Lyrics and vocals

From his earliest recording sessions, David Bowie had been able to complete a lead vocal track in just one or two attempts. This was unusual at a time when many singers typically laid down multiple takes, with a composite of the best assembled for the master tape.

David had the most amazing voice and recording technique. I had never worked with anyone who was able to sing a perfect vocal in just one or two takes at the most. A true, true professional. I will also never forget him telling me rather cheekily that his what I can ‘put on’ Bowie voice was a direct steal of Anthony Newley (a famous crooner who was married to Joan Collins) mixed with Scott Walker. Okay, now I get it!
Hugh Padgham, January 2018
Loving The Alien (1983-1988) book

Bowie’s professionalism at the microphone, however, was underestimated by producer Derek Bramble, who insisted on recording unnecessary retakes.

I remember occasions when I had to poke my finger into the situation. I think it started when David was doing vocals and Bramble would say, ‘Oh no, you’ve got to do it again,’ for this reason or that reason. I was trying to keep quiet and I could see David going, ‘Why?’ Then I eventually said, ‘Look, Derek, there’s nothing wrong with that vocal, it’s not out of tune. What are you doing?’ I don’t think Derek was used to anyone being able to do a vocal in one take or two takes or whatever. Eventually it did get to a bit of siding up, with David and me on one side and Bramble, the producer, on the other.
Hugh Padgham
Strange Fascination, David Buckley

True to form, Bowie had written barely any lyrics during the recording of the backing tracks, although he was able to record the cover versions and older songs written with Iggy Pop.

The recording sessions were paused for several days to allow him to finish off the new songs. This coincided with the removal of Derek Bramble from the project.

During this break I was rung up to say that David wasn’t happy in the way the album was progressing and would I like to finish it off with just him and me. This was a shock of course but I was delighted and flattered to be promoted so to speak. David got Iggy Pop to come to the studio to help him work with the unfinished songs. I remember it was great fun having him around and the vibe was great. We laughed a lot and a few beers were drunk in the evening (but nothing much else!). I was happy but also not, as I thought that by now the album was not taking shape as well as it could have been and that it was too late to change things in a major way.
Hugh Padgham, January 2018
Loving The Alien (1983-1988) book

Bowie and Iggy Pop co-wrote a number of songs in the studio including ‘Tumble And Twirl’ and ‘Dancing With The Big Boys’. According to Padgham, they wrote at least two more songs, and more which remaining incomplete.

Iggy came up with quite a lot. There were also a bunch of songs that David had written, and maybe one or two with Iggy that were more left-field or less poppy. It might have been because David was bored of being in the studio where we were, which was in the middle of nowhere, but my feeling was that he couldn’t be bothered to write the lyrics and finish them off. If you found the tapes you would probably find a bunch of out-takes or songs which had, I reckon, real possibilities.
Hugh Padgham
Strange Fascination, David Buckley

Duetting with Bowie on the title track was Tina Turner. Her wildly successful Private Dancer album, featuring a cover of ‘1984’, was released in June 1984. Turner later credited Bowie with her avoiding being dropped by her record label.

In 1983 David Bowie did something very special and significant for me. We were on the same label, but the decision had been taken not to re-sign me. David, however, had just had his contract renewed by Capitol, who wanted to take him out to dinner that night in New York to celebrate. ‘I’m sorry,’ he told them, ‘but I’m going to the Ritz to see my favourite singer perform.’ And that was me. The bigwigs tagged along and luckily it was a great show. Seeing it and the crowd’s reaction turned round how Capitol viewed me.

It was because of David that I got another deal, and everything else followed. I’ll be ever thankful to him.

Tina Turner, 2004
Female First

‘Tonight’ had been written by Bowie for Iggy Pop’s 1977 album Lust For Life. In 1984, however, Bowie chose to omit the original opening lines, which establishes the song as sung to a lover dying of a drug overdose: “I saw my baby, she was turning blue/I knew that soon, her young life was through/And so I got down on my knees, down by her bed/And these are the words to her I said…”

That was such an idiosyncratic thing of Jimmy’s that it seemed not part of my vocabulary. There was that consideration, and I was also doing it with Tina – she’s the other voice on it – and I didn’t want to inflict it on her either. It’s not necessarily something that she would particularly agree to sing or be part of. I guess we changed the whole sentiment around. It still has that same barren feeling, though, but it’s out of that specific area that I’m not at home in. I can’t say that it’s Iggy’s world, but it’s far more of Iggy’s observation than mine.
David Bowie
NME, 29 September 1984