Written by: David Bowie
Recorded: February-April 1980
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti
Released: 12 September 1980 (UK), 15 September 1980 (US)
Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps
Carlos Alomar: guitar
George Murray: bass guitar
Dennis Davis: drums, percussion
Andy Clark: synthesizer
‘Scream Like A Baby’ is the seventh song on Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps, David Bowie’s 14th studio album.
The song was based on ‘I Am A Laser’, written by Bowie and recorded at London’s Olympic Studios in 1973 by his protégés the Astronettes – Ava Cherry, Geoffrey MacCormack, and Jason Guess. The melodies and structure of the two songs remained largely unchanged, with Bowie adding new lyrics and an arrangement befitting his 1980 output.
This evolved from a song originally written for the Astronettes, ‘I Am A Laser’. I was involved as an arranger back then, so I knew the song quite well. At the Power Station [in 1980] this was recorded as ‘I Am A Laser’ but David had rewritten the lyrics in the interim. We got up to some cool percussion tricks on this one using digital effects. I love the chord changes of this song, David’s forte.
Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy
Bowie returned to ‘I Am A Laser’ during the Young Americans sessions at Sigma Sound on 13 August 1974. Interestingly, that version, which leaked online in September 2009, featured a verse melody and lyrics which were otherwise unused.
‘Scream Like A Baby’ was not the only Scary Monsters song to be based on an older composition. ‘It’s No Game’ was based upon ‘Tired Of My Life’, which Bowie had written as a teenager and recorded a demo of in 1970.
The lyrics concern a man named Sam (“I never knew his last name”) and the song’s narrator, both of whom are imprisoned by the authorities for unspecified crimes. The dystopian scenario recalls George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, books which were key influences during Bowie’s glam period.
The stuttering “Now I’m learning to be a part of socie-soc-soci-society” evokes Winston Smith’s brainwashing and capitulation in Orwell’s novel, and Alex DeLarge’s aversion therapy in Burgess’s. Interestingly, in a demo recording Bowie sang “integrated society” without the stammer.
I don’t believe in this high tech society at all. I don’t believe it does exist. I think that’s a great myth. I think the idea of high tech songs, high tech music, computer button, whatever, it’s not like that, it’s on a very emotional people level, flesh and blood.
One foresees it becoming even more terrifyingly real, anti-tech. The old symbolic street-fighting thing probably will not be as symbolic as it was but will become a reality. One can foresee it in the dreadful Eighties.
And this is, I guess, one of my… I lapse into this future nostalgia thing often. This can be evidence by looking at any album I’ve made, and that particular piece of music does reflect that. It’s writing taking a past look at something that hasn’t actually happened yet, that one kinda sees that Orwellian thing.
The David Bowie Interview promo album
‘Scream Like A Baby’ was rehearsed ahead of the Glass Spider Tour in 1987, but Bowie never performed the song in public.
In the studio
David Bowie wrote the lyrics of ‘Scream Like A Baby’ in between the recording of the backing track in New York in early 1980, and the Scary Monsters overdub sessions that summer in London. In producer Tony Visconti’s early running order before the London sessions it was listed as ‘Laser’.
Andy Clark was a session keyboard player I used on many projects in London. He had some great keyboards, the very latest (now vintage); he was both an excellent sound designer and player… Andy also added assorted blips and kitten growls (if a kitten could) here [on ‘Fashion’] and on ‘Scream Like A Baby’.
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book
Bowie’s vocals were subjected to pitch-shifting effects, making the two stereo channels rise and fall during the “No athletic program, no discipline” section.
I pulled out every trick I knew and invented some new ones for David’s vocals and backing vocals… During the middle eight of Scream Like A Baby, David’s voice goes up and down in pitch contrarily, on opposite sides. I mainly used EFX to enhance the mood of the lyrics, on vocals and on instruments supporting the vocals, but not just for the sake of making ‘ear candy’.
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book
‘Scream Like A Baby’ was released on Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps. The album came out on 12 September 1980 in the UK, and three days later in the US.
‘Fashion’ was the second single from the album, and the follow-up to the international smash hit ‘Ashes To Ashes’. In most countries the b-side of ‘Fashion’ was ‘Scream Like A Baby’, although in Japan it was issued with ‘It’s No Game (No. 1)’ on the flipside.
‘I Am A Laser’ was finally released in 1995 on the album People From Bad Homes, credited to Ava Cherry and the Astronettes.