breaking news

    David Bowie & Mick Jagger – Dancing In The Street (first rough mix 1985)

    January 2nd, 2023 | by Nick


    (From MarkSaunders.Com)

    It’s 1985 – I’m at Westside Studios in Holland Park sitting in the hot seat behind the large SSL mixing desk and about 10 feet right in front of me, Mick Jagger is belting out that epic line from the classic Martha Reeves and The Vandella’s Motown tune ‘Dancing In The Street’. It’s a year and one day since I got my job in a proper recording studio – a huge step up from the one I had in my dad’s cowshed in the Hampshire countryside. I can’t believe my luck. And yeah, David Bowie’s going to be singing next!

    At David Bowie’s request, we’d started the day quite early – 9am – not a very rock n’roll time of day to start. We’d already recorded the brilliant backing track for the title song of the movie ‘Absolute Beginners’ (starring Bowie) – called ‘Absolute Beginners’ This was turning out to be a majorly productive and successful day! My bosses, producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley (Madness, Dexys Midnight Runners, Elvis Costello, Lloyd Cole And The Commotions among others) were producing the songs for the Absolute Beginners soundtrack and Bowie had been in and out of Westside Studios for a while now.

    It wasn’t until about noon that day that we heard the first rumour that Mick Jagger was coming down to the studio  – ’to do something with Bowie for Live Aid’ someone said.  Then at about 1.00pm a percussionist arrived and said ‘I’m here for the Bowie/Jagger session. ‘What?!’, I thought. I had imagined that Jagger was coming down to record something with Bowie for radio – like ‘I’m David Bowie’, ‘I’m Mick Jagger’, ‘Please give money to Live Aid!!’. I didn’t imagine we’d be recording a new track!  In the meantime, Bowie never said a word about it, although I think he must have cleared it with Clive and Alan and probably told them to keep it to themselves. A little while later, two backing singers arrived and also announced ‘we’re are here for the Bowie, Jagger session’!  Wow, this was getting more exciting by the minute!

    At around 5 or 6pm. Bowie announced that we were going to stop working on ‘Absolute Beginners’ because ‘Mick Jagger’s coming down in about an hour and we are recording a song for Live Aid’.  He took out a cassette out and handed it to one of the band and said, here you go lads, go and learn this. The cassette label read ‘Dancing In The Streets’.

    The band were, Neil Conti on drums, the sadly now departed Matthew Seligman on bass, Kevin Armstrong on guitar and Steve Nieve on piano. They ran off into the live room with the cassette player and sat around listening to the song and working out their parts for it. I remember Neil Conti, confidently taking on the role as bandleader and got everyone focused on what they had to do.

    More people started showing up at the studio – producers of the film Absolute Beginners and other movie people suddenly decided that this was a brilliant time too show interest in the music making process – word had obviously got out about Jagger coming down! They certainly had not been bothered to show up at the studio in the weeks before when we’d been working on the soundtrack.

    By the time Jagger arrived I counted 13 people haning out at the back of the control room including some kids. I thought Jagger might freak out about this intrusion but in he walked – looking a bit taken aback at first – but then he just got down to business. He brought his daughter Jade with him.

    I realised pretty quickly that Mick’s brain seems to be permanently wired to music. The band were playing different sections of the song and then stopping to discuss things and whenever the music played, Mick could not stand still, he could be in the middle of a conversation and when the music started, he’d be dancing – and still talking! He seemed to be happy to be taking part in this – I loved his vibe, I thought ‘I want to be Mick Jagger’s mate!’

    Before too long, the band were ready and Mick, David and the two backing singers, Tessa Niles and Helena Springs were shown to their communal recording booth which separated them from the rest of the band.

    They launched into the first take. The long drum intro sounded a bit weird at first. Bowie must have told the band he needed a set number of bars of drums before the song kicked in for real. On the first take neither Mick or David sang on this extra intro – maybe they hadn’t worked out who was going to sing which bit yet.

    It was great to hear the whole band and singers all performing at the same time. It wasn’t something that happened much – especially in the 80s when recording got a lot more clinical. They played two great takes and came into listen. After hearing both takes, everyone agreed that the first take had the best vibe.

    It was decided that the vocals would be re-sung. Not because they weren’t good enough, but because they were all singing in the same room and therefore all the singer’s voices were bleeding onto everyone else’s microphones. This would have compromised the mixing of the song – although that was how records were made back in the 60’s and before! The backing singers went first and nailed their parts very quickly.

    Next up it was Mick. Now Mick, being Mick, treated his performance like he was playing a packed Madison Square Gardens. It was very exciting to witness this legend in action so close up. Alan Winstanley gave me the job of recording the vocals and there I was, slap bang in Jagger’s line of sight! Holy crap!

    Mick blasted through two takes. It was quite dark in the live room and he’d sometimes disappear from view between lines while he did his signature strutting around the room but he’d aways leap back in time to deliver the next brilliant line. There was no having to tell Mick to do it once more with feeling! He just went for it.

    We all dutifully listened through to the two takes, knowing full well that they were both bloody fantastic. However Clive Langer who’d had a few white wines to calm his nerves in the presence of two major musical legends said, a little slurred, ‘I think there was one word on the second take that was a bit better than on the first’. All eyes landed on Clive and then back to Mick – who said something like ‘oh yeah? let’s have listen’. I can’t remember if there was a word taken from Mick’s second take or not, but Clive turned to me, looking like a naughty schoolboy and gave me a signal that meant that he probably should have kept his mouth shut.

    Lastly, with not so long left before the he and Mick would be whisked off to London’s docklands where a film crew would be waiting to shoot a video for the song, it was David’s turn

    David is a very different artist than Jagger. His approach to recording lead vocals baffled me. He would happily and brilliantly sing along with the band when they were laying down live backing tracks – and quite frankly it seemed to me that anyone of his takes could be a lead vocal. He never phoned in a vocal – he always sang great. However when it came time for him to record lead vocals, he would lay down one line at a time, then stop and listen back to it before doing the next. I could understand someone doing this if they weren’t that great a singer, but Davids vocals were amazing. He often would check his lines from a demo version before recording the new one.

    At one point near the end of the song I had to do a tight drop in and out of record because David wanted to go back and re-record a line. I had to make sure I dropped out of record before the line after played. There was very little wiggle room – and back in those days, we were recording on analog tape machines so there was no ‘undo’ button like there is nowadays!  I got it right though! And that was it, vocals done.

    Now was the time to run off a rough mix for the sound guy on set who would playback the song for Mick & David during filming. Being a conscientious guy I put two cassette players into record too – as I would normally do on any session. I thought Mick and David might want to listen to the mix on the way to the film set. Towards the end of the song, David’s manager, Coco, spotted a cassette player in record and yelled at me ‘Are you recording a cassette?!!! ‘Yes’ I said, ‘I thought you might need one’. She didn’t’t mention two cassettes so neither did I. ‘I’ll take that please’ Coco said snappily. I gave her the cassette. And when she wasn’t looking, I took the other one out and chucked it out of sight under the mixing desk. This is how I happen to have a copy of that first rough mix!

    David invited everyone present to join them at the film set. I wanted to go but I was exhausted  – mostly nervous exhaustion after a big day! Plus, I needed a shower, I’d sweat a lot recording the vocals that night!

    After the video shoot, Mick took the tapes to New York where the brass was added and another bass payer added some stuff apparently. Somewhere along the line, prog rock keyboardist, Rick Wakeman, added some more piano to it too.  The song was then mixed by the legendary Bob Clearmountain. I was pretty happy to say the least to have an engineer credit on the sleeve of this one!

    Comments are closed.

    David Bowie News | Celebrating the Genius of David Bowie