On January 10, 2016, David Bowie turned from starman to stardust, just two days after his 69th birthday. I comfort myself by thinking of his passing as just another facet of his eternal evolution—as a musician, as an artist, and as an icon. After all, his appetite for change and transformation was one of his most defining features. But every January, I feel a bit haunted by his spirit, as if he has become the patron saint of self-reflection in death just as he was a man of it in life.
Bowie’s journey as a musician was not linear nor was it safe. He did not color between the lines. And he did not record within them either. His artistic career was an exercise in showing the world the creature that was Bowie even as that creature morphed before our very eyes (and ears).
In memoriam, four years after Starman Bowie joined his fellow celestials, we offer up some of the lesser known and more interesting Bowie factoids that showcase the complex creativity of this captivating artist.
Bowie was a British invader.
At the height of the British Invasion, Bowie’s first recordings in 1967—with Deram records—tapped into that contemporary sound. His self-titled LP, David Bowie, was not well received.
“Love You Till Tuesday” (David Bowie, 1967)
“Did You Ever Have a Dream” (The Deram Anthology 1966-1968)
Bowie wrote, but didn’t
release, Glam Rock’s Anthem
“All the Young Dudes.”
Written by Bowie for and recorded by Mott the Hoople in 1972, “All the Young Dudes” is #256 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” and one of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.”
It took exactly three minutes and 32 seconds for David Bowie to become a superstar.
On June 6, 1972, David Bowie looked directly into the camera during his performance of “Starman” on Britain’s Top of the Pops, pointed at the home audience, and changed the image of rock and roll forever. In this same appearance, he also unapologetically showcased the sexually inclusive and gender fluid identity of Glam Rock. Ask nearly any British boomer about the most memorable TV moment from their youth and this is likely to be it.
David Bowie Is (documentary film, 2013)
Bowie spent the ’90s
recording Industrial Pop.
Earthlings (1997) is Bowie’s strongest industrial influenced album thanks in part to the single “I’m Afraid of Americans,” a timely collaboration with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. However, Bowie made a name for himself within the genre several years earlier in 1992 when he recorded the title track “Real Cool World” for the techno-heavy soundtrack to the cult action/animated fantasy film Cool World.
“Little Wonder” (Earthling, 1997)
“Dead Man Walking” (Earthling, 1997)
Bowie’s musical career
spanned over 50 years.
During this time, he released 27 studio albums, 11 live albums, 51 compilation albums, eight EPs, 128 singles, 5 UK number-one singles, 4 soundtracks, 14 video albums, and 72 music videos.
If we could recommend one Bowie album, and only one, it would be Hunky Dory (1972).
In 2010, Time named Hunky Dory, along with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, as one of its 100 best albums of all time. The first track, and iconic single, “Changes” introduces us to a Bowie consumed by his own desire to evolve. “Life on Mars,” also on Hunky Dory, tops The Daily Telegraph’s 2015 list of “100 Greatest Songs of All Time” and, in 2016, Pitchfork named it the best song of the 1970s. The recording featured, for the first time, all the band members who Bowie dubbed “The Spiders From Mars” during his time as Ziggy Stardust.