In the studio

The Buddha Of Suburbia was recorded at Switzerland’s Mountain Studios in the summer of 1993, with David Richards producing.

The music was mainly performed by David Bowie and his long-term collaborator, multi-instrumentalist Erdal Kızılçay. Mike Garson, who had appeared on Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups, Diamond Dogs, David Live, Young Americans, and Black Tie White Noise, also played on two songs.

There were just two other musical collaborators on the album. Lenny Kravitz added some rock guitar to the title track, which was remixed and edited to remove the introduction, and sequenced at the end of the album.

David played sax on ‘Buddha Of Suburbia’. He was really proud of this. There are two versions of it. The first has my guitar solo at the end, and the second has Lenny Kravitz. Somehow my guitar was chosen [for the main version] – it’s a more oriental type of thing.
Erdal Kızılçay, May 2020
Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001) book

The other guest performers were 3D Echo, a lesser-known UK funk-rock group. Rob Clydesdale, Paul Davidson and Danny ‘Isaac’ Prevost added guitar, bass and drums respectively to ‘Bleed Like A Craze, Dad’ and the title track.

He had a few bits and pieces; he played them on this old 12-string guitar that he had. Especially the single – that was thought out because he had the chords, but there was some freedom in it as well. And he said, ‘Right, just let rip and play some lead…’

We started to record the single that became ‘Buddha Of Suburbia’. We weren’t credited, but we definitely did that. The drummer played the drums, David gave instructions to the bass player and I did some chords, and that was about it. I did a lead solo, but it doesn’t sound like me on the final version. I know Lenny Kravitz did a guest appearance and did a solo on it – though I don’t know who did the solo on the original one because it doesn’t sound like me.

Rob Clydesdale
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

Lenny Kravitz also played a solo. He didn’t come in, we just sent the tapes over to Los Angeles, he recorded and sent the tapes back. My solo was better, and David said to me, ‘I love your solo, man, it’s very oriental and the way you express it is just beautiful.’
Erdal Kızılçay
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

The release

The Buddha Of Suburbia was released in Europe on 8 November 1993.

The album was bookended by two versions of ‘Buddha Of Suburbia’, both with the same title. The closing track featured Lenny Kravitz on electric guitar, and omitted the song’s introduction.

The single followed two weeks later on 22 November. Neither release was a commercial success, and the single went no higher than number 35 on the UK chart.

My own success as a songwriter and performer, I think, really flies or not on whether I’m doing it with a personal integrity. All my biggest mistakes are when I try to second guess or please an audience. My work is always stronger when I get very selfish about it and just do what I want to do. Even if they’re dismissed, and perhaps rightly, there were a couple of albums in the ’80s that did exceptionally well for me – and I’m not a huge selling artist – but they’re not albums I’m proud of. I’d much prefer to say that I did Buddha Of Suburbia. I feel much more comfortable about that than about say Never Let Me Down even though it was a really big seller.
David Bowie
The Word, October 2003

The song did receive some airplay at the time. Ten promotional CDs were manufactured by BMG for UK radio stations, with an exclusive edit which reversed the word ‘bullshit’. These copies are now highly sought after by collectors.

I personally think my work in the ’90s has been the best that I could possibly do. It’s proved to have a lot of life and it’s got some strong devotees. From Black Tie…, I think I’ve not put out a shoddy piece of work. I’m very proud of it all. Especially things like The Buddha Of Suburbia, which went – pffft – under the radar. Maybe Buddha was an indication that I’d be going back into more experimental stuff, like Outside, again.
David Bowie
Uncut, October 1999

7″ vinyl and cassette singles were released by Arista/BMG in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. All had the album track ‘Dead Against It’ on the b-side.

The same songs were included on a two-track ‘Collectors Edition’ CD single released in the UK, with holographic CD artwork.

A four-track CD single was also released in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. It contained the songs ‘Buddha Of Suburbia’, ‘South Horizon’, ‘Dead Against It’, and ‘Buddha Of Suburbia’ (Rock Mix). The latter was the album version featuring Lenny Kravitz.

Confusingly, the single’s first track also credited Kravitz on guitar, although he did not appear. However, this version incorporated the ending of the Kravitz version from the album.

The video

The video for ‘Buddha Of Suburbia’ featured footage from the BBC series, in addition to new shots of David Bowie in Bromley.

The majority of Bowie’s scenes were filmed in St Matthew’s Drive, a bungalow-lined cul-de-sac, and in Whitehall recreation ground, close to Bowie’s childhood home in Clarence Road.

The video was directed by Roger Michell, who also co-wrote the screenplay and directed the TV adaptation. Two edits of the video were made, one of which omitted shots of Bowie smoking. This latter version was shown by US networks.

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