The recording

I don’t think I really got into messing about with recording technique until then, where it was virtually just myself doing everything. I played a great percentage of everything on Diamond Dogs, apart from the odd lead guitar, and the bass and the drums. But most of the other lead guitars and the rhythm guitars and the keyboards, and saxophones, were just me.
David Bowie
International Musician, December 1991

David Bowie jettisoned Mick Ronson and Trevor Bolder for the Diamond Dogs sessions, although he retained Mike Garson on piano and Aynsley Dunbar on drums. Another drummer, Tony Newman, was also used on some of the sessions.

I knew how it had to sound, but I was a bit too embarrassed to work with other musicians. I always felt slightly awkward telling musicians who played so much better than I did what to play. Rather than have to tell those people who knew how to play really well what to play, I did it myself.
David Bowie
Guitar World, April 1997

Playing bass guitar on the album was Herbie Flowers, a dependable session London musician who had performed on many recordings including Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ and Lou Reed’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side’. Newman and Flowers subsequently toured the US and Canada in Bowie’s backing band.

Having dispensed with the Spiders From Mars, Bowie chose to arrange and produce the album himself, and perform the majority of the guitar parts. Prior to entering the studio, he underwent a period of unusually dedicated practice.

I knew that the guitar playing had to be more than okay. That couple of months I spent putting that album together before I went into the studio was probably the only time in my life where I really buckled down to learn the stuff I needed to have on the album. I’d actually practise two hours a day. I knew the sound in my head, and at that time I didn’t know musicians who could carry it off.
David Bowie
Guitar Player, June 1997

Bowie returned to Trident Studios to record a demo of ‘Rebel Rebel’ in December 1973, and again in the new year. These were his final sessions at the studio.

He drafted in guitarist Alan Parker, of the band Blue Mink, who had previously played on Bowie’s single ‘Holy Holy’. Parker helped develop the ‘Rebel Rebel’ riff, and performed on the song – notably played the final three descending notes in the riff, and the string-bending note in the chorus after Bowie sings: “Hot tramp, I love you so”. He also played guitar on ‘1984’, including the song’s distinctive wah-wah intro.

On ‘Rebel Rebel’, he had the riff about 75% sorted out. He wanted it a bit like a Stones riff, and he played it to me as such, and I then tinkered around with it. I said, ‘Well, what if we did this and that and made it sound more clangy and put some bends in it?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I love that, that’s fine.’ I used an old Les Paul standard, a black one, and it was an old Fender reverb amp with a single Wharfedale speaker in them.
Alan Parker, 2004
Diamond Dogs, 30th anniversary edition

Bowie kicked off 1974 with a New Year’s Day session at Olympic Studios in London, where he recorded two demos. The first was an early version of ‘Candidate’, a jaunty pop song which bore no relation to the eventual album version. This demo was first released on the Rykodisc reissue of Diamond Dogs in 1990, and subsequently on the 30th anniversary release.

The other demo was for a song titled ‘Take It In Right’, which later became the Young Americans song ‘Can You Hear Me’. At this early stage Bowie was intending the song to appear on an album by Lulu that he was considering producing, although like so many of Bowie’s mid-Seventies projects it never happened.

The majority of Diamond Dogs was recorded in January 1974 at Olympic. The in-house engineer was Keith Harwood, who had recently worked with the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, and whose rock ‘n’ roll image and lifestyle appealed to Bowie.

I was working with this real freewheeling guy called Keith Harwood. I was kind of in awe of him, because he’d worked on three Stones albums, so he was really a professional rock ‘n’ roller. He was one of the first people who was, like, down-and-out rock ‘n’ roll. He had the greasy hair and the boots and the leather jacket. I’d been used to engineers and producers like Ken Scott, who goes home to his wife at night, tie and shirt and all that, a very professional person – sort of my George Martin in a way. Keith was like heavyweight, cocaine and grease, and ‘hey, rock and roll!’ And it was only really me and Keith in the studio, because I’d got this thing, my usual thing, well, I don’t need a band, I’ll play all the instruments, it’s as easy as that. I did end up using proper drummers and bass players and things, but a lot of the overdub stuff, the guitars and the saxophones and the keyboards, was me.
David Bowie
Strange Fascination, David Buckley

The Diamond Dogs sessions had a number of famous visitors, including the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood, and the Who’s Pete Townshend. Wood played guitar on a version of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Growin’ Up’, recorded during the sessions.

Another guest was Rod Steward, who unwittingly appeared on the album. The crowd noise used in the segue between ‘Future Legend’ and ‘Diamond Dogs’ was sampled from the Faces’ recently-released 1974 live album Coast To Coast: Overtures And Beginners, including Stewart’s exclamation “Hey!” during the ‘Diamond Dogs’ guitar intro.

In December 1974 Château d’Hérouville had began legal preparations against MainMan for costs incurred during the Pinups sessions. Olympic similarly eventually threatened to evict and ban Bowie unless MainMan pay an outstanding bill of £4,935 for studio fees. Eventually Olympic closed its doors to Bowie, forcing him to complete the album elsewhere.