Written by: David Bowie, Reeves Gabrels, Hunt Sales, Tony Sales
Recorded: August – October 1988; February – April 1989
Producers: Tin Machine, Tim Palmer
Engineer: Justin Shirley-Smith
Released: 22 May 1989
Reeves Gabrels, Kevin Armstrong: guitar
Tony Sales: bass guitar, vocals
Hunt Sales: drums, vocals
‘Tin Machine’ is the second song on Tin Machine’s debut album Tin Machine.
What’s a Tin Machine?
I don’t know. What is a Led Zeppelin? What is a Strawberry Alarm Clock? It was either going to be Tin Machine or Liquid Chicken. What’s in a name? What’s in Tin Machine? Hunt Sales, Tony Sales, Reeves Gabrels and David Bowie. Tin Machine is not a David Bowie record. Tin Machine is a band.
Spin, July 1989
The song was written before the band had a name. It was the ideal tabula rasa for the project: a phrase with any number of meanings, from Major Tom’s tin can spaceship to the stacked containers of supermarket goods, and a semi-anonymous front for Bowie’s first full group project since the Spiders From Mars.
There’s a song called ‘Tin Machine’ on the album. The figure in that could be an authority figure. It could be a time machine: ‘I want to go back’ or ‘I want to go forward’. It could be a send-up of Led Zeppelin or Iron Butterfly. It worked on a number of levels for us. The archaic – the idea of tin, which is still everywhere: tin cans, when you go to supermarket; when you walk down the street you find rusting tin. It’s such a supposedly archaic material, but it’s everywhere. Sort of like the idea of us playing this music and not using drum machines and sequencers and things like that. There’s a point at which it connects. At least for us. And the final thing, for lack of a better name. There’s something vaguely Monkees-like, or for a worse comparison, Bad Company-like about having a song with your name on it. Hopefully we’ll stand taller than that.
Spin, July 1989
‘Tin Machine’ is one of Bowie’s better late-Eighties lyrics, a fin de siècle screed that rants against the decadence of modern society. A succession of grim characters – “goons with muddy hair”, “the guy that beats his baby up”, “Working horrors-humping Tories” – parade past as Bowie sings of wanting to escape “this psycho-time-bomb planet”, being “grey and blown to hell” and, to contrast the solitude of ‘Sound And Vision’, “Raging raging raging/Burning in my room”.
‘Tin Machine’ was first released on the album of the same name, on 22 May 1989.
In September 1989 it was released as a double a-side single, with a live version of Bob Dylan’s ‘Maggie’s Farm’.
The single was issued in three formats. The 7″ vinyl contained the two songs, while a 12″ version added a live recording of ‘I Can’t Read’.
The CD single contained ‘Tin Machine’, ‘Maggie’s Farm’ (live), ‘I Can’t Read’ (live), and ‘Bus Stop’ (live). The live versions on all formats were recorded at Tin Machine’s show at La Cigale in Paris on 25 June 1989.