January 8th 2018 marks what would have been David Bowie’s 71st birthday. Few artists had, or continue to have, such an influence on modern culture. We all know the big hits, but how about the ones that don’t get so much airplay? Here are six which don’t always get their dues, among the Ziggys, et al.
Boys Keep Swinging (1979)
One taken from Lodger, and the (in)famous Berlin sessions. Swaggering, sleazy, yet playful. He was, at that time, in his own words, “off my gourd”. One of his finest videos, he plays three drag acts, homaging the scene by ripping off his wigs, then smearing the make -up. This is what artists did at the end of their numbers, thus reinforcing the theatricality.
Hallo Spaceboy (1995)
Nobody could have predicted this playful little electro pop track, a call and response collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys, wiv Bowie doing his chirpy Cockernee Anthony Newley voice. A strange sonic hybrid, homaging Major Tom and gender fuckery, it was oddly hypnotic: the influence and influenced coming together. It worked.
I’d Rather Be High (2013)
An elegant anti-war song from the Louis Vuitton advertising campaign. It’s not fashion, it’s style, baby. He always made that distinction. A more simple song (as far as Bowie goes) which is tinged with that effortlessly gorgeous psych melancholy and irony. And mmm, the harpsichord. Pure class.
Loving The Alien (1987)
Often overlooked, and I’m not sure why. It’s a haunting, throbbing pop song with an incredible vocal performance. The video is truly disturbing, exploring surrealism, religious devotion or otherwise, a doomed marriage and of course the dark stuff: illness, mortality impermanence and aliens. Ambiguity and beauty.
The Stars (Are Out Tonight) (2013)
Taken from the brilliant The Next Day album (as with I’d Rather Be High) this emotive song satirises empty celebrity worship,and the video knowingly plays with this cconcept. Tilda Swinton plays his wife- no coincidence she’s a female lookalike. Ooh,the narcissism! Very cheeky, and entirely apposite for the social media generation.
Absolute Beginners (1986)
The title track from Julien Temple’s film soundtrack is sometimes forgotten- the film, starring Patsy Kensit and Bowie himself- didn’t do well at the box office. But the song is a glorious ballad drenched in romanticism and wistfulness.
Bowie’s ‘what if’ croon is complemented by the lovely female backing vocals of twenty two year old Janet Armstrong. Rick Wakeman as good as reprises his magical piano line from Life On Mars? Stunning.