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What Are You Listening To (but it's only Bowie songs)?

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hhaaarrrrrrr



"After Today", outtake from the Young Americans album sessions (why didn't they leave this on the album? it's one of the best from his soul phase), recorded 1974
doing the wrong thing / forgetting your lines / waiting for something better to shine
 
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the most upbeat song ever written about a school shooter


Recorded 2012, released 2013 on The Next Day

It's in his tiny face / It's in his scrawny hands / Valentine sold his soul / He's got something to say / It's Valentine's day / The rhythm of the crowd / Benny and Judy down / Valentine sees it all / He's got something to say / It's Valentine's day
 
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Probably the first performer to cover The Velvet Underground. Reportedly, Bowie's then manager Ken Pitt had met Warhol in NYC in late 1966 or early 1967. Warhol passed along a copy of an acetate for The VU's still unreleased first album. Pitt then passed it along to Bowie, who fell in love. He was, along with Brian Eno and Lester Bangs, among the first people to sing the praises of a band overlooked by their own generation but later regarded as one of the finest of the 1960s. This is the first of many versions Bowie recorded. I prefer the VU version. To quote the music critic and fellow Bowiephile Chris O'Leary, the cover version(s) by DB became "a celebration of The Man, with the junkie left a bystander in his own story." Though I imagine Bowie was likely aware of this. One of his most often-performed covers, to some extent he made it his own song, and I suspect that unknowing concertgoers in the early 1970s thought it was one of DB's original compositions. VU became popular in the UK before they did in the US, and I have to wonder if DB played a crucial role in "exposing" them to a new audience and planting the seeds for the acclaim they would receive in subsequent years. My favorite DB version is a soul-i-fied take performed during the 1976 Station to Station tour. My favorite version performed by the VU is from their album 1969 Live, in which they transformed it into a slow jam-along with a slight west coast vibe.

All of the various versions by VU and DB (and other artists) provide a study in how a song's performance can alter or affect the meaning of the lyrics.
 
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I'm pretty sure he's actually commenting on neofascists in this song. The title even sounds like the word Fascism. The song has the feel of a group of neo-nazis marching in lock step. Despite Bowie's prior cocaine-fueled fascination with fascism (he moved leftwards after he kicked the cocaine and started paying attention to world events) this song is more a scathing attack on conformist political movements veiled in a bouncy dance song than it is a celebration of said movements. Every year around January 10th, when the inevitable death anniversary tributes pour out on social media, expect at least one person to completely miss the point and write about how this song is a simple celebration of fashion and how Bowie was the epitome of fashion and style. I think a lot of people miss just how subversive and clever the man could be with catchy, seemingly straightforward pop songs containing deeper meanings and/or commentaries on the state of the world.


Fashion, turn to the left / Fashion, turn to the right / Ooh fashion / We are the goon squad and we're coming to town / Beep-beep, beep-beep

Also worth noting it was the final song recorded with the rhythm power trio that was Carlos Alomar (rhythm guitar), Dennis Davis (drums and percussion) and George Murray (bass guitar). Alomar would continue to collaborate with DB into the 80s and 90s, but it was the final appearance of Murray and Davis, the best bassist and drummer with whom he ever recorded. I'd put Davis right near the top in any "greatest drummers of all time" list, and if you don't believe me, go listen to "Look Back in Anger" and "Stay" right away. His 80s work could've been so much better if he'd retained his late 70s band.
 
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citizen cane

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I think there's an argument to be made for this as the single greatest album closer ever. Maybe the best 70s love song. Definitely one of the superlative Bowie tracks.

 
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I think there's an argument to be made for this as the single greatest album closer ever. Maybe the best 70s love song. Definitely one of the superlative Bowie tracks.

Station to Station is in my opinion his greatest. (I used to hate the soul and funk period stuff but now I think it's genius)
 

Tennessee Jed

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I first started listening to Bowie when Ziggy Stardust came out in 1972. So I have lots of old favorites.

My favorites these days are Blackstar and Lazarus, off the Blackstar album (Bowie's last release before his death). Bowie started recording the music in early 2015, while he was being treated for liver cancer. He did the videos for Blackstar and Lazarus in September and November 2015. Apparently midway through the filming of the Lazarus video the decision was made that the cancer treatment wasn't helping, and they stopped treatment. The album was released to the public on Jan 8, 2016, and Bowie died two days later. Bowie said that the album was intended as a swan song and a parting gift to his fans before his death.

The following is just my interpretation, of course:

The Blackstar video is kind of a story of the stages of life. Bowie appears as three different characters: A sightless, terrified character in the beginning (blindness is a traditional symbol for castration), then two sighted characters signifying how he grew beyond the stage of fear and castration. The song ends with women gathered to perform a castration ceremony on three men on crucifixes in a field. Thus the song becomes kind of a circular fertility cycle thing: Death and dismemberment (castration) leading to rebirth and growth.

One of the features of the Blackstar video is the bejeweled skull of Major Tom the astronaut, from the past hit song "Space Oddity." Major Tom's body appears at the start, and his skull becomes part of the castration ceremony. (Again, both beheading and blindness are traditional symbols for castration.)

Then in the Lazarus video, there is a death scene in a hospital room. The sightless character and one of the sighted characters are carried over from the Blackstar video, as well as one of the women and the skull of Major Tom (if you look closely, it appears briefly on the writing desk at 3:38, just before the sighted character sees the woman under the desk). The woman signifies Death now: She appears out of a closet that looks like a coffin, and she floats around the room and appears at the edges of the frames while the two men try to fend her off and kind of sing a duet. But by the end of the song, the woman wins out: She sends the sighted man to the closet that looks like a coffin, and the sightless character and the woman hold out their arms to each other (she's in the bottom of the frame) while the sightless character sings about how he'll be free (presumably freed by death). Kind of a claustrophobic, spooky little song. But again, the title "Lazarus" is a biblical reference signifying resurrection and rebirth, hence a cycle.


 
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Joined
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I first started listening to Bowie when Ziggy Stardust came out in 1972. So I have lots of old favorites.

My favorites these days are Blackstar and Lazarus, off the Blackstar album (Bowie's last release before his death). Bowie started recording the music in early 2015, while he was being treated for liver cancer. He did the videos for Blackstar and Lazarus in September and November 2015. Apparently midway through the filming of the Lazarus video the decision was made that the cancer treatment wasn't helping, and they stopped treatment. The album was released to the public on Jan 8, 2016, and Bowie died two days later. Bowie said that the album was intended as a swan song and a parting gift to his fans before his death.

The following is just my interpretation, of course:

The Blackstar video is kind of a story of the stages of life. Bowie appears as three different characters: A sightless, terrified character in the beginning (blindness is a traditional symbol for castration), then two sighted characters signifying how he grew beyond the stage of fear and castration. The song ends with women gathered to perform a castration ceremony on three men on crucifixes in a field. Thus the song becomes kind of a circular fertility cycle thing: Death and dismemberment (castration) leading to rebirth and growth.

One of the features of the Blackstar video is the bejeweled skull of Major Tom the astronaut, from the past hit song "Space Oddity." Major Tom's body appears at the start, and his skull becomes part of the castration ceremony. (Again, both beheading and blindness are traditional symbols for castration.)

Then in the Lazarus video, there is a death scene in a hospital room. The sightless character and one of the sighted characters are carried over from the Blackstar video, as well as one of the women and the skull of Major Tom (if you look closely, it appears briefly on the writing desk at 3:38, just before the sighted character sees the woman under the desk). The woman signifies Death now: She appears out of a closet that looks like a coffin, and she floats around the room and appears at the edges of the frames while the two men try to fend her off and kind of sing a duet. But by the end of the song, the woman wins out: She sends the sighted man to the closet that looks like a coffin, and the sightless character and the woman hold out their arms to each other (she's in the bottom of the frame) while the sightless character sings about how he'll be free (presumably freed by death). Kind of a claustrophobic, spooky little song. But again, the title "Lazarus" is a biblical reference signifying resurrection and rebirth, hence a cycle.


I adore Blackstar, and over the last few years I have come to really appreciate The Next Day as well. Both really are the best work he's done since 1980. That was a cliche thing people would say for the longest time, around each new album release ("X album is the best since Scary Monsters"). Don't get me wrong, I like a great deal of his 80s and 90s work, but I never thought he was going to give us another opus on the level of Station to Station or Hunky Dory. And we fucking got TWO in the man's twilight years. The Next Day, the way it jumps around in mood and style, is kind of a latter day Hunky Dory or Lodger, a "compilation" of past Bowies with him revisiting various stages of his past musical styles whilst singing lyrics about old age and the world through an elder's eyes. I compare it to Hunky Dory and Lodger because all three are perhaps his most "eclectic" albums, vs the singular focus of Blackstar, which is more in the vein of Station to Station.

I think Bowie got comfortable in his middle age and stopped taking risks or making his art for art's sake. He lost his way in the 80s, then had a bit of a mid life crisis in the 90s, performing industrial and electronica music before settling into a more traditionalist, reflective mode on the last few albums before his 10 year retirement. I think it was only in his final years, particularly when he had cancer, that he got his full creative mojo back. Impending Mortality can have an amazing impetus for an artist, on a par with the hunger young starving artists are driven by, although on the younger end of the spectrum, it's more a sense of immortality vs the inescapable mortality of old age.
 
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this sounds a lot like Neil Young and Crazy Horse to me. It's not overtly obvious in a lot of DB's music, but Young was a big influence

 
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