In the studio
‘Hallo Spaceboy’ was initially worked on in the summer of 1994, during the second set of recording sessions for 1.Outside.
Outside, Track 6 – Hallo Spaceboy
Here’s somewhat of a hit from this album within all the wild obscure stuff. Fans loved it when we used to play this live. Guess it’s David’s 1995 version of his song concepts on space. #TimsTwitterListeningParty
— Mike Garson (@mikegarson) July 5, 2020
The song went through various iterations in the studio. On the album it was a pounding, uncompromising, industrial track, which was transformed by the Pet Shop Boys into a disco pop moment.
In its earliest stages, however, it was an ambient instrumental known as ‘Moondust’, written by Reeves Gabrels.
I did a bunch of long sustain guitars thru a vocal formant patch from an Eventide 4000 signal processor (which makes it sound like a human voice) and I used a slight variation on the ava rava middle eastern scale.
Bowie added spoken word passages to the music, yet evidently felt it not worth persisting with.
The third time I was in Montreux to work on the Outside record, I asked David about the track and he said he didn’t feel there was anything special going on with that piece and that he’d pretty much forgotten about it. I still have a rough mix of the original and it’s got its own charm, I think.
The Complete David Bowie, Nicholas Pegg
The bass drum on this one is so fierce – pushing the song at a very quick tempo. #TimsTwitterListeningParty
— Mike Garson (@mikegarson) July 5, 2020
The track was discarded until the New York sessions in January 1995, which took place at the Hit Factory studios. These were more conventional than the earlier, more experimental sessions, and saw Bowie collaborating with musicians including Brian Eno, guitarist Carlos Alomar, and drummer Joey Baron.
After lunch I suggested not trying to throw more overdubs at half-formed songs in the hope they’d be rescued by sheer firepower, but instead start a new piece. So after that, and with total chaos in the studio (Carlos, David, myself, Dave Richards, Andy Grassi all in the control room; Joey smiling moonlike in the drum booth next door; loose cables everywhere; technical hitches; D. impatient to get going; me scribbling out structures and chord patterns; film directors calling) we went on to ‘Moondust’ – by stripping it right down to almost nothing. I wrote some lightning chords and spaces (knowing I wouldn’t get long to do it), and suddenly, miraculously, we had something, Carlos and Joey at their shining best. Instantly D. came up with a really great vocal strategy (something about a Spaceboy), delivered with total confidence and certainty. When he’s on, he’s really on. Perhaps I should accept that he’s the hunter to my pastoralist – he hangs round for a long time and then springs for the kill, whereas I get results by slower, semi-agricultural, processes. It seems to work every time when we use these rules. Sometimes I wish he’d leave my side of things completely to me – that way we could end up with sharp, clear structures that could support the orgies of evocative chaos that he deals in so successfully (i.e. 6B on 6H).
A Year With Swollen Appendices
Recording continued the following day, with the song retitled from ‘Moondust’ to ‘Spaceboy’.
We started today on the new song – ‘Spaceboy’ – and I added a bass sax thing. Wanted to do more, but when David’s around bristling with ideas, advice and ‘Don’t change anything’ the atmosphere isn’t right for finessing. Once he hears something he likes, he never wants to change anything – he’ll make do with what’s there. I sympathize – there are a billion variations and we’ll never be able to check them all, so why not make do with this one? But sometimes I’m certain that a tiny structural adjustment early on will make life better for everyone later. I made a great bass part: very African, with wide, bouncing intervals – pygmy anarchism with Lagos Mack-truck weight.
A Year With Swollen Appendices
Bowie gave Eno a co-credit on the song. Gabrels, however, was not given the same treatment, despite the guitarist highlighting the likeness to his earlier work during a visit to the Hit Factory. Gabrels had already managed to attain co-writing credits for himself, Erdal Kızılçay, and Sterling Campbell on other 1.Outside songs, but felt a new battle not worth fighting.
When I pointed out the similarities in harmonic motion and the lyrics (etc.), there was zero interest in doing what the writers I continue to work with would have done, what I have done in this situation, and what I consider to be the fair, honest, and right thing. Because… I will always owe David a debt of thanks for dragging me into the music major leagues… I eventually dropped the subject.
Bowie’s decision not to give Gabrels a co-writing credit continued to rankle, however, as the guitarist explained.
The track ‘Spaceboy’ follows the chord changes of my original “ambient” track which was dismissed as just being “ambient” and not really a song or contributing to the existence of ‘Spaceboy’ (which if it did contribute, writing credit should be shared). At its most basic level, [if] I hadn’t come up with the ambient track, that ball would would never have rolled itself into a song. I found it odd to have my original piece of music treated as though ambient music has no chord changes or melody and that people who write ambient music cannot copyright their songs to protect their ideas as it isn’t really writing music. (Someone should tell Eno.) What I really wonder about is the poet who wrote ‘Moondust’ … his name isn’t in the writing credits either. But then again those are just words in a certain order, right?
Pet Shop Boys remix
Bowie invited Pet Shop Boys to remix ‘Hallo Spaceboy’ for release as the third single from 1.Outside. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe transformed the original harsh industrial sound into a modern pop record.
The duo also created a new verse, in which Major Tom – an alumnus of ‘Space Oddity’ and ‘Ashes To Ashes’ – was brought back for a third act. Although Bowie was initially unconvinced, and omitted the verse during solo live performances, he acquiesced to its inclusion.
When David Bowie asked us to do a reworking of ‘Hallo Spaceboy’, that was a career high point. But the song only had one verse and Chris in the studio suggested we cut up ‘Space Oddity’ to make a second verse – ‘Ground to Major bye-bye Tom/Dead the circuit countdown’s wrong’. David Bowie phoned up to ask how it was going and we said, ‘We’ve cut up the lyrics of ‘Space Oddity’.’ Silence. ‘Sounds like I’d better come in.’ We completed the Major Tom trilogy: ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Ashes To Ashes’ and suddenly ‘Hallo Spaceboy’. I said to David Bowie, ‘It’s like Major Tom is in one of those Russian spaceships they can’t afford to bring down,’ and he said, ‘Oh wow, is that where he is?’
NME, 17 February 2017
The PSB version also began with a sample of ‘Leon Takes Us Outside’, the opening track on 1.Outside.
In all there were five remixes of ‘Hallo Spaceboy’ released. Two were by the Pet Shop Boys: the standard 4:25 remix and a 12″ version lasting 6:42.
The three others were by Dave Ball, formerly of Soft Cell, and Ingo Vauk. They were all based on the PSB version, but only the 7:47 Double Click Mix featured Tennant’s vocals. The others were an Instrumental Mix of the Double Click remix, and the Lost In Space Mix (6:29). The remixes were all included on a bonus disc on the 2004 reissue of 1.Outside.