End of Chapter Nine (1996-1999)

February 3, 2014


That time again. Note for newish readers: these “chapter end” posts are a chance to sit back and assess the most recent period we’ve gone through in Bowie’s life. They’re also, blessedly, a means for me to not write the blog for a week. So say goodbye to the Nineties: list your favorites from the Bowie/Nine Inch Nails duets to Reeves Gabrels’ “Jewel” (so, all of Earthling and ‘Hours‘).

A tough period to assess (the toughest?). My top 10, as of this morning:

Something In the Air.
Dead Man Walking.
I’m Afraid of Americans.
Little Wonder.
Suite For a Foggy Day.
Looking For Satellites.
Battle For Britain (the Letter).
Seven Years in Tibet.

Top: Ted Barron, “South Third Street, Brooklyn, 1997.”

End of Chapter Eight (1992-1995)

April 23, 2013


Wrap-up time for early-to-mid Nineties Bowie, from “Real Cool World” to “I Have Not Been to Oxford Town,” a solid run encompassing Black Tie White Noise, The Buddha of Suburbia and Outside (& Leon). List your favorite songs of the period in the comments (for new readers, this is a semi-regular thing; see the “Chapter Ends” category for past entries). Below is my top 10 1/2: mercy, it was tough to choose a “winner” from the top three.

I Have Not Been to Oxford Town.
Untitled No. 1.
Thru’ These Architects Eyes.
The Hearts Filthy Lesson.
Strangers When We Meet.
Dead Against It.
Miracle Goodnight.
The Mysteries.
No Control./ Lucy Can’t Dance.

Top: Ted Barron, “Hazel and Amy Rigby,” Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, 1994.

End of Chapter Seven (1988-1991)

September 11, 2012

As the Tin Machine era doesn’t play well with others, it seems best to keep its rankings separate. So list your top ten or whatever you can muster from 1988-1991: choose the cream of the Machine. Mine are below (“Stamford Hill” is a stretch, as it was mainly recorded ca. 1995).

I Can’t Read.
Pretty Pink Rose.
Goodbye Mr. Ed.
Bus Stop.
Shopping for Girls.
Prisoner of Love
Baby Universal.
You Belong in Rock ‘n Roll.
The King of Stamford Hill.

Top: Stefan Sahlander, “New York, 24 July 1991.”

End of Chapter Six (1980-1987)

April 10, 2012

An explanatory note for (relatively) new readers: these very infrequent “chapter end” posts began back in 2009, when about eight people read this thing. They are a means to give me breathing space so I can write an overlong introductory piece for the upcoming phase of Bowie’s career, and to allow readers to praise and fight over their favorite songs from a particular period.

Problem is, I think it’s been too long since the last one (which ended with Lodger), so mercy, there are a lot of songs to go through. For this period, however, a lot of them aren’t great, so your list will likely narrow quickly. The inclusion of Scary Monsters utterly skews the ranking in my case. So have at it: list your best songs of the 1980-1987 period (Monsters to Never Let Me Down). Here’s my very Monsters-heavy list, extended to 15 because SM was such a dominant force:

Ashes to Ashes.
Up the Hill Backwards.
Modern Love.
It’s No Game (No. 1).
Under Pressure.
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).
Cat People (original).
Crystal Japan.
Blue Jean.
Let’s Dance.
Absolute Beginners.
The Drowned Girl.
Without You.

Top: Paul W. Locke, “Paul’s coworkers at Ferranti-Dege in Harvard Square, 1986.” (RIP Ferranti-Dege.)

End of Chapter Five (1976-1979)

August 4, 2011

It’s been ages since I’ve run one of these key summaries (cough, place-fillers) (which have no correlation to any actual chapters in the upcoming book). Anyhow, here’s a chance to list your top 10 favorites from the “Berlin” era—The Idiot to Lodger.

Here are mine. List extremely subject to change, except the first two:

Sound and Vision.
Boys Keep Swinging.
Joe the Lion.
Be My Wife.
Lust For Life.
Look Back In Anger.
Funtime/Some Are.

Top: Regent St., London, 1979.

End of Chapter Four (1973-1975)

January 3, 2011

Haven’t done one of these in a while, so here are my top 10 faves from the Diamond Dogs to Station to Station era. Very epic-heavy, this lot:

Station To Station.
Word On a Wing.
Rebel Rebel.
Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise).
Young Americans.
Golden Years.
Who Can I Be Now?
Diamond Dogs.

So: Pushing Ahead of the Dame is going to become a book, eventually, thanks to the interest of Zero Books. It most likely will be two volumes, the first (probably) ending with “Station to Station,” hence the grandiose climactic tone of that recent entry. More details to come when I have ’em.

Why buy a book consisting of stuff that’s already on the Internet for free? An essential question of the 21st Century. As an enticement, the song essays in the book will be substantially rewritten, many will be expanded (though a few gassy overlong essays will get trimmed) and, mercifully, all of them will be edited by professionals. The new essays will be more informative, less digressive, funnier and more coherent; they will be far better looking and will have better manners than their ancestors. So consider picking the book up, whenever it arrives.

Top: Normko, “Regent Street, 1975.”

A (Mercifully) Brief Self-Notice

November 24, 2010

It turns out that my post on “Space Oddity” has, bizarrely enough, made the cut for “Other Notable Music Writing of 2009” in the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2010.

I’m very honored. Thanks very much to whoever submitted the thing, if it was submitted, and thanks to whoever decided on it (Ann Powers? Daphne Carr? we’re not worthy, in any case).

Happy Thanksgiving!

End of Chapter Three (1971-1973)

July 6, 2010

In the last months of 1970 David Bowie sat alone at his piano in Haddon Hall in Bromley, day after day, writing songs. No one knew him when he went out into the street. He was composing more for others than for himself. The songs piled up around him, fictions for an inhospitable world.

By July 1973 Bowie had become a name and a face: he was as striking and as recognizable as a cereal box logo. He had sold-out shows, had five LPs in the UK Top 40 (including #1, Aladdin Sane), and even a reissued “The Laughing Gnome” would hit the Top 10.

And it was ending just (seemingly) as it was starting. The band he had casually assembled in 1970 was breaking apart. Woody Woodmansey (radicalized by his conversion to Scientology, and asking for more money) was gone, Trevor Bolder would soon follow him. Even Mick Ronson was wondering where he stood.

So five days after he announced his retirement on stage at the Hammersmith, Bowie left for France, for the Château d’Hérouville in Val-d’Oise. He was going to make a covers record.

My Top Ten of the period. A tough call:

Queen Bitch.
Life On Mars?
Suffragette City.
The Bewlay Brothers.
All the Young Dudes.

The Jean Genie.
John, I’m Only Dancing.

Sweet Head.
Panic In Detroit.
Oh! You Pretty Things.

Top: Ilsa (l) narrowly won the contest, having used the most square yardage of polyester curtain fabric to make her leisure suit. Heike (2nd from r) smiled but was consumed with silent hatred. She had thought her maxi-dress was a sure winner, and later that day she set fire to it in a trash barrel (Bundesarchiv: “Leipzig, Messe, neue Mode,” September 1972).

End of Chapter Two (1969-1970)

February 1, 2010

In July 1970, having cut The Man Who Sold the World and “Holy Holy,” Bowie went into hibernation (well, aestivation, to be precise). Everything was on hold. No shows, no promotions, no studio sessions. Mick Ronson and Woody Woodmansey dejectedly went back to Hull (Ronson even fell into a depression). Tony Visconti, who was about to produce a run of chart-topping singles for T. Rex and who was wary of Bowie’s new manager Tony Defries, told Bowie he couldn’t work with him anymore. The two parted outside Defries’ office on Regent Street, not to meet again for years.

The silence was partly strategy. Defries was negotiating to get Bowie a better record deal than his current one with Philips/Mercury, whose contract would expire once Man Who Sold the World was released. Bowie’s publishing contract with Essex Music was also expiring, and due to Bob Grace at Chrysalis Music’s love for “Holy Holy,” Bowie landed a new publishing deal with Chrysalis in October (giving Bowie a much-needed £5000 advance).

So in the latter months of 1970 Bowie simply wrote, song after song, many of them on a piano he had brought into Haddon Hall; he later demoed many of the pieces at Radio Luxembourg’s studios. In 1971 Bowie would at last go to America and would record Hunky Dory and most of Ziggy Stardust: alone at his piano, Bowie laid the framework for a miracle year.

Top five from the “Philips/Mercury” era:

The Man Who Sold the World.
Conversation Piece.
Space Oddity.
After All.
Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed.

Top: London, 1970 (photographer unknown).

End of Chapter One (1964-1968)

November 6, 2009


This seems a good place to pause and take a breath. Next in line is the first Big Bowie Song (oh, you know which one it is), so I’ll need some time to get the entry together.

For four years, David Bowie had been trying to become a pop star. He made nine singles, one LP, and went through six bands, three managers and four labels. By the end of 1968 he was in a folk trio scrounging for gigs, didn’t have a record contract and had a girlfriend who wanted him to get into something more respectable. The Bowie story easily could have ended right then…

For what it’s worth, here’s my Top 10 from this period. What’s yours?

Silly Boy Blue.
The Laughing Gnome.
The London Boys.
There Is a Happy Land.
London Bye Ta-Ta.
Baby Loves That Way.
Karma Man.
I Dig Everything.
Can’t Help Thinking About Me.
Liza Jane.

Top: changing of the guard, London, 1968.


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