Released: 14 January 1977
David Bowie: vocals, guitar, pump bass
Carlos Alomar, Ricky Gardiner: guitar
George Murray: bass guitar
Roy Young: piano
Dennis Davis: drums, percussion
‘Be My Wife’ was the second single released from David Bowie’s eleventh studio album Low. It was one of a number of autobiographical songs on the album.
It was genuinely anguished, I think. It could’ve been anybody, though. But I think as a generalisation what you find on both albums is a potpourri ranging from narrative song to, I suppose, in its own way, surrealism. In fact, some of the songs are very like those I used to write a long time ago, not so very different from something like ‘Quicksand’ which was on Hunky Dory.
Melody Maker, 18 February 1978
Bowie did not often share his emotions in song, but his vulnerability and fragile temperament in the mid-Seventies led to several soul-baring compositions, including pleas to God in ‘Word On A Wing’, isolationism in ‘What In The World’ and ‘Sound And Vision’, and the suicide attempt immortalised in ‘Always Crashing In The Same Car’.
Bowie’s mood was often pessimistic at Château d’Hérouville, where much of Low was recorded. A visit to the studio by his wife Angela and her new boyfriend Roy Martin led to a raging argument, which inspired both ‘Be My Wife’ and ‘Breaking Glass’.
You’re up and down all the time, vacillating constantly. It’s a very tough period to get through. So my concern with Low was not about the music. The music was literally expressing my physical and emotional state… and that was my worry. So the music was almost therapeutic. It was like, Oh yeah, we’ve made an album and it sounds like this. But it was a by-product of my life. It just sort of came out. I never spoke to the record company about it. I never talked to anybody about it. I just made this album… in a rehab state. A dreadful state really.
Q magazine, June 1989
This was partly in response to RCA’s response: the label initially refused to issue Low, telling Bowie that he could keep the masters as the label had no use for them. After receiving legal advice, Bowie was informed that under the terms of his contract RCA were obliged to release the album.
The label refused to schedule Low in the run-up to Christmas 1976, choosing instead to issue it with little fanfare in January – traditionally a quiet time for new music, and denying it the all-important festive sales.
It was received with caution when it came out. I didn’t expect otherwise. I certainly didn’t expect people to embrace it with open arms as the long lost ‘new language of music’. And I realise I might be alienating a lot of people that had maybe only recently got into the idea that I change from record to record. I’d gathered a whole lot of new people listening to me at the Young Americans stage which I was worried about because I hoped that they didn’t expect that, that was it – that I was going to continue from there and that’s what I was, so I knew I’d lose a few of them on the way.
An Evening With David Bowie, RCA promotional album
Unusually, however, Bowie made a promotional film for ‘Be My Wife’ – his first since ‘Life On Mars?’ in June 1973. It was filmed in Paris and directed by Stanley Dorfman on 28 June 1977.
‘Be My Wife’ was not a commercial success, and became Bowie’s first new single since 1971 not to chart in the UK. Its b-side was the Low instrumental ‘Speed Of Life’.
The song appeared on the 1989 box set Sound + Vision, and on the 1993 compilation The Singles 1969-1993.
‘Be My Wife’ was issued as a picture disc 7″ single on 16 June 2017, as part of a 40th anniversary reissue series. On the b-side was a recording of ‘Art Decade’ live in Perth, 1978.
Bowie’s releases were in high demand in the months after his death, and in the UK ‘Be My Wife’ became the eighth biggest-selling vinyl single of 2017.
David Bowie performed ‘Be My Wife’ throughout the Isolar II Tour in 1978, from its opening night on 29 March at San Diego, California. Performances from the tour can be heard on the live releases Live In Berlin (1978) and Welcome To The Blackout (Live London ’78).
The performance of ‘Be My Wife’ from Welcome To The Blackout was previously included in the 1995 compilation RarestOneBowie, as was the album’s version of ‘Sound And Vision’.
Bowie performed ‘Be My Wife’ again during the Sound + Vision Tour, Heathen Tour, and A Reality Tour. His final performance was on 23 June 2004 at the T-Mobile Arena in Prague, Czech Republic.
A recording from the final tour, at Dublin’s Point Theatre in November 2003, can be heard on A Reality Tour, and seen on the DVD of the same name.