Brian Eno is MORE DARK THAN SHARK
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INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno

Mojo Ultimate Collectors Edition FEBRUARY 2007 - by David Sheppard

FUTURE LEGEND

From space-age folk rock to electronic anthems via glam and soul, David Sheppard selects the best David Bowie songs of the '60s and '70s.

SPACE ODDITY Bowie finally hit the stratosphere in September 1969 with the misbegotten tale of hallucinatory astronaut Major Tom. ushered into the nation's affections by heavy TV advertising for its signature instrument - the wasp-in-a-can Stylophone - not to mention ongoing lunar mission hysteria, it parachuted into the Top 5.

HEAR IT ON: Space Oddity, 1969

THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD The title track on Bowie's 1970 album is a slice of sashaying proto-glam. Mick Ronson spindly guitar riff and an almost Latin rhythm frame lyrics that nod to Robert Heinlein's sci-fi novel and the Hugh Meams nonsense nursery rhyme The Psychoed. Bowie's double-tracked vocals ooze inscrutability - a quality eschewed by Lulu, though not Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, both of whom had subsequent hits with it.

HEAR IT ON: The Man Who Sold The World, 1970

QUEEN BITCH Bowie does Lou Reed. Queen Bitch is as camp as a row of Bowery transvestites but as ballsy as The Velvet Underground in their White Light/White Heat pomp. Set aflame by Mick Ronson's take-no-prisoners chordal riff, it's three minutes, thirteen seconds of pursed-lipped glam preening encapsulated by Bowie's screamingly catty "I could do better than that" chorus put-down.

HEAR IT ON: Hunky Dory, 1971

LIFE ON MARS Hunky Dory album track turned 1973 hit single, this invested rock with theatrical melodrama worthy of Edith Piaf or the Weimar cabaret. Brimming with cinematically themed lyrics ("Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow") and given wing by Rick Wakeman's Liberace-aping piano and Mick Ronson's vertiginous string arrangement, its yearning, acrobatic vocal is arguably Bowie's finest.

HEAR IT ON: Hunky Dory, 1971

CHANGES The plunging piano chords, descending bassline and stuttering, My Generation-style chorus line saw Bowie dressing rock in supper-club show-tune vestments to create a luminous new hybrid. It nonetheless failed to make any impression on the singles chart, but remains one of Bowie's signature songs.

HEAR IT ON: Hunky Dory, 1971

STARMAN A song about a time traveller who comes to earth with the sage advice to "let the children boogie", the taste for Ziggy Stardust was the second of Bowie's extraterrestrial-themed hits. Slinky yet cartoonish, with a joyfully transcendent chorus, its June '72 Top Of The Pops debut revealed a reinvented Bowie, all camp provocation in silver duds and with a knowing twinkle in his mismatched eyes.

HEAR IT ON: The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, 1972

ZIGGY STARDUST Bowie's mythic self-reinvention as the painted "Leper Messiah" fronting the Spiders From Mars remains one of rock's great character creations. The (almost) title track from the 1972 album tells Ziggy's picaresque story in six compressed verses. Its stately swagger, almost blasé vocal and Ronson's killer three-chord-and-a-run-down guitar riff embody glam rock at its most imperious.

HEAR IT ON: The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, 1972

ROCK'N'ROLL SUICIDE Heavily influenced by fatalistic Belgian chansonnier Jacques Brel, this is a melodramatic momento mori and the number with which Bowie knowingly killed off Ziggy Stardust in 1973. It begins introspectively and then builds in lavish waves of orchestration. Its redemptive "Oh no love / You're not alone" climax is one of '70s rock's most compelling vocal moments.

HEAR IT ON: The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, 1972

THE JEAN GENIE Coincidentally sharing a relentless, amped-up blues riff (but not much else) with The Sweet's Blockbuster, The Jean Genie is a glam rock tub-thumper with an esoteric air, elliptically inspired both by Iggy Pop and miscreant gay French novelist Jean Genet, it was kept off the top by Jimmy Osmond's Long-Haired Lover From Liverpool.

HEAR IT ON: Aladdin Sane, 1973

DRIVE-IN SATURDAY Allegedly written from the perspective of an important future race looking back to the heady 1970s for sexual arousal, Drive-In Saturday is a swinging, doo-wop-flavoured inventory of twentieth-century icons (Mick Jagger, Twiggy, Carl Jung). Rejected by Mott The Hoople as the follow-up to All The Young Dudes, it was a Top 5 single for Bowie in April 1973.

HEAR IT ON: Aladdin Sane, 1973

REBEL REBEL Originally written for an aborted Ziggy Stardust musical, this bravura blast of hard-on-hip raunch - built around a contagious, Keith Richards-aping riff - actually bade goodbye to Bowie's rock'n'roll glitter phase; though its androgyny-saluting lyric (You've got your mother in a whirl / She's not sure if you're a boy or a girl") remained a glam clarion call.

HEAR IT ON: Diamond Dogs, 1974

YOUNG AMERICANS The title track to the spring 1975 album that introduced Bowie's 'plastic soul' direction and the single that belatedly broke him in the US. An artful update on Philly soul, Bowie's torrent of lyrics paints a fractured, ambiguous post-Watergate US landscape. It builds inexorably to the climatic entreaty, "Ain't there just one damn song that can make me break down and cry" - an impassioned cri de cœur worthy of James Brown.

HEAR IT ON: Young Americans, 1975

FAME Fame was inspired by guitarist Carlos Alomar riffing on The Flames early-'60s R&B hot Footstompin'. With a visiting John Lennon adding words and backing vocals, Bowie rose to the occasion, crooning lyrics that excoriate the nature of celebrity - a subject his co-writer knew better than most. Even the signature multi-octave descending vocal bridge seems to consign showbiz notoriety to Mephistophelean depths.

HEAR IT ON: Young Americans, 1975

GOLDEN YEARS Another helping of discreetly funky plastic soul, which would lodge incongruously on 1976's Station To Station. A rush of cocaine affirmation allegedly dedicated to his wife Angie, it was first touted to Elvis Presley (who rejected it) but was a transatlantic Top 10 single nonetheless. Prominent harmonica and a distinctive "whop whop whop" vocal refrain provide the hook as much as Bowie's sinuously crooned delivery.

HEAR IT ON: Station To Station, 1976

ALWAYS CRASHING THE SAME CAR Always Crashing In The Same Car's brief, dreamlike lyric about going round in circles in a hotel car park is a brutal metaphor for repeated mistakes and, perhaps, the debilitating effects of sustained cocaine use - a practice Bowie had recently foresworn. Eno's shimmering synthesizer and iridescent treatments for Ricky Gardener and Carlos Alomar's guitars provide vivacious contrast to Bowie's eerily tranquillised delivery.

HEAR IT ON: Low, 1977

SOUND AND VISION This was initially thought a bizarre choice for a single as - at collaborator Brian Eno's suggestion - the instrumental intro is longer than the song itself. But Sound And Vision was emblematic of the album from which it was plucked, Low - itself split into vocal and instrumental sides. Bowie's vocals slide languorously but brilliantly around the almost knockabout drum - and sax-heavy backing.

HEAR IT ON: Low, 1977

BE MY WIFE An exquisite synthesis of Bopwie's classic songwriter chops and upgraded glam rock dynamics. Borne aloft on urgent piano and a lattice of slide-rule guitar lines, the matrimonial proposal is somehow both heartfelt and ambiguous - especially in the beguilingly offhand "sometimes you get so lonely" pay-off.

HEAR IT ON: Low, 1977

"HEROES" A major 1977 hit, "Heroes" remains Bowie's most enduring song. recorded in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, its timeless anthem of against-all-odds empowerment, soaring on Robert Fripp's coruscating electric guitar while, beneath, a juddering über-rock backing - artfully collaged and processed by Eno - heaves relentlessly on. Bowie responds by delivering a mighty, ever more impassioned vocal: like a triumphal, Cold War Roy Orbison.

HEAR IT ON: "Heroes", 1977

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST An unsuccessful 1978 follow-up single to "Heroes", Beauty And The Beast is another vehicle for Fripp and Eno's heavily treated kinetic rock and another opportunity for Bowie to exorcise his demons. A claustrophobic atmosphere pervades both instruments and vocals, further reflected in intriguingly paranoid lyrics ("There's slaughter in the air / Protest on the wind / Someone else inside me / Someone could get skinned, how?").

HEAR IT ON: "Heroes", 1977

BOYS KEEP SWINGING A sardonic satire on male stereotypes in which Eno and Bowie had the band swap instruments to create a raw, faux-naif post-punk sound. Against the rudimentary thrum, Bowie delivers a mordant vocal before Adrian Belew's guitar splutters all over the extended fade-out. Bowie at his most playful and direct.

HEAR IT ON: Lodger, 1979


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