The Stars (Are Out Tonight) singleWritten by: David Bowie
Recorded: 9 May; 26 October 2011
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti
Engineers: Mario McNulty, Tony Visconti

Released: 25 February 2013

Available on:
The Next Day
Nothing Has Changed

Personnel

David Bowie: vocals, acoustic guitar
Gerry Leonard, David Torn: guitar
Gail Ann Dorsey: bass guitar, vocals
Zachary Alford: drums
Steve Elson: baritone saxophone, contrabass clarinet
Tony Visconti: recorder
Antoine Silverman, Maxim Moston, Hiroko Taguchi, Anja Wood: strings
Janice Pendarvis: vocals

‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ was the second single released from The Next Day, David Bowie’s 24th studio album.

When I heard it, I thought of Let’s Dance-era David. So I approached it trying to capture that vibe. I don’t think he was struggling with his fame any more. I think he was taking the piss. He was noticing how it was already bad enough when he wrote ‘Fame’ and now our society is falling deeper into the abyss of celebrity worship and there are way more people now who are famous just for being famous.
Zachary Alford
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

Bowie had explored the nature of fame since ‘Maid Of Bond Street’ on his 1967 debut album. His alter ego Ziggy Stardust was a naked attempt to fashion a superstar character, but by 1975’s ‘Fame’ he was singing of the jaded nature of stardom.

I believe in fantasy and star images. I am very aware of these kinds of people and feel they are very important figures in our society. People like to focus on somebody who they might consider not quite the same as them. Whether it’s true or not is immaterial.
David Bowie
Cheltenham Chronicle, 1971

The word ‘star’ occurs in nine song titles released by Bowie. 1970’s ‘The Prettiest Star’ was the earliest, and was followed by ‘Starman’, ‘Lady Stardust’, ‘Star’, ‘Ziggy Stardust’, ‘Shining Star (Makin’ My Love)’, ‘New Killer Star’, ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’, and ‘Blackstar’.

In ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ Bowie sings once again of the fickle nature of fame, and the parasocial relationship between fans and their idols. Here, the beautiful ones are cast as victims, “soaking up our primitive world” and living lives “broke and shamed or drunk or scared”, feeding on their followers like vampires of the night.

It’s been one of the banes of my life, not being able to develop proper relationships with people. I thought that I would always be a loner. Maybe that’s why I wanted so much to be a rock star. I unconsciously thought that if I was in that position, people wouldn’t be able to touch me. I often wonder if I wanted to outprice myself emotionally, put myself in a place where I didn’t have to relate to people because I found it such a burden.
David Bowie
Interview magazine, February 1993

Bowie gave no interviews to promote The Next Day, but he did answer novelist Rick Moody’s request for a list of words to explain the themes of the songs. From Bowie’s supplied list of 42 words, those for ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ were: Vampyric, Pantheon, Succubus.

I think he was very comfortable with his fame. I think he saw it for what it was and this may be a commentary on the fame game. The way we’re heading, we’ll all be famous and it won’t mean anything any more. If everybody has a record, nobody has any time to listen to anybody else’s record. It was a little bit of a commentary on that and him having lived it and knowing what it really means and what it really brings and the pitfalls of it. I think he was in a good position to make a commentary on it.
Gerry Leonard
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ was nominated for a Grammy Award in December 2013 for the Best Rock Performance category, but lost out to ‘Radioactive’ by Imagine Dragons.

In the studio

A demo for ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ was cut at guitarist Gerry Leonard’s home studio in New York.

David called up and said, ‘Do you have a drum machine?’ I said, ‘Yes’, meaning that I don’t have one, but by the time you get here, I will have. I remembered that my friend had this vintage Roland 808 drum machine which was perfect, so I drove over to his house and said, ‘Ed, I’m taking your drum machine, but I can’t tell you what it’s for’, because we were in this official secrets act y’know? I have a little studio in one of the back rooms of my house, so I just had the 808 set up, and a keyboard, because David likes to write on a keyboard. We had some guitars plugged in, so it was ready to pick up instruments and bash around.

The first two songs we worked on, he had the chord progression for ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ and some ideas for melodies, so I’d just establish the tempo and we’d program up a very simple beat and play along. That’s the way David wanted to do it, and when we worked out all the sections, then we would do a very simple little recording of that.

‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ was really fun. I really connected with that song straightaway and some of my guitar parts existed in the cut.

Gerry Leonard
roland.com

The backing track for the album version was recorded at The Magic Shop on 9 May 2011. Bowie sang scratch vocals with the band, which were later replaced.

The final vocals were recorded on 26 October 2011 at Human World Wide, the New York studio owned by Tony Visconti’s son Morgan.

The video

On 25 February 2013 the video for ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ was released, the day before the song was made available as the album’s second single.

Directed by Floria Sigismondi, it featured Bowie and Tilda Swinton as an everyday couple, whose neighbours included a rock band fronted by a young Bowie lookalike played by Iselin Steiro. The video also featured models Andreja Pejic and Saskia de Brauw as celebrities, and begins with the previously-unreleased instrumental ‘Plan’.

Sigismondi had previously directed the videos for ‘Little Wonder’ and ‘Dead Man Walking’, and later did the same for ‘The Next Day’.

The video for ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ was included on the DVD that came with The Next Day Extra in November 2013, along with those for ‘Where Are We Now?’, ‘The Next Day’, and ‘Valentine’s Day’.

The release

‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ was made available as a digital download on 26 February 2013.

The album The Next Day was released on 8 March 2013, with 8 March 2013 as its third song.

On 20 April 2013 a 7″ vinyl version was released for Record Store Day, which also included ‘Where Are We Now?’.

‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ was included on the triple CD version of the compilation Nothing Has Changed, released on 18 November 2014.

Previous song: ‘Dirty Boys’
Next song: ‘Love Is Lost’