Written by: David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Carlos Alomar
Recorded: May-June 1984
Producers: David Bowie, Derek Bramble, Hugh Padgham
Released: 24 September 1984
Carlos Alomar: guitar
Rob Yale: Fairlight CMI synthesizer
Carmine Rojas: bass guitar
Omar Hakim: drums
Sammy Figuerosa: congas
Mark Pender: trumpet
Stanley Harrison: alto saxophone
Lenny Pickett: tenor saxophone
Steve Elson: baritone saxophone
Iggy Pop, Robin Clark, George Simms, Curtis King: vocals
The closing song on Tonight, David Bowie’s 16th studio album, ‘Dancing With The Big Boys’ was co-written with Iggy Pop and guitarist Carlos Alomar.
As far as I remember, Iggy only came up to the studio for about a week after the break [in the recording sessions]. All the backing tracks had been done. It was mainly to help David write lyrics, as far as I remember.
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)
Tonight was recorded at Le Studio in Morin Heights, Canada in May and June 1984. Some of the songs had been demoed by Bowie prior to the sessions, while others – including ‘Dancing With The Big Boys’ – were written at Le Studio.
The recording sessions were paused for several days to allow Bowie time to finish off the new songs. This coincided with the removal of co-producer Derek Bramble from the Tonight project.
During this break I was rung up to say that David wasn’t happy in the way the album was progressing and would I like to finish it off with just him and me. This was a shock of course but I was delighted and flattered to be promoted so to speak. David got Iggy Pop to come to the studio to help him work with the unfinished songs. I remember it was great fun having him around and the vibe was great. We laughed a lot and a few beers were drunk in the evening (but nothing much else!). I was happy but also not, as I thought that by now the album was not taking shape as well as it could have been and that it was too late to change things in a major way.
Loving The Alien (1983-1988) book
Bowie recorded several Iggy Pop songs for Tonight. ‘Dancing With The Big Boys’ and ‘Tumble And Twirl’ were its only two new compositions; Bowie also taped versions of ‘Tonight’ and ‘Neighborhood Threat’, which he had co-written with Pop, and the Iggy Pop/James Williamson composition ‘Don’t Look Down’.
Despite his looming presence over the album, ‘Dancing With The Big Boys’ is the only song on Tonight to feature Pop on vocals. The lyrics were partly free-associated, partly plundered from notebooks containing thoughts and lyrical ideas. The result is a quickfire attack of phrases – “Your family is a football team”; “Nothing is embarrassing”; “Where there’s trouble there’s poetry” – which could have fitted well in Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies card decks.
In an interview for the New Musical Express to promote Tonight, Bowie told journalist Charles Shaar Murray that ‘Dancing With The Big Boys’ was the closest to the sound he was striving to reach in his mid-Eighties period.
>I think this’ll be the last album where I’m involved in this kind of thing. There’s a particular sound I’m after that I haven’t really got yet and I probably won’t drop this search until I get it. I’ll either crack it on the next album or just retire from it. I think I got quite close to it on ‘Dancing With The Big Boys’ which got somewhere near where I wanted it to be. I think I should be a bit more adventurous. That was quite an adventurous bit of writing in the sense that we didn’t look for any standards. I got very musical over the last couple of years; I stayed away from experimentation. It’s not helpful sometimes, although it’s a good discipline.
I really got into that: trying to write musically and develop things the way people used to write in the ’50s, but in ‘Big Boys’ Iggy and I just broke away from all of that for the one track. That came nearer to the sound I was looking for than anything. I’d like to try maybe one more set of pieces like that. Whenever anyone asks me what the next album is going to be like, I invariably reply ‘protest’ because I have as little idea as anybody what comes next.
I’m terribly intuitive – I always thought I was intellectual about what I do, but I’ve come to the realisation that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing half the time, that the majority of the stuff that I do is totally intuitive, totally about where I am physically and mentally at any moment in time and I have a far harder time than anybody else explaining it and analysing it. That’s the territory of the artist anyway: to be quite at sea with what he does, and working toward not being intuitive about it and being far more methodical and academic about it.
That’s what produced the last two albums. I’m not sure how comfortable I am with that any more. It was fun for these two albums, but I’m not sure that I want to do that again.
NME, 29 September 1984
Bowie performed ‘Dancing With The Big Boys’ on some dates of the Glass Spider Tour in 1987.
The first single from Tonight was ‘Blue Jean’. It was released on 1 September 1984, with ‘Dancing With The Big Boys’ on the b-side.
A 12″ single was also released by EMI, featuring an Extended Dance Mix of ‘Blue Jean’, by John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez. It also contained an Extended Dance Mix and Extended Dub Mix of ‘Dancing With The Big Boys’, both of which were by Arthur Baker.
The Tonight album, which ended with ‘Dancing With The Big Boys’, followed on 24 September 1984.
The extended mixes of ‘Blue Jean’ and ‘Dancing With The Big Boys’ were all included on Dance, a collection of remixes included in the 2018 box set Loving The Alien (1983–1988).