Absolute Beginners soundtrack album artworkWritten by: David Bowie
Recorded: 1985
Producers: Clive Langer, Alan Winstanley

Released: 7 April 1986

Available on:
Loving The Alien (1983–1988)


David Bowie: vocals
Kevin Armstrong: guitar
Steve Nieve: piano, keyboards
Matthew Seligman: bass guitar
Don Weller: tenor saxophone
Neil Conti: drums
Luís Jardim: percussion

‘That’s Motivation’ was one of three songs recorded by David Bowie for the 1986 film Absolute Beginners.

Julien Temple’s musical film adaptation of Colin MacInnes’s 1959 novel Absolute Beginners featured David Bowie as advertising agency worker Vendice Partners. Bowie recorded three songs for the soundtrack: ‘Absolute Beginners’, ‘That’s Motivation’, and ‘Volare’.

During the ‘That’s Motivation’ scene in the film, Bowie memorably danced across a giant typewriter, ascended Mount Everest, and sang in the centre of a giant record player.

In the studio

The backing track for ‘That’s Motivation’ was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in the early summer of 1985, with final vocals added several weeks later at Westside Recording Studios in Holland Park, London.

With time spare after completing the initial recording, Bowie and guitarist Kevin Armstrong began working together on the arrangement for a new song, ‘Absolute Beginners’. Both songs share similar introductions, enhancing the sense of continuity between them.

The focus of the session was That’s Motivation’. He made us learn it in very small chunks, four bars at a time. It’s not an easy song to play, but he didn’t realise that we could’ve easily learnt the whole thing in one go and played it. It was a slightly tense kick-off, but after we’d finished that there was still time on the clock in the studio. There was still another hour or so on the clock, so he said, ‘I’ve got this half-finished song. I’ve started it, but I don’t know whether it is anything.’ I said, ‘Well, I think it is – just double this bit, put this bit here, make a turnaround there…’ So we sat down and worked it out.
Kevin Armstrong
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

Bowie had asked EMI A&R man Hugh Stanley Clarke to recruit some top musicians for the session. They included Elvis Costello’s keyboard player Steve Nieve, bassist Matthew Seligman, and guitarist Kevin Armstrong.

Armstrong and Bowie bonded during the session, and the guitarist was retained for Bowie’s Live Aid appearance in July 1985 and ‘Dancing In The Street’, and played and wrote with Bowie in Tin Machine and on 1.Outside.

In early 1985 I was given a tip-off by a friend of mine called Hugh Stanley Clarke at EMI who said I should turn up at Abbey Road with a guitar to meet a mystery artist and that I’d never regret it. So that’s what I did and that turned out to be the demos for the Absolute Beginners sessions. David didn’t turn up with the song fully formed, and I would go so far to say I should have by rights had a co-writing credit on the song.

We started work on the song ‘That’s Motivation’, which he did with Gil Evans on the soundtrack. And that’s what we were there to demo ostensibly. Because we were so fast there was time left at the end of the session, and Bowie said, ‘Look, I’ve got this half an idea for another song. Can we try and throw it together?’ I sat with him with a piece of paper and an acoustic guitar and helped him work it out. I think that’s probably what led to the ten-year on-off association because I think at that point he realised I could work with him in some way. After working on the demo sessions, David phoned me and said he’d been asked to do this big charity thing with [Bob] Geldof, and did I want to be involved?

Kevin Armstrong
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones

The release

Absolute Beginners: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was released on 7 April 1986, to coincide with Temple’s film adaptation. Bowie’s title track was released as a single, as was Ray Davies’s ‘Quiet Life’ and the Style Council’s ‘Have You Ever Had It Blue?’.

The double album featured Bowie’s recordings of ‘Absolute Beginners’, ‘That’s Motivation’, and ‘Volare’, as well as Gil Evans’s recordings ‘Absolute Beginners’ (Slight Refrain), and ‘Absolute Beginners’ (Refrain).

On 28 May 2007 a digital download EP was released which collated the full and edited versions of ‘Absolute Beginners’, a Dub Mix, and ‘That’s Motivation’, and ‘Volare’.

The Bowie box set Loving The Alien (1983–1988) was released on 12 October 2018. It included Re:Call 4 a compilation of non-album singles, remixes, b-sides and extras, including Bowie’s three songs from Absolute Beginners.

The film’s soundtrack was reissued on double CD and double vinyl on 17 July 2020.

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