Inside David Bowie’s 1984 Pop Detour ‘Tonight’
When David Bowie was promoting Let's Dance, he considered writing its follow-up as a "protest" record. Instead, he rushed out Tonight, a pop-oriented album heavy on big Eighties production but light on Bowie originals. Unable to write on tour, he added reggae rhythms to some of his favorite Iggy Pop songs, recorded a duet with Tina Turner and took on the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows." The only songs he wrote himself were a couple of tunes co-authored with Pop and the two singles "Blue Jean" and "Loving the Alien." As to why he put out the hurried Tonight, Bowie said at the time, "I wanted to keep my hand in, I suppose."
"It was really badly thought out," co-producer Hugh Padgham says now. "It was too soon to record it." Bowie had just finished the Serious Moonlight Tour in December 1983, and by spring of the following year he'd gathered Padgham and co-producer Derek Bramble of the funk band Heatwave in a studio near Montreal. Bramble, who was somewhat new to production, asked Bowie to record unnecessary vocal takes. The singer grew bored. Turner came in for only one day to sing with Bowie on Pop's 1977 song "Tonight," minus its lyrics about heroin addiction ("I didn't want to inflict it on her," Bowie said). Pop himself was also on hand to offer moral support. "They used to go in the studio and dance around with a bottle of beer and try and come up with lyrics on the spot," Padgham recalls. "It was good fun." Bowie was also enjoying single life, trying to hook up the producers with women he'd met while recording. "I do not want to have your reject," Padgham told him.
Eventually, they took a break and Bramble did not return, leaving Padgham to finish the record. "Tonight is never regarded as one of his better albums [by critics], and I think it's a shame," Padgham says. "Had I been producer from the get-go, it would have been better. We had songs that David never finished, which I felt were better than the ones that ended up on the record." Nevertheless, "Blue Jean" became a Top 10 hit, and Tonight went platinum before the year was up.