Cat People (Putting Out Fire) :: David Bowie
from the album, Cat People Soundtrack

About the song

Cat People (Putting Out Fire) is a song by David Bowie,  it is the title song of the 1982 film Cat People. Recorded in July 1981, the song was written by Bowie with producer Giorgio Moroder. A re-recorded version of the song appears on the album Let’s Dance.

The director Paul Schrader engaged Bowie for a theme song in 1981, with Moroder having already recorded most of the music. Bowie was to put lyrics to the main theme. The B-side is a Moroder-only instrumental which featured no input from Bowie.

The song itself, in keeping with the dark tone of the film, has some slight goth rock influences, with Bowie singing in a deep baritone croon while being backed up by a female chorus, a combination that The Sisters of Mercy would commonly employ years later.

Because of Moroder’s contract, the single was issued by MCA. The full-length version appeared on the soundtrack album, and the 12″ single, while a edited down version was made for the 7″ release.

The single reached # 26 in the UK, and # 67 in the US – Bowie’s biggest hit there since Golden Years. It peaked at # 1 in New Zealand, remaining there for three weeks, as well as in Sweden for four weeks. It was also # 1 in Norway for seven consecutive weeks, and then returned to the top for a further week.

The single was released three separate times by MCA, first in March 1982 with Cat People  as the A-side, then again two months later with Paul’s Theme as the A-side, and finally in November 1982 with Cat People back on the A-side.

Hungarian-born composer Sylvester Levay contributed to the orchestration.

In December 1982, Bowie re-recorded the song for his album Let’s Dance, released the following year. This version was also released as the B-side to the title track’s single release, and performed on Bowie’s Serious Moonlight Tour. He had originally planned on using the original version of the song, but MCA Records refused to license it, as Moroder was under contract to them at the time, and they were not about to let a competing label–EMI America—to use a song by one of its artists on their project.

In 2009, the track was used in another film, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.


My thoughts:

I never made the goth-rock connection with Sisters of Mercy’s musical sensibilities and style, but now I can sure hear it.

When this song came out it used to scare me because something about the trailer to the film unnerved me. I have always loved horror films, but this one, there was something about it that got under my skin. It wasn’t the people who were cats, or the viciousness they seemed to exhibit in trailer, no, it was something in the song, the line about “putting out the fire with gasoline”.

I remember having nightmares from it, dreams of my room being full of fire and me trying to douse the flames with what I thought was water, but it turned out to be gasoline. I would wake up shaking and terrified. Strange how things can affect a person.

I never did see the movie, not even years later when I was older. But, I do like the song now.

david bowie - cat people

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