If you look at the whole David Bowie collection in iTunes, you’ll see only one album that has the boxed E on it: EXPLICIT. (Lock up your daughters!) That album is his last, ★. And if you look at the songs, you will see only two that have the EXPLICIT warning: “’Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” and “Girl Loves Me.”
And what are these deep, dark, explicit words?
In “Girl Loves Me” it’s plain enough. The big refrain of the song is “Where the fuck did Monday go?” (Bowie died on a Sunday. Coincidence?)
But that’s not truly explicit. It’s just vulgar. Somehow the two seem to be getting confused an awful lot of late.
Here’s as bad as it gets in “’Tis a Pity She Was a Whore”:
Black struck the kiss, she kept my cock
Smote the mistress, drifting on
’Tis a pity she was a whore
Yup, that’s explicit: it actually describes a sexual activity. Is cock too rude for family listening? Maybe. Is whore? Listen, bud, I’ve heard Best Little Whorehouse in Texas bleeped in a TV ad. But it’s been on posters and marquees!
So in the one song we have an actual vulgarity that has fuck-all to do with actual sex, and in the other we have actual sex that doesn’t use vulgarities.
And that’s it.
Fucking no it’s not.
The absence of a label does not mean the absence of sweary or naughty bits. It just means the song didn’t have to go past Tipper Gore’s little prig brigade (prigade? I think I’ll keep that).
David Bowie has not exactly shied from sex and naughtiness. Really. The first time you hear “fucking” in a Bowie song is in “Friday on My Mind” from 1973’s Pin-Ups:
Can you hear it? I have it on some kind of authority that the backup singers are singing “Feel like fucking you.”
Well, that’s a little less than perfectly clear. But on Diamond Dogs, from 1974, you can’t miss “But I love you in your fuck-me pumps”:
So that’s there, and that’s a lot sooner. But while that may be the first fuck and fucking in Bowie’s album oeuvre, it’s not the first description of fucking, or the first use of language that would get Tipper all tippy. Aladdin Sane, just before Pin-Ups in 1973, has this particularly spectacular scene in “Time”:
Time – He flexes like a whore
Falls wanking to the floor
His trick is you and me, boy
There’s that w-word again. Bowie used it again on his second-last album, The Next Day, in two songs: the title song (“Listen to the whores he tells her”) –
(the video for the song takes place in a whorehouse with priests but uses a shortened version without that verse!) – and “Heat”:
That love is theft
Love and whores
I guess that wasn’t explicit enough. Tipper’s prigade was around, and they didn’t put a boxed warning on it.
But he also used it in “Sweet Head,” a song from the Ziggy Stardust era that is pretty plainly about guy-on-guy oral sex. You’ll hear “I’m your rubber peacock angelic whore” at 2:01. You’ll also hear “By the faggy parks and the burnt out vans” at 1:01.
The song was recorded in 1972, but it wasn’t actually released until 1990.
Faggots shows up again in “Scream Like a Baby” from Scary Monsters and Super Creeps:
“Well they came down hard on the faggots…”
But that word somehow (we know how) doesn’t pique the censors as much. Not even as much as shit.
Speaking of, there’s a lot of shit in Bowie’s songs too. He had some “It’s No Game (Part 2)” from Scary Monsters (1980):
Children ’round the world
Put camel shit on the walls
He used it in his “Nathan Adler” spoken segue from Outside (1995):
But he didn’t know from shit
About challenge response systems
On The Next Day, shit shows up in “I’d Rather Be High”:
I flew to Cairo, find my regiment
City’s full of generals
And generals full of shit
Where does shit come from? Assholes. Can you find asshole in Bowie? Sure, in “Pablo Picasso,” from Reality (2003), in the very first words of the song:
Well some people try to pick up girls
They get called assholes
This never happened to Pablo Picasso
Twice later in the song he sings “Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole.”
OK, anything else? I’m not sure if bitch counts, but it’s pretty prominent in one of Bowie’s early hits, “Oh! You Pretty Things” from 1971’s Hunky Dory:
The earth is a bitch
We’ve finished our news
Homo sapiens have outgrown their use
And let us not forget that he has a whole song called “Queen Bitch” on Hunky Dory.
Oh, and then there’s pussy. We know that’s a bad word because of Donald Trump – and all the people reacting to his quoting a supporter who called Ted Cruz a pussy. But while there were a few truly inane defences of the term (such as that it comes from pusillanimous), there’s no mistaking this pussy from “I’m Afraid of Americans,” from Earthling (1997):
Johnny combs his hair
And Johnny wants pussy in cars
Is that pussy a naughty word? Put it this way: listen for it in the video version.
Do you hear it? Neither do I.
So does that round out our Bowie sweariness? It’s all the vulgar language, yes. But not all the explicit language.
Oh, there are various other references to sex, all in acceptable language, of course – “She said she had to squeeze it but she… and then she…”
“Wanna be screwin’ when the nightmare comes”:
And so on.
But the earliest plainspoken reference to private members has to be from “Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed,” from Space Oddity (originally released as the second album titled David Bowie, but it was his first major release), where he sings “I’m a phallus in pigtails”:
From then to now, Bowie gave us 47 glorious years of fucking, though seldom named as such And 47 years later, he finally got his first EXPLICIT warning label. Just in time.