Black Tie White Noise CD/DVD (2003)Written by: David Bowie
Recorded: June-September 1992
Producers: David Bowie, Nile Rodgers

Released: 5 April 1993

Available on:
Re:Call 5

Personnel

David Bowie: vocals
Nile Rodgers: guitar
Barry Campbell/John Regan: bass guitar
Richard Hilton, Dave Richards, Philippe Saisse, Richard Tee: keyboards
Poogie Bell/Sterling Campbell: drums
Gerado Velez: percussion
Fonzi Thornton, Tawatha Agee, Curtis King Jr, Dennis Collins, Brenda White-King, Maryl Epps: backing vocals
Unknown: trumpets

Recorded during the Black Tie White Noise sessions in 1992, ‘Lucy Can’t Dance’ was originally released as a bonus track on the CD edition.

The song was written and demoed as ‘Lucille Can’t Dance’. In Los Angeles in early 1988 David Bowie teamed up with producer Bruce Fairbairn and members of Bryan Adams’ band – guitarist Keith Scott, keyboard player John Webster, bassist Rene Wurst, and drummer Mark Curry – to record song ideas. The session also yielded versions of ‘Pretty Pink Rose’, later recorded by Adrian Belew, and Bob Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone’.

Bowie revived the song in 1992, and with producer Nile Rodgers it became a slick pop-funk number with clear commercial potential. Rodgers clearly thought so, and remained perplexed when Bowie demoted it from the main Black Tie release.

I loved that song ‘Miracle Goodnight’, though. I thought it was incredible. If he’d released that as the first single, he would have had a smash. He had another song, ‘Lucy Can’t Dance’, which was a guaranteed number one record, and everyone around him was totally perplexed when it only appeared as a bonus track on the CD. He was running from success and running from the word ‘dance’. Imagine David Bowie and Nile Rodgers together, and we come out with a song ‘Lucy Can’t Dance’. Smokin’!! I was already accepting my Grammy. But he was not budging. It was an exercise in futility – no matter who I tried to call, it fell on deaf ears.
Nile Rodgers
Strange Fascination, David Buckley

Bowie’s motivation is undocumented, but his desire to see Black Tie White Noise primarily as a celebration of his marriage to Iman may have been a key factor. The thinly-veiled swipes at Madonna – who had recently achieved new levels of notoriety with her Sex book and Erotica album – may also have influenced the decision.

He had referenced Madonna in the Tin Machine song ‘Pretty Thing’, and been disparaging towards her in the interviews to accompany its release. “I would get behind it a lot more if I really felt anything for her music,” he said. “It’s conventional in the extreme. I guess I’ve seen too much, because I don’t really find her provocative, either.”

Bowie wasn’t above taking swipes at his contemporaries (see ‘Teenage Wildlife’), but targeting the biggest-selling female music artist of all time, at a time when his own commercial fortunes were shaky at best, may have been ill advised. Even if Nile Rodgers’ predictions of Grammy Awards and smash hits were overly optimistic, it was something of a stretch to imagine early-90s Bowie competing with the Queen of Pop in a chart battle.

In 1996 Madonna inducted Bowie into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Two years later, in a BBC Radio One Madonna special, Bowie grudgingly described her as “a top-drawer plate-spinner”.

I was so trying to convince him to bury Let’s Dance, to make Let’s Dance sound like some bubblegum. ‘Let’s come up with the funkiest, grooviest stuff ever!’ As a matter of fact, the one song I remember on Black Tie White Noise that actually had the word ‘dance’ in it was ‘Lucy Can’t Dance’ and he buried it. It was a bonus cut on the CD. ‘Wow, really David? ‘Lucy Can’t Dance’ could be the most commercial song, let’s put that out!’ ‘No, no, no.’

As a producer I always want my artist’s voice to be heard by millions and millions of strangers and if you’re going to put out something new, you want it to be catchy and commercial. Commercial is not a bad word in my world. Scholars can write, ‘Look, he used a half-diminished chord where most people would use something different. That’s really brilliant.’ I don’t care about how he used half-diminished chords. Who is it that defines a great recording? The audience. There’s no other barometer.