Life On Mars? was originally released in December 1971, on David Bowie’s “Hunky Dory” album. It was subsequently released as a single, in June 1973, at the height of Ziggy-mania.
Ashes To Ashes was originally released as a single, on August 1st, 1980. It was a huge hit in the UK, reaching No.1 on August 19th. It was the first of four singles from David Bowie’s album Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), which was released on September 12th, 1980.
This performance is from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. It was recorded at NBC Studios in Burbank, Los Angeles, on September 3rd and broadcast on the 5th of September, 1980, during the three week hiatus in performances of the Elephant Man play.
This performance is unique, in several ways. The foremost thing is that it was Bowie’s only live performance of 1980, and only his second (SNL, 1979) since the 1978 tour. And it would be his last until the Serious Moonlight tour, in 1983. Also, the Tonight Show is the first time Bowie had performed Life On Mars in it’s entirety for over six years, having dropped it from the live set on the latter part of the Ziggy tour, in June ’73, despite it being No. 3 in the UK charts at the time. Lastly, it’s the first and only time, Ashes To Ashes was performed live, in it’s day.
Performing with Bowie on the Tonight Show, was a one-off new band. They included:
Carlos Alomar on keyboards and rhythm guitar
G.E. Smith on lead guitar (Hall & Oates)
Steve Goulding on drums (The Rumour)
No info could be found on who the bass player and piano / keyboard player are.
It has been rumored that this band was perhaps assembled for a possible 1981 tour. But sadly, The Tonight Show was the their only public performance. The same individuals also appear in the fake concert footage in the German movie Christiane F. and the video for Fashion. The Fashion shoot was in Berlin and was apparently Bowie fairly spontaneously taking advantage of having a semblance of band with him for the Christiana F. shooting).
This clip of Bowie is frustratingly good – if only he had toured for the Scary Monsters album! It’s cracking version of “Life On Mars”, (accepting the fact that he doesn’t have the high register of eight years prior) and he’s also in fine voice on “Ashes To Ashes”. Imagine a live set based on the Scary Monsters and Lodger material!
And he looks great – very obviously appropriating James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause, wearing a red cotton windbreaker( https://bamfstyle.com/2015/09/30/rebel-without-a-cause-3-windbreaker/ ) white t-shirt, blue jeans, a magnificent quiff, and throwing the 50’s moves. It was the same look he employed in the fake concert footage for Christiane F.
However, thinking about it, Bowie’s punishing schedule – 9 performances per week of The Elephant Man play – for the crucial 5 months between August ’80 to January ’81, means that a tour or even planning and rehearsing for one, would have been difficult. By the time his stint in the play had ended, the ideal time to promote Scary Monsters had past.
At the end of the Tonight Show performance I’ve added a bonus. It is about a minute of Bowie and the band rehearsing Ashes To Ashes for the show. It was used as part of a 1981, Bowie special on the US arts program, the 20-20 Show. Thus the talk-over.
I have been keen to create a better version of the Tonight Show performance for some time. I have searched long and hard to get hold of whatever is out there and I found six different versions. Five were partial excerpts, and one was a (poor quality) recording of the complete show – all of which were used in part, to make this video. The truth is, I could not find any really good source. So the quality varies from quite good to crap. At least I managed to un-orange Bowie’s face (and even Carson’s – no mean feat!).
Along with the video matrix of the various versions, I also made an audio matrix. All versions only contained a mono recording, all were very compressed; sounding like the limiter had been set to maximum. I did my best to boost and balance the sound, pushing the EQ as far as I dared, and create a bit of a fake-stereo effect, but again it’s very far from A+.
So I am afraid that the earth won’t move for you watching this video, but it is hopefully the best version currently on the net.
Hope you dig it!
Do me an’ yerself a favor – watch it in the Highest Def available with the sound UP LOUD!
If anyone has any other footage, or ideas for another video project, of material from Bowie’s classic period, do please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Putting this video together was another huge labour of love, made with love and with respect for the source.
I don’t own the rights, and I’m not making any money out of this etc. Just a fan making videos for other fans.
Nacho, December 30th. 2016.