Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bowie's Underrated Gem

"Diamond Dogs wasn't quite Ziggy era to me, although he looked like it image-wise. Bowie was trying to do a concept album based on Orwell's 1984, and some of the songs (like "We Are the Dead," "Sweet Thing" and "Candidate") were like nothing Bowie had done before. The song "1984" pointed in the direction of Young Americans. "Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family"? Man, shit like that was brand new for Bowie."

--William Repsher

I've been thinking about that comment since William Repsher posted it on Monday. It's been almost 40 years since Bowie released "Diamond Dogs" and for almost 40 years I've listened and loved it. But at no time I had I ever thought of this record as "nothing Bowie had done before."

"Aladdin Sane" was my first experience. It was his newest release at the time and of course, I immediately went back and grabbed "Ziggy Stardust." Then, I just continued forward with "Pinups" and "Diamond Dogs." To my young and still impressionable ears, this quartet of LPs was similar in that, it was David Bowie. I loved each record, even if I wasn't experienced enough yet to decipher the differences or understand anything deeper than guitars and drums and vocals.

But our friend Repsher makes a good argument against the BBC for skipping this record in favor of "Young Americans" in the "Five Years" documentary posted earlier this week.  As I said in the comments of that post, the BBC's choice of 1974-1975 over 1973-1974 may have had something to do with Bowie's drastic transformation. The jump from Ziggy to Soulman seems more daredevil than the jump from Ziggy to Halloween Jack, his "Diamond Dogs" persona. But listening again to "Diamond Dogs," as I did again last night, I'm feeling like my defense is weak.

With the exception of the now legendary single "Rebel, Rebel," which was written a full year earlier and tacked on the LP last minute (if I'm not mistaken,) "DD" seems almost unclassifiable. There are the songs William pointed out in his comment, as well as the twisted, classic rock sound of the title track, the big, quasi-Phil Spector ballad "Rock 'N' Roll With Me," and the Broadway soul of "Big Brother," all distinct from each other and all a far cry from Bowie's output until this point. It's also the only record in Bowie's career where he is the sole guitarist and there is some truly fine guitar-playing across both sides of this record.

I find it intoxicating that a record I thought I knew so well, a record that can remain safely on a shelf for all eternity, can suddenly sound like something completely fresh. "Diamond Dogs" does indeed venture to places Bowie hadn't been before, and to some extent, hasn't ventured to since, and does so with much greater results, I think, than "Young Americans." 


steve simels said... think blogger ate my comment so I'll try it again.

Sal -- I know it won't come as a shock to you when I say that if you are listening to "Young Americans" (song or album) without repeatedly face-palming yourself, I fear for your immortal soul.

buzzbabyjesus said...

I couldn't agree more with you and Mr. Repsher. It hides in plain sight in his discography.
The guy at The LA Times didn't like it and Mick Ronson wasn't involved so I didn't buy it in 1974.
In 1981 I worked a lot of all-nighters at the Ad Agency. I had a portable cassette player on my desk. I found a copy of "Diamond Dogs" one night and listened to it for the first time. I played it over and over for the next three weeks.
It's one of his top 5. The other 4 in no particular order: Hunky, Ziggy, Alladin, The Next Day.

Eric said...

you're nutz, as u were about the doors..luv ya kiddo, but dd is bowie's beggar banquet

William Repsher said...

Well, glad to have sparked a renewed interest for you in the album. I think it's a choppy album. In ways, he was holding on to what he had already done successfully (title track, Rock and Roll with Me, Rebel,Rebel), but the rest of the album moves into some new strange territories for me.

Just the sound of the drums and bass on "Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family" -- it suggests the slightly more experimental sound he'd get on the same instruments with Eno on Low. That song in particular was a mindblower in the 70s, that strange chant.

Part of the problem was, again, he didn't re-jigger his image all that much from the Ziggy era look and feel, thus DD gets lumped in with that whole set.

Regarding that special, I also see Station to Station as being a far shot from Young Americans, which was a stylistic one-off for him (and a live album tagged on to it). Some songs, like Golden Years and Stay, were clearly hold overs, but most of the album was off the beaten path, too, in a good way that worked better than Young Americans.

Still, it was interesting to see more about how we worked in that strange time.