Jan 16

Gnome Man’s Land

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I wrote a thing for here about David Bowie and how I felt about him and what he meant to me, but then Pitchfork kindly decided they wanted to run it, so it’s below. (Original title: He Could Be Dead, He Could Be Not, He Could Be You). And to any other good pieces I see, or that you want to point me to, or memorial threads.

My Pitchfork piece
Chris O’Leary’s Pushing Ahead Of The Dame memorial thread
Alfred Soto’s obituary, for Spin
Ann Powers ‘Reflections Of A Bowie Girl’ for NPR
Rory (of Popular)’s memorial post

Meanwhile this feels like it deserves more than an RIP on a Popular entry, so by all means use this thread too to post, comment about Bowie, list your favourite songs, fit him into your history or pop’s history. Whatever, really.

David Bowie: RIP


  1. 1
    Rory on 11 Jan 2016 #

    I seem to be getting more cut up about it the longer the day goes on.

    Here’s my memorial blog post.

  2. 2
    Cumbrian on 11 Jan 2016 #

    I found myself in central London this early evening and decided to take a walk. I have been on the verge of tears almost all day.

    No one noticed me leave the office. I’ve been anonymous all day.

    If asked where I was going, I had a flippant answer prepared, a truthful one, but protective of my own feelings: “I owe David Bowie’s estate some money”. I have been listening to Bowie all day.

    Organising my thoughts, working it out for myself mostly, trying to ignore the weight of the new media that devours news in the modern age and the communications that have sped this whole process up. I’ve been thinking “I must buy Blackstar” all day.


    I wander London’s streets with Bowie blaring in my headphones, before I drop into a record shop shortly after 5pm. No copies left. Apparently, the vinyl went first. I am after a CD though – have never bought into the vinyl revolution. Still all gone. More deliveries tomorrow. I go to another record shop, then a third – to tell the truth, I’m lucky I found three. A number of the places I used to go have closed now. The same story applies everywhere. I smile wryly as I leave. I’m not going to get this record today – but isn’t that, in some ways, a good thing? He could yet go out on top, and not with something dredged up by way of tribute, but with something new. Something exciting. Something challenging. It’s the first smile I’ve cracked all day.


    Central London is its usual January mix of harried office workers, sales shoppers and off season tourists, navigating their way past shop windows promising more tat, impossibly cheap clothing (at least impossibly cheap, if anyone involved in making it were paid somewhat commensurately with their employer’s profits) and the fag end of the discounts regurgitated like too much turkey year on year. Crowded. Impersonal. I know where I need to be though and take a couple of streets that look quiet that will go in the right direction, whilst Side 2 of “Heroes” plays out. As Sense of Doubt elides into Moss Garden, I notice I am on a street I have never been on before. The music fits my sense of alienation, as I begin to notice the shops on this particular street. Patek Phillippe. Cartier. Asprey. Glittering in their windows, the prizes of extreme wealth; the type of thing that is passed from mothers and fathers to sons and daughters, and again to their offspring, and again, and again. There is nothing for me here. Nothing for most “ordinary Londoners” either – though, give it time, I suppose. When ordinary Londoner means someone who lives there 15 days a year, yet owns the place, this might be the last set of shops open. I thank Bowie silently for the juxtaposition of music and experience as I think, you can leave other things behind that mean more than a sparkly rock or a well made watch. More ephemeral yet, possibly, more meaningful. I’ll remember this walk anyway. I notice the road is Old Bond Street at its exit, resolve never to return, and I cross over towards Green Park and then on towards Victoria Station.


    I have been on the verge of tears almost all day. I’m probably too young to be a hard core Bowie-phile if I am honest. He was someone to be discovered by the time I took an interest in music, rather than necessarily paying attention to his latest recordings. I did discover him. I enjoy the work – mostly Station to Station, Low and “Heroes” judging by my play counter on iTunes, with a smattering of plays across the glam albums (with some tracks more popular than others) – but I’ve never really loved him. I wasn’t there, you see. I think you probably had to be there for David Bowie, unlike some of the other artists that I have fallen in love with who are his contemporaries (and older, in some cases). What I feel for him is different, I think. Respect. Admiration for a man who ploughed his own furrow. Took risks his way. The type of thing I wish I did more in my own life. A lesson to be learned, perhaps.


    To tell the truth, I have been on the verge of tears almost all day and this is not about David Bowie. About 2 hours after I found out about his death, I received an email from my mother. Characteristically, for my family, it is to the point of bluntness. My aunt has cancer and will begin treatment this week – and I mentally calculate that, if Bowie had an 18 month course of treatment, then my aunt is the same age as him when he started. As it ends, so shall another begin. Maybe I can do something that will actually help my side come out on top in this one. Meanwhile, Blackstar is downloading right now. I’ll probably get the CD tomorrow. He could yet go out on top.

  3. 3
    Tom on 11 Jan 2016 #

    Thanks Cumbrian and Rory. I guess, from a Popular point of view, “Heroes” is the one to buy, or the one to beat. I mean, I’d love it if it were “Lazarus”, but…

    Oddly, for all that I have cried about it today – set off by the silliest of things, a mention of the 50s Beano, which I was researching last night, in a list of his favourite books – I haven’t strictly felt sad. More, an abused phrase, shock and awe. Shock because, well, obviously. And awe not just for the breadth of his impact on the culture I’ve lived in but because he met his end so remarkably and managed it so well – something which is hard to do, as hard as anything else he did.

  4. 4
    Phil on 12 Jan 2016 #

    I felt a bit awkward about being so upset; I hadn’t really shared the excitement about The next day, let alone the new album, and haven’t bought anything of his since Tonight. But still.

    I remember “Starman” on TOTP. (It only strikes me now how oddly self-aware those lyrics are: if I’d been a year or so older I would have been on the phone to my friend straight afterwards (“Hey, that’s far out, so you saw him too…”).) I remember listening to my older sister’s copy of “Space Oddity”, and listening to the B-side – “The wild-eyed boy from Freecloud” – over and over again. I remember going round the shops to find a copy of Aladdin Sane the day it came out; I had to go to a shop I usually avoided as too expensive, and paid £2.49 for it instead of the £2.29 or 39 I was used to paying. (I was on 50p a week pocket money at the time.) I remember my kid sister saying she was convinced “Life on Mars?” was actually literally about her and how my immediate reaction wasn’t so much patronising as shocked – that’s not your song! you weren’t even there!

    And I think that’s my feeling about Bowie – that he could make you feel, as Lori Lieberman said about Don Maclean, that he was singing your letters (or your teenage diary) out loud, and that it was OK. Your dreams, your unspoken fears, your sense of uniqueness, your self-doubt – it was all real, and it was all OK; it was somewhere you could live, and somewhere you could be accepted. It was possible to be the self-fashioning artwork your teenage self had dreamed of becoming: he’d proved it was possible, he’d done it. And it was OK. He always seemed incredibly cool and poised, but for most of his career he also seemed like a really nice bloke – somebody you’d get along with really well, if you only had the chance to spend some time with him.

    He began as a mime, and an awful lot of his career starts from the premise that he’s going to get up and look fabulous – imagine Golden Years being delivered by somebody looking like Guy Garvey, or somebody looking like Ziggy Stardust for that matter. There’s a vein of shallowness & peacockery running through his work, rising occasionally to the level of solipsism – “Ashes to Ashes” is pretty much as great as anyone says it is, but it’s still ultimately David Bowie conferring with his inner David Bowie on the David Bowie-ness of David Bowie. But there’s so much heart there, too. I think it starts from self-acceptance: if he took himself as his own subject, it wasn’t (mostly) because he was working anything out or struggling with anything unresolved, but just because he wanted to explore some ideas about himself and play around with them. And if he had all this stuff going on in his head – and it was OK to play with – then why wouldn’t it be true of everyone else? Come on in!

    It crossed my mind earlier today – fleetingly, half-unconsciously and without the slightest irony – that it was at least some consolation to know that he’d written and recorded my song; at least I’d always have that. It’s a song I only discovered a couple of years ago, although it dates back to the “Wild eyed boy from Freecloud” era, and on mature reflection I agree with my unconscious: it is actually literally about me, give or take a few details.

    And the world is full of life…
    Conversation Piece.

  5. 5
    Matthew K on 12 Jan 2016 #

    Thanks for these great pieces – I felt like I missed out on Bowie somehow, my failing not his, and it’s great to read about his true impact. I realised after I heard the news that somewhere in my mind was the quiet belief that, of all people, Bowie somehow deserved immortality, and I’ve been feeling bleak and ripped off that he was taken down after all. But to go out on those terms – one last towering achievement.

  6. 6
    Anton B on 12 Jan 2016 #

    Would love to write something deep and meaningful and I probably will on my own blog but I just can’t find the words right now. Bowie influenced my every move as a teenager and well into my twenties and thirties. He was responsible for me forming bands, experimenting with music and noise and electronica, discovering the power of image, becoming an actor and creating a theatre company. I saw him live four times, on the Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke and Serious Moonlight tours. I just wish I could have thanked him personally for everything he gave me.
    His lasting legacy will be not only his own work but also the influence he had on others.

  7. 7
    Tom on 12 Jan 2016 #

    I wasn’t sure what from his stuff to listen to – I listen to him quite a lot anyway, but reaching for Low or Diamond Dogs or Hunky Dory didn’t feel quite right. I wrote the Pitchfork piece with the recent hits package on, but I want to go deeper, and I don’t feel ready for Blackstar yet. So I thought, why not listen to all of it, in order, one record a day. I listened to the 1967 self-titled yesterday and the 1969 one today, and will do The Man Who Sold The World tomorrow. You’re welcome to join me of course, my commenting pals!

  8. 8
    Phil on 12 Jan 2016 #

    Interested to hear your thoughts on the first album, Tom. It wasn’t all plain sailing back then…

    “Alas, my belief that David’s name had kept his audience from appreciating the quality of his work proved ill-founded. It turned out that his audience was well aware of the quality of his work”
    Sir Frederick Bodine speaks out

  9. 9
    Steve Mannion on 12 Jan 2016 #

    I may join in on the chronological catalogue listen. ‘Low’ is the only DB album I know well enough. The new LP is only a fiver on 7Digital too so thought why not even though I doubt I will listen it much.

    I’ve also quite enjoyed the hour-long Soulwax tribute film ‘Dave’ from a few years back which can be seen on Vimeo but here’s the YT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6wts7Ahzz8

  10. 10
    Tom on 12 Jan 2016 #

    As a kid, my friends and I drew a pretty firm line between the RCA work – ‘proper’ David Bowie – and the Pye and Deram stuff, which while clearly by the same guy, wasn’t. This meant we’d listen very earnestly indeed to “Letter To Hermione” (which is pretty awful) and completely ignore “Love You Til Tuesday” and “The London Boys” (which are great). More fool us.

    The 1967 album is still tough going for me – even allowing for the fact that feeling sad about Bowie’s death and the very early work weren’t a great mix. That whimsical side of him just doesn’t work for me much, easy to file under “glad he got it out of his system”. Insert platitudes here about how nobody these days would get the patience required to develop and hold an audience, except of course DB didn’t really hold an audience. It’s odd to think what might have happened if he had become a star on the back of the early stuff – would he have pushed himself and developed in anything like the same way?

  11. 11
    ace inhibitor on 12 Jan 2016 #

    (to paraphrase flight of the conchords):
    you freaky old bastard you

  12. 12
    weej on 12 Jan 2016 #

    Letter To Hermione isn’t pretty awful :(

  13. 13

    In the impossible blizzard of commentary available online, i spotted someone say that it took years for DB to get over hermione (real name not farthingale): since i think all significant developments in pop are a consequence of the betrayed broken heart (individual or collective), i am quite happy to argue that the years of pushing himself WOULD have happened if he’d got successful quickly, PROVIDED HF dumped him on schedule

    this thesis has the enormous scientific advantage of being utterly unprovable

    (apparently she travelled into the east and made maps, like some kind of blue wizard)

  14. 14

    ps in reliably contrarian promises-i-can’t-keep, i am thinking of writing up on FT the results of my relisten to the “second berlin* trilogy”, aka black tie white noise, 1.outside and earthling: the first of which i reviewed for the wire when it came out — i have not dug up my review and am in no hurry to — and the last of which i have always liked, even tho it came out when i was most [as i may have banged on about endlessly before now] burnt out on music

    *montreux is a _kind_ of berlin

  15. 15
    Andrew Farrell on 12 Jan 2016 #

    As the kids say, I just can’t with the first album – I’m working my way through them too, and just had to skip it after a track and a half. Yesterday was a busy day for work, so I can’t say that I paid a lot of attention to (previously unheard) Bowie ’69, but it was definitely by the ‘real’ Bowie.

    I only listened to his albums very sparingly (and always with a little nervousness the first time – what if this was where he’s keeping the duff album tracks that would make me dislike him – it never happened), APART FROM Diamond Dogs which is what my local library had on cassette and so I have probably listened to it 10x as much as the rest of his albums combined.

    (Does Pin Ups count as a proper album? It seems an monumental mis-step, playing to none of his strengths – I’d almost believe it as some sort of contractual requirement)

  16. 16
    Tom on 12 Jan 2016 #

    For the purposes of my listen-through, Pin Ups is certainly a proper album. So is David Live, Stage, all of Tin Machine, Ziggy Stardust The Motion Picture, etc. Not sure about the Labyrinth OST though.

  17. 17

    Pin Ups is famously the only DB LP that Greil Marcus likes* or thinks is any cop.

    *Factoid based on stuff GM wrote 10239457 years ago which obviously he still entirely commits to no I haven’t checked

  18. 18
    Andrew Farrell on 12 Jan 2016 #

    Fair play (to you) – does ‘etc’ there cover the two-factor ‘Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby’?

    Further Fair Play (to Bowie): it takes <2s to realise that the first bonus track on Pin Ups is originally Bruce Springsteen - it's possible that I don't like it = it is actually Bowie as Chameleon.

  19. 19
    weej on 12 Jan 2016 #

    Re: #17 Really? Lots of respect for the man, but it would take a huge amount of very convincing argument to persuade me that was anything but contrarianism. Not that it’s a terrible LP exactly, ‘Sorrow’ is fantastic.

    #16 – if live LPs count then surely Labyrinth and Buddha of Suburbia should too

  20. 20

    Pin Ups (RCA). Despite noble experiments in the late 70s with Low and “Heroes”, this flashy tribute to the English scene, circa 1966, remains his quirky triumph (…)”
    — from the ‘Treasure Island’ one-line reviews section of Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island, Da Capo, 1979 :)

    I don’t think he’s trolling. None of those guys got Bowie then.

  21. 21
    Tom on 12 Jan 2016 #

    Anyway, the 1969 LP. When I first got into Bowie, I got into him at the same time as my friend John Jervis (not that John Jervis). We bought his back catalogue as we could find it, on cassette, making sure there were no duplicates. John had a head start on me so he ended up with more – this was one of his, and probably the one I borrowed least.

    And no “Letter To Hermione” isn’t THAT bad, it’s kind of startling to hear DB doing a straight-up break-up song (for all that he was canonically Very Sexy in the 70s there was a coldness there which quite appealed to my ascetic side as a teen), I’m not that fond of the 1969 LP in general though. It’s him alright, but with a couple of ways he was never or rarely like that again. It sounds of its time, part of a wider scene (some of this is priming from the final track, of course). And he hardly ever again did the thing of having the single sound so much more finished and polished that it doesn’t quite fit with the rest: “the hit” sticks out to the extent that it sounds tacked on at the front.

    Best track: “Memory Of A Free Festival”, the prettiest of the hippie songs and then Bowie suddenly uncovering the power of the big communal singalong.

  22. 22
    Tom on 12 Jan 2016 #

    #18 When I said “all of Tin Machine”, I meant ALL of Tin Machine, but I don’t own a copy of Oy Vey Baby and haven’t checked if it’s on Spotify. (Its absence is my main reason for not counting Labyrinth).

    EDIT: It is not. Nor is Tin Machine II though, which really does have to be included, so I’m going to have to look elsewhere.

  23. 23
    Tom on 12 Jan 2016 #

    #20 re not getting Bowie at the time – this is from my Tumblr yesterday:

    “I looked at my copy of Nik Cohn and Guy Peellaert’s “Rock Dreams” today, their illustrated history or bestiary or devotional book of rock, from 1973 or so, to see if Bowie was in there. He is, in a diptytch with Lou Reed, right at the end. It’s a pretty dire illustration of him (Lou comes off a little better).

    Cohn, unusually, offers no text. He’s running out of inspiration and goodwill at this point in the book, disgusted at what’s happening to pop. How it’s no longer a way for kids to put their selves – their dreams and neuroses – into the world as new myths. How it’s turning into a cabaret full of decadent quick-change artists, a pile of masks. And why is this kid any better than any of the others? The book is a snapshot of a world where David Bowie is a last cynical gasp of pop, its dying con. An unrecognisable world. A lost bet.

    Perhaps Cohn forgave Bowie. Perhaps he didn’t. Why should he? David Bowie has been celebrated today as a saint of possibility, the opener of doors. Cohn felt he helped close them too. Anything that matters is the end of something.”

  24. 24
    Phil on 12 Jan 2016 #

    How it’s no longer a way for kids to put their selves – their dreams and neuroses – into the world as new myths.

    Ahem, Mr Son-of-the-Pursuit-of-the-Millennium. Ahem, I say.

  25. 25


    ^^^via sabina tang in twitter — BowieNet is still operative, and peopled

  26. 26

    nice piece by matos on bowie-the-fan as producer: http://www.mtv.com/news/2727141/bowie-behind-the-boards/

  27. 27
    Pink champale on 13 Jan 2016 #

    Listening to the Deram stuff (which I never did until Pushing… inspired me to) makes Bowie’s achievements seem even more impossible. It’s inconceivable that the chancer singing Sell me a Coat can be the same person doing Right not much more than 5 years later.

  28. 28

    greg tate on bowie the honorary afro-futurist: http://www.mtv.com/news/2727414/brother-from-another-planet/

  29. 29
    Andrew on 13 Jan 2016 #

    #2 it’s worth knowing that for most albums Amazon sell they have an AutoRip function that provides you with an immediate free mp3 download, so (unless you object strongly to Amazon on principle, or specifically on cost for a particular item) you have the best of both worlds – the CD on its way to your door and the album in your iTunes library immediately (or if you’re on the move when you purchase, initially downloaded automatically to the Amazon Music app; you can transfer it over when you’re next on your laptop/PC/etc.)

    Presuming you used iTunes to download, it may not be too late to claw your money back from them, if you so wish – I am sure they now do no-questions-asked refunds on downloads within a certain timeframe (and given that you’re buying the CD, there would be nothing immoral about this).

  30. 30
    Cumbrian on 13 Jan 2016 #

    #29: That’s good to know – I wasn’t aware of that at all and will think accordingly in the future. Managed to get a copy on CD yesterday in the end. Thanks very much.

    Currently, Blackstar well up in the midweeks by the looks of things.

    Not much more to add – some really good stuff being linked here though, so thanks very much to all those doing the writing/compiling/linking/etc.

  31. 31
    Tom on 13 Jan 2016 #

    Today’s LP was The Man Who Sold The World. Here’s a nice piece on it from the AV Club http://www.avclub.com/article/man-who-sold-world-david-bowie-found-his-career-bl-230571 – some bits are an overreach (I don’t think it had much influence on the direction of prog, or metal) but the thrust of it, Bowie finding a method and a style (or rather a way into styles), is right I think.

    There are usually tracks on Bowie albums which sound like they could have been on the last Bowie album, except they’ve been infected by the style of the current one. Signposts of development. “Width Of A Circle”, in this case. The very rapid artistic development gives the chance meeting in that song (and in the title track) a kind of Faustian vibe – the 60s Bowie meeting his monster self, then saying goodbye, but with no suggestion the places might not have switched. Hunky Dory tomorrow.

    Favourite track: “The Man Who Sold The World” – no challops here.

  32. 32

    likeable new york times interview (by jon pareles) of iggy pop on his friend’s passing: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/14/arts/music/david-bowie-iggy-pop.html?_r=0

    true to its house style, the NYT refers to IG as “Mr. Pop” throughout :)

  33. 33
    Pink champalepink on 13 Jan 2016 #

    That’s a lovely interview with Mr Pop. My secret theory has long been that he’s the most intelligent and urbane person in rock. I liked the Greg Tate piece too. I don’t think I’ve read him before. Is his style always so, um, hepcat?

  34. 34

    it is, yes

  35. 35
    Pink champalepink on 13 Jan 2016 #

    Far out

  36. 36
    Rory on 14 Jan 2016 #

    Thanks for adding my blog post to your list of links, Tom. I don’t seem to have let it go (I’ve been on a self-imposed daily posting schedule again this year, about whatever’s uppermost in my mind, which is currently this), so there are a couple more posts with various links readers here might like, plus some further ramblings of mine. If you read nothing else, read this extraordinary post from a Bowie fan who became more than just a fan.

  37. 37

    not a recent piece (it’s from 1980) but an interview by one of nme’s best (albeit most unsung) editor-critics, angus mackinnon:

    (when apocalypse now came out, to somewhat baffled response in this country, coppola, frustrated at a tiresome press conference, waved a copy of the nme around and said “this is the only man who has understood my film!”, AM having reviewed it at length)

    adding: can’t decide if i’m irritated by or enjoying the layout decision, which means you often can’t tell which one of them (DB or AM) is speaking

  38. 38
    Tom on 14 Jan 2016 #

    Hunky Dory today. I have had so many different favourite songs from this album. Right at the start it was “Oh! You Pretty Things”, because it reminded me of the X-Men. Then “Andy Warhol”, because of the oddness of it, the cut-ups and the deadened sing-song vocal style. Then “Life On Mars?”, because tunes that big don’t come along that often. Then “Changes” for its optimism. Then very briefly “Kooks” when I became a Dad. And now “The Bewley Brothers”, which had always been lurking high on my list, waiting to outlast the others. Perhaps the remainder of the songs will take their place too, it’s not like they’re bad.

  39. 39
    Phil on 14 Jan 2016 #

    I asked my big sister what The Bewlay Brothers was all about, the last bit in particular. She didn’t know either, which quite shocked me at the time – I mean, she was twenty! Now, running through the lyrics in my head (the two-thirds I can remember), it actually seems fairly straightforward – if he’d sat down to write the song Ziggy Stardust but got distracted by an acid trip, or just by reading an awful lot of Dylan Thomas, the result would have been something like that.

    Amazing stuff in its own way – a whole album of it would have got wearing, but there was never any danger of that.
    “The Factor Max that proved the fact is melted down
    And woven on the edging of my pillow”
    I think that was a liberation of sorts, too. If pop music can encompass that

  40. 40
    Cumbrian on 14 Jan 2016 #

    As I said up thread, I am more for Bowie’s mid-70s output than the earlier stuff, but Hunky Dory does contain my favourite Bowie track: Queen Bitch – a muscular take on Three Steps To Heaven via The Velvet Underground that manages to be better than either of its main influences by some distance, as far as I am concerned.

    I’ve been thinking about Bowie, Johnny Cash and Queen a lot over the last few days for fairly obvious reasons. I wonder whether Bowie thought about Cash and Queen as well, or whether he just decided to do his own thing and the comparisons will inevitably be drawn given the circumstances. Gratifyingly, a lot of the notices about Bowie I have seen over the last few days have been about how generous he could be, so I doubt he looked at them and thought “I could do better than that”. That said, “I could do better than that” seems to have been a guiding principle for him (not necessarily that he always did but it can be used as a spur to at least give something a go) so he might have thought it. Anyway, all this by way of saying, and after listening to it quite a lot over the last couple of days, Blackstar is a mighty impressive piece of work, would have been in any case if Bowie were still alive but the weight it now carries is borne easily, I think.

  41. 41
    weej on 15 Jan 2016 #

    Queen Bitch is one of my favourites too, and I believe it’s the favourite of the Bowiesongs guy too. It seems to have a very low profile considering (a) how good it is and (b) how many people seem to love it. Least rated on Hunky Dory for most people seems to be Fill Your Heart, but it’s one of the highlights for me, maybe I have a higher tolerance for twee than most. Afraid I have always found The Bewley Brothers a bit of a slog, especially the second half, would probably rank it last. But still my favourite Bowie album if I’m honest.

  42. 42
    Tom on 15 Jan 2016 #

    I like “Fill Your Heart” too, it has a tinge of mania mixed in with the twee, and the bit where it falls away into the synth tones of “Andy Warhol” is probably my favourite moment on Hunky Dory. And I like “Queen Bitch” more than its influence, which is not true of “Song For Bob Dylan”, MY least favourite track on the record (though “sand and glue” is pretty good).

  43. 43
    Rory on 15 Jan 2016 #

    Hunky Dory was the first Bowie album I fell for unreservedly, and I love it all. My love for it might be what delayed my engagement with other key albums, particularly in the 1975-1980 era; there was so much to discover and consider in each fresh listen that I was happy with that. Even Ziggy couldn’t match it for me.

    “Queen Bitch” featured prominently in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, in its Bowie form, alongside Seu Jorge’s Portuguese covers of other Bowiesongs of the era. Great soundtrack, mixing songs by Bowie, Jorge covering Bowie, and Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo.

    (The Life Aquatic soundtrack was so effective that it spawned a spin-off album of Jorge’s Bowie covers, which I see now has an iTunes bonus track that isn’t on my CD. To the iTunes store!)

  44. 44
    Phil on 15 Jan 2016 #

    I heard side one of Ziggy at someone else’s house – my uncle’s in fact. (He also had the first headphones I’d ever used, and the best I’ve ever used to this day; when I put them on I was genuinely convinced that the music was still filling the room. Wish I’d made a note.) Anyway, I was appropriately blown away, so when my sister told me that IHO Hunky Dory was an even better album, well… After that build-up I was a bit less than overwhelmed to begin with, but once I’d listened to both a few dozen times I did come round to her opinion. Close thing, though, not to mention a bit of a chalk/cheese problem.

  45. 45
    Pink champale on 15 Jan 2016 #

    I’m one of three people that voted for Song for Bob Dylan in the grand Bowiesongs poll. Though tbh it was a slightly odd choice on my part and one I wouldn’t necessarily have made on a different day. Whereas Hunky Dory got my best album vote and would have done every day for the past thirty years.

  46. 46
    swanstep on 15 Jan 2016 #

    Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords winsomely details the writing and filming of their ‘Bowie in Space’ (as a case study of the overwhelming power of Bowie fandom and of his example) here: http://thespinoff.co.nz/13-01-2016/david-bowie-the-man-we-idolised-imitated-and-failed-to-get-on-our-show/

  47. 47
    Tom on 15 Jan 2016 #

    So, Ziggy. I’d forgotten how much piano there was on this record! (It works). When I got into Bowie (late-80s), this record was The One, and it’s still his most “Acclaimed” (viz Acclaimed Music). I think it’s been a decade-plus since I listened straight through to it. It’s a mix of stuff that can never wear out for me (“Five Years”, “Starman”, “Rock’n’Roll Suicide”), stuff that has worn out for me (the title track), stuff I haven’t played enough to wear out (most of the rest) and a couple of songs I never dug anyway. Not, oddly enough, “It Ain’t Easy”, which is like “Sloop John B” – an unfairly maligned breather to let the pressure out in an intense record. It does its job.

    I remember bobbing around in a swimming pool with a friend age 14 or so, spending an hour discussing this record, trying to arrange the tracks into a story which was – we felt – necessary to justify its being a “concept album”.

    Best Track: “Five Years”, his best lyric to that date, perhaps ever. (My inner Tanya H raises her head to suggest you don’t need to cry all that much for your face to be wet. I push her back down.) The extraordinary lyrical pan across people’s reactions (“A girl my age went off her head…” etc) feels like something out of an 80s comics script (Moore or post-Moore) – and quite possibly was an inspiration. That brings back another memory of a pub discussion where we decided we were going to make a “Five Years” comic in the style of a Just 17 photo story. Who would want such a thing was unclear.

    Aladdin Sane tomorrow.

  48. 48
    weej on 15 Jan 2016 #

    Ha, I wrote a film script called “Five Years” at university, wonder if you can guess what played over the end credits? Anyway, it now seems to be the name of the most popular retrospective documentary (that I haven’t seen) so looks like it’s taken.

  49. 49
    Andrew Farrell on 15 Jan 2016 #

    A friend elsewhere (regarding Lazarus Dawn) makes the excellent observation “He’s not a good talking actor — but he is an exceptional being-actor.”

  50. 50
    Cumbrian on 15 Jan 2016 #

    Always thought of Ziggy as more Mick Ronson’s album than Bowie’s – despite Bowie writing the songs, Ronson seems like the guy being given centre stage a lot of the time. At least, almost all my favourite bits on the album are Ronno anyway – the “start your engines” rev up at the start of Suffragette City, the BLAM-BLAM power chords to herald the start of Moonage Daydream, the string bending solo in the otherwise slight Hang Onto Yourself (though Steve Jones was listening to that riff, right? Seems very Pistols). Otherwise, I kind of agree that there’s quite a bit on here that is either overplayed or I have never really been that into. Indeed, I can take or leave both SC and HOY even with those really great moments in them.

    Five Years is great, as is Rock N Roll Suicide. Moonage Daydream is the best for me though and would make my Bowie Top 20 definitely and Top 10 maybe.

  51. 51

    intriguing speculative piece on the (possible) roots of the sleng teng rhythm: https://axischemicals.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/david-bowie-digital-reggae-kingpin/

  52. 52
    Cumbrian on 15 Jan 2016 #

    David Bowie with the final release of his lifetime becoming a #1 album, owning 25% of the placings in the Top 40 album chart and 13 singles in the Top 100.


    01 – Blackstar – RCA
    05 – Nothing Has Changed – The Very Best Of David Bowie – Parlophone
    11 – The Best Of 1969/1974 – Parlophone
    14 – Hunky Dory – Parlophone
    17 – The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust – Parlophone
    18 – Best Of Bowie – Parlophone
    23 – Aladdin Sane – Parlophone
    25 – The Next Day – RCA
    31 – Low – Parlophone
    37 – Diamond Dogs – Parlophone
    42 – Let’s Dance – Parlophone
    45 – “Heroes” – Parlophone
    55 – Station To Station – Parlophone
    59 – The Best Of – 1980/1987 Parlophone
    60 – Young Americans – Parlophone
    61 – Scary Monsters – Parlophone
    89 – The Man Who Sold The World – Parlophone
    95 – Space Oddity – Parlophone
    97 – Five Years – 1969-1973 – Parlophone


    12 – “Heroes” – David Bowie – Parlophone
    16 – “Life On Mars” – David Bowie – Parlophone
    18 – “Starman” – David Bowie – Parlophone
    23 – “Let’s Dance” – David Bowie – Parlophone
    24 – “Space Oddity” – David Bowie – Parlophone
    43 – “Under Pressure” – Queen & David Bowie – Virgin
    45 – “Lazarus” – David Bowie – RCA
    49 – “Changes” – David Bowie – Parlophone
    61 – “Blackstar” – David Bowie – RCA
    62 – “Ashes To Ashes” – David Bowie – Parlophone
    65 – “Rebel Rebel” – David Bowie – Parlophone
    76 – “Ziggy Stardust” – David Bowie – Parlophone
    97 – “China Girl” – David Bowie – Parlophone

  53. 53
    Jeff W on 15 Jan 2016 #

    Geeta on DB, “Part 1”:


  54. 54

    tsj’s tribute (featuring a couple of FT regulars):

  55. 55
    Tom on 17 Jan 2016 #

    A final Then Play Long entry from Marcello. http://nobilliards.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/david-bowie-blackstar.html

  56. 56
    Tom on 17 Jan 2016 #

    Aladdin Sane yesterday, PinUps today. PinUps mostly interesting as an exercise in contrast – Bowie demonstrating how he wouldn’t really have fitted into rock’n’roll, freakbeat, etc. Even that’s a stretch. Mark S pointed out somewhere last week that Groovy Greil Marcus thinks this is the ONLY GOOD BOWIE RECORD, an imperial challops. Tough going now, as it was when I first heard it, mostly because of the vocals slipping back into bad old habits. It was the record I first heard “See Emily Play” on, and I like Bowie’s fairly faithful take, so that gets the Favourite Track pick.

    Aladdin Sane is magnificent. Someone was saying upthread that Ziggy is Mick Ronson’s LP. I think Aladdin is even more so – in terms of how good it sounds, anyway, louder, richer, with that gorgeous thick guitar sound I think of when I think of “glam”. At school I liked it more than Ziggy, it had more mystique to it, it seemed bigger and nastier. More grown up too – that was mostly a case of me deciphering the slang on Aladdin more easily, I think, but the cabaret touches all through too. Hard to pick a standout but it’s probably “Drive In Saturday”, which (it hardly needs saying) does more interesting things with the past than PinUps manages.

  57. 57
    Phil on 17 Jan 2016 #

    I remember buying Aladdin Sane in Croydon as soon as it came out in 1974, but I remember erroneously – it was released in April 1973, at which point I wasn’t even in England. But I still remember the creak of the gatefold as I opened it for the first time, the weight & finish (and the smell) of the white card sleeve, the look of the navy blue card inner sleeve… The whole package was stylish and clean-looking, but opulent with it – no expense had been spared.

    The music is full-on in a similar way – the guitars are louder than any I’d ever heard, but they’re part of a big, full, lush sound. It’s a really achieved album.

  58. 58
    mapman132 on 18 Jan 2016 #

    Blackstar is now the number one album in the US – one of the few chart accomplishments David Bowie hadn’t yet achieved:


  59. 59
    Phil on 18 Jan 2016 #

    I’ve been listening to Aladdin Sane, and I’ve been absolutely blown away. Mike Garson’s piano on the title track is astonishing, and everyone in the band – Ronson, Bolder, Woodmansey – is playing right at the top of their game. (That melodic bass line on the title track, right up the neck like something by Hugh Hopper! Those manic hurry-up fills on Watch That Man!)

    I find myself noticing little signposts and foreshadowings of what was to come: Panic in Detroit is obviously(!) from the same person who made Young Americans, and what’s that in the last minute of Cracked Actor – two separate guitar parts consisting entirely of feedback? Hmm. Amazing to realise that YA was only two years away, and Heroes only four and a half – seemed a lot longer at the time.

    Astonishing album. I’m looking forward to side two.

  60. 60
    lonepilgrim on 18 Jan 2016 #

    I’ve always felt slightly out of phase with Bowie for most of his career although I’ve mostly liked his work and ambition.
    I first heard ‘Space Oddity’ in 1969 when Apollo moon shot fever was at its height at my Primary school and I liked the song. Earlier that year I’d been to see 2001 for a friend’s birthday and I liked the wordplay. In my mind David Bowie was the singer who told Sci-fi stories which was a GOOD THING as I liked Sci-fi stories.
    By 1972 I had begun to listen to pop music more avidly. I watched TOTP regularly and begin to buy singles with my pocket money and get LPs for presents. I saw DB singing Starman – another sci-fi story VG – but I’d already fallen in love with first T. Rex and then Alice Cooper.
    In 1973 my sister wanted to buy Jean Genie but I persuade her to pool her pocket money with me and we get the ‘Top Of The Pops’ LP with that track and several others for almost the same price (we didn’t realise that these were cheaper copies of the songs). I read an interview with DB in my dad’s paper where he compared himself to Alice Cooper. No comparison I scoffed.
    I started Secondary School and made friends with lads who introduced me to Prog rock. The boys who liked Bowie in my class were a bit leery and sneaky so that put me off him as did the fact that girls liked him too. I still liked the singles although I found his ‘theatricality’ a bit scary. Aladdin Sane is the first album I can remember seeing promoted in our local record shop along with Pinups, which was released only a few months later. ‘Drive In Saturday’ was (and still is) a particular favourite – more Sci-Fi, VG. I liked ‘All the young dudes’ and ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ without fully realising Bowie’s involvement. The BBC ‘Cracked Actor’ documentary made me more interested in him and I went to see ‘The Man who fell to Earth’ and loved it. My first girlfriend was a huge Bowie fan and lent me Ziggy and Low to convert me and seemed a bit miffed that I preferred the latter. We broke up soon after. I can remember being impressed that the NME featured two contrasting reviews of Low, suggesting what a divisive album it was at the time. Punk and Disco were happening around the same time and their pleasures were more immediate and accessible at the time. The singles from ‘Heroes’ and Lodger were favourites at parties but I felt no urgency to investigate the albums until later. ‘Ashes to Ashes’ and the ‘Scary Monsters’ album was the point where Bowie and I came into sync. I loved the singles and kind of enjoyed the album. I caught up with ‘Heroes’, Aladdin Sane and Station to Station. I bought and enjoyed Lets Dance single and album as a party soundtrack and lost interest as his work became unfocused. The last new music I bought was ‘This is not America’. After that I vaguely followed his output with less and less interest – although his occasional ‘live’ appearances on TV were usually good value. Through this site I discovered the Pushing Ahead of the Dame blog which has helped me to appreciate some of his later work as well as earlier stuff that I had forgotten. I was touched when he returned with the first song from ‘The Next Day’ but didn’t feel compelled to listen to or buy the album. I was more stimulated by the songs leading up to the release of ‘Blackstar’ and so actually bought it when it was released. There’s a lot I like about it, there’s stuff I find perplexing and irritating but I want to keep on listening to it – so a return to form.
    Apologies for being so autobiographical but its a way to process my response to the man and his work. More may follow

  61. 61
    Tom on 19 Jan 2016 #

    No need to apologise, Lonepilgrim!

    Yesterday was Diamond Dogs – which I wrote about in the piece I did for Pitchfork, its status as a kind of Prog Zero, right at the centre of my teenage sci-fi obsession. The title track has a good claim to be my favourite Bowie song full stop, its garish joy in Armageddon a shot of pure thrill-power. It’s just a fantastic album straight through – amazing to realise (reading Chris O’Leary’s entries on it) what a hodge-podge it was, scraps of ideas Frankensteined together by a man who must have seemed on the edge of burnout. One of the reasons I love DD so much, I only realised on this play, is that it’s where Bowie hits on his best (IMO) voice, dropping the high register that dominated Ziggy and Hunky Dory for something nastier and beefier.

    One weird thing about Diamond Dogs is that the cassette version (which was all I knew) messed around with the sequencing, so the canonical Diamond Dogs in my head has “1984” as the final track – pointing the way to Young Americans – and “Big Brother”/”Chant” leading off side 2 in macabre triumph.

    David Live today, a send-off to the glam era.

  62. 62
    mapman132 on 19 Jan 2016 #

    And on this week’s Billboard Hot 100:

    40 “Lazarus”: Bowie’s first US Top 40 since 1987
    42 “Space Oddity”
    45 “Under Pressure”
    78 “Blackstar”

    I’m sure there’d be more, except that Billboard’s policy is to only show older tracks on the Hot 100 if they’re in the top 50.

    Also a record 21 of the 50-position Hot Rock Songs chart, led by “Lazarus” at #3.

  63. 63
    swanstep on 20 Jan 2016 #

    Bowie’s presence in the New Zealand Top 40 Charts this week:
    1. Blackstar
    4. Nothing Has Changed – The Best Of
    6. Best Of Bowie
    14. The Best of Bowie: 1969-1974
    16. The Best of Bowie: 1980-1987
    20. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust
    22. Let’s Dance
    30. Hunky Dory
    31. The Next Day
    37. Station to Station
    38. The Best of Bowie: 1975-1979

    32. Heroes
    39. Space Oddity
    40. Let’s Dance
    Lazarus is the ninth best-selling ‘heatseeker’ (single outside the top 40 that has yet to appear in the top 40)

  64. 64
    Rory on 20 Jan 2016 #

    The ARIA Albums Chart (Australia) for 18 January is a thing of wonder:

    1. Blackstar
    3. Nothing Has Changed
    9. Best of Bowie
    14. The Best of David Bowie 1969/1974
    21. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
    23. The Next Day
    30. The Best of David Bowie 1980/1987
    35. Aladdin Sane
    37. Let’s Dance
    41. Diamond Dogs
    42. “Heroes”
    45. Hunky Dory
    49. The Best of David Bowie 1974/1979

    31. Space Oddity
    36. Heroes
    42. Under Pressure

  65. 65
    Cumbrian on 21 Jan 2016 #

    Have followed along with the listening exercise but missed albums out I don’t have, etc. Still been listening to Blackstar a lot.

    Of the old albums, the one that has surprised me most is Young Americans. I get the impression that this is pretty well regarded in the USA (maybe – more so than in the UK?). I remember buying it a while ago and not being that impressed and put it away. After that I came across Somebody Up There Likes Me and Fascination on the soundtracks for Grand Theft Autos 4 and 5 respectively, so maybe it’s wormed its way into my subconscious a bit as a result of that. Now, on returning to it, I can’t understand why I didn’t like it much to start with. So lush, decadent and full of great musical moments across the album – this is the one where Carlos Alomar first comes on board right? Title track and Win are brilliant. The cover of Across The Universe is the only thing on it that I’m not into at all. A very pleasant surprise and one I’ll come back to more frequently in future, I suspect.

    I’ve only got a couple of Pin Ups tracks (from the height of my Bruce Springsteen obsession, I downloaded the two covers from those sessions). I think I like the Bowie version of Growin’ Up more than the original. Not convinced by Hard To Be A Saint though.

  66. 66
    Tom on 21 Jan 2016 #

    #65 Yes, Young Americans was the only 70s Bowie album neither me or my friend had on tape, so it was terra incognita for me for some time and it’s still the ‘classic’ Bowie record I know least well. Which is a good thing – bits of it can jump out and really startle me, like the snapping, duelling vocals on “Somebody Up There Likes Me” when I played it yesterday. The title track is (I think) my wife’s favourite Bowie song. My favourite is “Win”.

    The listening exercise proceeds – best not to mention David Live, which is turgid. Station To Station today and the Nassau Coliseum 76 former bootleg, which Spotify have helpfully tacked onto the end and makes a considerably better case for David Bowie, live artiste.

  67. 67
    Rory on 21 Jan 2016 #

    #65 The New Yorker obituary called Young Americans Bowie’s “first masterpiece”, which I found baffling, given what comes before it. There’s plenty to like on YA, of course, though “Across the Universe” falls flat for me too, but it seems such a slight on Hunky Dory, Ziggy, Aladdin Sane

  68. 68

    Yes, I’d be interested in seeing Hilton Als — who’s a pretty great writer (though much less about music these days) — expand on this. He’s coming at Bowie from the heart of black American music, of course: soul and disco and hiphop were his beat* at the Village Voice iirc [*adding: this gives the impression he was primarily a music writer — which I’m not actually sure he was, I think he mainly wrote about art and photography? He’s the theatre critic at the New Yorker.]

    Here’s a blog post he wrote about Bowie a few years back: http://www.hiltonals.com/2011/07/ava-cherry-and-luther-vandross/

  69. 69
    Tom on 21 Jan 2016 #

    Might it not just be that YA was his actual American breakthrough? There’s an occasional tendency in US critics to underrate the stuff that happened before or after America noticed someone.

  70. 70
    Rory on 21 Jan 2016 #

    I can understand one’s first Bowie album holding a special status in one’s mind; when I was 15 Let’s Dance came out, so for a long time I thought that was “the” Bowie album. That seems mad now; it doesn’t even have YA’s benefit of being good of its kind, it just has some big hit singles on it. But I didn’t have the resources to buy up the old albums to see what I’d been missing, and LD (which I didn’t even own, but heard via friends) wasn’t enough to prompt me to try. Nevertheless, once I actually heard some earlier Bowie, I quickly demoted LD to the lower reaches in my personal ranking, and didn’t think much about it again.

    YA is much better than that, so I understand how it could hang onto its special status for Als, but to declare it Bowie’s first masterpiece in one of America’s journals of record surely needs more justification than even calling it a masterpiece would. It can’t only be because it was the first one America paid much attention to, can it?

  71. 71
    Rory on 21 Jan 2016 #

    (Whoops, my final rhetorical question posted before I saw Tom@69.)

  72. 72

    maybe [i.e. maybe yes to tom’s proposed reason], but if so it’s slightly more interesting than that makes it sound — the (white) rock critic gang in the US were already well aware of DB pre-breakthrough, and had been pronouncing on him, pro and (mostly) con: but YA as his breakthrough coincides with his engaging with current black american music (the musicians he was working with, the sound he was making) and — to some extent — a black american audience (including als*): notoriously james brown ripped off the riff** from “fame” for “hot (I need to be loved)”

    so — esp. based on the blog post i linked — als admires this record precisely because of the way it’s doing this engaging with (black) music’s immediate present, which can’t be said of any of the earlier records so much, except possibly man who sold the world, which is full of ronson’s play on cream and the idea of the rock trio (so the engagement with black american music is a. second-hand there and b. already somewhat backward-looking)

    *(adding: also — as noted a bit confusedly above — als is and was never primarily a music writer: asking around a bit i’m learning he’s covered fashion, nightlife, books, art and photography, as well as music now and then and more recently theatre; he was a staff writer at the village voice, with i think a bit of a roving beat, and went on to vibe magazine) (which was founded, irrelevantly, but i only just discovered this, by quincy jones)
    **(actually the riff was carlos alomar’s own, which he brought to the YA sessions and helped bowie turn into “fame” — alomar previously having been a JB sideman)

    ^^^x-post with rory

  73. 73

    meanwhile, the indefatigable ned raggett has put together a collection of bowie-relevant links here: http://www.nashvillescene.com/nashvillecream/archives/2016/01/20/neds-atomic-link-bin-20-must-read-david-bowie-reactions-and-remembrances

  74. 74
    lonepilgrim on 21 Jan 2016 #

    #65 and following – my problem with YA as a masterpiece is that it features Bowie’s dire version of Across the Universe. Had he kept one or more of the tracks originally recorded for the album it would have had a consistently high quality.

  75. 75
    Tom on 22 Jan 2016 #

    Station To Station yesterday (and the Nassau Coliseum set, which is GRATE, even the comically huge drum solo on “Panic In Detroit” – I think if that had been my introduction to “live albums” I would have far more time for them, as it was it was David Live…)

    Anyhow, I’d somehow never read the excellent Pushing Ahead… entry on “Station To Station” itself, which means I’d never got that he’s singing “…from Kether to Malkuth”. Not that I’d have made much of that as a teenager anyway. STS was my first Bowie album, or rather the first Bowie album I owned rather than borrowed/taped off friends. I got it for Christmas in 1987, and because it was mine it became a quick favourite and I stayed very loyal to it, even though (for a new listener) it’s a very weird, stylistically uneven record. It took me a long time to ‘get’ what Bowie was doing on “Wild Is The Wind”, for instance. As a grown-up it’s probably the classic record which shuttles up and down in my estimation the most – in the right mood it can be a superlative epic, in the wrong one a slightly frustrating hodge-podge of moods and ideas. It was the last Bowie record I listened to before his death, on my first commute of the new year, and it sounded like the latter. Playing it yesterday it fortunately sounded monumental. And onto Low.

  76. 76
    Izzy on 22 Jan 2016 #

    72: Alomar’s riff was originally incorporated (in a 12-bar structure!) as part of another discarded song, Footstompin’, which I saw for the first time last night tacked onto the end of the famous Dick Cavett 1974 appearance, in a kind of Cabaret style. It’s pretty excellent!

  77. 77
    Cumbrian on 22 Jan 2016 #

    I’ve already claimed my love for Station To Station on this thread – I think it’s wonderful, it hits loads of things that, in isolation, I love in other artists but collides them and produces an amalgam with which I cannot find any fault at all – but I will say that looking into the stories about how this album came about actually made my opinion of it increase. Bowie’s so out of it on coke that he didn’t remember any of the sessions and, somehow, in amongst that he manages to produce this? Confirmation bias likely on my part but when I think of albums made in a blizzard of coke, I usually think of things that really don’t work at all, so when I hear this my primary thought is “how the hell did he manage this?”

    Minor shout out to the E-Street Band’s best musician, Roy Bittan, who had time to fill in on piano due to Bruce’s legal troubles keeping him out of the studio in late 1975/early 76. Love his work emphasising Bowie’s dramatic reading of the lyrics in Word on a Wing in particular.

  78. 78
    Phil on 22 Jan 2016 #

    According to the Angus McKinnon interview, Bowie’s longstanding interest in occultism & the Nazis* had been amplified by the experience of working on The Man Who Fell To Earth**, to the point where he genuinely felt like his immortal soul was in danger. Hence Word on a Wing, a prayer for salvation from somebody who thought he needed it (and it is addressed to God, not – as I’d always assumed – to some loved one or other).

    I’d also like to apologise to my little sister for the time when I walked in on her to ask her to bloody well turn it down, not only in the middle of the title track but at the very moment the vocal comes in. Murder’s been done for less.

    * Cf. Quicksand.
    **And all the coke.

  79. 79
    lonepilgrim on 22 Jan 2016 #

    cosign on the Station to Station appreciation – it’s tied with his next album as my favourite and Stay is one of his best tunes IMO

  80. 80
    Paulito on 23 Jan 2016 #

    As it happens, Station To Station was released 40 years ago today. It’s aged remarkably well.

  81. 82
    Mark M on 24 Jan 2016 #

    Re81: Watched that commencement speech linked to in that link. Bowie very funny but the students clearly totally baffled by many anecdotes, esp Shirley Bassey & working men’s club.

  82. 83
    Tom on 24 Jan 2016 #

    The listen-through continues – Low and Heroes. Interesting that Low, when I got into Bowie, had a reputation as being a difficult and obtuse piece of work whereas Heroes was one of The Classic Bowie LPs. The two are structured very similarly and the instrumental work on Heroes – especially the skronky “Neukoln” – is a lot more forbidding than any of Side 2 of Low. What a difference a hit makes! (Unless you want to credit “The Secret Life Of Arabia”, Bowie’s very own “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others”)

    These days Low has overtaken its younger brother, reputationally. I wouldn’t change a note of it – my favourite Bowie album and one of my most beloved LPs by anyone: a big reason for deciding on one album a day is that I wouldn’t have been able to deal with it shortly after he died. The first side is a beautiful and concise argument for songs being only and exactly as long as they need to be. The second side elegantly demolishes that notion. Heroes, on the other hand, I’d always pegged as one I liked less, so rediscovering it yesterday was an enormous pleasure.

    Today’s record is, naturally, the third in the famous trilogy, David Bowie Narrates Prokofiev’s Peter And The Wolf.

  83. 84
    lonepilgrim on 24 Jan 2016 #

    I think Low owes its ‘difficult and obtuse’ reputation to how it was received when it was first released. IIRC it was so divisive that the NME had it reviewed by two writers – one for and one against. It’s hard to recreate how strange it sounded – both in comparison to Bowie’s previous music and to the early manifestations of punk (and the accompanying celebration of ‘authenticity’ and connection to the audience) that were beginning to be championed in the paper. The album and the lead single initially sounded uncannily bland and closed off from the visceral thrills associated with rock. Bowie’s vocal took so long to appear on ‘Sound and Vision’ that when the song was played over the closing credits of TOTP he got cut off just as he began. By the time ‘Heroes’ arrived listeners had adjusted to some of the strangeness and it helped to have some more stomping songs interspersed between the moody instrumentals.

  84. 85
    Ed on 24 Jan 2016 #

    ‘(Unless you want to credit “The Secret Life Of Arabia”, Bowie’s very own “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others”)’


    How so?

  85. 86
    Tom on 24 Jan 2016 #

    It was a semi-gag based on it being a bouncy, light-hearted (for Bowie) track at the end of a gloweringly intense LP. I’ve always felt it does a tension-relieving job, and “Some Girls…” is similar in that regard.

  86. 87
    Ed on 24 Jan 2016 #

    OK got you. Thanks!

  87. 88
    Phil on 24 Jan 2016 #

    Side one of Low still sounds weird to me – both in that writing three-minute pop songs was a weird direction for Bowie to take at that time, and more directly because of the sound of it. The tracks sound raw and underworked, with what sound like bare-bones arrangements – almost like demos – while at the same time sounding ostentatiously processed and artificial (the Eventide Harmoniser, courtesy of co-producer Tony Visconti, takes much of the credit or blame here). It’s like putting a rough sketch in an ornate frame – at some level you think “a lot of work’s gone into this, but why didn’t he put the work into developing the song or the arrangement?” Even Sound and Vision sounds more like a hasty parody of an elaborate arrangement than the thing itself, with those abrupt drop-ins (Mary Hopkin’s vocal and Bowie’s consistently awful sax) which are then never heard again. I love it, but it is weird (as in baffling) – whereas “Heroes” is merely weird as in unexpected and challenging.

    And then you play side two…

  88. 89
    Cumbrian on 25 Jan 2016 #

    Of the two, I think I just about prefer Heroes, which is probably why I reached for it on the journey which I reported back in the (faintly embarrassing) #2 post on this thread – this is principally because of the strength of Side 1, to be honest, I think both Side 2s are very good but much of a muchness – but I just about prefer Joe The Lion, Beauty and the Beast and the title track (which even now stills retains loads of power, even though it has been played to death over the years) to Sound and Vision, Always Crashing, etc. Which is not to say that Side 1 of Low is rubbish – far from it. These two, plus Station to Station, are the ones I return to repeatedly (with YA now in the mix following Bowie’s death).

  89. 90
    lonepilgrim on 25 Jan 2016 #

    re 24 Nik Cohn in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday writes: ‘Every so often, amid the dross of what’s now called classic rock, there came a glint of gold. Jimi Hendrix was one, Gram Parsons another. Still hung up on singles, I found my fix in black music, as soul melded into funk and country; burrowed deep into James Brown and Sly Stone, George Jones and Merle Haggard; and tried not to notice the Grateful Dead. Then David Bowie showed up. Here was someone who understood and cherished pop myth, and turned those myths into art. More to the point, he made great singles.’

  90. 91
    Tom on 25 Jan 2016 #

    From Alec Guinness to Alice Cooper, the list of people who’ve narrated Peter And The Wolf is pretty amazing. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_and_the_Wolf – obviously I don’t know where DB ranks, but he does a decent job of it.

    (The version I had as a child – not the Bowie one – terrified me and I felt very sorry for the duck.)

    And today’s album is Stage.

  91. 92
    Rory on 26 Jan 2016 #

    @91 We bought our kids the Dame Edna recording. It’s wonderful, possums! (This comment brought to you on Australia Day.)

  92. 93
    Tom on 26 Jan 2016 #

    For anyone else who wants to listen/comment along, here’s the projected rest of the schedule (as things start to get a little tricky soon).

    26/1 – Lodger
    27/1 – Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
    28/1 – Baal
    29/1 – Rare (for personal reasons i.e. haven’t heard since I was 14ish – generally compilations are out of scope with one other exception)
    30/1 – Let’s Dance
    31/1 – Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture
    1/2 – Tonight
    2/2 – Labyrinth OST
    3/2 – Never Let Me Down
    4/2 – Tin Machine
    5/2 – Tin Machine II
    6/2 – Oy Vey Baby
    7/2 – Black Tie White Noise
    8/2 – The Buddha Of Suburbia
    9/2 – Live In Santa Monica ’72
    10/2 – 1. Outside
    11/2 – Earthling
    12/2 – hours…
    13/2 – Heathen
    14/2 – Reality
    15/2 – VH1 Storytellers
    16/2 – A Reality Tour
    17/2 – The Next Day
    18/2 – Nothing Has Changed (the exception to the compilations rule)
    19/2 – Blackstar, which will be the first time I’ve heard it.

  93. 94
    Cumbrian on 29 Jan 2016 #

    Lodger: I have always found this record a struggle despite the only real Bowie-head in my life swearing it’s a work of genius. It’s definitely doing interesting things and I imagine it might well reward a lot of repeated and involved listening but I still can’t get over the fact that almost none of it sticks in my head. No hooks, for mine, and that’s probably why it’s the one of his albums that I own that I have played the least – and probably means I am trapped in a self fulfilling circle with respect to my opinion of it.

    Scary Monsters: I’ve a bit more time for this. Hooks for starters – but also Fripp’s guitar textures jump out and grab me in a way that the instrumentation on Lodger never really manages to do. Peversely, given that, the one I really love on this record is Because You’re Young, which features Pete Townshend. The opening in particular is really evocative, edgy, stuff – I could imagine it in the soundtrack of a thriller or something similar.

    I’ve got Let’s Dance but don’t have any of the rest up to The Next Day. The reputation of some of these records is not great either – and when you look at reviews like the TPL one on Tonight, I wonder whether it is worth my while catching up on those records, even though they’re likely to be poor. I guess it will give me a more complete picture of Bowie as an artist and allow me a more informed opinion. At the minute, I am the archetypal “70s and early 80s and nothing else” listener, which isn’t exactly an intellectually curious position. That said, I don’t think I can trust my own opinion on relatively lightly regarded albums off just one or two spins. Might be time to cog back on this thread and read more informed takes than mine.

  94. 95
    Tom on 29 Jan 2016 #

    A lot of the later albums are new to me too, to be honest. I thought it was important to give everything equal weight, even if some of it is awful.

    Lodger is a strange one – I never enjoyed it that much as a kid, I found some of it too near-the-knuckle and other parts too abstruse to really get a grip on. The ones that stood out for me at the time were “African Night Flight” and “DJ”. Listening to it as part of this sequence I appreciated it a lot more, perhaps because I’ve played it so little, perhaps because there’s a lightness and will to experiment which is missing from the next few.

    Scary Monsters is much better than Let’s Dance but has the same problem – very fully realised ‘sounds’/’aesthetics’, of which DB only has half an album of A-Grade material apiece. Side A of Scary Monsters is one of the best runs of songs in his entire career (and yes Fripp is amazing on it), Side B is fine but slides right away from that level of quality. On Let’s Dance the gap is even more noticeable – aside from the 3 big singles, “Without You” is the only track I really like on it – just gorgeously weightless.

    Memories when young: the “Ashes To Ashes” video is my first conscious glimpse of Bowie – made a colossal impression, as it did on masses of people, I followed it to the man’s disciples rather than the man himself though. Only heard Scary Monsters at 14, exactly the same time as I found a bric-a-brac shop in Winchester with a longbox full of semi-recent Alan Moore Swamp Things for cover price (40p!), so the title track is forever linked with John Constantine for me. My friend liked “Up The Hill Backwards” so much he filled 45 minutes of a C90 with it on repeat.

    Let’s Dance was my first actual Bowie album, borrowed from Leatherhead Library about a year before that (so 1986 or so): “Modern Love”, “Cat People” and “Ricochet” impressed me most at the time. I was amused to read Chris O’Leary’s “Ricochet” entry about how it’s Bowie going through the art-pop motions: it certainly is, but it kind of worked on me. (Enough for me to go back and borrow Tonight from the same source.)

    Also listened to – Stage, which is better than David Live but that’s not difficult: not as compelling as the Nassau 76 gig on Station To Station. And Baal, which was my first time hearing it and gosh, what an unusual little record. Don’t feel I know enough about Brecht to make a first-timer comment on it beyond that though.

    Tomorrow – David Rare, delayed because it’s only on my PC at home, having been acquired by underhand means.

  95. 96
    Izzy on 31 Jan 2016 #

    I love Baal, it’s Bowie using all of his ham acting gifts. The delivery of some of the lines – «Baal in silence dines on vulture soup» – is simply joyous.

    The film itself is a real curio. It has the same stagey-as-opposed-to-film production as every no-budget Shakespeare featured in my school’s library, and which I’ve never seen since. Baal at least has a few props and a little dressing to soothe the eye. Sadly the quality of my copy is so poor that I can’t really assess its worth, but it all makes for tough watching.

  96. 97
    Mark M on 31 Jan 2016 #

    Radio 4’s Archive Hour of assorted Bowie interviews cut together to make a ‘Bowie in his own words’. Especially good on Bowie’s ’60s. Also you can hear that early ’70s Bowie using that peculiar precious hippy English voice (hear also Peel at the time) – later on he sounds MORE suburban London/Kent*.

    *He refers to Beckenham as Kent, which of course officially it was during his childhood (Greater London came into being in 1965). Locals hold on to that identity.

  97. 98
    Phil on 31 Jan 2016 #

    I’d never worked out quite where Beckenham (of the Arts Lab) was, and I’m amused to find that it’s Bromley, which is practically Croydon (which is or was Surrey, theoretically). Not a lot of hop-picking there. This also explains the Momus lyric
    What if one day in Bromley, Kent
    I live my nightmare and I’m sent
    To sing for blonde suburban women?

    If I could be him

  98. 100
    Rory on 1 Feb 2016 #

    @94 Re “I wonder whether it is worth my while catching up on those records”: my catching-up over recent weeks has been more scattershot than Tom’s, hopping back and forth across Bowie’s eras, so I’ll have a bit to contribute to the next couple of weeks’ discussion. I still haven’t listened to “Hours” (apart from the tracks on the Nothing Has Changed 3CD set, which is great, but more on that anon), but have listened to the other studio albums from LD onwards (Tom – what about the Labyrinth soundtrack?). I don’t want to bunny the thread (gnome the thread?), so I’ll restrict myself to the following.

    My earliest Bowie albums were a C90 of LD and Tonight taped off a friend, which quickly fell off my playlist, so when I re-listened to Tonight it must have been for the first time in 30 years. And no wonder I gave up on Bowie at that time: I completely agree with Punctum that it was his absolute nadir. But it got better from there, including the much-maligned Never Let Me Down (not saying it’s great, but it’s not as bad as Tonight). Tin Machine had been a stumbling block for me at the time; I even gave away the CD to a friend. Re-listened to it last night: not perfect, but not as bad as I’d remembered. Listened to Tin Machine II for the first time: it feels like a lost Bowie album, and it’s good. After that, things get better and better, including at least one genuine classic in his ’90s work, and a very strong 2002-onwards.

    If you like his cover of The Pixies’ “Cactus” I think you’d get a lot out of his post-1990 work.

  99. 101
    Rory on 3 Feb 2016 #

    Looking at Tom’s schedule at #93, I now see that the Labyrinth OST is right there, and was scheduled for yesterday. Reading comprehension fail by yours truly at #100.

  100. 102
    Tom on 3 Feb 2016 #

    It was scheduled for yesterday and listened to on schedule! It was an amusing detour – Bowie sounds like he’s having fun on “Magic Dance” which isn’t the case on many of the records either side of it. I should have probably chosen a general “80s soundtrack Bowie” playlist and thrown in “When The Wind Blows” and “Absolute Beginners” too, but Labyrinth was entertaining.

    I have also listened to Tonight and Never Let Me Down. I borrowed both these records from Leatherhead library and listened to them A LOT, in the way people listened to records a lot in that palmy golden age when they couldn’t hear them for free. I must have been entertained by them. I think Chris O’Leary’s line on them is broadly right – Tonight is knackered, Never Let Me Down is a mess, but has more signs of life. In fact I think I’d be kinder to NLMD than that – it’s a full blooded stab at an 80s corporate rock record which has enough oddities (and flashes of good songwriting) to make it an interesting, enjoyable listen on this particular journey. The run of songs from “Time Will Crawl” to “Glass Spider” was particularly satisfying. Of course, I have a lot more time for that 80s style percussion-collage production than many do – the title track reminded me of the production on Scritti Politti’s 80s hits, which I love to bits.

    Tomorrow through Saturday – DAVE AGAINST THE MACHINE! I’ve kind of been looking forward to it.

  101. 103
    lonepilgrim on 3 Feb 2016 #

    The BFI have recently announced that they are planing to release most (if not all) of Alan Clarke’s TV work from the end of March, including ‘Baal’

  102. 104
    Tom on 4 Feb 2016 #

    My first listen to Tin Machine has left me with the uncontroversial opinion that they were Not Very Good.

  103. 105
    Rory on 4 Feb 2016 #

    Yes, the first album is exactly the sort of thing I wouldn’t have expected you to like much, given what you did and didn’t like about the number ones of the ’80s. Plastered with a heavy guitar sound that bears little relation to previous Bowie work, but which has a lot in common with the end-of-’80s rock of Jane’s Addiction and Guns’n’ Roses. This wasn’t the first time that Bowie no longer sounded as if he was ahead of the pack – Never Let Me Down, as you said, was an ’80s corporate rock record.

    It has its moments, but I could still see why I ditched the CD at the time. The opening song is okay, if too long, but the title track is hard to get past. When you do, there are some more painful moments ahead: I really don’t like the John Lennon cover (and 1988 was when I discovered and adored Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band album, so I must have hated the cover then), so that’s 2-for-2 for Bowie-covering-Lennon-badness.

    But I quite liked (this time around) “I Can’t Read”, “Under the God”, “Amazing”, “Bus Stop” and “Baby Can Dance”. And “Video Crimes” was fascinating to hear in late January 2016, for reasons that will become apparent when you reach the end of your Bowie marathon; it shares its DNA with one of the ★ songs.

    TMII is patchy, and has a couple more godawful moments on it, but its highs are better, and the guitar is toned down a fair bit.

    Reading Chris O’Leary’s Tin Machine entries tipped me off to this Reeves Gabrels solo track with a Bowie vocal recorded alongside the first Tin Machine album. Much better. Imagine yer “Let’s Dance” fans wrappin’ their ear’oles around that.

  104. 106
    Tom on 4 Feb 2016 #

    Philosophical musings on ver Machine here: http://freakytrigger.co.uk/ft/2016/02/the-machine-stops/

    I liked “Bus Stop”, it was jaunty. “I Can’t Read” seemed like it might be a good song if I stuck at it. And, for my sins, I thought the title track was very funny. That kind of levity was a welcome surprise after 1 song, after a dozen I’d have loved it.

    (I can see the Janes Addiction thing – they are a band that I suspect doesn’t fit my expected taste, but I really like Nothing’s Shocking.)

  105. 107
    Tom on 5 Feb 2016 #

    (The Bowiethon has been suspended for a day because my copy of Tin Machine II is on my PC at home. So I’m listening to Earth Wind & Fire instead.)

  106. 108
    Rory on 8 Feb 2016 #

    I’m going to be away for the last part of the Bowiethon, so I’ll just park this here (for the list of ratings at the beginning; the rest is adapted from comments on this very thread).

  107. 109
    Pink champale on 8 Feb 2016 #

    @106 On paper Jane’s Addiction are the worst band that could possibly exist – bombastic neo prog funk metal with a singer who fancies himself as some sort of sex shamen and has a moral philosophy that sits on the disturbing borderline where universalist hippy self actualisation tips over into fascism.
    But despite being like the result of some Experiment IV style project, they were frequently fantastic.
    I’m sort of surprised Jane Says has never gained an afterlife as an alt 90s ballad classic like Iris or Under the Bridge.
    As for Tim Machine, I think the title song sort of illustrates the problem. 1 minute of nice Pixies parody, several minutes of ugly in a bad way “experimental” blues noise.

  108. 110
    Tom on 15 Feb 2016 #

    Time to catch up on this – I have missed a day here and there but it goes on (I have got all the way to hours…)

    Tin Machine II is a better record than Tin Machine I by quite some way, I think. It does give the lie to some of my hypothesis in the “The Machine Stops” post that he was groping towards a contemporary indie rock sound, in that the lead track off it (“Baby Universal”) sounds very much like contemporary indie rock to me. There’s an irony in Steve Sutherland’s supposed mission to “rescue” Bowie from the Machine by sending him a mixtape full of the likes of Adorable – in that on that song TM had got there all by themselves anyway.

    It was still a relief and a pleasure to move back onto the solo records, though. (I skipped Oy Vey Baby in the end, so my ritual is incomplete.)

  109. 111
    Cumbrian on 22 Feb 2016 #

    Have I kept up with this at all? No. Though I note Tom might well have finished by now. I’m still playing Blackstar on the regular though.

    I did give Tin Machine a go – oddly, commenters writing that it sounds like The Pixies was the spur to have a listen – and some of it, particularly Under The God, sounds like it could actually be The Pixies (Reeves Gabrels guitar sound on that track in particular really could be Joey Santiago). Sadly though, I couldn’t stick it out through an entire record. I only listened to bits of TM1 and, for a bloke who was capable of incredibly constructed records, it sounds awfully slapdash – not what I would want from a Bowie record.

    At some point, I should give the 90s stuff a go. Reading Pushing Ahead Of The Dame, there’s a few interesting pieces about the Buddha, Earthling and …Hours albums that give me pause.

  110. 112
    Phil on 22 Feb 2016 #

    Blackstar sent me back to Nite Flights & from there to ‘Til the Band Comes In, a progression which I can’t entirely explain. My own chronological Bowiethon started with Aladdin Sane, then doubled back to TMWSTW, HD & TRAFOZSATSFM, then stopped (I haven’t got Diamond Dogs, and Pin Ups wasn’t an inspiring prospect). Hunky Dory is an amazing album, though, and Aladdin Sane comes closer than I remembered.

    I read through a stack of early reviews of Blackstar the other day. Only a couple of them comment on all the death imagery, and even they don’t hazard any guesses as to the state of health of Mr Bowie (as the New York Times called him). Listening to it now, the Mortality Klaxon is honking loud and clear in almost every track – especially “I can’t give everything away”, a title which (now at least) seems to express the agonising consciousness that the actual experience of his death was going to be his alone. “I know something’s very wrong…” The FT reviewer thought it was something to do with global warming.

  111. 113
    Kinitawowi on 18 Mar 2016 #

    Bowie has just made his first appearance on a Now! album since the 7th; Heroes (perhaps inevitably) was declared the tribute to appear as last track on disc 2 of the 93rd edition. (Which must surely claim some sort of record for gap between consecutive appearances.)

  112. 114
    Girl with Curious Hair on 23 Mar 2016 #

    @109 Very true about Jane’s Addiction. I really like them despite the fact that, by all rights, they should really be dreadful. There reaches a point where you’re confronted by a 10 minute song, starting off as spoken word, about the singer’s smack-fueled threesomes in which he calls himself the Erotic Jesus, and all you can do is shrug and think fair fucks. Sheer chutzpah can take you a long way.

  113. 115
    flahr on 24 Mar 2016 #

    #113 I actually researched this not too long ago! I believe the previous record holder is a-ha, who didn’t appear after Now! 9 until Now! 63.

  114. 116
    Auntie Beryl on 25 Mar 2016 #

    Michael Jackson, I believe.

    Nothing from Farewell My Summer Love on Now 4 to Love Never Felt So Good on 88, due to Epic/Sony getting involved with Now only recently.

    Somebody should write a book about such ephemera.

  115. 118
    Nelly on 9 Mar 2017 #

    Ooo. I LOVE apricots. Love ‘em. I think my friend and I are going to do a jam night and make this next week. Hopefully, we can still find apricots at the maknet.Thakrs for sharing! Love your snazzy blog and beautiful pictures.

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