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Scary Monsters

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)

released September 12, 1980

UK chart peak 1

Side one
It’s No Game (No. 1) 4:17
Up The Hill Backwards 3:13
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) 5:10
Ashes To Ashes 4:24
Fashion 4:48

Side two
Teenage Wildlife 6:55
Scream Like A Baby 3:35
Kingdom Come 3:42
Because You’re Young 4:51
It’s No Game (No. 2) 4:20

All songs by Bowie except Kingdom Come (Verlaine)

Japanese translation on It’s No Game (No. 1) by Hisahi Miura

David Bowie (vocals, keyboards)
Carlos Alomar (guitars)
George Murray (bass)
Robert Fripp (guitar)
Dennis Davis (percussion)
Chuck Hammer (guitar)
Roy Bittan (piano)
Andy Clark (synthesiser)
Pete Townshend (guitar)
Tony Visconti (acoustic guitar, backing vocals)
Lynn Maitland, Chris Porter (backing vocals)
Michi Hirota (Voice on It’s No Game (No. 1)’)

Produced by David Bowie and Tony Visconti

Recorded at Power Station, New York, February/March 1980
and Good Earth Studios, London, May 1980
Assistant engineers: Larry Alexander, Jeff Hendrickson

Cover by Edward Bell
Cover concept by Duffy and David Bowie
Clown costume by Natasha Kornilof
Make-up by Richard Sharah

Promotional releases

David Bowie - RCA Special Radio Series
interview LP released in US (RCA DJL1-3829)

Side one
Scary Monsters
Interview bridge
It's No Game (Part 1)
Space Oddity
Ashes To Ashes
Out cue

Side two
Up The Hill Backwards
Interview bridge
Kingdom Come (with interview bridge)
Teenage Wildlife
Scream Like A Baby
It's No Game (Part 2)
End cue

The Continuing Story of Major Tom
12-inch single released in US (RCA DJL1-3840)

Space Oddity 5:15Ashes To Ashes 3:35
Ashes To Ashes 4:21

Selected reissues

October 1984 RCA CD

May 1992 Rykodisc/EMI CD
remastered with bonus tracks:
Space Oddity [1979 version - new mix] 4:57
Crystal Japan 3:08
Alabama Song 3:51

September 1999 EMI remastered CD

March 2007 Toshiba EMI mini LP replica CD


Bowie and Visconti at the Power Station in New York

February 1980

Power Station, 441 West 53rd Street, New York
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti
Engineer: Larry Alexander

Tony Visconti told Melody Maker, “This album is going to be a departure from earlier experimentalism. David has written about 30 songs, and I can’t reveal the concept, but I have something in mind which will give Bowie a new direction and dimension.”

Visconti was keen to start on Bowie’s new project, and flew to New York at short notice to find Bowie had no finished songs, just some chord changes. But he and the band quickly worked up ‘head arrangements’ for nine or ten songs.

Visconti (2002): Although this studio was very businesslike and the staff hustled us out exactly when our time was up, there was a wonderful energy, which we tapped into. Carlos, George and Dennis were playing their best, now that they were in their own country and didn't have to deal with German and Swiss pubs for their only amusement. [424][ – Scary Monsters (2002)]

The band was augmented by Jimmy Destri and Springsteen's Roy Bittan, at that time recording The River in the studio next door.

Visconti (2002): We often munched ribs and chicken sitting next to The Boss in the communal artists lounge. Dennis Davis actually turned to Bruce Springsteen, so casual was the ambience, and asked, "What band are you in?" [424][ – Scary Monsters (2002)]

Bowie came up with the piano figure for the Ashes To Ashes intro, which he wanted Bittan to play on a stereo Wurlitzer he had delivered to the studio. It didn’t work properly but Visconti achieved the same effect putting a piano through an Instant Flanger.

Adrian Belew had been booked (and paid) in advance but he was disappointed to hear that Tom Verlaine was working on the album. As it turned out, Verlaine spent a whole day auditioning amplifiers and never recorded a note. His authorship of Bowie's cover of Kingdom Come (Alomar’s suggestion) was his sole contribution.

Lou Reed’s guitarist Chuck Hammer was invited to the sessions to demonstrate what he called Guitarchitecture, three examples of which he had sent to Bowie after they met in London. Hammer was using a guitar synthesiser to orchestrate parts for live performance as well as studio recordings. Visconti seized on this for the middle eight of Ashes To Ashes (working title People Are Turning To Gold), and used the natural reverb of the four-level stairwell. Bowie and Visconti had a specific plan for where he would contribute.

Hammer (2012): They appeared to be quite open to any idea I wanted to try. David understood quite clearly what ‘textural zones’ I was developing from the cassette demos I had forwarded. [279][Seabrook, Thomas Jerome. An Axe To Break The Ice (Record Collector, March 2012)]

Hammer’s Guitarchitecture was also deployed on It Happens Everyday (Teenage Wildlife) and Cameras In Brooklyn (Up The Hill Backwards), though on the latter it wasn’t used in the final mix.

After two and a half weeks of recording backing tracks and a further week of overdubs, Tony Visconti prepared a rough mix of the tracks in various stages of completion:

Kingdom Come (Tom Verlaine cover)
I Feel Free (Cream cover, a staple of his 1972 live set)
Is There Life After Marriage
(completed but later dropped)
Scream Like A Baby (a rewrite of Lazer, recorded with The Astronettes and again for Young Americans)
It's No Game No. 2 (a rewrite of Tired Of My Life which Bowie wrote aged 16 and demo’d in 1970)

Bowie decided to take a two-month break to compose melodies and lyrics for the remaining tracks – rather than improvise as he had done in the past – and finish the album in London.

June 1980

Good Earth Studios, 59 Dean Street, Soho, London
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti

Bowie returned to Visconti’s studio in London, having written lyrics for all the songs, and they began work on vocals, overdubs and mixing.

Bowie and Visconti always joked that whenever they recorded together, that this album would be Bowie’s Sgt Pepper. Accordingly, Bowie decided to open the album with It’s No Game and close with a reprise; and Visconti introduced the first part with the sound of spooling tape and Dennis Davis’s count-in.

Bowie had his lyrics translated by a professor friend and had intended to sing it, and sought coaching from Japanese actress (and Sparks’ Kimono My House cover star) Michi Hirota from the London production of The King And I. She found that the translation was literal rather than poetic, and was impossible to fit the melody. Instead Bowie asked her to recite the words, counterbalancing with Bowie’s histrionics.

Bowie (1980): [She] says the lyric in such a way as to give the lie to the whole very sexist idea of how Japanese girls are so very prim. She's like a Samurai the way she hammers it out. It's no longer the little Geisha girl kind of thing, which really pisses me off because they're just not like that at all. [189][MacKinnon, Angus. The Future Isn't What It Used To Be (NME, 13 September 1980)]

Bowie revived a relic from the 1976 tour rehearsals, (working title) Jamaica. With a new lyric, Fashion took shape with a berserk guitar part from Robert Fripp.

Fripp (1987): The solo on Bowie's 'Fashion' happened at 10.30 in the morning after a long drive back from Leeds gigging with the League of Gentlemen. There’s nothing you feel less like in the world than turning out a burning solo – fiery rock-and-roll at 10.30 in the morning - just out of a truck. But it doesn't matter much how you feel, you just get on with it.

Fripp also recorded parts for It's No Game, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), Kingdom Come, Up The Hill Backwards and Teenage Wildlife. At Bowie’s request Pete Townshend turned up to play on Because You’re Young.

Tony Visconti (2006): He seemed to be in a foul laconic mood… and asked what we wanted him to do. David looked at me and asked “Chords?” Townshend asked, “What kind of chords?” “Er, Pete Townshend chords." [047]

Townshend shrugged and played the part in his trademark style, helped by a bottle of red wine. 30 minutes later he was finished and out the door. As he left, he told Bowie that the demo of Space Oddity, that he recalled Bowie giving him in 1969, was ‘sure to be a hit’.




Bowie Golden Years v1.0 created and designed by Roger Griffin 2000
Bowie Golden Years v2.0 2017-2020

Photographs and texts have been credited wherever possible

this page updated February 19, 2022