Tonight (David Bowie album)

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Tonight (album).jpg
Studio album by
Released24 September 1984 (1984-09-24)[1]
RecordedMay–June 1984
StudioLe Studio, Morin-Heights, Quebec, Canada[2]
LabelEMI America
David Bowie chronology
Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture
Singles from Tonight
  1. "Blue Jean"
    Released: September 1984
  2. "Tonight"
    Released: November 1984
  3. "Loving the Alien"
    Released: May 1985

Tonight is the sixteenth studio album by English musician David Bowie, released on 29 September 1984 by EMI America Records. It followed his most commercially successful album Let's Dance. He described the album, released immediately after his previous album's tour wrapped up, as an effort to "keep my hand in, so to speak",[2] and to retain the new audience that he had recently acquired.[6]

The album was a commercial success, reaching number-one in the UK Albums Chart in October 1984, and receiving a platinum disc by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and a gold disc by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). It received mostly poor reviews from music critics and Bowie expressed dissatisfaction with it in later years. The album was re-mastered in 2018 and included in the Bowie box set Loving the Alien (1983–1988) (2018).


David Bowie worked on Tonight after completing his Serious Moonlight Tour in support of his previous album Let's Dance.[2] He did not have much luck writing while on tour, so he described the process of recording the album Tonight this way:

It was rushed. The process wasn't rushed; we actually took our time recording the thing; Let's Dance was done in three weeks, Tonight took five weeks or something, which for me is a really long time. I like to work fast in the studio. There wasn't much of my writing on it 'cause I can't write on tour and I hadn't assembled anything to put out. But I thought it a kind of violent effort at a kind of Pin Ups.[7]

Bowie purposefully sought to keep the sound of the band he had used on the previous album and tour, feeling that the new fans he had accumulated would expect to hear the same thing on the new album that they'd heard before, hence the inclusion of the "Borneo Horns" players on the album.[6][8]

Like Let's Dance, but unlike most previous Bowie albums, Bowie played no instruments on the record, and in fact he delegated almost all responsibility for the music played to his musicians, only occasionally offering critical input.[6]

Bowie brought in Derek Bramble and Hugh Padgham to produce the record, the former receiving the nod from Bowie due to some of the demos he'd recently produced for English female singer Jaki Graham. As with Let's Dance, Bowie prepared for the album by recording some demos beforehand, this time showing up with 8 of the 9 songs that would appear on the album. This surprised collaborator Carlos Alomar, who said "it was the first time in the eleven years that I've been with the damn man that he's brought in anything."[6]

Iggy Pop spent a good deal of time in the studio with Bowie and the band while the album was being recorded, stating "I worked extensively on that album. There's a lot more work there than is reflected in just the simple co-writing credit for two songs and some of the old stuff." When asked why Bowie included so much Pop-written material on the album, Pop could only guess. "I think he just wanted the songs heard more,"[6] a sentiment Bowie would mirror when covering Pop's "Bang Bang" on his next album, Never Let Me Down.[9]

Track production[edit]

Some of the demo tracks were not yet named, but they were numbered, called simply "1," "2" and "3." "1" would turn into the "irreligious" album track "Loving the Alien". Bowie described "Loving the Alien" as a very personal bit of writing that he did not feel fit in with the rest of the album because it is such a dark song amidst lighter fare. He said, ""Alien" came about because of my feeling that so much history is wrong - as is being rediscovered all the time - and that we base so much on the wrong knowledge that we've gleaned."[2] Bowie cut the demo for the song in Montreux, Switzerland, with a guitarist and a drummer he had drafted from a local Swiss band.[6]

Demo songs "2" and "3" were not finished for the album, much to Padgham's regret. He said:

They were really just jams. David had some riffs on a tape, in his head, and the band would jam on them and we'd make a bit of a song out of it. But they were quite raunchy songs. At one point, David asked me what my least favourite song out of the eleven or twelve we had was, and I said 'Blue Jean.' I thought it was a bit lightweight. I would have rather had "2" in its place. I couldn't tell you why he didn't put them on the album. But I would have loved to have finished them.[6]

Three songs were covers of older Iggy Pop songs: "Don't Look Down", "Tonight" and "Neighborhood Threat", the latter of which stands out as a track Bowie wished he had not done, with him later calling it "disastrous". "That's one I wish I'd never touched, or at least touched it differently. It went totally wrong. It sounded so tight and compromised, and it was such a gas doing it. It was the wrong band to do it with -- wonderful band, but it wasn't quite right for that song."[7]

"Tumble and Twirl", co-written with Pop, recounts the pair's exploits while vacationing in the Indonesian islands Bali and Java after Bowie's previous tour had ended.[2][6]

"Don't Look Down", which was one of Bowie's returns to a reggae-style track (after Lodger's "Yassassin"), perplexed Bowie: "I tried it every which way. I tried it jazz-rock, I tried it as a march, and then I just hit on an old ska-sounding beat, and it picked up life. Taking energy away from the musical side reinforced the lyrics and gave them their own energy. I think working with Derek Bramble helped because he played propper reggae bass lines."

For "Tonight", the title track and the other reggae-style track on the album, Bowie eliminated Pop's original spoken word introduction, calling it an "idiosyncratic thing" of Pop's that "seemed not part of my vocabulary. ... I guess [removing the spoken introduction] changed the whole sentiment around. It still has that same barren feeling, but it's out of that specific area that I'm not at home in."[2] Pop approved of Bowie's changes. For the vocals to the song, Bowie and Tina Turner sang face-to-face, although Bowie went back and re-recorded the first verse after deciding to sing his part in a higher octave.[6]

"Dancing with the Big Boys", which Bowie also co-wrote with Pop, was written and recorded in eight hours as they egged each other on. In what was described as an "exhilarating rush", Bowie and Pop "went in [to the studio] with a few bottles of beer and would virtually bellow out anything that came into their heads," said Padgham. "And I just recorded it all." The song is about the "little guy" being crushed by "oppressive corporate structures." The lyrics were taken from a backlog of unused lyrics; the line "this dot marks your location" was a reference to a "lengthy irritating stay" at a New York Hotel (Bowie had been looking at the hotel room's fire escape map), and "Your family is a football team" was a reference to the immigrant families working in New York; "the whole family [has] to work together for survival."[6] The track elicited this from Bowie:

There's a particular sound I'm after that I haven't really got yet; I'll either crack it on the next album or retire from it. I think I got quite close to it on "Dancing with the Big Boys." ... I got very musical over the last couple of years - trying to write musically and develop things the way people used to write in the Fifties. I stayed away from experimentation. Now, I think I should be a bit more adventurous. And in "Big Boys," Iggy and I broke away from all that for one track, and it came nearer to the sound I was looking for than anything else.[2]

Singles and videos[edit]

Three singles were released from the album: "Tonight", "Blue Jean" and "Loving the Alien". "Blue Jean" in turn spawned several videos, including an "elaborate" 20-minute-long collaboration with Julien Temple which was described as more of a "minifilm" than a video, and represented Bowie's interest in making actual movies.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic2/5 stars[4]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music1/5 stars[10]
Robert ChristgauC[13]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide1/5 stars[14]

Despite some positive reviews of the album,[15] other reviewers criticised it for lacking creativity.[2] Padgham, who co-produced the album, also said that it was less innovative than other Bowie albums.[6]

An article for Melody Maker later dismissed Tonight as "rotten".[16] AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine called it "one of the weakest albums Bowie ever recorded" and wrote that "none of the material equals the songs on Let's Dance", although he made an exception for "Blue Jean".[4] The New Rolling Stone Album Guide described Tonight as "an expensive quickie padded with lame covers".[17] Alexis Petridis of The Guardian stated in a retrospective of Bowie's career in 2016: "Let’s Dance... had its moments ... Tonight, however, did not".[18]

Bowie would later distance himself from the album, acknowledging that it was not one of his stronger efforts.[19][20] In 1989 when working with Tin Machine, he mused "There's stuff on [the album] that I could really kick myself about. When I listen to those demos it's, 'How did it turn out like that?' You should hear "Loving the Alien" on demo. It's wonderful on demo. I promise you! (laughs). But on the album, it's ... not as wonderful."[21]

Despite the general consensus on the album, Stylus Magazine reviewed the album in 2005 as part of its "On Second Thought" section and concluded that Tonight, although not a great album, is still a good one: "it’s a much better album than you think it is, or may have been led to believe. Bowie’s made some subpar records, but this isn't one of them—and frankly, even its failures aren't boring, because, well, it’s an '80s Bowie album, from a decade in which he was wildly inconsistent, but also never dull."[22] In 2016, Yo Zushi of the New Statesman also defended the album, writing "no album that begins with the seven-minute masterpiece 'Loving the Alien' and contains the rocking 'Blue Jean' should have received the drubbing it got". He also argued "the TV-special-style cover of the Beach Boys' 'God Only Knows' is as stirring, in its cold, almost Brechtian way, as Station to Station's 'Wild Is the Wind' – it's like watching Elvis in [Las] Vegas through a sheet of ice."[23]

Live performances[edit]

Bowie did not tour for the Tonight album, though tracks from this album were performed on later tours. "Loving the Alien" was performed live during Bowie's 1987 Glass Spider Tour and 2003–2004 A Reality Tour. "Blue Jean" was performed live during the Glass Spider Tour, 1990 Sound+Vision Tour, and A Reality Tour. Bowie also performed "Dancing with the Big Boys" during the 1987 Glass Spider Tour, and thought he might perform "Don't Look Down" during that tour as well, but that song never made it to the rehearsal stage.[24]

Track listing[edit]

LP: EMI DB 1 (UK)[edit]

All tracks are written by David Bowie, except where noted.

Side one
No.TitleWriter(s)Originally byLength
1."Loving the Alien"  7:11
2."Don't Look Down"Iggy Pop, from New Values, 19794:11
3."God Only Knows"The Beach Boys, from Pet Sounds, 19663:08
4."Tonight" (with Tina Turner)
  • Bowie
  • Pop
Iggy Pop, from Lust for Life, 19773:46
Side two
No.TitleWriter(s)Originally byLength
1."Neighborhood Threat"Iggy Pop, from Lust for Life, 19773:12
2."Blue Jean"  3:11
3."Tumble and Twirl"
  • Bowie
  • Pop
4."I Keep Forgettin'"Chuck Jackson, from Any Day Now, 19622:34
5."Dancing with the Big Boys" (with Iggy Pop) 3:34
Total length:35:47
  • Sides one and two were combined as tracks 1–9 on CD reissues.


In 1995, Virgin Records rereleased the album on CD with three bonus tracks, all of them singles from soundtracks Bowie contributed to in the years immediately following the album's release. EMI rereleased the album in 1999 (featuring 24-bit digitally remastered sound and no bonus tracks).

In 2018, Tonight was remastered for the Loving the Alien (1983-1988) box set released by Parlophone, with other discs in the set including remixes and b-sides from the album.[27] The album was released in CD and vinyl formats, as part of this compilation and then separately the following year.[28]

CD: Virgin CDVUS97 (UK)[edit]

No.TitleWriter(s)Originally fromLength
10."This Is Not America" (with the Pat Metheny Group)The Falcon and the Snowman, 19853:51
11."As the World Falls Down" Labyrinth, 19864:46
12."Absolute Beginners" Absolute Beginners, 19868:00


Adapted from the Tonight liner notes.[29]


Band equipment[edit]

Carlos Alomar used the following guitars in the recording and production of the album: an Alembic stereo, a Fender Stratocaster, a Kramer, a prototype Steinberger, a C. F. Martin twelve-string, "an old Guild" six-string acoustic, and a gut-string cuatro guitar. Derek Bramble played the following synthesizers: an Oberheim OB-Xa, a Roland Jupiter-8, a Yamaha DX7, a PPG, and a Roland G-707/GR-700 guitar synthesizer. He also played a Steinway piano and a Music Man Cutlass bass. Carmine Rojas played a Fender Precision Bass and two ESP custom basses. Omar Hakim played a Gretsch drum set and a Simmons SDS-V electronic drum kit.[6]

Chart performance[edit]

Sales and certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[45] 2× Platinum 200,000^
France (SNEP)[46] Gold 100,000*
Japan (Oricon Charts) 153,000[35]
New Zealand (RMNZ)[47] Gold 7,500^
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[48] Gold 50,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[49] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[50] Platinum 1,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone


  1. ^ "Tonight album is 34 years old today".
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Murray, Charles Shaar (25 October 1984), "Let's Talk, A Conversation with David Bowie", Rolling Stone magazine (433): 14, 18, 74
  3. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "David Bowie – Never Let Me Down". AllMusic. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
  4. ^ a b c
  5. ^ Inskeep, Thomas (12 July 2005). "On Second Thought: David Bowie - Tonight". Stylus Magazine. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Fricke, David (December 1984), "David Bowie Interview", Musician (74): 46–56
  7. ^ a b Isler, Scott (August 1987), "David Bowie Opens Up - A Little", Musician (106): 60–73
  8. ^ Erlewine, Stephen. "Tonight". AllMusic. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  9. ^ Amsterdam Glass Spider Press Conference, 30 March 1987
  10. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press.
  11. ^ Graff, Gary; Durchholz, Daniel (eds) (1999). MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide. Farmington Hills, MI: Visible Ink Press. p. 151. ISBN 1-57859-061-2.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  12. ^ O’Leary, Chris (20 October 2018). "David Bowie: Loving the Alien". Pitchfork. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  13. ^ "CG: david bowie". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  14. ^ "David Bowie: Album Guide". Archived from the original on 30 May 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  15. ^ "Learning to love the Alien: Bowie haunts a calculated, kaleidoscopic seance" by Timothy White, Musician magazine, December 1984, pages 98-99
  16. ^ "Bowie: Boys Keep Swinging," Melody Maker magazine, 24 March 1990, pp 24-26
  17. ^ Nathan Brackett; Christian Hoard, eds. (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide. Simon & Schuster Ltd. p. 99. ISBN 978-0743201698.
  18. ^ Petridis, Alexis (11 January 2016). "David Bowie: the man who thrilled the world". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 7 February 2016.
  19. ^ Mary Campbell for the Associated Press, 6 August 1993
  20. ^ Cohen, Scott (September 1991), "David Bowie Interview", Details magazine: 86–97
  21. ^ "Boys Keep Swinging", Q magazine, June 1989
  22. ^ "David Bowie - Tonight - On Second Thought - Stylus Magazine".
  23. ^ Zushi, Yo (18 January 2016). "In defence of "bad" Bowie: why his least acclaimed album is my favourite". New Statesman. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  24. ^ Isler, Scott (August 1987), "David Bowie Opens Up – A Little", Musician magazine: 60–73
  25. ^ Discogs - Chuck Jackson Any Day Now - 1962 vinyl_LP; Wand / Reo (654)(RLP-652) Canada
  26. ^ Discogs - Chuck Jackson I Keep Forgettin' / Who's Gonna Pick Up the Pieces (images) - 1962 vinyl_7"; Wand (126) US
  27. ^ "David Bowie Loving The Alien (1983 – 1988) due October". 18 July 2018. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
  28. ^ "Loving The Alien break-outs due February". 7 January 2019. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
  29. ^ Tonight (CD booklet). David Bowie. EMI America Records. 1984.CS1 maint: others (link)
  30. ^ a b Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  31. ^ "David Bowie – Tonight –" (ASP) (in German). Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  32. ^ "Top Albums/CDs - Volume 41, No. 10" (PHP). RPM. 10 November 1984. Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  33. ^ " David Bowie – Tonight" (ASP). MegaCharts. Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  34. ^ a b "Hit Parade Italia – Gli album più venduti del 1984" (in Italian). Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  35. ^ a b Oricon Album Chart Book: Complete Edition 1970-2005. Roppongi, Tokyo: Oricon Entertainment. 2006. ISBN 4-87131-077-9.
  36. ^ " David Bowie – Tonight" (ASP). Recording Industry Association of New Zealand. Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  37. ^ " David Bowie – Tonight" (ASP). Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  38. ^ Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2.
  39. ^ " David Bowie – Tonight" (ASP). Sverigetopplistan. Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  40. ^ "David Bowie – Tonight –" (ASP). Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  41. ^ "David Bowie > Artists > Official Charts". UK Albums Chart. Archived from the original on 3 November 2013. Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  42. ^ "allmusic ((( Tonight > Charts & Awards > Billboard Albums )))". Retrieved 31 August 2011.
  43. ^ "Album Search: David Bowie – Tonight" (ASP) (in German). Media Control. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  44. ^ "RPM Top 100 Albums of 1984". RPM. Retrieved 12 March 2012.
  45. ^ "Canadian album certifications – David Bowie – Tonight". Music Canada. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  46. ^ "French album certifications – Bowie D. – Tonight" (in French). InfoDisc. Select BOWIE D. and click OK. 
  47. ^ "New Zealand album certifications – David Bowie – Tonight". Recorded Music NZ. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
  48. ^ "Solo Exitos 1959–2002 Ano A Ano: Certificados 1979–1990". Solo Exitos 1959–2002 Ano A Ano.
  49. ^ "British album certifications – David Bowie – Tonight". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 25 May 2013. Select albums in the Format field. Select Gold in the Certification field. Type Tonight in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  50. ^ "American album certifications – David Bowie – Tonight". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 25 May 2013. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH. 

External links[edit]