David Bowie – Space Oddity

David Bowie wrote this after seeing the 1968 Stanley Kubrick movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Space Oddity is a play on the phrase “Space Odyssey.”

Space Oddity was released in 1969. It peaked at #5 in the UK but only #124 in the Billboard Charts. The song was released as a single but also on the UK David Bowie album.

In 1972, the album was re-titled Space Oddity and re-issued in the US after Bowie achieved modest success in America with the singles “Changes” (#66) and “The Jean Genie” (#71). The newly released “Space Oddity” single made #15, becoming Bowie’s first US Top 40.

In 1980, Bowie released a follow-up to this called “Ashes To Ashes,” where Major Tom once again makes contact with Earth. He says he is happy in space, but Ground Control comes to the conclusion that he is a junkie.

As it says in the Bowie quote below…British TV picked up on the song during the moon landing. There was a fear that if the missions in space didn’t go well, this song would suddenly become inappropriate.

David Bowie: “In England, it was always presumed that it was written about the space landing, because it kind of came to prominence around the same time. But it actually wasn’t. It was written because of going to see the film 2001, which I found amazing. I was out of my gourd anyway, I was very stoned when I went to see it, several times, and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing. It was picked up by the British television, and used as the background music for the landing itself. I’m sure they really weren’t listening to the lyric at all (laughs). It wasn’t a pleasant thing to juxtapose against a moon landing. Of course, I was overjoyed that they did. Obviously, some BBC official said, ‘Oh, right then, that space song, Major Tom, blah blah blah, that’ll be great.’ ‘Um, but he gets stranded in space, sir.’ Nobody had the heart to tell the producer that.”

From Songfacts

This was originally released in 1969 on Bowie’s self-titled album and timed to coincide with the moon landing. Released as a single, the song made #5 in the UK, becoming his first chart hit in that territory. In America, the single found a very small audience and bubbled under at #124 in August 1969.

In 1975, back in the UK, the song was once again released, this time on a single which also contained the songs “Changes” and “Velvet Goldmine.” Promoted as “3 Tracks for the Price of 2,” the single leapt to the top of the charts, earning Bowie his first #1 in the UK.

In 1983, the German electro musician Peter Schilling released a sequel to “Space Oddity” called “Major Tom (I’m Coming Home).” Set to a techno beat, it tells the story of Major Tom in space. That song reached #14 in the US, outcharting Bowie’s original.

In 2003, K.I.A. released another sequel called “Mrs. Major Tom,” which is told from the point of view of Major Tom’s wife.

In the line, “And the papers want to know whose shirt you wear,” ‘whose shirt you wear’ is English slang for ‘what football team are you a fan of?’. The thinking here being that if you can make it into space then your opinions on football matter. (Note to Americans- in this case, by “football” we mean “soccer.”)

An early version of this song is performed by David Bowie in Love You Till Tuesday, a promotional film made in 1969 which was designed to showcase the talents of Bowie. You can watch it here.

Three different videos were made of this song by three different directors. The first, directed by Malcolm J. Thomson, shows Bowie as an astronaut and appears in his 1969 promotional film Love You Till Tuesday.

The next one came in 1972 when Mick Rock directed Bowie singing the song with an acoustic guitar surrounded by mission control imagery. Rock, who was primarily a still photographer, was doing a lot of Bowie’s videos around this time; he also shot “Life On Mars?” and “The Jean Genie.”

The third version Bowie filmed with David Mallet in 1979 for air on the New Year’s Eve show The Will Kenny Everett Ever Make It To 1980?, which Mallet directed. Bowie recorded a new version of the song for this version with Hans Zimmer on piano.

Nita Benn’s handclaps can be heard on this recording. She is the daughter-in-law of the British socialist politician Tony Benn and the mother of Emily Benn, who at the age of 17 became the youngest ever person chosen to fight an election when she was selected in 2007 as the Labour candidate for East Worthing and Shoreham.

This was originally written by Bowie as a guitar song. It was the producer Gus Dudgeon who turned it into an epic.

Session musician Herbie Flowers (“Walk On The Wild Side,” “Diamond Dogs”) played bass on this track. He recalled his experience working on this to Uncut magazine June 2008: “The first time I played with Bowie was on the session for ‘Space Oddity.’ Dear Gus (Dudgeon) was quaking in his boots. It might have been the first thing he ever produced. ‘Space Oddity’ was this strange hybrid song. (Keyboardist) Rick Wakeman went out to buy a little Stylophone for seven shillings from a small shop on the corner where Trident Studios was. With that and all the string arrangements, it’s like a semi-orchestral piece.”

Jimmy Page told Uncut magazine June 2008: “I played on his records, did you know that? His very early records when he was Davy Jones & The Lower Third. The Shel Talmy records. I can think of two individual sessions that I did with him. He said in some interview that on one of those sessions I showed him these chords, which he used in ‘Space Oddity’ – but he said, ‘Don’t tell Jim, he might sue me.’ Ha ha!”

In 2009, a sound-a-like version was used in commercials for Lincoln automobiles. This version was by the American singer-songwriter Cat Power, the stage name of Charlyn “Chan” Marshall.

The session players on the song were Rick Wakeman (mellotron), Mick Wayne (guitar), Herbie Flowers (bass) and Terry Cox (drums), plus string musicians. They were paid just over £9 each.

Bowie’s birth name was David Jones. He changed his name before the movie came out, but the name he picked is similar to the main character in the film: Dave Bowman. There was speculation that he got the name from the book The Sentinel, which the movie is based on, but Bowie has claimed that his moniker came from the Bowie knife.

In 1969, this song was awarded the coveted Ivor Novello Award alongside Peter Sarstedt’s “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?”

The Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded this song during his stay at the International Space Station in 2013, using a guitar that stays on the station. The female singer/songwriter Emm Gryner, who was part of Bowie’s live band in 1999-2000, put the song together, adding additional tracks and incorporating space station sounds that Hadfield had posted to his Soundclound account. A video was compiled using footage of Hadfield performing the song in space, complete with shots of planet Earth, his floating acoustic guitar, and a weightless Hadfield. The sublime compilation was posted on May 12, 2013; it quickly racked up millions of views on YouTube and got the attention of Bowie, who posted about it on his social media accounts, calling it “quite possibly the most poignant version of the song ever created.”

Hadfield changed a few of the lyrics – he left out the part where Major Tom loses contact and drifts away.

Releasing a cover song recorded in space poses myriad legal challenges, since jurisdiction is unclear. The original agreement was for one year, so the video was removed on May 13, 2014. By this time, Hadfield was back on Earth and worked to negotiate a new deal with the song’s publishers. In November 2014, an agreement was reached and the video went back up.

When Bowie was recording the song, he decided that he wanted real strings and Mellotron together. However, the musicians struggled to play the electronic keyboard instrument. It was Tony Visconti who suggested Rick Wakeman as somebody who could keep the Mellotron in tune. Wakeman recalled to Uncut:

“David said, ‘Get him.’ I was rehearsing with a 17-piece band in Reading, so I drove up. It was a doddle to do, to be honest. I loved the song, and I’m also credit has to go to David and Tony as I don’t think anyone else at that particular time would have heard Mellotron on that piece, where it came in. There would have been other things more obvious to do. It was clever.”

Space Oddity

Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on

Ground Control to Major Tom (ten, nine, eight, seven, six)
Commencing countdown, engines on (five, four, three, two)
Check ignition and may God’s love be with you (one, liftoff)

This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare

“This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today

For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do

Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much, she knows”

Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear

Here am I floating ’round a tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do

David Bowie – Golden Years

Bowie wrote this with the intention of giving it to Elvis Presley, but he reportedly refused the song. Elvis died two years later.

I’m a fan of Bowie but I do favor his seventies releases the most. Like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, Bowie could shed a persona and adopt another …and do it well. His persona on this was The Thin White Duke. 

The Return of the Thin White Duke... - First Church of the Sacred  Silversexual, San Francisco | Facebook

Bowie performed Golden Years on Soul Train. Soul Train was a big deal to Bowie because he grew up listening to many of the American R&B who appeared on the show. He reportedly got a little drunk beforehand to take the edge off…footage does appear to show him stumbling over his lyrics.

The song was on the album Station to Station that peaked at #3 in the Billboard 100, #5 in the UK, and #2 in Canada in 1976. 

Golden Years peaked at #10 in the Billboard 100, #17 in Canada, and #8 in 1976. 

 

From Songfacts

Angela Bowie claims this was written for her. Bowie does appear to be addressing someone specific in this song, encouraging them to revel in their “golden years”: “Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere, angel, come get up my baby, look at that sky, life’s begun, nights are warm and the days are young.”

Bowie made an appearance on Soul Train singing (actually, lip synching) “Golden Years” and “Fame” on November 4, 1975. Few white performers had appeared on the show, but host Don Cornelius gave him a warm welcome, introducing him as “one of the world’s most popular and important music personalities.”

Producer, Harry Maslin, said he achieved the “round” quality of the backing voices by using an old RCA microphone.

Station to Station saw Bowie adopt The Thin White Duke persona. Dressed in a white shirt, black trousers and waistcoat, The Thin White Duke was described by Bowie as “a nasty character indeed.” Throughout this period, Bowie was consuming a large amount of cocaine, which added to the alienated feel of the character.

Golden Years

Golden years, gold whop whop whop
Golden years, gold whop whop whop
Golden years, gold whop whop whop

Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere, angel
Come get up my baby
Look at that sky, life’s begun
Nights are warm and the days are young
Come get up my baby

There’s my baby, lost that’s all
Once I’m begging you save her little soul
Golden years, gold whop whop whop
Come get up my baby

Last night they loved you, opening doors and pulling some strings, angel
Come get up my baby
In walked luck and you looked in time
Never look back, walk tall, act fine
Come get up my baby

I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years
Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years, gold
Golden years, gold whop whop whop
Come get up my baby

Some of these days, and it won’t be long
Gonna drive back down where you once belonged
In the back of a dream car twenty foot long
Don’t cry my sweet, don’t break my heart
Doing all right, but you gotta get smart
Wish upon, wish upon, day upon day, I believe oh Lord
I believe all the way
Come get up my baby

Run for the shadows, run for the shadows
Run for the shadows in these golden years

There’s my baby, lost that’s all
Once I’m begging you save her little soul
Golden years, gold whop whop whop
Come get up my baby

Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere, angel
Come get up my baby
Run for the shadows, run for the shadows
Run for the shadows in these golden years

I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years
Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years, gold

Golden years, gold whop whop whop
Golden years, gold whop whop whop
Golden years, gold whop whop whop
Golden years, gold whop whop whop
Golden years, gold whop whop whop
Golden years, gold whop whop whop
Golden years, gold whop whop whop
Golden years, gold whop whop whop
Golden years, gold whop whop whop
Golden years, gold whop whop whop

David Bowie – Changes

This is the first Bowie song I remember hearing when I was really young. I associated it more with “Ziggy Stardust” as I remember cousins talking about him. This song was not a massive hit but is still continually played on the radio.

It was on my personal favorite album by Bowie…Hunky Dory.

The song features the work of musicians like Rick Wakeman, Mick Ronson, and Bowie playing the saxophone himself. According to Bowie, the song started out as a parody of night club life but evolved into a criticism of an artist looking for new ways to reinvent himself. Bowie continually reinvented his image, and the song eventually became a close relation of Bowie himself.

Bowie wrote this when he was going through a lot of personal change. Bowie’s wife, Angela, was pregnant with the couple’s first child, Duncan. Bowie got along very well with his father and was very excited to have a child of his own.

The song peaked at #66 in the Billboard 100 in 1972 but recharted at #41 in 1975.

It charted for the first time on the UK Singles Chart in 2016 at number 49 following Bowie’s death.

From Songfacts

This is a reflective song about defying your critics and stepping out on your own. It also touches on Bowie’s penchant for artistic reinvention.

According to Bowie, this song was a “kind of throwaway” – but people kept chanting for it at concerts and thus it became one of his most popular and enduring songs. Bowie had no idea it was going to become so successful, but the song connected with his young audience who could relate to lyrics like “These children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations, they’re quite aware of what they’re going through.”

Bowie had just started using a keyboard to write songs, which opened up new possibilities for him in terms of melody and structure. This fresh approach resulted in “Changes.”

Bowie played the sax on this track, and his guitarist, Mick Ronson, arranged the strings. Rick Wakeman, who would later became a member of the prog rock band, Yes, played the piano parts at the beginning and end. Bowie gave Wakeman a lot of freedom, telling him to play the song like it was a piano piece. The piano Wakeman played was the famous 100-year old Bechstein at Trident Studios in London, where the album was recorded; the same piano used by Elton John, The Beatles and Genesis.

Bowie’s stuttered vocals in this song (“Ch-Ch-Changes”) are some of the most famous stutters in rock. It came well after “My G-G-Generation” but predated “B-B-B-Bennie And The Jets.

According to Mike Garson, who became Bowie’s keyboard player in 1972, when he auditioned for the gig, he played the first eight seconds of “Changes” when Bowie stopped him and gave him the gig.

Changes

Oh, yeah
Mmm

Still don’t know what I was waitin’ for
And my time was runnin’ wild
A million dead end streets and
Every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse
How the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Don’t want to be a richer man
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
There’s gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time

Mmm, yeah

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence
And so the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re goin’ through

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Where’s your shame?
You’ve left us up to our necks in it
Time may change me
But you can’t trace time

Strange fascinations fascinate me
Ah, changes are takin’
The pace I’m goin’ through

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Ooh, look out you rock ‘n’ rollers
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time
I said that time may change me
But I can’t trace time

When The Winds Blow 1986

The animation is wonderful in this movie. I want to thank Dave for mentioning it in his blog.

I was moved by this movie. It brought back the Cold War that even as kids we thought about from time to time. I watched this movie Wednesday night and I have been thinking about it ever since.

It’s not a movie to cheer you up by any means. It’s about an elderly British couple named Jim and Hilda Bloggs who read that war was about to begin. This was made during the cold war and Jim comes home with government brochures on how to prepare for a nuclear attack. They both keep thinking of WW2 and neither were knowledgeable on the horrors of nuclear war.

You really get invested in this couple and as the story unfolds and it’s terribly realistic. Jim keeps reading the brochure and both are optimistic about it all without fully understanding it…Even after the worse happens they remain confident that all will be well…it’s worth a watch. When the Wind Blows was based on a 1982 graphic novel, by British artist Raymond Briggs, that shows a nuclear attack on Britain by the Soviet Union.

It looks like a stop-motion background but with cartoon characters for the bulk of the movie. A technical crew employed a striking combination of hand-drawn and stop-motion animation to bring to life Briggs’ characters, the numerous fantasy/dream sequences, and the soon-to-be nuclear-ravaged, picture-postcard surroundings of the Sussex countryside.

The music… David Bowie sings the theme “When The Wind Blows” and he was going to give more tracks but decided to back out to focus on his album. Roger Waters came in and finished it up. Squeeze also adds to the soundtrack.

Why apocalyptic animation When the Wind Blows is still devastating ...

Why apocalyptic animation When the Wind Blows is still devastating ...

 

David Bowie – Modern Love

This was my favorite song off of the Lets Dance album released in 1983.

Stevie Ray Vaughan played guitar on this song. Bowie asked him to play on the Let’s Dance album after seeing him perform at a music festival.

David Bowie and Nile Rodgers wrote this song.  Modern Love peaked at #14 in the Billboard 100, #2 in Canada, #2 in the UK, and #6 in New Zealand in 1983. The album was also produced by Bowie and Rodgers.

Nile Rodgers said that Bowie came into his apartment one day and showed him a photograph of Little Richard in a red suit getting into a bright red Cadillac, saying “Nile, darling, that’s what I want my album to sound like.”

How cool is that?

From Songfacts

This is about the struggle to find solace in love and religion. It has also been suggested this song contemplates the old adage “The more things change the more they stay the same.” Explaining how he remained a force in pop music for so many years, Bowie sings, “It’s not really work it’s just a power to charm.” 

Bowie said this song’s call-and-response vocal arrangement “all comes from Little Richard.” A defining moment in Bowie’s childhood was when his dad came home with a copy of “Tutti Frutti.”

This sounds very similar to Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing.” They were both recorded around the same time and Bowie nor John were aware of each other’s song.

In 1987, Bowie re-recorded this with Tina Turner for a Pepsi commercial where he plays a scientist who creates the perfect woman (Turner), with a little help from Pepsi. The storyline is cribbed from the 1985 movie Weird Science.

Modern Love

I know when to go out 
Know when to stay in 
Get things done 

I catch a paper boy
But things don’t really change
I’m standing in the wind
But I never wave bye-bye
But I try, I try
There’s no sign of life
It’s just the power to charm
I’m lying in the rain
But I never wave bye-bye
But I try, I try
Never gonna fall for

(Modern love) walks beside me
(Modern love) walks on by
(Modern love) gets me to the church on time
(Church on time) terrifies me
(Church on time) makes me party
(Church on time) puts my trust in God and man
(God and man) no confession
(God and man) no religion
(God and man) don’t believe in modern love

It’s not really work
It’s just the power to charm
I’m still standing in the wind
But I never wave bye bye
But I try, I try
Never gonna fall for

(Modern love) walks beside me
(Modern love) walks on by
(Modern love) gets me to the church on time
(Church on time) terrifies me
(Church on time) makes me party
(Church on time) puts my trust in God and man
(God and man) no confession
(God and man) no religion
(God and man) I don’t believe in modern love

Modern love (modern love) 
Modern love (modern love) 
Modern love (modern love) 
Modern love (modern love) 
Modern love (modern love) 
Modern love (modern love) 
Modern love (modern love) 
Modern love (modern love) 
(Modern love) 
(Modern love) 
(Modern love) 
(Modern love)
Modern love, walks beside me 
(Modern love) 
Modern love, walks on by 
(Modern love)
Modern love, walks beside me 
Modern love
Modern love, walks on by
Modern love
Never gonna fall for
Modern love
Modern love

Bing Crosby & David Bowie – Peace On Earth / The Little Drummer Boy

I know what I was doing on November 30, 1977. I was watching Merrie Olde Christmas special as a kid. I didn’t appreciate the weirdness of the combination of Bing Crosby and David Bowie at the time. Something that the seventies did well and sometimes bad…was to intersect generations on variety shows. This one was a good combination.

This special had guest stars  Twiggy, David Bowie, Ron Moody, Stanley Baxter, and The Trinity Boys Choir. It was the duet with Bing Crosby and David Bowie that has been remembered. I remember watching this knowing that Bing Crosby had died the month earlier. The duet was taped on September 11, 1977, and Crosby died on October 14, 1977.

David Bowie’s mother was a huge Bing Crosby fan and Bing Crosby’s children were big David Bowie fans…so the two agreed to sing together. It was questionable at first if it would work out.

Mary Crosby: “The doors opened and David walked in with his wife,” she recalled. “They were both wearing full-length mink coats, they have matching full makeup and their hair was bright red. We were thinking, ‘Oh my god.'” Nathaniel Crosby, Bing’s son, added: “It almost didn’t happen. I think the producers told him to take the lipstick off and take the earring out. It was just incredible to see the contrast.”

Another possible hitch happened with Bowie. He didn’t like The Little Drummer Boy and refused to sing it. The writers then wrote a revised version of the song that he liked. They wrote a counterpart section for Bowie to sing. Crosby liked the challenge of his part. The rest is history and one of the most unusual pairings you will ever see…

One funny part is Bowie’s idea of “older fellas” at the time is John Lennon and Harry Nilsson.

The Little Drummer Boy (Peace On Earth)

Come they told me pa-rum-pum-pum-pum
A newborn king to see pa-rum-pum-pum-pum
Our finest gifts we bring pa-rum-pum-pum-pum
Rum-pum-pum-pum, rum-pum-pum-pum

[Verse 2: Bowie and Crosby]
Peace on Earth can it be?
Come they told me pa-rum-pum-pum-pum
Years from now, perhaps we’ll see?
A newborn king to see pa-rum-pum-pum-pum
See the day of glory
Our finest gift we bring pa-rum-pum-pum-pum
See the day, when men of good will
To lay before the king pa-rum-pum-pum-pum
Live in peace, live in peace again
Rum-pum-pum-pum, Rum-pum-pum-pum
Peace on Earth
So to honour him pa-rum-pum-pum-pum
Can it be
When we come

[Bridge: Bowie and Crosby in unison]
Every child must be made aware
Every child must be made to care
Care enough for his fellow man
To give all the love that he can

[Verse 4: Bowie and Crosby]
I pray my wish will come true
Little baby pa-rum-pum-pum-pum
For my child and your child too
I stood beside him there pa-rum-pum-pum-pum
He’ll see the day of glory
I played my drum for him pa-rum-pum-pum-pum
See the day when men of good will
I played my best for him pa-rum-pum-pum-pum
Live in peace, live in peace again
Rum-pum-pum-pum, rum-pum-pum-pum
Peace on Earth
Me and my drum
Can it be

Can it be

David Bowie – Starman

This was from my favorite era of Bowie. After Bowie appeared on the Top of the Pops in 1972 performing this song…the song and Ziggy took off.

The song peaked at #65 in the Billboard 100 and #10 in the UK in 1972. The song was on the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars which peaked at #75 in the Billboard Album Charts in 1972 and #21 in 2016.

Woody Woodmansey the drummer in Bowie’s backing band, The Spiders From Mars: “I love ‘Starman’ as it’s the concept of hope that the song communicates. That ‘we’re not alone’ and ‘they’ contact the kids, not the adults, and kind of say ‘get on with it.’ ‘Let the children boogie’: music and rock ‘n’ roll! It lifted the attention away from the depressing affairs in the ’70s, made the future look better. ‘Starman’ was the first Bowie song since ‘Space Oddity’ with mass appeal. After ‘Starman,’ everything changed.”

From Songfacts

This forms part of the Ziggy Stardust story, in which the end of the world lingers just five years away. This song tells of salvation waiting in the sky, as revealed through Starman’s messenger, Ziggy Stardust. The song is told from the perspective of a person listening to Ziggy on the radio. 

In 1972, Bowie performed this song on the British TV show, Top of the Pops. Bowie appeared as the flame-haired Ziggy Stardust dressed in a multicolored jump suit. Bowie strummed a blue guitar while he moved flirtatiously alongside his guitarist, Mick Ronson. It was the first time many had seen Bowie and people were fascinated by his stage presence. This performance would catapult Bowie to stardom and prove wildly influential on the next generation of English rockers.

Among the many who have cited this specific appearance as a transformative moment is Lol Tolhurst of The Cure, who writes in his memoir, “I remember sitting on my couch at home with my mother, watching this spectacle unfold, and at the point where Bowie sang the line, ‘I had to phone someone so I picked on you,’ he pointed directly at the camera, and I knew he was singing that line to me and everyone like me. It was a call to arms that put me on the path that I would soon follow.”

Bowie was influenced by the song “Over The Rainbow,” which is most obvious during the chorus (“There’s a Starman…”). 

This was the last song written for The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, supposedly because nobody had heard a potential single on the album. It became Bowie’s first UK hit in three years. His only previous chart entry had been “Space Oddity” in 1969.

“We’d finished recording the Ziggy Stardust album at that time and it went into the record company. They said: ‘We can’t release this. It doesn’t have a single on it!'” Woody Woodmansey recalled to The Quietus. “So, we came out of the studio and in about a month he had written ‘Starman’ and we were back in the studio by January. It was an obvious single! I think Mick and I went out in the car after David played it for us the first time, and we were already singing it, having only heard it only once.”

“At the time, we thought it might be a bit too poppy, a bit too commercial,” he continued. “It might seem strange, but we just hadn’t done anything that commercial before. I always thought Bowie had that ability, that any time he felt like it, he could write a hit single. He just had that about him. I think he chose not to right through his career. If he felt like it, he would write one, and if he didn’t, he wouldn’t. That was just the impression of working with him. It’s not a fluke to be able to write all those amazing tunes.”

This is also the title of John Carpenter’s 1984 sci-fi movie, starring Jeff Bridges as an alien who takes the form of a woman’s (Karen Allen) dead husband and needs her help to get home. The song is not used in the movie.

This was used in a 2016 commercial for the Audi R8 that first aired during the 2016 Super Bowl about two months after David Bowie died. In the spot, a retired astronaut has lost his passion for life, but gets it back after his son presents with the car and he goes for a drive under a moonlit sky. The end panel pays tribute to Bowie, stating, “In memory of the Starman.”

Starman

Didn’t know what time it was and the lights were low
I leaned back on my radio
Some cat was layin’ down some rock ‘n’ roll ‘lotta soul, he said
Then the loud sound did seem to fade
Came back like a slow voice on a wave of phase
That weren’t no D.J. that was hazy cosmic jive

There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
‘Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
He told me
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie

I had to phone someone so I picked on you
Hey, that’s far out so you heard him too!
Switch on the TV we may pick him up on channel two
Look out your window I can see his light
If we can sparkle he may land tonight
Don’t tell your poppa or he’ll get us locked up in fright

There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
‘Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
He told me
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie

There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
‘Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
He told me
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie

La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la
La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la

Nirvana – The Man Who Sold The World

I rarely post covers but this is a good one. No one will ever top Bowie’s version to me but this one has a charm about it I like. Cobain did a good job on this.

David Bowie liked this cover saying, “I was simply blown away when I found that Kurt Cobain liked my work, and have always wanted to talk to him about his reasons for covering ‘The Man Who Sold the World’.”

What he didn’t like were the kids that come up after his show and say, ‘It’s cool you’re doing a Nirvana song.’ And I think, ‘F**k you, you little tosser!”

Nirvana performed it on the MTV Unplugged episode a few months before Kurt died.

The song peaked at #5 in the US Alternative Top 50, #22 in Canada, and #1 in Poland in 1995.

From Songfacts

This song is about a man who no longer recognizes himself and feels awful about it. For years, Bowie struggled with his identity and expressed himself through his songs, often creating characters to perform them. On the album cover, Bowie is wearing a dress.

Some of the lyrics are based on a poem by Hugh Mearns called The Psychoed:

As I was going up the stair
I met a man who was not there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish that man would go away

Some lyrical analysis: “We passed upon the stair” is a figurative representation of a crossroads in Bowie’s life, where Ziggy Stardust catches a glimpse of his former self, (being David Bowie) which he thought had died a long time ago. Then he (the old David Bowie) says: “Oh no, not me. I never lost control.” This indicates that Bowie never really lost sight of who he was, but he Sold The World (made them believe) that he had become Ziggy, and he thought it was funny (I laughed and shook his hand). He goes on to state, “For years and years I roamed,” which could refer to touring. “Gaze a gazely stare at all the millions here” are the fans at concerts. >>

The album is one of Bowie’s least known, but over the years many fans have come to appreciate it and a lot of bands have covered songs from it.

Critics weren’t always sure what to make of it either, but John Mendelssohn had a good handle on it when he wrote of the album in Rolling Stone magazine, 1971: “Bowie’s music offers an experience that is as intriguing as it is chilling, but only to the listener sufficiently together to withstand the schizophrenia.”

The British singer Lulu (“To Sir With Love”) recorded this in 1974. Bowie produced her version and played saxophone on the track. It went to #4 in the UK. Lulu spoke to Uncut magazine June 2008 about her recording: “I first met Bowie on tour in the early ’70s when he invited me to his concert. And back at the hotel, he said to me, in very heated language, ‘I want to make an MF of a record with you. You’re a great singer.’ I didn’t think it would happen, but he followed up two days later. He was uber cool at the time and I just wanted to be led by him. I didn’t think ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ was the greatest song for my voice, but it was such a strong song in itself. In the studio, Bowie kept telling me to smoke more cigarettes, to give my voice a certain quality. We were like the odd couple. Were we ever an item? I’d rather not answer that one, thanks!
For the video, people thought he came up with the androgynous look, but that was all mine. It was very Berlin cabaret. We did other songs, too, like ‘Watch That Man,’ ‘Can You Hear Me?’ and ‘Dodo.’ ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ saved me from a certain niche in my career. If we’d have carried on, it would have been very interesting.”

Nirvana recorded this for their 1993 MTV Unplugged performance. It was Chad Channing, who was Nirvana’s drummer from 1988-1990, who introduced Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic to Bowie’s music. Chad told us: “We were in Boston and stopped by this record store, and I found this copy of The Man Who Sold The World. It was a cool copy – it had the poster in it and everything. And those guys weren’t familiar with the record. And I inquired about, ‘What David Bowie do you like? Do you like David Bowie?’ And they’re like, ‘Well, the only David Bowie we’re familiar with is ‘Let’s Dance.’ I was surprised. I was like, ‘Really? Wow.’ I was like, ‘You’ve got to hear some early David Bowie, for sure.’

So when I got the opportunity, I made a tape of the record at somebody’s house, and then while we were touring around I just went ahead and popped the tape in and let it roll. After a bit, Kurt turned around and said to me, ‘Who is this?’ kind of like knowingly, just something familiar with the voice and stuff. I said, ‘Well, this is David Bowie. This is The Man Who Sold the World record.’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, this is really cool.’ I said, ‘You should check out Hunky Dory and stuff.’ And so eventually, I’m sure he did. But he totally dug it.”

Months after the MTV show, Kurt Cobain was found dead. The acoustic set was released as an album in late 1994.

Bauhaus lead singer Peter Murphy called this “the first true goth record.”

Beck performed this song with Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear at the annual Clive Davis Grammy pre-party on February 14, 2016 in tribute to Bowie, who passed away a month earlier. “He’s always been kind of guidepost or gravitational force for me,” Beck said of Bowie.

On March 29, 2016, Michael Stipe performed this song on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, accompanied only by a piano. Two days later, Stipe sang “Ashes To Ashes” with Karen Elston at a Bowie tribute concert held at Carnegie Hall.

 

The video of The Man Who Sold The World has been giving me troubles…if it is not below…here is the link.

The Man Who Sold The World

We passed upon the stair
We spoke of was and when
Although I wasn’t there
He said I was his friend
Which came as a surprise
I spoke into his eyes
I thought you died alone
A long long time ago

Oh no, not me
We never lost control
You’re face to face
With the man who sold the world

I laughed and shook his hand
And made my way back home
I searched for form and land
For years and years I roamed
I gazed a gazeless stare
We marked a million hills
I must have died alone
A long, long time ago

Who knows?
Not me
I never lost control
You’re face to face
With the man who sold the world

Who knows?
Not me
We never lost control
You’re face to face
With the man who sold the world

David Bowie – Heroes

The song was written by David Bowie and Brian Eno and was on the Heroes album released in 1977. The song peaked at #24 in the UK Charts, #35 in New Zealand, and #11 in Australia in 1978. The song recharted again in 2016. The album peaked at #35 in the Billboard Album Charts, #3 in the UK, #15 in New Zealand, #6 in Australia, and #44 in Canada.

After burn out because of touring Bowie moved to Berlin and rented a cheap apartment above an auto-repair shop, which is where he wrote this album.

Bowie made a video for this song which aired on the Bing Crosby Christmas special. In 1977 Crosby recorded a Christmas special in London called Merrie Olde Christmas, playing the England theme to the hilt. Bowie agreed to sing a duet with Crosby, which became the famous “The Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth” mashup. Bowie’s “Heroes” video also aired on the show with an introduction by Crosby. The show aired in November 1977, about a month after Crosby died.

Bowie talked about the song:

“It’s a bitch to sing, ‘cos I really have to give it some towards the end. I pace myself throughout the show and often place it near to a point where I can take a vocal break afterward. As long as I’m touring I don’t see a time when I won’t be singing ‘Heroes.’ It’s a good one to belt out and I get a kick out of it every time.”

From Songfacts

This song tells the story of a German couple who are so determined to be together that they meet every day under a gun turret on The Berlin Wall. Bowie, who was living in Berlin at the time, was inspired by an affair between his producer Tony Visconti and backup singer Antonia Maass, who would kiss “by the wall” in front of Bowie as he looked out of the Hansa Studio window. Bowie didn’t mention Visconti’s role in inspiring this song until 2003, when he told Performing Songwriter magazine: “I’m allowed to talk about it now. I wasn’t at the time. I always said it was a couple of lovers by the Berlin Wall that prompted the idea. Actually, it was Tony Visconti and his girlfriend. Tony was married at the time. And I could never say who it was (laughs). But I can now say that the lovers were Tony and a German girl that he’d met whilst we were in Berlin. I did ask his permission if I could say that. I think possibly the marriage was in the last few months, and it was very touching because I could see that Tony was very much in love with this girl, and it was that relationship which sort of motivated the song.” 

Robert Fripp, formerly of King Crimson, played guitar on this track. His band, King Crimson, performed the song at the Admiralspalast in Berlin on September 11, 2016 in celebration of Bowie. This version was released on an EP called Heroes in 2017.

Brian Eno, formerly of Roxy Music, helped Bowie write and produce this. Eno moved to Berlin with Bowie and worked on his albums LowHeroes, and Lodger. These albums were much more experimental and less commercial than Bowie’s previous work, but they still sold well in England.

Co-writer Eno said of this in the April 2007 Q Magazine: “It’s a beautiful song. But incredibly melancholy at the same time. We can be heroes, but actually, we know that something’s missing, something’s lost.”

Bowie released versions of this song in English, German, and French. The German version is called “Helden”; the French is “Héros.”

Featured in this song are not only Brian Eno’s synthesizer and Robert Fripp’s guitar, but also producer Tony Visconti banging on a metal ashtray that was lying around the studio.

This song is featured in the films Christiane F (1981) and The Parole Officer (2001). It also ended up as a Microsoft commercial theme.

Bowie played this at Live Aid from Wembley Stadium, England in 1985, and also at the Berlin Wall in 1987. Regarding the later performance, Bowie said in his Performing Songwriter interview: “I’ll never forget that. It was one of the most emotional performances I’ve ever done. I was in tears. They’d backed up the stage to the wall itself so that the wall was acting as our backdrop. We kind of heard that a few of the East Berliners might actually get the chance to hear the thing, but we didn’t realize in what numbers they would. And there were thousands on the other side that had come close to the wall. So it was like a double concert where the wall was the division. And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side. God, even now I get choked up. It was breaking my heart. I’d never done anything like that in my life, and I guess I never will again. When we did ‘Heroes’ it really felt anthemic, almost like a prayer. However well we do it these days, it’s almost like walking through it compared to that night, because it meant so much more. That’s the town where it was written, and that’s the particular situation that it was written about. It was just extraordinary. We did it in Berlin last year as well – ‘Heroes’ – and there’s no other city I can do that song in now that comes close to how it’s received. This time, what was so fantastic is that the audience – it was the Max Schmeling Hall, which holds about 10-15,000 – half the audience had been in East Berlin that time way before. So now I was face-to-face with the people I had been singing it to all those years ago. And we were all singing it together. Again, it was powerful. Things like that really give you a sense of what performance can do. They happen so rarely at that kind of magnitude. Most nights I find very enjoyable. These days, I really enjoy performing. But something like that doesn’t come along very often, and when it does, you kind of think, ‘Well, if I never do anything again, it won’t matter.'”

The Wallflowers covered this in 1998. Their version was used on the soundtrack to the movie Godzilla.

The single version, which appears on the ChangesBowie album, is shortened, leaving out a good chunk of the first verse.

Bowie first performed this on a television show hosted by his friend Marc Bolan, who was the lead singer for T-Rex. A week later, Bolan died when his girlfriend crashed their car into a tree.

Bowie played this at the “Concert For New York.” Organized by Paul McCartney, it was a tribute to the police, firemen, and rescue workers involved in the 2001 World Trade Center attacks.

Blondie recorded a live cover on January 12, 1980 at The Hammersmith Odeon. It can be found on the disc Blondie and Beyond.

This was originally an instrumental composition, whose title was a reference to the 1975 track “Hero” by the German Krautrock band Neu!.

The finalists from the seventh series of The X Factor released a cover version in November 2010 in aid of armed forces charity Help For Heroes, which topped both the UK and Irish Singles Charts. The choice of song follows a trend as in 2008, the fifth series of X Factor finalists reached #1 with a cover of Mariah Carey’s “Hero.”
Despite a plethora of cover versions from other acts over the years, the X Factor 2010 Finalists are the first act aside from Bowie ever to have a hit single with the song.

What became the “official” video for the song was shot later in September 1977 and directed by Nick Ferguson, a painter who also did set design and directed various film and TV projects.

Janelle Monae recorded a cover for a 2014 Pepsi football-based advertising campaign “Now Is What You Make It.” Asked by The Guardian if she needed Bowie’s permission to use his song, the R&B songstress replied: “Oh, he’s a fan. He’s aware of me. His wife Iman is a huge supporter and she has told me countless times what a big fan he is. So he had to clear me doing the song and I’m so grateful.”

This song is central in the 2012 film The Perks of Being a Wallflower, starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson. You hear it more than once throughout the movie. 

Something of an underachiever when originally released, “Heroes” peaked at a lowly #24 back in 1977 in the UK and failed to make the Hot 100. In the week after David Bowie’s death, the song finally made the Top 20 in the country of his birth, leaping into the chart at #12.

Album Version

Single Version

Heroes

I, I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins
Like dolphins can swim

Though nothing, nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, forever and ever
Oh, we can be heroes just for one day

I, I will be King
And you, you will be Queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can be heroes just for one day
We can be us just for one day

I, I can remember
(I remember)
Standing by the wall
(By the wall)
And the guns, shot above our heads
(Over our heads)
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall
(Nothing could fall)

And the shame, was on the other side
Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever
Then we could be heroes just for one day

We can be heroes
We can be heroes
We can be heroes just for one day
We can be heroes

Favorite Lines from Songs Part 2

I did Part 1 over a year ago and it was a fun post. I’ve been meaning to do this again. I remembered some of the lyrics suggested by my friends hanspostcard and allthingsthriller on the last post…I have added those to list. Thanks to both of you.

I saw her from the corner when she turned and doubled back, And started walkin toward a coffee colored Cadillac… Chuck Berry

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Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose, And nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free Janis Joplin/Kris Kristofferson

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And I need you more than want you, And I want you for all time Jimmy Webb

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Doesn’t have a point of view / Knows not where he’s going to / Isn’t he a bit like you and me…The Beatles

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Met myself a coming county welfare line, I was feeling strung out, Hung out on the line…Creedence Clearwater Revival

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And you’ve got to learn to live with what you can’t rise above…Bruce Springsteen

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He’d end up blowing all his wages for the week / All for a cuddle and a peck on the cheek…Kinks

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Well it’s too late, tonight, To drag the past out into the light, We’re one, but we’re not the same, We get to carry each other, Carry each other…U2

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You can blow out a candle but you can’t blow out a firePeter Gabriel

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Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see…The Beatles

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Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like cherry cola, C-O-L-A Cola…Kinks

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It was gravity which pulled us down and destiny which broke us apart…Bob Dylan
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A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see oneThe Band

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And the sign said, The words of the prophets, are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls… Simon and Garfunkel

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I lit up from Reno, I was trailed by twenty hounds, Didn’t get to sleep that night
Till the morning came around…Grateful Dead

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When I said that I was lying, I might have been lyingElvis Costello
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Though nothing will keep us together/We can be heroes/Just for one day…David Bowie
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Lose your dreams and you. Will lose your mind…Rolling Stones

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It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win…Bruce Springsteen

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The motor cooled down, the heat went down, and that’s when I heard that highway sound…Chuck Berry

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We were the first band to vomit at the bar, and find the distance to the stage too far…The Who

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David Bowie – Young Americans ——— Songs that reference Richard Nixon

Do you remember, your President Nixon? Do you remember, the bills you have to pay
For even yesterday?

This song and album had to be a shock at the time. Bowie went from Glam Rock to more of a soul sound within a year. Young Americans peaked at #28 in the Billboard 100, #33 in Canada, #18 in the UK, and #7 in New Zealand. The album peaked at #5 in the Billboard Album Chart in 1975.

Young Americans was the first Bowie album that guitarist Carlos Alomar played on. Bowie first saw Alomar playing in the house band at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, and convinced him to play on this album and join the tour. Alomar became a major contributor, playing on several of Bowie’s albums and coming up with guitar riffs for songs like “Fame” and “Golden Years.”

John Lennon appeared on the album on songs Across The Universe and Fame.

From Songfacts

Bowie never was a young American – he was born and raised in England. Bowie said that this was the result of cramming his “whole American experience” into one song.

This was recorded between tour dates at Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios, which was the capital of black music in the area. The soul influence had a very obvious effect on Bowie’s style. He even completely redesigned the stage for the rest of his Diamond Dogs tour.

Over the course of about eight very creative days, Bowie recorded most of the songs for Young Americans at Sigma Studios. He usually recorded his vocals after midnight because he heard that’s when Frank Sinatra recorded most of his vocals, and because there weren’t so many people around.

Sigma had a staff of very talented producers and musicians (known as MFSB – the same folks who had a #1 hit with “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)”), but Bowie used his own people – Tony Visconti produced this track.

The line near the end, “I heard the news today, oh boy,” is a reference to the Beatles song “A Day In The Life.” John Lennon worked with Bowie on “Fame” and also Bowie’s cover of “Across The Universe.” Both songs are on this album.

The lead instrument in this song the saxophone, which was played by the American jazz player David Sanborn. He was just starting to get noticed when Bowie brought him in to play on this.

Bowie hired Luther Vandross, who had yet to establish himself as a solo artist, to sing backup and create the vocal arrangements on the Young Americans album.

Near the end of the song, Bowie sings, “Black’s got respect and white’s got his soul train.” Soul Train is an American TV show targeted to a black audience that started in 1970. The show featured lots of very expressive dancing as well as a musical guest, and in November 1975, Bowie became one of the first white singers to perform on the show, something he was very proud of. The “Young Americans” single was released in February 1975, so Bowie performed “Fame” and “Golden Years,” which was his current single.

The album was going to be called “Dancin'” before Bowie decided to name it after this track.

At a performance at Giants Stadium, Bowie stopped after singing the line, “Ain’t there one damn song that can make me…”, and dropped to the stage, where he stayed for 10 minutes. The crowd went nuts, but got concerned after a while. Bowie did it to see what kind of reaction he would get.

The Cure did a version of this in appreciation of Bowie, their longtime friend. The lyrics “Do you remember President Nixon?” were changed to “…President Clinton?” The Cure’s version was originally released on a British radio demo CD only, but can now be found on various bootlegs.

Young Americans

They pulled in just behind the bridge
He lays her down, he frowns
Gee my life’s a funny thing, am I still too young?
He kissed her then and there
She took his ring, took his babies
It took him minutes, took her nowhere
Heaven knows, she’d have taken anything, but

All night
She wants the young American
Young American, young American, she wants the young American
All right
She wants the young American

Scanning life through the picture window
She finds the slinky vagabond
He coughs as he passes her Ford Mustang, but
Heaven forbid, she’ll take anything
But the freak, and his type, all for nothing
Misses a step and cuts his hand, but
Showing nothing, he swoops like a song
She cries where have all Papa’s heroes gone?

All night
She wants a young American
Young American, young American, she wants the young American
All right
She wants the young American

All the way from Washington
Her bread-winner begs off the bathroom floor
“We live for just these twenty years
Do we have to die for the fifty more?”

All night
He wants the young American
Young American, young American, he wants the young American
All right
He wants the young American

Do you remember, your President Nixon?
Do you remember, the bills you have to pay
For even yesterday?

Have you have been an un-American?
Just you and your idol singing falsetto ’bout
Leather, leather everywhere, and
Not a myth left from the ghetto
Well, well, well, would you carry a razor
In case, just in case of depression?
Sit on your hands on a bus of survivors
Blushing at all the afro-Sheilas
Ain’t that close to love?
Well, ain’t that poster love?
Well, it ain’t that Barbie doll
Her heart’s been broken just like you have

All night
All night was a young American
Young American, young American, you want the young American
All right
All right you want the young American

You ain’t a pimp and you ain’t a hustler
A pimp’s got a Cadi and a lady got a Chrysler
Black’s got respect, and white’s got his Soul Train
Mama’s got cramps, and look at your hands ache
(I heard the news today, oh boy)
I got a suite and you got defeat
Ain’t there a man you can say no more?
And, ain’t there a woman I can sock on the jaw?
And, ain’t there a child I can hold without judging?
Ain’t there a pen that will write before they die?
Ain’t you proud that you’ve still got faces?
Ain’t there one damn song that can make me
Break down and cry?

All night
I want the young American
Young American, young American, I want the young American
All right
I want the young American, young American whoa whoa

Young American, young American
I want what you want
I want what you want
You want more
I want you
You want I
I want you
I want what you want
But you want what you want
You want I
I want you
And all I want is a young American
Young American

David Bowie – Life On Mars? ——— Songs that reference The Beatles

In the next few days, I will be featuring some songs that make references to The Beatles. either separately or as a band. Today will be Life On Mars?. They will be in no order…

Now the workers have struck for fame ‘Cause Lennon’s on sale again

Life On Mars is my absolute favorite song by David Bowie. Not only favorite by Bowie but one of my favorites ever. Both the abstract lyrics and music are perfect. This song was on the Hunky Dory album released in 1971. The song peaked at #3 in the UK charts in 1972.

The piano on the recording was played by Rick Wakeman of Yes.

Bowie came up with this after he was asked to put English lyrics to a French song called “Comme d’habitude.” Paul Anka bought the rights to the original French song and rewrote it in English as “My Way,” later made famous by Frank Sinatra. “Life On Mars?” uses practically the same chords as “My Way” and the Hunky Dory liner notes state that the song is “Inspired by Frankie.”

David Bowie about the song: A sensitive young girl’s reaction to the media”  “I think she finds herself disappointed with reality… that although she’s living in the doldrums of reality, she’s being told that there’s a far greater life somewhere, and she’s bitterly disappointed that she doesn’t have access to it.”

From Songfacts

The song is about a girl who goes to watch a movie after an argument with her parents. The film ends with the line “Is there life on Mars?”

The lyrics also contain imagery suggesting the futility of man’s existence, a topic Bowie used frequently on his early albums. 

In 2008, Bowie recalled writing this song to the Mail on Sunday: “This song was so easy. Being young was easy. A really beautiful day in the park, sitting on the steps of the bandstand. ‘Sailors bap-bap-bap-bap-baaa-bap.’ An anomic (not a ‘gnomic’) heroine. Middle-class ecstasy. I took a walk to Beckenham High Street to catch a bus to Lewisham to buy shoes and shirts but couldn’t get the riff out of my head. Jumped off two stops into the ride and more or less loped back to the house upon Southend Road. The workspace was a big empty room with a chaise lounge; a bargain-price art nouveau screen (‘William Morris,’ so I told anyone who asked); a huge overflowing freestanding ashtray and a grand piano. Little else. I started working it out on the piano and had the whole lyric and melody finished by late afternoon. Nice. Rick Wakeman [of prog band, Yes] came over a couple of weeks later and embellished the piano part and guitarist Mick Ronson created one of his first and best string parts for this song which now has become something of a fixture in my live shows.”

The band Bush used the line, “Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow” as a tribute to Bowie in their song “Everything Zen.”

This was released as a single in 1973, two years after it appeared on Hunky Dory.

The song was recorded in Portuguese by Seu Jorge for the soundtrack of the 2004 film The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Anni-Frid Lyngstad, formerly of ABBA, recorded a Swedish version titled “Liv pa Mars?”

If you listen closely to the end of the original recording of this song, you can hear a telephone ringing. 

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain often performs this song at live shows. They claim it is a “song about plagiarism” and that it “wasn’t our idea.” The first verse is played straight as Jonty Bankes sings. As Bankes sings the second verse, George Hinchcliffe sings “My Way” until the bridge (“But the film is a sadd’ning bore”) when Peter Brooke-Turner sings lines from “For Once in My Life.” Then through the chorus, Hester Goodman sings from “Born Free” while Dave Suich sings The Who’s “Substitute.” Watch it here. >>

Mick Rock directed the song’s official video. It was filmed backstage at Earls Court in London in 1973. It features Bowie in a turquoise suit and makeup, performing the song against a white backdrop.

The BBC television series, Life On Mars, was named after this, while its sequel, Ashes to Ashes, was also named after the Bowie song of the same name.

Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong has stated he would like this song to be played at his funeral.

This was featured on the first episode of the TV series American Horror Story: Freak Show, where it was sung by Jessica Lange’s character. The series is set in 1952 but used music recorded much later, similarly to how Baz Luhrmann incorporated contemporary tunes into the films Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby.

Ryan Murphy, who created the show, says that he looked for music by artists who were oddities themselves, and proud of it. Bowie fit the bill and approved the use of the song, as did Fiona Apple, who allowed her song “Criminal” to be used in the next episode.

Life On Mars

It’s a God-awful small affair
To the girl with the mousy hair
But her mummy is yelling no
And her daddy has told her to go

But her friend is nowhere to be seen
Now she walks through her sunken dream
To the seat with the clearest view
And she’s hooked to the silver screen

But the film is a saddening bore
For she’s lived it ten times or more
She could spit in the eyes of fools
As they ask her to focus on

Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man look at those cavemen go
It’s the freakiest show
Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?

It’s on America’s tortured brow
That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow
Now the workers have struck for fame
‘Cause Lennon’s on sale again
See the mice in their million hordes
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads
Rule Britannia is out of bounds
To my mother, my dog, and clowns
But the film is a saddening bore
‘Cause I wrote it ten times or more
It’s about to be writ again
As I ask you to focus on

Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man look at those cavemen go
It’s the freakiest show
Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?

David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust

What hooked me on this song was the guitar riff played by Mick Ronson. Bowie said that the song is “about the ultimate rock superstar destroyed by the fanaticism he creates.”

The song is off of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and it peaked at #75 in the Billboard 100 in 1973 and #5 in the UK in 1972.

Ziggy Stardust is a character Bowie created with the help of his then-wife, Angela. The character’s name was inspired by the 1960s psychobilly musician, Legendary Stardust Cowboy. Bowie performed under the Stardust persona for about a year.

In 2010 the song ranked at No. 282 on Rolling Stones list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”

In the middle of this period, Bowie was itching to move on from Ziggy. “I’d said all I could say about Ziggy,” Bowie said. “I’m very tempted to go further with this Ziggy thing only because it’s so popular, but actually, it’s not what I really want to do. I’ve created this bloody thing, how do I sort of get out of it?” He soon did… Bowie abandoned Ziggy and re-imagined himself again. “He really grew, sort of out of proportion — got much bigger than I thought Ziggy was going to be,” “Ziggy just overshadowed everything.”

Bowie said that Ziggy  “wouldn’t leave me alone for years. That was when it all started to go sour … My whole personality was affected. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity.”

From Songfacts

 This specific song is about Stardust growing too conceited: “Making love with his ego, Ziggy sucked up into his mind.” Stardust’s band, The Spiders From Mars, consequently plan to get revenge on the egotistical front man: “So we bitched about his fans, and should we crush his sweet hands?” 

Iggy Pop (note the name: zIGGY), Lou Reed, Marc Bolan, Gene Vincent and Jimi Hendrix (“He played it left hand, but made it too far” – Hendrix was left-handed), were all likely influences on the character Ziggy Stardust, but the only musician Bowie admits was a direct influence is Vince Taylor, an English singer who took the “rock star” persona to the extreme, calling himself Mateus and declaring himself the son of God. Taylor was popular in France in the early ’60s, and Bowie met him in 1966 after his popularity had faded.

Bowie-based the clothes, hair, and makeup of Ziggy Stardust on the Malcolm McDowell character in A Clockwork Orange, and on William Burroughs book Wild Boys. Some of the posturings were inspired by Gene Vincent, a rockabilly star who injured his leg in a 1960 car accident that killed Eddie Cochran. When Bowie saw Vincent in concert, he was wearing a leg brace and had to stand with his injured leg behind him; Bowie appropriated this stance, calling it “position number one for the embryonic Ziggy.”

“Weird and Gilly” were two of Bowie’s bandmates in The Spiders From Mars: bassist Trevor Bolder and drummer Woody Woodmansey.

This song and the Ziggy Stardust persona as a whole was a major influence on glam rock bands like T-Rex and Suede. Glam rock was characterized by outrageous costumes, flamboyant stage antics, and sexual ambiguity.

Bowie was very theatrical and a student of acting and mime. He admitted that the Ziggy character was his way of dealing with the mental health issues that plagued his family – he basically went into character so he wouldn’t go crazy. “One puts oneself through such psychological damage in trying to avoid the threat of insanity,” Bowie said. “As long as I could put those psychological excesses into my music and into my work, I could always be throwing it off.” After a while, Ziggy started to scare David, as he was getting engrossed in the persona. He was afraid that the blurring of Stardust and Bowie would lead to madness, and on July 3, 1973, David did his last show as Ziggy at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. The show was made into a movie directed by D.A. Pennebaker called Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars. It was released on DVD in 2003. For years Bowie would not look at tapes of himself performing as Ziggy Stardust, but when he finally did, he thought they were hilarious.

The album cover shows David Bowie (dressed as Ziggy Stardust) standing outside the furriers, K. West, which was located at 23 Heddon Street, London. In March 2012, a plaque honoring Ziggy Stardust was installed where the K. West sign once hung. This plaque is one of the few in the UK dedicated to a fictional character.

While doing an interview in character as Ziggy Stardust, Bowie admitted he was gay. This gave him a great deal of publicity, even though it was not entirely true. Bowie later married the model, Iman.

Bauhaus recorded a version of this song in 1982 that hit #15 in the UK. The song has also been recorded by Def Leppard, Nina Hagen, and Hootie And The Blowfish.

A production error meant a live version of this song was left off some copies of the 3-CD set Bowie At The Beeb. Bowie later made the track available for download to those fans who did not get it on the album.

This never charted because it was not released as a single. Many British acts at the time focused on albums and tried to limit the number of singles they issued.

There is a plaque outside the pub in London where Bowie created the Ziggy Stardust character. Bowie performed there when it was The Three Tuns. It is now called The Rat And Parrot.

Ziggy Stardust

Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Weird and Gilly
And the spiders from Mars. He played it left hand
But made it too far
Became the special man, then we were Ziggy’s band

Now Ziggy really sang, screwed up eyes and screwed down hairdo
Like some cat from Japan, he could lick ’em by smiling
He could leave ’em to hang
‘Came on so loaded man, well hung and snow white tan

So where were the spiders, while the fly tried to break our balls
With just the beer light to guide us
So we bitched about his fans and should we crush his sweet hands?

Ziggy played for time, jiving us that we were voodoo
The kid was just crass, he was the nazz
With God given ass
He took it all too far but boy could he play guitar

Making love with his ego Ziggy sucked up into his mind
Like a leper messiah
When the kids had killed the man I had to break up the band

Ziggy played guitar

David Bowie – Rebel Rebel

The guitar riff is worth it even if Bowie wouldn’t have sung on it. When I learned this on guitar…though not hard but it sounded great.  When I’ve been in bands that played it live it never fails to get a good reaction. The song peaked at #64 in the Billboard 100, #5 in the UK, and #30 in Canada in 1974.

Bowie’s guitarist, Mick Ronson, quit in 1973 in order to pursue a solo career, so Bowie played guitar on this song… Bowie said this: “When I was high school, that was the riff by which all of us young guitarists would prove ourselves in the local music store. It’s a real air guitar thing, isn’t it? I can tell you a very funny story about that. One night, I was in London in a hotel trying to get some sleep. It was quite late, like eleven or twelve at night, and I had some big deal thing on the next day, a TV show or something, and I heard this riff being played really badly from upstairs. I thought, ‘Who the hell is doing this at this time of night?’ On an electric guitar, over and over [sings riff to ‘Rebel Rebel’ in a very hesitant, stop and start way]. So I went upstairs to show the person how to play the thing (laughs). So I bang on the door. The door opens, and I say, ‘Listen if you’re going to play…’ and it was John McEnroe! I kid you not (laughs). It was McEnroe, who saw himself as some sort of rock guitar player at the time. That could only happen in a movie, couldn’t it? McEnroe trying to struggle his way through the ‘Rebel Rebel’ riff.”

 

 

From Songfacts

This song is about a boy who rebels against his parents by wearing makeup and tacky women’s clothes. It was a defining song of the “Glam Rock” era. Characterized by feminine clothes and outrageous stage shows, Glam was big in England in the early ’70s. Bowie had the most mainstream success of the glam rockers.

Three years before this was released, Bowie admitted he was bisexual. The announcement seemed to help his career, as he gained more fans and wrote more adventurous songs.

Bowie did an episode of VH1 Storytellers in 1999 where he introduced this song with this yarn:

I can tell you about the time that I first met Marc Bolan who became a very, very good friend of mine. We actually met very early on in the ’60s before either of us were even a tad pole known. We were nothing; we were just two nothing kids with huge ambitions, and we both had the same manager at the time. And we met each other firstly painting the wall of our then manager’s office.

“Hello, who are you?”

“I’m Marc, man.”

“Hello, what do you do?”

“I’m a singer.”

“Oh, yeah, so am I. Are you a Mod?”

“Yeah, I’m King Mod. Your shoes are crap.”

“Well, you’re short.”

So we became really close friends. Marc took me dustbin shopping. At that time Carnaby Street, the fashion district, was going through a period of incredible wealth and rather than replace buttons on their shirts or zippers on their trousers, at the end of the day they’d just throw it all away in the dustbin. So, we used to go up and down Carnaby Street, this is prior to Kings Road, and go through all the dustbins around nine/ten o’clock at night and get our wardrobes together. That’s how life was, you see. 

I could also tell you that when we used to play the working men’s clubs up north – very rough district – and I first went out as Ziggy Stardust, I was in the dressing room in one club and I said to the manager: “Could you show me where the lavatory is, please?”

And he said: “Aye, look up that corridor and you see the sink attached to the wall at the end? There you go.”

So, I tottered briefly on my stack-heeled boots and said: “My dear man, I’m not pissing in a sink.”

“He said: “Look son, if it’s good enough for Shirley Bassey, it’s good enough for you.”

Them were the days, I guess.

In 1972, Bowie produced “Walk On The Wild Side” for Lou Reed, which is another song celebrating transgender individuals.

An alternate version appears on Bowie’s compilation album Sound And Vision. On this version, Bowie plays all the instruments, bar the congas, which are played by Geoff MacCormack.

The Diamond Dogs tour was an enormous production. It featured moving bridges, catapults, and a huge diamond that Bowie emerged from.

The album cover was painted by Dutch artist Guy Peellaert. It shows Bowie as a dog in front of a banner that says “The Strangest Living Curiosities.” The cover caused some controversy because the Bowie dog had clearly not been neutered. An alternate cover was released with the appendages airbrushed out. Mick Jagger had shown Bowie artwork that Peellaert had done for the not yet released Rolling Stones album It’s Only Rock And Roll. Bowie quickly got a hold of Peelaert and had him design the cover for Diamond Dogs, which was unleashed to the public prior to the album by The Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger was none too happy about this. David Bowie has this to say about the incident: “Mick was silly. I mean, he should never have shown me anything new. I went over to his house and he had all these Guy Peellaert pictures around and said, ‘What do you think of this guy?’ I told him I thought he was incredible. So I immediately phoned him up. Mick’s learned now, as I’ve said. He will never do that again. You’ve got to be a bastard in this business.” 

The lyric, “We like dancing and we look divine,” is a reference to the famous drag queen known as Divine, who starred in many John Waters films, including Pink Flamingos and Hairspray.

The transgender musician Jayne County claims Bowie based this on her song, “Queen Age Baby,” which was recorded a month before “Rebel Rebel.” County told Seconds magazine: “After one of his shows, me and Bowie were chatting. I had just signed to MainMan at the time and had all these great ideas kicking around, and I told David I had the best idea in the world. I told him I wanted to do a whole album of all British Invasion hits. Six months later he comes out with Pin-Ups [Bowie’s cover album]. I was flabbergasted! When I would say anything to anyone, they would just laugh and say I was paranoid. I said, ‘Something’s up here.’ They took me into the studio to record. I recorded ‘Wonder Woman,’ ‘Mexican City,’ ‘Are You Boy Or Are You A Girl?,’ ‘Queen Age Baby,’ all these incredible lyrics I had come up with. So I sent him all of my tapes and not long after that, Sherry is sitting at the house in Connecticut. Bowie called her up and said that he wrote this great song called ‘Rebel Rebel’ and plays her this demo. She listened to it and said, ‘This sounds like one of Wayne’s songs.’ Basically, ‘Queen Age Baby’ is the mother of ‘Rebel Rebel.’ If he had never heard ‘Queen Age Baby,’ he would have never written ‘Rebel Rebel.'”

This song was created in a spate of spontaneous inception. Alan Parker, the guitarist on “1984,” recalled to Uncut magazine: “He (Bowie) said, ‘I’ve got this list and it’s a bit Rolling Stonesy – I just want to piss Mick off a bit.'”

“I spent about three-quarters of an hour to an hour with him working on the guitar riff – he had it almost there, but not quite,” Parker continued. “We got it there, and he said, ‘Oh, we’d better do the middle…’ So he wrote something for the middle, put that in. Then he went off and sorted some lyrics. And that was us done.”

Rebel Rebel

Doo doo doo-doo doo doo doo doo 
Doo doo doo-doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo-doo doo doo doo doo

You’ve got your mother in a whirl 
She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl
Hey babe, your hair’s alright
Hey babe, let’s go out tonight
You like me, and I like it all
We like dancing and we look divine
You love bands when they’re playing hard
You want more and you want it fast
They put you down, they say I’m wrong
You tacky thing, you put them on

Rebel Rebel, you’ve torn your dress
Rebel Rebel, your face is a mess
Rebel Rebel, how could they know?
Hot tramp, I love you so!

Don’t ya?
Doo doo doo-doo doo doo doo doo 

You’ve got your mother in a whirl ’cause she’s
Not sure if you’re a boy or a girl
Hey babe, your hair’s alright
Hey babe, let’s stay out tonight
You like me, and I like it all
We like dancing and we look divine
You love bands when they’re playing hard
You want more and you want it fast
They put you down, they say I’m wrong
You tacky thing, you put them on

Rebel Rebel, you’ve torn your dress
Rebel Rebel, your face is a mess
Rebel Rebel, how could they know?
Hot tramp, I love you so!

Don’t ya?
Oh?
Doo doo doo-doo doo doo doo doo 
Doo doo doo-doo doo doo doo doo

Rebel Rebel, you’ve torn your dress
Rebel Rebel, your face is a mess
Rebel Rebel, how could they know?
Hot tramp, I love you so!

You’ve torn your dress, your face is a mess
You can’t get enough, but enough ain’t the test
You’ve got your transmission and your live wire
You got your cue line and a handful of ludes
You wanna be there when they count up the dudes
And I love your dress
You’re a juvenile success
Because your face is a mess
So how could they know?
I said, how could they know?

So what you wanna know
Calamity’s child, chi-chile, chi-chile
Where’d you wanna go?
What can I do for you? Looks like you’ve been there too
‘Cause you’ve torn your dress
And your face is a mess
Ooo, your face is a mess
Ooo, ooo, so how could they know?
Eh, eh, how could they know? 
Eh, eh

David Bowie – The Jean Genie

I love the rawness of this song and performance. I’m convinced there is no style that Bowie could not do.

The two main influences for this song were said to be Iggy Pop and Cyrinda Foxe. Many of the lyrics reflect Iggy Pop’s lifestyle and stage antics. Cyrinda Foxe was an actress who starred in commercials for Jean Genie jeans. Legend has it that Bowie wrote this in Foxe’s apartment in an effort to entertain her. Foxe would go on to appear in the song’s official video alongside Bowie.

Foxe has a sad ending. She married Steven Tyler and they had a child. They had a bitter divorce and she released a tell-all book on Tyler. She developed brain cancer and died in 2000.

This song was released in 1972 and peaked at #71 in the Billboard 100, #2 in the UK and #75 in Canada.

 

From Songfacts.

On the Santa Monica ’72 live album, Bowie says that this is about a “a New York lady and a guy who lives in New York and he’s called The Jean Genie” (referring to the rebellious French writer Jean Genet).

David Bowie added in his 2005 book Moonage Daydream: “Starting out as a lightweight riff thing I had written one evening in NY for Cyrinda’s enjoyment, I developed the lyric to the otherwise wordless pumper and it ultimately turned into a bit of a smorgasbord of imagined Americana … based on an Iggy-type persona. The title, of course, was a clumsy pun upon Jean Genet.”

This was one of the first tracks Bowie wrote in New York City. He loves the city and has written many of his songs there. In 2001, Bowie opened the “Concert For New York,” a tribute to the police, firemen, and rescue workers involved in the World Trade Center attacks.

In 1973, Bowie spoke to NME about this song: “I wanted to get the same sound the Stones had on their very first album on the harmonica. I didn’t get that near to it, but it had a feel that I wanted – that ’60s thing.”

The lyric, “He’s so simple minded, he can’t drive his module,” provided the inspiration for the remaining members of Johnny & The Self Abusers to become Simple Minds, who later scored a #1 US hit with “Don’t You (Forget About Me).”

In 2011, a cameraman named John Henshall found a tape of Bowie performing “The Jean Genie” live on the British music show, Top of the Pops, in 1973 – a performance that had thought to have been erased. In December 2011, the performance aired for the first time since January 1973. You can watch the footage – which was filmed using Telefex Fisheye lenses which Henshall himself designed.

 

The Jean Genie

A small Jean Genie snuck off to the city
Strung out on lasers and slash-back blazers
Ate all your razors while pulling the waiters
Talking ’bout Monroe and walking on Snow White
New York’s a go-go, and everything tastes right
Poor little Greenie, ooh-ooh

Keep her comin’
The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls (Jean Genie)
Jean Genie, let yourself go, whoah

Sits like a man but he smiles like a reptile
She love him, she love him but just for a short while
She’ll scratch in the sand, won’t let go his hand
He says he’s a beautician and sells you nutrition
And keeps all your dead hair for making up underwear
Poor little Greenie, ooh-ooh

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls (Jean Genie)
Jean Genie, let yourself go, whoah

He’s so simple-minded, he can’t drive his module
He bites on the neon and sleeps in a capsule
Loves to be loved, loves to be loved

Oh, Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls (Jean Genie)
Jean Genie, let yourself go, whoah

Go!
Go!

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls (Jean Genie)
Jean Genie, let yourself go, whoah

Go, go go!