by Dan Smith
Born: 8th January 1947 (as David Robert Jones)
Top Tracks: ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Life on Mars’, ‘Heroes’, ‘Ziggy Stardust’, ‘Starman’.
It is so easy when discussing David Bowie’s musical influence to fall into clichés and breezily praise his role as a veritable musical chameleon. It’s so easy to focus on his uncanny knack of being able to pre-empt trends and movements by spearheading them, defining them and morphing to his own unique manifestations. It’s so easy, because it’s so appropriate.
His various sabbaticals and reclusive breaks from the music business over the years have only added to the mystique and enigmatic lure of Bowie.
One of the most influential solo artists of all-time, he may not boast the consistent commercial successes of many contemporaries, but his cult status has always been bred from a body of work that is challenging, abstract and seminal in equal measure.
After an unsuccessful first crack at stardom in the mid-1960s, Bowie took the first of his many, many sabbaticals, both bizarre and culturally significant. For several weeks in 1967 he lived at a Buddhist monastery in Scotland, and in 1968 he started his own mime troupe called Feathers.
And his re-emergence in 1969 yielded his first hit, the bona-fide, stripped down psychedelic classic, ‘Space Oddity’. The use of the song in BBC’s coverage of the successful Apollo 11 moon landing was a masterstroke for the fledgling musician, and he received vast amounts of mainstream exposure as a result.
His next album, in 1970, ‘The Man Who Sold the World’, was an even greater catapult for the artist, with a heavier rock sound emanating from it, as well as hit song ‘Changes’, which in many ways would come to define Bowie himself.
The star then proceeded to single-handedly flip the pop music scene on its head in the early 1970s, first with his flamboyantly eccentric Ziggy Stardust persona, backed by ‘The Spiders From Mars’, and their subsequent self-titled album.
This androgynous guise, clad in what would become standard glam rock attire, was a wildly futuristic creation that would effectively kill off the ideological Hippie movement of the Sixties.
However, the ever-experimental Bowie would metamorphosise once more in 1973, producing albums for Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, before announcing a complete withdrawal from live performances.
The changes kept coming for the star, and by the mid-1970s he had ditched the outrageousness and flashy costumes, instead collaborating with the world-weary, socially conscious John Lennon to produce US Number One single, ‘Fame’.
Bowie had moved to New York by 1980, following his residence in Berlin in the mid-1970s, and here he took a new career turn, with the much celebrated album, ‘Scary Monsters’.
By the late 1970s and early 1980s Bowie’s movie career had taken off massively and, as a result, his work following the dancey, pop album ‘Just Dance’ in 1983 was inconsistent and far more scattered.
By the early 1990s, his perusal of other ventures had resulted in several poorly received albums, culminating in the much-hyped ‘Black Tie, White Noise’.
His re-emergence in 1993 saw a more jazz infused, electronic sound, before further experimenting with industrial rockers Nine Inch Nails, who would controversially support him on a 1995-96 North American tour.
After more reclusive, intermittent activity over the next decade, Bowie was thrust into his fifth decade in the music business at the turn of the new millennium.
A health scare occurred in 2004, whilst onstage in Germany, as he suffered a blocked coronary artery. The heart attack severely limited his musical output, and he instead chose to perform mostly on one-off occasions and soundtracks for the next few years, eventually fading into the shadows once more.
But always present despite his absence, Bowie justified his image as the consummate comeback king once again, by shocking the world on his 66th birthday, 8th January 2013. There would be a new Bowie album out in March.
Fans were given a taster with the instant release of ‘Where are We Now?’, a song drawing on his harrowingly pertinent Berlin experiences of the 1970s, and it raced to the top of the iTunes chart within hours.
Celebrating his 50th year in the music business in 2012, many had feared that Bowie had effectively retired and gone back to being plain old David Jones. But as the new album, ‘The Next Day’, confirms, the fat lady has not even begun to sing on his career.
Few artists have, will, or ever could, aspire to the far-reaching cultural impact of David Bowie, and his musical legacy has become the crux of popular music progression for at least the past five decades, inspiring genres as diverse as electronica, glam rock, punk and new wave.
Throw into the mix the ace collaborations with such luminaries as Freddie Mercury and Mick Jagger, and capability of writing hits for artists such as Iggy Pop and Mott the Hoople, it’s clear to see the over-arching genius of the man’s work.
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