Sunday, November 27, 2011

David Bowie -- "1984" (1974)

You've read it in the tea leaves
And the tracks are on TV 
Beware the savage jaw 
Of nineteen-eighty-four

I'd like to help you out, but I have no idea what "Beware the savage jaw/Of nineteen-eighty-four" means.  Sorry 'bout that.

I went to a Bowie fan site that features a long list of misheard Bowie lyrics to make sure I had these lyrics right.  It turns out that a lot of people are confused by these lines.  Here are a few other examples of what people have mistakenly believed Bowie is saying here:

Beware the saboteur/Of nineteen-eighty-four
Beware the savage roar/Of nineteen-eighty-four
Beware the savage law/Of nineteen-eighty-four
Beware the savage whore/Of nineteen-eighty-four

I can't say that the correct lyrics make any more sense than the incorrect ones.

David Bowie's 1974 album, Diamond Dogs, is a bit schizophrenic -- half glam rock, half funk/soul/disco.  "1984" is from the funk/soul/disco part of the album.

The song was obviously inspired by the George Orwell book of the same name.  Bowie wanted to do a theatrical production based on the book, but Orwell's estate wouldn't give him the rights to the name.  So Bowie took this song and some others he had written for the planned 1984 production (one was called "Big Brother") and dumped them on Diamond Dogs.

The wah-wah guitar on "1984" is a dead ringer for the guitar in "Theme from Shaft."  Bowie played guitar on most of the album's track, but the guitar part for "1984" was played by a veteran British session guitarist, Alan Parker.

The Diamond Dogs cover depicted Bowie as half-man, half-dog.  The original art had to be modified a little.  Here's the original cover, followed by the airbrushed version:

About a year later, Bowie released the Young Americans album, which featured his biggest American hit, "Fame," which reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  John Lennon was given a co-writer credit and it is Lennon's electronically distorted voice that is heard singing "fame, fame, fame" over and over again near the end of the song.  

I was not amused by the shift from Bowie's Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane/Diamond Dogs style to the "plastic soul" of Young Americans.  I have to go back to the classic Motown days to find much mainstream soul/R&B music that I like.  A lot of commercial R&B of that era is the African-American equivalent of commercial country-western music from that era -- it all sounded like it was written by a committee whose job was to create crappier and crappier music until they reached the absolute lowest common denominator.

Here's "1984":

And here's Bowie performing the song live on The Dick Cavett Show in 1974.  (Check out those clothes -- and check out David Bowie, who was seriously weird in those days.)

Here's a link you can use to order it from Amazon:

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