Released: 30 January 1990
David Bowie: vocals, keyboards
Mick Ronson: guitar, vocals
Trevor Bolder: bass guitar
Mick Woodmansey: drums
Mark Carr-Pritchard: rhythm guitar
David Bowie recorded ‘Bombers’ for a BBC Radio 1 session in June 1971, and the following month during the Hunky Dory album sessions.
His early 1971 demo of the song was included in the 2022 box set Divine Symmetry.
The radio session was for an edition of In Concert presented by John Peel. The recording was made at the BBC Paris Studio in London, and was first broadcast on 20 June 1971.
Ten songs were taped during the session: ‘Queen Bitch’, ‘Bombers’, ‘The Supermen’, ‘Looking For A Friend’, ‘Almost Grown’, ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’, ‘Kooks’, ‘Song For Bob Dylan’,
‘Andy Warhol’, and ‘It Ain’t Easy’.
‘Bombers’, ‘Looking For A Friend’, ‘Kooks’, and ‘It Ain’t Easy’ were all released on Bowie At The Beeb on 26 September 2000. The song was also included in Divine Symmetry.
Bowie also performed ‘Bombers’ at his Glastonbury Fair performance on the morning of 23 June 1971, where it closed his set.
A bootleg demo also exists of the song, with Bowie accompanying himself on piano. The recording date is unknown.
‘Bombers’ is a wartime satire in the vein of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Undoubtedly a lesser Bowie composition, it was offered to Peter Noone as a potential single, but was turned down by his producer Mickie Most.
The Hunky Dory version was taped on 9 July 1971 at London’s Trident Studios. During the same session the Ziggy Stardust song ‘It Ain’t Easy’ was recorded. Both songs featured Rick Wakeman on harpsichord.
It was the final song on BOWPROMO, a privately-pressed promotional LP which contained seven of Bowie’s songs from Hunky Dory.
The BOWPROMO version segued into the electronic sounds and studio chatter that preceded ‘Andy Warhol’ on the final album. The album was given a wider release for Record Store Day on 22 April 2017.
An acetate disc manufactured ahead of the release of Hunky Dory contained ‘Bombers’ prior to ‘Andy Warhol’ at the beginning of side two, but the former song was later replaced by ‘Fill Your Heart’.
I certainly haven’t destroyed any of those tracks. I’ve kept them all. I think that maybe that we could put them out as a budget album or something at a later date, the stuff that never really got used. Because there are quite a few. There’s a thing called ‘Bombers’ which is kind of a skit on Neil Young. It’s quite funny.
A different mix of the studio version was released in January 1990 as a bonus track on the Rykodisc reissue of Hunky Dory, and a 2021 remix by Ken Scott was included in Divine Symmetry.