Diamond Dogs album coverWritten by: David Bowie
Recorded: January 1974
Producers: David Bowie
Engineer: Keith Harwood

Released: 24 May 1974

Available on:
Diamond Dogs
David Live
Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74)

Personnel

David Bowie: vocals, guitar, saxophone, Mellotron, Moog synthesizer
Mike Garson: piano
Herbie Flowers: bass guitar
Tony Newman: drums

‘Candidate’ was part of the three-song suite which, with ‘Sweet Thing’, formed the dark heart of David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs album.

Diamond Dogs was created after Bowie failed to secure the rights to dramatise George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. ‘Sweet Thing’ and ‘Candidate’ are effectively the mise-en-scène for his unrealised production (“My set is amazing, it even smells like a street”).

Dripping with pathos, they contain many of Bowie’s most memorable images: the sex workers and their john, the bar, rumour and lies, the “bullet-proof” papier-mâché faces of Charles Manson and Cassius Clay, a constant threat of violence hanging over each line, and the smells and sounds of Hunger City and its degraded and destitute inhabitants.

‘Candidate’ was originally a completely different song, a sprightly piano-led number with alternate lyrics recorded during the Diamond Dogs sessions. It was released as a bonus track on the 1990 Rykodisc reissue of the album, where it was described as a “demo version”.

Only the words “I’ll make you a deal” and “pretend I’m walking home” occur in both versions of ‘Candidate’. Bowie presumably recognised that the earlier ‘Candidate’ did not fit with his dystopian vision of Hunger City, but retained a liking for the word. His lyric sheet for the second version contained the key amendment “anyone out there – anytime any candidates“.

I’d failed to obtain the theatrical rights from George Orwell’s widow for the book 1984 and having written three or more songs for it already, I did a fast about-face and recobbled the idea into Diamond Dogs: teen punks on rusty skates living on the roofs of the dystopian Hunger City; a post-apocalyptic landscape.

A centrepiece for this would-be stage production was to be Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing, which I wrote using William Burroughs’s cut-up method.

You write down a paragraph or two describing several different subjects creating a kind of story ingredients-list, I suppose, and then cut the sentences into four or five-word sections; mix ’em up and reconnect them.

You can get some pretty interesting idea combinations like this. You can use them as is or, if you have a craven need to not lose control, bounce off these ideas and write whole new sections.

I was looking to create a profligate world that could have been inhabited by characters from Kurt Weill or John Rechy – that sort of atmosphere. A bridge between Enid Blyton’s Beckenham and The Velvet Underground’s New York. Without Noddy, though.

I thought it evocative to wander between the melodramatic Sweet Thing croon into the dirty sound of Candidate and back again.

David Bowie
Mail Online, 28 June 2008

Bowie’s lyric sheets were given to Jon Astley, who was working at Olympic Studios when Bowie was recording Diamond Dogs. Bowie gave to give Astley the papers in exchange for him staying late at night to engineer a saxophone overdub and mixing session for Lulu’s version of ‘The Man Who Sold The World’.

The papers were sold at Christie’s auction house in London in June 2011 for £8,750.

Whereas ‘Sweet Thing’ was largely unchanged, various draft lines and phrases failed to make it to ‘Candidate’, most notably the opening lines:

It’s a street – like any other street
With a guillotine on one side – home on the other side
The corridor’s amazing, they’ve built it like this street
There’s a bar at the end where the condemned meet.

The next lines had Bowie’s phonetic spelling of “les tricoteuses” – the women who knitted beside the guillotine during the French Revolution: “Someone’s scrawled on the wall “I smell the blood of Les Trea-cor-teus”/Who wrote up the hanging executions scandals up in other bars”. Tony Newman later spoke of Bowie’s instruction to play the snare drum rolls while imagining he were a French drummer boy watching his first execution.

Bowie was using cocaine heavily during the making of Diamond Dogs, and drug references can be found in several of the songs. In ‘Candidate’, “the poisonous people” can be seen as allegories for drugs, some of whom “make you sing and some make you scream/One makes you wish that you’d never been seen”. It ends with the lines: “We’ll buy some drugs and watch a band/Then jump in the river holding hands.”

I started getting into a very bad period. I mean, it really developed. 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.
David Bowie
Mojo, July 2002

Live performances

‘Sweet Thing’/‘Candidate’/‘Sweet Thing (Reprise)’ was performed throughout the Diamond Dogs Tour in 1974, but was dropped when it became the Soul Tour later in the year. Bowie never again performed it live.

For no clear reason (what’s new?) I stopped singing this song around the mid-Seventies.
David Bowie
Mail Online, 28 June 2008

A performance of the medley from July 1974, recorded at the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia, is on David Live.

Another, from 5 September 1974, was released on the 2017 album Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74).

A rare filmed performance of the songs, from Los Angeles on 2 September 1974, can be seen in the 1975 BBC television documentary Cracked Actor.

Previous song: ‘Sweet Thing’
Next song: ‘Sweet Thing (Reprise)’