Thursday, 26 May 2011

Hey babe, your hair's alright Hey babe, let's stay out tonight

Songs Everyone Should Know

David Bowie, Rebel, Rebel (1974)

So is David Bowie an alien as his long-ago ex-wife Angela, might have us believe? Is he the Thin White Duke or Ziggy Stardust?

David Bowie was the male blue-print for Madonna, and now to a certain extent Lady Gaga – but the verdict is out. He reinvented himself so many times he didn’t know who he was at times I’m sure.  He was an innovator in how he looked, how he sounded, how he presented his material, and what it meant.

Born ‘David Robert Jones’, he changed his name early in his career to avoid confusion with the Davey Jones of the “Monkees”. His dissatisfaction with things as the impetus for change, and would define his career. Exploring blues and folk early on in his career, his dissatisfaction of the results made him move on with an open mind and ears.

His first real success came from the single ‘Space Oddity” in 1969, about an astronaut’s emotional well-being in space. The U.S. Apollo program was in full force at the time. You know the one: “Ground control to Major Tom...”

Bowie developed a new persona in 1972’s glam-rock “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”, and then again a style-shift in 1975’s “Young American”, and the single “Fame” that made him a success in the U.S. at the risk of losing his growing cult following in the U.K.

Back to the Europe he charged and did a lot of the production work himself on the so-called ‘Berlin Trilogy” of albums with the ever-experimental Brian Eno, and sometimes Robert Fripp (King Crimson) – ‘Low’ ,’ Heroes’ and ‘Lodger’ met with very good  commercial success. There was something more important happening here; Bowie was continually experimenting with the sound, the song-writing and how he presented it. The cult following was quietly building and building. He had seen glam and now he studied the German electronic music explosion led by ‘Kraftwerk’. These albums were listened to carefully by the bands that would follow – influencing New Wave and a sort of a weird abrasive, ‘fusion’ rock.  It seems like Bowie himself had been listening to ‘The Velvet Underground’, maybe even Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, and watching contemporaries like Marc Bolan and The New York Dolls.

He kicked off the ‘80’s with the stylish “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) spinning off a number one U.K. Hit: “Ashes to Ashes”. The commercial machine that was becoming a small industry would also see him paired with Queen’s Freddy Mercury for “Under Pressure”.

Then a suave man of the world at the height of his success in 1983 he put out “Let’s Dance” with the hits “China Girl”, “Modern Love” and the title track “Let’s Dance”.

Other Bowie hits, besides what I have mentioned, (and just to get an idea of the breadth of his material) , worth checking out are: (in no particular order): The Jean Genie, Young Americans, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Rosalyn, Golden Years, Changes, Suffragette City, Life on Mars?, Diamond Dogs, Dancing in the Street, Heroes, and This is Not America.

Now having sold probably more than 150 million albums, Bowie has always tested the barriers in every aspect of what he does, whether they are artistic, political, social, sexual, or commercial. Bowie has become himself - an icon of style, an innovator of sound and stage, and a true pioneer. 

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