In this song, Bowie is imagining inhabitants in a post-apocalyptic future looking back at old video films that they have kept from the 1960s and '70s. In 1972, Bowie introduced the song at The Public Hall in Cleveland, Ohio, with the following: "It's about a future where people have forgotten how to make love, so they go back onto video-films that they have kept from this century. This is after a catastrophe of some kind, and some people are living on the streets and some people are living in domes, and they borrow from one another and try to learn how to pick up the pieces."
This was originally written by Bowie for Mott The Hoople as their follow-up to "All The Young Dudes
." However after they rejected it, their professional relationship effectively ended and Bowie took it for himself. Bowie recalled on VH1's Storytellers
that he drunkenly shaved his eyebrows when Mott the Hoople turned this song down. ("that taught them a lesson").
Bowie wrote this during his 1972 US tour. It was influenced by the barren landscape between Seattle and Phoenix, Arizona.
Bowie first performed this just hours after it was composed, in Phoenix, on November 4, 1972.
The one time David Batt, who later fronted the new romantic band, Japan, got his stage name David Sylvian from the song's lyric, "He's crashing out with Sylvian."
The lyrics name-check several cultural icons, including Mick Jagger ("When people stared in Jagger's eyes and scored"), the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung ("Jung the foreman prayed at work"), and the supermodel Twiggy ("She'd sigh like Twig the Wonder Kid"), who would later appear on the front cover of David Bowie's covers album, Pin Ups.
As a way to repay this compliment, Jagger traveled to David's Earls Court Show with Bianca Jagger on May 12, 1973. Jagger was already a legend while Bowie was still coming up, and the gesture was compared to a "passing of the scepter" by tour manager Anthony Zanetta.
Ian Hunter of Mott the Hopple recalled in his book Diary of a Rock and Roll Star his reaction when Bowie first played him the song. "It's Dylan-ish and it's got a hell of chord run down," he wrote. "Innocence, cruelty, the nearness yet the distance, all the qualities of the star he is."