“And in the death, as the last few corpses lay rotting on the slimy thoroughfare, the shutters lifted in inches in Temperance Building, high on Poacher’s Hill” are the introductory lines to Future Legend, the opening track to Bowie’s brilliant, theatrical concept album, Diamond Dogs. Set in a near apocalyptic future, we are taken to Hunger City: “No more big wheels – fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats and ten thousand peoploids split into small tribes covering the highest of the sterile skyscrapers” and told that “Any day now – the year of the Diamond Dogs“.
Released in 1974, Bowie had originally intended to produce a concept album based around George Orwell’s 1984. However, having been denied the rights by Orwell’s widow, Bowie instead took the ideas of the novel and created his own vision. The result is something quite spectacular.
Put simplistically, if you were to fuse Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars with 1.Outiside, you would produce Diamond Dogs. Musically, the album has more in common with Ziggy Stardust; thematically, it is closer to 1.Outside. The album is often seen as the last of Bowie’s “glam rock” period – the preceding albums being 1972’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, 1973’s Aladdin Sane and covers album, Pin Ups. This is most obvious in the album’s biggest hit – Rebel Rebel. However, Bowie’s sound was starting to evolve and elements of the jazz/soul – to later be more fully explored on 1975’s Young American’s – can be heard within the music of this album.
The imaginary created on Diamond Dogs is incredible. At this time, Bowie was using the technique of “cut-ups”, taking pieces of writing, stories, poems, magazine articles etc, and cutting them up into words and phrases, then randomly putting them together. What was created sometimes made sense and sometimes didn’t, but from the combinations would come ideas, and this album fizzes with them. No more is this more successful than on the trilogy of Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (reprise): “Some make you sing and some make you scream, one makes you wish that you’d never been seen, but there’s a shop on the corner selling papier mache, making bullet proof faces, Charles Manson, Cassius Clay. If you want it boys, get it here thing… We’ll buy some drugs and watch a band, then jump in the river holding hands. If you want it boys get it here thing, hope boys is a cheap thing, cheap thing. Is it nice in your snow storm, freezing your brain, do you think that your face looks the same?” .
In his early – mid 70’s albums (and later revisited in 1995’s 1.Outside), Bowie often took on the role of character’s. Sometimes they would feature in an album’s title – as with Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane – and sometimes they were confined to within songs. In 1976’s Station to Station (originally to be called The Return of the Thin White Duke), Bowie became The Thin White Duke; in Diamond Dogs he became Halloween Jack – “a real cool cat and he lives on top of Manhatten Chase. The elevator’s broke so he slides down a rope onto the street below – Oh Tarzie go man go!“.
Towards the album’s conclusion come the songs We Are The Dead, 1984 and Big Brother. With these, the links to Orwell’s novel are most obvious. However, despite the orignial intention, Diamond Dogs stands apart as Bowie’s own creation, and is all the more powerful for it. While others may go for Hunky Dory or Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, for me, this was his best album to date. It remains as one of his greatest.
Songs to download:
- Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (reprise)
- Rebel Rebel
- We Are the Dead
- Big Brother