"Planet earth is blue, and there's nothing I can do."
Like a lot of music fans today I'm shocked and saddened to hear about the death of David Bowie. He'd been discretely battling cancer for the past year and a half, and passed away on Sunday, January 10, just days after his 69th birthday and releasing his 27th and final album, Blackstar. As an eerie parting gift to his fans, his last music video for a track from that album, "Lazarus", is brave and prophetic, announcing his death (and concludes with Bowie backing himself into a bedroom wardrobe, off to the land of Narnia, we can assume.) Knowing his time on this earth was preciously short, he sure knew how to make an exit as well as an entrance.
I don't consider myself a huge Bowie fan, but I do like his music (although I'm unfamiliar with most of what he recorded during the past 25 years) and I've been touched by seeing the outpouring of tributes and affection for him on social media. For kids that grew up feeling left out or misunderstood, the "Thin White Duke" was a rebellious musical hero and not afraid to push artistic limits with his gender bending, makeup draped personas.
Amazingly, Bowie (he adopted the made-up last name because his real name, David Jones, was already taken by one of The Monkees) didn't considered himself a musician. He told Charlie Rose that he was more of an artist who was using music to express himself.
I'm not knowledgable enough to list ten underrated songs from Bowie's catalog, but I am going to list ten of my favorite songs of his as a small Go Retro tribute. No surprise, several of these come from the '80s, the decade of my preteen and teenage years. RIP and godspeed, Ziggy Stardust.
1. Space Oddity (1969)
It wasn't until a couple of years ago that it occurred to me just how perfectly composed Bowie's big early hit is. First it all, it tells a story which is an uncommon theme in most of today's music, and second, you can easily envision the rocket ricocheting upward after takeoff thanks to that wavering guitar effect. There were two music videos filmed for the track -- I prefer the second one above which is from Bowie's promotional film Love You Til Tuesday (but definitely favor the radio version of the song we're all familiar with.)
By the way, the song inspired the '80s hit by German singer Peter Schilling, "Major Tom (Coming Home)" released in 1983, in which the astronaut character comes back home to earth.
2. Changes (1971)
My go-to "soother" song each time I was laid off. That, and Bobby Darin's "Change."
3. Rebel Rebel (1974)
"Rebel Rebel", to me, could have been David Bowie singing about himself. "You've got your mother in a whirl...she's not sure if you're a boy or a girl. Hey, baby, your hair's alright." It's thought of as Bowie's farewell song to the glam rock genre and his most covered song.
4. Fame (1975)
In 1974, David Bowie met John Lennon for the first time and no surprise, the two became fast friends. At a speech Bowie gave to the Berklee College of Music in 1999, he called Lennon his "greatest mentor." (Yoko Ono said on Facebook that Bowie was a good friend and like a father figure to Sean after Lennon passed away.) "Fame" was partially motivated by Bowie's unhappiness with his management at the time. "I think fame itself is not a rewarding thing," he said in a 1990 interview. "The most you can say is that it gets you a seat in restaurants."
The above performance is a rare one; Bowie appeared on Soul Train, obviously lip-synching his hit (and without his Beatle backup singer present.)
5. Heroes (1977)
It's a beautiful love song about a fleeting romance, but I will always remember how it got noticeable radio play after 9/11.
6. Fashion (1980)
Of all of the songs on my list, "Fashion" is probably the most underrated. The first time I heard it, it quickly became one of my favorite Bowie songs. The music video features G.E. Smith of Hall & Oates' band, and May Pang, John Lennon's mistress during his lost weekend period.
7. Under Pressure (1981)
Bittersweet now because it was a collaboration with Freddie Mercury and Queen, Under Pressure is as timely today as ever.
8. Let's Dance (1983)
Brings back great memories of Friday night junior high school dances.
9. Modern Love (1983)
Although the song was released nearly ten years before he married her, I think it's worth mentioning Bowie's wife Iman, the gorgeous supermodel from the '70s and '80s. Bowie met Iman at a dinner party and was immediately smitten; she was suspicious because she didn't want to get involved with a rock star. Bowie pursued her and wooed her, and when he bent to tie her sneaker lace that had some undone in the middle of the street she knew he was a keeper. "My father gave me a positive connection with men because he is a gentleman," she told Harper's Bazaar in 2010. "And that is what attracted me to David. He is a gentle soul."
They married in 1992, had a daughter (Bowie also had a son with his first wife), and right up until Bowie's death had by all accounts something rare in the music biz -- a happy, strong, and fulfilling marriage.
10. Blue Jean (1984)
I would like to know if David Bowie did his own makeup for this video, or a makeup artist...because the contouring job is amazing!
What are your favorite David Bowie songs?