authors index

books index



the story so far...


In case you're a bit vague on the career of the Most Influential Act In The World (© NME 2000), this is a quick 1000-word round-up that I wrote for the BBC website, but which never got used...
Mannish Boys/Lower Third

The Early Years: Wild swings between mod, music hall, cabaret and novelty songs, the results released on more labels than you can shake a stick at. No hits, despite relentless and sustained self-publicity. Interest in mime proved less than successful in studio.
High point: 'In The Heat Of The Morning'
Low point: 'The Laughing Gnome'

The Singer-Songwriter Years: Space Oddity (1970), The Man Who Sold The World (1971), Hunky Dory (1972). Debut hit 'Space Oddity' coincided with the Moon Landings; career then moved swiftly from Apollo 11 triumph to Apollo 13 disaster, did not pass Go. Tried Dylanesque acoustic rock, then heavy metal - no dice. Married Angie Bowie; named his son Zowie. Signed to RCA, became singer-songwriter, wrote 'Ch-ch-changes' so that marketing men would know who he was. Tried new gimmick: 'I'm gay'. Still no hits, but successful covers by Peter 'Herman' Noone and Lulu.
High points: 'Cygnet Committee', 'The Bewlay Brothers'.
Low point: 'Song For Bob Dylan'.

Hunky Dory
Ziggy Stardust

The Glam Punk Years: Ziggy Stardust (1972), Aladdin Sane (1973); Pin Ups (1973), Diamond Dogs (1974). Concocted cocktail of art school subversion and garage punk, overlaid with sci-fi nonsense and instant rock mythologizing to make the Best Album Of All Time (official). Cuddled Mick Ronson on Top of the Pops (who wouldn't have done the same?) and became pop star in the public's eyes as well as his own. Wrote brilliant sequel album, but forgot to spend any money on production. Invented 60s nostalgia with Pin Ups, album of covers. Broke up the band; carried on regardless. Six albums on chart simultaneously. Four albums in two years, but still found time to launch Alan Yentob's career with TV documentary Cracked Actor and re-launch careers of Lou Reed, Mott the Hoople, Iggy Pop: possibility of drug assistance?
High points: every damn note of Ziggy.
Low point: David Live (1974) - pointless live album.

The Soul Boy Years: Young Americans (1975), Station to Station (1976). Having ditched the Greatest Rock & Roll Band In The World Ever (check the archive collection Bowie at the Beeb, 2000, for confirmation), now ditched the music itself: 'I've rocked my last roll'. Trousers - which were always big - got bigger. Funk classic 'Fame' replaced Glen Campbell's 'Rhinestone Cowboy' as US #1. Station to Station added European machine music to funk, while The Man Who Fell To Earth saw him try his hand at acting - one of these turns out to be A Good Thing, the other turns out to be a Thin White Elephant. Wrote 'Golden Years' in case marketing men hadn't noticed 'Ch-ch-changes'. Clearly showing the side effects of the cocaine, speculated that the smack of firm government might be preferable to Wilson/Callaghan incompetence.
High points: 'Win', 'Wild Is The Wind'.
Low point: 'Across the Universe'.

Station to Station

The Year Of Living Krautly: Low (1977), "Heroes" (1977). Moved to Berlin to play synthesizers in the rain; joined there by Iggy, Eno and Mary Hopkin. Trouser width reduced. Ignored punk altogether - consequently, was loved by punks everywhere. Failed to sell any records, but changed the course of music (again). Inadvertently invented Gary Numan - hell, you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. Wrote 'Heroes' for any, like, real slow marketing men. Two career-defining albums in a year; filled in spare time by writing and producing another two for Iggy, and duetting with Marc Bolan and Bing Crosby - both the latter died immediately afterwards.
High points: 'Be My Wife', 'Subterraneans', 'Helden'.
Low points: none.

The New Romantic Years: Lodger (1978), Scary Monsters (1980). After period of sprawling instrumentals, rediscovered four-minute songs. Defined future of rock videos on 'Boys Keep Swinging' and 'Ashes to Ashes', invented world music on 'African Nite Flight' and 'Yassassin' (thereby donating career to David Byrne), invented New Romanticism, thereby making invention of Gary Numan pale in comparison. Appeared on Broadway type-cast as The Elephant Man - very little film exists, so it's claimed as his finest acting ever. Provided Robert Fripp with gainful employment on Scary Monsters. Wrote 'Fashion', just to give the marketing men a bit of variation.
High points: 'Fantastic Voyage', 'Teenage Wildlife'.
Low point: Stage (1978) - pointless live album.

The Lodger
Let's Dance

The Stadium Years: Let's Dance (1983), Tonight (1985), Never Let Me Down (1987). Down the hill backwards. Left RCA, joined EMI - unfortunately, forgot to take any ideas, inspiration or tunes with him. Gave up dodgy drugs, bad teeth and good music. Scored biggest ever hit with 'Let's Dance'; paradoxically it wasn't a very good dance record. This was the height of subversion compared to what came next, viz Live Aid, Absolute Beginners, the Glass Spider Tour and a reggae cover of 'God Only Knows'. All three albums were pitiful, pathetic and paltry. Mind you, they sold like a bastard.
High points: the single version of 'Cat People', 'The Dirty Song' from Baal.
Low points: everything else.

The Grunge Years: Tin Machine (1989), Tin Machine II (1991). Found a new guitarist/collaborator in Reeves Gabrels: fat, balding, looked like an accountant, but boy could he play guitar. Discovered that he liked The Pixies. Recruited the Sales Brothers, the rhythm section that made 'Lust For Life' a classic record. Made two albums of hard rock, claiming that he was 'just another member of the band'. Conventional wisdom says: the biggest joke since 'The Laughing Gnome'. The facts say: there's an album's worth of damn fine music spread over these two discs. Also a cover of Lennon's 'Working Class Hero' that's even worse than the original. Appeared as Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ.
High points: 'I Can't Read', 'Goodbye Mr Ed'.
Low point: Oy Vey Baby (1992) - pointless live album.

Tin Machine 2

The Comeback Decade: Black Tie, White Noise (1993), Buddha of Suburbia (1995) 1.Outside (1995), Earthling (1997), Hours...(1999), Heathen (2002), Reality (2003). Added pianist Mike 'Aladdin Sane' Garson to band, kept Gabrels, dropped the Sales Brothers. Rediscovered the 70s, rediscovered instrumentals, decided he liked industrial rock and drum 'n' bass, learnt how to write classic songs again. All albums flawed in some way, but still better than almost anyone else's. Finally found a film role that he could 'act' - Andy Warhol in Basquiat, a man more wooden in real life than Bowie is on screen. Uniquely for British rock musician, reached 50 still looking forwards. Embraced the Internet, became a character in superlative computer game Nomad Soul, floated his back catalogue on Wall Street (wooing those marketing men paid off in the end). Married a supermodel; didn't name child Zowie. Living happily ever after.
High points: 'Buddha of Suburbia', 'The Motel', 'Everyone Says Hi'.
Low points: Lenny Kravitz's guitar solo on 'Buddha of Suburbia', the Pet Shop Boys humourless remix of 'Hello Spaceboy'.


Man Who Fell to Earth
The Man Who Fell to Earth
Just a Gigolo
Just a Gigolo
Christiane F
H: Christiane F
Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence
Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence
The Hunger
The Hunger
Absolute Beginners
Absolute Beginners

Bowie's films

more about 70s vintage Bowie on our sister site:
a 70s popumentary