Tuesday, September 30, 2008

An Old Fogey’s Guide to David Bowie

I’m embarrassed to say that when David Bowie first became known in the states, I hated him. And for all the wrong reasons. It was right around when he was dabbling in his androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust. And since I was a typical teenage boy, anything remotely hinting at homosexuality was to be avoided at all costs. It also didn’t help that as a major representative of what was known as the glam rock movement, he placed a lot of emphasis on spectacle and costume. This gave me an excuse to reject his music for requiring that spectacle. Our music was better, I thought, because it didn’t need all that. It was played by very ugly drug addicts who didn’t bother to dress up or “put on a show”. It had more “integrity”.

Now that we’re all a little more secure in our manhood, and Bowie has moved beyond those devices that caused me such discomfort, the question is, was he any good? Obviously yes. Just listen to the radio. If you’re interested in exploring his oeuvre (I can die now. I used “oeuvre” in a sentence. Twice!) it would be easy to recommend any of the greatest hits packages. The only problem is that you’ve probably heard all of those songs. If you want to dig a little deeper than that, and wonder where to start, I can recommend these:

Hunky Dory 
Hunky Dory (1971):
This came out prior to his stateside fame, and after his years as a teen idol in Britain. What a likable record! This is David the singer-songwriter-with-heart before David the artist-with-alter-ego took over. It has “Changes”, but it’s also got the great “Life on Mars?”, “Oh, You Pretty Things” and my favorite, “Kooks”, written for his newborn son. Try this one for good pop music and good songs.
Now playing: David Bowie - Life on Mars
via FoxyTunes

Ziggy Stardust
The songwriting is even better, but he’s now taking on his first alter ego. The sexual ambiguity is pretty ho-hum by today’s standards. It has “Suffragette City” and the title tune, but “Five Years” is my favorite. Try this for more rock oriented songs.
Now playing: David Bowie - Five Years
via FoxyTunes

Station To Station (US Version)
One of the great commercial records of the decade, it’s got “Golden Years” and “Stay”. But you may not have heard the wonderful “TVC15”, “Word on a Wing” or the Johnny Mathis cover. This one is probably the most accessible of them all.
Now playing: David Bowie - TVC15
via FoxyTunes

Low (1977):
Many Bowie fans think this is his best record. It’s hard to argue. I don’t know what I like more, the loud trashy rock on side one, or the ambient music collaborations with Brian Eno on side two Get this one if you’re feeling adventurous.

Now playing: David Bowie - Always Crashing in the Same Car
via FoxyTunes

He’s got a lot more records out. The other three I have – “Heroes” (a more extreme version of “Low”), “Scary Monsters” (Grating, but with some great moments.) and “Stage” (a very good mid seventies live album) all have something to recommend them.

But the first four records above are my faves. So, if you’re in a mood to explore an artist who was more deserving of our attention and respect at the time, put on your makeup and jump right in.

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