Synopsis of Pop Music
Put on your red shoes and dance the blues,
To the song they're playing on the radio..."
No one in rock and roll defines the word ‘chameleon’ the way David Bowie does. This incredibly gifted musician became one of the most important rock artists of the 1970’s with a string of albums that covered trends as diverse as glam rock, disco and avant-garde electronica. In the process, he developed an ambitious, genre-busting musical style that would influence bands as diverse as Def Leppard and Nine Inch Nails.
David Bowie’s musical career began when he picked up the saxophone at age 13. He progressed from high school bands to professional groups like the King Bees and the Lower Third, recording a string of singles in the process. As he grew into his twenties, he experimented with everything from mime training to Buddhism. He got his first break in 1969 when he penned the sci-fi rock classic “Space Oddity” after being inspired by the classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey. This epic tune about an alienated astronaut flying into space and turning his back on earth became a big English hit and was often used on the BBC to accompany footage of the 1969 NASA moon landing.
As the 1970’s began, Bowie developed an artsy musical style that took its cues from many different styles of pop and rock. He also developed a habit of radically changing his sound from album to album: for instance, The Man Who Sold The World flirted with heavy metal, but Hunky Dory was ornate, keyboard-driven pop. The latter album also included one of his signature songs, the cabaret-styled “Changes.” However, his international breakthrough arrived in 1972 with The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, a concept album about the career of a fictional rock star.
Ziggy Stardust set the stage for Bowie’s future world fame with a masterful slate of glam-rock classics like “Suffragette City” and the oft-covered title track. Bowie continued to attract attention on an international scale with a tour that took the pop world by storm. This tour defined the glam-rock style with a dazzling stage show that mixed high-power electric rock with a score of colorful costume changes. Bowie also continued to score big with albums like Aladdin Sane, which included the bluesy classic “Jean Genie,” and Diamond Dogs, a concept album loosely based on George Orwell's 1984. The latter album included one of Bowie’s best rockers, a glam-rock anthem called “Rebel Rebel.”
In 1975, Bowie dramatically changed his style with the album Young Americans. This record forsook glam-rock and intellectual concepts for a funky sound with a slick disco beat. The change of pace was a big success, giving Bowie his first-ever #1 hit in America with the dance-floor scorcher “Fame.” That song also included John Lennon on guitar and backup vocals. The next year, Bowie established himself as an actor by playing the lead role in the surreal sci-fi epic The Man Who Fell To Earth. On record, he scored another hit with a groove-driven soul song called “Golden Years.” This catchy song came from the Station To Station album, which mixed dance-friendly tunes with an edgy, European style of rock that pointed the way to his next phase.
In 1977, Bowie left his new home of America to go into exile in Berlin. Once there, he began collaborating with electronic music pioneer Brian Eno. The end results of these experiments were Low and Heroes, a pair of albums that blended futuristic-sounding rock music with atmospheric synthesizer-based instrumentals. Bowie took his new avant-garde sound on a world tour in 1978, which was captured on a live album called Stage. He returned to the studios in 1979 to record Lodger, an album that continued his new-wave style and also featured a cheeky garage-rock anthem in “Boys Keep Swinging.”
David Bowie became a Broadway success in 1980 by playing the title role in a production of The Elephant Man. He also found great success in the music world with Scary Monsters, an album that many Bowie fans consider to be his best. This album contained "Ashes To Ashes," a sequel to "Space Oddity" that cleverly mixed his glam-rock roots with his new electronic edge to create an effective synthesis of past and present. “Ashes To Ashes” also boasted a striking, theatrical music video that would become a staple of MTV the next year.
After this success, Bowie took time off from his music career to concentrate on acting in films like The Hunger and Merry Christmas, Mr. Laurence. However, he did collaborate with Queen during this time on their 1981 classic “Under Pressure” and also sang the theme song for the film Cat People. In 1983, he made a triumphant return to music with the Let’s Dance album. This slick collection of songs mixed dance rhythms with high-tech rock to create a string of hits like “China Girl,” “Modern Love” and the #1 hit title track. These songs also led to a string of stylish videos that mixed international locales with Bowie’s acting skills to become staples of MTV.
David Bowie continued to do well throughout the mid-1980’s with Tonight and Never Let Me Down, two albums that continued on in the Let’s Dance style. During this time, Bowie also produced a memorable 20-minute music video film called Jazzin’ For Blue Jean. It featured Bowie playing both a rock star and nerdy would-be romeo. As an actor, he remained busy with roles in movies like Labyrinth and Absolute Beginners. At the end of 1980’s, he formed an alternative hard-rock outfit called Tin Machine and would continue to perform with this group into the early 1990’s.
In 1993, David Bowie released Black Tie White Noise, his first solo outing since 1987. It entered the English charts at #1 and did quite well in the U.S. It also contained a memorably stirring and emotional rocker in “Jump They Say.” Bowie reunited with Brian Eno in 1995 for Outside, an industrial-styled album that showed Bowie could keep up with the likes of Nine Inch Nails (with whom he later toured). This album contained the song “I’m Deranged,” which later be used in the David Lynch film Lost Highway. Bowie moved into an electronica vein for Earthling. It became a club favorite thanks to lightning-fast techno tracks like “Little Wonder.”
In recent years, Bowie has continued to push the frontiers of rock and roll in other ways. In 1997, he became the first rock and roller to sell stock in his own back catalogue of recordings. The next year, he moved into the computer age with Bowienet, a subscription site that gave Bowie fans exclusive access to both new and unreleased songs. The end of the 90's brought the release of a new album, Hours, which found favor with alternative listeners and thus reinforced his status as a godfather of modern rock. As long as people believe that style is vital part of rock and roll, David Bowie will continue to be a vital part of popular music.
Artist Release History1969 - Man of Words / Space Oddity
1969 - Space Oddity/Man of Words/Man of Music
1969 - Space Oddity
1970 - The Man Who Sold the World
1972 - The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust
1972 - Hunky Dory
1973 - Aladdin Sane
1973 - Pin-Ups
1974 - David Live
1974 - Diamond Dogs
1975 - Young Americans
1976 - Station to Station
1977 - Low
1977 - Heroes
1978 - Evening with David Bowie (live)
1978 - Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf
1978 - Stage (live)
1979 - Lodger
1980 - Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
1982 - Ziggy Stardust (live)
1982 - In Bertolt Brecht's "Baal"
1982 - Christian F. Wir Kinder (soundtrack)
1983 - Let's Dance
1984 - Tonight
1987 - Never Let Me Down
1990 - Changesbowie (compilation)
1991 - Young Americans
1991 - Bowie Tech Pack
1993 - Black Tie White Noise
1993 - Singles: 1969-1993
1994 - Jump: Interactive
1995 - Santa Monica '72 (live)
1995 - Outside
1995 - The Buddha of Suburbia
1997 - Earthling
1999 - Hours
Pop Sub Categoriesrock
Essential Music AlbumsThe Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (Virgin)
Scary Monsters (Virgin)