Written by: Lennon
Recorded: 1997; August 1998
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti, Reeves Gabrels
Released: 8 January 2021
David Bowie: vocals
Reeves Gabrels: guitar
Tony Visconti: bass guitar, vocals
Jordan Ruddess: piano
Andy Newmark: drums
Richard Barone: vocals
David Bowie recorded a cover version of John Lennon’s song ‘Mother’ in the 1990s for a tribute album, although it remained unreleased until 2021.
‘Mother’ was the opening track on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Lennon’s 1970 debut solo album. It was a remarkable release for someone of his status, a raw and naked cri-de-coeur written and recorded after Lennon underwent primal scream therapy.
Bowie was evidently a fan of the album, recording two songs from it: ‘Mother’, and ‘Working Class Hero’ on the first Tin Machine album.
I like that first John Lennon album a hell of a lot. I think all the songs are really beautifully written and, again, very straight from the shoulder. There’s an honestly in the lyrics there.
Q magazine, June 1989
Furthermore, during a 1979 BBC radio show, Star Special, in which he selected some of his favourite songs, he included Lennon’s ‘Remember’. Bowie even sang the line “I believe in Beatles” during the Heathen song ‘Afraid’, an echo of Lennon’s famous couplet “I don’t believe in Beatles/I just believe in me”.
The earliest reference, however, was on 1973’s Aladdin Sane. The opening song, ‘Watch That Man’, contained the couplet “The girl on the phone wouldn’t leave me alone/A throw back from someone’s LP”. This was a paraphrase from Lennon’s ‘I Found Out’, which had the line “The freaks on the phone won’t leave me alone”.
In the studio
Bowie taped his version of ‘Mother’ in Bermuda in the summer of 1997, for a Lennon tribute album being assembled by Yoko Ono. At the time Bowie was a resident of Bermuda for tax purposes. He and Iman rented Seaview, a large estate established in the 1780s.
We loved it in Bermuda during our time there. Quiet, respectful, a dreamscape atmosphere out in the part of the island where we lived. Nobody ever bothered us. But, of course, I have the best protective camouflage in the world. I am married to Iman. Do you think when we were walking along the street together in Hamilton anybody ever gave me a second glance? Do you think anybody even noticed me? Honestly?
The Bermuda session took place at Platinum Sound Studios in Hamilton.
‘Mother’ was recorded in Bermuda, at Yoko Ono’s request. It wasn’t the Bahamas, which are 900 miles south. David was producing and 100% in charge. The players were London guys who were coincidentally in Bermuda doing a gig with me for two weeks at a night club. Neil Hubbard / guitar – John MacKenzie / Bass – Andy Wallace / keyboards and myself on drums. That was everyone on the session. It was recorded within two or three hours with David singing live. I think that’s the way it was in the final version as well. Just the four players and DB singing live with us. I don’t believe anyone anywhere played or sang on this except the people I just mentioned. It was a very bare bones recording but complete in every way.
Reeves was not present. Don’t know if he played on the recording at a later date in the USA or not. Visconti was not present at the session in Bermuda either and I don’t believe he had anything to do with that recording at any point.
More overdubs were added at New York’s Sound On Sound Studios in August 1998 during the recording sessions for the song ‘Safe’. The sessions were Bowie’s reunion with producer Tony Visconti, after nearly two decades apart.
It was a good excuse for us to get back into the studio. In fact we were looking for a project to do together, and this song, completely autonomously, seemed to fit. We didn’t want to run the risk of doing a whole album and then discovering after three songs that there was no more current between us. And it worked very well, to the point that we are going to work together again in the near future.
The Complete David Bowie, Nicholas Pegg
Various overdubs were added in New York, including Visconti’s bass guitar and vocals, piano by Jordan Ruddess, and additional backing vocals by Richard Barone.
David’s vocal was live and the drum leakage was terrible, but his vocal was ever so soulful and he wanted to keep it. During the recording of ‘Safe (In This Skylife)’ David punched in a few lines of vocal onto ‘Mother’. I remember asking David what microphone he used in Nassau because we had to find the same type in New York for the punch-ins. He thought it was the type that Elvis used.
The person who loaned us the microphone did so on the condition that David pose with it and David cheerfully complied.
We added piano by Jordan Rudess (who played on Heathen) and Reeves added some incredible guitar. I played bass and sang backups with my songwriting buddy Richard Barone (formerly of the Bongos). I’m the first to admit that it is not the most polished production of our careers. The recording was made on that now defunct digital system ADAT and it was one of my first attempts at manipulating music in a computer, but we felt that the overall vibe was good enough to submit it to Yoko for that tribute album. I never found out why the album never materialised.
It was a fantastic experience. Tony and I worked on a very cool backing vocal harmony at his home first. We were writing songs together there, and he had a very cool studio set up. We had recently watched the film Comedian Harmonists and were intent on singing unique and perfect harmony parts. The part we sang, to me, was very soul/R&B-inspired, almost reminiscent of a doo-wop vocal part. Our vocals contrast sharply with the rock edginess of the rhythm track. That type of juxtaposition is an example of Tony’s brilliance, and why David worked with him for so many years over so many albums.
‘Mother’ was originally to have been included on a Lennon tribute album to have been released in October 2000, to coincide with what would have been the former Beatle’s 60th birthday.
It eventually received an official release as a limited-edition double a-side 7″ single, with a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Tryin’ To Get To Heaven’. The single was issued on 8 January 2021, what would have been Bowie’s 74th birthday.
The single was made available as a digital download and on two physical formats. A cream vinyl edition was limited to 1,000 numbered copies, and only available through the official Bowie and Warners web stores.
A black vinyl version was limited to 7,147 numbered copies. The total run of 8,147 was in reference to Bowie’s birthdate, 8 January 1947.
The cover photograph showed the hand of Lexi Jones, Bowie and Iman’s daughter.
Both formats sold out within minutes of going on sale, leaving many fans disappointed, and quickly sold for many times their cover price on the secondary market.
“Trying to get to heaven before they close the door”
We’re proud to be able to announce details of how we’re marking what would have been David Bowie’s 74th birthday on the 8th January, 2021.
Stay tuned for more information regarding ordering and keep reading for the press release.
DAVID BOWIE BIRTHDAY SINGLE: MOTHER/TRYIN’ TO GET TO HEAVEN
TO BE RELEASED 8 JANUARY 2021 ON PARLOPHONE/ISO RECORDS
7” SINGLE LIMITED TO 8147 COPIES, INCLUDING 1000 ON CREAM VINYL
To celebrate what would have been David Bowie’s 74th birthday on the 8th January, 2021, two previously unreleased cover versions, John Lennon’s MOTHER and Bob Dylan’s TRYIN’ TO GET TO HEAVEN, will be released as a very special limited edition 7” single.
The 7” single is limited to 8147 numbered copies, 1000 of which will be on cream coloured vinyl available only from the official David Bowie store and Warner Music’s Dig! store (the remainder will be black). Both tracks will be available to stream and download.
Originally recorded by Lennon for his 1970 album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Bowie’s version of MOTHER was produced by Tony Visconti in 1998 for a Lennon tribute that never came to fruition. Bob Dylan’s original TRYIN’ TO GET TO HEAVEN was released on his 1997 Album of the Year GRAMMY winning Time Out Of Mind. David’s version was recorded in February 1998 during the mixing sessions for the ‘LiveAndWell.com’ album.
Produced by David Bowie, Tony Visconti and Reeves Gabrels
Engineered by Dave Amlen and Zach Wind (NYC) and Reeves Gabrels (Bermuda)
Recorded in Bermuda in 1997 and Sound On Sound Studios, New York, July, 1998
David Bowie – vocals
Reeves Gabrels – guitars
Tony Visconti – bass, harmony vocals
Andy Newmark – drums
Jordan Ruddess – piano
Richard Barone – harmony vocals
TRYIN’ TO GET TO HEAVEN
Produced by David Bowie. Co-produced by Reeves Gabrels and Mark Plati
Mixed by Mark Plati
Recorded at Looking Glass, New York City, February 1998. Mixed at Sony Studios New York City.
David Bowie – vocals, guitar and saxophone
Reeves Gabrels – electric guitar, acoustic guitar, pedal steel, synths and vocals
Mark Plati – synths and programming
Gail Ann Dorsey – bass and vocals
Zach Alford – drums
AA/Tryin’ To Get To Heaven (single edit)
8147 copies numbered worldwide limited edition, 1000 cream vinyl exclusive to the David Bowie store and Dig! The remainder will be black vinyl.
DIGITAL DOWNLOAD & STREAMING
1. Tryin’ To Get To Heaven
‘MOTHER’ & ‘TRYIN’ TO GET TO HEAVEN’ are released on Parlophone/ISO Records 8th January, 2021