They Call Them the Diamond Dogs

Diamond Dogs Session (contact sheet), Terry O’Neill, 1974

 
 

Taken as a publicity shoot for the LP Diamond Dogs. As Terry started to shoot with the dog sitting quietly besides Bowie, it suddenly got over excited and reared six feet into the air barking madly. This terrified the life out of everyone in the studio, except Bowie who didn’t even flinch.

 
 

This portrait of David Bowie was part of a studio session in Los Angeles to promote the Diamond Dogs album. Bowie picked up the scissors absent-mindedly and O’Neill decided to keep them in the shoot to symbolize the cutting edge nature of Bowie’s music.

 
 

Diamond Dogs is a concept album by David Bowie, originally released in 1974 on RCA Records, his eighth album. Thematically, it was a marriage of the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell and Bowie’s own glam-tinged vision of a post-apocalyptic world. Bowie had wanted to make a theatrical production of Orwell’s book and began writing material after completing sessions for his 1973 album Pin Ups, but the author’s estate denied the rights. The songs wound up on the second half of Diamond Dogs instead where, as the titles indicated, the Nineteen Eighty-Four theme was prominent.

 
 

The cover art features Bowie as a striking half-man, half-dog grotesque painted by Belgian artist Guy Peellaert. It was controversial as the full painting clearly showed the hybrid’s genitalia. Very few copies of this original cover made their way into circulation at the time of the album’s release. According to the record-collector publication Goldmine price guides, these albums have been among the most expensive record collectibles of all time, as high as thousands of US dollars for a single copy. The genitalia were quickly airbrushed out for the 1974 LP’s gatefold sleeve, although the original artwork (and another rejected cover featuring Bowie in a sombrero cordobés holding onto a ravenous dog, an image captured by Terry O’Neill) was included in subsequent Rykodisc/EMI re-issues.

 
 

Though the album was recorded and released after the ‘retirement’ of Ziggy Stardust in mid-1973, and featured its own lead character in Halloween Jack (“a real cool cat” who lives in the decaying “Hunger City”), Ziggy was seen to be still very much alive in Diamond Dogs, as evident from Bowie’s haircut on the cover and the glam-trash style of the first single Rebel Rebel. As was the case with some songs on Aladdin Sane, the influence of The Rolling Stones was also evident, particularly in the chugging title track. Elsewhere, however, Bowie had moved on from his earlier work with the epic song suite, Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise), whilst Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me and the Shaft-inspired wah-wah guitar style of 1984 provided a foretaste of Bowie’s next, ‘plastic soul’, phase. The original vinyl album ended with the juddering refrain (actually, a tape loop) Bruh/bruh/bruh/bruh/bruh, the first syllable of “(Big) Brother”, repeated incessantly. The track Sweet Thing was Bowie’s first try at William S. Burroughs‘ cut-up style of writing, which Bowie would continue to use for the next 25 years. Although Diamond Dogs was the first Bowie album since 1969 to not feature any of the Spiders from Mars, the backing band made famous by Ziggy Stardust, many of the arrangements were already worked out and played on tour with Mick Ronson prior to the studio recordings, including 1984 and Rebel Rebel.

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