The release

The first song released from Scary Monsters was ‘Ashes To Ashes’, issued as a single on 8 August 1980. It featured an award-winning video, directed by David Bowie and David Mallet, which cost £250,000 – at the time the most expensive music video ever made.

The song, which revisited the character of Major Tom from ‘Space Oddity’, was a number one hit in the UK, and reached the top ten in Australia, Austria, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden. However, it was a flop in the US, not reaching the Billboard Hot 100, and peaking at 79 on the Cash Box chart.

Also released in August 1980 was The David Bowie Interview, a promotional LP which featured Bowie discussing each of the songs from the Scary Monsters album, as well as the artwork, Bowie’s Pierrot look, his singing style and other pleasantries.

The album was distributed to radio stations. Its inner sleeve contained a guide script for presenters, allowing them to present the recordings as an interview with Bowie.

Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) was released on 12 September 1980 in the UK, and three days later in the US.

During the next couple of years, I saw David and Coco quite often when they were in town. One evening I ate strawberries in their suite at The Ritz overlooking the Thames, and heard Lodger for the first time. A year later I sat on the floor in a Knightsbridge flat and heard Scary Monsters. David was depressed – as he always is after completing a project. He was sure it was terrible and would be a failure. But then he laughed and said this was how he always felt!
Sean Mayes
Life On Tour With Bowie

RCA, who were relieved to have what they considered to be a relatively mainstream Bowie album, promoted Scary Monsters with the tagline: “Often copied, never equalled.” Bowie had had intended to tour in support of the album in September 1980, but the live dates were postponed after he accepted the title role in the Broadway play The Elephant Man. It was claimed at the time that the tour would take place in spring the following year, although Bowie did not go on the road again until 1983.

Scary Monsters was Bowie’s first album to top the UK charts since Diamond Dogs. It also reached number one in Australia, France and New Zealand, and was a top ten hit in Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and West Germany.

In the US the album peaked at number 12 on the Billboard 200, Bowie’s highest album chart placing since Low.

Scary Monsters received wide critical praise, even receiving seven out of five stars in Record Mirror. Bowie was voted best male singer of 1980 in that weekly’s end-of-year poll, and received the same award from the Daily Mirror/BBC Radio Rock and Pop Awards.

When we finished mixing we knew we had done something very special. Scary Monsters was so incredibly satisfying to make; fans and critics alike validated us. This was one of our finest hours – and Blackstar was yet to come some thirty-six years later.
Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town book

In later years the album became something of a benchmark of quality, with albums including 1.Outside, Earthling, Heathen and Reality all being described as Bowie’s best since Scary Monsters.

‘Fashion’, ‘Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)’, and ‘Up The Hill Backwards’ were released as follow-up singles, and all became UK hits. In the US, however, ‘Fashion’ was another commercial failure, peaking at number 70 on the Billboard Hot 100

Reissues, remixes, remasters

Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) was first released on compact disc in 1984 by RCA Victor, with the catalogue number PCD1-3647.

The album was reissued on CD, cassette and vinyl in 1992 by Rykodisc and EMI, and came with four bonus tracks, all recorded in 1979: re-recordings of ‘Space Oddity’ and ‘Panic In Detroit’, the Japanese single ‘Crystal Japan’, and a version of Brecht/Weill’s ‘Alabama Song’.

A 1999 CD reissue by EMI/Virgin came with no bonus tracks, but was given a 24-bit remastering. Scary Monsters was again reissued in 2003, this time as a Super Audio CD.

The album was included in the 2917 box set A New Career in a New Town (1977–1982), on CD, vinyl and as a digital download. It was separately reissued the following year.