Released: 24 September 1984
David Bowie: vocals, percussion
Carlos Alomar: guitar
Derek Bramble: guitar, bass guitar, synthesizer
Carmine Rojas, Mark King: bass guitar
Rob Yale: Fairlight CMI synthesizer
Omar Hakim: drums
Sammy Figuerosa: percussion
Guy St Onge: marimba
Mark Pender: trumpet, flugelhorn
Stanley Harrison: alto and tenor saxophone
Lenny Pickett: tenor saxophone, clarinet
Steve Elson: baritone saxophone
Tina Turner, Iggy Pop: vocals
Robin Clark, George Simms, Curtis King: backing vocals
- ‘Loving The Alien’
- ‘Don’t Look Down’
- ‘God Only Knows’
- ‘Neighborhood Threat’
- ‘Blue Jean’
- ‘Tumble And Twirl’
- ‘I Keep Forgettin”
- ‘Dancing With The Big Boys’
David Bowie’s 16th studio album was the follow-up to the multi-platinum Let’s Dance. Although it initially sold well, Tonight was poorly received by critics, and in later years Bowie distanced himself from the album.
The recording of Tonight began less than five months after Bowie’s longest and most successful tour to date. The Serious Moonlight tour had ended in Hong Kong on 8 December 1983, having taken in 96 performances in 15 countries over seven months. Bowie sold out every show, shifting more than 2.6 million tickets.
Bowie ended the tour with a holiday in Bali and Java, accompanied by his assistant Coco Schwab, and Iggy Pop and his partner Suchi Asano.
His record label, EMI, was keen to cash in on the success of the tour and the Let’s Dance album, and to recoup some of the advance – said to be nearly $17 million – they had paid in 1983.
While we’re on tour we get called by the record company. They say, ‘The record’s doing great and sales are amazing. We need another album right away.’ This is what really bummed David out, he hated that.
Uncut, November 2018
A live album of the tour was mixed by Bob Clearmountain and scheduled for release in 1984, but was shelved for reasons unknown. Instead, Bowie prepared to return to the studio to record the follow-up to Let’s Dance.
Bowie rarely wrote songs while on tour, and he lacked sufficient new material for an album. Whereas he had come up with five new compositions for Let’s Dance, bolstered by new versions of ‘China Girl’ and ‘Cat People’ and a cover version of ‘Criminal World’, the Tonight album contained just two original Bowie compositions: the singles ‘Loving The Alien’ and ‘Blue Jean’.
Tonight additionally had two new co-writes with Iggy Pop, ‘Tumble And Twirl’ and ‘Dancing With The Big Boys’, the latter also credited to guitarist Carlos Alomar. There were also cover versions of ‘God Only Knows’ by the Beach Boys and ‘I Keep Forgettin”, a 1962 single by Chuck Jackson, written Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
I think that this album gave me a chance, like Pin Ups did a few years ago, to do some covers that I always wanted to do. ‘God Only Knows’ I first did – or tried to do – with Ava Cherry and that crowd The Astronettes when I tried to develop them into a group. Nothing came of that! I still have the tapes, though. It sounded such a good idea at the time and I never had the chance to do it with anybody else again, so I though I’d do it myself… it might be a bit saccharine, I suppose.
NME, 29 September 1984
The remainder of the album was new versions of songs previously recorded by Iggy Pop. ‘Don’t Look Down’ had appeared on Pop’s 1979 album New Values, and ‘Neighborhood Threat’ – co-written by Bowie, Pop and Ricky Gardiner, guitarist on 1977’s Low – was originally on 1977’s Lust For Life. Another song from that album, ‘Tonight’, was re-recorded as a duet with Tina Turner.
I suppose the most obvious thing about the new album is that there’s not the usual amount of writing on it from me. I wanted to keep my hand in, so to speak, and go back in the studio – but I didn’t really as if I had enough new things of my own because of the tour. I can’t write on tour, and there wasn’t really enough preparation afterwards to write anything that I felt was really worth putting down, and I didn’t want to put out things that ‘would do’ so there are two or three that I felt were good things to do and the other stuff…
What I suppose I really wanted to do was to work with Iggy again, that’s something I’ve not done for a long time. And Iggy wanted us to do something together. We’re ultimately leading up, I hope, to me doing his next album. We’ve been talking about it for a year or so and we’ve got him off the road. He’s not on the road now and he won’t be going back on the road for a while.
NME, 29 September 1984
Several of the musicians from Let’s Dance were brought back for Tonight, among them bassist Carmine Rojas and drummer Omar Hakim, percussionist Sammy Figueroa, and sax players Steve Elson and Stan Harrison. Also returning was Bowie’s long-time guitarist Carlos Alomar, who had not played on Let’s Dance but had been the musical director of the Serious Moonlight tour.
One key figure from the album who did not return was Nile Rodgers. The Chic linchpin had played a pivotal role in relaunching Bowie as a pop superstar, yet was overlooked for the follow-up. Rodgers later suggested that Bowie wished to distance himself in order to give the impression that his success was not solely down to the producer.
Here’s what it looked like to me: in the early 80s I was a very prominent producer and I came from a band that was popular. Not only had I had a hit with David Bowie, but I had my own career before I met Bowie, and my records were bigger than his. There’s no one on Warner Bros or Atlantic or Elektra that had a bigger single than Chic. Journalists would start asking David questions like ‘How much did Nile have to do with this?’ and this is very difficult for any artist, especially someone of David’s stature. I used to see the interviews, like the big one in Rolling Stone. I don’t know if my name is in there, but if it is, it’s mentioned once. All the praise is going to Iggy, or Robert Fripp, and I’m thinking, Hey, if you’re on the cover of Time magazine, it’s not because of that shit, it’s because of Let’s Dance! It seemed to be a conscious effort to distance himself from me.
Strange Fascination, David Buckley