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2023 Albums Thing #027 - Bowie “Diamond Dogs“

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Beware the savage jaw, Of 1984”…

Bowie had in the past studied mime and performed a one man mime show based on China’s invasion of Tibet! We’ve already met his Anthony Newly/show tunes incarnation and his gigs were getting more and more theatrical. He’d also appeared in a short film, an ice cream advert and made a fleeting appearance (blink and you’ll miss him) in the movie “The Virgin Soldiers”. There was very obviously a theatrical itch that needed scratching. His big idea now was to produce a stage musical based on George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984”. His big problem was that although he’d started writing it, and the songs for it, Orwell’s widow refused to grant him the rights to produce the show. So what had already been written morphed into “Diamond Dogs”.

“Awoooo” the societal breakdown foretold in “Five Years” appears to have happened in “Future Legend” which lists the horrors occurring in Hunger City (the substitute for Orwell’s London of Airstrip One ?) including rats the size of cats and corpses rotting in the street <shudder>. A cheering crowd (The Dudes ?) and the cry of “this ain’t rock ’n’ roll, this is genocide” leads us into the title track. Much in the vein of “Aladdin Sane” opener “Watch That Man”, a proper rocker.

The next three tracks, “Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise)” are effectively one song. It’s a musical all by itself, a look into the rotting heart of Hunger City. Your only chance of a lover is a prostitute, the hustlers, pushers and pimps are now politicians, “The News” has come to pass. The lyric in “Candidate” that goes “My set is amazing, It even smells like a street” hints at the forthcoming tour. This trio of songs also happens to be one of Bowie’s greatest vocal performances as it moves from a deep bass to a soaring tenor, it’s quite breathtaking in places. 

Side 1 closes out with a song that’s very close to my heart. That “Rebel Rebel” features one of the greatest guitar riffs ever put to tape helps. Glam Rock was dying at the end of 1974 and so Bowie gives us one of Glams greatest moments, the big kiss off. I’ve always thought of this as being my wife’s song. She is my Rebel Rebel girl and yes, “hot tramp”, I do love you so x

Side 2 is made up of songs that were clearly written with a view to being part of the “1984” musical; “Rock ’n’ Roll with Me” must have been earmarked for a scene between Winston and Julia and it is, in isolation, a gorgeous ballad; “We Are The Dead” is a direct quote from Orwell’s novel (“We are the dead. Our only true life is in the future. We shall take part in it as handfuls of dust and splinters of bone. But how far away that future may be, there is no knowing.”); “1984” and “Big Brother” are pretty self explanatory within the story and “1984” is this albums pointer song, a very funky arrangement pointing the way toward more “plastic soul” to come. It all ends with “The Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family”.

“Diamond Dogs” is a masterpiece (another album I have multiple copies of, just two). On certain days it is my favourite of David Bowie’s albums (on other days it’s others). It’s also a metaphorical full stop on the Ziggy years. He was about to set out on the theatrical and hugely ambitious Diamond Dogs tour and there were big ch-ch-ch-changes afoot…

Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise) - https://youtu.be/vrfc8c6VkTA

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