By Christopher Piercy
Amidst the avalanche of peer tributes and critic’s eulogies, my thoughts on David Bowie are certainly not very important; but attempting to write about any other music for my first post of 2016 seemed all the more pointless. It’s hard to listen to anything other than Bowie right now, and it has reminded me of the many, many other times in my life when I didn’t really want to listen to anything but Bowie. I’m not sure there has been another artist who has been such an unwavering presence in my listening habits. I have gone through a vast array of musical obsessions, but Bowie has been there through it all, haunting the corners of my brain. Countless people have already mentioned how he helped to make them feel comfortable in their own weird skin, and it was the same for me. He helped a dorky, awkward kid in rural Oklahoma realize that it was okay to pursue his interests and to be the person he wanted to be. He was my introduction to David Lynch, The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, William S. Burroughs, “A Clockwork Orange”, Krautrock, Scott Walker, surrealism, Andy Warhol, Brian Eno, punk rock, Jean Genet, and countless other worlds that I continue to unlock to this day. He opened my mind and increased the size of my heart. Between 1970 and 1980 he released ELEVEN albums that could easily sit alongside the best records ever recorded by any artist (not including “Pin Ups”, which is a pretty damn solid covers record in its own right). Think about that for a minute. Has anyone else had a winning streak that impeccable? The Beatles didn’t even stick around for a decade. And even Bob Dylan, Prince, Miles Davis, and The Rolling Stones allowed themselves a couple bunts during their peak years. Any other artist that I can think of with that level of consistency certainly was not as prolific.
I’m writing this in a room that houses hundreds of my CDs and records, and it’s incredible that so many of them exist at least partially because of the influence that Bowie exerted. He even managed to resurrect or breathe fresh life into the careers of HIS influences (Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, John Lennon). Up until his death he remained engaged and interested in new artistic movements, setting an example for us all that we should never close our minds to the new or get hopelessly lost in nostalgia.
Bowie is the rare artist whose big hits don’t seem to become too obnoxious through overplay (a testament to the sturdiness of his songwriting, to be sure). However, his catalogue is dizzying in its scope, depth, and expansiveness, so I thought it would be fun to put together a playlist of some of my favorite Bowie gems that aren’t continuously played on classic rock radio. Not to be an obscurantist, but to show just how incredibly deep his work was. I tried to pick songs from, essentially, all the many eras of Bowie, but not every single album is represented (even I have trouble finding much redeemable about, say, “Tonight” or the Tin Machine records). I included songs such as “The Secret Life of Arabia” and “Always Crashing in the Same Car”, which are among his very best, but were never released as singles. “Up the Hill Backwards” WAS a single, but it floundered on the charts; but I contend that, after “Ashes to Ashes”, it’s the second best song Bowie wrote in that decade. “Never Let Me Down” is one of Bowie’s most-maligned albums, and despite some cheesy and dated production, there is something about the title track that I find irresistible. “It’s Gonna Be Me (With Strings)” was left off the original version of “Young Americans” for reasons that I can’t comprehend. It’s one of the most gorgeous songs of the 1970’s. It feels like pretty much the entirety of “Hunky Dory”, “Ziggy Stardust”, and “Aladdin Sane” have become cannon, but the songs I chose off of those albums aren’t quite ubiquitous. The albums he released in the 1990’s were maddeningly inconsistent, but they aren’t nearly as bad as I remember them being. “Heathen” and “Reality” were perfectly sturdy and non-embarrassing (if not incredibly memorable) albums by an aging rock genius, but “The Next Day” was rather excellent and “Blackstar” is, astoundingly, one of the most brilliant records of Bowie’s career. What a parting gift from a man who owed us nothing.
He passed away on my birthday, which means that for the rest of my life, David Bowie is going to be at the front of my mind as I age. I wish he were still here, but at least I know he is always going to be a part of my life.
- The Secret Life of Arabia (From “Heroes”, 1977)
- Love is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix by James Murphy) (Single; original version from “The Next Day”, 2013)
- Up the Hill Backwards (From “Scary Monsters”, 1980)
- Wild is the Wind (From “Station to Station”, 1976)
- Never Let Me Down (From “Never Let Me Down”, 1987)
- It’s Gonna Be Me (With Strings) (Outtake from “Young Americans”, 1975)
- Always Crashing in the Same Car (From “Low”, 1977)
- Lady Grinning Soul (From “Aladdin Sane”, 1973)
- Rock ‘N’ Roll With me (From “Diamond Dogs”, 1974)
- Queen Bitch (From “Hunky Dory”, 1971)
- Red Sails (From “Lodger”, 1979)
- I’m Afraid of Americans (V1) (Single; original version from “Earthling”, 1997)
- Crystal Japan (Single released in Japan, 1980)
- Outside (From “Outside”, 1995)
- Criminal World (From “Let’s Dance”, 1983)
- The Loneliest Guy (From “Reality”, 2003)
- Win (From “Young Americans”, 1975)
- All the Madmen (From “The Man Who Sold the World”, 1970)
- Let Me Sleep Beside You (From “David Bowie”, 1967)
- Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide (From “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars”, 1972)
- Strangers When We Meet (From “The Buddha of Suburbia”, 1993)
- The Wedding (From “Black Tie White Noise”, 1993)
- Station to Station (From “Station to Station”, 1976)
- Lazarus (From “Blackstar”, 2016)
- Subterraneans (From “Low”, 1977)
Spotify Playlist: Timely Tunes, Vol. 9
*Note from Dee: If you are considering purchasing a Bowie album, I’d be ever so grateful if you’d use my affiliate link. Thank you for supporting Life With Dee!