Tin Machine album coverRecorded: August, November, December 1988
Producers: Tin Machine, Tim Palmer

Released: 22 May 1989

David Bowie: vocals, guitar
Reeves Gabrels: guitar
Tony Sales: bass guitar, vocals
Hunt Sales: drums, vocals
Kevin Armstrong: guitar, Hammond organ

Tracklisting:

  • ‘Heaven’s In Here’
  • ‘Tin Machine’
  • ‘Prisoner Of Love’
  • ‘Crack City’
  • ‘I Can’t Read’
  • ‘Under The God’
  • ‘Amazing’
  • ‘Working Class Hero’
  • ‘Bus Stop’
  • ‘Pretty Thing’
  • ‘Video Crime’
  • ‘Run’
  • ‘Sacrifice Yourself’
  • ‘Baby Can Dance’

David Bowie formed Tin Machine in the late 1980s, with guitarist Reeves Gabrels and brothers Hunt and Tony Sales. Their raw and unvarnished music proved divisive among audiences, but were credited by Bowie with giving his music a new sense of artistic freedom.

Success was rather immaterial. I needed the process, to acclimatise myself again to why I wrote, why I did what I did – all those issues that an artist going through ‘a certain age’ starts to think about. Of course, smack on ’87 was 40 for me. I’d been thinking: OK, I’ll go off and paint now.

I had to kickstart my engine again in music. There’d been a wobbly moment where I could quite easily have gone reclusive and just worked on visual stuff, paint and sculpt and all that. I had made a lot of money: I thought, well, I could just bugger off and do my Gauguin in Tahiti bit now. But then what do you do – re-emerge at 60 somewhere?

So I look back on the Tin Machine years with great fondness. They charged me up. I can’t tell you how much.

David Bowie
Uncut, October 1999

The genesis of the group came towards the end of the Glass Spider tour in November 1987, when Bowie’s press officer Sarah Gabrels gave him a demo tape by her husband. Bowie was impressed and reached out to Reeves, and the pair began working together in May 1988.

The first fruits of their collaboration was an extended version of ‘Look Back In Anger’, during Intruders At The Palace, a benefit concert at London’s Institute for Contemporary Arts. Bowie’s song was performed in collaboration with Montreal experimental dance troupe La La La Human Steps, with whom Bowie had originally considered working on the Glass Spider Tour.

Nothing much was happening in the ’80s, except I was a pretty lonely, strung-out, kind of guy. Just wasted, in a way. But there were no personas going on. I was just non-communicative, still. The whole change came at the end of the ’80s, when I got my engine going again for life generally. Working with Reeves for La La La Human Steps, and then becoming Tin Machine. The whole being-in-a-band experience was good for me.
David Bowie
Uncut, October 1999

Two weeks after the ICA concert, Gabrels flew to Lausanne, Switzerland, to visit Bowie for a weekend, but ended up staying for a month. They recorded early versions of what would become ‘Heaven’s In Here’, ‘Bus Stop’, ‘Baby Can Dance’ and ‘Baby Universal’.

If there was a plan, it was that David just wanted to make the music that he wanted to make. One cool thing was that we were listening to all the same stuff: Led Zeppelin bootlegs, Cream bootlegs, Hendrix bootlegs, Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, Coltrane, the Pixies, Sonic Youth, Glen Branca, Stravinsky, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells and Muddy Waters. Put all that in a blender and you got Tin Machine.
Reeves Gabrels
Starman, Paul Trynka

The new songs were recorded at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland. They were originally intended for a solo Bowie album, until the singer opted to bring in bass guitarist Tony Sales and his drummer brother Hunt, both of whom had played on Iggy Pop’s 1977 album Lust For Life.

The brothers were the sons of American comedian Soupy Sales, and their presence had an immediate effect on the mood of the sessions.

All three of them were very canny, masters of the put-down – the Sales brothers, being the sons of Soupy Sales, were born stand-ups. So I wasn’t allowed to lord it, which I recognised as a situation I wanted. To be part of a group of people working towards one aim.
David Bowie
Uncut, October 1999

After the first week, the core quartet was augmented with rhythm guitarist Kevin Armstrong, another Iggy Pop alumnus who had also played with Bowie at Live Aid and the ICA show.

Gabrels had misgivings about Bowie’s decision to democratise the band, although he admitted that it ultimately benefited him and the other musicians.

I actually tried to talk him out of the band thing because I thought the Sales brothers were nuts! I didn’t want to be in a band any more. Bands are a nightmare, and democracy doesn’t work as well as benevolent dictatorship in rock ‘n’ roll in my opinion.

The Sales brothers gave us the balls. I learned a lot from those guys about what communicates and what doesn’t and what’s primal and what’s intellectual. We would have thought too much, left to our own devices. Ultimately, it was a magnanimous and kind gesture on David’s part because it also meant that we all came out better financially.

Reeves Gabrels
Strange Fascination, David Buckley

In interviews promoting Tin Machine, Bowie was candid about the importance he saw the project as having.

I was desperate that it worked. I wanted it to happen very badly. After a few days I was very nervous that it might not work out. Then everyone sorted themselves out, got over their emotional jet lag…

Q: What would you have done if it hadn’t come off?

Bowie: I don’t know. I really don’t know actually. Wept… at least. But I can’t even think of a hypothetical situation. I definitely would have reversed what I’d been doing some way or another. I had to for my own musical sanity. I had to do something where I felt more involved and less dispassionate. I had to get passionate again. I couldn’t keep going the way I was going. It was shit or get off the pot.

David Bowie
Q magazine, June 1989