Episode 66

Episode 66


Diamond Dogs was me using everything I had learned since Hunky Dory to create a world where my imagination was allowed to flow completely freely, in search of a way to interpret George Orwell’s dystopian vision and William S Burroughs’s unique language” …..David Bowie, 2001

As soon as Bowie had completed the now legendary Ziggy Stardust ‘Farewell Concert’ at the Hammersmith Odeon on July 3, 1973, Tony Defries immediately focused on the next step in the extraordinary transformation that he and Bowie had begun 3 years earlier and were keen to push as far as they could.

But first there was the end of tour party to attend to, the night following the Odeon gig. MainMan had arranged a star studded retirement party hosted by Tony, David and Angie at the Cafe Royale, famously the favorite haunt of Oscar Wilde, The Prince Regent and many other important figures, attended by the who’s who of London’s rock scene including Ringo and Maureen Starr, Mick and Bianca Jagger, Lou Reed, Edgar Broughton, Lulu, Keith Moon plus TV & film celebrities such as Spike Milligan, Elliot Gould, Tony Curtis, Britt Ekland and Barbra Streisand.

Tony and David had already began planning his next album Pin Ups which would be made up entirely of cover recordings of his favorite 60’s singles. He picked 12 to record, including two apiece from The Who, Yardbirds and The Pretty Things and began making plans to head to the Château d’Hérouville studio complex, north-east of Paris, but only after he and Angie had attended the world premiere of ‘Live and Let Die’ with Paul & Linda McCartney at the Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square.

Tony had determined that the best way to settle a publishing dispute between David and Chrysalis Music was to demonstrate that David could make albums without including any of his original works and the strategy led to a settlement of that dispute, a very successful cover of Sorrow and a popular album Pin Ups. Meanwhile the contemporary press rushed to judgment and indulged in speculation that David had lost his creative ability. His next album Diamond Dogs and the astonishing live spectacle completely demolished those speculations.

The rest of July was spent recording the 12 tracks for Pin Ups during which time David began finalising plans he’d had in his head for quite a while, all designed to be a progression from Ziggy. During interviews he gave to journalists at  the Pin Ups sessions David explained how he was was enamoured with the work of William S Burroughs and interviewed him for a Rolling Stone magazine story in November that year.

An admirer of Burroughs’s working methods and his 1964 novel Nova Express, Bowie revealed he had begun using Burroughs’s “cut-up” technique as a way for inspiration. He also spoke of a musical based on Ziggy Stardust, saying: “Forty scenes are in it and it would be nice if the characters and actors learned the scenes and we all shuffled them around in a hat the afternoon of the performance and just performed it as the scenes come out.”

He also casually mentioned adapting George Orwell’s 1949 novel 1984 for the stage. Although the Ziggy musical fell through, two new songs Bowie had written – Rebel Rebel and Rock ‘n Roll With Me – were retained and modified for David’s proposed 1984 project.


When MainMan approached Orwell’s widow and explained David’s plans for the musical, she refused permission, so he had to make alternative plans. David decided to create his own apocalyptic scenario inspired by the works of Burroughs. His NBC Midnight Special filming at the Marquee Club in London on October 18,19 & 20 he titled The 1980 Floor Show and several costumes and stage sets inspired by his work on the novel project were incorporated into the set.

The next week Bowie went in to the studio with producer Ken Scott to record several new songs for what would eventually become Diamond Dogs. Defries recalls that one of several inspirations Bowie channeled for his new project was Iggy Pop’s I Wanna Be Your Dog, which The Stooges had released as the debut single from their self titled album in 1969.

For the remainder of the 1973 and into early 1974 Bowie worked on sessions recording tracks for Diamond Dogs, deciding to jettison most of the musicians who had worked on earlier albums, including producer Ken Scott and The Spiders – and forge  ahead with a new ‘tougher’ sound, playing lead guitar himself.

The album was completed in late January and while RCA then spent several months finalising artwork, packaging and promotion, Bowie and Defries began work on designing the stage props and effects that would support David’s dystopian vision. He described the inhabitants of this new world as ‘little Johnny Rottens and Sid Viciouses really. And, in my mind, there was no means of transport… So there were these gangs of squeaking, roller-skating, vicious hoods, with Bowie knives and furs on, and they were all skinny because they hadn’t eaten enough, and they all had funny coloured hair. In a way, it was a precursor to the punk thing.”

The Diamond Dogs cover art depicts Bowie as a striking half-man, half-dog grotesque. He still has his Ziggy Stardust haircut and two “freak-show” dogs surround him shown against a backdrop of New York City. The artwork originated from a photo session with photographer Terry O’Neill. Bowie opted not to use any of his previous cover artwork photographers and instead requested the services of Belgian artist Guy Peellaert, whose recently published Rock Dreams catalogue, featuring numerous airbrushed and exploited photographs, was growing in popularity.

Bowie invited Peellaert to the photoshoot where he posed as a dog and with a Great Dane brought to the session. Bowie asked Peellaert if he would like to develop a painting for the artwork, based on a storyboard idea where he appeared as a half-man, half-dog, stylistically similar to Peelleart’s artwork for the Rolling Stones’ It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll. Peellaert agreed, basing the backdrop on a book he owned about Coney Island’s Pleasure Park. The two dogs behind Bowie were based on the Island’s Cavalcade Variety Show performers Alzoria Lewis (known as “the Turtle Girl”) and Johanna Dickens (known as “the Bear Girl”)

RCA issued Diamond Dogs on 24 May 1974 with the catalogue number APLI 0576. The album was a commercial success, peaking at number one on the UK Albums Chart and number five on the US Billboard Top LP’s and Tape chart. A $400,000 advertising campaign featuring billboards in Times Square and Sunset Boulevard, magazine ads, subway posters declaring “The Year of the Diamond Dogs” and a television commercial, one of the first of its kind for a pop album, boosted its sales in the US. In Canada, it repeated its British chart-topping success, hitting number one on the RPM 100 national albums chart in July 1974, remaining there for two weeks.

When it came time to make plans for touring the album Bowie and Defries enlisted some of the best designers in the world including Mark Ravitz and Chris Langhart, who created super-creations like the Barnum & Bailey circus carousel, set-pieces inspired by Fritz Lang’s landmark film Metropolis and Robert Wiene’s 1920 masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr Caligari each an important part of Bowie’s fascination with German Expressionism.

Lightning sculpture: The cityscape itself, with “pools of essence” dripping down the face of the buildings, was Ravitz’s design. “It’s not as simple as a backdrop,” Langhart said of the three-dimensional set which Bowie can move through, coming out from between different buildings and appearing in windows illuminated from the back. Among the buildings there is a giant lightning bolt, Bowie’s Aladdin Sane symbol, which chases up and down as light sculpture – “stationary lights changing their on and off relationship to each other.” It appears as a building when not illuminated and then suddenly becomes the familiar jagged slash. “It’s done with scrims,” Langhart explained. “It’s a theatrical technique that’s existed for years but hasn’t been applied to rock and roll before.”

To light the visual extravaganza and translate Bowie’s fantastical vision of ‘Hunger City’ to stage reality Defries enlisted the help of lightning designer Jules Fisher “The Philosopher of Light” who had created stunning special effects for stage shows and musicals like HAIR, Jesus Christ Superstar and Chicago. Jules’ work on the Diamond Dogs tour inspired several rock legends and Jules went on to work on tours for The Rolling Stones, KISS & The Who.

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Episode 66