Waiting for the Gift of Sound and Vision: A tribute to David Bowie

This is coming somewhat late, but I wanted to make a post celebrating the music of David Bowie. I went through my first real Bowie phase in 2008. To be honest, I found it hard to break into Bowie’s catalog; he was incredibly prolific, so it was difficult to know where to start. Low was really the first album that revealed Bowie’s genius to me. After that I was hooked, and Bowie became of my all-time favourite musicians.

The biggest criticism levied against Bowie throughout his career was that he was a culture vulture; someone who didn’t really innovate but merely pilfered trends from more creative artists to his own needs. I think that’s true to a certain extent, but I also don’t see what’s so bad about it. Bowie perfected a lot of ideas that he was listening to. He’s sorta like the musical equivalent of Steve Jobs in that respect. Our culture fetishizes such an esoteric concept of “originality,” which is actually a mirage. But that’s a whole other can of worms.

Anyways, for a tribute,  I wanted to make a playlist of not only Bowie’s own music, but also covers and music he inspired.

  1. David Bowie – “Sound and Vision” (Low, 1977)

As other writers have observed, “Sound and Vision” is the Bowie song that contains all Bowie songs. Personally, it is my favourite Bowie song. It covers so much sonic territory in just three minutes. And I love that Bowie lays down a sax track. What’s most striking about this song is the contrast between the poppy instrumentals and Bowie’s melancholy tone. Apparently, the song was originally meant to be an instrumental (at the time of recording Low, Bowie was suffering from writer’s block), and the song would have succeeded as such, but Bowie’s vocal track adds such a rich layer thus pushing the song into the stratosphere.

2. David Bowie – “Moonage Daydream” (Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture, 1983)

I specifically picked this live version to showcase Bowie’s performance. It’s such a deal breaker for me when artists are shitty live. I also wanted to use this version for Mick Ronson’s brilliant playing. It’s really amazing the line-up of brilliant guitarists that Bowie has played with throughout his career, from Mick to Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the list goes on. “Moonage Daydream” is probably runner up to “Sound and Vision” as my favourite Bowie song.

3. Nirvana – “The Man Who Sold the World” (Unplugged, 1994)

 

I think a lot of young people were introduced to Bowie through this song. It’s an incredible cover, even better than the original, which is always hard to do. Usually, a great cover re-imagines the song in a radical way (I hate covers that sound like the original version at a lower volume), but Nirvana’s version was fairly straight forward, albeit stripped down. The simplicity resonated with Cobain’s vocal performance. Posthumously, knowing how much Cobain wrestled with his own image, you can see how he was able to personalize the lyrics and make it his own.

4. Jay-Z – “Takeover” (The Blueprint, 2001)

Speaking of unexpected influences, Kanye West is a huge Bowie fan. He actually sampled a bit from “Fame” in this track he produced for Jigga back in 2001. I like to think of Bowie and Kanye was distant cousins. As an artist, Kanye is also very eclectic, drawing on a variety of sources and perfecting trends. He’s also a provocateur, knowing which buttons to press to get a reaction. In the 60s, Bowie embraced androgyny and sexual liberation. These days, Kanye is challenging acceptable norms for black artists (something Bowie was also passionate about).

5. David Bowie – “I’m Afraid of Americans” (Earthlings, 1997)

My introduction to Bowie. It’s a shame that Bowie’s greatest years were before MTV and music videos. Although, he did have some great ones in the 80s, like “Let’s Dance” and “Ashes to Ashes.” This video is excellent. I also love his collaboration with Trent Reznor.

6. Nine Inch Nails – “A Warm Place” (The Downward Spiral, 1994)

Keeping with Reznor, this is an interesting song because Reznor is basically Bowie-ing Bowie. It’s basically a reimagining of Bowie’s “Crystal Japan.” I love what Reznor does with it. The warm digital textures are reminiscient of Bowie’s Berlin period.

7. LCD Soundsystem – “All I want” (This is Happening, 2010)

The debt this song owes to “Heroes” is obvious. In a way, it’s cover that goes beyond being a cover and becomes a tribute. Listening to LCD Soundsystem’s music, it’s clear the influence that Bowie’s Berlin period had on James Murphy. Interestingly, Murphy played percussion on Bowie’s final album, Blackstar.

8. Lady Gaga – “Bad Romance” (The Fame Monster, 2009)

I gotta say, I’m a big Lady Gaga hater. Whereas Bowie is a culture vulture in a creative sense, Gaga is a commercial vulture. She’s Bowie for mass consumption. “Hamburgers for the apocalypse” to borrow a line from Almost Famous. Nonetheless, “Bad Romance” is a great tune.

9. TV on the Radio – “Province” (Return to Cookie Mountain, 2006)

These past few years, Bowie has become an elder statesman for art pop. I hear so many anecdotes of how gracious he was to young, new artists. Likewise, I love hearing him lend his voice to tracks like “Province.” I remember hearing this song for the first time and thinking “wow, those backing vocals sound just like Bowie.” I was surprised to learn he’d actually sang them because I expected someone of Bowie’s stature to be more demonstrative and assertive in a guest appearance. Nope. Bowie was happy to serve the song.

10. Arcade Fire – “Reflektor”(Reflektor, 2013)

Another band taken under his wing, Bowie’s relationship with Arcade Fire has been well documented. As soon as they broke out with Funeral back in 2004, people were comparing their music to Bowie’s. To be honest, I didn’t really hear it, until he performed “Wake Up” with them live. Of their albums, Reflektor sounds the most like Bowie. Their tribute to Bowie in New Orleans was very touching.

11. David Bowie – “Lazarus” (Blackstar, 2015)

Aside from working with other artists, Bowie was largely quite for the past decade. But reports say that the last eighteen months of his life was a fury of activity. The cancer diagnosis creatively reinvigorated him. It is a common narrative. It is extraordinary that Bowie managed to create one last great album so soon before his death. Blackstar is some of his best material since the Berlin period. “Lazarus” is Bowie’s courageous attempt to gaze into the abyss of mortality. A final gift for fans.

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~ by braddunne on January 18, 2016.

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