Written by: David Bowie
Recorded: 24 November 1966
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: Gus Dudgeon
Released: 1 June 1967
John Renbourn: guitar
Derek Boyes: organ
Dek Fearnley: bass guitar
John Eager: drums
Mike Vernon, Gus Dudgeon: spoken word
Unknown session musicians
‘We Are Hungry Men’ was the sixth song on 1967’s David Bowie album, and an early example of his interest in totalitarianism in a crumbling society.
Coming on the heels of the childlike ‘There Is A Happy Place’, the juxtaposition could not be greater. ‘We Are Hungry Men’ introduced Bowie’s burgeoning fascination with dystopian literature and fascist authoritarianism, which would return on songs such as ‘Cygnet Committee’ and ‘The Supermen’, and culminate on 1974’s Diamond Dogs.
Here, Bowie conjures a world at saturation point through overpopulation, with euthanasia and execution the proposed fates of those who refuse to bow to the song’s messiah protagonist.
One influence may have been Make Room! Make Room!, Harry Harrison’s 1966 novel, first serialised between August and October 1966 in the British sci-fi magazine Impulse. Make Room! Make Room! depicts a society in peril through rampant population growth, and became the basis of the 1973 sci-fi film Soylent Green, in which cannibalism was used as a solution for feeding people.
Rather than the horror scenarios Bowie would later depict, amusement appears to be the chief aim. To this end, engineer Gus Dudgeon channels comic actor Kenneth Williams as the newsreader, and producer Mike Vernon plays a farcically-exaggerated authoritarian German figure.
The song was originally titled ‘We Are Not Your Friends’, and was initially registered with that title by Bowie’s early publisher Sparta Florida.
When the David Bowie album was released in the US in August 1967, it was without the songs ‘We Are Hungry Men’ and ‘Maid Of Bond Street’.
In the studio
‘We Are Hungry Men’ was recorded at Decca Studios in London on 24 November 1966. It was one of four songs recorded that day, the others being ‘There Is A Happy Land’, ‘Join The Gang’, and ‘Did You Ever Have A Dream’.
There’s one song which Gus [Dudgeon] and I are on, speaking in pseudo German voices. He made an enormous difference to the session. I could have used other technical guys but we wouldn’t have got the results we got. Arrangements were my strengths, but we didn’t use strings on the album so much as afterwards.
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)