Wednesday, August 8, 2007

David Bowie's Cat People

"Among the finest Bowie recordings of the eighties, the original cut of CAT PEOPLE (PUTTING OUT FIRE) is a brooding monolith of a song that finds Bowie in fine vocal fettle; the pure adrenaline rush as the sepulchral intro denotes the line, "I've been putting out the fire-with gasoline!" is among the most thrilling moments he has ever committed to tape...quintessential Bowie."


The murder of John Lennon in 1980 hurt David Bowie spiritually, mentally and artistically and by 1985 the man, who had given rock music some of its greatest and most experimental work, was releasing the lame and artistically corrupt TONIGHT album. It would take Bowie nearly a decade to recover fully from the creative low that hit him in the eighties, a period when ironically he would sell more than ever, but there are a handful of post SCARY MONSTERS eighties tracks that are among the best of his career. At the top of this list is his mind blowing Giorgio Moroder collaboration, the CAT PEOPLE theme.

The original version of CAT PEOPLE is one of the great lost David Bowie singles, a chilling and explosive number that could have fit easily on any one of his many great albums. In Moroder, Bowie met the man he probably should have continued working with at least for awhile. Imagine the polished sheen of Nile Roger's produced LET'S DANCE tracks erased in favor of Moroder's pulsating and propulsive style and you've got a very different decade for David Bowie.

It wasn't meant to be though and CAT PEOPLE remains a blazing one off collaboration between the two great men. Moroder had already delivered his score when Schrader had the idea to get Bowie to sing the title track. Bowie, a major film buff, was called in and quickly agreed. He came up with a set of lyrics that not only seem narrated by Kinski's Irena but also show his own paranoid and frantic state in the wake of Lennon's death.

The original version, with it's slow foreboding build up, is a real stunner and features one of the most explosive and cutting Bowie vocals on record. Moroder's propulsive beats and hypnotic production turn it into one of his great tracks as well, the equal of some of his finest revolutionary work from the seventies with Donna Summer. The slashing guitar work and background female singers would foreshadow some of the second wave of Goth rocker's that would begin filtering out through the early part of the decade, in much the same way Bowie had influenced all of the first batch with his material in the seventies.

The original track is available in several versions, including the soundtrack version, an alternate version for the film, and a handful of edited and extended single takes. It would be a relatively minor hit in The States and England but would have much more impact on Europe's charts. Bowie would soon after record the astonishing UNDER PRESSURE with Queen and CAT PEOPLE stands with that song as the last two reminders of the seventies, until his great comeback in the early nineties.

Bowie made an unfortunate decision with the song in 1983 when he re-cut it without Moroder for his massive LET'S DANCE album. The version used there is much more well known now and is completely inferior. All of the song's menace and intensity have been taken away and Bowie's undervaluing of the original would be a major sign that something was creatively wrong with him in the eighties. The song would become a major live staple for Bowie through his SERIOUS MOONLIGHT tour but unfortunately he didn't return to the Moroder's arrangement. The new version did work better live than on record but was still a long way from Moroder's original.

CAT PEOPLE is easily the best of any theme song for one of Nastassja's films and it is a perfect theme for this exciting portion of her career. The best place to find it is on Moroder's incredible soundtrack lp, which I will be covering later, or on the unfortunately small number of Bowie collections that contain it.


cinebeats said...

Great write-up about a terrific song Jeremy! I absolutely love the original Cat People theme that he recorded for the film.

Giorgio Moroder is an interesting guy. My husband is a big fan of his work so I've heard a lot of his stuff. It would have been interesting if he and Bowie had worked more together during the 80s.

I have really mixed feelings about Bowie's 80s work. The first Bowie record I ever bought was Scary Monsters when it was first released and I loved it. It's still one of my favorite Bowie records. I also first saw him perform live during his Let's Dance tour and he put on an amazing show so I have a sentimental spot in my heart for it even though the album was nowhere as good as Scary Monsters. I also saw Bowie during his Serious Moonlight tour back then as well. I guess the 80s is fondly remembered by me due to the times I saw Bowie live back then. Musically though, it was a real mixed bag and not a very good mix. Thankfully he always performed older tracks live too.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Kimberly,
I didn't mean to be too hard on David in the eighties. I like all the singles off "Let's Dance" and think "Loving The Alien" off "Tonight" is a masterpiece. The "Never Let Me Down" album seems to suffer mostly from over-production and I am an unapolagetic Tin Machine fan.
I always connect "Scary Monsters" with his seventies work and it is a masterpiece...Fripp's guitar work on "Teenage Wildlife" still gives me chills...
I'm a huge fan of his work in the nineties and the couple of times I have seen him have been among the best shows of my life...
anyway...glad to hear you like the theme as well...I think it is incredible.
I am going to post on Moroder's lp soon...I am a bit of a novice with the majority of his work but I hope I do the album and man justice...thanks again...

Rogue Spy 007 said...

This was a great blog, Jeremy, on a wonderful song. The original version of the song for "Cat People" was amazing. I loved it. I do wish that Moroder and Bowie had done more work together. Maybe that would have helped the creative lowpoint of Bowie's career. To me "Let's Dance" was a sell out. Sure, some of the songs were good, but they just weren't that great stuff he did in the 70's. "Scary Monsters" is my favorite of his earlier albums. From the mid-80's on, he put out mostly crap stuff for the next decade. His "Outside" album was the beginning of an awakening for him. I've loved his music again since then. I've actually only seen him once in concert. That was in the mid-90's when he toured with NIN. I loved it. He is one of the most creative, innovative, and fascinating artists to record music. He's someone I would love to meet personally and just talk for hours. Great blog.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Keith
For the comments...I saw that tour with NiN and the ease at which he blew them off the stage was inspiring...I love the guy and it's been thrilling to watch his resurgence in the past 15 fifteen years...