Posts Tagged ‘david bowie’

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Iggy Stardust

January 19, 2017

It’s well-documented that David Bowie was something of a non-stop workaholic. That long golden run he went on, from Hunky Dory in 1971 to Lodger in ’79 – 10 amazing albums in 9 short years, all killer and no filler (’74’s Diamond Dogs might faintly be described as the runt of the litter, though it yielded Rebel Rebel as well as the album’s title track, so scratch that, naysayers) remains unparallelled, unlikely to ever be equalled, let alone beaten.

What’s all the more remarkable is that while he was on this winning streak, David was sustaining himself on little more than milk, red peppers and the finest Class As that came his way. Not only that, but when he wasn’t changing musical direction and band members and haircut and trousers every nine months, or sticking out the odd non-album track to keep the fans happy between releases (between releases! d’ye hear that, Radiohead?!?), he was still finding the time to help out other artists.

bowie-iggy-lou

An on-the-brink-of-break-up Mott The Hoople famously kickstarted their attack on the charts with their version of Bowie’s All the Young Dudes. Last time I checked, Mott were still playing the odd Hall Of Fame gig here and there, thanks in no small way to yer man Dave.

A not-quite-post-Velvet Underground but fed up Lou Reed went spinning into orbit on the back of Satellite Of Love and its parent album, Transformer. Satellite… had been written, much like Bowie’s Space Oddity, on the back of the public’s fascination with space. Reed had high hopes for the song, reckoning it was perfect hit single material. Satellite… was considered, then disregarded for inclusion on the Velvets’ Loaded album, so when Bowie entered his orbit showing an interest in his music, Lou was keen for his song to be taken seriously second time around. Both the single and album were produced and enhanced by Bowie, his uncredited vocals on Satellite… worth the price of admission alone.

Iggy Pop, careering out of control on a spiral of illicit substances and ever-decreasing sales (Stooges were hardly big-hitters to begin with) found himself on the receiving end of a post-Ziggy kiss of life when Bowie, fresh from minting his second stone-cold classic in as many years, helped produce, or rather re-produce, Raw Power, Stooges’ third album.

iggy-raw-power-3

Iggy himself had taken the producer’s chair, creating a chaotic mess of almost unsalvageable pre-punk rock. Of the 24 individual tracks available to him at the mixing desk, he chose to put the entire album onto just three  – the band on one, the vocals on another and James Williamson’s lead guitar on the third. When Columbia heard it, they refused to release it until it was cleaned up somewhat and made more presentable.

Cue Bowie. The man with the golden touch. Using all manner of up-to-the-minute recording technology, he twisted and turned Iggy’s 3 track raw Raw Power into something slightly more commercial and releasable. Perhaps not the radio-friendly unit-shifter that Columbia had in mind. Not that many folk bought it anyway, but those that did – cliche klaxon alert!!! – ended up forming bands of their own. But you knew that already. Listen to the album and you’ll hear the embryonic howls of The Jesus And Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, Nirvana and a million other six string stranglers. The teenage Johnny Marr was fixated by the feral guitar playing on it. His bequiffed foil was in love with Search & Destroy‘s glorious abandon and poetic lyrics; streetwalkin’ cheetahs, handfuls of napalm ‘n all.

I’m the world’s forgotten boy,” drawls the Ig at one point, poetry indeed to the ears of the bedroom bard of Salford’s Kings Road. No Stooges, no Smiths. No Iggy Pop, no indie pop. Imagine that.

Iggy & The StoogesSearch & Destroy

iggy-raw-power-1

In the mid-90s, ahead of a Stooges reissue campaign, Iggy himself was given the opportunity to remix Bowie’s remix – are you still following? – and used his time to unravel all of Bowie’s work, replacing every guttural grunt and primordial proclamation that had been wiped from the first release. He turned the faders up, up and away into the red until the guitars became ear-splitting, spitting shards of broken glass from both speakers.

Iggy & The StoogesShake Appeal

For much of the record, it’s a painful sonic assault on the ears, even during the two ‘ballads’, one on each side, where the guitars somehow still manage to creep into dog-bothering levels of pain.

Shake Appeal, above, surfs above the racket like the noisiest garage band in the world having their first go at a Motown track, all Jagger-pouting handclaps and barking yelps, Iggy’s skinny backside (what waist size was he? 24″? A chunky 26?)  bending and jerking like  a pipe cleaner in time to the fuzz bass, the Four Tops if they were fighters, not lovers. It’s a sloppy, angry, petulant, white riot of a record. Quite fantastic, of course. Beautiful music wrapped in a beautiful sleeve. What’s not to like?

iggy-raw-power-sleeve

*Bonus Track!

Iggy Pop Wild America (Long Video Version)

Here‘s Iggy’s on take on it all.

Most likely to succeed. 9th Grade.

10th Grade, formed Iguanas! High school rawk bayund!

An audio autobiography, if y’like.

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Highs & Lows

January 18, 2016

One week into a Bowieless world. Sadly, it takes the shock of an artist suddenly passing before their true worth is wholly appreciated. Words, paragraphs, articles, whole publications have been written in the past 7 days, waxing lyrical about every facet of his ridiculously rich back catalogue. Everyone’s tripping over themselves to declare the lost genius of Reality or ‘Hours…’ or even, unbelievably, 1. Outside. All have their moments, but calm down a wee bit at the back there, eh?

bowie man who fell 1

I’m not alone in this re-evaluation and appraisal. Last week’s commute to work was soundtracked exclusively by Bowie. Hunky Dory. Ziggy. Aladdin Sane. Station To Station. The big hitters. I was even asked to be a guest on a local radio station, introduced as ‘a knowledgeable local music blogger’ and encouraged to give my tuppence worth on what David Bowie meant to me – great songs, of course. Great, great albums, varied and deep with a superb hit-to-miss ratio. Even the less acclaimed material, like Loving The Alien (from Tonight) and Everyone Says ‘Hi’ (Heathen) would make it into the lower reaches of my Top 50 Bowie tracks (for years I’ve had a 40 Bits o’ Bowie playlist on my iPod, but if I were to expand it, those two tracks would be in there.)

He was also king of the catchprase-as-hookline, from Absolute Beginners‘ ‘Bomp Bomp Bah-Ooh‘, ‘Fa-fa-fa-fa-Fashion‘s beep beep‘ and Suffragette City‘s ‘Aaah, Wham Bam Thank You Ma,am!‘ right up to to Ziggy‘s  ‘Woah Yeah!‘ in the outro. He had a real good way with them. You could probably think of half a dozen more in the next 20 seconds. But anyway, I digress. Where was I? Oh aye…

bowie low +

Reappraisal. Along with the albums listed above, I developed a new-found love of Low. Until now I always found it a bit hit ‘n miss. The highs – Sound And Vision, Be My Wife, offset by the (cough) lows of Weeping Wall and Subterraneans. They’re not really lows as such, but they’re more difficult to get into. Instrumental, for a start. Less immediate. More arty. Glacial and cold. Sometimes with Bowie you’ve just got to work at it before the true beauty emerges. That second side, all elegiac and funereal started to make much more sense last week. But it was a track on side 1 that became my ‘must play everyday’ last week.

David BowieBreaking Glass

Breaking Glass, the 2nd track in, was that song. Like much of the album, it‘s a cold and stark affair, with a cheesegrater-thin heavily processed guitar giving way to Bowie’s robotic funk; cracking steam powered drums, synth sweeps and rubber band bass offset by marching Teutonic vocals, half spoken, half sung, double-tracked for maximum effect. It’s soul music, Jim, but not as we know it. In a too-quick fadeout, it’s over and done with in under two minutes, managing to capture the spirit of 70s Berlin AND invent Franz Ferdinand at the same time. Which, for me, is the real reach of the artist. Loved universally by musicians from every possible genre, they all get something from him.

Bowie on Soul Train. Bowie with Lennon. Bowie with Bing Crosby. Cross dressing and crossing borders. And the outpouring of tributes since last Monday? That brilliant video of the DJ mixing and scratching Let’s Dance into a black hole…..Madonna and Springsteen both doing Rebel Rebel in concert…..David McAlmont vamping it up with a super soaraway Starman…..Elton doing Space Oddity…..Glasgow’s Broadcast venue packed on Saturday night for a heartfelt tribute from all manner of scuzzy no-mark indie bands. Bowie touched them all. Can you name any others for whom there is a universal love and respect? I can’t.

bowie gif

*Bonus Track!

Here‘s the aforementioned Franz Ferdinand tackling another of Low‘s highs, with a little backing vocal assistance from Girls Aloud. Really.

Franz FerdinandSound & Vision

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A Crack In The Sky And A Hand Reaching Down To Me

January 11, 2016

Cancer. Is there anyone, anywhere, who so far remains unaffected by its evil shadow? My wife’s family has been blighted by it. My father’s life changed for the worse 2 years ago because of it. And just last week, a friend I hadn’t seen since leaving school in 1987 got in touch. His father was ill through cancer, he was home from Australia and wanted to meet up to catch up. The filthy, under-the-radar stink of it is everywhere.

  
And now David Bowie. He was supposed to live forever, was he not? An ever-changing, omni-present lightning rod to the future, forever young and forever valid. Those wee ‘Six of the Best’ features I occasionally run? It’s no surprise when you find out that Bowie turns up in them more than any other artist. Maybe that says more about the contributors, I don’t know, but Bowie holds the record for most appearances. How great must it have been to have grown up in the 70s with a new Bowie LP and haircut to look forward to every year? He meant so much to so many. There’ll never be another like him. A true original, a true great. Hot tramp, I love you so.

  
 

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Rods & Mockers

September 13, 2015

I Wish You Would by The Yardbirds is a nagging, insistent blast of garage blues from 1964.

The YardbirdsI Wish You Would

yardbirds 64

It was their debut single, lifted hook, line and sinker from Billy Boy Arnold‘s 1955 track of the same name and re-sold as the hot new thing. It’s the sort of track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Nuggets or Pebbles compilation.

When David Bowie heard it and/or saw The Yardbirds at the Ricky Tick or Marquee or whatever venue was most hip and most happening that week, something stuck with him. In 1973, pre-dating Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets theme by a good few years, he put together Pin Ups, a fine fine album of parochial r’n’ b stompers from his formative years; The Kinks, The Who, The Pretty Things…. all corners of the Brit beat group movement were covered, including The Yardbird’s Chelsea-booted stomper.

David BowieI Wish You Would

bowie 73

In typical Bowie fashion, his version sounds less like the original and more like a wired, paranoid blues from outer space.

Just a few short months on from the Ziggy album and tour, The Spiders From Mars band are all over it like a glam-slamming racket, Mick Ronson’s Gold Top set to boogie before wigging out in a brief Eastern ragga towards the end. I used to think it was the definitive version until I heard this…

glittery rod

Rod StewartI Wish You Would

He’s an easy target, is Rod. He’s certainly had his knockers (arf) but believe me, this is terrific from start to finish! Mock Rod at your peril.

Rod’s version is a full-on mic swinging, hip swiveling, spandex clad romp. It‘s proof that, despite the nickname he was always more rocker than mod. It recalls a prime-time loose ‘n lairy Faces. Listen to him bark out the commands in that voice that’s equal parts sandpaper and sawdust; “First verse!” “Second verse!” “Bridge!” “Sow-low!” You can picture him, strutting across some Mid-Western balloon-filled stage or other, chest puffed, leaning back into the mic the way he does.

Rod’s voice is superb, all mock cockney and nary a hint of the Scots blood that he’s so proud of. He carries the track from start to finish, his band doing the best bar-room blues that can be coaxed out of them. “And away we go! Whatever happens happens! Let’s just do it!” he instructs, his band hanging on in there right until the end, dive-bombing bass runs, runaway harmonica solo, 3-note riff and all. It’s crackin’!

What’s all the more amazing is that Rod’s take on I Wish You Would is from a long-forgotten studio session sometime in the mid 80s, when he really had no right at all to be recording stuff as thrillingly essential as this. See when he was jumping about in his videos wearing a pink tracksuit and a yellow sun visor on his head? He coulda been filing the charts with dumb rock ‘n roll like this instead. What a wasted opportunity.

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Under The Influence

January 4, 2015

It’s 1987 in San Francisco. Or maybe L.A. Bono, atop a building, perhaps a hotel, it doesn’t really matter, his arms outstretched in messianic fashion, has just informed the crowd of unwitting gatherers below that “Rock ‘n roll stops the traffic!” If I was on my morning commute, I’d be mightily pissed off at this uncalled-for inconvenience. The traffic is indeed stopped. Lights change from red to green and back again, but the procession of buses, cabs and sedans is gridlocked. A huge crowd swells, folk in suits and ties, briefcase-carrying urban professionals, crane their necks and squint in the morning sunshine at the spectacle above them. “OK Hedge, play the blues!”

u2 roof

The Hedge, so-named because of that thick thatch of collar-baiting pony-tailed hair, thinning rapidly on top but hidden underneath a carefully perched cowboy hat rattles off one of his trademark ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka guitar riffs, and the most unbluesy guitar solo ever echoes out across California. “All you need is three chords and the truth!” spouts Bono, who by this time is halfway up a water tower and totally unaware of the long arm of the mirror-shaded law lurking behind Larry Mullen Jnr’s drum kit. It’s U2’s Saville Row moment, just one more example of them (literally) elevating themselves into rock’s lofty position as premier league players. The nitwits that they had just become.

I don’t know about the truth, but all you need is indeed just three chords. You don’t need me to tell you that. The foundations of rock ‘n roll were formed on such base ideals. Silly old Bono dressed the fact up in grandiose, wankery fashion. Punk bible, Sniffin’ Glue said it best;

sniffin glue chordsMany a band was formed with the guitarist having an arsenal of two chords, with that tricky third still in production.

eddie cochraneKing of the Swingers

Eddie Cochran was there at rock ‘n roll’s birth. If Ike Turner was pushing and grunting for all he was worth, Eddie was there at the end of the bed, holding the towels and hot water. Or more likely, he was fighting off Little Richard for mirror space as he greased his hair into that spectacular D.A. of his.

Eddie only knew three chords. “There are three steps to heaven,” he sang.

Step 1, you play a C. Step 2, you play that tricky F. Step 3, you play a G. And that sure sounds like heaven to me.

Eddie CochranThree Steps To Heaven

Actually, Eddie knew far more than just three chords. A quick listen to a couple of his records will tell you that. But he was an economical guitar player, never frilly, never flashy. He played what his songs demanded. A minor chord here perhaps, a 7th there, all rhythmically skirling toe-tappers. And his songs sound more honest, more soulful than the entire output of Bono and his rooftop singers.

bowie beeb

When David Bowie ditched the theatrics, the miming and the long, long hair on the road to Ziggy‘s straight-ahead guitar boogie, the spirit of Eddie Cochran loomed large.

David BowieQueen Bitch

Queen Bitch from Hunky Dory is Three Steps To Heaven in a funky jump suit with added sneer and a good dollop of Les Paul courtesy of Mick Ronson. Listen carefully. The moaning and groaning you hear in the background is the sound of Ziggy being conceived.

Broncho“We’ve played some right toilets in our time…”

New (wave) kids on the block Broncho know a thing or two about the simplicity of the three chord song. Their own What sounds like a glammed-up mix of Queen Bitch and Lou Reed’s Vicious, as sung by Marc Bolan. And there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that;

BronchoWhat

Taken from their Just Enough Hip To Be A Woman LP, it’s an album that escaped my attention earlier last year, but one that could do with further investigation.

Rock ‘n roll – it’s dead easy, isn’t it?

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Songs For Swingin’ Lovers

September 9, 2014

 bowie lodger kodachrome 79

That there’s David Bowie, doing the wonky pogo and captured on Kodachrome for what would become the cover of 1979’s Lodger LP. A hit-or-miss LP by Bowie’s standards, it’s notable for being produced and augmented by Eno and for featuring a couple of tracks that used the exact same chord structure, sequence and setting as one another.

The opener, Fantastic Voyage was a mid-paced meandering crooner, exactly the sort of Bowie track that leaves you cold on first listen but after, oooh, 20 years or so reveals itself to be a stone cold Bowie belter. What took me so long?!?

David BowieFantastic Voyage;

Encouraged by Eno’s Oblique Strategy cards to ‘Use Unqualified Musicians‘, Bowie made the assembled band swap to unfamiliar territory (although rumour has it that the bass was overdubbed because bass-playing drummer Dennis Davis was rubbish) , cranked things up to twice the original speed and created a metallic squall of post-punk brilliance. Forever on the edge of unravelling at the seams, Boys Keep Swinging is carried along with a nod and a wink and a raised and plucked eyebrow or two to the more flamboyant side of life.

David Bowie Boys Keep Swinging;

When you’re a boy, other boys check you out,” intones Bowie, all put-on machismo and high camp. That he dressed himself up as a trio of drag-queened tarts in the video only served to hammer the point home – Bowie liked boys who liked boys to be girls who liked girls to be boys….

bowie boys keep swinging

Boys Keep Swinging is right up there amongst my very favourite Bowie tracks. Worth a listen if only for Adrain Belew’s Pere Ubu do the Isley Brothers guitar meltdown at the end, it sits head and shoulders above anything else the mainstream was releasing at the time.

A couple of chancers who liked Bowie’s new single were The Associates. Short of record deal but long on ambition and ideas, they somewhat illegally recorded their own version of Boys Keep Swinging a mere 6 weeks after Bowie’s had been released, and put it out on the tiny Double Hip record label.

associates boys keep swinging 7

Not surprisingly, the record’s existence brought them to the attention of eagle-eared music industry insiders but amazingly, on the back of it, The Associates landed themselves a record deal with Fiction Records. Would that ever happen nowadays? I doubt it.

The AssociatesBoys Keep Swinging;

Billy MacKenzie of the band would a few years later be the titular subject of The Smiths’ William, It Was Really Nothing. Friends with Morrissey, the pair of them spent many an afternoon in the early 80s skirting around one another’s affections. But you knew that already.

*Bonus Track(s)!

Side project of The Cardigan’s Nina Persson, A Camp‘s version is fairly faithful to the original.

A CampBoys Keep Swinging;

Nothing ground shattering, but what a shallow excuse to stick a picture of a beautiful Swedish lassie on these pages.

nina persson a camp

Perhaps more interesting is the story of Blur and ‘their‘ track M.O.R.

Written a la Bowie and Eno with the exact same chord progression as Fantastic Voyage/Boys Keep Swinging, it originally escaped the notice of anyone who deals in these matters. Subsequent releases however credit the track to Blur/Bowie/Eno. Have a listen.

BlurM.O.R.;

You can sing Boys Keep Swinging over the top of it, aye? And Coxon freely embraced the guitar freak out at the end with great gusto. Good, innit?

And any excuse to post Blur’s own tribute to 1979. Blurred Lines, anyone…?

blur blondie

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Boss Tunes

October 20, 2013

I haven’t ever quite got Bruce Springsteen. I can appreciate the appeal, and I can rattle off a list of his tunes I quite like, but that’s just it – tunes I quite like. There’s nothing there I love. Not even Tenth Avenue Freeze Out. Or Hungry Heart. Or Cadillac Ranch. Or Born To Run. I like ’em. But I don’t love ’em. I don’t feel the need to re-spin them as soon as they’ve faded out in the same way I do with many other musical sacred cows. What’s the difference between Born To Run and most of Meat Loaf’s outpourings over the last 30 years? Very little, if y’ask me. And Meat Loaf is a pantomime figure to be laughed at and poked with a big shitty stick. So why not Bruce?

bruce1984

Bruce’s schtick is all just a wee bit forced, I think. Everything’s done through gritted teeth and clenched fist, his furrowed brow and earnest intentions dressed up in last year’s Levis for maximum ‘man of the people’ effect.  Four hour live shows? Come on! Even if Paul McCartney turned up in my back garden and ask me to accompany him on fat-fingered guitar to play a four hour greatest hits show, that would still be about two hours too long. Possibly. And all that huffing and puffing and biker-booted blue collar bluster – pffft! – even his ballads sound as if they’re wrapped in layers of testosterone, desperate to escape their confines, but bundled up as tightly as his upper arms underneath the sweat-stained cut-off denim shirt. Look at him! He can’t even play that famous Tele of his properly due to the constrictions. That, in part, explains the gritted teeth I suppose.

Here’s the crux though – Bruce writes a good song. I know he does. But his versions just don’t hit the spot the way the cover versions do.

Because The NightBruce version

Written during the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album sessions, he dashed off Because The Night, discarded it almost immediately and gave it to Patti Smith, who was in the studio next door recording what would become the Easter LP. She got herself a writing credit as she changed some of the words and added her own. But you knew that already. Her version is better. In fact, hers is the definitive of the 18 covers (and counting) to date. PJ Harvey certainly thinks so……..she based much of her mid-career on it. But you knew that already too.

patti smith 7

Because The NightPatti version

Along with Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street, Patti’s Because The Night reminds me of French toast. I have a vivid memory of listening to the ‘Hit Parade’ countdown one sunny Summer night on a wee portable radio in the back garden and hearing both records while my dad made French toast in the kitchen, the sizzle and smell making its way back to me sitting with my back against the roughcast on the garage wall. Patti’s record eventually got to number 5, though I’m too scared to Google the rest of this fact as it’s very likely both records didn’t ever appear in the same chart. Don’t check. Or if you do, don’t tell me if I’m wrong. It’ll ruin what has been a 35+ years memory.

bruce-springsteen- face2 Huff….pufff…wheeze….

Inspired by a lyric in Elvis’ Let’s Play House (“You may have a pink Cadillac but don’t you be nobody’s fool”), Bruce wrote Pink Cadillac as a car-as-sexual-metaphor bluesy gruntalong. Written at the turn of the 80s but kept it in his vaults until 1984, Bruce stuck it on the b-side of Dancing In The Dark.

Pink CadillacBruce version

The year previously, Bette Midler had asked to record it, presumably to add her own high camp gloss to an already suggestive lyric.

I love you for your Pink Cadillac….crushed velvet seats….riding in the back…oozing down the street.”

Pink Cadillac is not a girls’ song‘, vetoed Bruce.

And that was that, until Natalie Cole somehow got the go ahead to record her version and take it all the way to number 5 (just like Patti) in March 1988. Bruce calling it Pink Cadillac was a bit more glamorous and rock ‘n roll sounding than, say, Pink Camel Toe, that’s for sure. But we all know what he was getting at, eh? Nudge, nudge, wink wink and all that. It’s quite spectacular that someone so straight-laced as Natalie ‘daughter of Nat King’ Cole should be allowed to record it. Maybe she thought she was singing about a car.

Pink CadillacNatalie version.

Barring the none-more-80s glossy feel (or, to be more accurate, because of the none-more-80s glossy feel) it could almost be Aretha Franklin as recorded by Prince, couldn’t it?

pink cadillac 7

*Bonus Track!

Ever one for spotting a trend and putting an arty spin on it, here’s David Bowie doing It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City. Recorded in 1974 in the middle of his white-powdered Young Americans phase, it’s a tune that divides Bowie fans. For what it’s worth, I think it’s a brilliant version. I bet those check-shirted good ol’ boys over the Atlantic hate it though.

Nothing at all like the Brooce original. Poor man’s Dylan, no?

By now, of course, there’ll be people I know, friends even, who are rattling off tut-tut-tut emails to me, pointing out the errors of my ways. Waaaaaghh! Here….have a Bruce face in reply….

bruce face

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