Yassassin single – NetherlandsWritten by: David Bowie
Recorded: September 1978, March 1979
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti

Released: 18 May 1979

Available on:
Lodger

Personnel

David Bowie: vocals, synthesizer
Carlos Alomar, Tony Visconti: guitar
George Murray: bass guitar
Dennis Davis: drums
Simon House: mandolin
Everyone: backing vocals

‘Yassassin’ is a song on David Bowie’s 13th studio album Lodger. It was released as a single in Turkey and the Netherlands.

‘Yassassin’ was an experiment too, combining reggae with Turkish music. Damn, it worked!
Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book

The full title on the back of the album is ‘Yassassin (Turkish For: Long Live)’. It was derived from yaşasın (pronounded ‘yashasen’), the Turkish word to wish someone a long life. The word translates as “May he/she live”.

‘Yassassin’ is a reggae song with elements of Turkish music. It may have been partly inspired by Bowie’s time in Berlin: ‘Neuköln’ on “Heroes” was written about the Turkish immigrants in the city.

That’s Simon House on violin. He was with Hawkwind. He understood the notation immediately, even though he had no experience with Turkish music before. This song is about the kind of character you find in coffee bars in Turkey. An interesting thing about this track was putting two ethnic sounds together. We used the Turkish things and put it against a Jamaican backbeat. They’re both parallel.
David Bowie
Melody Maker, 19 May 1979

‘Yassassin’ is the second song on Lodger to feature mandolins, after the opening track ‘Fantastic Voyage’. On ‘Yassassin’ it was played by Simon House, who also played violin on the recording.

There are mandolins on ‘Fantastic Voyage’ – Carlos, Adrian and I sat like three Italian barbers playing rapid tremolo throughout the song – and one on ‘Yassassin’ – posing as an Arabic oud courtesy of Simon House.
Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book

Tony Visconti began remixing Lodger during a break in the Blackstar album sessions. The new version was included in the 2017 box set A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982).

The remix of ‘Yassassin’ brings Bowie’s lead vocals to the fore. Towards the end of the song it also includes a hummed melody that was omitted from the original version.

I found some little gems on the tapes. At the end of ‘Yassassin’, David does a little Arabic rap that didn’t make the record. I put it on the mix this time and it sounds wonderful. David was proud of these re-releases, but he didn’t want to get involved. There are so many capable people, including his own staff and myself, who could deal with it. He’d hear the final test pressing and say, ‘Great, it’s wonderful. Release it.’ But he always wanted to move on.
Tony Visconti
Uncut, October 2017

The release

‘Yassassin’ was the fourth song on David Bowie’s Lodger, released on 18 May 1979.

In July 1979 it was released as a single in Turkey and the Netherlands. In Turkey it was issued as RCA 79 014, with ‘Red Money’ on the b-side.

In the Netherlands, ‘Yassassin’ was edited from 4:13 to 3:06. The b-side was ‘Repetition’, and the single was issued as RCA PB-9417.

The edit of ‘Yassassin’ was included on Re:Call 3, part of the box set A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982), where it was listed as the Single Version.

We decided to fuse Turkish music and reggae together, but as the rhythm section was American they were none too familiar with reggae. David and I coached Dennis in the art of putting the kick drum on the back beat, where the snare usually goes, and I played a Jamaican ‘up-chop’ rhythm guitar live with the band to keep the feel going. Simon House overdubbed a fantastic Arabic violin part and there we had it – ‘Yasassin’.
Tony Visconti
Bowie, Bolan And The Brooklyn Boy
Previous song: ‘Move On’
Next song: ‘Red Sails’