David Bowie: Diamond Dogs (1974)

Diamond Dogs
Studio album by David Bowie
Released: May 24, 1974
Recorded: January–February 1974
Producer: David Bowie

Halloween Jack is a character created by David Bowie for the 1974 Diamond Dogs album and tour. He is described as a "real cool cat" living in Hunger City. Some of this is inspired by the novel 1984 by George Orwell

After David Bowie retired from the Ziggy Stardust character, he worked on two projects; an aborted musical about Ziggy and a musical adaption of George Orwell's novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four." Orwell's widow wouldn't grant permission to use the book. New songs, like Rock 'n Roll With Me and Rebel, Rebel, ended up on Diamond Dogs. The other tracks were for his attempted 1984 musical.

Diamond Dogs: Side One

Bowie met William S Burroughs, a writer from the Beat Generation, who showed him the 'cut-up method' of writing. It involves cutting exciting words and phrases from magazines or newspapers and rearranging them into lyrics. Bowie used it on the "Nineteen Eighty-Four" tracks, which explains the surreal, disjointed lyrics.

Future Legend/Diamond Dogs

The first track on the Diamond Dogs LP, Future Legend, describes the decay of  Hunger City. In their 1993's book, "The David Bowie Story," he explained, 

"I had in my mind this half Wild Boys, half Nineteen Eighty-Four world, and there were these gangs of rag-muffins, but they were a bit more violent than rag-muffins. They staggered through Clockwork Orange, too. They'd taken over this barren city; this city was falling apart. They'd been able to break into jewelers and things, so they'd dressed themselves up in furs and diamonds."

David Bowie Diamond Dogs full album cover art

I had these Diamond Dogs as living on the streets. They were little Johhny Rottens and Sid Viciouses (editor's note: of the punk group, Sex Pistols)really. And in my mind, there was no means of transportation, so they were all rolling around on these roller skates with huge wheels on them, and they squeaked because they hadn't been oiled properly. So there were these gangs of squeaking, roller-skating, vicious hoods with Bowie knives and furs on, and they were all skinny because they hadn't eaten enough, and they all had funny colored hair. In a way, it was a precursor to the punk thing."

Future Legend ends with the cry, "This ain't rock & roll. This is genocide." It segues into the song Diamond Dogs. Reminiscent of the tune "Brown Sugar," it shows the Rolling Stones' influence on this album. Halloween Jack is introduced. He lives alone on top of a Manhattan Chase building and uses ropes (like Tarzan) to get around. He's the leader of the Diamond Dogs.

(Note: The line, "Tod Browning's freak you was," refers to the film Freaks, produced and directed by Tod Browning. A Dali brooch is a piece of jewelry made by the artist Salvador Dali.)

Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise)

The opening line, "Sweet Thing," contains the lowest note Bowie had recorded in a studio album until "I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spacecraft" for the album Heathen in 2002.

The 'cut-up style' of writing - as well as sweeping vocals, disturbing melodies, and haunting wordplay - create a musical dystopia. The line "My set is amazing, it even smells like a street" acknowledges that he is making a stage production through his music.

Tricoteuse by John Francqueville
Tricoteuse by John Francqueville

(les tricoteuse: a woman who sits and knits during the French Revolution while attending public executions.)

Rebel, Rebel/ Rock & Roll with Me

The last song on side one - Rebel, Rebel - and the first song on side two - Rock & Roll with Me - were meant for the planned Ziggy Stardust musical. After Rock & Roll with me, the rest of side two is the core of the anticipated Nineteen Eighty-Four musical.

Diamond Dogs: Side Two

Big Brother is watching you sign

The setting for George Orwell's novel is an apocalyptic, post-nuclear war world. From the ashes, three world superpowers arose; Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. The story takes place in London, part of Oceania. It's ruled by Big Brother, who:

...is ostensibly the leader of Oceania, a totalitarian state wherein the ruling party, Ingsoc, wields total power "for its own sake" over the inhabitants. In the society that Orwell describes, every citizen is under constant surveillance by the authorities, mainly by telescreens. 

Telescreens are everywhere, with warning's about Big Brother's oversight and party slogans, like "War is Peace," "Ignorance is Strength," and "Freedom is Slavery."

Big Brother "War is Peace" "Ignorance is Strength" "Slavery is Freedom"  propoganda signs

Big Brother controls everything, even what you are allowed to think. Relationships - friendship, family ties, monogamous lovers - are illegal. All loyalty belongs to the party. We Are the Dead/1984/Big Brother/Chant of the Everlasting Skeletal Family is a four-part suite of songs bleeding into one another. Each represents some aspect of Orwell's story.

We Are the Dead

The novel's protagonist is Winston Smith, a party member. His work involves rewriting and distorting history. At a mandatory conference, Winston catches the eye of Julia, who secretly hands him a note that reads, "I love you." 

They begin an illegal affair and believe no punishment for it - no matter how harsh - can break their bond with one another. But one night, together in a secreted hideaway, they hear footsteps coming up the stairs. Knowing it's over, Winston tells his lover, "We are the dead." The line from the chorus - "For I hear them on the stairs..." - reflects this part of the book.

Nineteen Eighty-Four

The song "Rebel, Rebel" was Bowie's last 'glam rock' anthem. The track owes its raw guitar sound to the Rolling Stones. But "1984" represents a new direction, showcased in Bowie's next studio album - "Young Americans" - which he called 'plastic soul" The 1971 "blaxploitation" crime movie, "Shaft," was best known for its soundtrack. The theme song by Isaac Hayes is clearly the inspiration for Bowie on this tune.

Big Brother

Winston is tortured to make him use double-think, the ability to hold two opposing ideas in one's mind. The object is to make Winston believe that 2 + 2 = 5, but he resists. So he's taken to Room 101, the most dreaded room in the Ministry of Love. Here, the subject is confronted with his worst fear, which they already know.

Winston is terrified of rats, so a mask made of wire mesh is placed over his head. The party member threatens to open the door to release rats on his face. Winston finally screams, "Do it to Julia!" Broken, he's now dedicated to only Big Brother, as evidenced in the line "We want you Big Brother, Big Brother."

Chant of the Everlasting Skeletal Family

The last track is a musical nightmare. It's symbolic of all the 'crazy' that is Big Brother. Winton is the mass of confusion the government wanted him to become. It ends with the first syllable of the word brother - 'bruh-bruh-bruh-bruh...' - repeated repeatedly. His humanity is finished. He's a broken record.

(Note: the picture in the slideshow of the "1984" song section below shows Halloween Jack on the roof of a building with the same dog that posed for the cover.)


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