Released: 14 October 1977
David Bowie: vocals, piano
Robert Fripp, Carlos Alomar: guitar
Brian Eno: EMS VCS 3 synthesizer, guitar treatments
George Murray: bass guitar
Dennis Davis: drums
Antonia Maass: vocals
‘Beauty And The Beast’ is the opening song on “Heroes”, David Bowie’s 12th studio album.
Anyone who’s playing ‘Beauty And The Beast’, you know they get erections.
David Bowie: Five Years, BBC
The song opens with eerie staccato piano notes and percussion. Robert Fripp’s razorlike fretwork cuts through and the intro builds with low piano chords, disjointed guitar licks and Bowie’s vocals, before the song explodes into life. The effect was otherworldy, destabilising, as though the listener had been dropped in unfamiliar territory and left to find their bearings.
Bowie’s lyrics are imprecise and opaque, conveying an air of menace both external and within. “There’s slaughter in the air, protest on the wind,” he sings. “Someone else inside here, someone could get skinned.” Before performing the song on Germany television in 1978 he introduced it with the words “This is a song of somewhat schizophrenic nature called ‘Beauty And The Beast’.”
The line “Someone fetch a priest,” meanwhile, originally contained the f-word – the phrase was a favourite curse of Visconti’s during the album sessions.
Backing vocals on ‘Beauty And The Beast’ were by Antonia Maass, a Berlin jazz singer that Tony Visconti had an affair with while making “Heroes”. Their kiss by the Berlin Wall helped inspire the title track’s lyrics, and she also translated that song into German, released as ‘Helden’.
One night in a club I heard Antonia Maass singing with her band and the next day I told David how terrific she was. We tried her out on ‘Beauty And The Beast’. David was very impressed. Before long he had her jumping through hoops (vocal ones) getting her to sing at the very top of her range. He also asked her to sing ‘liebling’ as an alternative to ‘darling’, bringing a little flavour of Berlin into the song.
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book
The song was selected as the album’s second single, and the follow-up to the title track. It was released in January 1978 in Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the USA, and in April in the Netherlands. In all instances ‘Sense Of Doubt’ was the b-side.
‘Beauty And The Beast’ was less successful than its predecessor, and peaked at number 39 on the UK charts. In the USA it did not chart.
A 12″ single was issued in Spain, containing a 5:21 “Disco Version” of ‘Beauty And The Beast’, with ‘Fame‘ on the b-side. It was also a promotional 12″ in the USA.
The extended version repeated an entire section of the song lasting 1:40, from “Something in the night, something in the day” to “I wanted no distractions, like every good boy should”. It was included on Re:Call 4 in the 2017 box set A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982).