Written by: Peter Godwin, Duncan Browne, Sean Lyons
Recorded: December 1982, January 1983
Producers: David Bowie, Nile Rodgers
Released: 14 April 1983
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
Originally a 1977 single by the band Metro, ‘Criminal World’ was recorded by David Bowie for his 1983 album Let’s Dance.
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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Metro were an English trio featuring Peter Godwin on vocals, sax, and synthesizer; Duncan Browne on guitar, keyboards, and vocals; and Sean Lyons on guitar.
‘Criminal World’ was their debut single, and the first song on their eponymous debut album, both released in 1977.
The song was banned by the BBC due to its suggestive content. ‘Criminal World’ was not overtly sexual, but lines like “I saw you kneeling at my brother’s door/That was no ordinary stick-up” were enough to keep it away from the playlist. Its air of subversiveness evidently appealed to Bowie, whose own admission of bisexuality had caused a similar stir earlier in the Seventies.
Interestingly, by 1983 Bowie was downplaying suggestions that he was anything other than heterosexuality. In a May 1983 interview with Rolling Stone, headlined “David Bowie: Straight Time”, he said: “The biggest mistake I ever made was telling that Melody Maker writer that I was bisexual. Christ, I was so young then. I was experimenting…”
The cover songs were the group Metro’s ‘Criminal World’, ‘Cat People’, a dirgelike ballad he’d already done for the shared-name film with Giorgio Moroder, and ‘China Girl’, which he and Iggy Pop had written for an earlier project.
Bowie changed several lines in his version of ‘Criminal World’. “I saw you kneeling at my brother’s door” became “You caught me kneeling at your sister’s door”, while the second verse was entirely rewritten. Metro’s glam-like lines “I’m not the queen so there’s no need to bow/I think I see beneath your make-up/I’ll take your dress and we can truck on out” were changed to “I guess I recognise your destination/I think I see beneath your make-up/What you want is sort of separation”.
Bowie’s version of ‘Criminal World’ also did away with the low-key sleaze sparseness of the original, bathing the song in the pristine production of the era, replete with typically dazzling guitar solos from Stevie Ray Vaughan.
David did the lead vocals for ‘Criminal World’, ‘Modern Love’, ‘China Girl’, ‘Let’s Dance’ and ‘Shake It’, all those vocals in one day. And we got most of the instrumental solos done in a day too.
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Metro’s song may have also influenced another Bowie composition from 1979. ‘Fantastic Voyage’ from Lodger contains the lines “And the wrong words make you listen in this criminal world/Remember it’s true, loyalty is valuable, but our lives are valuable too”.
‘Criminal World’ was the sixth song on Let’s Dance, which was released on 14 April 1983.
‘Without You’ was released in November 1983 as the fourth and final single from the album, with ‘Criminal World’ on the b-side. The single was issued in Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, and the USA.