Written by: David Bowie
Recorded: February-April 1980
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti
Released: 12 September 1980 (UK), 15 September 1980 (US)
Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps
Carlos Alomar, Robert Fripp: guitar
George Murray: bass guitar
Dennis Davis: drums, percussion
Tony Visconti: vocals, acoustic guitar
Michi Hirota: spoken word
Versions of ‘It’s No Game’ bookended Scary Monsters, David Bowie’s 14th studio album.
On the album there are two versions of ‘It’s No Game’, the opening track and the closing track, both done in completely polarised styles. I think the reasoning behind that stemmed from wanting to not come out with one blatant, sort of, protesty song, that showed that feelings of anxiousness about society are expressed on different levels and with different intensities.
The course of the album takes you through a lot of the doubting and the dilemmas that I, myself, as a writer find myself in, and so you open with one kind of protest which gradually and insidiously becomes something less traumatic by the end of the album. Anyway that’s the way it was originally focused.
The opening version, it’s almost inarticulate at times, the vocals on it. And it owes an awful lot to John Lennon. But there again he always had that same intensity that I hope I capture in some of my things, when I try that kind of move.
The David Bowie Interview promo album
‘Tired Of My Life’
The origin of ‘It’s No Game’ was ‘Tired Of My Life’, an acoustic demo of which Bowie recorded at Haddon Hall around May 1970. At that time Bowie was putting the finishing touches to The Man Who Sold The World, but ‘Tired Of My Life’ does not appear to have been in the running for the album or its successor, Hunky Dory.
The chords and melody of the two songs are almost identical, but the lyrics are mostly different. Only in the middle eight did he sing lines that – with minor variations – made it into ‘It’s No Game’:
Throw a rock upon a road and it breaks into pieces
Shake a branch upon the snow, the sun is defeated
Pull the curtains on yesterday and it seems so much later
Put a bullet in my brain and I’ll make all the papers
According to Tony Visconti, the song may have dated from 1963. Indeed, it was the only song at the beginning of the session that was complete. “Lo and behold David admitted to having one finished song, something he’d started when he was 16 years old,” Visconti recalled in his autobiography. “He had not played it to me in all the time I’d known him; it was to become ‘It’s No Game’, the opener and closer of the album.”
We left The Power Station with some beautifully dense backing tracks. Only one song had a melody and lyrics, ‘It’s No Game’. David said he’d written it when he was sixteen.
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book
Although Bowie never performed ‘It’s No Game (No. 1)’ live, it was one of the songs featured in his 2015 stage musical Lazarus. It was originally performed by Michael C Hall and Lynn Craig, who also recorded it for the following year’s Original Cast Recording album.