Absolute Beginners (David Bowie song)

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This article is about the song by David Bowie. For the song by the Jam, see Absolute Beginners (The Jam song).
"Absolute Beginners"
Single by David Bowie
from the album Absolute Beginners: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
B-side Absolute Beginners (Dub Mix)
Released March 1986
Format 7"/12" single, 3"/5" CD single, Digital download
Recorded
  • Abbey Road Studios, London, June 1985[1]
  • Westside Studios, London, August 1985[2]
Length 8:03 (full-length album version)
5:36 (single version)
Label Virgin
VS838
Writer(s) David Bowie
Producer(s)
David Bowie singles chronology
"Dancing in the Street"
(1985)
"Absolute Beginners"
(1986)
"Underground"
(1986)
Music video
"Absolute Beginners" on YouTube

"Absolute Beginners" is a song written and recorded by David Bowie. It was the theme song to the 1986 film of the same name (itself an adaptation of the book Absolute Beginners).

Although the film was not a commercial success, the song became one of Bowie's most successful 1980s singles. It reached No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart and became a top ten single on the main charts in eight other countries, his last song to accomplish that. It was less successful in the US, peaking at No. 53 on the Billboard Hot 100. Bowie performed it live on his Glass Spider and 2000 tours. It was chosen by Jeremy Allen in The Guardian as one of Bowie's "ten of the best" songs.[3] Biographer Paul Trynka described it as "Bowie's last great composition of the 1980s".[4]

Background and recording[edit]

Bowie was good friends with the film's director, Julien Temple (who had worked with him in 1984 on the Jazzin' for Blue Jean short film). Bowie agreed to Temple's request to write music for the film if he could also play the part of Vendice Partners.

The sessions at Abbey Road Studios, London, were set up in a novel way, with a group of session musicians all receiving a card to work at the studio with "Mr X", who turned out to be Bowie. The sessions were completed rapidly, but the song was delayed due to the problems with completing the film. Virgin wanted the release to tie in with the film's opening. The song featured Rick Wakeman on piano, who had previously performed on Bowie's "Space Oddity" single and Hunky Dory album. Shortly after the sessions wrapped, Mick Jagger flew in to record the charity cover of "Dancing in the Street" with Bowie, which used many of the same musicians. Bowie recorded the lead vocal of "Absolute Beginners" at Westside Studios in August.[2]

Reception[edit]

AllMusic described the song as "the gem of his post-Let's Dance '80s output, a big, breathtaking ballad allowing him to indulge the Sinatra croon that's driven many of his best performances".[5] Don Weller's saxophone solo has been described by musicOMH as "perhaps the best" saxophone solo in a Bowie song. They characterised it as "the sound of one man trying to violently expel his innards through the bell of his instrument" and "one of the most heartbreaking things put to record".[6]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks by David Bowie

3" CD: Virgin CDT 20 (UK)[edit]

  1. "Absolute Beginners" - 8:03
  2. "Absolute Beginners (Dub Mix)" - 5:40

CD: Virgin CDF 20 (UK)[edit]

  1. "Absolute Beginners" - 8:03
  2. "Absolute Beginners (Dub Mix)" - 5:40

7": Virgin VS 838 (UK)[edit]

  1. "Absolute Beginners" – 5:36
  2. "Absolute Beginners (Dub Mix)" – 5:42

12": Virgin VSG 838–12 (UK)[edit]

  1. "Absolute Beginners (Full Length Version)" – 8:00
  2. "Absolute Beginners (Dub Mix)" – 5:42
  • issued in a gatefold sleeve

12": EMI America SPRO 9623 (US)[edit]

  1. "Absolute Beginners (Edited Version)" – 4:46
  2. "Absolute Beginners (Full Length Version)" – 8:00
  • includes exclusive "edited version"

Download: EMI iVS 838 (UK)[edit]

  1. "Absolute Beginners" – 5:36
  2. "Absolute Beginners (Full Length Version)" – 8:00
  3. "Absolute Beginners (Dub Mix)" – 5:42

Download: Amazon.com (US)[edit]

  1. "Absolute Beginners" – 5:37
  2. "Absolute Beginners (Full Length Version)" – 8:03
  3. "Absolute Beginners (Dub Mix)" – 5:39
  4. "That's Motivation" - 4:14
  5. "Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu)" - 3:13
  • Original release date (of E.P. download with added tracks 4 and 5): 28 May 2007

Music video[edit]

Julien Temple shot the music video, which echoed the 1950s style of the movie. The video was a homage to an old British advert for Strand cigarettes. The ill-fated advertising tagline "You're never alone with a Strand" is quoted by Partners in the film. The video also uses footage from the film.

In 2016, Entertainment Weekly chose it as one of Bowie's 20 best music videos. They stated the video "does a far better job of expressing the noirish romanticism" of MacInnes' novel than the film did and also praised the "great dance-fighting scene at the end".[7]

Production credits[edit]

Gil Evans sings the refrain of the song in the film.

Live versions[edit]

  • The song was performed live during David Bowie's 1987 Glass Spider Tour.
  • A live version recorded at BBC Radio Theatre, London, on 27 June 2000 was released on the bonus disc accompanying the first release of Bowie at the Beeb in 2000.
  • It was performed live on several occasions on the 2002 Heathen Tour as a duet with bassist Gail Ann Dorsey (Mark Plati would play bass while she sang); usually the song would end with Bowie and Dorsey dancing.

Other releases[edit]

Cover versions[edit]

Charts[edit]

Chart Position
Australia Singles Chart 5
Austria Singles Chart 2
Canada Singles Chart 45[8]
Germany Singles Chart 7
Ireland Singles Chart 1
Netherlands Singles Chart 8
Norway Singles Chart 4
Sweden Singles Chart 5
Switzerland Singles Chart 3
UK Singles Chart 2
US Billboard Hot 100 53
US Mainstream Rock Tracks 9

References[edit]

  1. ^ Thompson, Dave (2006). Hallo Spaceboy: The Rebirth of David Bowie. ECW Press. p. 321. ISBN 978-1550227338. 
  2. ^ a b Shepherd, Jack (21 January 2016). "David Bowie impersonates Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed in newly unearthed recording". The Independent. Retrieved 8 June 2016. 
  3. ^ Allen, Jeremy (3 December 2014). "David Bowie: 10 of the best". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 June 2016. 
  4. ^ Trynka, Paul (2012). David Bowie: Starman. Sphere. ISBN 978-0751542936. Retrieved 5 August 2016. 
  5. ^ LeRoy, Dan. "Absolute Beginners - Original Soundtrack". AllMusic. Retrieved 7 August 2016. 
  6. ^ Jeffery, Alex (12 January 2016). "The Pranny Genius Of David Bowie". musicOMH. Retrieved 7 August 2016. 
  7. ^ Anderson, Kyle (11 January 2016). "David Bowie's 20 best music videos". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 8 June 2016. 
  8. ^ Library and Archives Canada: Top Singles – Volume 44, No. 7, May 10, 1986, 10 May 1987, retrieved 11 July 2014 

Pegg, Nicholas, The Complete David Bowie, Reynolds & Hearn Ltd, 2000, ISBN 1-903111-14-5

External links[edit]