I had seven Moroder tracks to write about and I didn’t want less for a theme week, and yet this weekend was far too busy to squeeze in two more posts, so we are continuing Moroder Week for two more days.
I remember hearing on MTV in 1982 that Giorgio Moroder was writing and producing another Paul Schrader film soundtrack following on the heels of the hit “American Gigolo” OST two years previous. Moroder already had a reputation for creating hit soundtracks that had already won him Academy Award® gold so this was high profile, but MTV especially cared because the title theme this time would be sung by David Bowie! Bowie only released two songs in the interim between 1980’s “Scary Monsters [and supercreeps]” and his megasmash “Let’s Dance” album due to him waiting out the terms of his RCA contract and legal agreement with former management company MainMan. The previous year, he recorded a hit single with Queen on EMI and in 1982 this single on MCA. I bought it as soon as it was released and liked it so much [including the instro Moroder B-side], that I bought the full album and sent the single to chasinvictoria as a birthday present that year.
MORODER WEEK Day 6 – David Bowie: Cat People 1982 LP Version
I bought the album because it had the full length 6:41 version of the song instead of the 7″ edit of 4:08. We had that instead of a 12″ single in America at the time. The UK/Italy/Europe got a 12″ with the album/single version on it. The sound here was a million miles away from the “typical” Mororder sound. There were barely evidence of any synths here. Just a fog-like synth drone in the gradual, deliberate intro over the funereal percussion by Moroder mainstay Keith Forsey. A radical injection of tablas, also by Forsey added a whiff of eastern spice to the baleful vibe. Then, when the tension couldn’t get any tighter, Bowie began singing his lyric in a vibrato-laden baritone that could hardly have been more portentous. The tempo was about as slow methodical as the previous year’s “Your Name [Has Slipped My Mind Again]” by Ultravox. It was most definitely a feline prowler extraordinaire for its first 1:50 until Bowie shattered the tension as the song surged into rock tempos on his protracted howl of “And I’ve been putting out fire… with gasoliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine!”
From that point on the instrumentation shifted to a standard rock tempo and sound with electric guitars, bass, and drums. There were rock organ fills in there by Sylvester Levai that were very retro but Moroder mixed them low. This one was so far outside of the Moroder wheelhouse that even the maestro only played guitar and bass on the album. This was a pure rock sound made with session men and his faithful drummer in tow. The only synths in the “active” part of the song, apart from the samples cat growls on synclavier, was the percussive synth pulse that traveled throughout the song, pacing the drums, until the the last bar of instrumentation dropped out before each verse to let it flicker in the light, briefly.
The LP version was longer by several minutes than the single, allowing for either Michael Landau or Tim May [the credits don’t specify] to add a sleek guitar solo further from the rock crunch of the rest of the song, on what sure sounded like a guitar synth. The tone attained on that solo brought the sound close to a sitar with lots of sustain, which circled back to the tablas in the intro. On the face of this, this was the not an innovative record designed to break boundaries. But it was a record carefully built around the not inconsiderable chassis of a masterful Bowie vocal performance that supported the themes and mood of the film it was placed in.
These was nothing wrong with “Cat People [Putting Out Fire]” in its first incarnation. Upon hearing it, all was still right in the Bowie Universe. Then, a year later a newly recorded version of “Cat People [Putting Out Fire]” surfaced in service as a B-side to the new David Bowie single, “Let’s Dance.” If we had to withstand the letdown of the A-side, then the new B-side version was insult to injury. The moody Moroder version aced the Nile Rodgers production in every conceivable way, except for maybe sales. The single topped the Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, and New Zealand charts while barely scraping into the UK top 30 or the US Hot 100 [at#67]. While “Let’s Dance” was a worldwide smash that at least netter Moroder some fine songwriting royalties for his efforts.
Last post, JT had commented about Blondie and Moroder recording a long take of “Call Me” and editing it down for 12″ and pop usage. The exact same thing happened here with a 9:40 take being edited down to the 6:45 LP cut, and a 4:08 7″ edit. We know this because the unedited 9:40 full length take [reputed to have synth and sax solos in its long coda] was released as the mislabeled 6:45 LP version on an OZ 12″ by mistake. Alas, one of these puppies would set us back at least three figures and with Bowie gone, it’s not getting any cheaper.
Next: …Paradigm Shift