’s drums, there’s some window-shaking sax from Lenny Pickett and Bowie borrows Iggy’s baritone. The first single from the album, it reached UK #6 and US #8 and featured a watchable but very silly long-form video directed by Julien Temple, shown in UK cinemas as support feature to ‘A Company Of Wolves’.
7. ‘Tumble And Twirl’
Another album highlight, co-written by David and Iggy, it’s an effective slice of tropical swing/funk with Mark King’s (uncredited) bass in Stanley Clarke mode, Guy St Onge’s cheery marimba, some sparkling 12-string guitar from Alomar and funny ‘muzak’ bridge with soothing backing vocals. Also some amusing lyrics inspired by Iggy and David’s vacation in Java.
8. ‘I Keep Forgettin’’
The album’s low point, where its ‘happy’, summery, positive feel comes truly unstuck. Electric drums fizz unpleasantly, David hams it up to little effect and the arrangements are more Pebble Mill than Muscle Shoals.
9. ‘Dancing With The Big Boys’
Another Iggy/Bowie co-write, the album closes with a tasty piece of one-chord, horn-based techno-rock flash. A funny lyric that seems to be about American military might: ‘Your family is a football team’. Iggy is very audible on vocals. Arthur Baker also put together an ear-bleeding 12” remix which is worth a listen.
Further reading: ‘Strange Fascination’ by David Buckley
The lead-off track and third single (UK #19 in May 1985, not released in the US) from 1984’s Tonight album, ‘Loving The Alien’ was arguably Bowie’s most committed piece of writing since Scary Monsters‘ ‘Teenage Wildlife’ four years earlier.
Recorded at Quebec’s Le Studio in May 1984, the song was musically rich with a striking set of lyrics and a superb, soaring vocal performance.
Like a good Kubrick movie, it distills down weeks of research to just the crucial components.
Bowie was apparently doing a lot of reading about Christianity and the Catholic Church, influenced particularly by Donovan Joyce’s notorious book ‘The Jesus Scroll’ which posited that Jesus died in Masada at the age of 80 and wrote a scroll currently in Russian hands.
The wider implications of this led Bowie into further thoughts on organised religion in general and Christianity in particular. He told writer Charles Shaar Murray:
‘It was always more of a power tool than anything else, which was not very apparent to the majority of us. My father encouraged me to become interested in other religions. It’s extraordinary considering all the mistranslations in the Bible that our lives are being navigated by this misinformation, and that so many people have died because of it. That’s how the song started out: for some reason, I was very angry…’
Using the bloodshed of The Crusades as its central image, the lyric uses various effective ploys, one of which is an almost Pinteresque juxtaposition of the banal and portentous. While Bowie blithely stated ‘It’s just a song of images’ in the above interview, each line is ripe for analysis.
Watching them come and go The Templars and the Saracens They’re travelling the holy land Opening telegrams
Torture comes and torture goes Knights who’d give you anything They bear the cross of Coeur de Leon Salvation for the mirror-blind
But if you pray All your sins are hooked upon the sky Pray and the heathen lie will disappear
Prayers, they hide the saddest view (Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)
And your prayers they break the sky in two
You pray til the break of dawn
And you’ll believe you’re loving the alien
Thinking of a different time Palestine a modern problem Bounty and your wealth in land Terror in a best-laid plan
Watching them come and go Tomorrows and the yesterdays Christians and the unbelievers Hanging by the cross and nail
Bananarama it ain’t. Both lyrically and musically, the song stands out a mile on Tonight.
But unfortunately these days it’s a difficult listen – despite Bowie’s fantastic vocal, it’s let down by an immense production with huge, gated drums (Omar Hakim’s entrée into rock drumming that arguably got him the gigs with Dire Straits and Sting), muddy bass, overwrought Arif Mardin string arrangement and a ponderous Carlos Alomar guitar solo.
More successful are Guy St Onge’s marimba and the sampled Bowie vocals at the top (apparently more influenced by Philip Glass’s ‘Einstein On The Beach’ than Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’ – the kind of detail that was very important to Bowie!).
Regular collaborator David Mallet directed the video, storyboarded – as usual – by Bowie. Though seemingly a fairly disparate series of arresting images, the clip was fairly successful as a surreal assault on religion’s materialistic symbols and commodification of women.
It also makes a fascinating companion piece to his ‘Blackstar’ video. Bowie’s cheery grin that accompanies the ‘Opening telegrams/Whoa-oh’ line is a thrillingly weird moment.
Bowie performed ‘Loving The Alien’ throughout the ‘Glass Spider’ tour. Then, in 2002, DJ Scumfrog remixed the track to create a single called ‘The Scumfrog vs Bowie’, a top 10 hit in the UK Dance Chart.
A year later Bowie himself resurrected the song, cooking up a stripped-down version in duet with guitarist Gerry Leonard. They dropped the key from E-minor down to C-minor and dispensed with many of the original’s passing chords, arguably dissolving some of its power, but it’s certainly a unique reading.
According to Bowie, the best version of ‘Loving The Alien’ is his original home demo of the song, yet to see the light of day. Let’s hope we get to hear it sometime.
I was really sad to hear of Victor Bailey’s passing today.
Born in 1960, he was part of the illustrious Philly bass fraternity alongside such luminaries as Christian McBride, Alphonso Johnson and Stanley Clarke.
He replaced Jaco in Weather Report at the age of just 21, teaming up with Omar Hakim to make one of THE great bass/drums team in music history.
They featured on the albums Procession, Domino Theory, Sporting Life and This Is This, andappeared regularly on each other’s solo projects. They also toured with Madonna together in the mid-1990s.
I’m pretty sure I saw Victor five times in concert – first in an outrageous Weather Report gig at the Dominion Theatre (26 June 1984), then in a very cool jazz/funk/groove unit with drummer Lenny White at the Subterania, twice at Ronnie Scott’s with an electrifying Zawinul Syndicate, and finally about ten years ago in a trio with Larry Coryell and White at the Jazz Cafe. At all times, Victor’s playing was tasty, expressive, exciting.
I was pleased when he was recently the subject of a long, excellent feature in JazzTimes magazine in which he talked frankly about music, his bass playing and illness. I hoped the piece might be the start of a healthy, fruitful period for Victor. Sadly it wasn’t to be.
Victor Bailey (27th March 1960 – 11th November 2016)