IT'S HARD TO BE A SAINT IN THE CITY

David Bowie's cover version

I had skin like leather and the diamond-hard look of a cobra
I was born blue and weathered but I burst just like a supernova
I could walk like Brando right into the sun
And dances like a Casanova
With my blackjack and jacket and my hair slicked sweet
Silver studs on my duds just like a Harley in heat
When I strut down the street I could hear its heartbeat
The sisters fell back and said, "Don't that man look pretty"
The cripple on the corner cried out, "Hey, nickels for your pity"
Them gasoline boys downtown, they sure talk gritty
It's so hard to be a saint in the city

I was the king of the alley, mama, I could talk some trash
I was the prince of the paupers crowned downtown at the beggar's bash
I was the pimp's main prophet, I kept everything cool
Just a backstreet gambler with the luck to lose
And when the heat came down, it was left on the ground, oh
Devil appeared to me like Jesus through the steam in the street
And showed me a hand that even the cops couldn't beat
And I felt his hot breath on my neck as I dove into the heat
It's so hard to be a saint when you're just a boy out on the street

But the sages of the subway sit just like the living dead
As the tracks clack out the rhythm, their eyes fixed straight ahead
They ride the line of balance and hold on by just a thread
But it's too hot in these tunnels, you can get hit up by the heat
When you get up to get out at your next stop, well, they push you back down in your seat
And your heart starts beating faster as you struggle to your feet
Then you're out of that hole, back on the street
As them south side sisters, they sure look pretty
And the cripple on the corner cries out, "Nickels for your pity"
And them downtown boys, they sure talk gritty
It's so hard to be a saint in the city


Page last updated: 19 Jun 2011

Info

David Bowie recorded a version of IT'S HARD TO BE A SAINT IN THE CITY in 1975, but the track wasn't released until 1989 when it was included on Bowie's Sound + Vision box set.

[Click thumbnail to enlarge/reduce artwork]

Springsteen and Bowie

Bruce Springsteen opened for headliner Biff Rose in 1973 during a 6-night stand (from 31 January to 05 February, two shows each night) at Max's Kansas City in New York. David Bowie showed up on the final night of this to see Biff Rose, a friend of his, and caught Springsteen's performance. Bowie had never even heard of a guy named "Springsteen" until that 05 Feb 1973 night. In a 1987 Musician Magazine interview, Bowie commented on Bruce's performance on this night saying, "I hated him as a solo... as soon as the band came on it was like a different person and he was marvelous... I like the Asbury Park [LP] material, my favorite period of Springsteen is the early stuff". The two weren't introduced to each other that night. A few months later Bowie recorded a version of GROWIN' UP, but the song remained in the vaults until it's release in 1989. Bowie was the first artist to record a Springsteen composition.

DJ Ed Sciaky called Bruce Springsteen on 24 Nov 1974 asking him to come to Philadelphia to meet David Bowie, who was in town recording his upcoming Young Americans album and performing a concert on 25 November. Late in the evening Springsteen cached a bus to Philadelphia to spend a couple of days as houseguest of Sciaky. The two arrived at midnight at Sigma Sound Studios where they spent the early hours of 25 November with David Bowie at the studio. Bowie had recently recorded a cover of IT'S HARD TO BE A SAINT IN THE CITY but apparently it wasn't finished, so Bruce didn't get to hear it. Bowie would complete the recording the following year but it remained in the vaults until it's release in 1989. Later that 25 November day, Springsteen and Sciaky attended Bowie's evening concert at the Philadelphia Spectrum.

In the liner notes of One Step Up / Two Steps Back: The Songs Of Bruce Springsteen (a 1997 various artists Bruce Springsteen tribute album), Bowie wrote about the November 1974 meeting in Philadelphia: "Springsteen came down to hear what we were doing with his stuff. He was very shy. I remember sitting in the corridor with him, talking about his lifestyle, which was a very Dylanesque -- you know, moving from town to town with a guitar on his back, all that kind of thing. Anyway, he didn't like what we were doing, I remember that. At least, he didn't express much enthusiasm. I guess he must have thought it was all kind of odd. I was in another universe at the time. I've got this extraordinarily strange photograph of us all -- I look like I'm made out of wax."

Recording and Release

David Bowie recorded a version of IT'S HARD TO BE A SAINT IN THE CITY around November 1974 at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, PA, during the recording sessions for his upcoming album Young Americans. The recording of the song wasn't finished, but Bowie completed it the following year at Cherokee Studios in Hollywood, CA. The song remained in the vaults until 1989 when it was included on Bowie's Sound + Vision box set.

The track was produced by David Bowie and Harry Maslin and mixed by David Bowie and Dave Richards. It features David Bowie on vocals, guitar, and saxophone, Warren Peace on vocals, Carlos Alomar on guitar, Earl Slick on guitar, George Murray on bass, Dennis Davis on drums, and none other than E Street Band member Roy Bittan on piano. The track clocks at 3:46.

Official Releases

The Sound + Vision box set was released in the Unites States on Vinyl (6-LP), audio cassette (3-cassette), and CD (3-CD + CD-Video) on Rykodisc Records. The cassette and CD releases came in an LP-sized cases. The set won the 1990 Grammy Award for Best Recording Package.

The track was later released on some Bowie compilation albums, in addition to the various artists Bruce Springsteen tribute album One Step Up / Two Steps Back: The Songs Of Bruce Springsteen.


Various artists -- One Step Up / Two Steps Back: The Songs Of Bruce Springsteen

2-CD - The Right Stuff (7243 8 59780 2 9) - USA, 1997
2-CD - EMI (TOCP-50377/8) - Japan - 1997

This is a various artists Bruce Springsteen tribute album.

Various artists -- One Step Up / Two Steps Back: The Songs Of Bruce Springsteen Sampler

CD - The Right Stuff (DPRO 70876-10927-2-1) - USA, 1997

This is a promo sampler compiling 10 tracks from the above tribute album.

David Bowie -- Alternative Biography

CD - Alter Ego Soundpits (no catalogue number) - unknown country, 1997

This is apparently and unauthorized release.

David Bowie -- The Best Of David Bowie 1974/1979

CD - Virgin (7243 4 94300 2 0) - EU, 1998
CD - Virgin (7243 4 94300 0 6) - USA, 1998

David Bowie -- The Platinum Collection

3-CD - EMI (0946 3 31304 2 5) - EU, 2005
3-CD - Virgin (09463-31304-2-) - USA, 2005

Available Versions

List of available versions of IT'S HARD TO BE A SAINT IN THE CITY on this website:

Credits / References

Thanks Jake (ol'catfishinthelake at BTX and Greasy Lake). Some of the above info is taken from Brucebase.