Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Track 5: China Girl

With the surname of "Nguyen", Kuelan Nguyen is unlikely a girl of Chinese descent. Kuelan Nguyen is the China Girl in "China Girl" who was at the Chateau with French performer Jacques Higelin with whom she had a child and would later marry despite Iggy's courtship. Somehow "Vietnamese Girl" doesn't really roll off the tongue, and the year being 1977, most of the world would have some issues related to the Vietnam War which just ended 2 years earlier.

The interactions between Iggy and Nguyun were complicated as they spoke no common language and communicated without language mostly. Iggy pursued Nguyen and when he confessed his feelings to her, she responded with "Shhhh...". This concept was of course incorporated into the song's lyrics.

Originally titled, "Borderline", Iggy and Bowie penned this pop hit with lyrics dealing with desire, culture corruption (European / Western world dominance) with a brief reference to Nazi-ism. Both Iggy and Bowie had some Nazi dalliances independently.

The stand-out instrument on this track is a toy-piano which was owned by then-8-year old daughter of Laurent Thibault. As with most Bowie works, the guitar production on this song is top notch, the lead guitar part sounding very balanced. Notice in the background the hammering, distorted Baldwin piano. Later in the song, electronic strings add a very appropriately cold crescendo.
Tony Visconti, in his autobiography said: "Iggy often started a song singing very quietly and then gradually built up to a scream (as in ‘China Girl’), distorting the microphone preamplifier. This was one of those ‘happy accidents’ again, because the vocal wouldn’t be the same if it were any other way now. Usually there was no take two to correct the over-modulation. I love this album! This over- modulation is obvious when Iggy sings "WHITES of my EYES".

"China Girl" was the song that finally put some real money into Iggy's pocket after David Bowie recorded and released it. (This was not the last time that Bowie would record an Iggy song himself thereby netting Iggy some songwriting royalties, see "Neighborhood Threat", "Tonight", "Don't Look Down" and others).