Written by: David Bowie
Recorded: July 1981; December 1982, January 1983
Producers: Giorgio Moroder (1982); David Bowie, Nile Rodgers (1983)
Released: 2 April 1982
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David Bowie: vocals
Giorgio Moroder: guitar, bass guitar
Michael Landau, Tim May: guitar
Lee Sklar: bass guitar
Sylvester Levai: keyboards
Brian Banks: keyboards, Synclavier II programming
Charles Judge: Jupiter 8 and Prophet 5 programming
Keith Forsey: drums, percussion
David Bowie: vocals
Stevie Ray Vaughan, Nile Rodgers: guitar
Rob Sabino: keyboards
Carmine Rojas: bass guitar
Omar Hakim/Tony Thompson: drums
Sammy Figueroa: percussion
Frank Simms, George Simms, David Spinner: backing vocals
David Bowie recorded ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’ with disco producer Giorgio Moroder in 1981, and again for Let’s Dance in 1983.
That album is basically an album of covers, with only a few originals on it. You can listen to the original of ‘Criminal World’, or the Giorgio Moroder version of ‘Cat People’, or Iggy Pop singing ‘China Girl’. It’s not like those records were bad to me – I thought they sounded good, and I loved Giorgio Moroder – but David wanted to hear what I would do with them.
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The song was the title track of the 1982 erotic horror movie Cat People, a remake of a 1942 thriller. The film was directed by Paul Schrader and starred Nastassja Kinski and Malcolm McDowell. Giorgio Moroder composed the score, with Bowie contributing lyrics and vocals on ‘Cat People’ at Schrader’s invitation.
I was working on the movie Cat People and I was talking to the director Paul Schrader, and I said, ‘Who shall we take for the single? Who represents that weirdness of the movie?’ And we immediately said David Bowie. So I wrote the song and I sent it to him. He loved it, he wrote the lyrics, we went to Montreux in Switzerland, where he lived at that time; we went to the studio owned by Queen, and we recorded it in less than an hour. He sang it twice, and it was done. It was absolutely professional. Obviously he knew the song because he wrote the lyrics. It was one of my easiest, fastest and greatest recordings ever.
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Moroder recorded the backing track in Los Angeles in early 1981, with Bowie’s vocals added that summer at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland.
One of the harebrained schemes I had for a long time was to take Metropolis and put a soundtrack on it written by Brian Eno and me. I wanted to get a pristine print and have live parts enacted on stage in front of the screen. I thought it such a novel idea that nobody else was going to buy the rights just now. So I was working with Moroder on the music for ‘Cat People’. I love Moroder. This is Moroder: He says to Paul Schrader, ‘I want my apartment to look just like that wonderful apartment in American Gigolo,’ and Schrader says, ‘Yes, of course, I’m sure you can get it done just like Richard’s apartment,’ and Giorgio says, ‘No, not that apartment, the pimp’s apartment!’ So, I’m working with Giorgio and he says, ‘Did you see Napoleon? I thought it was stunning, and I knew I could do something like that – put some music to an old movie.’ And I was going, ‘Yeah…’ And he said, ‘I’ve found the film! Nobody’s ever heard of it! It’s Metropolis, and I’ve bought the rights!’ I didn’t even tell him. It ruined my week.
Movieline, April 1992
During the Montreux session Bowie met Queen, which led to their collaboration ‘Under Pressure’.
‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’ was re-recorded by Bowie for the Let’s Dance album, with Nile Rodgers producing.
This was a new band for David at the time. He only knew Stevie Ray Vaughan, who he had seen at Montreux, and me. I hadn’t met Stevie until he came in to play on the record but I loved how his guitars contrasted with mine. We had to fix everything. For example, on January 6th we worked on ‘Cat People’ and ‘Shame Shame (It’s Not The End Of The World)’, which would become ‘Ricochet’. Everything was right on ‘Cat People’ except the bass.
Loving The Alien (1983–1988) book
The Let’s Dance recording removed much of the original’s atmospheric synth work, giving it a suitably glossy sheen to fit Bowie’s 1983 incarnation. In his autobiography Le Freak, producer Nile Rodgers described the song as “a dirgelike ballad he’d already done for the shared-name film with Giorgio Moroder”.
I took the instruments away. They’re not quite so integrally important to the music on this album. It’s far more just a very simple base to put the lyrics and the melody on. They don’t weave quite such a magic spell over the construction of the lyrics, or lend an ambience to the lyrics. They get the chords right and that’s about all I wanted to do.
The Face, May 1983
In 1984 ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’ was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, but lost out to ‘Beat It’ by Michael Jackson.