Tin Machine II album coverWritten by: David Bowie, Reeves Gabrels
Recorded: August – October 1988; September – November 1989; April, September – October 1990; March 1991; November 1996
Producers: Tin Machine, Tim Palmer

Released: 2 September 1991

Available on:
Tin Machine II


Tin Machine version:
David Bowie: vocals, guitar
Reeves Gabrels: guitar
Tony Sales: bass guitar, vocals
Hunt Sales: drums, vocals
Kevin Armstrong: piano

1996 version:
David Bowie: vocals
Reeves Gabrels: guitar
Mike Garson: piano
Gail Ann Dorsey: bass guitar, vocals
Zachary Alford: drums

The ninth song on Tin Machine’s second album, ‘Shopping For Girls’ was a bleak psychodrama about sex tourists and the exploitation of underage children.

In July 1987, The Christian Science Monitor published an article by staff writer Sara Terry, headlined “When all you have to sell is your body”. The harrowing feature told of child sex workers being abused by paedophile tourists in Thailand and the Philippines, and of poverty and disease.

Accompanying her on the research trip was her husband Reeves Gabrels, who had the unenviable task of posing as a sex tourist to enable Sara to interview the children.

That song actually came out of an investigative magazine article that Reeves’ wife wrote on child prostitution around the world. And one of the places she went to was Thailand. Reeves had the rather unsavory job of hiring the children and then getting them out of the brothels to Sara, who could then interview them. We were just talking about those experiences one night. And I’ve also been in Thailand and witnessed the same kind of thing. The actual approach of how to write the song was quite devastating. ’Cause it was so easy to slip into sensationalism. I tried all kinds of ways of approaching it … the moral point of view … and I just ended up doing it straight narrative. That seems to make it stronger than any other approach.
David Bowie
Creem, vol. 2, no. 1,‎ 1991

After the completion of her journalistic assignment, Terry took a job as David Bowie’s press agent during the Glass Spider Tour. At the close of the tour she gave Bowie a tape recording of her husband’s guitar work, which led to the formation of Tin Machine and a long-running collaboration between Bowie and Gabrels.

‘Shopping For Girls’ is about the child prostitution in North Thailand. Reeves’s wife did a story on it. The song came about because we were talking about it one evening. I’d been to Thailand and witnessed the same sort of thing going on. Approaching that as a subject was pretty hard because one didn’t want to make it a sensational kind of thing. It was hard to stop it being finger-wagging so it ended up as pure narrative.
David Bowie, 9 August 1991
Bowie On Bowie, Sean Egan

‘Shopping For Girls’ was recorded during the sessions for Tin Machine’s first album, but Bowie’s dissatisfaction with his lyrics meant it was left unfinished until the second album sessions. The result was one of Bowie’s most effective lyrics: a true highlight of Tin Machine II, with a subtlety that was sorely missing from many of their other songs.

A couple of these songs are actually outtakes from the first album – ‘Shopping For Girls’ and ‘If There Is Something’.
Tim Palmer
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

Tin Machine performed ‘Shopping For Girls’ during their It’s My Life Tour in 1991-2.

1996 version

The song was one of nine re-recordings made by Bowie in November 1996. They were first broadcast on the BBC Radio 1 show ChangesNowBowie on his 50th birthday, 8 January 1997.

‘Shopping For Girls’ was the only Tin Machine song recording in the session, which took place at SIR Studios, 520 West 25th Street, New York City. The other songs were ‘The Man Who Sold The World’, ‘The Supermen’, ‘Andy Warhol’, ‘Repetition’, ‘Lady Stardust’, ‘White Light/White Heat’, ‘Quicksand’, and ‘Aladdin Sane’.

The recordings were issued on compact disc and vinyl as ChangesNowBowie on 18 April 2020, as part of the annual Record Store Day.

Previous song: ‘Stateside’
Next song: ‘A Big Hurt’
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