Heathen album cover

Written by: David Bowie
Recorded: August-September 2001; October 2001 – January 2002
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti

Released: 3 June 2002

Personnel

David Bowie: vocals, guitar, keyboards, synthesizer, Chamberlin, Mellotron
David Torn, Carlos Alomar: guitar
Tony Visconti: bass guitar, keyboards, vocals
Jordan Rudess: piano
Matt Chamberlain: drums, loops
Greg Kitzis, Meg Okura: violin
Martha Mooke: viola
Mary Wooten: cello

‘When The Boys Come Marching Home’ was a b-side recorded during sessions for David Bowie’s Heathen album.

Although the song was, according to Bowie, written prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but as with several of the Heathen songs, its themes chimed perfectly with that time of war and fear. The mournful tone of ‘When The Boys Come Marching Home’ is less triumphant than remorseful:

Aching for some innocence and peace of mind
While the moon pulls up its net of souls
The sun presses down on my brave new world
But, in truth, I don’t feel brave at all
Leave it all behind me to the townies and the wags
The kids who never learned to smile
While I and the cobbled nag I ride
Stumble down another weary mile

Matt Chamberlain’s drum part on the song was looped and reused by Bowie and producer Tony Visconti on ‘Bring Me The Disco King’, the final track on 2003’s Reality.

The release

‘When The Boys Come Marching Home’ was first released in June 2002 on the European single ‘Slow Burn’. The single had two compact disc formats: the first contained ‘Wood Jackson’ and ‘Shadow Man’, while the second was a maxi single with the additional tracks ‘When The Boys Come Marching Home’ and ‘You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving’.

The song was released again in September 2002 on the ‘Everyone Says ‘Hi” single. Three separate CDs were issued in the UK – the second had ‘When The Boys Come Marching Home’ and ‘Shadow Man’.

In December 2002 Heathen became Bowie’s first album to be released as an SACD. This contained a 5.1 surround sound mix by Tony Visconti, with slightly extended versions of four songs. This edition also contained 5.1 versions of ‘When The Boys Come Marching Home’, ‘Wood Jackson’, ‘Conversation Piece’, and ‘Safe’.