As everyone is aware, David Bowie had what is called his Berlin Era which was the time period between 1976-1979 when he lived in Berlin and recorded several albums including ‘Low’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Lodger’. During that same period, Iggy Pop was living in Berlin as well and the two got together and wrote the song we covering this month on The Original vs. The Cover. That song is “China Girl”.
The Original version of this song is actually by Iggy Pop. It was released by Iggy in 1977 on his album ‘The Idiot’. David Bowie’s version didn’t come out until 1983 on his album ‘Let’s Dance’. I will tell you that at the time of Bowie’s release I was completely unaware that Iggy had done this song 6 years earlier so I thought this was the original.
There has been discussion over the meaning of the song over the years. One group believes the song is about a Vietnamese woman that Iggy was completely infatuated with. Her name is Kuelan Nguyen. The song is about his desire to be with her, but at the same time warn her of the problems of Western Civilization and the damage it can do as you can see with the line…”Visions of swastikas in my head”. The fact the were in Berlin probably added to that commentary.
The other camp thought the song was about Heroin since the term “China White” is a term used to describe heroin. The girl in the song was considered the Heroin and all the problems it can cause. I can believe either version, but the truth is it was actually about the woman that Iggy was crazy about. I prefer the love story over the drugs. Now, let’s get to the music.