In the studio
David Bowie began work on Diamond Dogs shortly after completing Pin Ups. He spent much of September 1973 at London’s Trident Studios mixing and finalising the collection of cover versions, and upon its completion recorded new demos and began working up a concept for his next album.
Exit Ken Scott
An early recording was of ‘1984’/‘Dodo’, which had been premiered during The 1980 Floor Show. This was the final time Bowie worked with Ken Scott, who had produced the albums Hunky Dory, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, Aladdin Sane, and Pin Ups. Scott had been struggling to secure payment for his work from Bowie’s management company MainMan, and the conflict put some strain on the session.
With all the legal wranglings still swirling about, communication had broken down a lot, and generally the session felt very strange, but we carried on regardless and eventually finished the track.
When it was time to mix, most unusually David chose to be there, and was obviously now very influenced by American music, as he kept playing me Barry White songs and saying, ‘I want it to sound like that.’ The mix went all night long.
It wasn’t long after that we, the Trident mob, heard through the grapevine that David had booked time at Olympic, very obviously without me. I know I was pissed off, but more because I was never told anything by David in relation to not actually doing the album.
Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust
In the weeks after the ‘1984’/‘Dodo’ session, Bowie decamped to Olympic Studios in Barnes, London, where he worked on new recordings for himself, and finished producing the singer Lulu’s cover of ‘The Man Who Sold The World’. He was also invited to visit the band Jethro Tull at London’s Morgan Studios, and played saxophone on their album Now We Are Six.
Bowie also produced tracks for the Astronettes, his backing singers for The 1980 Floor Show. In December at Olympic, the group recorded four Bowie originals: ‘I Am Divine’, ‘I Am A Laser’, ‘People From Bad Homes’, and ‘Things To Do’. These were the clearest indication yet of Bowie’s increasing interest in soul music, and although ultimately the recordings were unsuccessful, they were a useful proof-of-concept for his work on Young Americans.
The Astronettes also taped a version of the Beach Boys’ ‘God Only Knows’, with an arrangement by Tony Visconti and Bowie on saxophone, and the 1930s standard ‘I’m In The Mood For Love’.
In the time elapsed, Visconti had found even greater success as a producer, particularly with T. Rex, and had married the Welsh singer Mary Hopkin. One of Visconti’s acts, Carmen, had appeared on The 1980 Floor Show at Bowie’s behest.
In the summer, Bowie and I had just got back on speaking terms; David had rung me, and we talked over the phone a bit before agreeing to meet one evening to see Peter Cook and Dudley Moore live. I invited David to meet Carmen when I was mixing their album at Air Studios in Oxford Circus and I was thrilled when David invited them to appear with him at the Marquee Club as a part of a TV project.
David asked me to write some string arrangements for a side project of his, the Astronettes, who consisted of Ava Cherry, Geoffrey MacCormack and Jason Guess. They were a vocal group that looked incredible and sounded unusual. I wrote some very different arrangements for songs such as ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘I Am A Dodo’ [sic] (which was rewritten as ‘Scream Like A Baby’ for Bowie’s Scary Monsters album). I also wrote strings for ‘1984’, a theme song for Bowie’s television special, which was in the early stages of development. The ‘God Only Knows’ arrangement features mandolins playing what would normally be for violins; I thought I would have to persuade David to accept it, but he did so without hesitation.
Bowie, Bolan And The Brooklyn Boy
The Astronettes sessions continued into January 1974, including work in America, before the project was eventually abandoned. The recordings were eventually released in 1995 on the compilation People From Bad Homes, later retitled The Astronettes Sessions, and credited to Ava Cherry and the Astronettes.
Bowie’s work for the group was nonetheless useful for shaping his future soulful direction. Furthermore, ‘I Am Divine’ was rewritten as the Young Americans track ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’; ‘I Am A Laser’ was given new lyrics and re-recorded as ‘Scream Like A Baby’ for Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps, while the phrase “People from bad homes” made its way onto another song from that album, ‘Fashion’.