Up The Hill Backwards single – United KingdomWritten by: David Bowie
Recorded: February-April 1980
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti

Released: 12 September 1980 (UK), 15 September 1980 (US)

Available on:
Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps
Glass Spider (Live Montreal ’87)


David Bowie: vocals, keyboards
Carlos Alomar, Robert Fripp: guitar
George Murray: bass guitar
Dennis Davis: drums, percussion
Tony Visconti: acoustic guitar, backing vocals
Lynn Maitland, Chris Porter: backing vocals

‘Up The Hill Backwards’ was the fourth and final single released from David Bowie’s Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps album.

That’s a very odd piece of music because it’s… what happens by the end of it is that it actually makes some kind of commitment, but on first hearing it sounds as though it’s a very sort of shrugged, almost cynical, there’s-nothing-we-can-do-about-it kind of attitude, which is thrown at you on a very MOR-voiced kind of track.

So it really sort of sounds like the epitome of indifference, but in fact I blocked it from beginning to end with the extraordinary high-energy Fripp quasi-Bo Diddley thing that happens in the beginning and the end, which sort of bookended, and give it another kind of switch.

It has far more power than it would at first seem, as a commitment. In fact it has a very strong commitment, but it’s disguised in indifference.

David Bowie, 1980
The David Bowie Interview promo album

‘Up The Hill Backwards’ is bookended with an unsettled Bo Diddley-style introduction and outro in the unusual 7/8 time signature, while the more familiar 4/4 is heard in the verses and chorus.

I love the intro because it’s in 7/4, a signature often associated with Greek music… The ending is a glorious ‘jam’ back in the time signature of 7/4 with Fripp playing magnificently. I’m playing acoustic rhythm guitar in 7/4, something one can only aspire to really, as I’m clenching my teeth during the performance, consciously counting all the time: it didn’t come naturally.
Tony Visconti
Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy

‘Up The Hill Backwards’ was originally titled ‘Cameras In Brooklyn’, with completely different lyrics.

Among the items in the David Bowie Is exhibition was a sheet of paper from the Scary Monsters session, upon which were Bowie’s lyrical notes for ‘It’s No Game’ and ‘Up The Hill Backwards’.

The opening lines – “The vacuum created by the arrival of freedom/And the possibilities it seems to offer/It’s got nothing to do with you, if one can grasp it” – were an almost direct quotation from Dada: Art and Anti-Art, a 1964 book by artist and historian Hans Richter. Writing about the Dada movement, he wrote:

…and finally the vacuum created by the sudden arrival of freedom and the endless possibilities it seemed to offer if one could grasp them firmly enough.
Dada: Art and Anti-Art, Hans Richter

Page 122 of Dada: Art and Anti-Art by Hans Richter (1964)

Published: |