The next three songs in our first set cover three of Bowie’s early 70’s classic albums.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide is one of those songs that starts quietly with Mel’s acoustic guitar accompanying Jane’s vocals and the tempo and volume then build as the song progresses. As we have found with a number of Bowie songs, there are some unusual chord sequences which keep Andrew and Mel on their toes and a short guitar solo appears before the big, final note is played.
Another classic track from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, the song details Ziggy’s decline into an aged, washed-up rock star and, although it isn’t a single, it’s an iconic song for many a Bowie fan, not least because of Ziggy’s famous and shocking farewell speech that preceded an emotional performance of it at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1973, which can be heard here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEri-JZ44Ws.
Vocally, this song has real dynamicity and it is one of the songs for which our performance of it has developed over the time we have been playing it, and that now really resonates with the audience.
We mentioned in our first blog that the absence of a keyboard player has meant that we have had to replicate keyboard parts with guitar and perhaps this is most evident on the next song, Oh, You Pretty Things!
This is one of Jane’s favourite songs of all time, off the sublime Hunky Dory album, and even though she knew it would be hard to replicate she begged and whined about it for quite a while before finally getting her way. Mel bravely took on the task of replicating the piano parts on guitar (which she has to tune down half a step) and the format of this song is largely Jane and Mel in the verses (with Allan and Phil providing some drum and bass parts for colour) with all of us playing in the choruses.
This is a relatively new song for us, and we felt confident enough with this one to play it live after just a few run-throughs. We have found that after being together for two years now, when we start working on a new song and, if we all done our homework beforehand (which is a rarity!), it comes together relatively quickly. Songs also seem to need to be played live to mature and in the last couple of outings this one has taken on the tempo changes we were looking for from verse to chorus.
Jean Genie is one of those driving RnB songs that, once you start it, just relentlessly propels forward (similar to Rebel Rebel but more on that in due course). It stands out as a bit of an odd bed fellow with the rest of the Aladdin Sane album, but was of course a very successful single.
In the early days of our existence, Phil happened to mention that he’d like to take lead vocals on a song and even before he had finished that particular sentence, and given our highly democratic nature, the decision was made there and then. Phil has written the following on this song:
This RnB riffed song was described by Bowie as a ‘Smorgasbord of Americana’. The lyrics are pretty much a nonsense poem and Phil found them tricky to learn (and remember) as there isn’t a typical storyline to hang onto. Not only are the lyrics hard to remember but they’re also a bit weird… ‘keeps all your dead hair for making up underwear’ being a typical example. According to Wikipedia, the lines at the start of the 3rd verse ‘So simple minded, he can’t drive his module’ provided the inspiration for the name of the band Simple Minds.
So why does Phil get to sing this and not Jane? Simple really, he asked! Phil thinks Jane realised how tricky it would be to learn so was happy to oblige (Jane adds that this really helped with workload, when we were first gearing up to full set gigs, for which we had to learn 14 songs very quickly). The verse parts are sung in a sort of monotone – or maybe that should be monotune with the pitch hardly varying at all during the entire verse. Compared with the original recording Phil puts more variation in it than Bowie did, but there are many examples of live versions where Bowie ‘sang’ the verses a little more compared to the original recording, so we reckon our version is ok.
It’s a very popular song and is great to play with that chugging RnB groove with Andrew putting in some great work on lead just after the third verse and during the instrumental after the final 2 choruses. Jane and Mel put in some great work on backing vocals to add some depth to the choruses. It always goes down well when we play it and is part of the closing section of the first set as we currently perform it.
The next blog will take a break from talking about the songs. With the 2nd anniversary of our first ever full gig coming up, Andrew has decided to write a piece about the band from his perspective, and it seemed fitting to release that bang on the 2nd anniversary. After that, we’ll close the first set with a blog about Rebel Rebel and All the Young Dudes.