In the studio

‘Quicksand’ was recorded on 14 July 1971 at Trident Studios in central London.

I really put David through the ringer on this one. Five complete acoustic guitar tracks, one after the other, and then I set about editing them for dramatic effect. Then there’s Rick Wakeman’s Mellotron recorded through a DI.
Ken Scott, May 2015
Five Years (1969-1973) book

The basic track was completed in four takes, the last of which was judged to be the best. Bowie then overdubbed a further five guitar parts.

David put down the acoustic guitar part on ‘Quicksand’ and suddenly I had some ideas. I said to David, “Do you mind if we put it down again?” And he said, “What do you mean, I thought it was quite good.” I said, “No, I mean, can we double it?” Remember, this was also coming off of working on [George Harrison’s] All Things Must Pass, which had a big acoustic guitar sound. I finished up having David layer the guitar five times and he had no objections to it. It made me feel great that he had complete faith in me. It starts off with solo guitar and then at a certain point the guitars open up to either side. Because of the way I mixed, I managed to get completely different guitar feels during it.
Ken Scott
Kooks, Queen Bitches And Andy Warhol, Ken Sharp

Scott’s idea to use multiple acoustic guitars gave the sound a panoramic, expansive quality.

Though much of the recording of Hunky Dory is a blur, there were a few sessions that stood out for me. One is a track called ‘Quicksand’ where David originally put down a single acoustic guitar and vocal, and for whatever reason, I had this thought of the acoustics getting bigger and smaller throughout the song. I asked him to double-track it, then I asked him to double-track it again, eventually recording the same guitar part six times. When it came to the mix, I had it set up in my mind that it would start with the single acoustic in the middle of the stereo soundfield, then it would open out to a guitar on either side, then finally open to all the acoustic parts at the biggest part of the song, then diminish back down to one.

This was a way of making the song dynamic before any of the other instrumentation came in, and I think it worked.

Ken Scott
Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust

An early mix of ‘Quicksand’, missing some of the string arrangement and with different panning on the acoustic guitars, was included on BOWPROMO, the promotional disc privately pressed by Bowie’s manager Tony Defries in 1971.

It’s a depressing song, and you had to play it with that kind of downbeat attitude and feel the emotion behind it, the feeling that you were losing and you were useless, [Laughs] but get the parts right.
Woody Woodmansey
Kooks, Queen Bitches And Andy Warhol, Ken Sharp

The release

‘Quicksand’ was the sixth song on David Bowie’s Hunky Dory album, which was released on 17 November 1971. The song closed side one of the vinyl disc.

It was the b-side of the ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide’ single in April 1974.

Hunky Dory was reissued by Rykodisc in 1990 with four bonus tracks, among them a studio demo version of ‘Quicksand’.

‘Quicksand’ (Early Version) was released on the soundtrack of Brett Morgen’s 2022 film Moonage Daydream.

Live performances

Bowie performed ‘Quicksand’ during the final leg of the Ziggy Stardust Tour in 1973, as part of a medley which also included ‘Life On Mars?’ and ‘Memory Of A Free Festival’.

Thereafter the song remained neglected until it was revived in 1997 for the BBC Radio 1 show ChangesNowBowie, which was broadcast on Bowie’s 50th birthday, 8 January 1997. The full recordings were issued on compact disc and vinyl as ChangesNowBowie on 18 April 2020, as part of the annual Record Store Day.

‘Quicksand’ was also performed with The Cure’s Robert Smith at Bowie’s 50th birthday concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden on 9 January 1997.

I’m so pleased that I thought about doing ‘Quicksand’. It was somebody in the band that said I should do it. I’d forgotten all about it, and since I’ve done it for you guys I’ve started using it in the set now, I’m using it on stage, ’cause I’d forgotten it. It’s a really lovely song. I really like that one, and I’m really knocked out that Smith is doing with me. Smith and Jones, together at last!
David Bowie
ChangesNowBowie, BBC Radio 1

‘Quicksand’ subsequently became the opening song on a number of Earthling Tour dates in 1997, and again in 2004 as part of A Reality Tour. A live version was released in 2021 on the album Look At The Moon! (Live Phoenix Festival 97).

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