Diamond Dogs album coverWritten by: David Bowie
Recorded: 14, 15 January; February 1974
Producers: David Bowie
Engineer: Keith Harwood

Released: 24 May 1974

Available on:
Diamond Dogs
David Live
Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74)
Glass Spider (Live Montreal ’87)


David Bowie: vocals, guitar, saxophone, handclaps
Alan Parker: guitar
Mike Garson: Mellotron
Herbie Flowers: bass guitar
Tony Newman: drums

‘Big Brother’ is the penultimate song on Diamond Dogs, David Bowie’s Orwellian dystopia set in the fictitious Hunger City.

Although Diamond Dogs emerged from Bowie’s hopes to stage a dramatisation of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, he reworked the concept and created the Hunger City setting. Nonetheless, the project’s roots were most evident in the final third of the album, which directly quoted Orwell multiple times: ‘We Are The Dead’, ‘1984’, and ‘Big Brother’.

The lyrics of ‘Big Brother’ reflect the moment in Orwell’s book when its protagonist Winston Smith’s brainwashing was complete, and he became fully supplicant towards the state. “Someone to fool us, someone like you/We want you Big Brother,” Bowie sings, doubtless acutely aware of both the dangers of overreaching authoritarianism, and of the potential power of a rock star singing to millions of adoring fans.

Bowie had long been fascinated by authoritarianism, totalitarianism and megalomania, themes he explored in earlier songs such as ‘We Are Hungry Men’, ‘Saviour Machine’, and ‘Quicksand’.

At some point in the mid-Seventies he appeared to switch from horror at the authoritarian right into seeing value in some of its traits. As his drug addiction deepened, he became fascinated by the Third Reich, which culminated with some notorious remarks on fascism given to a Swedish reporter in 1976:

As I see it I am the only alternative for the premier in England. I believe Britain could benefit from a fascist leader. After all, fascism is really nationalism.
David Bowie, 26 April 1976

Later that year he expanded on these thoughts, telling Playboy magazine’s Cameron Crowe:

Christ, everything is a media manipulation. I’d love to enter politics. I will one day. I’d adore to be Prime Minister. And, yes, I believe very strongly in fascism. The only way we can speed up the sort of liberalism that’s hanging foul in the air at the moment is to speed up the progress of a right-wing, totally dictatorial tyranny and get it over as fast as possible. People have always responded with greater efficiency under a regimental leadership. A liberal wastes time saying, “Well, now, what ideas have you got?” Show them what to do, for God’s sake. If you don’t, nothing will get done. I can’t stand people just hanging about. Television is the most successful fascist, needless to say. Rock stars are fascists, too. Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars.
David Bowie

‘Big Brother’ also contains two drug references: “Don’t talk of dust and roses/Or should we powder our noses?”, and the confessional “Lord, I’d take an overdose, if you knew what’s going down.” Bowie had been using cocaine since the tail end of the Ziggy Stardust tour, and at the start of 1974 was descending into an increasingly severe habit.

My drug addiction really started, I suppose you could pin it down to the very last months of the Ziggy Stardust period. Not in a particularly heavy way, but enough to have probably worried some of the people around me. And after that, when we got into Diamond Dogs, that’s when it was out of control. From that period onwards I was a real casualty. I’ve not met many people that… I was in a very serious state. You just have to look at some of the photographs of me, I cannot believe I actually survived it.
David Bowie
Mojo, July 2002

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