It’s time for another round of What’s the Concept?! This week, we will be talking about David Bowie’s 1974 release Diamond Dogs.
What’s the Concept?!
In what would be the end to David Bowie’s glam rock phase, this album mixed the idea of life after a nuclear holocaust with George Orwell’s 1984. He had originally planned on making an entire rock opera around the novel, but when he couldn’t get the okay from Orwell’s estate, he shelved that idea and used some of the songs he’d already written for this album.
The titular track was released as a single, and it’s a pretty great introduction to this world and Halloween Jack, David Bowie’s latest persona. The song begins with a bit of cheering and Bowie screaming out “This ain’t rock and roll; this is genocide!” before melting into a solid, yet unpolished, honky-tonk sound complete with cowbell that I absolutely dig. Everything has, essentially, gone to the dogs and the people who remain are weird, man. It has references to Tod Browning’s film Freaks, speaks of an amputee wearing a priest’s robe, and warns us of the Diamond Dogs gang in the chorus.
Rebel, Rebel was the other single from the album, and it remains one of Bowie’s most popular singles. It’s got a relatively simple guitar riff throughout it, and is a song about a gender bending cross dresser whose mother is “in a whirl” because “she’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl”. It’s catchy as all get out, prime earworm material, and is the best known song from the whole album.
Sweet Thing, Candidate and Sweet Thing (Reprise) are a medley that happens to be quite intriguing. The lyrics were written by stealing William Burrough’s method of cutting up strips of paper with lines on them and reassembling them. I find it to be quite successful myself; it’s a pretty melodramatic and eerie medley, and it was one of the songs originally meant for his aborted 1984 rock opera.
Rock ‘N Roll With Me is a power ballad that is essentially Bowie’s love letter to his fans. It’s relatively theatrical, and despite having a corny title with a cheesy chorus, it comes across as completely sincere. It’s a song that I don’t think anybody besides Bowie could have gotten away with, to be honest. The song has a double meaning, however, fitting the dystopian 1984 theme, and is about Julia’s relationship with Winston Smith.
We Are the Dead and 1984 are two more songs from the shelved rock opera. The first is about Winston Smith and Julia, with the title being taken directly from a line in the novel. The track also employs Bowie’s cut up and reassembled lyric style. The second was going to be the theme from the rock opera, and it’s a mix of disco, funk and a smidge of rock. The song itself is about Winston Smith’s interrogation, and in all of its theatricality, warns us to “beware the savage jaw of 1984”.
This album, while doing well on the charts, did not get the best reviews. However, like many albums I’ve been reviewing for this feature, it is looked upon more positively nowadays. Ken Emerson of The Rolling Stone said it was Bowie’s worst album in six years, which means it’s time for another round of Screw You, Rolling Stone! This is actually my favorite Bowie album. There’s something in the weirdness of it all that speaks to me. The post-apocalyptic, dystopian lyrics; how unpolished some of it is; it’s an endlessly fascinating album. The titular track is probably my favorite Bowie song, because it’s so raw and weird and puts this fascinating imagery in my head. This is far from Bowie’s most popular album, and Halloween Jack is not his most well known persona, but I think it’s fantastic and solid. It’s also not as indulgent as some of Bowie’s other work, which I appreciate. Sure, the concept itself is a bit of a mess, due to Bowie having to shelve the 1984 rock opera and combine the already written material with a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but it’s still a great album.
Rebel, Rebel is said to be the most frequently covered song of David Bowie’s, and it was one of the songs covered in Portuguese by Seu Jorge in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
Diamond Dogs was covered by Beck for Baz Luhrman’s monstrosity of a film known as Moulin Rouge. The cover is almost as atrocious as the film.
The gatefold artwork of the album, with David Bowie as a man/dog hybrid, was censored due to people being up in arms over the image including the dog’s genitalia.
David Bowie’s Halloween Jack persona was short lived, and Halloween Jack’s style was essentially just Ziggy Stardust wearing an eyepatch.