You might think that you know everything about an album that you’ve been listening to for close on half a century.
A case in point is David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs which topped the LP music charts for the whole of June 1974 and was then the basis for an extensive live tour of the same name.
Heavily influenced by the work of George Orwell, Bowie had one foot – or perhaps a paw in this case – in the dark dystopian world of 1984. His bold ambition was to create a musical theatre production of Orwell’s book but the author’s widow Sonia denied him the rights.
Undeterred, Bowie ploughed on with what became Diamond Dogs, with a storyline set in Hunger City, populated by post-human mutants. While working on the album he showcased his new song, 1984, in a TV special recorded at London’s famous Marquee club in front of an invited live audience of fan club members and celebrities.
It was an event coyly entitled The 1980 Floor Show, which – when screened in the United States (but never in the UK!) – fired the imagination of Glenn Hendler, who was then just twelve years old.
Today he is Professor of English and American Studies at New York’s Fordham University, and while the Diamond Dogs LP was his first ever schoolboy purchase, it is also the title of the latest book in the Bloomsbury Academic’s 33 1/3 series which offers each writer a fairly free rein on an in-depth look at their favourite album.
The relatively short LP (clocking in at just 38 minutes 25 seconds) was preceded three months earlier by a teaser single, the glam rock anthem Rebel Rebel, but – as Hendler’s analysis confirms – fans who bought the album expecting similar sounds were bombarded instead by a whole range of musical styles and treated instruments, from straight-ahead rock to piano ballads, from Moog-based prog rock to the high-hat and waka-waka "Shaft-style" guitar of disco.
Hendler says: ‘Diamond Dogs as a whole is one of very few older albums that I play regularly not because of its familiarity but because it still holds surprises for me.’ Even so, he admits that he can think of few, if any, other albums ‘that are darker or convey a less optimistic view of the future.’
Having disbanded his Spiders From Mars backing group on dropping his breakthrough Ziggy Stardust persona, Bowie played the bulk of the instruments himself on this LP, joined by a handful of seasoned session musicians.
The frenzied crowd din heard as the title track gets underway is revealed by Hendler as cheers cheekily ‘borrowed’ by Bowie from a recent live album by chart rival Rod Stewart and his band The Faces!
Almost at the album’s close, 1984, with its pessimistic lyrics, is wedged between We Are The Dead and the penultimate track Big Brother, but Bowie was also in big bother for the controversial cover.
A painting by Belgian artist Guy Peellaert, it showed the musician as half human, half dog, a mutant mutt complete with genitals, which was quickly withdrawn by the record company and replaced by an airbrushed version, presumably to save the blushes of listeners!
(33 1/3, Bloomsbury Academic USA, paperback, £9.99)