The Story Behind The Song: David Bowie’s descent into madness, ‘Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)’
After the seventies had allowed David Bowie to become the chameleon of rock, we all know him to be, travelling through a range of personas, styles and personal struggles that most people wouldn’t be able to fit into a whole career in just 10 years, all while apparently orbiting the earth as a pop space alien. It meant, by the time the new decade was approaching; Bowie was once again ready for a new chapter in his life. The opening lines in that chapter, as ever, took us to a whole new dimension and they read Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). It was an album that proved Bowie was still an unholy force to be reckoned with.
Following his acclaimed Berlin trilogy, Bowie was now more concerned with writing in a more defined structure rather than indulging his artistic wants. This was made more easily achieved after it was confirmed Brian Eno, known for his spontaneity in the studio, would not be joining Bowie on the record. However, Tony Visconti did rejoin to invigorate some Starman magic. It meant that the record, from the very beginning, was in good hands. But, as ever, the LP needed a title track worthy of capturing attention and following the album’s release in September 1980, Bowie released ‘Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps).’
The title track for the album is easily one of Bowie’s best songs and acts as one of the highlights of the record too. The third single from the album was released a few months after the album arrived. It’s on this song that the crux of the album really lays. As well as featuring the snorting dragon of King Crimson hero, Robert Fripp’s guitar also came complete with synthesised drums as Bowie kept his feet in the past and future. It was a clash of cultures that would once again champion Bowie as the futurist visionary of rock.
The song itself focuses on a woman’s descent into madness, provoked largely by the male protagonist. With Bowie’s heavily cockneyfied vocal feeling particularly imposing; the track has a dystopian quality that is hard to achieve without sounding cheap. The song thunders ahead and brings a certain closeness that can feel both encompassing and then claustrophobic. It’s a vision enacted by Bowie which shows off his always advantageous artistry.
Later, Bowie referred to the song as “a piece of Londonism”, which means his choice for an excessively cockney accent was intentional. Bowie also claimed the song’s narrator was a “criminal with a conscience who talks about how he corrupted a fine young mind.” It may well be that Bowie connected his native South London with the criminal underworld or that he felt the styles aligned perfectly, but the song’s dark tone is far removed from the titular inspiration.
It was later noted that the title for the song, and the album, was lifted from a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes ad campaign and applied to the less than wholesome content. It’s a juxtaposition which Bowie has often operated within, allowing the mundanity of the modern world to be permeated by pure and unbridled artistry.
It’s a juxtaposition that can be heard as Fripp meets the synthesisers, as Corn Flakes meets madness and as Bowie’s past only goes to inform his future. It’s a song that falls between the cracks of so many genres that it exists on its own plain. In a realm where pop balladry and rock and roll grit marry without reproach, Bowie delivers a snarling beast of explorative dancefloor mastery. A joy.