Released: 24 May 1974
David Bowie: vocals, guitar, Moog, Mellotron
Lasting little over one minute, ‘Future Legend’ was the spoken word opening track on David Bowie’s eighth studio album Diamond Dogs.
The song sets the scene for the album’s dystopian, Orwellian vision, with Bowie describing “fleas the size of rats”, “rats the size of cats”, “ten thousand peoploids … like packs of dog”, and the landmarks of Hunger City: Poacher’s Hill, Temperance Building, Love Me Avenue.
The lyrics of ‘Future Legend’ were printed on the inner gatefold of the Diamond Dogs album. In Bowie’s original handwritten form, they were originally headed ‘Fugue For The Dude’, although the title was scribbled out.
Bowie crammed in a remarkable number of influences and antecedents into such a brief recording. On 17 November 1973 he had taken part in a joint interview with writer William Burroughs, and Bowie’s “small tribes coveting the highest of the sterile skyscrapers, like packs of dogs” echoes the author’s 1971 novel The Wild Boys, with its “Wild boys in the streets whole packs of them vicious as famished dogs.”
The fleas, rats and cats imagery, meanwhile, may have been inspired by Ray Bradbury’s 1962 novel Something Wicked This Way Comes:
‘Ulmers? Goffs?’ Jim gazed upon him thoughtfully, for that was how the boys talked of the creatures who dragged and swayed and slumped through their dreams. In the bad dreams of William, the ‘ulmers’ moaned and gibbered and had no faces. In the equally bad dreams of Jim, the ‘goffs’, his peculiar name for them, grew like monster meringue-paste mushrooms, which fed on rats which fed on spiders which fed, in turn, because they were large enough, on cats.
Midway through the track, Bowie plays a version of Richard Rodgers’ ‘Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered’ on guitar. The song first appeared in the 1940 Rodgers and Hart musical Pal Joey. Rodgers was given a co-writing credit on the original vinyl, which was dropped on compact disc reissues.
Bowie also gave a nod to Scott Walker’s rendition of Bacharach-Hilliard’s ‘Any Day Now’ towards the end of ‘Future Legend’. Walker had released the song on his album of the same name in May 1973.
The final ingredient was the crowd noise used in the segue between ‘Future Legend’ and ‘Diamond Dogs’. This was sampled from the Faces’ recently-released 1974 live album Coast To Coast: Overtures And Beginners, and included Rod Stewart’s exclamation “Hey!” during the ‘Diamond Dogs’ guitar intro.
The Diamond Dogs tapes were added to and (partially) mixed at Tony Visconti’s home/studio in the backstreets of Shepherds Bush, which I helped to build. Some basic/early Young American [sic] tracks also arrived, but these may have been demos. The track ‘Future Legend’ has a warbling vocal effect achieved by winding uneven editting tape round the Tape Echo machines capstan. I got sacked (or more politely, ‘uninvited’) because I argued strongly that the relatively high volume of the future legend ‘poem’ made the rock track that follows (name escapes me) sound rather limp, instead of coming crashing in. David ‘disagreed’. As said, what does he know, he was just an international superstar…! Judge for yourself playing at car radio volume.
Trident Studios tape operator
Bowie used ‘Future Legend’ to introduce the song ‘Diamond Dogs’ during some dates of the tour of the same name. One such instance can be heard on the 2017 live album Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74). It was often marred by technical difficulties, however, and ‘Future Legend’ was dropped before the Soul Tour, never to return.
And in the death
As the last few corpses lay rotting on the slimy thoroughfare
The shutters lifted in inches in Temperance Building
High on Poacher’s Hill
And red mutant eyes gaze down on Hunger City
No more big wheels
Fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats,
And ten thousand peoploids split into small tribes
Coveting the highest of the sterile skyscrapers
Like packs of dogs assaulting the glass fronts of Love Me Avenue
Ripping and re-wrapping mink and shiny silver fox, now leg-warmers
Family badge of sapphire and cracked emerald
Any day now
The year of the Diamond Dogs.
“This ain’t rock ‘n’ roll
This is genocide.”