Tribute to David Bowie
…The Young Soul Rebel Rebel
Regressing like Benjamin Button to the “Golden Years” circa 1973-1974 I recall a specific memory of my pre-teenage youth at the height, birth and merge of glam rock and disco. One day my school chum Kevin “Ted” Goodchild who was naturally ginger haired walked in to our classroom and I and everybody either gasped or had been subliminally living the Tremelo’s “Silence Is Golden” experience. Kev was bravely sporting the David Bowie Aladdin Sane persona hairstyle and I’m certain Kev’s sudden popularity with the girls made him “Top Of The Pops” that day. He looked so cool like Fonzie and I admired him, because not even the older kids could touch that kind of bravado. Only last year December 2015 after I reminded him of this on his earthday via Facebook, he managed to find the photo of that momentous hair cut. Within a month his iconic “Hero” singer songwriter, musician, actor, artist and ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ millions of records, The Star man, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and “Young American” ‘blue eyed soul boy’ David Bowie, passed away two days after his 69th earthday on the 8th January 2016.
Straight Outta Brixton south London born as David Robert Jones, he would become the ultimate and iconic “Rebel Rebel” reinventing himself with the many “Changes” of popular music. David Bowie was south London’s musical rock star like Michael Caine was to the movie industry, and was quite an anomaly as an individual. With his unusual androgynous features, different coloured eye pupils and eccentric fashion attire, David was a bit of a silent ninja who appears to be shy but could be profoundly articulate and quite well spoken when challenged especially in TV interviews. He had a unique, unorthodox soulful coolness to his voice and one of his songs up there for me personally with Queens “Bohemian Rhapsody” is his “Space Oddity” themed “Life On Mars”. If you were to check Bowie roots into R&B, listen to his intelligently constructed novelty single from 1967 “The Laughing Gnome”, as it is based on that Motown back beat that has become synonymous with what is refereed to as the Northern Soul sound.
Although he had dabbled with elements of more funkier rock and soul cuts like “1984” from the 1974 “Diamond Dogs” album, it was in 1975 when David, looking for a new musical direction went to Philadelphia’s famous Sigma Studios, and records his soul surviving album “Young American” that cements him in R&B musical history. Reputedly regarded by Bowie as his ‘plastic soul’ album it hosted the talents of percussionists, the late Ralph McDonald and Larry Washington, saxophonist David Sanborn, bassist Willy Weeks’s, backing vocalist Ava Cherry and an in demand velvet voiced Luther Vandross. The title track “Young American” showcases the harmonious tones of a young Luther, who co wrote Bowie’s funkiest soul track “Fascination”. “Fascination” was covered in 1977 by Fat Larry’s Band, and Luther Vandross revised the lyrics and recorded his own incredible version called “Funky Music” on his debut Luther album in Cotillion 1975.
What created history is David Bowie being one of the first British caucasian artists, second to Elton John to appear on Don Cornilious’s “Soul Train” TV soul show. On Nov 4th 1975 he appeared performing to a black audience, renditioning his funky penned “Fame” with the late John Lennon. The then dubbed super heavy minister of funk James Brown was influenced by the track simulating blatantly elements for “Hot (I Wanna Be Loved)”. I guess now both James and David can have a spiritual copyright and royalties discussion whilst they are they “Breakin’ Bread” like Fred Wesley & The New JB’s, around the creator’s dinner table. I personally loved Bowie’s ‘blue eyed soul’ era when he continued later with “Stay” and “Sound And Vision” his fusion of moog funk and pre sub bass menagerie of the “Golden Years”. “Golden Years” would later be covered by a Luther Vandross affiliated outfit Mascara in 1979 and by Loose Ends in 1985. When both Chic’s Nile Rodgers and David Bowie were looking to resurrect their careers, they providentially collaborated on Bowie’s “Lets Dance” album, the title track reminding me of Saturday nights dancing amongst electro and Nu Romantic appreciators at the old Camden Palace Camden circa 1983.
14 years later the late Notorious BIG and Puff Daddy would use that sample for Biggy’s “Been Around The World”. No stranger to being sampled in hip-hop Public Enemy and Jay Z sought his catalogue as well as Vanilla Ice for “Ice Ice Baby” utilising David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure”. Bowies “Black Tie, White Noise” feature Al B sure as a response to the LA Riots in 1993 filmed with powerful video. Despite some alleged earlier association with fascism in the mid 1970’s when he was going through a turbulent rehabilitation period for which he since apologised for, Bowie seemed to have quite an affinity with black music from a very early age. In a 1983 interview with MTV, Bowie flipped the script and raised the issue of the lack of black music video’s on the predominantly rock TV channel. The interviewer was clearly unprepared for Bowie’s intrusive questions and was left feeling suitably uncomfortable answering David’s questions. David later married black world famous super model Iman with whom he had a child, Alexandria Lexi Jones. Bowie’s previous wife was model Angie Bowie, and they had a son filmmaker Duncan Jones previously known as Zowie Bowie.
So now we hear the cry for ground control to Major Tom for the expected return to “Space Oddity” from “The Man Who Fell To Earth”. Bowie was part of the soundtrack to my life. I liked much of his music but not all of it. He certainly had a distinctive style like his song “Fashion”, that is similar to fellow universally known entertainers, James Brown, Michael Jackson and Prince that made him instantly recognisable on a track. I like many other music lovers recognise the artistry of David Bowie and was taken aback at the announcement of his passing. The gathering in Brixton singing the funky soul folk pop classic “Star-man” says it all. It seems poignant and scarily prophetic that his 1980 classic title “Ashes To Ashes” is somewhat relevant now. But it’s mentioned in a universal and positive way of spiritual spreading his musical ashes to all who loved him. Rock the mic In Paradise (RIP) David Robert Jones universally known as Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane aka David Bowie.
Cover image by Fitzroy Facey