06. Diamond Dogs (1974)
That Is a Fact: Originally conceived as a concept album version of George Orwell’s 1984, Bowie had to reroute the concept of Diamond Dogs after the Orwell estate denied his request for the rights. There’s still plenty of influence from the seminal novel, but the resulting album is half concept and half Bowie breaking away from Ziggy Stardust in his first album after retiring the character (but not the haircut). Bowie took over lead guitar duties from Mick Ronson for this record, which gave the proceedings a feeling that NME described as “scratchy and semi-amateurish.”
Sound and Vision: Belgian artist Guy Peellaert painted Bowie as a half-man half-dog for the cover, and while the original cover was a full body painting, the studio quickly edited the cover to airbrush out the hybrid genitals of the Bowie-dog. The original covers, with hybrid genitals intact, are rare collectors’ items now, going for as much as several thousand dollars. With artwork banned in the U.S., Bowie finds himself in the company of The Beatles, Pantera, and Spinal Tap.
Someone’s Back in Town: Tony Visconti was back in town for Diamond Dogs, providing string arrangements for the record. Much of the band participating in the recording of this record was working with Bowie for the first time, after he retired the Ziggy Stardust character and subsequently stopped working with the Spiders from Mars. This was also the second album Bowie worked with pianist Mike Garson, who would play an integral role in Bowie’s next record Young Americans.
Ch-Ch-Changes: The big change, as mentioned before, is the evolution of the lead character on the record. Ziggy Stardust was no more, and in his place was Halloween Jack, who was described as “a real cool cat” who lived in the decrepit Hunger City. Like Stardust, Halloween Jack was an anti-hero trapped in a dystopian scenario.
In a Most Peculiar Way: According to Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray’s Bowie: An Illustrated Record, Bowie considers “Rebel, Rebel” to be the female counterpart to “All the Young Dudes”, a song he wrote for Mott the Hoople. While both songs have an undoubtedly rebellious spirit, the music and lyrics for “Rebel, Rebel” are decidedly more upbeat.
After All: The ultimate glam rocker finally left the genre before it imploded, a wise move for sure, and he did so with a political statement. Diamond Dogs surely isn’t Bowie’s best work, but it’s among his most politically charged and passionate, and the formation of a new backing band proved to be a step in the right direction for Bowie mixing things up in the near future.