Tonight (David Bowie album)

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Tonight (album).jpg
Studio album by David Bowie
Released 1 September 1984
Recorded May-June 1984
Studio Le Studio, Morin Heights, Quebec, Canada[1]
Length 35:47
Label EMI AmericaDB 1
David Bowie chronology
Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture
Singles from Tonight
  1. "Blue Jean" b/w "Dancing with the Big Boys"
    Released: September 1984
  2. "Tonight" b/w "Tumble and Twirl"
    Released: November 1984
  3. "Loving the Alien" b/w "Don't Look Down"
    Released: May 1985

Tonight is the sixteenth studio album by David Bowie, released in 1984. 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,"[1] and to retain the new audience that he had recently acquired.[5] The album reached No. 1 in the UK Albums Chart in October 1984.

Album production[edit]

David Bowie worked on Tonight after finishing up his Serious Moonlight Tour in support his previous album Let's Dance.[1] 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.[6]

Bowie purposefully sought to keep the sound of the band he'd used on the previous album and tour, feeling that the new fans he'd 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.[5][7]


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.[5]

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 before hand, 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."[5]

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, Iggy could only guess. "I think he just wanted the songs heard more,"[5] a sentiment Bowie would mirror when covering Pop's "Bang Bang" on his next album, Never Let Me Down.[8]

Track production details[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 "Alien" as a very personal bit of writing that he didn't feel fit in with the rest of the album because it's 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."[1] Bowie cut the demo for the song in Montreux, Switzerland, with a guitarist and a drummer he had drafted from a local Swiss band.[5]

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 favorite 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.[5]

Two songs were covers of older Iggy Pop songs: "Neighborhood Threat" and "Tonight", the former of which stands out as a track Bowie wishes he hadn't 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."[6]

"Tumble and Twirl," co-written with Pop, recounts the pair's exploits while vacationing in Bali and Java after Bowie's previous tour had ended.[1][5]

"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 popper reggae bass lines."

For "Tonight", the title track and the other reggae-style track on the album, Bowie eliminated Iggy's original spoken-word introduction, calling it an "idiosyncratic thing" of Iggy'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."[1] Pop approved of Bowie's changes. For the vocals to the song, Bowie and 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.[5]

"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."[5] 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.[1]

Singles and videos[edit]

The album spawned three singles: "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.[1]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 2/5 stars[3]
Robert Christgau C[9]
MusicHound 1/5[10]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 1/5 stars[11]

Despite some positive contemporary reviews of the album,[12] other contemporary reviews recognised this effort as "more of a stopgap than a startling new burst of creativity"[1] and Padgham, who co-produced the album, admitted at the time it wasn't as innovative as other Bowie albums.[5] An article for Melody Maker later dismissed Tonight as "rotten".[13] Alexis Petridis of The Guardian has said: "Let’s Dance... had its moments ... Tonight, however, did not".[14]

Bowie would later distance himself from the album, acknowledging that it wasn't one of his stronger efforts.[15][16] 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."[17]

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 is not a great album. It is, however, a good album, and perhaps more importantly, 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 are boring, because, well, it’s an '80s Bowie album, from a decade in which he was wildly inconsistent, but also never dull."[18]

Track listing[edit]

LP: EMI DB 1 (UK)[edit]

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Loving the Alien"   David Bowie 7:11
2. "Don't Look Down" (Originally by Iggy Pop from New Values, 1979) Iggy Pop, James Williamson 4:11
3. "God Only Knows" (Originally by The Beach Boys from Pet Sounds, 1966) Brian Wilson, Tony Asher 3:08
4. "Tonight" (Performed by Bowie and Tina Turner; originally by Iggy Pop from Lust for Life, 1977) Bowie, Pop 3:46
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
5. "Neighborhood Threat" (Originally by Iggy Pop from Lust for Life, 1977) Bowie, Pop, Ricky Gardiner 3:12
6. "Blue Jean"   Bowie 3:11
7. "Tumble and Twirl"   Bowie, Pop 5:00
8. "I Keep Forgettin'" (Originally by Chuck Jackson) Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller 2:34
9. "Dancing with the Big Boys" (Performed by Bowie and Pop) Bowie, Pop, Carlos Alomar 3:34


In 1995, Virgin Records rereleased the album on CD with three bonus tracks. EMI did the second rerelease in 1999 (featuring 24-bit digitally remastered sound and no bonus tracks).

CD: Virgin CDVUS97 (UK)[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Length
10. "This Is Not America" (1985 single release)   3:51
11. "As the World Falls Down" (from the Labyrinth soundtrack, 1986)   4:46
12. "Absolute Beginners" (from the Absolute Beginners soundtrack, 1986)   8:00

Production credits[edit]

Band equipment[edit]

Carlos Alomar used the following guitars in the recording and production of the album: an Alembic stereo, a Stratocaster, a Kramer, a prototype Steinberger, a Martin 12-string acoustic, "an old Guild" six-string acoustic, and a gut-string cuatro guitar. Derek Bramble played the following synthesizers: an Oberheim OB-Xa, a Jupiter 8, a Yamaha DX7, a PPG a Fairlight and a Roland 6-707 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-5 electronic drum kit.[5]


Preceded by
Now That's What I Call Music 3 by Various artists
UK number one album
6–12 October 1984
Succeeded by
The Unforgettable Fire by U2
Preceded by
Diamond Life by Sade
Dutch Mega Chart number-one album
13 October 1984


  1. ^ 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 
  2. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "David Bowie - Never Let Me Down". Allmusic. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ Inskeep, Thomas (2005-07-12). "On Second Thought: David Bowie - Tonight". Stylus Magazine. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Fricke, David (December 1984), "David Bowie Interview", Musician magazine (74): 46–56 
  6. ^ a b Isler, Scott (August 1987), "David Bowie Opens Up - A Little", Musician (106): 60–73 
  7. ^ Erlewine, Stephen. "Tonight". AllMusic. Retrieved 24 June 2013. 
  8. ^ Amsterdam Glass Spider Press Conference, 30 March 1987
  9. ^ "CG: david bowie". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 4 April 2012. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ "David Bowie: Album Guide". Archived from the original on 30 May 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2016. 
  12. ^ "Learning to love the Alien: Bowie haunts a calculated, kaleidoscopic seance" by Timothy White, Musician magazine, December 1984, pages 98-99
  13. ^ "Bowie: Boys Keep Swinging," Melody Maker magazine, 24 March 1990, pp 24-26
  14. ^ Petridis, Alexis (11 January 2016). "David Bowie: the man who thrilled the world". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 7 February 2016. 
  15. ^ Mary Campbell for the Associated Press, 6 August 1993
  16. ^ Cohen, Scott (September 1991), "David Bowie Interview", Details magazine: 86–97 
  17. ^ "Boys Keep Swinging", Q magazine, June 1989 
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6. 
  20. ^ "David Bowie – Tonight –" (ASP) (in German). Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  21. ^ "Top Albums/CDs - Volume 41, No. 10" (PHP). RPM. 10 November 1984. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  22. ^ " David Bowie – Tonight" (ASP). MegaCharts. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  23. ^ a b "Hit Parade Italia – Gli album più venduti del 1984" (in Italian). Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  24. ^ a b Oricon Album Chart Book: Complete Edition 1970-2005. Roppongi, Tokyo: Oricon Entertainment. 2006. ISBN 4-87131-077-9. 
  25. ^ " David Bowie – Tonight" (ASP). Recording Industry Association of New Zealand. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  26. ^ " David Bowie – Tonight" (ASP). Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  27. ^ Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2. 
  28. ^ " David Bowie – Tonight" (ASP). Sverigetopplistan. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  29. ^ "David Bowie – Tonight –" (ASP). Retrieved 10 October 2013. 
  30. ^ "David Bowie > Artists > Official Charts". UK Albums Chart. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  31. ^ "allmusic ((( Tonight > Charts & Awards > Billboard Albums )))". Retrieved 31 August 2011. 
  32. ^ "Album Search: David Bowie – Tonight" (ASP) (in German). Media Control. Retrieved 10 October 2013. 
  33. ^ "RPM Top 100 Albums of 1984". RPM. Retrieved 12 March 2012. 
  34. ^ "Canadian album certifications – David Bowie – Tonight". Music Canada. Retrieved 25 May 2013. 
  35. ^ "French album certifications – Bowie D. – Tonight" (in French). InfoDisc.  Select BOWIE D. and click OK
  36. ^ "Solo Exitos 1959–2002 Ano A Ano: Certificados 1979–1990". Solo Exitos 1959–2002 Ano A Ano. 
  37. ^ "British album certifications – David Bowie – Tonight". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 25 May 2013.  Enter Tonight in the field Keywords. Select Title in the field Search by. Select album in the field By Format. Select Gold in the field By Award. Click Search
  38. ^ "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