Reality Adjustments

The Genius of David Bowie & Marianne Faithfull Singing “I Got You Babe”

Jan 08, 2019

Today we celebrate David Bowie’s birthday by diving into an obscure and amazing stage performance: David Bowie & Marianne Faithfull singing Sonny and Cher's “I Got You Babe”.

Aired in 1973 as part of Bowie’s rock musical spectacle called “The 1980 Floor Show”, Faithfull embodies an armless ancient-Egyptian extraterrestrial nun, and Bowie appears as space alien Ziggy Stardust, wearing a backwards pair of black angel wings with a fabulous latex skirt and pants.  Yes, you heard that right.

They walk that sincere yet farcical line. They embody the simple honesty of the song's message, while twisting it into something other worldly, even sinister.

Faithfull's performance comes as the comedic straight man, yet letting in an occasional smile to contrast her flat deadpan delivery.  And we are taken by it, and elevated, when this occurs.  At 1:10, when she says “at least I’m sure of all the things we got,” she slips into a subtle reverie of ecstasy, the kind reserved for Joan of Arc or the Virgin Mary.

Bowie takes on the foil.  He performs with humor and charisma.  At 0:33, after singing “we won’t find out until we go,” Bowie shakes his wings, flaunts them to Faithfull, and awaits her command like a dutiful lover.  At 1:38, with “I got flowers in the spring, I got you to wear my ring,” Bowie waxes on a dime, entering the blossom of such a sentiment, feeling its hope and aspirations, transforming into its grand promise.

Compare this with Sonny and Cher’s live version of the song in 1965’s "Top of the Pops."  Their version comes across with a definitive idealism, reflective of the mid-1960s.  

By 1973, Bowie had moved in a more dystopian direction.  He had been working on "Diamond Dogs," a 1984-inspired Orwellian counterculture rock album.  It is in this context that they sing "I Got You Babe."  So now, if you imagine Bowie and Faithful’s characters as high societal status, then they sing from a place of oblivious—even cruel—entitlement.  If they are low status—or what Orwell called the proles—then their kind of hopeful love mixed with poverty and oppression can feel deliciously futile.  And if they are otherworldly, well… then these are stamen transmissions, saved for Channel 2.

The "1980 Floor Show" itself is a pun on the title of Bowie’s song “1984,” which played during the opening titles.  And of course Orwell’s landmark book.

This obscure act is pure deliciousness, and one of our favorites from Bowie’s career.

Please enjoy.  And if you are listening, Mr. Bowie, even though you dropped your cell phone down below: Happy birthday to you.  We love you and miss you.

January 8, 2019

The Tilted Glass