In the studio
The first version of ‘Moonage Daydream’ was recorded by the Arnold Corns on 25 February 1971, at the Radio Luxembourg Studios in London.
The b-side, an early version of ‘Hang On To Yourself’, was recorded on the same day. The session was held some months before the Hunky Dory recordings began in June.
What became Arnold Corns was a band called Rungk, which was me and two fellow students at Dulwich College. David was a neighbour. He lived across the street; I used to do stuff at his folk club – I probably had more equipment than he did. After The Man Who Sold The World flopped, David was having arguments with his label, and was writing all this stuff and wanted to get some of it down; he just wanted to get it out there around his current contracts.
After The Man Who Sold The World the band all left, but I was still there across the street. He thought, ‘I can do this with a load of public schoolboys’ – he loved it, and he wanted Freddie Buretti to front it up. Freddie had been around for a bit. I said to David, ‘Freddie can dance and he can pose, but he cannot sing.’ The first one, ‘Moonage Daydream’ and ‘Hang On To Yourself’, is Rungk, bass, drums and guitar – I play a bit of piano on it – and David singing. Freddie, also known as Rudi Valentino, he made the cosrumes but he didn’t have a great set of tonsils on him.
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Although Freddie Burretti was the band’s nominal frontman, and was present at the recording, he appeared on neither song. The line-up for the session was David Bowie on vocals and guitar, Mark Carr-Pritchard on guitar, Pete De Somogyl on bass guitar, and Tim Broadbent on drums.
The more familiar Ziggy Stardust version of ‘Moonage Daydream’ was recorded at London’s Trident Studios on 12 November 1971.
The re-recording contained a distinctive instrumental passage, of a recorder and baritone saxophone playing the same melody octaves apart. Both instruments were performed by Bowie.
Of course there’s always a favourite track and on Ziggy it’s ‘Moonage Daydream’. All the songs work for me but that one just works a couple of percent more for some reason. David has said in interviews that he’s always been like a chef. He takes ingredients from all of the music that he’s heard, mixes it all together, and it comes out being his own. In this case, he took an idea from the b-side of the 1960 Hollywood Argyles number 1 hit ‘Alley Oop’ called ‘Sho’ Know A Lot About Love’, where a baritone and flute play the same line together (well, a couple of octaves apart, but I think you know what I mean), and used that same concept for the solo of the song. The only difference on ‘Moonage’ being that it was a recorder not a flute playing with the bari, both of which David played.
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Another remarkable performance was Mick Ronson’s lengthy guitar solo, which lasts nearly 90 seconds at the song’s end.
Another of Mick’s singular abilities, which I’ve encountered in only a few players since, was the facility to take a hook line that I might whistle to him or play badly on my guitar and make it sing, often reinforcing it with a second line overdub. We worked together so well because of this talent of his as an interpreter, adding the [Jeff] Beckisms to simple lines like this.
I would also literally draw out on paper with a crayon or felt tip pen the shape of a solo: the one in ‘Moonage Daydream’, for instance, started as a flat line that became a fat megaphone-type shape and ended as sprays of disassociated and broken lines. I’d read somewhere that Frank Zappa used a series of drawn symbols to explain to his musicians how he wanted the shape of a composition to sound. Mick could take something like that and actually bloody play it, bring it to life. Very impressive.
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Ronson also created the song’s string arrangement, which was subjected to a phasing effect by producer Ken Scott.
Ronno’s guitar solo, do I really have to tell you how many, or should I say how few, takes it took? An effect I tend to use a lot is to play with the amount of reverb on a guitar solo. When it’s low notes I keep it fairly dry and as it gets higher I try and make it soar into space by adding more reverb.
This is a classic example of that technique.
Another of Mr Ronson’s wonderful orchestral arrangements and as the ending madness begins I phased the strings, using the Countryman 967 [phase box], just to add even more other worldliness.
Five Years (1969-1973) book
‘Moonage Daydream’ was recorded for a BBC Radio 1 session on 16 May 1972, first broadcast on John Peel’s Sounds Of The 70s on 23 May. The recording took place in Studio 4 at the BBC’s Maida Vale studios in London.
The session featured Bowie and the Spiders From Mars, augmented with Nicky Graham on piano. The songs recorded, all of which were released on Bowie At The Beeb, were ‘White Light/White Heat’, ‘Moonage Daydream’, ‘Hang On To Yourself’, ‘Suffragette City’, and ‘Ziggy Stardust’.