Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
|Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)|
|Studio album by|
|Released||12 September 1980|
|Studio||The Power Station, New York City; Good Earth, London|
|David Bowie chronology|
|Singles from Scary Monsters|
(and Super Creeps)
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), also known simply as Scary Monsters,[a] is the 14th studio album by English singer-songwriter David Bowie, released on 12 September 1980 by RCA Records. It was Bowie's final studio album on the label and his first following the Berlin Trilogy, which consisted of Low, "Heroes" and Lodger (1977–1979). Though considered very significant in artistic terms, the trilogy had proven less successful commercially. With Scary Monsters, Bowie achieved what biographer David Buckley called "the perfect balance" of creativity and mainstream success.
Upon release, the album garnered critical acclaim and peaked at No. 1 and went Platinum in the UK while successfully restoring Bowie's commercial standing in the US. Scary Monsters would later be referred to by some biographers as Bowie's "last great album" and a benchmark for later releases. The album has been reissued multiple times and was remastered in 2017 as part of the A New Career in a New Town (1977–1982) box set.
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. 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". This would be the fifth and last Bowie album featuring the rhythm section of Dennis Davis, Carlos Alomar and George Murray, which had been together since Station to Station.
Bowie continued to develop songs using non-traditional methods: for "Ashes to Ashes", he referenced an experimental Guitarchitecture track from guitarist Chuck Hammer as the descending modulating chordal and rhythmic structure. For "Teenage Wildlife" he asked Hammer to record his tracks in discrete separate sections, stopping to alter the guitar textures between each section. During the recording Bowie and Hammer referred to the two octave higher Eventide Harmonizer part as the piglets and later down the track as the return of the piglets. 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."
"We were doing either 'Up the Hill Backwards' or 'It's No Game', and I said, 'Any suggestions?'" Fripp recalled. "And David replied, "Ritchie Blackmore!" Because David isn't really a guitarist, he couldn't give me more of a ground plan than that, but I knew what he meant."
"Fashion" began as "Jamaica". Unable to think of anything to write, Bowie discarded the song until late in the recording cycle, when it was transformed into the song that appears on the album. Other tracks also began with different names: "Ashes to Ashes" as "People Are Turning to Gold", "Teenage Wildlife" as "It Happens Everyday" and "Scream Like a Baby" as "Laser" (the lyric "Scream like a baby" was sung as "I am a laser"). "Laser" was originally written in 1973, recorded by Ava Cherry and the Astronettes (made up of Bowie collaborators Ava Cherry and Geoff MacCormack), and demoed by Bowie during the sessions for "Young Americans" in 1975. "Is There Life After Marriage?" was fully written and recorded for the album, but, for unknown reasons, never released. This track is a rough instrumental demo cover of "I Feel Free" (by Cream), which later appeared, rerecorded, on 1993's Black Tie White Noise.
Style and themes
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.
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). 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 cockney accent; the second single "Fashion", which seemed to draw parallels between style and politics and which had its own highly regarded video; and "Scream Like a Baby", a tale of political imprisonment.
In "Teenage Wildlife", against a musical backdrop that owed much to his song "Heroes", Bowie was variously thought to be taking aim squarely at new wave artists such as Gary Numan, or reflecting on his younger self:
- 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
The cover artwork of Scary Monsters is a large scale collage by Edward Bell featuring Bowie in the Pierrot costume worn in the "Ashes to Ashes" music video, along with Brian Duffy photographs. 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 brushstrokes was reportedly designed "to symbolise the discarding of Bowie's old personae." These images were not reproduced on the Rykodisc reissue in 1992, but were restored for EMI/Virgin's 1999 remastered edition. The original framed album artwork was featured in the David Bowie Is touring museum exhibit.
Singles and other songs
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" 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; and a new version of Aladdin Sane's "Panic in Detroit".
Release and legacy
|Christgau's Record Guide||B+|
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
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. It was highly praised by critics, Record Mirror giving it a rating of seven stars out of five, 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". 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.
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", the "benchmark" for each new release. Well-regarded later efforts such as Outside, Earthling, Heathen and Reality were cited as "the best album since Scary Monsters." 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".
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. 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." In 2013, NME ranked the album at number 381 in its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 2018 Pitchfork Media placed it at No. 53 in its revised Top 200 Albums of the 1980s. In 2020 Rolling Stone placed it at number 443 on its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
All songs written by David Bowie, except where noted.
- Side one
- "It's No Game (No. 1)" (Bowie, trans. Hisahi Miura) – 4:20
- "Up the Hill Backwards" – 3:15
- "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)" – 5:12
- "Ashes to Ashes" – 4:25
- "Fashion" – 4:49
- Side two
- "Teenage Wildlife" – 6:56
- "Scream Like a Baby" – 3:35
- "Kingdom Come" (Tom Verlaine) – 3:45
- "Because You're Young" – 4:54
- "It's No Game (No. 2)" – 4:22
The album has been rereleased five times to date on compact disc. It was first released on CD by RCA Records in the mid-1980s. A second CD release, in 1992 by Rykodisc and EMI Records, contained four bonus tracks. A 1999 CD release by EMI/Virgin, with no bonus tracks, featured 24-bit digitally-remastered sound. The album was rereleased in 2003 by EMI as a Super Audio CD. In 2017, the album was remastered for the A New Career in a New Town (1977–1982) box set released by Parlophone. It was released in CD, vinyl, and digital formats, as part of this compilation and then separately the following year.
|11.||"Space Oddity" (Single B-side, rerecorded acoustic version, 1979)||4:47|
|12.||"Panic in Detroit" (Rerecorded version, 1979, previously unreleased)||3:00|
|13.||"Crystal Japan" (Japanese single A-side, 1980)||instrumental||3:08|
|14.||"Alabama Song" (UK single A-side, recorded 1978)||Bertolt Brecht, trans. Elisabeth Hauptmann||Kurt Weill||3:51|
- David Bowie – vocals, synthesisers, mellotron, electric piano, piano, synth-bass, sound effects, backing vocals, saxophone
- Dennis Davis – drums
- George Murray – bass
- Carlos Alomar – rhythm and lead guitars
- Chuck Hammer – guitar synthesiser (4, 6)
- Robert Fripp – lead guitar (1–3, 5, 6, 8, 10)
- Roy Bittan – piano (2, 4, 6)
- Andy Clark – synthesiser (4, 5, 7, 9)
- Pete Townshend – guitar (9)
- Tony Visconti – acoustic guitar (2, 3), backing vocals
- Lynn Maitland – backing vocals
- Chris Porter – backing vocals
- Michi Hirota – voice (1)
- David Bowie, Tony Visconti – production and engineering
- Larry Alexander, Jeff Hendrickson – engineering assistance
- Peter Mew, Nigel Reeve – mastering
Sales and certifications
|Canada (Music Canada)||Platinum||100,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Platinum||300,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone
- 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.
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