David Bowie passed away today at the age of 69. It is difficult to sum up the impact he had on music. For nearly 40 years he pushed the boundaries of what pop music could be, tirelessly reinventing himself and his music, always challenging his listeners with a fierce devotion to making something new. He was a true cultural icon, revered by his fans as a genuinely original voice in an industry known for its tendency to manufacture and clone. Too many people are termed geniuses today but it is a description which suits Bowie perfectly. This is a look back at some of his finest moments in music, he will be sorely missed.
A Real Space Oddity
Bowie had released music under various guises, to little fanfare, before he put out his single Space Oddity, in 1969. Named in reference to the Stanley Kubrick masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, it turned out to be his first hit and charted in the UK top five. Looking back, that doesn’t begin to reflect the impact which that song has had on generations of people since. It is a perfectly judged record, with beautifully arranged acoustic guitar and string parts underlying Bowie’s left-field lyricism (“Ground control to Major Tom/Commencing countdown, engines on”) and anthemic chorus melodies. A classic.
Is there Life on Mars?
Bowie’s fourth album, Hunky Dory, was released in December 1971. Single, Life on Mars, wasn’t released until two years later but performed well in the charts, making it to number three in the UK. The seminal track is a lesson in how to make pop music: ornate piano lines embellish Bowie’s tales of “the girl with the mousy hair”; before a deep, rumbling string section cranks up the drama in anticipation of one of the most well known choruses in music. It is Bowie at his most accessible and showcases his immense musical talent.
The Ziggy Stardust years
For his fifth studio album, Bowie took a decision that only he could and based the record on a drug taking, sexually promiscuous, rock star alien called Ziggy Stardust. The influence of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars cannot be overstated. It regularly features amongst lists charting the best albums ever made and the Ziggy Stardust character has become a reference point in the day to day conversations of millions of people worldwide. A cultural phenomenon which might never be matched.
A New, Chicer Bowie
In 1983, Bowie teamed up with Chic’s Nile Rodgers to make Let’s Dance. It was a move that showed an artist willing to take influences from a range of genres and able to mould these influences into their own style. The addition of funk sounds allowed Bowie to reach a new level of commercial success, with the album going platinum in the UK and US, and the title track reaching number one in the UK. One of Bowie’s most loved tracks.
The Next Day
On 8th January 2013, Bowie announced that his first album in a decade would be released. It says something about the man that, in this day and age, he had managed to write, record and release an album without anyone having the foggiest clue about it. It showed an artist, who, even at 66, was able to surprise. The album went back to his rock origins and was met with critical acclaim and high chart positions globally. Lead single, Where Are We Now?, was released onto iTunes without any announcements but still topped the download charts shortly after. It is a sombre and beautiful song which reminisces about better times and looks at where Bowie is both musically and personally. After a ten year break, Bowie was just as inspired as ever.