In the studio

‘Lady Grinning Soul’ was one of the final songs to be written for Aladdin Sane. It was recorded at Trident Studios in London towards the end of January 1973.

Mick Ronson was a very inspiring guitar player and he was running the ship musically, like a musical director. David was like the artist sitting on cloud nine and had a vision, but Mick was taking care of a lot of the meat and potatoes and the mechanics. He played me ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ on acoustic guitar, and I just knew what the intro had to be, so I just played it and it set the whole tone for the thing. David loved it and we did it in one or two takes…

‘Lady Grinning Soul’, to have all those runs on the piano – I was practising eight hours a day at the time, year after year. You can’t play like that if you haven’t done tons of repetition. Even if you’re a genius and incredibly talented, the mechanics of being able to move that fast, cleanly and in time, is not possible unless you did the kind of hours I did.

Mike Garson
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

It was one of Bowie’s most ambitious compositions to date, and had an elaborate arrangement to match. His voice, too, was maturing: with its octave leaps and excursions into his higher register, ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ was an early indicator of the richer vocal mannerisms adopted on Young Americans and Station To Station.

His vocal is through the Countryman phaser but just left in one spot, just like Ronno and his Crybaby [wah pedal]. And of course there’s the amazing Trident piano played brilliantly by Mr Garson.
Ken Scott, May 2015
Five Years (1969–1973) book

The song also saw a change in Bowie’s working practices. He had previously left the task of mixing songs to his producers and engineers, but for ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ he attended the mixing session with some quite specific instructions.

For whatever reason, it must’ve really meant something special to David because it was the first time he ever came in for a mix and had a very strong feeling about how he wanted it. Although not specifically the way I had initially heard it, we leant more in his direction and I have to say I love the way it finished up. The vocal is phased all the way through and that was a very specific request of his. I have no idea who he wrote it for, but it was obviously very important to him.
Ken Scott
Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust

‘Lady Grinning Soul’ was the only song from Aladdin Sane not to be performed live by Bowie. Each of the other tracks was performed during his 1972-3 dates, and several of them appeared on subsequent tours. As such, the album version is Bowie’s only officially-released version.

The song was released as the b-side of several European singles in 1973, and was on the flipside of the US version of ‘Rebel Rebel’ in 1974.

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