“Look Back in Anger” is a song written by David Bowie and Brian Eno for the album Lodger (1979). It concerns “a tatty ‘Angel Of Death'”, and features a guitar solo by Carlos Alomar. RCA Records was unsure if America was ready for the sexual androgyny of “Boys Keep Swinging”, the lead-off single from Lodger in most territories, and “Look Back in Anger” was issued instead. The B-side was another track from Lodger called “Repetition”, a story of domestic violence. The single failed to chart. “Look Back in Anger” has a mixed reputation among Bowie commentators. NME critics Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray have described it as “probably the low point” of the album, while Nicholas Pegg considers it “one of Lodger’s dramatic highlights”. Beyond the shared title, the song has nothing to do with the John Osborne play Look Back in Anger. The song has been performed on the 1983/84 “Serious Moonlight” Tour and was reworked in the mid-90s as a heavy rock song for the “Outside” and “Earthling” tours. David Mallet directed a music video for the song, featuring Bowie in an artist’s studio. The scenario was based on the conclusion of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, as a self-portrait of the protagonist grows more handsome while he himself physically decays.
During the Lodger recording sessions, David Bowie had wanted to capture a garage band style for the track, and decided the best way to achieve this sound was to get the band to swap instruments. Guitarist Carlos Alomar played drums and drummer Dennis Davis played bass. “Boys Keep Swinging” has exactly the same chord sequence as the song “Fantastic Voyage” from the same album (“Fantastic Voyage” was also the B-side to the single of “Boys Keep Swinging”). Bowie’s deep voice satirised machismo, while the lyrics juxtaposed depictions of male privilege and homoeroticism (“When you’re a boy, other boys check you out”). When this was combined with David Mallet’s video, which featured a suited Bowie backed by three “female” vocalists who were revealed to be the singer in drag, RCA decided against releasing the single in the US, choosing “Look Back in Anger” instead. Bowie performed the track with a puppet body special effect on Saturday Night Live on 15 December 1979, joined by Klaus Nomi as backing singer. During the broadcast NBC censors muted the “other boys check you out” line, but failed to notice the puppet’s bouncing phallus at the close of the song. The song reached #7 in the UK, returning Bowie to the top 10 of the Singles chart for the first time since “Sound and Vision” in February 1977. It has only been performed on one of Bowie tours to date, the 1995 Outside Tour. Interviewed in 2000, Bowie said the following about the song: “I do not feel that there is anything remotely glorious about being either male or female. I was merely playing on the idea of the colonization of gender.”
“DJ” was a single by David Bowie. It was taken from the album Lodger in the UK, being released on June 29, 1979. A cynical comment on the cult of the DJ, the track is noted for Adrian Belew’s guitar solo, which was recorded in multiple takes, and then mixed back together for the album track. The single was an edited version, but was still possibly too uncommercial for substantial chart success – it peaked at #29 in the UK, and was not released in other markets. The song was performed live for the first time on Bowie’s Outside Tour in 1995. David Mallet filmed a music video for the song, featuring Bowie destroying a DJ studio, mixed with Bowie strolling around London and attracting a crowd of curious passers-by.
The music video for “Ashes to Ashes” was one of the most iconic of the 1980s. Costing £250,000, it was at the time the most expensive music video ever made. It incorporated scenes both in solarised colour and in stark black-and-white, featuring Bowie in the gaudy Pierrot costume that became the dominant visual representation of his Scary Monsters phase. Also appearing were Steve Strange and other members of the London Blitz scene, including Judith Franklin and Darla Jane Gilroy, forerunners of (later participants in) the New Romantic movement that was heavily influenced by Bowie’s music and image. Bowie described the shot of himself and the Blitz Kids marching towards the camera in front of a bulldozer as symbolising “oncoming violence”. Although it appears that two of the Blitz Kids bow at intervals, they were actually trying to pull their gowns away from the bulldozer in an effort to avoid them getting caught. Scenes of the singer in a space suit—that suggested a hospital life-support system—and others showing him locked in what appeared to be a padded room, made reference to both Major Tom and to Bowie’s new, rueful interpretation of him. Contrary to received opinion, the elderly woman lecturing Bowie at the end of the clip was not his real mother. Record Mirror readers voted “Ashes to Ashes” and Bowie’s next single, “Fashion”, the best music videos of 1980.