Cat People (Putting Out Fire)

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"Cat People (Putting Out Fire)"
Bowie CatPeople.jpg
Single by David Bowie
from the album Cat People: Original Soundtrack
B-side"Paul's Theme (Jogging Chase)"
ReleasedApril 1982 (1982-04)
RecordedJuly 1981
StudioMountain, Montreux
GenreNew wave
  • 4:08 (edited version)
  • 6:41 (full-length version)
Composer(s)Giorgio Moroder
Lyricist(s)David Bowie
Producer(s)Giorgio Moroder
David Bowie singles chronology
"Cat People (Putting Out Fire)"
"Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy"
Music video
"Cat People" (from Serious Moonlight Tour) on YouTube

"Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" is a song recorded by English singer-songwriter David Bowie. The title track of the 1982 erotic horror film Cat People, Bowie became involved with the track after director Paul Schrader reached out to him about collaborating. The song was recorded at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland in July 1981. Bowie wrote the lyrics, which reflected the film, while Italian producer Giorgio Moroder composed the music, which is built around only two chord changes.

The song was released as a single by Moroder's label MCA Records in April 1982, appearing in different edits between the 7" and 12" releases, alongside edits for other countries. It also appeared on the accompanying soundtrack album. The single was a commercial success, charting in the UK and the US, and topping the charts in New Zealand, Sweden, Norway and Finland. It is considered one of Bowie's finest recordings of the 1980s. The song has since appeared on numerous compilation albums and was remastered in 2017 for inclusion on the A New Career in a New Town (1977–1982) box set.

Unhappy with the original recording, Bowie remade the track for his 15th studio album Let's Dance (1983), recording it at the Power Station in New York City in December 1982. Featuring production by Chic member Nile Rodgers and lead guitar by blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, the remake is more aggressive. Despite being the more well-known version due to its parent album's success, some critics have expressed a preference for the original recording. The remake was remastered in 2018 as part of the Loving the Alien (1983–1988) box set.


Following the release of his 14th studio album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) in 1980, David Bowie pursued other projects outside of music. He acted in the lead role of Joseph "John" Merrick, in the Broadway play The Elephant Man, which ran from 29 July 1980 through 3 January 1981. Bowie received immense praise for his performance.[1][2] However, the murder of John Lennon in December 1980 took a large toll on him. He declined to renew his Elephant Man contract, cancelled plans to tour Scary Monsters in 1981, and retreated to Switzerland, becoming a paranoid recluse. He furthermore declined to record new music, due to frustration with his label RCA Records and contractual conflicts with his former manager Tony Defries.[3]

Recording and composition[edit]

Giorgio Moroder in 2015
The song's music was composed by Italian producer Giorgio Moroder (pictured in 2015).

In 1980,[4] director Paul Schrader reached out to Bowie to collaborate for the theme song of his remake of the Jacques Tourneur horror film Cat People (1942).[5] Biographer Chris O'Leary describes the original film as "a subtle exploration of sexual repression and xenophobia", while he calls the remake a "gory fashion spread".[3] As Italian producer Giorgio Moroder had already recorded most of the music, Bowie was approached to write the lyrics to the main theme.[5] Bowie met with Moroder in July 1981 at Mountain Studios in Montreaux, Switzerland to record "Cat People".[5] During the same session, Bowie ran into the English rock band Queen, who were recording their 1982 album Hot Space.[6] After recording backing vocals for their song "Cool Cat",[7] the session resulted in the collaboration "Under Pressure".[5]

Musically, "Cat People" has been described as new wave.[8] In keeping with the dark tone of the film, the song has some goth rock influences, with Bowie singing in a deep baritone croon while being backed up by a female chorus. Bowie's octave leap on the word "gasoline" has been called "a magnificent moment"[9] and "among the most thrilling moments he ever committed to tape".[5] Moroder's music is built around two chord changes,[4] including C minor.[9] Bowie's lyrics reflect the film's pretensions, taking influence from his prior songs "Sound and Vision" and "It's No Game", such as the line "those who feel me near / pull the blinds and change their minds".[5] Regarding the film, Bowie said: "It works on a dream state, it feels like the kind of thing you go through at night. That's the way I look at it lyrically".[9]

Release and aftermath[edit]

"Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" was released as a single in April 1982.[6] Because of Moroder's contract, the single was issued by MCA Records. The B-side was "Paul's Theme (Jogging Chase)", a Moroder composition from the Cat People soundtrack.[5] The single appeared in numerous different edits. The full-length 6:45 version appeared on the soundtrack album and the 12" single, while a 4:08 edited version was made for the 7" release. In Australia, a 9:20 edit, featuring additional saxophone and synthesiser, was released on a 12" single. Other edits made included a 3:18 edit for American and German promos and a 3:08 edit for Dutch promos. A 4:55 mix appears in the Cat People film itself, with additional panther roars.[5]

Upon release, the single was a commercial success. The 7" single reached number 26 on the UK Singles Chart, remaining on the chart for six weeks,[10] and at number 13 in Canada.[11] In the US, the 7" single charted on three different Billboard charts: it peaked at number 67 on the Pop Singles chart, remaining there for 10 weeks; at number 9 on the Mainstream Rock chart, remaining there for 20 weeks; and at number 14 on the Club Play Singles chart, remaining there for 16 weeks.[12] In other countries, it peaked at number 1 in New Zealand, remaining there for three weeks,[13] as well as in Sweden for four weeks.[14] It was also number 1 in Norway for seven consecutive weeks, and then returned to the top for a further week.[15] The single also peaked at number 1 in Finland.[16]

An RCA executive believed that the collaboration would result in a more "user-friendly" album like Young Americans (1975). The executive told a colleague: "If it isn't too much trouble, it would be nice if DB went into the studio and recorded a real album".[17] He did not, instead acting in the Alan Clarke play Baal and appeared in more films, including The Hunger and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, both released in 1983.[18][19]

Alongside appearing on the accompanying soundtrack album in 1982, "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" has been released on numerous compilation albums. The full-length 12" single version appeared on the US release Bowie: The Singles 1969–1993 in 1993,[5] on the 2003 edition of Bowie's Sound + Vision collection, and on Re:Call 3, part of the A New Career in a New Town (1977–1982) boxed set, in 2017.[20][21] The shorter 7" single edit has appeared on the non-UK versions of Best of Bowie (2002) and The Platinum Collection (2005).[5]

Track listing[edit]

"Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" written by Bowie and Moroder. "Paul's Theme (Jogging Chase)" written by Moroder.[22][23][24]

UK 7" single

  1. "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" – 4:08
  2. "Paul's Theme (Jogging Chase)" – 3:51

UK 12" single

  1. "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" – 6:41
  2. "Paul's Theme (Jogging Chase)" – 3:51

Australian 12" single

  1. "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" – 4:08
  2. "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" – 9:20
  • label states running time of 6:41, but is actually 9:20

Let's Dance version[edit]

"Cat People (Putting Out Fire)"
Song by David Bowie
from the album Let's Dance
Released14 April 1983 (1983-04-14)
RecordedDecember 1982
StudioPower Station, New York City
LabelEMI America
Composer(s)Giorgio Moroder
Lyricist(s)David Bowie

After leaving RCA Records and signing a new deal with EMI America Records in late 1982,[25] Bowie wanted to start fresh with a new producer. Wanting a commercial sound, he chose Nile Rodgers of the rock band Chic, one of the most commercially successful bands of the late 1970s.[26] After demoing tracks in Montreux, Switzerland,[27] recording for Let's Dance began at the Power Station in New York City during the first three weeks of December 1982.[25]

Bowie had been unhappy with Moroder's backing track for "Cat People", telling Rodgers that he wanted to remake it. Rodgers stated in 1984: "The way 'Cat People' came out on the soundtrack really bothered him. He didn't like it at all. He played me his original demo and I said, 'Wow, that's the way 'Cat People' goes?'"[9] For the re-recording, Rodgers made it cut time "but kept the same tempo so [Bowie] could sing the vocal the same way and the band could keep the pocket".[9] Bowie claimed in 1983: "I took the instruments away. They don't weave quite such a magic spell over the construction of the lyrics...they get the chords right and that's about all I wanted to do".[9]

The re-recording is described by Pegg and O'Leary as more "aggressive". The synthesisers of the original are replaced by keyboards, the verses are "halved" and the backing vocals are ran through an Eventide Harmonizer with the pitch raised a minor third.[5][9] Like the rest of the album,[28] then-unknown blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan plays lead guitar on the song. Although O'Leary praises his solo as an improvement over the original, Pegg calls it "alarmingly middle-of-the-road".[5][9] O'Leary further calls Bowie's vocals inferior to the original, calling his performance "hoarse" and "rushed": "He even defuses the power of the 'gasoline!' break, as if grand dramatics were now beneath him".[9]

The remake of "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" was released on 14 April 1983 as the seventh and penultimate track on Bowie's 15th studio album Let's Dance, sequenced between the cover of "Criminal World" and "Shake It".[29] The remake was also released as the B-side to the title track's single release on 14 March.[30] It was subsequently performed throughout the Serious Moonlight Tour.[5] At the 26th Annual Grammy Awards, "Cat People" was nominated for the Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male,[31] losing the award to Michael Jackson's "Beat It".[32]

The remake was remastered, along with the rest of its parent album, in 2018 as part of the box set Loving the Alien (1983–1988) and released separately the following year.[33] A concert performance recorded on 12 September 1983 may be heard on the live album Serious Moonlight (Live '83), which was included in Loving the Alien (1983–1988)[33] and released separately in 2019. The performance was filmed and appears on the concert video Serious Moonlight and the DVD version of Best of Bowie.[34]


The original version of "Cat People" has been praised as one of Bowie's best recordings of the 1980s.[5] On release, Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times hailed Bowie's vocal performance as one of his finest "in years".[35] Reviewing the original's remaster as part of the A New Career in a New Town (1977–1982) box set, Chris Gerard of PopMatters calls the track "brooding" and one of Bowie's "most potent singles from the era".[20] The remake, however, has been criticised by Bowie's biographers and other reviewers as drastically inferior to the original recording.[9] In a review for Let's Dance on release, Carol Cooper of Record magazine, was critical of the remake: "Chic dynamics over a definitive Bowie/Moroder soundtrack is gilding the lily".[36] Pegg calls the remake "decidedly wet" and notes that due to the massive success of Let's Dance, the re-recording is the more well-known version.[5] Trynka writes that the remake "desecrates the memory of a Bowie classic".[37] Although Dave Thompson of AllMusic calls the original a "deeply atmospheric and utterly effective theme [song]", he pans the remake as "declawed and neutered", writing that "fans of the original should steer as far clear of the remake as they can".[38]


"Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" has been covered by numerous artists, including Klaus Waldeck in 2003 (released as a single for his album The Night Garden Reflowered), Glenn Danzig in 2007 (released on The Lost Tracks of Danzig), and Sharleen Spiteri in 2010 (released on her album The Movie Songbook).[5] A version featuring Marilyn Manson was recorded by Shooter Jennings in 2016 for his tribute album Countach (For Giorgio). The cover was promoted with a 16-bit music video featuring Manson.[39]

In film, the song has appeared in Firestorm (1998),[5] Atomic Blonde (2017),[40] and Inglourious Basterds (2009).[8] In Inglourious Basterds, the song appears in a pivotal scene for one of the film's title characters. On choosing "Cat People" for the film, director Quentin Tarantino stated: "You're actually shocked at how well the lyrics to 'Cat People' work to her story."[41] Trynka writes that after the Let's Dance remake, the original recording was "exhumed" through its use in Tarantino's film.[37] The same year, the song appeared in "Cafe Disco", an episode of the American television series The Office.[5]


According to biographer Chris O'Leary:[30]


1982 chart performance for "Cat People"
Chart (1982) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[42] 15
Canadian Singles (RPM)[11] 13
Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)[16] 1
Irish Singles Chart 17
New Zealand Singles Chart[13] 1
Norwegian Singles Chart[15] 1
Swedish Singles Chart[14] 1
Swiss Singles Chart[43] 8
UK Singles Chart[10] 26
US Billboard Hot 100[12] 67
US Billboard Club Play Singles[12] 14
US Billboard Top Rock Tracks[12] 9


  1. ^ Pegg 2016, pp. 662–664.
  2. ^ Buckley 2005, pp. 324–325.
  3. ^ a b O'Leary 2019, pp. 164–166.
  4. ^ a b Trynka 2011, p. 365.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Pegg 2016, p. 57.
  6. ^ a b Trynka 2011, p. 366.
  7. ^ O'Leary 2019, p. 166.
  8. ^ a b Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Inglourious Basterds [Original Soundtrack] – Original Soundtrack". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 15 July 2018. Retrieved 11 July 2021.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j O'Leary 2019, p. 165.
  10. ^ a b "Cat People (Putting Out Fire) – full Official Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 11 July 2021.
  11. ^ a b "Image: RPM Weekly". Retrieved 21 February 2016.
  12. ^ a b c d "Cat People (Putting Out Fire) – Chart History". Billboard. Retrieved 10 July 2021.
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  14. ^ a b "". Retrieved 23 November 2008.
  15. ^ a b "". Retrieved 23 November 2008.
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  17. ^ Sandford 1997, pp. 212–213.
  18. ^ Pegg 2016, pp. 667–670.
  19. ^ Doggett 2012, p. 390.
  20. ^ a b Gerard, Chris (12 October 2017). "Filtered Through the Prism of David Bowie's Quixotic Mind: 'A New Career in a New Town'". PopMatters. p. 2. Archived from the original on 24 August 2020. Retrieved 4 December 2020.
  21. ^ "A New Career in a New Town (1977–1982) – David Bowie Latest News". 22 July 2016. Archived from the original on 29 July 2014. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  22. ^ "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" (7" single liner notes). David Bowie. UK: MCA Records. MCA 770.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  23. ^ "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" (12" single liner notes). David Bowie. UK: MCA Records. MCAT 770.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  24. ^ "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" (12" single liner notes). David Bowie. Australia: MCA Records. DS 12087.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  25. ^ a b Buckley 2005, pp. 334–335.
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  27. ^ Buckley 2005, p. 337.
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  30. ^ a b O'Leary 2019, p. 164.
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  32. ^ "26th Annual Grammy Awards (1978)". Archived from the original on 18 July 2021. Retrieved 3 September 2021.
  33. ^ a b "David Bowie Loving The Alien (1983 – 1988) due October". David Bowie Official Website. 18 July 2018. Archived from the original on 17 February 2021. Retrieved 11 July 2021.
  34. ^ Pegg 2016, pp. 640–641, 645–646.
  35. ^ Hilburn, Robert (21 March 1982). "Here Comes 1982 In Rock – At Last". Los Angeles Times. p. 66. Retrieved 31 December 2021 – via (subscription required).
  36. ^ Cooper, Carol (July 1983). "David Bowie: Let's Dance (EMI/America)". Record. Retrieved 12 March 2021 – via Rock's Backpages (subscription required).
  37. ^ a b Trynka 2011, p. 490.
  38. ^ Thompson, Dave. ""Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" – David Bowie Song Info". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 4 July 2019. Retrieved 11 July 2021.
  39. ^ Moore, Sam (3 August 2016). "Watch Marilyn Manson star in disturbing 16-bit video for his cover of David Bowie's 'Cat People'". NME. Time Inc. UK. Archived from the original on 5 August 2016. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  40. ^ White, Caitlin (17 July 2017). "How 'Atomic Blonde' Director David Leitch Used Music To Turn A Stuffy Cold War Film Into A Spy Thriller". Uproxx. Archived from the original on 29 July 2017. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
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