Live performances

‘I Can’t Read’ was performed during the majority of Tin Machine’s concerts.

A version from La Cigale in Paris on 25 June 1989 was released on 30 October 1989 on Tin Machine’s ‘Prisoner Of Love’ 12″ and CD singles.

Another performance, from 20 November 1991 in Boston, USA, was released on the 1992 album Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby.

‘I Can’t Read’ was revived in October 1996 for David Bowie’s two Bridge School Benefit concerts at Mountain View, California, where it was given a stripped back guitar and bass arrangement.

It was subsequently performed at the BBC Radio 1 session ChangesNowBowie, and at his 50th birthday show at New York’s Madison Square Garden on 9 January 1997.

On 23 August 1999 he performed ‘I Can’t Read’ during his VH1 Storytellers appearance. Although not originally broadcast, it was included on the 2009 DVD and download, and on the 2019 vinyl edition.

Bowie sang ‘I Can’t Read’ during a handful of other 1999 concerts. His final performance of the song was on 10 November at the HQ in Dublin, Ireland.

The 2020 live album Something In The Air (Live Paris 99) contains a version recorded at the Élysée Montmartre in Paris, France on 14 October 1999, during the Hours Tour.

I Can’t Read ’97

David Bowie revived two Tin Machine songs during the Earthling sessions. An acoustic version of ‘I Can’t Read’ was left off the album in favour of ‘The Last Thing You Should Do’. A re-recorded ‘Baby Universal’, meanwhile, was left unreleased at the time.

The acoustic ‘I Can’t Read’ was later the basis of a version used in the 1997 Ang Lee film The Ice Storm, with some amendments including a re-recorded chorus.

I have to admit I miss ‘I Can’t Read’ not being on the record, and I disagreed strongly with David at the time. But his argument was that ‘Last Thing’ fitted in better conceptually. I think time has shown him to be correct.
Mark Plati
Strange Fascination, David Buckley

The re-recorded ‘I Can’t Read’ was the second of six Bowie tracks to be released on streaming services as part of the Is It Any Wonder? EP campaign in January and February 2020. Renamed ‘I Can’t Read ’97’, it was unveiled on 17 January 2020.

Confusingly, on that date Parlophone uploaded a rehearsal version of the song, recorded prior to Bowie’s 50th birthday concert in January 1997, which had often been included on ChangesNowBowie bootlegs. Spotify, however, carried the correct version from the Earthling sessions.

I Can't Read ’97 cover artwork

DAVID BOWIE IS IT ANY WONDER? STREAMING EP OF UNRELEASED & RARE MATERIAL

‘I CAN’T READ ’97’ (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED) AVAILABLE NOW

THE SECOND OF SIX TRACKS TO BE RELEASED OVER SIX WEEKS

Parlophone Records is proud to unveil ‘I CAN’T READ ’97’, the second instalment of DAVID BOWIE’s IS IT ANY WONDER? EP of six unreleased and rare tracks being released once a week.

‘I Can’t Read’ originally appeared on Tin Machine’s eponymous debut album in 1989, and was a staple in the band’s live set. In the autumn of 1996, during the mixing stages for Earthling, David re-recorded the track – which, at one stage, appeared on a mastered version of the album.

While the song’s second incarnation, ‘I CAN’T READ ’97’, was David’s preferred solo version (the version available today), it was ultimately cut from Earthling and replaced at the last minute with ‘The Last Thing You Should Do’.

An alternative version, featuring minor chords and a darker sound for the chorus, was recorded for Ang Lee’s film The Ice Storm. The full length version appeared on a single in 1998, while an edit featured on the film’s soundtrack album in 1997, both released by VelVel Records.

‘I CAN’T READ ’97’ written by David Bowie & Reeves Gabrels is produced by David Bowie, co-produced by Reeves Gabrels and Mark Plati, and mixed by Mark Plati. The track was recorded and mixed at Right Track Recording in New York and features Gail Ann Dorsey on bass and vocals, Mike Garson on piano, and Reeves Gabrels on guitar and vocals.

DAVID BOWIE ‘I CAN’T READ ’97’ IS AVAILABLE TO STREAM NOW ON PARLOPHONE

‘I Can’t Read ’97’ press release
Previous song: ‘Crack City’
Next song: ‘Under The God’