Not Fade Away 1974: Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise), by David Bowie
"Later I would think of America as one vast City of Night stretching gaudily from Times Square to Hollywood Boulevard - jukebox-winking, rock-n-roll moaning: America at night fusing its dark cities into the unmistakable shape of loneliness." City of Night, John Rechy (1963)
"Well, I guess we must be looking for a different kind ..." David Bowie
Bowie finally. We have now arrived at the centre of my own personal musical universe. Everything I love about pop - its glamour, its brazenness, its show-off sensibility, its luridness, its swagger, its outré sex appeal and its otherness, especially its otherness - can all be found in orbit around the alter ego(s) of David Robert Jones. As can most of the artists I love who came before (Little Richard especially) and after (Morrissey, Prince, Suede, Bjork). Bowie is pop, I would argue, as long as we define pop as sonically adventurous and culturally ambitious. (Culturally transgressive even?)
In my imagination pop is a science fiction form and in the seventies Bowie lived up to that dream vision more than anyone. Frankly, I could have quite happily chosen his work in '71 (The Bewlay Brothers) '72 (Starman) and '73 (The Jean Genie). And who is to say I won't choose him in '75, '76 and/or '77?
But in 1974 he's playing at being Halloween Jack and giving us his own dystopian version of 1984 on the album Diamond Dogs (after Orwell's widow refused him the rights to adapting the novel).
Rebel Rebel is the familiar single and it speaks to what is plainly thrilling about Bowie - the shock/thrill of its androgyny ("not sure if you're a boy or a girl"), the dressing up and the electric charge in the music that is there from the first notes.
But I've gone for the doomy romanticism of the extended album track Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise), the album's decaying heart, which parlays Bowie's Anthony Newley obsession into something grander and darker. This is pop as desire engine.
The world it conjures up is not so very far from Rechy's novel of American street hustlers, City of Night. Emerging from an introductory wash of backward tapes, Bowie begins to sings a about a world of tricks and cruising Rechy might recognise; one that mixes up love and sex and pain. The result is a gutter song with a real ache to it. It then elides into Candidate when it suddenly becomes more urgent, frenzied, hungry, desperate: "So you scream out of line: "I want you! I need you! Anyone out there? Any time?" The sax starts to blow, ugly and dirty, as if it's blown in from some diseased porn movie soundtrack before we cut back to the Sweet Thing reprise which may be a not-too-coded reference to Bowie's drug problems of the time ("Is it nice in your snow storm, freezing your brain? Do you think that your face looks the same?"). The whole thing is huge. And it both seduces and repels.
Bowie stops singing before the music. That goes on and on, a mechanical squeal that builds and builds and ...
Rebel Rebel, David Bowie
#9 Dream, John Lennon
No Woman, No Cry, Bob Marley
This Town Ain't Big Enough, Sparks
People's Parties, Joni Mitchell
Can't Get It Out of My Head, Electric Light Orchestra
All I Want is You, Roxy Music
And the best-selling UK single of 1974 is Tiger Feet, by Mud
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