1947 – David Bowie (David Robert Jones) is born in London. He first records with the King Bees, Lower Third and the Mannish Boys in 1963 before going solo. His two No. 1 songs are “Fame” and “Let’s Dance.”
David Bowie (IPA:
Although he released an album and numerous singles earlier, David Bowie first caught the eye and ear of the public in the autumn of 1969, when the Apollo program-inspired “Space Oddity” reached the top five of the UK singles chart. After a three-year period of experimentation he re-emerged in 1972 during the glam rock era as the flamboyant, androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust, spearheaded by the hit single “Starman” and the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. The relatively short-lived Ziggy persona epitomised a career often marked by musical innovation, reinvention and striking visual presentation.
In 1975, Bowie achieved his first major American crossover success with the number-one single “Fame” and the hit album Young Americans, which the singer identified as “plastic soul”. The sound constituted a radical shift in style that initially alienated many of his UK devotees. He then confounded the expectations of both his record label and his American audiences by recording the minimalist album Low – the first of three collaborations with Brian Eno over the next two years. Arguably his most experimental works to date, the so-called “Berlin Trilogy” albums all reached the UK Top Five.
After uneven commercial success in the late 1970s, Bowie had UK number ones with the 1980 single “Ashes to Ashes” and its parent album, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). He paired with Queen for the 1981 UK chart-topper “Under Pressure”, but consolidated his commercial – and, until then, most profitable – sound in 1983 with the album Let’s Dance, which yielded the hit singles “Let’s Dance”, “China Girl”, and “Modern Love”.
In the BBC’s 2002 poll of the 100 Greatest Britons, Bowie ranked 29. Throughout his career he has sold an estimated 136 million albums, and ranks among the ten best-selling acts in UK pop history. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him 39th on their list of the 100 Greatest Rock Artists of All Time
1947 to 1967: Early years
David Bowie (then David Jones) was born in Brixton, London. Bowie’s parents, Margaret Mary “Peggy” (née Burns) and Hayward Stenton “John” Jones, were married shortly after his birth.
When Bowie was fifteen years old, his friend, George Underwood, wearing a ring on his finger, punched him in the left eye during a fight over a girl. Bowie was forced to stay out of school for eight months so that doctors could conduct operations to repair his potentially blinded eye.
Bowie’s interest in music was sparked at the age of nine when his father brought home a collection of American 45s, including Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and, most particularly, Little Richard. Upon listening to “Tutti Frutti”, Bowie would later say, “I had heard God”. His half-brother Terry introduced him to modern jazz and Bowie’s enthusiasm for players like Charles Mingus and John Coltrane led his mother to give him a plastic saxophone for Christmas in 1959. Graduating to a real instrument, he formed his first band in 1962, the Konrads. He then played and sang in various blues/beat groups, such as The King Bees, The Manish Boys, The Lower Third and The Riot Squad in the mid-1960s, releasing his first record, the single “Liza Jane”, with the King Bees in 1964. His early work shifted through the blues and Elvis-inspired music while working with many British pop styles.
During the early 1960s, Bowie was performing either under his own name or the stage name “Davie Jones”, and briefly even as “Davy Jones”, creating confusion with Davy Jones of The Monkees. To avoid this, in 1966 he chose “Bowie” for his stage name, after the Alamo hero Jim Bowie and his famous Bowie knife. During this time, he recorded singles for Parlophone under the name of The Manish Boys and Davy Jones and for Pye under the name David Bowie (and The Lower Third), all without success.
Bowie released his first album in 1967 for the Decca Records offshoot Deram, simply called David Bowie. It was an amalgam of pop, psychedelia, and music hall. Around the same time he issued a novelty single, “The Laughing Gnome”, which utilised sped-up Chipmunk-style vocals. None of these releases managed to chart, and he would not cut another record for two years. His Deram material from the album and various singles was later recycled in a multitude of compilations.
Influenced by the dramatic arts, he studied with Lindsay Kemp — from avant-garde theatre and mime to Commedia dell’arte — and much of his work would involve the creation of characters or personae to present to the world. During 1967, Bowie sold his first song to another artist, “Oscar” (an early stage name of actor-musician Paul Nicholas). Bowie wrote Oscar’s third single, “Over the Wall We Go”, which satirised life in a British prison. In late 1968, his then-manager, Kenneth Pitt, produced a half-hour promotional film called Love You Till Tuesday featuring Bowie performing a number of songs, but it went unreleased until 1984.
1969 to 1973: Psychedelic folk to glam rock
Bowie’s first flirtation with fame came in 1969 with his single “Space Oddity,” written the previous year but recorded and released to coincide with the first moon landing. It became a Top 5 UK hit. The corresponding album, his second, was originally titled David Bowie, which caused some confusion as both of Bowie’s first and second albums were released with that name in the UK (in the U.S. the second album bore the title Man of Words, Man of Music). In 1972, this album was re-released by RCA Records as Space Oddity.
Bowie put the finishing touches to “Space Oddity” (the track) while living with Mary Finnigan as her lodger. Finnigan and Bowie joined forces with Christina Ostrom and the late Barrie Jackson to run a Folk Club on Sunday nights at The Three Tuns pub in Beckenham High Street, south London. In 1969 and 1970, “Space Oddity” was used by the BBC during both its Apollo 11 moon landing coverage and its coverage of Apollo 13.
In 1970, Bowie released his third album, The Man Who Sold the World, rejecting the acoustic guitar sound of the previous album and replacing it with the heavy rock backing provided by Mick Ronson, who would be a major collaborator through to 1973. Much of the album resembles British heavy metal music of the period, but the album provided some unusual musical detours, such as the title track’s use of Latin sounds and rhythms. The original UK cover of the album showed Bowie in a dress, an early example of his androgynous appearance. In the U.S., the album was originally released in a cartoonish cover that did not feature Bowie.
His next record, Hunky Dory in 1971, saw the partial return of the fey pop singer of “Space Oddity”, with light fare such as the droll “Kooks”. Elsewhere, the album explored more serious themes on tracks such as “Oh! You Pretty Things” (a song taken to UK #12 by Herman’s Hermits’ Peter Noone in 1971), the semi-autobiographical “The Bewlay Brothers”, and the Buddhist-influenced “Quicksand”. Lyrically, the young songwriter also paid unusually direct homage to his influences with “Song for Bob Dylan”, “Andy Warhol”, and “Queen Bitch”, which Bowie’s somewhat cryptic liner notes indicate as a Velvet Underground pastiche. As with the single “Changes”, Hunky Dory was not a big hit but it laid the groundwork for the move that would shortly lift Bowie into the first rank of stars, giving him four top-ten albums and eight top ten singles in the UK in eighteen months between 1972 and 1973.
Bowie further explored his androgynous persona in June 1972 with the seminal concept album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which presents a world destined to end in five years and tells the story of the ultimate rock star, Ziggy Stardust. The album’s sound combined the hard rock elements of The Man Who Sold the World with the lighter experimental rock of Hunky Dory and the fast-paced glam rock pioneered by Marc Bolan’s T.Rex. Many of the album’s songs have become rock classics, including “Ziggy Stardust,” “Moonage Daydream,” “Hang on to Yourself,” and “Suffragette City.”
The Ziggy Stardust character became the basis for Bowie’s first large-scale tour beginning in 1972, where he donned his famous flaming red hair and wild outfits. The tour featured a three-piece band representing the “Spiders from Mars”: Ronson on guitar, Trevor Bolder on bass, and Mick Woodmansey on drums. The album made #5 in the UK on the strength of the #10 placing of the single “Starman”. Their success made Bowie a star, and soon the six-month-old Hunky Dory eclipsed Ziggy Stardust, when it peaked at #3 on the UK chart. At the same time the non-album single “John, I’m Only Dancing” (not released in the U.S. until 1979) peaked at UK #12, and “All the Young Dudes”, a song he had given to, and produced for, Mott the Hoople, made UK #3.
Around the same time Bowie began promoting and producing his rock and roll heroes, two of whom he met at the popular New York hangout Max’s Kansas City Bowie sang back-up vocals on both Reed’s Transformer, and Iggy’s The Idiot.
The Spiders From Mars came together again on Aladdin Sane, released in April 1973 and his first #1 album in the UK. Described by Bowie as “Ziggy goes to America”,
Bowie’s later Ziggy shows, which included songs from both Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, as well as a few earlier tracks like “Changes” and “The Width of a Circle”, were ultra-theatrical affairs filled with shocking stage moments, such as Bowie stripping down to a sumo wrestling loincloth or simulating oral sex with Ronson’s guitar.
Pin Ups, a collection of covers of his 1960s favourites, was released in October 1973, spawning a UK #3 hit in “Sorrow” and itself peaking at #1, making David Bowie the best-selling act of 1973 in the UK. By this time, Bowie had broken up the Spiders from Mars and was attempting to move on from his Ziggy persona. Bowie’s own back catalogue was now highly sought: The Man Who Sold the World had been re-released in 1972 along with the second David Bowie album (Space Oddity). Hunky Dory’s “Life on Mars?” was released as a single in 1973 and made #3 in the UK, the same year Bowie’s novelty record from 1967, “The Laughing Gnome”, hit #6.
1974 to 1976: Soul, R&B, and The Thin White Duke
1974 saw the release of another ambitious album, Diamond Dogs, with a spoken word introduction and a multi-part song suite (“Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (reprise)”). Diamond Dogs was the product of two distinct ideas: a musical based on a wild future in a post-apocalyptic city, and setting George Orwell’s 1984 to music. Bowie also made plans to develop a Diamond Dogs movie, but didn’t get very far. Bowie had originally planned on writing a musical to 1984, but his interest waned after encountering difficulties in licensing the novel. He used some of the songs he had written for the project on Diamond Dogs. The album—and an NBC television special, The 1980 Floor Show, broadcast at around the same time—demonstrated Bowie headed toward the genre of soul/funk music, the track “1984” being a prime example. The album spawned the hits “Rebel Rebel” (UK #5) and “Diamond Dogs” (UK #21), and itself went to #1 in the UK, making him the best-selling act of that country for the second year in a row. In the US, Bowie achieved his first major commercial success as the album went to #5.
To follow on the release of the album, Bowie launched a massive Diamond Dogs tour in North America from June to December 1974. Choreographed by Toni Basil, and lavishly produced with theatrical special effects, the high-budget stage production broke with contemporary standard practice for rock concerts by featuring no encores. It was filmed by Alan Yentob for the documentary Cracked Actor. The documentary seemed to confirm the rumours of his cocaine abuse, featuring a pasty and emaciated Bowie nervously sniffing in the backseat of a car and claiming that there was a fly in his milk. Bowie commented that the resulting live album, David Live, ought to have been called “David Bowie Is Alive and Well and Living Only In Theory,” presumably in reference to his addled and frenetic psychological state during this period. Nevertheless the album solidified his status as a superstar, going #2 in the UK and #8 in the US. It also spawned a UK #10 hit in a cover of “Knock on Wood”. After the opening leg of the tour, Bowie mostly jettisoned the elaborate sets. Then, when the tour resumed after a summer break in Philadelphia for recording new material, the Diamond Dogs sound no longer seemed apt. Bowie cancelled seven dates and made changes to the band, which returned to the road in October as the Philly Dogs tour.
For Ziggy Stardust fans who had not discerned the soul and funk strains already apparent in Bowie’s recent work, the “new” sound was considered a sudden and jolting step. 1975’s Young Americans was Bowie’s definitive exploration of Philly soul—though he himself referred to the sound ironically as “plastic soul.” It contained his first #1 hit in the US, “Fame”, co-written with Carlos Alomar and John Lennon (who also contributed backing vocals). It was based on a riff Alomar had developed while covering The Flares’ 1961 doo-wop classic “Foot Stompin'”, which Bowie’s band had taken to playing live during the Philly Dogs period. One of the backing vocalists on the album is a young Luther Vandross, who also co-wrote some of the material for Young Americans. The song “Win” featured a hypnotic guitar riff later taken by Beck for the track/live staple “Debra” off his Midnite Vultures album. Despite Bowie’s unashamed recognition of the shallowness of his “plastic soul,” he did earn the bona fide distinction of being one of the few white artists to be invited to appear on the popular “Soul Train.” Another violently paranoid appearance on ABC’s The Dick Cavett Show (1974 5 December) seemed to confirm rumours of Bowie’s heavy cocaine use at this time. Young Americans was the album that cemented Bowie’s stardom in the U.S.; though only peaking there at #9, as opposed to the #5 placing of Diamond Dogs, the album stayed on the charts almost twice as long. At the same time, the album achieved #2 in the UK while a re-issue of his old single “Space Oddity” became his first #1 hit in the UK, only a few months after “Fame” had achieved the same in the US.
Station to Station (1976) featured a darker version of this soul persona, called “The Thin White Duke”. Visually the figure was an extension of Thomas Jerome Newton, the character Bowie portrayed in The Man Who Fell to Earth. Station to Station was a transitional album, prefiguring the Krautrock and synthesizer music of his next releases, while further developing the funk and soul music of Young Americans. By this time, Bowie had become heavily dependent on drugs, particularly cocaine; many critics have attributed the chopped rhythms and emotional detachment of the record to the influence of the drug, to which Bowie claimed to have been introduced in America. His emotional disturbance and megalomania at this time reached such a fever pitch that Bowie refused to relinquish control of a satellite, booked for a worldwide broadcast of a live appearance preceding the release of Station to Station, at the request of the Spanish Government, who wished to put out a live feed regarding the death of Spanish Dictator Francisco Franco. His sanity—by his own later admission—became twisted from cocaine: he overdosed several times during the year. Additionally, Bowie was withering physically after having lost an alarming amount of weight.
Nonetheless, there was another large tour, The 1976 World Tour, which featured a starkly lit set and highlighted new songs such as the dramatic and lengthy title track, the ballads “Wild Is the Wind” and “Word on a Wing”, and the funkier “TVC 15” and “Stay”. The core band that coalesced around this album and tour—rhythm guitarist Alomar, bassist George Murray, and drummer Dennis Davis—would remain a stable unit through the 1970s. The tour was highly successful but also entrenched in controversy, as the media claimed that Bowie was advocating fascism, an issue later shown to have arisen from the misunderstanding of an anti-fascist message.
1976 to 1979: The Berlin era
Bowie’s interest in the growing German music scene, as well as his drug addiction, prompted him to move to West Berlin to dry out and rejuvenate his career. Sharing an apartment in Schöneberg with his friend Iggy Pop, he co-produced three more of his own classic albums with Tony Visconti, while aiding Pop with his career. With Bowie as a co-writer and musician, Pop completed his first two solo albums, The Idiot and Lust for Life. Bowie joined Pop’s touring band in the spring, simply playing keyboard and singing backing vocals. The group performed in the UK, Europe, and the US from March to April 1977.
The brittle sound of Station to Station proved a precursor to Low, the first of three albums that became known as the “Berlin Trilogy”. Low was recorded with Brian Eno as an integral collaborator but, despite widespread belief, not the album’s producer. Journalists often mistakenly give Eno production credits on the trilogy but, in fact, Bowie and Tony Visconti co-produced, with Eno co-writing some of the music, playing keyboards, and developing strategies. Bowie stressed in 2000: “Over the years not enough credit has gone to Tony Visconti on those particular albums. The actual sound and texture, the feel of everything from the drums to the way that my voice is recorded is Tony Visconti.”
Partly influenced by the Krautrock sound of Kraftwerk and Neu! and the minimalist work of Steve Reich, Bowie journeyed to Neunkirchen near Cologne to meet the famed German producer Conny Plank. Plank was considered a revolutionary producer in German rock in the era, but had no interest in working with Bowie and refused him entry to the studio. The album was produced in 1976 and released in early 1977.
The Low sessions also formalised Bowie’s three-phase approach to making albums. Much of the band were present for the first five days only, after which Eno, Alomar and Gardiner remained to play overdubs. By the time Bowie wrote and recorded the lyrics everybody but Visconti and studio engineers had departed. The next record, “Heroes”, was similar in sound to Low, though slightly more accessible. The mood of these records fit the zeitgeist of the Cold War, symbolised by the divided city that provided its inspiration. The title track, a story of two lovers who met at the Berlin Wall, is one of Bowie’s most-covered songs.
Also in 1977, Bowie appeared on the Granada music show Marc, hosted by his friend and fellow glam pioneer Marc Bolan of T.Rex, with whom he had regularly socialised and jammed before either achieved fame. He turned out to be the show’s final guest, as Bolan was killed in a car crash shortly afterward.
For Christmas 1977, Bowie joined Bing Crosby, of whom he was an ardent admirer, at the ATV Television Studio in Herts England to do “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy”, a version of “Little Drummer Boy” with a new lyric.
Bowie and his band embarked on an extensive world tour in 1978 (including his first concerts in Australia and New Zealand) which featured music from both Low and Heroes. A live album from the tour was released as Stage the same year. Songs from both Low and Heroes were later converted to symphonies by minimalist composer Phillip Glass. 1978 was also the year that saw Bowie narrating Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf.
1979’s Lodger was the final album in Bowie’s so-called “Berlin Trilogy”, or “triptych” as Bowie calls it. This was Bowie’s last album with Eno until 1. Outside in 1995.
1980 to 1989: Bowie the superstar
In 1980, Bowie did an about-face, integrating the lessons learnt on Low, Heroes, and Lodger while expanding upon them with chart success.
While Scary Monsters utilised principles that Bowie had learned in the Berlin era, it was considered by critics to be far more direct musically and lyrically, reflecting the transformation Bowie had gone through during his time in Germany and Europe. By 1980 Bowie had divorced his wife Angie, curbed the drug abuse of the “Thin White Duke” era, and radically changed his concept of the way music should be written. The album had a hard rock edge that included conspicuous guitar contributions from King Crimson’s Robert Fripp, The Who’s Pete Townshend, and Television’s Tom Verlaine.
In 1981, Queen released “Under Pressure”, co-written and performed with Bowie. The song was a hit and became Bowie’s third UK #1 single. In the same year Bowie made a cameo appearance in the German movie Christiane F. Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, the real-life story of a 13 year-old girl in Berlin who becomes addicted to heroin and ends up prostituting herself. Bowie is credited with “special cooperation” in the credits and his music features prominently in the movie. The soundtrack was released in 1982 and contained a version of “Heroes” sung partially in German that had previously been included on the German pressing of its parent album. The same year Bowie appeared in the BBC’s adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s play Baal. Coinciding with transmission of the film, a five-track EP of songs from the play was released as David Bowie in Bertolt Brecht’s Baal, recorded at Hansa by the Wall the previous September. It would mark Bowie’s final new release on RCA, as 1983 saw him change record labels from RCA to EMI America. In April 1982, Bowie released “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” with Giorgio Moroder, for director Paul Schrader’s film Cat People.
Bowie scored his first truly commercial blockbuster with Let’s Dance in 1983, a slick dance album co-produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers. The title track went to #1 in the United States and United Kingdom. The album also featured the singles “Modern Love” and “China Girl”, the latter causing something of a stir due to its suggestive promotional video. “China Girl” was a remake of a song which Bowie co-wrote several years earlier with Iggy Pop, who recorded it for The Idiot. In an interview by Kurt Loder, Bowie revealed that the motivation for recording “China Girl” was to help out his friend Iggy Pop financially, contributing to Bowie’s history of support for musicians he admired. Let’s Dance was also notable as a stepping stone for the career of the late Texan guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, who played on the album and was to have supported Bowie on the consequent Serious Moonlight Tour. Vaughan, however, never joined the tour after various disputes with Bowie. Vaughan was replaced by the Bowie tour veteran Earl Slick. Frank and George Simms from The Simms Brothers Band appeared as backing vocalists for the tour. The Serious Moonlight Tour was a huge success, and a single performance at the US Festival actually earned Bowie a million dollars on its own.
Bowie’s next album was originally planned to be a live album recorded on the Serious Moonlight Tour, but EMI demanded another studio album instead. The resulting album, 1984’s Tonight, was also dance-oriented, featuring collaborations with Tina Turner and Iggy Pop, as well as various covers, including one of The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows”. Critics Yet the album bore the transatlantic Top Ten hit “Blue Jean” whose complete video – the 21-minute short film “Jazzin’ for Blue Jean” – reflected Bowie’s long-standing interest in combining music with drama. This video would win Bowie his only Grammy to date, for Best Short Form Music Video. It also featured “Loving the Alien”, a remix of which was a minor hit in 1985. The album also has a pair of dance rewrites of “Neighborhood Threat” and “Tonight”, old songs Bowie wrote with Iggy Pop which had originally appeared on Lust for Life.
In 1985, Bowie performed several of his greatest hits at Wembley for Live Aid. At the end of his set, which comprised “Rebel Rebel”, “TVC 15”, “Modern Love” and ‘Heroes’, he introduced a film of the Ethiopian famine, for which the event was raising funds, which was set to the song “Drive” by The Cars. At the event, the video to a fundraising single was premièred – Bowie performing a duet with Mick Jagger on a version of “Dancing in the Street”, which quickly went to #1 on release. In the same year Bowie worked with the Pat Metheny Group on the song “This Is Not America”, which was featured in the film The Falcon and the Snowman. This song was the centrepiece of the album, a collaboration intended to underline the espionage thriller’s central themes of alienation and disaffection.
Bowie performing in 1987
In 1986, Bowie contributed several songs to as well as acted in the film Absolute Beginners. The movie was not well reviewed but Bowie’s theme song rose to #2 in the UK charts. He also took a role in the 1986 Jim Henson film Labyrinth, as Jareth, the Goblin King who steals the baby brother of a girl named Sarah (played by Jennifer Connelly), in order to turn him into a goblin. Bowie wrote five songs for the film, the script of which was partially written by Monty Python’s Terry Jones.
Bowie’s final solo album of the 80s was 1987’s Never Let Me Down, where he ditched the light sound of his two earlier albums, instead offering harder rock with an industrial/techno dance edge. The album, which peaked at #6 in the UK, contained hit singles “Day In, Day Out”, “Time Will Crawl”, and “Never Let Me Down”. Although a commercial success, it drew some of the harshest criticism of Bowie’s career, condemned by some critics as a “faceless” piece of product.
Bowie decided to tour again in 1987, supporting the Never Let Me Down album. The Glass Spider Tour was preceded by nine promotional press shows before the 86-concert tour actually started on 30 May 1987. In addition to the actual band, that included Peter Frampton on lead guitar, five dancers appeared on stage for almost the entire duration of each concert. Taped pieces of dialogue were also performed by Bowie and the dancers in the middle of songs, creating an overtly theatrical effect. Several visual gimmicks were also recreated from Bowie’s earlier tours. Critics of the tour described it as overproduced and claimed it pandered to then-current stadium rock trends in its special effects and dancing. However, fans that saw the shows from the Glass Spider Tour were treated to many of Bowie’s classics and rarities, in addition to the newer material.
In August 1988, Bowie portrayed Pontius Pilate in the Martin Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ.
1989 to 1991: Tin Machine
In 1989, for the first time since the early 1970s, Bowie formed a regular band, Tin Machine, a hard-rocking quartet, along with Reeves Gabrels, Tony Sales, and Hunt Sales. Tin Machine released two studio albums and a live record. The band received mixed reviews and a somewhat lukewarm reception from the public, but Tin Machine heralded the beginning of a long-lasting collaboration between Bowie and Gabrels.
The original album, Tin Machine (1989), was a success, holding the number three spot on the charts of the UK. Tin Machine launched its first world tour, featuring a now unshaven David Bowie and additional guitarist Eric Schermerhorn, that year. Despite the success of the Tin Machine venture, Bowie was mildly frustrated that many of his ideas were either rejected or changed by the band.
David Bowie performing at Rock In Chile Festival, 27 September 1990
Bowie began the 1990s with a stadium tour, in which he played mostly his biggest hits. The Sound + Vision Tour (named after the Low single) was conceived and directed by choreographer Edouard Lock of the Quebec contemporary dance troupe La La La Human Steps, with whom Bowie collaborated and performed on stage and in his videos. Bowie vowed during the tour that he would never play his early hits again.
Though he surprised no one when he later reneged on that promise and also on the promise that his set in each country would be focused on the favourite hits voted by phone poll in that country – an idea quickly jettisoned when a campaign by the British magazine NME resulted in a landslide in favour of The Laughing Gnome, it is true that his later tours generally featured few of those hits, and when they appeared, they were often radically reworked in their arrangement and delivery.
Bowie’s negative press-image continued when the cover of Tin Machine’s second album became unusually controversial, due to the presence of naked statues as its cover art. The coverage only seemed to invite unrelated negative commentary about Bowie to further permeate the public discourse.
After the less successful second album Tin Machine II and the complete failure of live album Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby, Bowie tired of having to work in a group setting where his creativity was limited, and finally disbanded Tin Machine to work on his own. But the Tin Machine venture did show that Bowie had learned some harsh lessons from the previous decade, and was determined to get serious about concentrating on music more than commercial success.
1992 to 1999: Electronica
In 1992 he performed his hits “Heroes” and “Under Pressure” (with Annie Lennox) at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. 1993 saw the release of the soul, jazz and hip-hop influenced Black Tie White Noise, which reunited Bowie with Let’s Dance producer Nile Rodgers. The album hit the number one spot on the UK charts with singles such as “Jump They Say” (a top 10 hit) and “Miracle Goodnight”.
Bowie explored new directions on The Buddha of Suburbia (1993), based on incidental music composed for a TV series. It contained some of the new elements introduced in Black Tie White Noise, and also signalled a move towards alternative rock. The album was a critical success but received a low-key release and only made number 87 in the UK charts.
The ambitious, quasi-industrial release Outside (1995), conceived as the first volume in a subsequently abandoned non-linear narrative of art and murder, reunited him with Brian Eno. The album introduced the characters of one of Bowie’s short stories, and achieved chart success in both the UK and US.
Receiving some of the strongest critical response since Let’s Dance was Earthling (1997),
1999 to present: Neoclassicist Bowie
In 1998, David Bowie had reunited with Tony Visconti to record a song for The Rugrats Movie called “(Safe in This) Sky Life”. Although the track was edited out of the final cut, and did not feature on the film’s soundtrack album, the reunion led to the pair pursuing a new collaborative effort. “(Safe In This) Sky Life” was later re-recorded and released as a single b-side in 2002 where it was retitled “Safe”. Amongst their earliest work together in this period, was a reworking of Placebo’s track “Without You I’m Nothing”, from the album of the same name – Visconti overseeing the additional production required when Bowie’s harmonised vocal was added to the original version for a strictly limited edition single release.
1999 found Bowie composing the soundtrack for a computer game called “Omikron: The Nomad Soul”. Bowie and his wife, Iman, made appearances as characters in the game. That same year, re-recorded tracks from the game and new music was released in the album ‘hours…’ featured “What’s Really Happening”, the lyrics for which were written by Alex Grant, the winner of Bowie’s “Cyber Song Contest” Internet competition. This album presented Bowie’s exit from heavy electronica, with an emphasis on more live instruments, and, through songs like “Thursday’s Child” and “Survive”, a thematic move into Bowie’s sense of his own aging and sentimentality. After this album, Bowie’s guitarist, Reeves Gabrels, quit working with Bowie, feeling that the music was becoming “too soft”.
Plans surfaced after the release of ‘hours…’ for an album titled Toy, which would feature new versions of some of Bowie’s earliest pieces as well as three new songs. Sessions for the album commenced in 2000, but the album was never released, leaving a number of tracks, some as yet unheard, on the editing floor. Bowie and Visconti continued collaboration with the production of a new album of completely original songs instead. The result of the sessions was the 2002 album Heathen, which had a dark atmospheric sound, and was Bowie’s biggest chart success in recent years. 2002 also saw Bowie curate the annual Meltdown festival in London. Amongst the acts selected by Bowie to perform were Phillip Glass, Television and The Polyphonic Spree. Bowie himself played a show at the Royal Festival Hall which notably included a rare performance of his experimental opus Low in its entirety.
In 2003, a report in the Sunday Express named Bowie as the second-richest entertainer in the UK (behind Sir Paul McCartney), with an estimated fortune of £510 million. However, the 2005 Sunday Times Rich List credited him with a little over £100 million.
In September 2003, Bowie released a new album, Reality, and announced a world tour. ‘A Reality Tour’ was the best-selling tour of the following year. However, it was cut short after Bowie suffered chest pain while performing on stage at the Hurricane Festival in Scheeßel, Germany, on 25 June 2004. Originally thought to be a pinched nerve in his shoulder, the pain was later diagnosed as an acutely blocked artery; an emergency angioplasty was performed at St. Georg Hospital in Hamburg by Dr Karl Heinz Kuck.
He was discharged in early July 2004 and continued to spend time recovering. Bowie later admitted he had suffered a minor heart attack, resulting from years of heavy smoking and touring. The tour was cancelled for the time being, with hopes that he would go back on tour by August, though this did not materialise. He recuperated back in New York City.
In October 2004, Bowie released a live DVD of the tour, entitled A Reality Tour of his performances in Dublin on 22 November and 23 November 2003, which included songs spanning the full length of Bowie’s career, although mostly focusing on his more recent albums.
Still recuperating from his operation, Bowie worked off-stage and relaxed from studio work for the first time in several years. In 2004, a duet of his classic song “Changes” with Butterfly Boucher appeared in Shrek 2. The soundtrack for the film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou featured David Bowie songs performed in Portuguese by cast member Seu Jorge (who adapted the lyrics to make them relevant to the film’s story). Most of the David Bowie songs featured in the film were originally from David Bowie (debut album), Space Oddity, Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Diamond Dogs. Bowie commented, “Had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs acoustically in Portuguese I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with”.
Despite hopes for a comeback, in 2005, Bowie announced that he had made no plans for any performances during the year. After a relatively quiet year, Bowie recorded the vocals for the song “(She Can) Do That”, co-written by Brian Transeau, for the movie Stealth. Rumours flew about the possibility of a new album, but no announcements were made.
David Bowie finally returned to the stage on 8 September 2005, alongside Arcade Fire, for the US nationally televised event Fashion Rocks, his first gig since the heart attack. Bowie has shown interest in the Montreal band since he was seen at one of their shows in New York City nearly a year earlier. Bowie had requested the band to perform at the show, and together they performed the Arcade Fire’s song “Wake Up” from their album Funeral, as well as Bowie’s own “Five Years” and “Life on Mars?”. He joined them again on 15 September 2005, singing “Queen Bitch” and “Wake Up” from Central Park’s Summerstage as part of the CMJ Music Marathon.
Bowie contributed back-up vocals for TV on the Radio’s song “Province” from their album Return to Cookie Mountain. He made other occasional appearances, as in his commercial with Snoop Dogg for XM Satellite Radio. He appeared on Danish alt-rockers Kashmir’s 2005 release, No Balance Palace, which was produced by Tony Visconti. The album also featured a spoken word performance by Lou Reed, making it the second project involving both Bowie and Reed in two years, since Reed’s 2003 The Raven.
On 8 February 2006, David Bowie was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In November, Bowie performed at the Black Ball in New York for the Keep a Child Alive Foundation alongside his wife, Iman, and Alicia Keys. He duetted with Keys on “Changes”, and also performed “Wild is the Wind” and “Fantastic Voyage”.
For 2006, Bowie once again announced a break from performance, but he made a surprise guest appearance at David Gilmour’s 29 May 2006 concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London. He sang “Arnold Layne” and “Comfortably Numb”, closing the concert. The former performance was released, on 26 December 2006, as a single.
In May 2007, it was announced that Bowie would curate the High Line Festival in the abandoned railway park in New York called the High Line where he would select various musicians and artists to perform.
Bowie contributed backing vocals to two tracks – “Falling Down” and “Fannin’ Street” – on Scarlett Johansson’s 2008 album of Tom Waits covers, Anywhere I Lay My Head.
On 29 June 2008, Bowie released a new compilation entitled iSELECT. This CD was a collection of personal favourites compiled by Bowie himself and was available exclusively as a free gift with the British newspaper The Mail On Sunday. The compilation is notable in that it only contained one major hit single, “Life on Mars?”, and concentrated on lesser-known album tracks.
David Bowie filmography
Bowie’s first major film role in The Man Who Fell to Earth in 1976, earned acclaim. Bowie’s character Thomas Jerome Newton is an alien from a planet that is dying from a lack of water. In 1979’s Just a Gigolo, an Anglo-German co-production directed by David Hemmings, Bowie played the lead role of a Prussian officer Paul von Pryzgodski returning from World War I who is discovered by a Baroness (Marlene Dietrich) and put into her Gigolo Stable.
In the 1980s, Bowie continued with film roles and also starred in the Broadway production of The Elephant Man (1980-1981). In 1982, he made a cameo appearance as himself in Christiane F., focusing on a young girl’s drug addiction. Bowie also starred in The Hunger (1983), a revisionist vampire movie with Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon. In the film, Bowie and Deneuve are vampire lovers, with her having made him a vampire centuries ago. While she is truly ageless, he discovers to his horror that although immortal, he can still age and rapidly becomes a pathetic, monstrous husk as the film progresses. In Nagisa Oshima’s film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983), based on Laurens van der Post’s novel The Seed and the Sower, Bowie played Major Jack Celliers, a prisoner of war in a Japanese internment camp. Another famous musician, Ryuichi Sakamoto, played the camp commandant who begins to be undermined by Celliers’ bizarre behavior. Bowie had a cameo as The Shark in Yellowbeard, a 1983 pirate comedy made by some of the members of Monty Python, and a small part as Colin the hit man in the 1985 film Into the Night. During this time Bowie was also asked to play the villain Max Zorin in the James Bond film A View to a Kill (1985), but turned down the role, stating that “I didn’t want to spend five months watching my stunt double fall off mountains.”
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence impressed some critics. His next major film project, the rock musical Absolute Beginners (1986), was both a critical and box office disappointment. The same year he appeared in the Jim Henson cult classic, the dark fantasy Labyrinth (1986), playing Jareth, the king of the goblins. Jareth is a powerful, mysterious creature who has an antagonistic yet strangely flirtatious relationship with Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), the film’s teenage heroine. Appearing in heavy make-up and a mane-like wig, Bowie sang a variety of new songs specially composed for the film’s soundtrack. Bowie also played a sympathetic Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). He was briefly considered for the role of The Joker by Tim Burton and Sam Hamm for 1989’s Batman. Hamm recalls “David Bowie would be kind of neat because he’s very funny when he does sinister roles”. The role ended up going to Jack Nicholson.
Bowie portrayed a disgruntled restaurant employee opposite Rosanna Arquette in the 1991 film The Linguini Incident, and played mysterious FBI agent Phillip Jeffries in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992). He took the small but pivotal role of Andy Warhol in Basquiat, artist/director Julian Schnabel’s 1996 biopic of the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. In 1998 Bowie also co-starred in an Italian film called Gunslinger’s Revenge (renamed from the original Il Mio West).
Before appearing in The Hunger, a TV horror serial based on the 1983 movie, Bowie was invited by musician Goldie to play the aging gangster Bernie in Andrew Goth’s Brighton Rock inspired movie, Everybody Loves Sunshine. He played the title role in the 2000 film, Mr. Rice’s Secret, in which he played the neighbour of a terminally ill twelve year old. In 2001, Bowie appeared as himself in the film Zoolander, volunteering himself to be a walkoff judge between Ben Stiller’s character Zoolander, and Owen Wilson’s character, Hansel.
In 2006, Bowie portrayed Nikola Tesla alongside Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman in The Prestige, directed by Christopher Nolan. It follows the bitter competition between two magicians around the turn of the century. Bowie has voice-acted in the animated movie Arthur and the Minimoys (known as Arthur and the Invisibles in the U.S.) as the powerful villain Maltazard. He also appeared as himself in an episode of Extras. Bowie (in the context of the show) improvised and sang a song mocking the main character Andy Millman, played by Ricky Gervais. He also lent his voice to the character “Lord Royal Highness” in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode “SpongeBob’s Atlantis SquarePantis”. His latest project is a supporting role as Ogilvie in the new film, August,
Bowie met his first wife Angela Bowie in 1969. According to Bowie, they were “fucking the same bloke” (record executive Calvin Mark Lee).
Bowie married his second wife, the Somali-born supermodel Iman Abdulmajid, in 1992. The couple have a daughter, Alexandria Zahra Jones (known as Lexi), born 15 August 2000, and live in Manhattan and London.
Bowie outed himself in an interview with Melody Maker in January 1972, a move coinciding with the first shots in his campaign for stardom as Ziggy Stardust.
In 1993, he made the claim that he had always been a “closet heterosexual”, and that his interest in homosexual and bisexual culture was more a product of the times and situation than his own feelings. Bowie stated, “It wasn’t something I was comfortable with at all.”
Bowie expressed a different view in a 2002 interview with Blender; where he was posed with this question: “You once said that saying you were bisexual was ‘the biggest mistake I ever made’. Do you still believe that?” His response:
In September 2007, he made a contribution of U.S.$10,000 to the NAACP
David Bowie discography
* David Bowie (1967)
* Space Oddity (1969)
* The Man Who Sold the World (1970)
* Hunky Dory (1971)
* The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
* Aladdin Sane (1973)
* Pin Ups (1973)
* Diamond Dogs (1974)
* Young Americans (1975)
* Station to Station (1976)
* Low (1977)
* “Heroes” (1977)
* Lodger (1979)
* Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) (1980)
* Let’s Dance (1983)
* Tonight (1984)
* Never Let Me Down (1987)
* Black Tie, White Noise (1993)
* The Buddha of Suburbia (1993)
* Outside (1995)
* Earthling (1997)
* ‘hours…’ (1999)
* Heathen (2002)
* Reality (2003)