Born David Robert Jones (January 8, 1947) he died January 10, 2016 at the age of 69. I find that the more well known an artist is, one runs the risk of just blogging about stuff everyone already knows. If I stick close to my theme of cover songs, there might be something here you have not already read or heard.
Bowie’s first record release was a 45 r.p.m. with “Rubber Band” on the ‘A’ side. “Rubber Band” a cover by Shane Devon (2017) who hails from Owensboro, KY of all places does an amazing job. This song written by an 18 year old Bowie and recorded at 19 seems an odd choice for one so young in the 1966 music scene but he is emulating one of his early influences Anthony Newley . Still I find the song quite remarkable. On the ‘B’ side is one of my favorite Bowie songs “London Boys” written by David Bowie, the two songs are quite different and this one gives us a glimpse I think of the David Bowie to come, brilliant and unique. Neither song did well commercially and each covered only once. A very respectable cover of the later by Marc Almond (2007) “The London Boys” .
Starting as a saxophone player Bowie would master various percussion instruments including the drums, also keyboards such as the piano, Mellotron, Chamberlin, and synthesizers. The harmonica; alto and baritone, stylophone, viola, cello and koto (a Japanese string instrument) and both acoustic and electric guitar. He also played a Lamellophone from Africa, commonly known in the west as a ‘Thumb Piano’ which is not much like a piano really. My buddy Steve and I saw a synthesizer used by Brian Eno for a Bowie Album in a Calgary Piano/Keyboard Music Museum that was the precursor to the National Music Centre.
Bowie has had at least 177 of his songs covered and he himself recorded 87 songs from other people. At least one of those songs he covered he wrote himself but specifically for ‘Mott the Hoople’. “All the Young Dudes” recorded by the then struggling band they had a huge hit with this song reaching #3 in the UK (1972).
Bowie recorded his version of the song (possibly in 1972) but released on a single in 1974 and added it to a live album as well (I discovered on Discogs) that was never released in North America. So most of us in this part of the world never got a copy and discovered it on the Album ‘RarestOneBowie’ in 1995 or like me in 1997 on ‘The Best of David Bowie 1969/1974’. Here is Bowie’s version, remastered for the ’97 release. Added to the mix is an interesting myth surrounding the song, here is a link to a good story . (Shayne another mystery solved!)
Not surprisingly his most covered song at 236 versions is “Space Oddity” by David Bowie and John Hutchinson (as Ground Control), written by David Bowie. This was his ‘breakthrough’ hit from 1969. It would be quite un-Canadian of me not to insert the video from Commander Chris Hadfield from the International Space Station (2013). A nod also to Emm Gryner who played keyboard and was instrumental in producing the video, starting with emailing her old boss (she toured with Bowie in 1999) to get his blessing for the project.
A bit of a surprise to me at least is the second most covered song at 135 versions is “Life on Mars” (Hunky Dory 1971). Even more surprising was this version from Barbra Streisand (1974). Here is an impressive version from Meg Birch (2018).
In addition to Space Oddity, David Bowie has three other songs on the list of the “500 Songs that Changed Rock and Roll” (complied by James Henke, chief curator-Rock and Rock Hall of Fame); “Ziggy Stardust” (David Bowie), “Fame” (Carlos Alomar, David Bowie, John Lennon) and “Changes“, written by David Bowie and this song was also from the 1971 Album ‘Hunky Dory’ and covered at least 43 times. The song is not only musically stunning but it’s lyrics are deep and meaningful. Here is respectable version from The Muffs a UK Punk band who did a tribute album in October of 2015.
Bowie is another example (such as Springsteen) where #1 hits and legendary talent don’t always meet. Bowie had only two songs reach the top of the Billboard charts, “Fame” in 1975 and “Let’s Dance” in 1983. Bowie had 5 songs hit #1 in the UK, these same two plus “Space Oddity”, “Ashes to Ashes” (1980) and “Under Pressure” (1981) with of course ‘Queen’ – featuring two of the finest voices in recorded music.
Music Trivia: In addition to many movie roles David Bowie voiced Lord Royal Highness in an episode of SpongeBob Squarepants (2007). R.I.P., Stephen Hillenburg and of course David Bowie.