In the studio

The backing tracks for Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps were recorded in early 1980 at the Power Station, a studio on 44 West 53rd Street in Manhattan, New York City.

Overdubs, including David Bowie’s vocals, were added at producer Tony Visconti’s Good Earth Studios in London, from May 1980 onwards.

We needed more muscle on these tracks and we were blessed to have musicians Pete Townshend and Robert Fripp living locally. They added British guitar zest to the New York potpourri of musical styles…

Robert Fripp needed longer to give us lots of different parts and sounds for the six songs he played on. He brought a bag of pedals with him. I plugged his output directly into a channel on the Trident TSM. We spent the entire day flying around ideas, spending more time on ‘Fashion’ and ‘It’s No Game’, but all of Fripp’s brilliant contributions made it to the final mixes.

Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book

In 2020, Robert Fripp was asked what was the best piece of advice Bowie ever gave him.

It was on the Scary Monsters session. The sessions began around midnight and I think it was ‘Up The Hill Backwards’. I said to David, ‘Any suggestions?’ David said, ‘Think [Deep Purple’s] Ritchie Blackmore.’ I knew exactly what David meant. So my playing was nothing like Ritchie Blackmore, but I knew what David meant – that was a direct piece of advice.
Robert Fripp
Uncut, August 2020

Not used, however, were guitar parts by Chuck Hammer, who used a guitar synthesiser to create a sound that he called ‘guitarchitecture’.

All three tracks [‘Ashes To Ashes’, ‘Teenage Wildlife’ and ‘Up The Hill Backwards’] were done in one long night. Bowie was looking for like minds, and wants to do the most modern music he can at any one time. I’d been working at RCA and done lots of sessions with the guitarchitecture. We did ‘Up The Hill Backwards’. I was trying to do something more spiritual, but they didn’t use that. I don’t know if David wrote the lyrics to the song after I tracked. My focus was on trying to create a sense of backwards sound.
Chuck Hammer
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

‘Up The Hill Backwards’ is unusual in that it features harmony vocals instead of lead vocals by David Bowie. The vocals were shared by him, studio engineer Chris Porter, and singer Lynn Maitland.

Chris Porter was my chief engineer at Good Earth and was a lead singer in a Portsmouth band before I met him. He also helped with the construction of Good Earth. Sometimes when David wanted backing vocals, he couldn’t wait to phone around to see who was available. He would ask random people in the studio, ‘Can you sing?’ In some other cases, ‘Can you play guitar?’ I had just met singer Lynn Maitland, a friend of a band I had produced earlier, and she was in the studio as a guest. Lynn and Chris were enlisted! I joined them to sing the choir parts for Up The Hill Backwards, ‘Kingdom Come’, ‘Because You’re Young’ and ‘Teenage Wildlife’.
Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book

The release

‘Up The Hill Backwards’ is the second song on Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps, which was released on 12 September 1980 in the UK, and three days later in the USA.

The song was released as a single in March 1981 in Canada, Germany, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and the United Kingdom. In all countries ‘Crystal Japan’ was the b-side.

Bowie had originally intended for ‘Teenage Wildlife’ to be on the single’s flipside, but insisted on ‘Crystal Japan’ after learning that fans were paying high prices to import the latter single from Japan.

As the fourth single taken from Scary Monsters, ‘Up The Hill Backwards’ was not a commercial success. It peaked at number 32 in the UK, and 49 in Canada.

Live performances

David Bowie never sang ‘Up The Hill Backwards’ live. A new version did, however, form the basis of the walk-on music for the Glass Spider Tour in 1987, to which Bowie’s dancers lip synced.

A recording from 30 August 1987 can be heard on the live album Glass Spider (Live Montreal ’87).

Previous song: ‘It’s No Game (No. 1)’
Next song: ‘Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)’
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