David Bowie shares a birthday with Elvis Presley, January 8th; there’s a little trivia for you. Throughout his 48-year career, we have seen many sides of this legendary singer-songwriter/ performer/ actor. From the androgynous Ziggy Stardust to his stint as a soul singer, the ever-changing Bowie has always kept us guessing and has proven to be the key to his success. As he turned 68, please indulge me as I take a look back at some of the highlights of Bowie’s extraordinary run.
David Bowie started as a folk singer named Davie Jones, and after changing his name to Bowie, he released his self-titled debut. However, the album was released on the same day as the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and vanished into obscurity until many years later. His second release spawned the track “Space Oddity” which cracked the top 5 spot on the UK charts in 1969. Although subsequent albums were critical successes, he was having a hard time connecting with audiences.
In 1972 Bowie emerged from the studio with the masterpiece The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. David’s creation of a fictional rock star, Ziggy, proved to be a success as he became the character on a nightly basis. While the bisexual alien rock star was short lived, Bowie made his mark as he spurred the glam movement and inspired countless artists to jump on the bandwagon. The music, as well as the persona, were highly sexual, which only fueled the fire as he toured the world. Ziggy played his last show in 1973 at the Hammersmith Odeon in London much to the disappointment of fans.
Following Ziggy, Bowie released Aladdin Sane and a covers album called Pin Ups in 1973. By the time he got to Diamond Dogs and David Live in 1974, he was already hinting about what his next move would be. Young Americans was dubbed “Plastic Soul” by David and featured such notable artists such as David Sanborn, Luther Vandross and John Lennon. Lennon aided Bowie on the track “Fame” which gave the Thin White Duke his first number one in the States. The record was influenced by the Philly sound and contained several soulful tracks like “Win” and “Fascination.” It even gave a soulful makeover to the Lennon song “Across the Universe.” Following Young Americans, he offered up Station to Station which combined plastic soul with a more progressive feel.
In 1976, Bowie again reinvented himself by teaming up with ex Roxy Music member, Brian Eno. Fascinated by the German scene which included Kraftwerk, he set out to record the non-commercial album Low. Longtime fans were a bit perplexed by the album as David and Eno experimented with a synth-heavy sound. The record did contain some pop friendly tunes, but for the most part, it was dark and ominous as the duo created lush landscapes of sound. Their follow-up, Heroes, followed the same format as the previous recording, but would end the Eno and Bowie collaboration.
As MTV broke into the scene, Bowie was fully prepared for the video age with the release of Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). The album renewed the character from “Space Oddity,” Major Tom on “Ashes to Ashes.” David’s return to a rock format was greeted with open arms and introduced the rock icon to a new generation of fans.
Then it happened, Bowie captured the mainstream with his first pop album Let’s Dance. The release was embraced by the MTV generation as well as longtime fans. Guided by the riffs of Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers, the album sold seven million copies worldwide and featured hits such as “Modern Love” and “China Girl.” Stevie Ray Vaughan even made an appearance on the disc. Subsequent albums paled in comparison as Bowie slipped back into obscurity as he reunited with Eno to record Outside. Collaborations with the likes of Queen, Tina Turner and Mick Jagger kept him in the public eye and gave Bowie a few more hits.
Bowie was always more than a musician and when he wasn’t recording, he kept busy with acting roles and appeared in such films as The Man Who Fell To Earth, The Hunger, The Last Temptation of Christ and Basquiat, where he played his old friend, Andy Warhol. Accolades include, but are not limited to, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award; Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him 39th of 100 Greatest Rock Artists of All Time; In 1996, Bowie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His influence can be heard or felt in artists like Marilyn Manson, Lady Gaga, U2, Depeche Mode and even Madonna.
Bowie continued to record and tour throughout the 1990s and is still doing it in the 21st century. His 2013 album, The Next Day, caught a bit of flack by the Christian Right over the video of the title track – not surprising to longtime fans as he has been pushing the envelope for over four decades. To the disappointment of hardcore Bowie fans, his latter work has been vastly ignored by mainstream radio. Even so-called “alternative” stations are still playing works from as far back as “Space Oddity.” Yet, David Bowie has made his mark on music and his legendary voice still packs venues across the world. Happy belated birthday, David.