Songs that saved your life: Morrissey and David Bowie – “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday”

MORRISSEY – I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday (1992)        DAVID BOWIE – I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday (1993)

For all his utility as a virtual Facebook sadsack status generator (does iPhone have an app for that yet?), Morrissey‘s bag of tricks is light on bona fide homilies. One of his most affecting songs, 1992’s torch ballad “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday,” is one of those rare birds.

The song also sparked one of U.K. pop’s great inside jokes, when David Bowie chose to cover what was, in essence, Morrissey’s Bowie homage.

“I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday” began life as a 1991 demo by Mark E. Nevin, offered midway through a two-year collaborative partnership of middling quality and Keystone Kops-like weirdness. Nevin co-wrote 80 per cent of Kill Uncle, the weak sister LP that coincided with a sudden spike in Morrissey’s Stateside record sales. Nevin’s greater contribution to the cause was his role in drafting many of Mozzer’s most-significant post-Smiths players (Alain Whyte, Gary Day, Spencer Cobrin, and somewhat circuitously, Boz Boorer), acting on a brief from the singer that he was entering a rockabilly phase and required suitably bequiffed musicians.

Assuming good standing, Nevin sent Morrissey a new batch of songs, including “Someday.” Mozzer took to it immediately, writing Nevin “I’ve listened to it so much that I’ve actually lost my eyesight.” By the time he recorded it a year later, the bequiffed rockers had all-but-replaced Nevin. The resulting record, Your Arsenal, produced by Bowie’s celebrated Ziggy Stardust-era sidekick Mick Ronson, was the first really good proper album in Morrissey’s post-Smiths career, a brawny set of glam-tinged tunes that sort of acted as a pre-echo to Suede and the fast-approaching Britpop. But although Arsenal‘s beefy sound dominates, two of its more reflective numbers stand out: the forlorn, inexhausibly quotable “Seasick, Yet Still Docked” and “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday.”

click image above to play clip

You might think Morrissey’s coasting because the lyric is an optimistic bromide about stiff upper lips in the face of rejection, but instead of employing the sick-and-dull-and-plain defence tactics of, say, The Smiths’ “Accept Yourself,” this time he sidesteps whatever ails, and simply extends a hand: “please wait…please wait…don’t lose faith…” In that wavering, clenched-jaw croon, hovering above a lovely, slow-motion track filled with ghostly radio static and dramatically double-timed guitar strumming set halfway between swampy (“How Soon Is Now?”) and pomp-y (“Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want”), the lyric’s awfully effective.

For Bowiephiles, drawn to Morrissey’s solo music through the involvement of Ronson – then terminal with lung cancer – “Someday”‘s cheeky outro was the in-joke that launched a thousand knowing smiles. Swanning into the final minute, “Someday” locks into the unmistakeable rise-and-fall melody of “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide”, the 1972 album finale Bowie routinely used to close his Ziggy concerts (as preserved most famously at his Hammersmith “retirement” show in July 1973; the video clip’s linked at the end).

The in-joke drew momentum as Bowie set to recording 1993’s Black Tie White Noise album, with several old trusted hands on board, including a pair of ex-Spiders from Mars: pianist Mike Garson, and…Mick Ronson. In a delicious fit of trainspotting fervor, Bowie, having sensed “Someday”‘s distinctly glam flavour, decided to record his own version less than six months after Morrissey’s was released. After coyly moving Morrissey’s early-’70s reference points ahead by a few years (“I thought it would be fun to do it in the way I would have done it in 1974-ish”), the incestuous circle was complete: Bowie had covered Morrissey’s Ziggy Stardust homage in the style of Young Americans. (No word on whether Moz was next tempted to dabble in disco.)

Bowie dispensed with the “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide” climax, by the way. Probably one conceit too far.

click image above to play clip

If you’re wondering which version I prefer, I’m going with Morrissey’s. His acolytes are nothing if not weary, wary and worn-down by serial romantic and social slights, and the ingenuous it-gets-better message is an ideal break from those wittier, bathetic songs of surrender. Sometimes a straight-up tune about sunrises helps you get through the night, y’know? And to be honest, Bowie’s at a disadvantage here because we know he’s had love and is in love (he’d just married Iman, for frig’s sake), and that creates a distancing effect Morrissey’s one-of-us persona doesn’t have to contend with.

For his silver medal performance Bowie affects his boomy “Fat Elvis” voice. The histrionic, gospel chorus-backed take has one transcendant passage in the final verse, when he hollers hard enough to force the air out of the room, and with it, all the heartbreak implied by the lyric. It may be the best moment in either version. This glutinous overhaul actually works in the manner of all great, ridiculous art: in blowing emotion so out of proportion, the only artist capable (read: pretentious enough) of doing justice to his disciple’s celebrated psychosis manages to create a separate work nearly as essential as the original. Morrissey reportedly cried when Bowie played it to him for the first time.

Click on the images above to hear Morrissey’s 2004 tour version and Bowie’s 1993 album recording. (You realize the guys are about the same age in those clips? Moz’ clip was filmed the night he turned 45; Dave was three months past his 46th.)

As promised above, the 1973 Ziggy Stardust “retirement” announcement, followed by “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide”:                               http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0WQldWMrPs

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One response to “Songs that saved your life: Morrissey and David Bowie – “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday”

  1. Thanks for the post! One of my favorites, very special song. Morrissey’s version for me too.
    Such a shame they never released the third version – Bowie with Ronno on guitar (probably never completed but I’m sure they could release something like outtake, demo, whatever in all these years!)

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