Written by: Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht
Recorded: 25, 26 November 1981
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti
Arranger/conductor: Dominic Muldowney
Released: 13 March 1982
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982)
Eckehard Scholl: piano
Bernd Machus: bandoneon
Ingo Cramer: guitar
Michael Bucher: tuba
Thomas Hoffmann: drums
Erwin Milzkott: flute
Joachim Welz: clarinet
David Kreitner: alto saxophone
Axel-Glenn Müller: tenor saxophone
René Waintz: trumpet
Ralf Armbruster: trombone
Hans-Joachim Glas: concert master
Uwe Weniger: viola
Rolf Becker: cello
Ulrich Berggold: contrabass
‘The Drowned Girl’, from David Bowie’s 1982 Baal EP, recounts the suicide of Johanna, one of Baal’s underage former lovers.
The song – originally titled ‘Vom Ertrunkenen Mädchen’ – was co-written by Brecht with Kurt Weill, the only such instance on the Baal EP. Bowie’s version was singled out for praise by Dominic Muldowney, who arranged the music for the BBC adaption and accompanying release.
The stand-out was ‘The Drowned Girl’, which is like an Ophelia song, where she dies in the river. He’s singing about ‘Her slow descent’ below the water, right down in the bass baritone. Then halfway through he jumps up the octave. I play this song to composers at the Royal Opera House on courses. When he sings up to the word ‘smoke’ it’s got smoke all around it, it’s cloudy. Then we get to the ‘k’ of smoke and you can see again. It’s an absolute tutorial in how to paint a text. The only other person I know can do that is Frank Sinatra.
Starman, Paul Trynka
A black-and-white video for ‘The Drowned Girl’ was filmed by David Mallet in 1981, along with one for ‘Wild Is The Wind’. Both performances featured Bowie and four others miming to the song. The video for ‘The Drowned Girl’ featured Tony Visconti on acoustic guitar, Coco Schwab on saxophone, Mel Gaynor on trumpet, and Andy Hamilton on clarinet.
Bowie intended the Baal EP to be his final release for RCA, his label throughout the 1970s. Despite low commercial expectations, it reached number 29 on the UK singles chart.
It was released as a 7″ gatefold edition, with a sleeve containing copious notes on the music and musicians, as well as a brief biography of Brecht.
The 7″ EP was released in the UK and Canada. There was also a 12″ vinyl version issued in the US, Canada, Germany, France, Japan, Greece, Spain and Italy, and a cassette edition in the US and Canada.
‘Baal’s Hymn’ and ‘The Drowned Girl’ were included on the 2004 and 2014 Sound + Vision compilations. The full EP was reissued as a digital download in 2007, and as part of the Re:Call 3 compilation in the 2017 box set A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982).
Once she had drowned and started her slow descent
Down the streams to where the great rivers broaden
Oh, the open sky shone most magnificent
As if it was acting as her body’s guardian
Wreck and duck weed slowly increased her weight
By clasping her in their slimy grip
Through her limbs, the cold blooded fishes played
Creatures and plant life kept on, thus obstructing her last trip
And the sky that same evening grew dark as smoke
And its stars through the night kept the brightness still soaring
But it quickly grew clear when dawn now broke
To see that she got one further morning
Once her pallid trunk had rotted beyond repair
It happened quite slowly that she gently slipped from God’s thoughts
First with her face, then her hands, right at the last with her hair
Leaving those corpse-choked rivers just one more corpse