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David Bowie Narrates Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf

David Bowie Narrates Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf
DavidBowie Peter&Wolf cover.JPG
Studio album by
ReleasedMay 1978
    • October 1975 (music)
    • December 1977 (narration)
StudioRCA Studio B, New York City
LabelRCA Red Seal
ProducerJay David Saks
David Bowie chronology
David Bowie Narrates Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf
Alternative cover
1992 US CD release cover
1992 US CD release cover

David Bowie Narrates Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf is a classical music album containing English musician David Bowie's narration of Sergei Prokofiev's 1936 composition Peter and the Wolf. Produced by Jay David Saks, the music is performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy. Bowie recorded his narration in December 1977 at RCA Studio B in New York City after completing his promotional appearances for his album "Heroes" (1977). The album was released in May 1978 on the RCA Red Seal label. The LP also contained a recording of Benjamin Britten‘s The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra on the B-side. It reached number 136 on the US Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart. The recording has received positive reviews from critics and Bowie's biographers, with Bowie's appearance garnering praise. It has since been reissued with different artworks.


Upon the completion of his promotional appearances for his 12th studio album "Heroes" in November 1977, David Bowie went on holiday in Kenya. In December, he flew to New York City to RCA Studio B, where he recorded narration for an upcoming adaptation of Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. According to biographer Thomas Jerome Seabrook, Prokofiev composed Peter and the Wolf in the 1930s with the intention of introducing younger children to orchestral music. The composition tells the story of a boy named Peter who travels outside his grandfather's garden in hopes of finding a big bad wolf. Each animal is represented by a different musical instrument, with a clarinet representing Peter's pet cat and a trio of French horns representing the wolf. Originally premiered in Moscow in 1936 to lukewarm reception, the composition remained relatively obscure in the western world until Walt Disney created an animated short based on it in 1946.

The project was not the first of its type. Musician Leonard Cohen had previously narrated a version of Peter and the Wolf for Decca Records in 1960, while actor Sean Connery narrated another in 1971, backed by the London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Biographer Chris O'Leary writes that there have been over 400 recordings of Peter and the Wolf, with Bowie's then-collaborator Brian Eno appearing on a 1975 recording narrated by Vivian Stanshall. For their version, RCA Records were initially keen on hiring actors Alec Guinness and Peter Ustinov, but both turned the project down, leading the label to hire their biggest contemporary star. Bowie later claimed that it was a Christmas present for his son, Duncan Jones, then seven years old.

For music, RCA commissioned the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy. Upon learning Bowie would provide narration, Ormandy was skeptical, with the project's producer, Jay David Saks, stating in 1983: "[Eugene] quite frankly didn't know who Bowie was, and when he found out he was a rock star he was a little concerned, to say the least." The Orchestra's live performance was recorded at the Scottish Rite Temple in Philadelphia on 8 October 1975. According to O'Leary, the orchestra consisted of a flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, three horns, trumpet, trombone, timpani, drum, two violins, viola, cello, and double bass.

David Bowie Narrates Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf was released in May 1978 on the RCA Red Seal label, with the catalogue number RL-12743/ARL1-2743. It appeared with a recording of English composer Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra on the B-side. It managed to peak at number 136 on the US Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart on 9 June, remaining on the chart for eight weeks.


Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic3.5/5 stars

David Bowie Narrates Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf has received positive reviews, with many praising Bowie's appearance. Reviewing the album at the time of its release, Stephen Demorest of Rolling Stone describes Bowie's involvement as "engaging and benevolent". Demorest finishes his review by saying Bowie had "found his most charming guise since Hunky Dory." Jon Savage of Sounds magazine praised the album, writing: "This is a perfect record if you have a young child and wish to give him/her child and wish to give him/her an introduction into classical music, or if you're a 'child of all ages'." He further called Bowie's involvement "curious".

Joe Viglione for AllMusic finds the album as "charming" and Bowie's performance as "splendid" and describes the Philadelphia Orchestra's involvement as "first-rate". He finished by saying it was "A remarkable and well-crafted project." Bowie's biographers have also given the project positive assessments. Nicholas Pegg states: "While not to be compared with John Gielgud's definitive recording, Bowie's narration has genuine charm. This is an accomplished piece of work and a fascinating curio from a period in which his other unlikely collaborations embraced figures as diverse as Marc Bolan, Bing Crosby and Marlene Dietrich." Seabrook agrees, writing: "While projects such as this are easy to mock, only the most hard-hearted of listeners could deny that both Bowie, with his wide-eyed, enthusiastic delivery, and the Philadelphia Orchestra made a fine job of it." O'Leary calls Bowie's narration "charming", saying his performance as the cat is his finest on the record. However, he found his voice to be too low in the mix. Marc Spitz similarly calls the recording "charming".

At the 21st Annual Grammy Awards in 1979, Peter and the Wolf was nominated for Best Recording for Children, losing the award to The Muppet Show, the first soundtrack album to the television show of the same name.

Release history

The original 1978 US green pressing of the LP

The original 1978 US version of the LP album was pressed on green vinyl and included liner notes insert (RCA Red Seal ARL1-2743). Later issues were pressing in standard black vinyl. A different album cover was used for 1992 US CD release depicting Bowie with wolf ears.

The album has been reissued a number of times on Compact Disc with varying extra tracks and three album covers. The most recent was released in 2014 by Sony Classical.

Track listing

Side one

  1. Peter and the Wolf, Op. 67 (Sergei Prokofiev) – 27:08

Side two

  1. Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, opus 34 (Benjamin Britten) – 17:10
Narrated by Hugh Downs, accompanied by the Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler




1978 weekly chart performance
Chart (1978) Peak
US Billboard Top LPs & Tape 136

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