[Apologies in advance for the excessive length of this post. There is a lot of information to encode and limited time to do it in. If I had more time, I’d write a shorter one.]
Many Bowie albums have one song that doesn’t seem to belong there. (In particular I think of “Rock’n’Roll with Me” and “The Secret Life of Arabia.”) Whether this is an intentional strategy to keep listeners on their toes, or just a byproduct of David’s famously short attention span, I don’t know; I suspect there’s some of the former and much more of the latter.
On hours… it’s “The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell,” a thundering, brain-dead rocker among the elegiac reflections. (It would sound much more at home on a Tin Machine album.) The title is a nod both to David’s own “Oh! You Pretty Things” and to a Stooges song from Raw Power (which Bowie mixed1) called “Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell”:
As it happens I got to see Iggy live recently. I was at my friend Bob’s house and someone offered him a ticket and a ride; I looked online to see of tickets were still available; next thing I knew I was at The Masonic Auditorium watching the opening act, a local neo-punk band called Spiritual Cramp. They were… not without their good qualities. As openers go I’ve seen far, far worse.
But there is no competing with Iggy. At 76 years old (!) he is still an energetic, charismatic performer with long, stringy hair who likes to show off his ever-more-marbled physique. Here he is doing “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and flirting with what, in a more genteel age, we would have called “indecent exposure”:
[Sorry this is so huge… I can’t figure out how to change the size…and anyway Iggy should be larger than life.]
The setlist was a good mix of new stuff, Stooges songs, and Bowie-era classics. Then, for the first encore, he pulled out a wildcard:
I stopped filming at that point because I wanted to, like, experience the moment; but here’s the full performance:
Not only is the spirit of Lou invoked there, also that of DB, who was the producer of the song… making this a brief reunion of the Holy Trinity:
OK… where were we?… ah, yes, “The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell.” There’s also an implied nod to the band the Pretty Things, whose songs “Rosalyn” and “Don’t Bring Me Down” Bowie covered on Pinups. It’s a complex set of references for what is, in the end, a pretty silly song.
Bowie was very enthusiastic about “TPTAGtH” at first, releasing it as the album’s first single in Australia and Japan. Later he seemed to back away from it, calling it “a song about standup” and complaining that no one got the joke. He performed it a lot in 1999/2000, then never again.
How does it sound now? It starts as a bracing blast of energy, but never really goes anywhere. I find that about two minutes in I’ve had enough — the album version, at almost five minutes, is waaaay too long; the single edit is more tolerable.
Wikipedia says a music video was made where “Bowie encounters four of his ‘past selves’ (The Man Who Sold the World, Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke and Pierrot) as played by life-sized, mannequin-like puppets.” But he wasn’t happy with how it came out and shelved it; today it is nowhere to be found online. (Two of the puppets did later appear in the “Love Is Lost” video.)
I did find a video where someone combined “The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell” with footage from the TV show House. I have no idea why. Then again, why not?