Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Bowie at his Best (Part 4): David Bowie covered … everybody?!

David Bowie loved recording and performing cover tunes. It's safe to say he didn't meet a song he didn't want to cover.

On more than half his albums — and both Tin Machine releases — Bowie included a cover amidst all his original compositions. Or several.

There were times when The Thin White Duke covered himself. I know this sounds strange — but it's true!

There are two covers on LET'S DANCE.

Bowie re-recorded "China Girl," the 1977 song he co-wrote with his best friend Iggy Pop, who sang the original on his album THE IDIOT. He also covered "Criminal World," a 1976 tune originally recorded by Metro.

In another example of "covering himself," DB rewrote the lyrics for "Sister Midnight" (co-written by Bowie, Iggy Pop and guitarist Carlos Alomar, and fittingly, also off THE IDIOT) and turned it into "Red Money" for his 1979 album LODGER. (It and LET'S DANCE are part of my top-10 Bowie albums on Part 1 of my "Best of Bowie" mini-series.) "Sister Midnight" was a setlist regular on Bowie's 1976 "Station to Station" world tour.

In fact, Bowie loved cover tunes so much, his 1973 PIN UPS album is nothing but his renditions of songs performed by his favorite British bands from 1964 through '67.

Twiggy and Ziggy: The British model
is the only celebrity to share an album cover with
David Bowie.
In this, my latest tribute of my all-time favorite performer, here are Bowie's 15 greatest covers — tunes he recorded for albums and/or performed in concert. In the parenthesis is the original recording artist, followed by my brief review of Bowie's finest rendition of the song.

As always, let's hear what you have to say in the comments section below. What cover tunes that Bowie did have you enjoyed the most? Which ones stick with you?

OK, Bowieheads, Bowiephiles and Bowie freaks, let's get the conversation and debate going!

"My Death" (Betolt Brecht): From 1972 through '73, Bowie consistently delivered haunting live performances on a 12-string acoustic guitar. He revived it for the latter part of his 1995-'96 world tour, but the Ziggy Stardust-era version is far superior.

"Sorrow" (The Merseys): His PIN UPS version is stellar, but DB just kills it during his 1983 "Serious Moonlight" world tour.

"God Only Knows" (The Beach Boys): Who can improve upon a Beach Boys tune? David Bowie. Brian Wilson may have written the heartbreaking lyrics for this ballad, but Bowie is guaranteed to break your heart with his sexy, deep — and I mean deep! — baritone on his 1984 studio recording for TONIGHT.

"Nature Boy" (Nat King Cole): Nat King Cole. Bowie. The MOULIN ROUGE soundtrack. What else do you need to know?!

"Imagine" (John Lennon): Given that Bowie used a mix of Lennon's singing style with the whine of Bob Dylan to achieve his Ziggy Stardust vocal style -- and that Bowie and Lennon were good friends, the only surprise here is it took so long for DB to cover this classic ballad. Bowie's homage is on point. (See Part 2 of my "Bowie at his Best" mini-series — covering his 10 greatest individual live performances — for my thoughts on this one-time 1983 live performance.)

"I Wanna Be Your Dog" (Iggy Pop and the Stooges): Bowie and guitarist Charlie Sexton rocked this Stooges number on a regularly sporadic basis during DB's 1987 "Glass Spider" world tour. This should convince you Bowie and his band can do hard rock as well as anyone.

"Cactus" (The Pixies): Equally good on the HEATHEN album as it is live.

"I Keep Forgettin'" (Chuck Jackson): Bowie and his ultra-tight, percussion-heavy TONIGHT band deliver a breathless version of this Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller tune. It's a little-heard gem with superb lyrics you'd expert from that great songwriting combo.

"Friday On My Mind" (The Easybeats): The note-for-note PIN UPS version is just as good as the original. Coming from a Bowie-centric point of view, it should be now surprise I prefer this Ziggy recording.

David Bowie (middle) always had the coolest of friends -- and quite often they are members of rock royalty.
In this exceptionally cool and undated photo I found on The Who's official website, he's hanging out with
Mick Jagger and Pete Townsend. Judging from Bowie's hairstyle, I'm guessing this was taken about 1999.
"I Can't Explain" (The Who): Did you know Bowie once opened for The Who? It happened in the late 1960s in England. (Sorry, the date escapes me now, but I'll add it when I find it.) 

Bowie (as Ziggy) and the Spiders from Mars transform Pete Townsend's straight-ahead pop tune into a sax-based, big-band rocker. DB makes you believe the lyrics in ways Roger Daltrey simply doesn't. (Click here to read Townsend's touching tribute to the late Bowie, whom he calls his "delightful friend" and "my Salvador Dali.")

Bowie and Mick Ronson reunite for a performance
of "The Jean Genie" during a 1983 show.
"Like a Rolling Stone" (Bob Dylan): DB reunites with Mick Ronson for the 1994 release of what became his posthumous HEAVEN AND HULL solo album. And Bowie confirms what any music fun already knew — that anybody can improve upon Dylan's vocals — what we Bowieheads have been trying to tell people for years, that DB was a master at improving upon someone else's material.

"Across the Universe" (The Beatles): Bowie goes a bit melodramatic on this YOUNG AMERICANS recording, but it's a powerful rendition of the Lennon-Paul McCartney song. My understanding is once Bowie, Lennon and Alomar co-wrote "Fame" (Bowie's first No. 1 hit in America), he ditched an original tune to record "Across the Universe" and include it on his 1975 album.

"Wild is the Wind" (Johnny Mathis): The STATION TO STATION version is haunting. (I'm overusing that word, I know!) Bowie is in great voice as he opens his June 17, 2000 performance. Emotionally stirring stuff!

"If There Is Something" (Roxy Music): Bowie certainly name-checked the British glitter rock group enough over the years in various interviews — especially in the 1970s through the '80s. So it's somewhat surprising it took him so long to cover one of Roxy Music's tunes. Even in his ill-fated, three-year band experiment known as Tin Machine, Bowie delivers a high-energy cover — one that kicks the ass of nearly every original Tin Machine original song.

"Dancing in the Street" (Martha and the Vandellas): Bowie and Mick Jagger are at their screen-chewing best in the video filmed specifically for the 1985 Live Aid concert. The long-time friends trade stanzas in arguably DB's greatest cover ever.

"I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday" (Morrissey): Bowie put it best about this cover on BLACK TIE WHITE NOISE — Bowie does Morrissey does Bowie doing Morrissey. In other words, perfection.

And last but not least ...!

"White Light White Heat" (The Velvet Underground): It's hard to remember this is a Velvet Underground song since Bowie performed took such ownership of it and performed it countless times since his Ziggy Stardust days.

Just how strong is DB's connection to "White Light White Heat"? The Thin White Duke included it during his 1990 "greatest hits" tour — the only cover in the set list.


  1. Notice David is the coolest of the cool in the first pic with Jagger and Townsend?!! No one else comes close!
    The pic of Jagger and Bowie singing Dancing in the Streets, looks like Jagger is a vacuum cleaner trying to suck Bowie's soul! LOL
    (also another personal fave, even if it wasn't DB's)

    Wild is the Wind is one of my absolute favourites, and I didn't even realize it was a cover until a few years ago.
    Pinups is one of my favourite albums, even if it is all covers!
    Not a huge fan of Tina Turner, but I LOVE the song Tonight, they did together both live and on the album. They just worked together both musically, vocally, and personally.

    Thanks for your info
    Love on ya'

    1. Hey, thanks for all the feedback! It's awesome when someone takes time not just read my posts, but comment on them as well. That's what it's all about.

      Dancing in the Street has always been one of my favorites. I always hit rewind every time I play it on CD in my car. Bowie's version of Wild is the Wind is so well performed; in the last 15 or so years I've really begun to appreciate it more and more. That live version of Tonight is exactly the way it should have been done in the studio - such a classic moment!

      FYI I've posted a couple recent Bowie-related things in the last couple weeks. I hope you'll check them out too.