David Bowie has always been fascinated with pop music. Its part of what has driven him as an artist, the constant evolution of sound and vision which propelled him into super-stardom. It means he is more than happy to fall for a band or artist just like any other fan and has done on several occasions. As well as Lou Reed and Iggy Pop there was Pixies, Placebo and of course Devo, all of whom experienced Bowie’s adoration. For a short period, Bowie was just as swept up with the image of The Smiths’ frontman Morrissey as the rest of the country was.
David Bowie is one of those artists who has taken on as many covers as he has written his own songs. Among the plethora of original songs the Thin White Duke has taken on, including The Velvet Underground, The Stooges and many more, not many of them have ended relationships. But when he took on Morrissey’s track ‘I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday’ he put the final nail in the coffin of a broken friendship.
The pair first met in 1990 backstage at the Sound + Vision tour stop in Manchester. It was here that Morrissey, who had been a huge fan of the Starman, met one of his idols in the flesh for the first time. Of course, by that time, Morrissey himself had become a teen idol and Bowie suitably impressed with his penchant for theatrics and the artistic integrity of pop music. Seemingly he was even willing to anoint the singer as his heir to the glam crown when he joined him on stage in Los Angeles in 1991 to perform a duet of Marc Bolan’s iconic song ‘Cosmic Dancer’ to a fervorous crowd.
It then appeared as if the relationship was further bonded a few years later in 1993 when Bowie took on Morrissey’s own song ‘I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday’ for his covers album Black Tie White Noise. But while the idea of covering a song is often centred around a great deal of respect, Bowie chose this song as a pointed jab at Morrissey.
The dig came as Bowie realised that there were certainly similarities to his and the Moz song. The coda saxophone arrangement on ‘Someday’ was incredibly similar to that of ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide’. “It occurred to me that he was spoofing one of my earlier songs, and I thought, I’m not going to let him get away with that,” Bowie later said of the choice.
Ever the showman, this was enough to set Bowie on a path to satirise the Smiths singer and, in a bold move, tried to replicate the sound of Ziggy Stardust to highlight the song’s similarities. However, what transpired was a somewhat weak effort at a joke, a strained vocal and a moment in Bowie’s career the Starman’s fans would probably like to breeze past.
Morrissey though said he loved the cover and the pair kept good communications for the few years following the album’s release until, in 1995, Morrissey was invited to be a part of Bowie’s tour on some UK and European dates. Right from the start, Morrissey’s nose was put out of shape after being put on the tour announcements as a “special guest” and it got worse as the Mancunian singer would occasionally open proceedings with “Good evening, we are your support group,” letting the sarcasm drip from his mic.
However, the breaking point would come, according to Morrissey, when Bowie would slowly replace Morrissey’s band throughout the last few songs of the set, removing members of the group like the secret police, before he would be joined by Bowie for a rendition of one of Bowie’s own songs. David thought it would make for great theatre while Morrissey was left intently implying that Bowie had become a diva.
As is his way so often these days, Morrissey would leave the tour only (after only nine dates) and spend much the rest of his time lamenting Bowie. He recalled in one interview: “You have to worship at the temple of David when you become involved with him” and, in another interview, he said Bowie “is no longer David Bowie at all. Now he gives people what he thinks will make them happy, and they’re yawning their heads off. And by doing that, he is not relevant,” with the scathing final words, “He was only relevant by accident.”
It’s a sad state which even continued following Bowie’s sad death in 2016. Morrissey deliberately failed to mention the star when performing a memorial song. David Bowie, though, kept quiet on his relationship with The Smiths singer, maintaining a professional stance in front of the media at least.
A sad ending to what seemed like it could have been an incredibly fruitful creative partnership. But many believe the sourness between the two resonated from Bowie’s cover of ‘I Know It’s Gonna Happen Sunday’.
So without further ado, listen to that very cover below.