20 Comments (since 29 Aug 2014)
This track from 1973's "Aladdin Sane" album was composed by Bowie while he was "drinking in" the north American cultural shift (a million miles away from the scene back in Britain at the time; quite how much a difference that actually was is easily forgotten in this "always-connected" age we enjoy today) during an elongated visit there in late 1972.
Peter Doggett, in his book "The Man Who Sold The World: David Bowie and the 1970s" (ISBN 9781847921444), notes the influences which gave birth to this song, and which were also incorporated into the hedonistic mood pervading much of the rest of the LP's content. The leading figure inhabiting the underbelly of the tune was one John Sinclair, jazz poet and political activist, who had repeated run-ins with the US government agencies, judiciary and police forces in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Jailed for ten years in 1969 (for marijuana possession, not insurrection!), he became a martyr, and, by 1972, had a song named after him by no less than John Lennon. Doggett puts it thus: "... perpetual dissident John Sinclair responded to the defiance of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California, by forming the White Panther Party, whose manifesto demanded 'rock 'n' roll, dope and f***ing in the streets!'.
"Police brutality in the city provoked extensive riots amongst the African-American community in 1967, and Sinclair aligned his Panthers with those seeking to banish racism from the streets and end the war in Vietnam ... meanwhile, the rock band that Sinclair had managed, the 'MC5', carried the Panthers' manifesto into thousands of homes via their debut album, 'Kick Out The Jams'." He goes on:
"Some of that history was available to Bowie as a gentle reader of the music press; the rest he learned from Iggy Pop when the pair met again in Detroit in October 1972. Not an instinctively political being, Bowie chose to satirise the cult of John Sinclair, by comparing him to rebel martyr Che Guevara, who even by 1972 was being admired more for his rock 'n' roll image (a mustachioed Jim Morrison) than for his example as a guerrilla fighter.
"The subsequent 'Panic' told us more about the narrator's sense of irrelevance than about any political realities ... Bowie's recording harked back to the swampy R&B records that came out of Chicago in the fifties, all maracas and tom-toms, creating a tension that pulsed and grew until a single cymbal crash signalled the way out of the chorus/chaos ...
"... All the sense of disturbance that Bowie's lyrics couldn't satisfy was provided by the turbulence of the final moments, as Ronson's guitar filled the right-hand speaker with wave after wave of dive-bombing sirens, and female voices wailed demonically." Powerful stuff. But in the end, just one man's perception of what David Bowie intended, after all that. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panic_in_Detroit
From one of my Top 5 Bowie albums (probably Top 3).
No. 3 it is for me too. 1) Rise and Fall of Ziggy - 2) Hunky Dory - 4) Man Who Sold the World 5) Pin Ups ... narrowly beating Space Oddity the album. Strange. They're all Ziggy era LPs. Of course! ;)
Ronson, Ronson, Ronson....etc etc.
@ian38018 In the Ziggy era, it is IMPOSSIBLE to ignore Ronno's contribution, whether it be harmony vocals, guitar craftsmanship or string arrangements. Basically, he MADE the Bowie sound at that time.
One of the greatest recordings of all time imo.
my absolute favorite bowie song....awesome.
A riff like a Stuka...
Awesome riff, great guitar, great song...
Love the riff, the lyric, the whole bloody thing.
he is like many an artist you either love or hate him like marmite.........i love him ;-)