Today, I am informed, is the 50th anniversary of the release of Diamond Dogs. A great album — or more accurately, an album with some great stuff on it.

I always thought some dubious choices were made in terms of track listing and sequencing, so a few years ago I made my own version. I sent it to a couple people but I don’t think they paid attention, not that there’s any reason they should have.

This seems like the right moment to dig it out. You’ll notice that it starts and ends (almost) the same as the original album, because those were absolutely 100% the right choices. In between things are added, subtracted, and rearranged. (Don’t hold your breath waiting for “Rebel Rebel” — the single version was OK, but it never belonged on the album. I will die on this hill.)

Here’s Side 1. We’ll get to Side 2 in a little bit.


Future Legend
“It starts with an otherworldly squall, Lou Reed’s Berlin title track reimagined by Joe Meek’s ‘I Hear A New World.’ ‘Future Legend’ raises the curtain on Hunger City, a vision of urban decay where ‘red mutant eyes gaze down’ while ‘fleas the size of rats suck on rats the size of cats’ and ‘ten thousand peoploids split into small tribes.’ The almost cannabalistic imagery stretches back to ‘We Are Hungry Men’ (‘We’re here to eat you!’) and the sonic mise-en-scene recalls the Deram debut too, chiefly ‘Please Mr Gravedigger’’s BBC Radiophonic Workshop-like invention. A brief prelude, ‘Future Legend’ compresses Bowie past and present with the future shock of the icy synths, offering a glimmer of his late-1970s horizons.” —Matthew Lindsay, The Hideous Ecstasy of Fear: Diamond Dogs at 50, The Quietus

Diamond Dogs
“‘Diamond Dogs’ has never sounded quite right: a sordid, overlong Rolling Stones imitation, someone else’s nightmare inflicted with malice upon you. As darkly comical as it is menacing, it’s a ‘classic rock’ song overrun by grotesques (amputees in priest’s robes, Tod Browning rejects, various ultraviolences). Audiences didn’t know what to make of it. “Diamond Dogs” was Bowie’s least-successful single since the Hunky Dory days, reaching only #21 in the UK, and going nowhere in the States. On the radio, it never seems to segue well: it burlesques whatever song it follows or precedes. Leading off the second side of Bowie’s hits compilation, ChangesOneBowie, it was a wide moat of a groove, taking up the space of two less disturbing songs…. The track sounds used, repurposed, as though Bowie found an old master tape and overdubbed slurs and noises onto it.” —Chris O’Leary

It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City
“[Springsteen] is a great writer. And I don’t like what he is doing very much now. I loved this album when it came out. It was Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and after I heard this track I never rode the subway again, it’s called ‘It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City’. That really scared the living ones out of me.” —David Bowie

How different would the album have sounded if George Orwell’s widow hadn’t denied Bowie the rights to 1984? I mean, it didn’t stop him from including the song by that name. This earlier version, not tarted up by the wah-wah guitar, uses more material from the novel; maybe it would have made the cut.

Alternative Candidate
Listening to this now, it’s hard not to add the terrifying clown face of the Ex-Pres Who Shall Not Be Named to my visualization of the scene. I mean, one possible dystopian future begins next January. There is a distinct Oceanic cast to a lot of his plans for a (shudder) second term, and apparently a lot of people in this country are perfectly fine with that. We want you, Big Brother… well, we’ll get there next time.