In part 1, I covered my 10 favorite Bowie albums with brief reviews of each. The installment also included the 25 songs "I consider quintessential to the Bowie music experience."
This week I've had a couple people tell me they would have chosen a few different albums than the ones I selected, but overall they seemed OK with my selections.
The biggest oversight is Bowie's 1971 HUNKY DORY, which has many great songs and is a solid album, but not one that was that "Wow!" Factor I look for in my favorites. IMHO any truly awesome album by any artist is one that after I hear it not only do I think, "Wow, that was a great listening experience," but I also want to listen to to it all over again.
|This is the original back cover of HUNKY DORY.|
I've always enjoyed David Bowie's 1971 album, but it fails
to deliver the "Wow!" Factor I deem necessary to be
among my favorites.
Read on — and make sure you post a comment in the section after this op-ed. Let the healthy discussions, debates and conversations continue, Bowieheads!
(In the first of my ongoing tributes to Bowie, I reflect on the six times I saw him in concert.)
Another consideration in my selection is the strength of Bowie's band. He always had a knack for gathering some of the finest musicians in rock music and that's reflected in my five choices. Please know there's no slight to the Spiders from Mars; Ziggy's band was solid, but the bands in the list below are even tighter.
What many fans don't realize is even though these are professional and slick recordings (with a few touch-ups when it comes to the live albums), the raw performances by Bowie and his band are on-par with the official material. I own many bootlegs and imports, which I can compare to the official products, so I know this to be the case. It's no wonder DB was one of the most highly bootlegged rock acts (back when such recordings were "a thing").
DAVID LIVE (1974 double live album): The beginning sounds as if Bowie's band has been recorded while warming up, but the intro leads into a killer take on "1984" — the only time DB opened a tour with the song. This is part of a four-song set straight out DIAMOND DOGS before giving way to one of the jazziest versions ever done of "Changes" (thanks to piano virtuoso Mike Garson) and bleeds into a killer version of "Suffragette City." The rest of the set list is just as strong as the first six songs.
|David Bowie wears boxing gloves from a choreographed|
fight/dance during his theatrical "Diamond Dogs" U.S. tour.
Whether it's Garson, Sanborn or lead guitarist Earl Slick, DAVID LIVE overflows with musicians delivering one stunning lick after another. Bowie once said he looked like he stepped out of the grave on the album cover (and rightly so!); aside from the morbidly ironic title and his heavy cocaine usage at the time, his vocal flexibility and range is on full display here.
Soapbox time: We Bowieheads deserve to have a full concert from the 1974 U.S. "Diamond Dogs" (later called the "Philly Soul" tour) released on video along with the infamous "Cracked Actor" BBC documentary. Fans should get to see this theatrical footage in its crisp entirety, not the very, very low-quality short clips we've seen so much on bootlegs.
"Serious Moonlight" (1983 concert video): As I said in my "classy, cool legend" tribute, I wore out this concert video when I owned it on VHS. And for good reason: Bowie may be at the apex of his vocal strength here.
He's dashing in each of the suits he wears (LOVE those!) and he's working so hard during this high-energy show — yet making it look easy — it's no wonder his dress shirt is drenched in sweat after only a few songs.
I know I sound like a broken record, but this is one dynamic band; the incomparable rhythm (and some-time lead) guitarist Carlos Alomar leads the group that features Slick once again killing it on lead guitar, Frank and George Sims on back-up vocal duties (adding some theatrical flair along with their tight harmony) and Bowie's own sax section, the Borneo Horns. Wow.
"Glass Spider" (1987 concert video): In short, this is theatrical Bowie at his best. He has a load of fun as he interacts with his dancers and plays to the camera and more importantly, to the crowd.
|The "Glass Spider" concert DVD may be hard to track down, but it's worth it.|
What's overlooked here is Bowie and choreographer Toni Basil have a great balance of showmanship and theatricality with straight-ahead hard rockin' performances, each of which allow time for the musicians and Bowie's dance troupe to shine. The best example is the back-to-back selections of "Rebel Rebel" and "Fashion."
This recording emphasizes newer material yet there's such a fine combination of lesser-played tunes performed live ("Loving the Alien" and Iggy Pop's "Sister Midnight") and crowd pleasers that it's easier to forgive Bowie for doing go-nowhere duds such as "Slip Away" and "Heathen (The Rays)." (I admittedly fast-forward over those, depending on my mood — despite DB's fine vocals.)
Now that Bowie is deceased, his three-song Ziggy Stardust homage to end each concert is now one for the ages. Amazingly, DB's voice is as strong in the climactic ending of "Ziggy Stardust" (how long can the dude hold that note?!?) as it is earlier in the set. And I witnessed the same phenomenon during the Jan. 7, 2004 concert in Cleveland. A spine-tingling conclusion!
BBC RADIO THEATRE, LONDON, JUNE 17, 2000 (the bonus disc to the two-CD BOWIE AT THE BEEB: THE BEST OF THE BBC RADIO SESSIONS '68-'72 collection): Much like DAVID LIVE, I find myself often including this CD on road trips and/or for pure rockin' out in my car.
| He never seemed to age.|
Bowie's awful hairstyle in 2000 makes him a dead ringer
for how he looked in 1970 and '71.
This talented band (essentially his post-1995 ensemble but with Slick now on his third and final stint with Bowie) is one of The Thin White Duke's finest. I was never a fan of guitarist Reeves Gabrel's barely controlled solos and instead have always adored the more melodic and technically sound work of Slick, Frampton and of course, the late Mick Ronson, of the Spiders from Mars. I had the pleasure of hearing Garson play piano for Bowie three times — in three years. What he does on the keyboards is nothing short of jaw-dropping.
This Bowiehead would have a hard time choosing my favorites from these impressive bands: The Spiders from Mars, the DAVID LIVE band, Bowie's 1976-'80 studio and live band, the Alomar-led Borneo Horns ensemble from LET'S DANCE through 1987 and the post-1995 band (but with Slick on lead guitar). Much like being forced to choose my favorite daughter, cousin or even Bowie song, it's just not right. What an elite group of musicians.
|What I call Bowie's "Serious Moonlight" suit is one of my favorite outfits he wore during the 1983 world tour.|
Best film performances
Bowie's filmography as an actor is nearly as diverse as the music genres he tackled and the looks he had over the years.
Even if he just has a cameo, DB's time onscreen is always memorable. I don't remember much about director John Landis' "Into the Night"-- but it's hard not to forget Bowie's couple minutes with Jeff Goldlum when he casually pops a revolver in Goldblum's mouth, threatening him in a very polite British manner. And how can you forget Bowie's Broadway dance sequence —on a giant typewriter no less! — in the overlooked British musical "Absolute Beginners"?!
Here are Bowie's best performances in the five greatest films he's done (in no certain order):
“The Prestige” (2006): Nikola Tesla (Bowie) has created a dangerous invention that Hugh Jackman’s magician believes is the key to trumping his rival (Christian Bale).
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” (1983): Bowie delivers a gut-wrenching performance as a British soldier held prisoner in a Japanese prison camp. Not easy to watch, but DB shows off his acting chops here.
“Basquiat” (1996): He plays Andy Warhol in this dramatic biopic about promising street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
“Gunslinger’s Revenge” (aka “Il mil West”) (1998): Bowie is downright scary and frightening as a bounty hunter with a nasty reputation who tracks down Harvey Keitel’s character who is attempting to leave the gunslinger’s lifestyle and reconnect with his estranged adult son.