Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)

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"Scary Monsters" redirects here. For The X-Files episode, see Scary Monsters (The X-Files).
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
Studio album by David Bowie
Released 12 September 1980
Recorded February 1980 and April 1980 at The Power Station, New York City and Good Earth Studios, London
Genre Art rock, post-punk, experimental rock, new wave
Length 45:37
Label RCA Records
Producer David Bowie, Tony Visconti
David Bowie chronology
Lodger
(1979)
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
(1980)
Let's Dance
(1983)
Singles from Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
  1. "Ashes to Ashes" b/w "Move On"
    Released: 8 August 1980
  2. "Fashion" b/w "Scream Like a Baby"
    Released: 12 September 1980
  3. "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)" b/w "Because You're Young"
    Released: 2 January 1981
  4. "Up the Hill Backwards" b/w "Crystal Japan"
    Released: March 1981

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) is the fourteenth studio album by David Bowie, released in September 1980 by RCA Records. It was his final studio album for the label and his first following the so-called Berlin Trilogy of Low, "Heroes" and Lodger (1977–79). Though considered very significant in artistic terms, the trilogy had proved less successful commercially.[1] With Scary Monsters, however, Bowie achieved what biographer David Buckley called "the perfect balance";[2] as well as earning critical acclaim, the album peaked at No. 1 in the UK and restored Bowie's commercial standing in the US.[3][4]

Although the album is commonly referred to as Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), in keeping with the song title, and the album title as written on the front and back covers of the LP is Scary Monsters . . . . . and Super Creeps, the album is identified simply as Scary Monsters on the LP spine and disc label.

Album production[edit]

According to co-producer Tony Visconti, David Bowie's method on Scary Monsters was somewhat less experimental and more concerned with achieving a commercially viable sound than had been the case with his recent releases; to that end the composer spent more time on his own developing lyrics and melodies before recording, rather than improvising music in the studio and making up words at the last minute.[2] Aside from one cover, Tom Verlaine's "Kingdom Come", all tracks would be credited to Bowie alone, unlike the 'Berlin Trilogy' where there was an increasing amount of input from his collaborators.

Among those collaborators, Brian Eno was no longer present on Scary Monsters, but Chuck Hammer added multiple textural layers deploying guitar synth and, following his absence from Lodger, Robert Fripp returned with the distinctive guitar sound he had earlier lent to "Heroes". Bruce Springsteen's pianist Roy Bittan was back for his first Bowie album since Station to Station five years earlier, while The Who's Pete Townshend guested on "Because You're Young".[4] This would be the last Bowie album featuring the rhythm section of Carlos Alomar, Dennis Davis and George Murray, which had been together since Station to Station.[5]

Song development[edit]

Bowie continued to develop songs using non-traditional methods: for "It's No Game (No. 1)", he challenged guitarist Fripp to "imagine he was playing a guitar duel with B.B. King where he had to out-B.B. B.B., but do it in his own way."[6]

"Fashion" started as a song called "Jamaica" but Bowie couldn't think of anything to write, so he almost discarded the song until late in the recording cycle, when it was transformed into the song as it finally appeared on the album. The track "I Feel Free" (by Cream) was recorded "in rough mix" for the album, but did not appear on a Bowie album until a re-recording for 1993's Black Tie White Noise. A few of the other tracks on the album started with different names: "Ashes to Ashes" started as "People Are Turning to Gold" and "Teenage Wildlife" was originally called "It Happens Everyday." The track "Scream Like a Baby" was originally called "Laser" (the lyric "Scream like a baby" was sung as "I am a laser"). The song "Is There Life After Marriage?" was fully written and recorded for the album, but for unknown reasons was never released.[7]

Style and themes[edit]

The public's first taste of Scary Monsters was "Ashes to Ashes", which was released as a single one month prior to the album and made No. 1 in the UK. Built around a guitar synth theme by Chuck Hammer, it revisited the character of Major Tom from Bowie's early hit "Space Oddity". Aside from its critical and commercial success as a song, the accompanying music video set a benchmark for the art form.[8]

Notwithstanding the lush textures of "Ashes to Ashes", Bowie's sound on the album was described by critics as being harsher—and his worldview more desperate—than anything he had released since Diamond Dogs (1974).[4] This was exemplified by such tracks as "It's No Game (No. 1)", the hard-rocking opener featuring lead female vocals in Japanese; the careering title track with its prominent percussion effects and Bowie's mock-cockney accent; the second single "Fashion", which seemed to draw parallels between style and politics and which had its own highly regarded video;[4] and "Scream Like a Baby", a tale of political imprisonment.[4]

Aside from "Ashes to Ashes", "Teenage Wildlife" was perhaps the album's most personal lyric. Against a musical backdrop that owed much to his song "Heroes", Bowie appeared to take aim squarely at new wave artists, particularly Gary Numan:[2]

A broken-nosed mogul are you
One of the new wave boys
Same old thing in brand new drag
Comes sweeping into view
As ugly as a teenage millionaire
Pretending it's a whiz-kid world

Packaging[edit]

The rear sleeve contained references to four of Bowie's earlier albums.

The cover artwork of Scary Monsters features Bowie in the Pierrot costume worn in the "Ashes to Ashes" music video, rendered in a combination of Brian Duffy's photographs and a painting by Edward Bell. The original vinyl album's rear sleeve referred to four earlier albums, namely the immediately preceding 'Berlin Trilogy' and 1973's Aladdin Sane, the latter also having been designed and photographed by Duffy. The cover images from Low, "Heroes", and Lodger—the last showing Bowie's torso superimposed on the figure from Aladdin Sane's inside gatefold picture—were portrayed in small frames to the left of the track listing. Their whitewashed look was reportedly designed "to symbolise the discarding of Bowie's old personae."[9] These images were not reproduced on the Rykodisc reissue in 1992, but were restored for EMI/Virgin's 1999 remastered edition.

Singles and additional tracks[edit]

Following the release of "Ashes to Ashes" in August 1980, prior to the album, and "Fashion" in October, the title track was issued as a single in January 1981 in both vinyl record and compact cassette form. The album's final single, "Up the Hill Backwards", was released in March of that year. Other songs from this period, released on CD by Rykodisc, included both sides of the single "Alabama Song" b/w "Space Oddity", the latter a stark remake that debuted New Year's Eve 1979 on The Kenny Everett Video Show and served as a "ritualistic purification"[4] of Bowie's most famous number prior to its demolition with "Ashes to Ashes"; "Crystal Japan", B-side of "Up the Hill Backwards" in the UK and an A-side b/w "Alabama Song" in Japan, where it was also used for a Sake commercial;[4] and a new version of Aladdin Sane's "Panic in Detroit".

Release and aftermath[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars[10]
Blender 5/5 stars[11]
Robert Christgau (B+)[12]
Smash Hits 9/10 stars[13]

RCA released Scary Monsters in September 1980 with the promo line "Often Copied, Never Equalled", seen as a direct reference to the New Wave acts Bowie had inspired over the years.[2] It was highly praised by critics, Record Mirror giving it a rating of seven stars out of five,[2] while Melody Maker called it "an eerily impressive stride into the '80s" and Billboard reported that it "should be the most accessible and commercially successful Bowie LP in years".[14] The album's No. 1 placing in the UK charts was Bowie's first since Diamond Dogs in 1974, while its US peak of No. 12 was his highest stateside showing since Low almost four years earlier.[15]

Despite the worldwide megastardom and commercial success that Bowie would achieve in coming years, most notably with his next studio album Let's Dance in 1983, many commentators consider Scary Monsters to be "his last great album",[10] the "benchmark" for each new release.[2] Well-regarded later efforts such as Black Tie White Noise,[16] Earthling,[17] Heathen and Reality were cited as "the best album since Scary Monsters."[18] In the latest edition of his musical biography of the singer, Strange Fascination, David Buckley suggested that "Bowie should pre-emptively sticker up his next album 'Best Since Scary Monsters' and have done with it".[19]

In 2000 Q magazine ranked Scary Monsters at No. 30 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 2002 Pitchfork Media placed it No. 93 in its Top 100 Albums of the 1980s.[20] In 2012, ''Slant'' Magazine listed the album at No. 27 on its list of "Best Albums of the 1980s" saying "Bowie bridles the experimentation of his Berlin trilogy and channels those synth flourishes and off-kilter guitar licks into one of the decade's quirkiest pop albums."[21]

American industrial metal/nu metal band Powerman 5000 referred to the album on their 1998 song Nobody's Real.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by David Bowie, except where noted.

Side One
No. Title Length
1. "It's No Game (Part 1)"   4:20
2. "Up the Hill Backwards"   3:15
3. "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)"   5:12
4. "Ashes to Ashes"   4:25
5. "Fashion"   4:49
Side Two
No. Title Length
6. "Teenage Wildlife"   6:56
7. "Scream Like a Baby"   3:35
8. "Kingdom Come" (music and lyrics by Tom Verlaine) 3:45
9. "Because You're Young"   4:54
10. "It's No Game (Part 2)"   4:22

Reissues[edit]

The album has been rereleased four times to date on CD, the first being in 1984 by RCA, the second in 1992 by Rykodisc (containing four bonus tracks), the third in 1999 by EMI (featuring 24-bit digitally-remastered sound and no bonus tracks) and the last in 2003 by EMI as a SACD (Super Audio Compact Disc).

1992 reissue bonus tracks[edit]

  1. "Space Oddity" (Single B-side, re-recorded acoustic version, 1979) – 4:47
  2. "Panic in Detroit" (Re-recorded version, 1979, previously unreleased) – 3:00
  3. "Crystal Japan" (Japanese single A-side, 1979) – 3:08
  4. "Alabama Song" (Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill) (UK single A-side, recorded 1978) – 3:51

Personnel[edit]

Additional musicians[edit]

  • Chuck Hammerguitar synthesizer on "Ashes to Ashes" and "Teenage Wildlife"
  • Robert Fripp – guitar on "Fashion", "It's No Game", "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)", "Kingdom Come", "Up the Hill Backwards", and "Teenage Wildlife"
  • Roy Bittan – piano on "Teenage Wildlife", "Ashes to Ashes" and "Up the Hill Backwards"
  • Andy Clark – synthesizer on "Fashion", "Scream Like a Baby", "Ashes to Ashes" and "Because You're Young"
  • Pete Townshend – guitar on "Because You're Young"
  • Tony Viscontiacoustic guitar on "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)" and "Up the Hill Backwards", backing vocals
  • Lynn Maitland – backing vocals
  • Chris Porter – backing vocals
  • Michi Hirota – voice on "It's No Game (No. 1)"

Production[edit]

  • David Bowie, Tony Visconti – production and engineering
  • Larry Alexander, Jeff Hendrickson – engineering assistance
  • Peter Mew, Nigel Reeve – mastering

Charts[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ David Buckley (1999). Strange Fascination – David Bowie: The Definitive Story: p.302
  2. ^ a b c d e f David Buckley (1999). Ibid: pp.363–375
  3. ^ Nicholas Pegg (2000). The Complete David Bowie: p.314
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Bowie: An Illustrated Record: pp.108–114
  5. ^ David Buckley (1999). Strange Fascination – David Bowie: The Definitive Story: p.270
  6. ^ "Changes 2.1" by Joe Gore, Guitar Player magazine, June 1997, pp 45-58
  7. ^ David Currie, ed. (1985), David Bowie: The Starzone Interviews, England: Omnibus Press, ISBN 978-0-7119-0685-3 
  8. ^ Nicholas Pegg (2000). Op Cit: p.29
  9. ^ Scary Monsters at BowieGoldenYears. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  10. ^ a b Allmusic. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  11. ^ "Scary Monsters – Blender". Blender. Retrieved 16 June 2009. 
  12. ^ Robert Christgau. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  13. ^ Smash Hits, David Hepworth, 2 October 1980, p.29
  14. ^ Patrick Humphrey (2007). "You've Been Around", MOJO 60 Years of Bowie: p.79
  15. ^ David Buckley (1999). Op Cit: p.623
  16. ^ "New wife, new album keep David Bowie in fine spirits" by Jim Sullivan for The Boston Globe, 12 April 1993
  17. ^ Kemp, Mark (20 February 1997), "Earthling Review", Rolling Stone magazine (754): 65–66 
  18. ^ "David Bowie Reality Review". Retrieved 11 April 2013. 
  19. ^ David Buckley (2005). Strange Fascination – David Bowie: The Definitive Story: p.500
  20. ^ "Top 100 albums of 1980s". Retrieved 5 November 2011. 
  21. ^ Best albums of the 1980s. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  22. ^ a b Kent, David (1993). [[Kent Music Report|Australian Chart Book 1970–1992]]. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6. 
  23. ^ "David Bowie – Scary Monsters – austriancharts.at" (ASP). Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  24. ^ "Top Albums/CDs - Volume 34, No. 6," (PHP). RPM. 20 December 1980. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  25. ^ "dutchcharts.nl David Bowie – Scary Monsters" (ASP). dutchcharts.nl. MegaCharts. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  26. ^ "InfoDisc : Tous les Albums classés par Artiste > Choisir Un Artiste Dans la Liste" (PHP). infodisc.fr. Retrieved 31 January 2014.  Note: user must select 'David BOWIE' from drop-down.
  27. ^ Oricon Album Chart Book: Complete Edition 1970-2005. Roppongi, Tokyo: Oricon Entertainment. 2006. ISBN 4-87131-077-9. 
  28. ^ "charts.org.nz David Bowie – Scary Monsters" (ASP). Recording Industry Association of New Zealand. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  29. ^ "norwegiancharts.com David Bowie – Scary Monsters" (ASP). Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  30. ^ Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2. 
  31. ^ "swedishcharts.com David Bowie – Scary Monsters" (ASP). Sverigetopplistan. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  32. ^ "David Bowie > Artists > Official Charts". UK Albums Chart. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  33. ^ "allmusic ((( Scary Monsters > Charts & Awards > Billboard Albums )))". allmusic.com. Retrieved 31 August 2011. 
  34. ^ "Album Search: David Bowie – Scary Monsters" (ASP) (in German). Media Control. Retrieved 10 October 2013. 
  35. ^ "RPM Top 100 Albums of 1980". RPM. 20 December 1980. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  36. ^ "Dutch charts jaaroverzichten 1980" (ASP) (in Dutch). Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  37. ^ "Top 100 Albums of 1981". RPM. 26 December 1981. Retrieved 6 December 2013. 
  38. ^ "Canadian album certifications – David Bowie – Scary Monsters". Music Canada. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  39. ^ "French album certifications – Bowie D. – Scary Monsters" (in French). InfoDisc.  Select BOWIE D. and click OK
  40. ^ "Les Albums Or". infodisc.fr. SNEP. Retrieved 31 August 2011. 
  41. ^ "British album certifications – David Bowie – Scary Monsters". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 31 January 2014.  Enter Scary Monsters in the field Search. Select Title in the field Search by. Select album in the field By Format. Click Go
Preceded by
Never for Ever by Kate Bush
UK Albums Chart number-one album
27 September – 10 October 1980
Succeeded by
Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police
Preceded by
Xanadu
by Olivia Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra
Australian Kent Music Report number-one album
6 October – 9 November 1980
Succeeded by
Guilty by Barbra Streisand
Preceded by
Uprising by Bob Marley and the Wailers
Paris by Supertramp
New Zealand Chart number-one album
12–19 October 1980
2 November 1980
Succeeded by
Paris by Supertramp
Guilty by Barbra Streisand