In the studio

‘Teenage Wildlife’ was was recorded with the working title ‘It Happens Every Day’. As with all the Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps, the basic backing track was recorded in New York in early 1980, with overdubs including vocals added at producer Tony Visconti’s London studio Good Earth later in the year.

This is a peculiar anthem-type song. It took me a long time to warm to this track, but I adore it years later. There’s a little bit of “Heroes” in this, along with a Ronettes-type vocal backing supplied by myself, my assistant engineer Chris Porter and Lynn Maitland. David directed us from the control room and the parts were made up on ‘the fly’. Chuck Hammer’s synthesizer guitar is back in this one but it is not as obvious as it was on ‘Ashes To Ashes’.
Tony Visconti
Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy

Chuck Hammer added guitar synth –  a sound he called ‘guitarchitecture’ – to three tracks: ‘Teenage Wildlife’, ‘Ashes To Ashes’, and ‘Up The Hill Backwards’. He played a Roland GR-300 put through an Eventide Harmonizer and analogue tape delay.

Serendipity came in the form of Chuck Hammer. When David and I heard he had a guitar synthesizer, that alone opened the door for us to see and hear this new instrument. Hammer didn’t disappoint. He stunned us with an orchestral string patch for ‘People Are Turning To Gold’ [‘Ashes To Ashes’]. In those times it was unreal to watch a man strum a guitar and hear a thick orchestral string chord. It was a stunning sound but it needed something else. It was too in-your-face, strings with no reverb. We were told that the four-storey stairwell had a great reverb so we put Hammer’s amp in the stairwell plus a microphone one floor below and another two floors below. That natural reverb worked for us (shades of Hansa’s Big Hall). We layered the guitar/synth/strings twice. Lush! Hammer put his spell on ‘Teenage Wildlife’ too.
Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book

Returning to the fold was Robert Fripp, whose guitar work had been such a key ingredient on the “Heroes” album.

We needed more muscle on these tracks and we were blessed to have musicians Pete Townshend and Robert Fripp living locally. They added British guitar zest to the New York potpourri of musical styles…

Robert Fripp needed longer to give us lots of different parts and sounds for the six songs he played on. He brought a bag of pedals with him. I plugged his output directly into a channel on the Trident TSM. We spent the entire day flying around ideas, spending more time on ‘Fashion’ and ‘It’s No Game’, but all of Fripp’s brilliant contributions made it to the final mixes.

Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book

The backing vocals on ‘Teenage Wildlife’ were by Tony Visconti, his studio engineer Chris Porter, and a singer, Lynn Maitland, who happened to be in the studio at the time.

Chris Porter was my chief engineer at Good Earth and was a lead singer in a Portsmouth band before I met him. He also helped with the construction of Good Earth. Sometimes when David wanted backing vocals, he couldn’t wait to phone around to see who was available. He would ask random people in the studio, ‘Can you sing?’ In some other cases, ‘Can you play guitar?’ I had just met singer Lynn Maitland, a friend of a band I had produced earlier, and she was in the studio as a guest. Lynn and Chris were enlisted! I joined them to sing the choir parts for ‘Up The Hill Backwards’, ‘Kingdom Come’, ‘Because You’re Young’ and ‘Teenage Wildlife’.
Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book

The release

‘Teenage Wildlife’ was the sixth song on Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps, which was released on 12 September 1980 in the UK, and 15 September in the USA.

‘Up The Hill Backwards’ was released as a single in Canada, Germany, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and the United Kingdom. In all countries ‘Crystal Japan’ was the b-side. Bowie had originally intended for ‘Teenage Wildlife’ to be on the single’s flipside, but insisted on ‘Crystal Japan’ after learning that fans were paying high prices to import the latter single from Japan.

Live performances

David Bowie first performed ‘Teenage Wildlife’ live on 1 September 1995, during a six-song set at Sony Music Studios in New York. The set was ‘Andy Warhol’, ‘Nite Flights’, ‘Teenage Wildlife’, ‘The Hearts Filthy Lesson’, ‘Hurt’, and ‘Hallo Spaceboy’.

The Outside Tour began two weeks later, and ‘Teenage Wildlife’ was performed at the majority of the shows. Recordings from October and December 1995 can be heard on the live albums Ouvrez Le Chien (Live Dallas 95) and No Trendy Réchauffé (Live Birmingham 95).

Ouvrez Le Chien (Live Dallas 95) was initially available only on digital services. It was announced on 26 June 2020, the same day that the live recording of ‘Teenage Wildlife’ was made available on streaming platforms. The full album followed on 3 July 2020, with a physical release on 30 October 2020.

Bowie’s final performance of ‘Teenage Wildlife’ was on 4 June 1996 at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan Hall, on the first date of the Outside Summer Festivals Tour.

Previous song: ‘Fashion’
Next song: ‘Scream Like A Baby’
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