Written by: David Bowie, Iggy Pop
Recorded: May-June 1984
Producers: David Bowie, Derek Bramble, Hugh Padgham
Released: 24 September 1984
Tina Turner: vocals
Carlos Alomar: guitar
Derek Bramble: guitar, bass guitar, synthesizer
Carmine Rojas: bass guitar
Rob Yale: Fairlight CMI synthesizer
Omar Hakim: drums
Sammy Figuerosa: percussion
Guy St Onge: marimba
Robin Clark, George Simms, Curtis King: backing vocals
‘Tonight’, the title track of David Bowie’s 16th studio album, was a duet with Tina Turner.
The song was co-written with Iggy Pop. It was originally recorded on his 1977 album Lust For Life, which was co-produced by Bowie.
Bowie revived the song in 1984 for the Tonight album, where it was set to a reggae backing.
Another major change was the omission of Pop’s original opening monologue, which depicted a lover dying of a heroin overdose: “I saw my baby, she was turning blue/I knew that soon her young life was through/And so I got down on my knees, down by her bed/And these are the words to her I said”.
That was such an idiosyncratic thing of Jimmy’s that it seemed not part of my vocabulary. There was that consideration, and I was also doing it with Tina – she’s the other voice on it – and I didn’t want to inflict it on her either. It’s not necessarily something that she would particularly agree to sing or be part of. I guess we changed the whole sentiment around. It still has that same barren feeling, though, but it’s out of that specific area that I’m not at home in. I can’t say that it’s Iggy’s world, but it’s far more of Iggy’s observation than mine.
NME, 29 September 1984
Bowie’s guest vocalist on ‘Tonight’ was Tina Turner. Her hugely successful album Private Dancer, which featured a cover of Bowie’s ‘1984’, was released in June that year. Turner later credited Bowie with her avoiding being dropped by her record label.
In 1983 David Bowie did something very special and significant for me. We were on the same label, but the decision had been taken not to re-sign me. David, however, had just had his contract renewed by Capitol, who wanted to take him out to dinner that night in New York to celebrate. ‘I’m sorry,’ he told them, ‘but I’m going to the Ritz to see my favourite singer perform.’ And that was me. The bigwigs tagged along and luckily it was a great show. Seeing it and the crowd’s reaction turned round how Capitol viewed me.
It was because of David that I got another deal, and everything else followed. I’ll be ever thankful to him.
In the studio
David Bowie was reportedly in awe of Tina Turner during her vocal recording session.
The biggest thing for him was the fact that he had Tina Turner coming in to do vocals – but just as a human being, his personal discomfort at being in a room with someone as iconic as Tina Turner. As a kid, he idolised this woman.
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)
After the session Bowie took Turner out to dinner, along with guitarist Carlos Alomar and his wife Robin Clark, who also sang on ‘Tonight’. Aside from Bowie, Alomar was the only person to perform on both the 1977 and 1984 recordings.
Now this is really important – as iconic as he is, he wanted this to be an amazing experience for her. I’m a Buddhist and she’s a Buddhist – we belong to the same organisation – so he’s like, ‘Carlos and Robin, you’ve got to join us for dinner.’ David didn’t need anything from me concerning that. We talked about Zen Buddhism and Tao and Shakyamuni Buddha, so we had had that conversation. He wanted all things covered. ‘Let there be no stone unturned to make this woman feel at home.’ And we had a wonderful time.
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)
The Tonight album was released on 24 September 1984.
‘Tonight’ was released as a single in November 1984 as the follow-up to ‘Blue Jean’.
‘Tumble And Twirl’ was on the 7″ b-side. A 12″ single contained ‘Tonight’ (Vocal Dance Mix), ‘Tumble And Twirl’ (Extended Dance Mix), and ‘Tonight’ (Dub Mix).
There was no video made for ‘Tonight’, and the single failed to crack the top 20 in any major markets. It peaked at number 53 in both the UK top 40 and the US Billboard Hot 100.
David Bowie was part of Iggy Pop’s backing band during Pop’s 1977 tour, during which ‘Tonight’ was frequently performed.
In the 1980s, Bowie only performed it twice, at Tina Turner’s concerts in Birmingham, England, on 23 and 24 March 1985.
The performance of ‘Tonight’ from the first night was released in 1988 on Turner’s live album Tina Live in Europe. It was issued as a single that year in a number of European countries, and topped the chart in the Netherlands.
The duet was also included on Turner’s 1994 CD/video Tina Live – Private Dancer Tour.
Bowie occasionally sang part of ‘Tonight’ during performances of ‘The Jean Genie’ in the 1990 Sound + Vision Tour.