David Bowie passed away on January 10th from complications of liver cancer… nice way of saying that cancer ravaged his system and killed his ass…
Many… if, not most… folks reading this probably think, or remember, Bowie as that glitter drag queenish sort of guy or that pretty boy pop star. But, Bowie was more than just a pretty boy face or a pop singer or glitter persona… he was actually very talented…
If, you go beyond his stage persona… his many and ever changing stage personas… and listen to his songs you will hear some quite interesting thoughts and hear some hellacious music licks. I mean really listen to his voice the dude had some damn pipes and he knew how to use them.
Plus among his many accomplishments and recognized skills… musician, singer, artist, movie actor… he was a smart money man…
Say what you say?
Well for instance…
Forbes, Prudential Financial, The New York Times, BBC and various other media forums all pointed out that back in the day… the day being around 1997… he did something that had never been done before… at least by a musician… and was simply a stroke of financial genius.
At that point in his career he had title to a musical library that totaled 25 albums worth of music that he had published and brought to market. Which, while not unheard of, was still a rarity for most musical acts. At the same time in the business world there was something that was called a “fledgling asset-backed securities market.”
Bowie, while keeping the title to his song catalog, borrowed against his own royalties in return for a $55 million up-front payment. Bowie initiated this tactic which was called a “pop bond,” and it was followed other deals for artists like James Brown and Marvin Gaye…who also had the rights to their respective music catalogs… which was the key to making these bonds workable. And they did work for a time until music sales began to seriously go on the decline with the advent of services like Napster. In 2004, with CD sales being seriously wounded by illegal copying or piracy and the continued rise of online music services the rating for the bonds were eventually cut to Baa3… which while not exactly a high quality recommendation to invest it was still above junk bond status.
The bonds, which paid investors interest of 7.9 per cent, no longer exist but for their 10-year duration whenever you heard a song like Bowie’s “Modern Love”, or, if, you brought a Bowie CD, Prudential made money… aka earned the royalties.
One other thing with the financial arrangement… the deal also coincided with an agreement with recording company EMI that allowed them to re-release the 1969 through 1990 Bowie catalog and Bowie was guaranteed at least 25% of the royalties from U.S. sales.
Like I said he wasn’t just a pretty boy face being a hedonistic drug addled sex fiend… he had brains or at least the smarts to have advisers that told him the right things and he listened.
About that side of his sexual nature… in a 1983 interview with Rolling Stone, Bowie said his public declaration of bisexuality was “the biggest mistake I ever made” and “I was always a closet heterosexual.
On other occasions, he said his interest in the gay/bisexual culture or life style was more a product of the times and the situation in which he found himself than what he truly felt and that “he had been driven more by ‘a compulsion to flout moral codes than a real biological and psychological state of being.’”
One Bowie expert says, that Bowie was “a taboo-breaker and a dabbler … mined sexual intrigue for its ability to shock” and that “it is probably true that Bowie was never gay, nor even consistently actively bisexual … he did, from time to time, experiment, even if only out of a sense of curiosity and a genuine allegiance with the those outside t he norm or maybe of society or the “rules”.
So, I seriously wonder how much of that stuff that was put out there was really true…some I reckon…but to the degree that is sometimes heard? Probably, not all that much.
But, put all that bullshit to the side. Sexuality should never have a say in a professional’s or artist’s life and what that artist is all about… it often times does but that’s only because of stupidity and/or ignorance… it just should not ever be that way.
Bowie was a musician, singer, artist, movie actor and in some ways a modern day renaissance guy… a man for all season in effect.
Admittedly, I have never seen Bowie act in anything… except that, I think, I once saw him on the Muppets or something… therefore I have nothing much to say about his acting career except to note that among the arguably best movie roles were… he played an alien (imagine that!) in The Man Who Fell to Earth; Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ; an old aging vampire in The Hunger; Nikola Tesla in The Prestige, and, in what is probably his most popular role… Jareth, the Goblin King, in Labyrinth.
Though I don’t ever recall him being nominated for any major awards he is usually touted as being more than just a passable actor. In fact, many reports on certain websites… like IMBD or Rotten Tomatoes… speak somewhat highly of his acting abilities.
But to me, it was as a musician, song writer and a singer where he cleary shone and he made the most noise and deserved the most acclaim for setting the bar high while daring to be different… sometimes with great success and sometimes with not so great success. But, he always was willing to tilt at the windmills and willingly go where no others dared to go previously. Bowie, in a word was a trailblazer in the musical world. And, if not for Bowie, would folks like Madonna and Lady Gaga and countless others even exist today?
Glam rock, or Glitter Rock, is said to have emerged from Acid rock and various forms that were sometimes called Art Rock of the late 1960’s. A man by the name of Marc Bolan (T. Rex) was said to be the first person who introduced the form to the world when he appeared on British TV show called Top of the Pops in March 1971… but not far behind came Ziggy Stardust… Bowie’s first full blown popular persona. And in this persona or role he incorporated professional make up, mime and performance, along with an androgynous kick, into his act. In a 1972 interview he said “I think glam rock is a lovely way to categorize me and it’s even nicer to be one of the leaders of it.”
In his path came many others … among the most notable were Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople, Iggy pop, The New York Dolls, and Suzi Quarto. Plus, some other big time and well established acts adopted some glam or glitter to their stage performances…. Rod Stewart, Elton John, and, even the Rolling Stones.
Bowie could play almost any kind of instrument, even performing the excellent sax solo at the end of “Heroes.” And while he is recognized as a talented rhythm guitarist, the one part of his musical career that even Bowie admitted was not up to snuff was as a lead guitarist.
While, I cannot think of one damn album that I have ever heard that I was totally enthralled with or thought was worth playing over and over again until I absorbed , its every meaning, heard every subtle note… its every nuance… say like something by the Beatles, or maybe an obscure and forgotten Miles Davis recording, or some other personal favorites like John Hiatt, Little Feat, Fred Neil, Phil Ochs… he had some individual songs that when I heard them they captured me… they made me wanna bop, rock or swing… they were pure gold… the words that hit my ears were tantalizing, sometimes mystical, sometimes filled with double, triple or more meanings… they changed with every hearing… something new and something old and sometimes even something borrowed… (Like when he “stole” the Beatles’ line “I read the news today” in his “Young Americans”)… was always within his music.
I read recently an online article that some journalist who had interviewed him once was invited in to see how he wrote his music… his songs… how he perfected his craft… and the writer said that he laid out all of his thoughts or his writings, his word, on pieces of paper on the floor and then shuffled them around until in his mind they made sense and then “The rest would be left to the listener.”
And, indeed, when I heard some of his… in fact… most of his songs.. it was always like that… like maybe Dylan’s or John Lennon’s lyrics might do to me… make me laugh at the absurdity… think about the seriousness… or the irony… or the sad commentary on life or the human condition… on society’s values and those within that society who dared to be different…
He made me sometimes feel as if there was a secret that was surreptitiously kept between he and me regarding his lyrics… he touched emotions in me… which is what every damn good song should do.
I wrote on Facebook… “Didn’t always like everything he did… but, boy, oh, boy, when he was on? He was great… gonna miss ya David.”
And, with some of his individual tunes… he was the real deal… he was pure gold.
So, I started thinking about the songs that he did that I thought were the real damn good ones… and surprise, surprise, surprise… I was sort of shocked at how many Bowie songs there were that I really, really liked… I mean liked to the point I actually knew some of the lyrics and could fake signing along to the tune….
So, if I had any say in a doing something to honor David Bowie… like maybe a possible tribute show with other musicians doing his songs…these would be my selections… in an ascending order of appreciation…
(All songs written by David Bowie, unless indicated otherwise.)
“China Girl” (from Let’s Dance)
China Girl is a song co-written by David Bowie and Iggy Pop during their years in Berlin, first appearing on Pop’s album The Idiot (1977). The song became more widely known when it was rerecorded by Bowie and released on his album Let’s Dance (1983) and as a single.
Say whatever you want about this song… the words are ehhhh… the rhythm is kinda repetitive…catchy but repetitive… but this song is all about his voice… and what a damn fine voice he had… listen to it and I’m sure you’ll understand what I am getting to.
Song writers: David Bowie & Iggy pop
“Queen Bitch” (from Hunky Dory)
Written in honor of The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed, “Queen Bitch” introduced the kind of trashy Mick Ronson guitar riff that helped characterize some of Bowie’s later glam-rock numbers.
I’m not the biggest fan of punk or even stuff that could pass as garage rock but sometimes a song just comes along that grabs my attention… regardless of the genre… and I just get into a rhythmic head sort of vibe thing… “Queen Bitch” is one of them songs.
If “Bitch” was supposed to be an ode to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground …it succeeds. It’s trashy and, yeah, its catchy in its trashy sort of way… so sue me… sometimes my taste is in the gutter and I like it.
“Ashes to Ashes” (from Scary Monsters)
Just a weird song that revisits Major Tom (Space Oddity… it’s coming…) who is now a junkie and wasting away. At times makes me think it’s a song that Devo might do… its quirky and it’s damn good.
Another Bowie song that I like and I have no idea why…it’s a Euro techno sound mixed with a touch of funk and it’s catchy, but, oh, so damn simplistic in a disco sort of way… I feel guilty for liking it…but I can’t help myself… I just do.
“Oh! You Pretty Things” (from Hunky Dory)
Kind of an obscure selection of Bowie’s repertoire, but, with its cabaret like piano and a quirky neat chorus, it’s a strange little song that catches the attention in a Paul McCartney sort of way… in fact, let McCartney loose with this song for a few minutes and he’d probably make it into a number one hit.
“John, I’m Only Dancing“
“Dancing” is a single that was released in two versions…
It originally was not released in America, because it was deemed to risqué by RCA for the American taste. Officially it didn’t appear in America until it was finally issued on the compilation Changesonebowie in 1976.
While the original thoughts about the song is that it’s a gay tease…
“I think it’s all I can do/just got me feeling you too/get a little take a little/Get a little back/Jumping john the great goose is gone/Got a lion in my hand/Got a charlie on my back/(john) I’m only dancing/(she turns me on) I’m only dancing/(she turns me on) oh get you with me/don’t get me wrong)/i’m only dancing/i’m only dancing, oh ho hooo
…it also could be seen as nothing more than a straight man telling a girl’s boyfriend… “Hey, man, chill… I’m only dancing…”
But, the version, or reason, that I like the most of why Bowie wrote the song is this one… John Lennon supposedly was ragging on Bowie about his cross dressing so Bowie wrote the song in response to the ragging… in effect he was saying… “John, I’m only dancing… I’m only playing… lighten up dude.”
“All the Young Dudes“
“Dudes” is a Bowie song that has been described as being to glam rock what “All You Need Is Love” was to the hippie era. Not so sure about that but while it can be seen as a somber tune, it’s still filled with nifty little hooks throughout its entirety.
The song came into being because Bowie heard that the group “Mott the Hoople” was about to break up and he offered them “Suffragette City” which they turned down. So, he supposedly wrote “All the Young Dudes” especially for them, allegedly sitting on the floor of a room in London, in front of the band’s lead singer, Ian Hunter.
Bowie later released his version of the song on the album “RarestOneBowie”, and, again on “The Best of David Bowie 1969/1974”, as well as the 30th Anniversary edition of “Aladdin Sane”.
The song name drops T. Rex, The Stones and the Beatles. The Stones’ and Beatles’ references … “My brother’s back at home with his Beatles and his Stones/We never got it off on that revolution stuff… is Bowie once again making commentary on the older generation. Yep, the older generation is now my generation… the Baby Boomer gen.
Many have thought the song was a piece that was giving tribute to the young generation that Bowie sang to… I myself once thought that. But, Bowie says that the song was not intended to be an anthem for glam, rather it actually carried a darker message of apocalypse. Bowie says the dudes are being called to carry the same message that was in Ziggy Stardust…. that the Earth had only five years left to live.
Bowie says, “‘All the Young Dudes’ is a song about this news. It’s no hymn to the youth, as people thought. It is completely the opposite.”
Whatever… it’s a song I’ll always listen to if it is being played anywhere.
“Space Oddity” (from Space Oddity)
Kinda his first biggie in America. It’s just quirky enough and weird enough and for its time topical enough… what with the man in space stuff and words that have a Stanley Kubrick Space Odyssey tone. Major Tom just floating away in space…
The song’s lyrics introduces the world to Bowie’s newest and latest next persona and his environment… i.e., Halloween Jack dwells on top of an abandoned skyscraper in a post-apocalyptic Manhattan. It’s said that the song and album…Diamond Dogs…is Bowie moving on from Glam and into a rock/punk sound.
The song itself… the single… never charted higher than about 21… it was said to be too long, too bleak and too hard to dance to.
All I know is I like it… and…
Bow-wow, woof woof, bow-wow, wow
Call them the Diamond Dogs
Call them the Diamond Dogs, call them, call them
Call them the Diamond Dogs, call them, call them, ooo
Call them the Diamond Dogs
Diamond Dogs rule, ok
Beware of the Diamond Dogs
Beware of the Diamond Dogs
Beware of the Diamond Dogs
There is every reason for me not to like this song… it sounds too disco… but… for some reason it made it to number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and it really does just grow on you. AND…if you listen to the words it’s sort an indictment of fame itself and its ultimate uselessness and fleeting reality.
Bowie ultimately said about the song… “I’d had very upsetting management problems and a lot of that was built into the song. I’ve left that all that behind me, now… I think fame itself is not a rewarding thing. The most you can say is that it gets you a seat in restaurants.”
Songwriters: David Bowie, Carlos Alomar & John Winston Lennon
“I’m Afraid of Americans” (from Earthlings)
Once while roaming around the internet searching for some Bowie lyrics I came across this and I said… hmmm. I checked it out and guess what… I liked it. I really liked it.
Snappy, syncopated rhythm… decent dance tune even… almost overly simplistic words with recurrent line of being afraid… of Americans… of the world… ending with the phrase “God is an American”… don’t know why I like this… I just do… a lot of Bowie’s stuff is like that for me.
“The Jean Genie” (from Aladdin Sane)
And… another song I’m not really sure why I like it but I do… it just has a beat that captures me and I always find myself bopping away to it when I hear it.
“Heroes” (from Heroes)
Heroes is a hauntingly sad love song when you think about the words. But, it’s also damn good. Take the time to let it into your mind. Interestingly, this song is a very stripped down version of Bowie that he presents to us all.
“Rebel Rebel” (from Diamond Dogs)
Great song… great lyrics… great rhythm, if this song doesn’t grab you and make you sing along then fergeddaboudit… you got no soul…
Hell, forget about the damn lyrics’ meanings if that’s what’s rocking your boat and just go with the flow… this is just one of them songs that should have been a number one hit and why it wasn’t I have no idea. I guess people just got no sense of what a good song is.
Some say this is Bowie’s farewell glam song. I have no idea if that’s true. What I do know is that the rock and roller in me thinks that this is great rock and roll. Right from the opening driving guitar and hard hitting drum beat. Bowie himself said of “Rebel Rebel”… “It’s a fabulous riff! Just fabulous! When I stumbled onto it, it was ‘Oh, thank you!'”
And thank you, David… great song.
Mick Ronson played guitar… and… Bowie summarizes the story of the Ziggy Stardust album.
If, you have never heard the Ziggy Stardust album in its entirety… and I haven’t… it doesn’t matter. How can you not like Ziggy… the first of his many great alter egos. Ziggy is just fun and a neat little ditty. It’s Bowie doing what he does best having a ball while lecturing us all in a nice fun way so we don’t even know we got lectured until we think about the words… if one has the presence of mind to go back and listen to what he sings.
Bowie does that a lot… lectures us and oft times we get so enthralled with his song… the sound… the sometimes absurdity of it… we don’t even realize it but if you let the words sink in then sometimes you just might hear the message… which is for each to figure out on their own.
“Suffragette City” (from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust)
Originally from the 1972 ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ album, it was re-issued as a single in 1976 to promote the “Changesonebowie” compilation (which I’ve listened to many times and love) that was to be released in Britain. The single failed to make the charts… we missed the boat on that because its filled with references to the movie “Clockwork Orange” and features licks that give tribute to some of the early royalty of Rock… Little Richard style piano and as well as a kickass guitar that is reminiscent of Chuck Berry.
You like rock and roll… driving rock hard strumming guitars, piano pounding away, a driving beat that just won’t quit until the last loud fucking rock and roll note… I dare you to not like “Suffragette City”… it’s one of Bowie’s best songs and performances in my opinion. Love this song… I love everything about it, including the words.
“Wham bam thank you ma’am” …indeed!
“Changes” (From Hunky Dory)
This is a song that if there were just one single that I had to pick that personified what Bowie was as a song writer and performer this one would be a leading candidate. Yeah, as many have said, including myself, the song could easily be considered a reflection regarding his chameleon-like nature throughout his career. But, half way through the song it changes from that self-reflection vein to one that, if you listen to the words, that could also be a criticism about the older generation as well as a lecture to them that maybe they should stop denigrating the coming generation because they just might know more about what’s going on in their lives than they… the older gen… give them credit for.
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re goin’ through
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
Turn and face the strange
Where’s your shame
You’ve left us up to our necks in it
Time may change me
But you can’t trace time
Strange fascination, fascinatin’
But, as the song comes to its end, he turns and changes once again… he seems to chastise the younger generation… or at least warns them not to make the same mistakes of being too self important or full of themselves…
Oh, look out you rock ‘n’ rollers
Turn and face the strange
Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time I said that time may change me
But I can’t trace time
Fact is this song is just beautiful and sounds beautiful and fits his voice like a glove… tough not making this my number one Bowie song.
“Young Americans” (from Young Americans)
Some peeps have written that this is Bowie’s tribute to the Philly Soul sound with which he combined Glam Rock… Bowie, himself, called it plastic soul… but… it is so much more than that…it’s a fucking great song with some great words… he even steals a John Lennon riff when his back singers croon “I read the news today…”
You want a rock and roll bop soul dance tune from the guitars to the sax to the words with a touch of Little Richard and Chuck Berry and maybe some John Lennon from his Elephant Memory’s phase then you have to listen… and like… this song. It is a Bowie top pick for me… I can’t help but sing along with this song when it comes on wherever I am…
It is a visceral piece of music that grabs you by the groin and never lets go… it catches you right from the opening piano riff to the drums driving, then, the sax and… boom… full blown Bowie doing his shtick and, damn, is he good doing it.
“Ain’t there one damn song that can make me break down and cry…”
That’s it… that’s my choices…
Not too shabby for a baby boomer… a dude approaching 67 in a few months…. eh? Sometimes my mind may promise what my body can’t do but the music lover in me…as well as the words lover (and reader) that I am… and my still alive and thriving anti-establishment contrarian rebel soul…is young at heart… so, I’m always listening.
Bowie once said “I don’t know where I’m going from here but it won’t be boring.”
Truer words were never spoken…
The ride was one damn strange and winding trip and it never bored.
I have no idea what comes after we die…
But, if, there is an afterlife and Bowie made it there? Then, Bowie is certainly putting things askew and kicking it into another gear, whether, they like it or not.
It’s what he does.
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