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Producer Ken Scott on working with David Bowie: “I compare him to the Beatles in one respect”

David Bowie
(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Having worked with both the Beatles (he was an Abbey Road engineer throughout the ‘60s) and David Bowie, producer Ken Scott is in the ideal position to compare the working methods of the two, and in a new interview with Strombo on Apple Music Hits, he’s been discussing the key thing that they had in common.

“I compare him to the Beatles in one respect and that's how brave they were in their ability to not care what people thought,” says Scott. “If they suddenly wanted to change direction, they would do it no matter what. And there are a lot of artists that won't do that.”

Scott also praises Bowie’s ability to put the right team of people in place for a specific project - “he knew what each one could bring to the project and what he needed from them they would automatically give” - and says that, when it came to vocals, The Thin White Duke had a habit of nailing it right away.

“Of the four albums I co-produced with David, about 90% of the vocals were first take beginning to end,” he reveals. “I would run the take, get the level for his vocal, go back, hit record on the take, and what he did that one time through is what we still hear today. And that's no Auto-Tune, that's no cut and pasting things, no moving anything around. It was one performance that came from his heart every time.”

I never quite understand this, ‘oh, I'm going to miss him so much’ from a fan. How are they going to miss him? His work is still there. You can still listen to him any time you want to and enjoy what you listen to and have him bring to you so much.

Scott worked on multiple albums with Bowie, serving as engineer on Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold The World, and getting production credits for Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Aladdin Sane. He says that, while Bowie wasn’t always technically perfect, he was unique.

“With all of the top name artists I've worked with, and vocalists, I've never come across anyone quite like that,” he confirms. “And look, a friend of mine said they're perfect in their imperfection. And that's what it is. They're not totally in tune. They're not totally in time, but they come from your soul. He's putting across himself in every one of those.

“The first track on Ziggy, Five Years, by the end of the take he was bawling his eyes out, there were tears rolling down his face. Now, unfortunately when one is mixing, doing a final mix, you're trying to be dramatic should we say, and put everything across as best you can. And when you do that sometimes these little bits and pieces get a little lost. And you do hear that there's emotion in his voice at the end there. But now quite often in my talks, I will play the ending of 'Five Years'. It starts off with just the regular track, I've laid that down so it's just David and acoustic guitar, and I've had members of the audience that have heard this, they've started to bawl their eyes out. It is so moving. And that's what he gave every single time.”

Bowie died on 10 January 2016, and Scott says that fans should appreciate the music he left us rather than continuing to mourn his loss.

“Look, the one thing about when a film star dies, a recording star dies, we've got the work that they did and we have to be so grateful for that because they give us so much,” he points out. “And it's a shame they're gone, but we didn't have tea with them every day. I never quite understand this, ‘oh, I'm going to miss him so much’ from a fan. How are they going to miss him? His work is still there. You can still listen to him any time you want to and enjoy what you listen to and have him bring to you so much.”

You can listen to Strombo’s full interview with Ken Scott on Apple Music Hits.

I’m the Group Content Manager for MusicRadar, specialising in all things tech. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 20 of which I’ve also spent writing about music technology. 

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