"Ladies and gentlemen, the show begins..."
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) is the fourteenth studio album by David Bowie, released in 1980. Released after three avant garde-leaning albums in collaboration with Brian Eno, this is a more mainstream-oriented combination of Hard Rock and Post-Punk, with some Gothic New Wave flare thrown into the mix. The more accessible direction was influenced by the fact that, despite spending most of the decade as a commercial juggernaut, Bowie ended the '70s being outsold by acts that he'd directly inspired (most notoriously Gary Numan, with whom he feuded over accusations of Numan copying his style). Lyrically, the album focuses on themes of political protest and dark psychological observations.
This is Bowie's final studio album with RCA Records. He left the label several years later after a period of deteriorating relations between the two partiesnote . The album was also his last to feature the involvement of longtime collaborator Tony Visconti (who produced a fair number of Bowie's albums over the years, including this one and the Berlin Trilogy directly before it) until Heathen in 2002; the two had a falling out shortly before production of Let's Dance began in December of 1982, and wouldn't patch things up until 1998.
The album topped the charts in the UK, Australia, France, and New Zealand and peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard 200, later going Platinum in the UK and Canada and gold in France.
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) was supported by four singles: "Ashes to Ashes", "Fashion", the Title Track, and "Up the Hill Backwards". As Bowie had already made his plans to leave RCA clear by the time the latter single was released, his label decided to commemorate his departure by issuing some copies in the UK with their old orange label (which had been standard during the majority of Bowie's time with RCA) rather than the then-current black one. "Up the Hill Backwards" also featured the instrumental track "Crystal Japan", previously featured in and named after a Japandering sake commercial, as its B-Side; the instrumental got its own single release exclusively in Japan, with Bowie's cover of the Bertold Brecht & Kurt Weill piece "Alabama Song" (released elsewhere as a non-album single) as the B-side.
- "Its No Game (Part 1)" (4:20)
- "Up the Hill Backwards" (3:15)
- "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)" (5:12)
- "Ashes to Ashes" (4:25)
- "Fashion" (4:49)
- "Teenage Wildlife" (6:56)
- "Scream Like a Baby" (3:35)
- "Kingdom Come"note (3:45)
- "Because Youre Young" (4:54)
- "Its No Game (Part 2)" (4:22)
Bonus Tracks (1992 Reissue):
- "Space Odyssey (acoustic version)"
- "Panic in Detroit (rerecorded version)"
- "Crystal Japan"
- "Alabama Song"
It's got nothing to do with you, if one can trope it:
- Addled Addict: Major Tom, as of "Ashes to Ashes".
- Alliterative Title: "Ashes to Ashes".
- Alternative Character Interpretation: Done In-Universe on "Ashes to Ashes", which plays around with the long-standing interpretation of "Space Oddity" as being about heroin use by framing Major Tom as a delusional junkie rather than an astronaut getting stranded in space.
- Big "SHUT UP!": A pair of them cuts off Robert Fripp's guitar solo on "It's No Game (Part 1)".
- Bilingual Bonus: Those versed in both Japanese and English will be amused to find out that Michi Hirota's Japanese-language shouting on "It's No Game (Part 1)" is simply a translation of Bowie's English-language verses.
- Bo Diddley Beat: "Up the Hill Backwards" is built around an interpolation of the rhythm.
- Book Ends: The two versions of "It's No Game". Aside from being different versions of the same song, "Part 1" starts with the sound of a film projector starting up, and "Part 2" ends with the sound of a projector reaching the end of the film and noisily looping around.
"In the beginning of The '70s when it was sort of a bit dull, there was the idea of creating a flash of some kind. And the flash was created, but nobody was really found holding the smoking pistol. So [rock] sort of went off at tangents after that."
- The back cover references the covers of Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy": Low, "Heroes" and Lodger, as well as the much earlier Aladdin Sane. Bowie's Pierrot getup on the front cover also harks back to the back cover of Space Oddity, which featured a Pierrot leading away an old woman among the cavalcade of surreal imagery on the back cover; the ending of the "Ashes to Ashes" video recreates this, albeit with the roles reversed.
- The line "one flash of light, but no smoking pistol" in "Ashes to Ashes" recalls a description of the early 70's Glam Rock movement given by Bowie, one of its lead progenitors, in a 1979 interview:
- The Cameo: In the "Ashes To Ashes" music video, Steve Strange from Visage & some other Blitz Kids appear throughout.
- Commedia dell'Arte: Bowie's clown costume on the cover and in the "Ashes to Ashes" video is inspired by the Pierrot figure.
- Cover Version: "Kingdom Come" was originally written and recorded by Television frontman Tom Verlaine for his 1979 debut solo album.
- Cure Your Gays: Passionately criticized and depicted in an overtly negative light in "Scream Like a Baby", with the song's gay protagonist being forced by a fascist government to undergo conversion treatment that destroys his mind; in fact, it's possible to interpret the lyrics as describing the protagonist being lobotomized (which was historically used as an actual form of conversion therapy).
- Dance Sensation: "Fashion" opens with the line "there's a brand new dance but I don't know its name." Of course, given that the next verse is about "a brand new talk," it's unclear whether or not the song is describing a dance specifically or trends in general.
- Darker and Edgier: More musically aggressive than Lodger and covering more consistently dark subject matters, with themes of oppression, social decay, and political protest. Ironically, Bowie himself described the album as more optimistic than its predecessors.
- Dark Reprise: Part 2 of "It's No Game" is considerably more low-key and downbeat than the aggressive and determined first part; Bowie practically sounds defeated in Part 2.
- Drugs Are Bad: "Ashes to Ashes"Time and time I tell myselfI'll stay clean tonightBut the little green wheels are following meOh, no, not againI'm stuck with a valuable friend"I'm happy, hope you're happy too."One flash of light, but no smoking pistol
- Epic Rocking: "Teenage Wildlife" is just under seven minutes.
- Face on the Cover: A painting of Bowie as Pierrot, pasted over a photograph of himself in-costume as the character.
- Grand Finale: Not to Bowie's career as a whole, but to his stint on RCA Records. The album has an overarching tone of Bowie casting off past laurels and starting anew for the 1980's, indicated by both the lyrical content and the whitewashed cutouts of his earlier albums on the back cover (which against the white backdrop appear to be erased). Of course, this wasn't Bowie's final officially sanctioned release on the label— that would be the Baal EP in 1982— but this was indeed the last actual studio album he put out for them.
- Gratuitous Japanese: Michi Hirota's shouted word parts on "It's No Game (Part 1)" are Japanese translations of the English lyrics; according to Bowie, the intent behind her inclusion was to subvert western stereotypes of Asian women (and women in general) as meek and submissive; Hirota even uses the first-person pronoun ore to drive the point home.
- Heteronormative Crusader: "Scream Like a Baby" has the narrator and his lover imprisoned by a fascist government for being gay, with said lover being killed and cremated and the narrator being forced to undergo conversion therapy; lines such as "they came down hard on the faggots" imply that this government is particularly hateful towards homosexual people.
- I Have Many Names: Depending on who you ask, the album's either called Scary Monsters (as indicated on the RCA Records LP sleeve spine and disc label) or Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (as indicated on the album art itself). Most official releases lean towards the latter. RCA themselves couldn't keep it consistent; the original CD release of the album uses the shorter title on US copies and the longer title on UK ones.
- Line-of-Sight Name: According to Bowie himself, the album title was derived from a blurb on a Corn Flakes box boasting about "scary monsters and superheroes." He considered it an apt fit for the artistic process behind the album's creation.
- Lobotomy: "Scream Like a Baby" highlights the historical use of the controversial neurosurgical practice as a form of conversion therapy; one possible interpretation of the lyrics is that the protagonist actually is lobotomized by the fascist government of the song's setting in order to "cure" his gayness.
- Lyrical Shoehorn: "Fashion" has a humorous one. The line is "they shout it while they're dancing on the dance floor," which is one syllable too short for the rhythm; Bowie just draws out the word "the" to compensate.
- Madden Into Misanthropy: Happens to the unspecified female character in the Title Track, who winds up "stupid on the street" and asocial; a number of analysts have compared the song's use of this trope to Joy Division's "She's Lost Control" from the year prior, though there's no definitive indication as to whether or not it's coincidental or a Shout-Out (for what it's worth, Joy Division originally named themselves "Warsaw" after Bowie's "Warszawa", and Bowie does briefly mention "Joy Div" in his planning diagrams for the album's lyrics, which indicates that he was at least aware of the Manchester quartet).
- Multilingual Song: "It's No Game (Part 1)" alternates between Japanese-language and English-language versions of a single set of lyrics, with Michi Hirota speaking the Japanese portions and Bowie singing the English ones.
- Mythology Gag: The back cover features◊ whitewashed cutouts of the front covers of Low & "Heroes" and the back cover of Lodger, the latter of which is superimposed on the lower half of Aladdin Sane's interior gatefold photo.
- N-Word Privileges: Bowie exercises F-Slur Privileges on the second verse of "Scream Like a Baby"; while Bowie was infamously inconsistent about how he described his sexual identity, he still described himself as bisexual at the time of the album's release, a label that his first wife would later corroborate.
- One-Word Title: "Fashion".
- Precision F-Strike: On "It's No Game (Part 2)" Bowie sings about children who "spread camel shit on the wall."
- Punny Name: Played with on "Fashion"; in the context of the lyrics, the title word can be interpreted not only as "fashion," but also "fashin'" (as in practicing fascism), particularly when taking the chorus's lines about "the goon squad ... coming to town" in mind. Fashion designer Hugo Boss infamously designed the uniforms for the SS during the Third Reich, Bowie himself infamously got Lost in Character as the fascist Thin White Duke in 1976 (though he himself never subscribed to the ideology), and the lyrics could further be interpreted as a satire of trends and fads made to seem "fashionable." While Bowie himself played down the interpretation, biographer David Buckley read the song as a jab at the perceived banality of the contemporary New Romantic movement.
- Sequel Song: "Ashes to Ashes" is a sequel to Bowie's first major hit, "Space Oddity" from David Bowie (1969).Do you remember a guy that's been in such an early song?I've heard a rumour from Ground ControlOh no, don't say it's true(...) We know Major Tom's a junkieStrung out in heaven's high, hitting an all-time low(...) My mother said to get things doneYou'd better not mess with Major Tom
- The font used throughout the album art is directly inspired by the handwriting of political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, as depicted in the packaging for Pink Floyd's The Wall.
- The opening lines of "Up the Hill Backwards" are paraphrased from Hans Richter's Art and Anti Art, specifically a segment◊ touching upon the factors behind the atmosphere that encompassed the Dada movement in Berlin. The rest of the song, meanwhile, paraphrases Thomas Anthony Harris's 1967 marriage guidance book I'm OK You're OK, tying in with the lyrical allusions to Bowie's divorce.
- "Scream Like a Baby" quotes the "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" bedtime prayer near the end of its second verse. Additionally, the way Bowie breaks down into stuttering while saying the word "society" just after recalls Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
- "Ashes to Ashes" takes its refrain from the prayer "ashes to ashes/ dust to dust" during funerals. The song features a treated piano that sounds similar to Pink Floyd's "Echoes" from Meddle.
- Singer Name Drop: "Teenage Wildlife":You'll take me aside, and say
"Well, David, what shall I do? They wait for me in the hallway"
I'll say "don't ask me, I don't know any hallways".
- Special Guest:
- King Crimson guitarist and de-facto leader Robert Fripp returns to perform guitar on this album, having previously been brought out of retirement to work on "Heroes". Fripp specifically plays on almost every track on the album, only absent from "Ashes to Ashes", "Scream Like a Baby", and "Because You're Young".
- Pete Townshend, guitarist of The Who, plays guitar on "Because You're Young".
- Be-Bop Deluxe keyboardist Andy Clark plays synthesizer on "Ashes to Ashes", "Fashion", "Scream Like a Baby", and "Because You're Young".
- Roy "The Professor" Bittan of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band plays piano on "Up the Hill Backwards", "Ashes to Ashes", and "Teenage Wildlife". Springsteen was recording The River in the same studio at the same time; having previously contributed to Bowie's Station to Station, Bittan was thus brought over here.
- Spoken Word in Music: Michi Hirota recites her parts in "It's No Game (Part 1)" in an aggressively defiant shout.
- Take That!: "Scream Like a Baby" is one towards homophobia, with particular disdain given towards the practice of conversion therapy (with the song's lyrics alluding to the historical use of lobotomy as a form of it).
- Title Track: "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)".Scary monsters, super creepsKeep me running, running scared