In the studio

The first version of ‘1984’ was recorded with the Spiders From Mars in January 1973, during the final week of sessions for Aladdin Sane at London’s Trident Studios. It remains unreleased.

David Bowie’s most commercially-successful albums of the 1970s were co-produced by Ken Scott, from Hunky Dory to Pin Ups. Their final collaboration came with a late October 1973 session at Trident, in which the ‘1984’/‘Dodo’ medley was recorded.

With all the legal wranglings still swirling about, communication had broken down a lot, and generally the session felt very strange, but we carried on regardless and eventually finished the track.

When it was time to mix, most unusually David chose to be there, and was obviously now very influenced by American music, as he kept playing me Barry White songs and saying, ‘I want it to sound like that.’ The mix went all night long.

Ken Scott
Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust

It was also Bowie’s final session for the next two decades with Mick Ronson, Bowie’s key sideman since 1970. They would not work again until 1993’s Black Tie White Noise. Although Ronson had the versatile and endlessly gifted guitarist and arranger, he was ill-suited to Bowie’s desire to break away from glam rock.

I had particular ideas that I wanted to expand upon, and it wasn’t stuff that Mick would be terribly happy to follow in. It was getting harder all the time to get Mick to move along into the possibility of where we could go. His two role models were Jeff Beck and Free. If Mick had been more open to widening that which he already knew, we may have lasted as a partnership.
David Bowie
Mojo, October 1997

Bowie played the majority of guitar parts on Diamond Dogs, but brought in Alan Parker to play on ‘1984’ and ‘Rebel Rebel’. The album was recorded at Olympic Studios in Barnes, London, between October 1973 and February 1974.

It wasn’t long after that we, the Trident mob, heard through the grapevine that David had booked time at Olympic, very obviously without me. I know I was pissed off, but more because I was never told anything by David in relation to not actually doing the album. It was obvious in France that his original relationships were falling apart but…
Ken Scott
Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust

The Olympic sessions were productive, with Disc reporting at the end of October that six songs were already completed, including the remake of ‘1984’. Their report was headlined “BOWIE 1984 AD”.

DAVID BOWIE is to star in a musical in London’s West End next year. With Tony Ingrassia he is currently writing the script for the musical based on George’s Orwell’s book 1984 and David has already completed six songs, including 1984, which may be his next single.

On Saturday, Ingrassia told Disc, “We have not finally acquired the rights to the book yet, and it is still possible that we may to call it 1983 or something like that!” he joked.

And just before going to press, David’s publicist, Cherry Vanilla, said: “I don’t know how closely David will follow the script. It might be quite unrecognisable from the original but Bowie will definitely be playing the lead role of Winston.”

Cherry, who starred in Andy Warhol’s play Pork, may also have a part in the show, and other likely members of the cast are drag rock star Wayne County and Geoffrey MacCormack, who plays congas in Bowie’s current band.

The musical is one of five TV and stage projects on which David is currently engaged, though details of the others, still in early stages, are not yet available.

David’s current musical activities include a new band, the Astronettes, whom he is producing. The line-up consists of Geoffrey MacCormack and two coloured vocalists, who accompanied David during his NBC TV Marquee club date last week.

Rumours that Marianne Faithfull, who also appeared on the show, was joining David’s management agency, MainMan, were denied by Cherry.

Disc, 27 October 1973

In December 1973 Bowie began producing an album for the Astronettes at Olympic, with backing from guitarist Mark Carr-Pritchett, bassist Herbie Flowers, keys player Mike Garson, and drummer Aynsley Dunbar. He also produced a session for Lulu, in which ‘Dodo’ – no longer part of a medley with ‘1984’ – was recorded. It was issued with Bowie’s guide vocals on the 30th anniversary of Diamond Dogs.

Tony Visconti was brought in to score strings for the Astronettes album, and was subsequently enlisted to mix Diamond Dogs. He and Bowie had not worked together since 1970’s The Man Who Sold The World.

In addition to mixing Diamond Dogs, Visconti scored the strings for ‘1984’ in an arrangement which recalled Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly soundtrack.

David asked me to write some string arrangements for a side project of his, The Astronettes, who consisted of Ava Cherry, Geoffrey MacCormack and Jason Guess. They were a vocal group that looked incredible and sounded unusual. I wrote some very different arrangements for songs such as ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘I Am A Dodo’ [sic] (which was rewritten as ‘Scream Like A Baby’ for Bowie’s Scary Monsters album). I also wrote strings for ‘1984’, a theme song for Bowie’s television special, which was in the early stages of development.
Tony Visconti
Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy

Although recalling the theme tune of the 1960s TV show The Twilight Zone, Mike Garson’s opening keyboard notes were actually inspired by Star Trek.

Garson also played harpsichord on the track, with his lines closely followed by bass guitarist Herbie Flowers.

Perhaps the most notable performance, however, was Alan Parker’s funky wah-wah guitar part, which brought an Isaac Hayes-style soulful feel to the album.

Live performances

‘1984’ was the opening song for the early Diamond Dogs Tour dates. Recordings from July and September 1974 can be heard on David Live and Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74).

It remained in David Bowie’s set when the Diamond Dogs Tour became the Soul Tour later in 1974. A performance from 20 October can be heard on the 2000 album I’m Only Dancing (The Soul Tour 74).

Bowie performed ‘1984’, along with ‘Young Americans’, ‘Can You Hear Me’, and a medley of ‘Footstompin” and ‘I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate’, on The Dick Cavett Show on 29 October 1974.

He was also interviewed by Cavett, but Bowie’s cocaine addiction meant it was memorable for all the wrong reasons. The appearance was first broadcast on 2 November 1974.

It was horrendous. I had no idea where I was, I couldn’t hear the questions. To this day, I don’t know if I bothered answering them, I was so out of my gourd.
David Bowie, 1994

Previous song: ‘We Are The Dead’
Next song: ‘Big Brother’