The release

RCA in North America had chosen not to release ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ as the lead single from Lodger, unsure about the themes of sexual androgyny in the song and video. They did, however, release ‘DJ’ in June 1979.

‘Look Back In Anger’ was issued as a single in August 1979, only in the USA and Canada, and with minimal chart success. Its b-side was ‘Repetition’.

Despite being overlooked by many listeners, ‘Look Back In Anger’ was included on the compilations Golden Years (1983), Sound + Vision (1989), The Singles Collection (1993), The Best of David Bowie 1974/1979 (1998), and The Platinum Collection (2005/2006). It also appeared in the soundtrack of the film Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo (1981).

The video

In April 1979, director David Mallet filmed David Bowie in promotional clips for ‘Boys Keep Swinging’, ‘DJ’, and ‘Look Back In Anger’. The shoot took place at Ewart Studios in Wandsworth, London.

The promo for ‘Look Back In Anger’ was based on Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, with a hint of the Aladdin Sane lightning bolt in the final moments. Bowie’s version, however, reversed Wilde’s in that the painter’s face grew disfigured while the painting remained unchanged.

1988 version

David Bowie’s only major public performance in 1988 was at London’s Dominion Theatre in July 1988 for Intruders At The Palace, a benefit concert for the Institute for Contemporary Arts.

Bowie chose to reinterpret ‘Look Back In Anger’ for the pice, which was choreographed by the dance group La La La Human Steps.

He worked with the group’s designer and choreographer Edouard Lock on the eight-minute performance, which featured principal dancer Louise LeCavalier.

The music was Bowie’s first collaboration with guitarist Reeves Gabrels, with whom he later collaborated in Tin Machine and numerous solo Bowie projects.

I met David during his Glass Spider tour. My ex-wife, Sara, was doing press for the tour, so I hung around backstage a lot and talked to him. He didn’t even know I played guitar, and I never told him. He just thought that I knew a lot about music and art. But Sara gave him a tape of my band, and he listened to it. So one day I’m at home and he called me. I thought it was a practical joke, and I said, “All right, who the f**k is this?” And he goes, “It’s David. Sara gave me the tape, and you sound like the guy I’ve been looking for. Why didn’t you tell me you play guitar?”

So I flew to Switzerland and went right to the studio with him. The first thing we did was work on the remake of ‘Look Back In Anger’. He said, “I need you to do stuff on the beginning and end, and then play guitar through the song.” And I said, “Well, what are you thinking?” And he goes, “This should be like German gothic cathedrals.” And I said, “All right…”

So I guess that was my audition with him. I went to stay at his house in Switzerland. I ended up being there for a month, but I remember at the end of the first week, I said, “Why am I here?” Because it wasn’t really clear what we were doing. And he laughed and said, “Basically, I need somebody that can do a combination of Beck, Hendrix, Belew and Fripp, with a little Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert King thrown in. Then, when I’m not singing, you take the ball and do something with it, and when you hand the ball back to me, it might not even be the same ball.”

Reeves Gabrels
Guitar Player, 2 November 2018

During the performance of ‘Look Back In Anger’, the two men were joined by guitarist Kevin Armstrong and bassist Erdal Kızılçay, two other key collaborators from that era. A drum machine was used, uniquely for a Bowie live performance.

Nothing much was happening in the ’80s, except I was a pretty lonely, strung-out, kind of guy. Just wasted, in a way. But there were no personas going on. I was just non-communicative, still. The whole change came at the end of the ’80s, when I got my engine going again for life generally. Working with Reeves for La La La Human Steps, and then becoming Tin Machine. The whole being-in-a-band experience was good for me.
David Bowie
Uncut, October 1999

The performance was reprised on 10 September 1988, this time with the performers wearing white instead of all black. It was part of a global television event titled Wrap Around The World, which included broadcasts from New York, Tokyo, Seoul, Jerusalem and Rio de Janeiro.

Bowie, his band, and La La La Human Steps performed the song at the WNET Studios in New York. He also spoke to actor and musician Ryuichi Sakamoto in Tokyo via satellite.

A studio version of the new arrangement of ‘Look Back In Anger’ was also recorded in 1988 with the same musicians, with Kızılçay also playing drums. It was included on the Rykodisc reissue of Lodger in 1991.

Edouard Lock and Louise LeCavalier also worked with Bowie on the Sound + Vision Tour in 1990.

Live performances

David Bowie performed ‘Look Back In Anger’ throughout the Serious Moonlight Tour. It was first played on the opening night of the tour, in Belgium on 18 May 1983.

It was also the opening song on the Serious Moonlight concert film, shot in Vancouver on 12 September 1983, and on the live album Serious Moonlight (Live ’83).

Bowie sang the song during the Outside and Earthling Tours in the 1990s, where it was given an harder rock makeover. Performances from the former can be heard on the live albums Ouvrez Le Chien (Live Dallas 95) and No Trendy Réchauffé (Live Birmingham 95).

He also performed it during the Heathen Tour in 2002, including his BBC radio session at Maida Vale Studios on 18 September.

Bowie’s final performance of ‘Look Back In Anger’ was on 12 October 2002 at St Ann’s Warehouse, New York.