Twig The Wonder Kid: David Bowie’s “Drive In Saturday”


“Not only is it arguably the finest track on Aladdin Sane,”Drive-In Saturday” is also the great forgotten Bowie single…(it is) one of Bowie’s most underrated classics.”
–Nicholas Pegg, The Complete David Bowie

“When the chorus came around there it was again, “Twig the wonder kid”, and I thought, blimey. I remember being absolutely bowled over and of course, I rushed out and bought it.”
-Twiggy, Twiggy in Black and White

David Bowie’s overwhelming run of great albums in the seventies often overshadows the fact that he was also one of the great Singles artists of the period as well. One particular 45 stands above the rest as not only the best of Bowie’s career but as one of the greatest songs in rock history.

1973’s “Drive In Saturday” was originally written for Mott The Hoople, who were coming off a sizable hit with Bowie’s “All The Young Dudes”. Thinking it was a bad idea to follow up that smash with another Bowie cover, Mott turned the track down. Bowie would later admit that he was justifiably confused by the decision and said that “I never understood that because I always thought that would have been a great single for them.” Bowie recorded the song himself, and released the single in April 1973, a week before the masterful album it graced Aladdin Sane.

Written while Bowie was touring America promoting The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, “Drive-In Saturday” is a song about a future where people have become so isolated from each other that they have to look at images from the past to remember how to make love. The track simultaneously is rooted in the rock from the fifties that Bowie had grown up with and yet still sounds slightly futuristic and totally progressive. The song features some of the most evocative and emotionally devastating lyrics that Bowie had written with its nostalgic nods to Mick Jagger, Twiggy, and an idealistic sixties very much lost.

Backed by the Spiders from Mars and featuring some of the most impressive guitar work that the incomparable Mick Ronson ever delivered, “Drive In Saturday” is one of the definitive glam rock tracks. Perhaps only Roxy Music’s “Virginia Plain” tops it as one of the most perfectly crafted songs of the early seventies, with Bowie’s altogether haunting synthesizer and saxophone playing adding to Ronson’s extraordinary arrangement. Featuring the always crisp and incredibly layered Tony Visconti production, “Drive-In Saturday” plays perfectly as a stand-alone single and an essential album track. Aladdin Sane would be unthinkable without the song and it helps give the album an emotional pull that, to my ears at least, makes it the finest Bowie album of the period and possibly the greatest Glam album ever.

Much like Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, a film Bowie starred in a year later, there is something extremely prophetic about”Drive In Saturday”. It seems to anticipate the Internet and also our increasingly closed-off and isolated world. As more and more people live their lives with their cell phones and social media as their only real sources of communication, Bowie’s futuristic cold and emotionally cut-off world might be much closer than just around the corner…in fact, it might already be here.

I first heard “Drive in Saturday” as a teenager and I must admit that it wasn’t one of my favorites at first. It wasn’t until I heard him do it live in the late nineties on his Hours tour that the song really hit me. Backed by the superbly talented Holly Palmer, a singer whose voice melded in perfectly with Bowie’s, his Hours tour versions are majestic sounding and nearly top the original single.

The b-side for “Drive-In Saturday” is an exciting cover of Chuck Berry’s “Round And Round”. Originally recorded for the Ziggy Stardust record, “Round and Round” is a gloriously sloppy Spiders From Mars run-through of a track from Bowie’s youth. While not one of Bowie’s greatest covers or B-sides, it is a fun and perfect companion for the moving and nostalgic”Drive In Saturday”.

Twig the Wonder Kid herself recalled her excitement upon hearing that she was the star of one of Bowie’s most dazzling songs, writing in her 1997 memoir Twiggy in Black and White:

“I’ll never forget the shock…I was sitting sewing in my bedroom in Twickenham, when suddenly I heard him sing “Twig the Wonder Kid. Or thought I did. But because I wasn’t really listening, I thought no I must have misheard. When the chorus came around, there it was again and I thought blimey. I remember being absolutely bowled over and of course I rushed out and bought it. I had always wanted to meet him. Like The Beatles, Bowie is an original. Several originals. It’s hard to imagine the history of rock music without all of his various incarnations…I was a huge fan and as star-struck as anyone else would be. Ziggy Stardust is one of my favorite albums. Every track is completely different and completely brilliant…He was everything I could have hoped for and more, witty and funny and incredibly bright; into films, directors, literature and art…The pop world can be very egotistical and to meet someone who didn’t just want to talk about their latest record was a breath of fresh air”.

Despite its power, “Drive-in Saturday” never achieved the critical nor popular acclaim it so richly deserved. Critical notices and sales were good, but the song remained unfairly overshadowed by many of the great singles Bowie released throughout the seventies. Writing for the Democrat and Chronicle, critic Mark Starr noted Aladdin Sane’s “overwhelming sensation is pain and suffering” mentioning “the couple in “Drive-in Saturday” can no longer make it except in a Jaggerish fantasy video world.” Los Angeles Times critic Robert Hilburn praised the album but noted that while “Drive-in Saturday” had been a hit in England, he guessed that the more muscular rocker “Panic in Detroit” was probably a “better singles candidate” for the States. The Inquirer’s Jack Lloyd was more tempered in his praise for the album but called “Drive-in Saturday” “fun” and compared it, oddly enough, to Bob Dylan.

Several acts have covered “Drive-in Saturday” with the most notable being probably Morrissey’s powerful live stabs at it. The song remains a bit hidden as one of Bowie’s great works but to me, it is the equal of anything Bowie ever recorded and one of the most emotionally devastating songs I have ever heard. Twiggy would appear on the cover of Bowie’s next album (Pin-Ups) and she still speaks of how overwhelmed she was the first time she heard “Drive-in Saturday”. While the song only made it to number three on the charts and has been forgotten by many, I suspect that for myself, Twig the wonder kid, and for more than a few others, the track will always remain an overwhelmingly important and special one.

-Jeremy Richey, Originally Published at Moon in the Gutter January 19, 2016-

Enjoy these vintage press clippings, including the full articles I quoted above.

Elvis at Fifty: The 1985 Gregg Geller Supervised Elvis Presley Albums


“Elvis Presley was the person who awakened me to music and records when I was very young, and there had always been all these things I had dreamed of doing if I ever got the chance.”-

-Gregg Geller-

Elvis Presley was the most important and successful artist of the 20th century. He was also the most mismanaged, mis-marketed and mishandled. Perhaps nowhere is this sad fact more grossly apparent than in the immediate years following his untimely passing at 42 in 1977. As they had done throughout his career, his record company RCA didn’t know how to handle the recorded legacy of Elvis Presley in the days, months, and finally years following his death. During his life, RCA and Colonel Tom Parker failed to recognize just how truly important and valuable Presley’s musical contributions were and less than a year after his death they were putting out insulting and head-scratching releases like Elvis Sings For Kids and Grownups Too. Cheap artwork and a general lack of vision soiled even potentially valuable projects, focusing on unreleased material, like the Our Memories of Elvis collections. It’s hard to imagine any other major artist being treated quite as shabbily as Elvis Presley was in the years after his death with perhaps the worst offense being 1981’s Guitar Man, a countrified ‘remix’ album that destroyed some of his greatest American Sound Recordings of 1969. It seemed like RCA had nothing but disdain for their top-selling artist and these shoddy releases, combined with the release of Albert Goldman’s near-criminal posthumous assignation biography Elvis, unfairly damaged Elvis Presley’s reputation for years to come. Ironically, the surprise savior waiting in the wings was a man whose name was more synonymous with Costello than Presley when he arrived to change the tide in the mid-eighties.

Before he salvaged the recorded legacy of Elvis Presley with a series of expertly packaged releases timed to coincide with what would have been Elvis’ 50th birthday in 1985, Gregg Geller was probably best known as the man who had signed the astonishing other Elvis to Colombia in the late seventies. Geller had spent most of the seventies with CBS, working with several popular and influential artists for both Columbia and Epic. By the early eighties, he worked at RCA and the confusion regarding what to do with their biggest-selling catalog proved one of his biggest challenges. As he would tell an interviewer years after his time with the label:

“My job at RCA was to be the head of A&R, but after hearing me complain about the generally poor quality of the label’s Elvis releases in the years following his death, my boss, Jose Menendez, said to me, in effect: “if you’re so smart, why don’t you do something about it?” So I did.”

Geller recognized that Elvis Presley was far from just the guaranteed cash cow that most of the executives at RCA saw him as, and knew there was not only a market for unreleased archival recordings but also a need to put some of his past mishandled releases in proper perspective. Geller’s first step towards reestablishing Presley as the force of sonic nature that he had been was the 1984 six record set A Golden Celebration, a massive collection of mostly unreleased material that would set in motion the more well-known and acclaimed Ernst Jorgenson archival releases of the nineties and beyond. A Golden Celebration was a rare solid hit for a box set and it set the stage for a series of startling releases for Elvis’ 50th.

Geller’s concept of how to rescue Elvis Presley’s recorded legacy is so obvious in hindsight that it’s almost ridiculous that it took nearly ten years for RCA to capitalize on it. Geller’s plan was a deceptively simple one: Release a series of ‘concept’ albums made up of almost entirely of previously released material each designed to introduce a different side of the once and future king to a whole new generation…and to a whole new format, the Compact Disc. Starting in late 1984 and throughout 1985, Geller would present 4 sides of Elvis Presley to new and established fans: The ferocious rocker, the raw bluesman, the balladeer, and the heartbroken deep soul singer. These 4 releases would successfully begin to shift the conversation back to where it belonged, namely the music, and would help lead the way to Jorgensen releases and finally Elvis 30 #1 Hits.

The first release Rocker landed in late 1984 and focused almost entirely on tracks from 1956, with a couple from ’57 thrown in for good searing measure. Opening with “Jailhouse Rock” and closing with “Hound Dog” the compilation was a perfect introduction to the frenzied recordings that blew apart the fifties and American popular culture. The Back to Basics album, featuring an iconic photo of Presley channeling Brando in The Wild One, sold much better than RCA expected and surprisingly landed Elvis in heavy rotation on the exploding MTV via the ready to go “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care” clip from Jailhouse Rock. After nearly a decade of botched releases, Rocker was a swift kick in the face to critics and fans who had forgotten the genius of Elvis Presley and it set the stage for the next three releases Geller had in mind.

If Rocker had a fault, it was in its perhaps necessary obviousness. Geller’s follow-up collection, focusing on Elvis’ greatest love songs, A Valentine Gift For You, was the more surprising album, and it is a more rewarding listen. Expertly mixing some of the most moving performances Presley gave in the fifties and sixties, the pressed-on red vinyl A Valentine Gift For You is equal parts haunting and lovely. Filled with some of the most beloved Elvis hits, it is the lesser-known tracks like his stunning near six-minute Bob Dylan cover “Tomorrow is a Long Time” that would have the biggest impact on fans new to Elvis’ remarkably deep back catalog back in 1985.

If A Valentine Gift For You sounded surprising to many ears in the mid-eighties, then its follow-up Reconsider Baby was a downright shocking experience. One of the great Elvis Presley albums, Reconsider Baby would prove to be the weakest seller of the Geller releases but it remains the most justifiably acclaimed. Focusing mostly on recordings Elvis made in the sixties, when he was supposedly just recording poor-quality soundtrack recordings, Reconsider Baby still packs a major wallop. From the jaw-dropping opening title track to the smoldering epic unedited closer “Merry Christmas Baby”, Reconsider Baby is one of the great albums of the eighties, and its relatively obscure status today is downright tragic. Few albums in Elvis’ discography are so ideally sequenced and perfectly thought out. With its eerie cover photo and masterful Peter Guralnick liner notes, Reconsider Baby was exactly the grand slam project that RCA should have been putting out in the years leading up to its release. It’s one of the definitive Elvis Presley albums and had it been the only release Geller supervised in this period, it would have been enough.

The final 50th-anniversary release of 1985 is fittingly enough Always on My Mind, an exquisite collection focused on some of the most evocative tracks Elvis recorded in the seventies (save for “Don’t Cry Daddy” from the sixties). Pressed on purple vinyl and again expertly chosen and sequenced, the album remains one of the most devastating in Elvis’ canon and represents an ideal entryway into his most complex and controversial period of recording music. If the music Elvis recorded in the seventies was his most autobiographical, then Always on My Mind is its most important chapter. It’s a heartbreaking listen focused on isolation, depression, divorce, and rage and is as far away from the jump-suited caricature of Elvis in the seventies. It’s the sound of a great artist at his peak and on the edge.

Following the fiftieth anniversary collections, Geller continued working on Elvis’ deep musical catalog. 1986 saw the release of the captivating and surprising Return of the Rocker collection. Featuring an evocative painting of Elvis on its cover, this splendid album highlights some of Elvis’ strongest immediate post-army material, including soundtrack work from underrated films like Kid Galahad and Follow that Dream. The album also featured the A and B-side to one of the greatest singles of the rock era, with Elvis’ mind-blowing takes of “Little Sister” and “(Maria’s the Name) His Latest Flame”.

Gregg Geller remains one of the most unheralded figures in the history of Elvis Presley’s music. His work would turn things around at the most pivotal point possible and would help lead the way to the phenomenal archival work that continues to this day through the Follow That Dream label. We should all be grateful to Geller for actually giving a damn about the legacy of one of our great artists. Music lovers everywhere owe him a great debt.

-Jeremy Richey, Originally posted at Moon in the Gutter on 04/12/2017-

Here are a few additional vintage articles on this period for those interested: