Saturday, January 23, 2016

Bowie at his Best (Part 5): David Bowie's most memorable music videos

As I've been writing my now five-part "Bowie at his Best" mini-series, I thought after Part 4 — David Bowie's 15 greatest cover tunes — that I honestly had, well, uh, covered all the necessary parts of the amazingly talented singer-songwriter-rocker-actor and overall fantastic entertainer's career.
There is a lot of use of split-screen imagery in David Bowie's "Miracle Goodnight" video.
After all, I'd compiled lists of and reviewed what this lifelong Bowiehead considered Bowie's greatest albums and songs (as well as my thoughts on my mildly controversial decision on not including HUNKY DORY as one of DB's 10 greatest albums!); his live albums and concert videos; The Thin White Duke's top-10 individual performances (which includes many of his finest collaborations), his five greatest movie roles and finally (or so I thought), his greatest cover tunes.

But then I realized I had missed a key component in Bowie's career: Music videos.

David Mallet directed David Bowie's visually striking 1979 music video, "Look Back in Anger."
The two paired to do several videos together, including the "Serious Moonlight" concert video.
DB was creating videos years before it became a "must-do" part of releasing a single or album. Aside from The Beatles, nobody else was doing much with it.

Bowie once said his "Let's Dance" video — again directed by
Mallet, this time in Australia — was one of his most expensive.
By 1980, Bowie already had nine music videos in his repertoire. Early in the same decade, every singer and band were creating videos.

By the early 1980s, my main man had hit his stride and was doing more than performance videos; he was perfecting the art of telling the visual story of his songs. In 1993, for his killer BLACK TIE WHITE NOISE album, he had created a series of videos for nearly half of the songs  — whether they were singles or not — in a long-form video which included an all-encompassing and extremely fascinating interview.

And don't forget Bowie released a series of videos nearly 25 years earlier, for the 1969 promotional film, "Love You till Tuesday" — an attempt by his manager at the time to show his multiple talents.

So there was no question The Beatles and Bowie would be MTV's inaugural Video Vanguard winners in 1984.

Without further ado, here are Bowie's 15 greatest and most innovative videos IMHO with a brief review of each. (Make sure you post a comment in the section after this op-ed so we can talk shop!)

David Bowie, as Ziggy Stardust, performs with his Spiders from Mars band
in the video for "The Jean Genie," one of his first.
In no certain order are:

"The Jean Genie" (1973): This is a mix of performance and storytelling, a now common hybrid used by countless singers and bands.

Truthfully, there's not much of a story here and what there is consists of a model of prancing on the street, looking more like a cheap hooker than what any Bowiehead might envision as someone named Jean Genie. (Whoever, that is anyway…!)

Regardless, it's a hoot seeing the Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie (complete with his red hair and mullet!) jamming' with his Spiders from Mars.

"Loving the Alien" (1984): For my money, this is DB at his most visually stunning. And weirdest, but that's the joy of this video.

Speaking as a devoted Bowiehead and former youth minister who now considers himself more spiritual than anything else, the lyrics of this haunting song resonate with the complexities of faith and the never-ending strife in the Holy Land.

Note that this is one of six videos in which Bowie does a dramatic and fairly feminine "kneeling floor touch" move in which he swings one hand (his right, if I'm not mistaken) over his head and touches the floor. No idea what it signifies, but DB does the exact same thing in "Ashes to Ashes," "Fashion," "Boys Keep Swinging," "Dancing in the Street" and "Jump They Say."

Maybe he included it to see if anyone would notice — well I did, David — so there!

"Dancing in the Street" (1985): Bowie and Mick Jagger ham it up, obviously having a ball in the process. 'Nuff said! (As you can tell I adore this cover of the Martha and the Vandellas classic; it's in my list of DB's top-10 individual performances and of course, his greatest covers.)

"D.J." (1979): Of all of Bowie's videos, this one encapsulates the lyrics of the song the best — a disc jockey who wrongly believes his audience listens to his station because of him instead of the records he plays. The image of the singer flipping 45s over his head in disgust is perfection.

(And did you notice "D.J." doesn't just stand for disc jockey? It's also the initials of Bowie's birth name, David Jones.)

Screamin' Lord Byron
"Jazzin' for Blue Jean" (1984): The 22-minute mini-movie is a must-see. Bowie really shines in two roles. He plays the hapless Vic the Nerd, who manages to weasel his way into a club performance of the nervous nellie Screamin' Lord Byron — only to lose his date to the pretentious diva rock star.

Screamin' Lord Byron, with his shiny blue makeup, perfectly coiffed hair and gypsy clothes, is as visually stunning as many of Ziggy's eye-popping costumes. He's one of his most memorable characters.

"Never Let Me Down" (1987): Written as an homage to Bowie's loooong-time dedicated personal assistant, Corrinne "Coco" Schwab, the noir video about exhausted couples in a dance marathon is striking in its simplicity. And yes, that's Bowie playing harmonica.

"The Heart's Filthy Lesson" (1995): Honestly, I've got no idea what Bowie is trying to say here, but it's like the car wreck I can't keep from watching. The gritty, surreal vibe is a fitting complement to the Nine Inch Nail-esque industrial-rock song.

Here is a collection of screen shots from Bowie's "Never Let Me Down" video.
Courtesy of
"Miracle Goodnight" (1993): DB doing his best Charlie Chaplin. In mostly black and white with a lot of split-screen imagery. Powerful, effective and most importantly, entertaining.

"Absolute Beginners" (1986): Bowie goes full-on 1940s/50s in this lovely black-and-white video that complements the most powerful love song he ever wrote. I have no clue what the cat lady is supposed to symbolize (except for maybe DB's character seeking a love he can't have), but it makes no difference; I dig this simple video. (And can we just say Bowie is the rare guy aside from Harrison Ford who can pull off wearing a fedora?!)

"Day-In Day-Out" (1987): Much like "D.J.," this is the rare video which matches the lyrics — the uphill battle and constant struggles of a single mother and homeless people. Again, I'm not sure what the tactical squad invasion is all about or why Bowie decided he needed to have the toddler spell the f-word using ABC blocks during the closing seconds, but it is what it is.

The Thin White Duke is striking in his silver-studded, black leather jacket and studded black jeans — complete with his Elvis hairdo — on roller skates, no less. It sounds odd, and is, but it's Bowie; deal with it.

"Look Back in Anger" (1979): Maybe it's because I'm weird enough to say I adore Salvador Dali, but there's something about Bowie's third single and video from the LODGER album that sticks with me. Like "Loving the Alien," it's weird Bowie at his coolest.

These screen shots of "Jump They Say" are courtesy of sharing
"Jump They Say" (1993): Can the man wear a suit or what? Note that Bowie incorporates his "wiping off lipstick" move from "Boys Keep Swinging." I'm open to suggestions on what this video means — aside from "David, don't jump off that building." Killer dance track though!

OK, so I said this list was in no certain order, but I admit I intentionally left Bowie's three greatest videos for last —in chronological order:

"Boys Keep Swinging" (1979): Bowie ends the 1970s with his greatest wink-wink, nudge-nudge to his often talked-about sexuality — by full on embracing his supposed androgyny. He struts his stuff down the runway as three aging female models— in the video for a song focused what it means to be a guy's guy. The "women" also are Bowie's back-up singers.
Which one is David Bowie? … All three, of course.
There's nothing quite like being your owns back-up singer — in drag.
This "Boys Keep Swinging" screenshot is courtesy of
Gotta love the irony! F'in brilliant, yet still uncomfortable and visually unforgettable.

When Bowie made his 1980 "Ashes to Ashes" video
— again directed by David Mallet — it was the most
expensive music video ever made.
"Ashes to Ashes" (1980): Why is Bowie's Perriot clown walking with an entourage in front of a bulldozer? Why did that appliance blow up in the kitchen? What's up with the clown strolling along the beach? The answers and their symbolism are irreverent; this video put Bowie on the map as the leading innovator in the field.

"China Girl" (1983): Bowie is at his fiercest — and possibly sexiest — while name-dropping Marlon Brando and swastikas and looking like Robert Redford. Then he's buck-naked screwing his "China Girl" on a beach amidst the waves to conclude this video in a massive "East of Eden" homage.

David Bowie — from waaaaay downtown!
This "China Girl" GIF is courtesy of

You might have thought I'm nuts to forget his last — and most powerful — single and video, "Lazarus."

Nope. Check back for a lengthy review and my final tribute in my "Best of Bowie" mini-series. (After that, Cary's Comics Craze will return to the matter of reviewing the cape-and-cowl crowd — I promise!)

Life's tough when you're David Bowie: Dressed so dapper, surrounded by beautiful women …!
This image is from his 1993 "Miracle Goodnight" video.

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