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Update: “You Belong in Rock and Roll” (1991)

Whoever posted the video I originally linked to my 2016 post took it down, so this is my chance to update my commentary on Tin Machine’s “You Belong in Rock N’ Roll.” And it deserves an update because I originally wrote nothing at all about the song, or the video, but rather the album from which it came, Tin Machine II. It might be that I didn’t write much about the song the first time because…what is there to say? Nicholas Pegg compares this one to U2’s “With or Without You” and Chris O’Leary compares it to T Rex’s “Get it On.” Between the two of them, they compare Bowie’s vocals to Marc Bolan and Elvis, and note how the video takes inspiration from old surrealistic films (I caught the eye-slicing reference but not significance of the toe-sucking at the end of the video until I read Pegg’s explanation). Both reference how Reeves Gabrels used a vibrator to play his guitar (which I’ve heard him talk about in an interview). All that are others’ observations. Do I have my own?

Well, the song doesn’t really leave a huge impression on me. It’s not a song I often listen to and it’s not one I have contemplated in the three decades since its first release. I actually don’t think there’s a lot of profundity there. I think this is one of the songs from the period where Bowie and the band were interested in playing with a sound and less interested in concept, message or even what the lyrics are really saying. Is the song a commentary about rock music? Is it a self affirmation? Bowie telling himself that yes, he still belongs in rock and roll? Maybe that’s unde the surface, but I more get the sense that Gabrels had a sound he wanted to produce with his guitar and Bowie wanted to sing like Elvis with a hint of Bolan and echos of what he liked about his late-80s voice. It’s not a bad song, it just doesn’t leave a huge impact (that said, it actually was the band’s biggest hit single, clocking in at a disappointing #33 at its height on the UK charts).

I don’t like the video. It seems slapped together. The opening images of the band members moving in quick time through hallways, with glimpses of a toilet…what is that supposed to be about? I think about how creative Bowie has been with videos, often using them to enhance or even transform the songs…and this one doesn’t cut it. Also— back to the band going through the halls— I don’t know why this sequence doesn’t sit well with me, but it also is the one part in the video that looks like a Tin Machine video rather than a Bowie video. Bowie quickly becomes the focal point, which is also the point at which the video improves, albeit slightly.

Here’s what I originally wrote in 2016:
February 23, 2016
Who listens to Tin Machine II these days? One of Bowie’s worst marketed albums has almost become his great lost record (there are other contenders). Whoever was in charge of promoting it seemed intent on making it forgettable. To begin with, Bowie’s name isn’t on the front cover. Neither is his picture. And unless you’re Led Zeppelin, who gets away with a second self-titled album, distinguished from the first by the number 2? (This may have been an in-joke–Bowie’s first two studio albums were originally titled “David Bowie,” though the first has since been all-but forgotten and the second was re-named “Space Oddity”). Finally, #2 is stylistically very different than #1. The problem is the band didn’t close the deal yet before switching styles. And finally, the album contains a few curiosities on which Bowie was not the lead singer. Despite all that, the Bowie-fronted songs are pretty good. Here’s an example, which comes with a (strange) video… plus Bowie channeling Elvis! Album: Tin Machine II

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