Good Earth Studios

The recording of Scary Monsters resumed in May 1980 at Tony Visconti’s Good Earth Studios, on Dean Street in London’s Soho. By that time David Bowie had written titles, lyrics and melodies for each of the songs.

On reflection, when I listen to Scary Monsters it feels more like we made our Revolver. Maybe it’s because the opening of ‘It’s No Game (No. 1)’ is a tip of the hat to the opening of ‘Taxman’. We were pushing the boundaries further than we ever had with this album. Revolver took about nine weeks to make. We spent four weeks at The Power Station in New York and another five weeks at my own Good Earth Studios in London. There was a two-month gap in between as David said he needed the time to write the lyrics and melodies. David had written the Berlin trilogy in the studio, sometimes whilst singing the lead vocal on microphone. This was a departure from procedure…

David’s vocals went down smoothly on all the songs. He would sing until satisfied and in some cases I’d have to erase a previous take due to a low track count, but he was always fine with that. All the while I was starting to imagine the mixing process, organising it in my mind, making notes for dramatic effects.

Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book

In addition to Bowie’s vocals, a number of instrumental overdubs were recorded at Good Earth. These included Robert Fripp’s lead guitar, heard on ‘It’s No Game (No. 1)’, ‘Up The Hill Backwards’, ‘Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)’, ‘Fashion’, ‘Teenage Wildlife’, and ‘Kingdom Come’.

It was important to do the final stage of Scary Monsters in London. The problem with recording overseas, as we did with the Berlin trilogy, was a lack of standards from studio to studio. The Power Station had very high standards with innovations which we used to the fullest. But, for the overdubs and the type of mixing magic we wanted, it just made sense to be home in Soho, surrounded by my toys.

We needed more muscle on these tracks and we were blessed to have musicians Pete Townshend and Robert Fripp living locally. They added British guitar zest to the New York potpourri of musical styles.

Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book

The Who’s Pete Townshend was invited to perform on ‘Because You’re Young’, although the session was less than harmonious.

‘Townshend is coming to the studio today,’ announced David apprehensively. I had read how much Pete Townshend had been drinking and he was still busting up hotel rooms so I was apprehensive too. When he arrived he seemed to be in a foul, laconic mood. David asked if there was anything we could get for him and he asked for a bottle of wine. I asked if he wanted red or white and he snarled back, ‘There’s no such thing as white wine!’ Whoops. I was hoping he wouldn’t hurl the empty bottle through my studio window. He sort of settled in and asked what we wanted him to do on this track. David looked at me kind of puzzled and asked, ‘Chords?’ Townshend asked, ‘What kind of chords?’ I think both David and I were a little afraid to state the obvious, but I finally offered, ‘Er, Pete Townshend chords.’ Townshend shrugged, ‘Oh, windmills,’ and did a perfect windmill on his guitar, traditionally grazing his right-hand knuckles. Within 30 minutes the chords were laid on the track, the bottle of red wine was drained and Townshend exited onto Dean Street.
Tony Visconti
Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy

Bowie sang most of the album’s backing vocals himself, although he and Visconti sang together on ‘It’s No Game’. Visconti also played guitar on that song, ‘Up The Hill Backwards’ and ‘Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps’, and percussion on ‘Ashes To Ashes’.

‘Up The Hill Backwards’ was a rarity for Bowie, in that he shared lead vocals with three others: Tony Visconti, his studio engineer Chris Porter, and an acquaintance, Lynn Maitland.

Chris Porter was my chief engineer at Good Earth and was a lead singer in a Portsmouth band before I met him. He also helped with the construction of Good Earth. Sometimes when David wanted backing vocals, he couldn’t wait to phone around to see who was available. He would ask random people in the studio, ‘Can you sing?’ In some other cases, ‘Can you play guitar?’ I had just met singer Lynn Maitland, a friend of a band I had produced earlier, and she was in the studio as a guest. Lynn and Chris were enlisted! I joined them to sing the choir parts for ‘Up The Hill Backwards’, ‘Kingdom Come’, ‘Because You’re Young’ and ‘Teenage Wildlife’.
Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book

Another key overdub was the Japanese vocals on ‘It’s No Game (No. 1)’. Bowie had a professor friend in Tokyo translate the lyrics, and intended to sing them himself. For this he received coaching from Japanese actress Michi Hirota, who was appearing in The King And I in London’s West End. Hirota told Bowie that the translation was literal rather than poetic, and could not fit the melody. Bowie asked her to recite the words instead – “She was somewhat taken aback by this idea, but soon got into it with coaxing and coaching from both David and me,” according to Visconti.

The Japanese lyrics to the first ‘It’s No Game’ are exactly the same as the others, although ‘Part 1’ sees a more sort of animal approach on my part. Also, repeating me parrot fashion but in Japanese is a young Japanese girl friend of mine who 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.
David Bowie
NME, 13 September 1980
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