‘Boys Keep Swinging’ was the first single released from David Bowie’s Lodger album.
The song was released on 27 April 1979, ahead of the album. Backed with ‘Fantastic Voyage’, it reached number seven in the UK charts.
Bowie appeared in four different guises in the ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ clip: as the main performer in a Mod suit and tie; and dressed in drag as the trio of backing singers. The singers were in the styles of Coronation Street’s Bet Lynch, Lauren Bacall, and Bowie’s Just A Gigolo co-star Marlene Dietrich.
Towards the end of the song, each of the singers individually sashayed forward. Two took off their wigs and smeared their makeup, in a foreshadowing of the Pierrot-style imagery of the ‘Ashes To Ashes’ video, while the third blew a kiss to the camera.
The makeup move, according to Bowie, was “a well-known drag act finale gesture which I appropriated. I really liked the idea of screwing up make-up after all the meticulous work that had gone into it. It was a nice destructive thing to to – quite anarchistic.”
The video and accompanying publicity helped propel ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ back up the UK charts to a high of number seven, becoming Bowie’s biggest hit there since ‘Sound And Vision’.
However, the song’s subject and video were considered undesirable by RCA America, who vetoed a US release. ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ was released in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
Bowie’s first official 7″ picture disc was for ‘Boys Keep Swinging’. It was a Spanish promotional release in April 1979.
Some copies of the single contained noteworthy messages in the run-out grooves on each side: “Your bicameral mind” on the a-side, and “Mind your bicameral” on the b-side. These were references to The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, a 1976 book by psychologist Julian Jaynes which Bowie found intriguing around this time.
Have you ever read a book called The Origins Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind? It sounds an awful title but it’s really a very easy book to read. In fact it’s an extraordinary book written by a guy called Julian Jaynes, which suggests that at one point the mind was definitely of a schizoid – no, a dual nature and that the right hand passed messages through to the left side of the brain, and vice versa. It’s highly interesting.
I related to that tremendously because I’ve often had that feeling very strongly with myself that … well, it’s like what Dylan said about the tunes are just in the air. I still believe in that kind of naive approach to writing. I leave the cerebral stuff to the Enos and Fripps of this world. Because I’m far more tactile in my approach to what I do. I think it’s probably why we work together so well.
New Musical Express, 13 September 1980
The 2017 box set A New Career In A New Town (1977-1982) contained two versions of Lodger – a remastered version of the 1977 release, and a more recent remix by Tony Visconti.
A remix of Lodger had been discussed by Bowie and Visconti for many years, although work commitments hadn’t given them the opportunity to properly revisit the multitrack tapes. That changed ahead of the David Bowie Is exhibition, which opened in London in 2013 and contained a mashup of Bowie recordings created by Visconti.
The subject of remixing Lodger came up many times over the past decades, but we could never agree when to begin. We had very busy parallel lives and when we talked recording it was always about the next studio album. For the making of the 15-minute mash up used in the March 2013 Bowie Is… exhibition, I needed many multi-track masters of albums from the archives, including Lodger. We were also putting finishing touches on The Next Day. David left the making of the mash up to me. With both projects overlapping, the idea of remixing Lodger remained dormant.
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book
Of all the remixed songs, ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ was perhaps the most contentious. For reasons unknown, Visconti changed Adrian Belew’s extended guitar solo at the end of the song, opting instead for a more muted version.