Bowie vs. Bowie – super-geek turns to ProTools for truth.

Thanks god for geeks! Thank god for nerds!

From a 2002 MetaFilter forum, the following exchange is a rock’n’roll rollercoaster:

Well for years I thought David Bowie was singing:

“and the papers want to know who’s shirts you wear…”

when apparently it’s “who shot you where” that the papers want to know. Odd thing is, my misheard “shirts” lyric makes more sense.
posted by joyyy at 6:38 AM on May 26

It’s not “whose shirts you wear?” My world has been turned upside down. I’m scared.
posted by jeyyy at 7:22 AM on May 26

Are you sure it’s not ‘whose shirts you wear’? I think I’ve seen ‘whose shirts you wear’ (but it’s been ages, so who knows?) written that way in a published songbook.
posted by pryyy at 7:36 AM on May 26

(And ‘whose shirts you wear’ — meaning ‘what brand of shirt you wear’ — would make sense in the celebrity game he was writing about, whereas ‘who shot you where’ makes no sense in this context, unless you think of it as ‘who launched you and to where’, which would be a bit of a clunker.)
posted by pryyy at 7:40 AM on May 26

pryyy – in “Ashes to Ashes” Bowie says “We know Major Tom’s a junkie” so in that context “who shot you where” does make an odd kind of sense.

I saw the “who shot…” correction in one of those “misheard lyrics” books, FWIW
posted by joyyyat 7:44 AM on May 26

OK, joyyy, you’re playing with fire now…

I am looking at the lyrics printed in the Ryko pressing of “Space Oddity” and it clearly says “And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear”

I googled the “shot you where lyrics” and came up with two pages of results . All of the lyric pages featuring the “who shot you where” lyrics seem to come from the same “SpaceOddity.txt” file source, while there are at least three sources (the least of which is this vast fan site called “Bowie Wonderland” who list the “shot you where” line as the misheard lyric and the “shirts you wear” lyric as the correct one. I also visited this encyclopedic site and came away with the same results: the line is “shirts you wear”.

Additionally, I used ProTools to slow “Space Oddity” down by several percent and used a pair of reference headphones while scrubbing the disputed lyrical selection. The vocal track “Space Oddity”, in true sixties fashion, is not mixed down to one channel, so the left and right channels are distinctly different, isolated vocal takes, offering two chances to hear Bowie utter the lyrics. I put the clip through several filters as well to reduce the prominence of the instrumentals. Since “where” and “wear” are sonically identical, and the sound of “shirt” and “shot” are very similar when uttered with Bowie’s particular British accent, the logical focal point is the ending of the word shirts/shot. After listening to the section several dozen times, I can attest that there is a clear, distinct “s” sound before the word “you”, especially in the left channel.

In addition, I searched the Bowie canon for examples of him singing both the word “shirts” and the word “shot”. There is only one other song where he uses the word “shirts”, a little-known song called “Tumble and Twirl”. “Shot” appears with more frequency, such as in the song “Heroes”. I listened to all these songs and, while his pronunciation of both words is sometimes similar, there is a distinct difference in the sound of his plural and singular word endings.

The logical conclusion is that the line is indeed “The papers want to know whose shirts you wear”, supported by my experiments and the attestations of several MeFites who note that “shirts you wear” makes more lyrical sense, especially in light of other fashion-based concerns in the Bowie canon, and his use of the sartorial concerns of the media as an ironic device juxtaposing the different priorities of the parties depicted in “Space Oddity”

While I respect your encyclopedic knowledge of music, this heresy against Bowie, God among men, cannot be allowed to stand.
posted by evyyy at 9:07 AM on May 26 [1 favorite]

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

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