Written by: David Bowie, Reeves Gabrels, Hunt Sales, Tony Sales
Recorded: August – October 1988; February – April 1989
Producers: Tin Machine, Tim Palmer
Engineer: Justin Shirley-Smith
Released: 22 May 1989
Reeves Gabrels, Kevin Armstrong: guitar
Tony Sales: bass guitar, vocals
Hunt Sales: drums, vocals
‘Prisoner Of Love’ is the third song on Tin Machine’s debut album, and was released as the band’s third single in October 1989.
The lyrics were co-written by David Bowie and bassist Tony Sales. Upon the album’s release, Bowie said that he wrote it with his girlfriend Melissa Hurley in mind.
The fact that my girlfriend is young, very naive and kind of straight is, for me, something I just would like her to retain for as long as she can. ’Cause there is so much crap out there, you know, and there’s nothing wrong with being like that. That’s why it’s got a very kind of corny ‘Just stay square’ line in it.
The Complete David Bowie, Nicholas Pegg
A couplet near the song’s end – “I’ve seen the best minds of my generation/Laid out in cemeteries and crematories” – was a conscious paraphrase from Allen Ginsberg’s landmark beat poem ‘Howl’: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix”.
Although the contents of the two works appear unrelated, ‘Prisoner Of Love’ shares a title with Jean Genet’s final book, published posthumously in May 1986. The memoir was adapted for the stage in New York in June 1995, with an original score by Philip Glass.
‘Prisoner Of Love’ was released as a single on 30 October 1989, during Tin Machine’s first tour. It failed to chart in the UK and USA.
The various formats included live tracks recorded at La Cigale in Paris on 25 June 1989.
A heart-shaped 7″ vinyl picture disc contained an edit of ‘Prisoner Of Love’, which reduced the running time from 4:52 to 4:09, and ‘Baby Can Dance’ (live).
The 12″ and CD singles each contained the same four tracks: ‘Prisoner Of Love’ (Edit); ‘Baby Can Dance’ (live); ‘Crack City’ (live); and ‘Prisoner Of Love’ (LP version). The “LP version” was a misnomer; it was actually an edit lasting just 4:15.
‘Prisoner Of Love’ was among the songs included in a 13-minute promotional Tin Machine video directed by Julien Temple. It was little seen at the time, and remained commercially unavailable until 2019.