Released: 24 May 1974
David Bowie: vocals, guitar, Moog, Mellotron
Herbie Flowers: bass guitar
Tony Newman: drums
Geoff MacCormack: percussion
Tony Visconti: effects
The climactic final track on David Bowie’s 1974 album Diamond Dogs, ‘Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family’ is a two-minute piece which emerge from the final notes of ‘Big Brother’.
Musically, the song is driven by Bowie’s phased guitar riff, which alternates between one bar in 5/4 time and one in 6/4. The chords are a looped sequence of of E, D, G, A and C major, over which Bowie sings a sparse set of lyrics: “Brother”; “Ooh-ooh”; Shake it up, shake it up”; “move it up, move it up”.
Bowie wished to end the song and album with a repeated loop of the word “Brother”. Tony Visconti, who mixed the Diamond Dogs album, was experimenting with a new effects unit, an Eventide digital delay. Due to the limitations of the machine, only the first part of the word could be captured.
The digital delay fascinated David. We were applying it to backing vocals, guitar solos, drum fills and several other elements. With David anything goes. I knew this was a future shock themed album and I worked out many ways to make things sound shocking when necessary. Probably the most radical thing we did with the Eventide was after I explained that the digital delay could sample and store sounds, then I gave him a demonstration. The sampler and its cousins, the Harmonizer, the Instant Flanger, the Instant Phaser, were the first digital devices that changed the music of the late 70s dramatically. David asked if I could capture the word ‘brother’ at the end of the last track, ‘Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family’, and repeat it ad infinitum. Of course I could, but lo and behold, that short word was too long for the puny memory banks in the machine. Storage was very limited in those days. So I managed to capture just ‘bro’ with a snare drum hit and that actually sounded amazing, like a robot with AI that was not working very well singing it.
Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976) book
‘Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family’ was performed live during the Diamond Dogs Tour in 1974, as heard after ‘Big Brother’ on the David Live and Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74) albums. A tape machine, used to recreate the loop and the end of the song, was unreliable, however, and occasionally played at incorrect times, as heard during ‘Time’ in the BBC documentary Cracked Actor.
The song was also played after ‘Big Brother’ during the Glass Spider Tour in 1987. A recording can be heard on the album Glass Spider (Live Montreal ’87), in the Loving The Alien (1983-1988) box set.
Shake it up, shake it up
Move it up, move it up
Bro bro bro bro bro bro bro bro bro…