Thursday, January 19, 2012

Best of Bowie: 30 - 26

30. "Oh! You Pretty Things" (Hunky Dory - 1971) Are we really just seeing our first track from Hunky Dory? Don't you worry, there will be plenty more. What a way to start that trend! "Oh! You Pretty Things" is definitely one of Bowie's more curiously strange tracks. A beautiful piano bounce care of Rick Wakeman in a catchy, show-tuney style is countered by Bowie's strange musings on the occultism of Aleister Crowley and the philosophy of Nietzsche. Common themes lyrically for Bowie throughout the 70's, but juxtaposed with this style it's definitely strange--beguiling may be more fitting. That's how Bowie rolls. Taking strange lyrics and injecting them into a sunny pop song. It came as no surprise to find out that Peter Noone of Hermin's Hermits covered this song, with Bowie playing piano for him. Add that to the list of strange collaborations.

29. "Time" (Aladdin Sane -1973) One common thread in a lot of David Bowie tunes is the exceptional useage of the piano. Be it an appearance of Rick Wakeman on the last track or Bowie himself, piano is a crucial and all too important instrument in the sound of Bowie's music. Easily the best album for piano stand-outs, Aladdin Sane has two phenomenal tracks where the piano takes over. First on this list is "Time." Mike Garson's performance here is strident, vampy and bombastic. it fits the bill for the song, a paranoid tryst of "Quaaludes and red wine." For all of it's over the top sound, it never feels overdone. Personally, Aladdin Sane is the pinnacle of Bowie's glam rock sound, moreso than his beloved but misunderstood by me classic Diamond Dogs. It may be the help of Mike Garson throughout the record or just the sheer insanity of it all, but "Time" is one of those integral pieces on Aladdin Sane and in the Bowie canon at large.

28. "Slip Away" (Heathen -2002) - Bowie revisits space. Images of future worlds, dystopia and space are also among the common themes that Bowie keeps revisiting. Here it becomes more about nostalgia than being in the moment of the Space Age. The song is a tribute to the "Uncle Floyd Show" which he learned about through his good friend John Lennon. I do not personally know much of anything about the show, but what I do know is that this track is beautiful. It's a slow, sweeping anthem that builds in sound. Of his later career beyond his "golden years" in the 70's, this is the highest of high points for Bowie. Tony Levin's bass slinks in the background of yet another piano driven song and Bowie's vocals hit new heights even in the autumn of his career. Unfortunately, Heathen was not his final album. It was followed up by Reality which has a few decent moments but none that compare to the grandeur and beauty of "Slip Away."

27. "Stay" (Station to Station - 1975) The monumental album Station to Station is chock full of great cuts and only one song from that album didn't make this list... due to it being a cover. That said, "Stay" is one of Bowie's best melanges of a funky leftover riff from Young Americans and infuses it with some hard rock and paranoia typical of Bowie's late 70's output. This song is most notable for Carlos Alomar's soaring guitar workout. Throughout the tracks six minutes, Alomar strings together some funky riffing overlayed with searing guitar solos that swirl in and out around you. Bowie's desperation in the lyrics also stand out. His strung out desperation whilst stranded in L.A. for two years is conveyed both lyrically and through the strain heard through his vocal delivery. For as rockin' a song "Stay" is, it's also terribly dark, pointing toward the road that Bowie was going when he left the USA for Berlin the following year.

26. "Let's Dance" (Let's Dance - 1983) Ahh yes, the greatest of Bowie's 80's big hits. "Let's Dance" came out the year of my birth. It was a huge success for Bowie, although it would ultimately be the death kneel for his career for a few years (save for a few hits here and there, this album was essentially the end of Bowie's prolific career.) Notable on this track is the guitar work of the late Stevie Ray Vaughn who delivers a subtle and subdued yet ultimately memorable guitar riff. More so than even the song being great was the songs video, a tribute to the lost souls of Australia. If for no reason other than nostalgia and this being one of the very first Bowie songs I loved as a kid, this song also has a balls out, crazy album edit that sprawls for 7 minutes of pure dance hall beats and a horn section that goes all out jazz on your face. It's not just nostalgia, I take that back. This is one of those great songs from the 80's, far and away better than most of the songs released during that strange, drug addled and synthesizer heavy decade.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Best of Bowie: 35 - 31

35. "Fame" (Young Americans - 1975) - One of Bowie's more famous collaborations in his long and sordid career would have to be with John Lennon in 1975. After sessions wrapped up for "Young Americans" in Philadelphia, Bowie sauntered up to NYC for a bit where he hung out with Lennon and decided to do a few more tracks. One was a cover of "Across The Universe" and the other was "Fame," one of Bowie's biggest hits. In fact, up to that point, it was Bowie's first #1 in the USA. The song is a three-pronged attack of brilliant writing. Carlos Alomar's groovy as fuck riff was the inspiration, Bowie's anger toward his record company at the time fueled the sinister lyrics (akin to but not as sharp tongued as Queen's "Death On Two Legs" recorded the same year) and Lennon's on voice heard as backing vox as partial credit for inspiring the lyrics added by Bowie after the fact. It's definitely one of the best of Bowie's hits and a worthy player among the many Greatest Hits in Bowie's catalog.

34. "Modern Love" (Let's Dance - 1983) Whether Bowie's Let's Dance was the beginning of the end of Bowie's brilliant run of albums is up for debate. Let's be honest, released the year of my birth and chock-full of fantastic pop rock goodness, a song like "Modern Love" is undeniably awesome. Guitar care of Stevie Ray Vaughn and an insatiable dance-hall beat, this is one of Bowie's best singles. It may also be nostalgia as this was one of the first Bowie songs that I loved. Of all music growing up, Bowie's has held up the most and stayed with me over the years. Much like many songs on this list, "Modern Love" is driven by fantastic saxophone care of Robert Aaron. It's possibly one of the better sax solos in all of Bowie's songs.

33. "Warszawa" (Low - 1977) On the polar opposite spectrum of "Modern Love" comes one of Bowie's most menacing tracks. It's also one of the more curiously composed tracks in his catalog. Music credits go to Brian Eno while the vocals were composed by Bowie, mostly in some foreign, strange language. The music was composed much like that of Bowie's experiments with ambient music. Bowie added his vocal parts, apparently 120 of them, to the track after the fact much in the way that the music was developed. Sporadic click tracks marked the place where chords would be placed and the music and lyrics were added on top of that. Crazy, but it leads to a beautifully haunting track, inspired by the dismal and depressing feel of Warsaw during Bowie's visit in the 70's. It's one of the best sound-scapes in Bowie's catalog and the best of all of Bowie's ambient forays during his"Berlin Trilogy."

32. "Fashion" (Scary Monsters(And Super Creeps) - 1980) Bowie's first album of the 80's is a bit of an underdog. Even on this list I've shafted a few tracks that may have made the cut. tony Visconti has stated that this was his favorite album to produce for Bowie. On "Fashion," we're treated to a sonic feast of awesomeness. The key to this catchy and dancey tune is all in Robert Fripp's howling solos. Amidst the back drop of a groovy guitar riff and a marching drum beat, Fripp adds delightful intensity via his signature guitar tone and one-take technique. The Fripp Factor is prevalent all over this list, but these guitar solos are some of his best outside of King Crimson.

31. "The Man Who Sold The World" (The Man Who Sold The World - 1970) Partial credit first goes to Nirvana for covering this great, almost forgotten Bowie track. "The Man Who Sold the World" was a song I had not known of as a young, greatest hits Bowie fan growing up, but Nirvana was a small part in growing into a super-fan. Bowie's original is much eerier than Nirvana's competent cover, filled with strange percussion floating over the creepy Moog organ. The song is yet another in the catalog of split identities. Some have speculated the song to be about his brother, who was a schizophrenic. Speculation aside, the eeriness of both this song and the album that shares its name is one of the strongest points in the early stages of Bowie's career.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Best of Bowie: 40 - 36

40. "Cracked Actor" (Aladdin Sane - 1973) - One of the many great, grungey blues riffs on Aladdin Sane, "Cracked Actor" is a song of crazy sexual abandon in L.A. When Bowie was on tour in the US for Ziggy Stardust, he wrote quiet a few tunes about his touring experience. Aladdin Sane would become the album of these tour songs and "Cracked Actor" is definitely the Ziggy vision of Hollywood. It's a vision of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll that is gritty, dirty and hard rockin'. This album really showed a more aggressive rock and roll approach than the more baroque arrangements of his prior Ziggy material and for that it's worth blasting and rocking out to. The title of the song is curious as well as Bowie himself is an "actor" of sorts, putting on these disguises and costumes. It may have been a reflection of the hard times on the road and the need for "company." This is all speculation on my part. Regardless of the true meaning of the song, "Cracked Actor" is one of Bowie's hardest rockers.

39. "Win" (Young Americans - 1975)- Quite the opposite of the aforementioned tune, "Win" is a slow jam of jazzy and smooth proportions. Instead of aggression, "Win" turns up the charm, but still in an unsettling way, mainly in it's lyrical content. Bowie has rarely looked at the brighter side of life and even in this slow jam that'll make the ladies fall to their knees, there is a sense of doubt. It's not quite a love song, although musically it sounds like a bedroom anthem. It's more of a song about not giving up. "All you've got to do is Win." Bowie's shattered croon is backed up again by glorious backing vocals and a rippling saxophone. It's a wonderful track. If you think that this style isn't an influence on future generations, Beck performed this track on several occasions (including in Philadelphia where the song was recorded.) Beck also did his own mock up of a jazzy, love-fest on Midnite Vultures with the fantastic bedroom jazz of "Debra,"an obvious antecedent to "Win."

38. "Starman" (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars - 1972)

One of Bowie's more classic pop-rock moments, "Starman" is a sumptuous treat. This is another side of Mick Ronson that many don't give him credit for. The string arrangements throughout this album and this song are all by Ronson as well as the catchy riffing. He excelled at creating a functionality for string arrangements amidst a rolling rock ballad. Mirroring T. Rex, Bowie's main competitor for glam rock king at the time, but this song soars high and into the ether. This is Bowie's ballad to rock and roll as a saving grace. This was a constant message in a lot of music in the late 60's and early 70's and this is one of the more hopeful visions in Bowie's catalog.

37. "TVC 15" (Station to Station - 1976) One of Bowie's stranger lyrical songs, "TVC 15" is a disco jam for the ages. It's swirling verses, sung with crazed abandon and almost out of breath intensity create an air of unease amidst a killer beat. The track based on a drug binge with friend and cohort Iggy Pop after Iggy hallucinated his TV eating his girlfriend. Strange, but coming from the mind of a guy deeply paranoid and over-drugged, it's no surprise. As many Bowie songs tend to, this track has a brilliant backbone of piano and guitar haze. This track showed that Bowie's new-ish band of Carlos Alomar, George Murray and Dennis Davis really was coming into their own. Although not as flashy a guitarist as Mick Ronson, Alomar's understated playing with the ripping rhythm section was flexing their muscles with this track. (Editor's Note: The video here from Top of the Pops is fucking stellar.)

36. "I'm Afraid of Americans" (Earthling - 1997) It's a common mistake to give full credit to Trent Reznor for "I'm Afraid of Americans." Although the version that he remixed is in fact the one we most know and hear, this track dates back to 1995's Outside, which was recorded and written by Bowie and Eno. Although there version . Much like "I'm Deranged," it deals with paranoia but in a much more sardonic way. The industrial vibe of the song makes it a no-brainer as to why Trent Reznor was tapped for a remix. His version adds just a bit of edge to the song with his usual drum loops and intensely heavy guitar. Even more memorable to most, this is one of Bowie's best videos with a paranoid bowie being stalked by an exquisitely creepy Trent Reznor through the streets of NYC.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Best of Bowie: 45 - 41

45. "I'm Deranged" (Outisde/Lost Highway Soundtrack - 1995) The 90's were sort of the return of the Thin White Duke. After his highly successful Let's Dance album, Bowie had faded fast in the 80's with a series of sub-par records. It happened to many of the best of the 70's artists (see Neil Young.) Triumphantly returning with Brian Eno producing and co-writing, Outside is an intense, industrial record. "I'm Deranged" is a frantic barrage of drum machines, paranoid bass drones and strings that come in and out. It's a true-blue Eno/Bowie collaboration mixing the best of what the duo can do. It's usage as the opening for Lost Highway is sheer perfection. David Lynch's crazy dialectic of a movie is perfect for Bowie's constant struggle with the duality of man. I can still see Bill Pullman/Balthazar Getty running from the past to the kinetic energy of this song.

44. "Breaking Glass" (Low - 1977) After his stint living in the United States, one filled with cocaine addiction and massive paranoia, Bowie and friend Iggy Pop moved to Berlin to start a new life. Thus began the "Berlin Trilogy" of Low, "Heroes" and Lodger. "Breaking Glass," a short but tasty bit of pop music goodness, is very much the perfect tid-bit of what half of Low was all about. Passing snippets of extremely catchy yet dark pop songs. Recounting a Bowie legend of how he was obsessed with Alasteir Crowley (a constant, recurring figure in Bowie's lyrics and vision) and his ritualistic strangeness while holed up in his L.A. home. It's a creepy, unsettling lyric coupled with a catchy, groove driven by the bass of George Murray and the heavily treated drums of Dennis Davis. Both dudes receive a writing credit, probably due to the very improvisational recording process Bowie undertook during this era. It's kind of a shame that the song only lasts but 2 minutes as it's funky groove could go on and on and not become boring.

43. "Word On A Wing" (Station to Station - 1976) Speaking of Bowie's crazed stint as a U.S. resident, "Word On A Wing" is Bowie's cry for help as he deteriorated from massive stress, personal anguish, cocaine, cocaine and more cocaine as well as a fear that Jimmy Page was out to kill him. A prayer of sorts, or a cry for help, "Word On A Wing" is a powerful song all around. Driven by piano and a lonely, but distant guitar part, this is purely a feat of Bowie's vocal performance. Multi-tracked backing vox lift this into the realm of neo-gospel while Bowie's almost tearful and brutally honest lead knocks it out of the park. This song is the perfect compass point to where Bowie was but where he was going. The lofty, gospel feel is much like some of the tracks on Young Americans, but it's darker lyrical quality was a point to the Berlin era. A beautiful song no matter how you look at it.

42. "Diamond Dogs" (Diamond Dogs - 1974) I'll admit this right away, of all of Bowie's 70's albums, Diamond Dogs is my least favorite. And it's strange as it's a dystopian concept album with a song "1984," one of my all time favorite dystopias. However, of all the glam rock albums it seems the most stale. It was probably the lack of Mick Ronson on the album and on the titular track that made it slide. Bowie's guitar work isn't too shabby, but it lacks the bravado and style of Ronson. "Diamond Dogs" is still a killer track. As Bowie was transitioning to a new band on this album, most of the music is Bowie's own doing, including the super catchy sax riff throughout the track. It's another reason why I don't generally love this album. Bowie's best work was always backed by great collaboration, but here it's a one man show. It's one of only two songs from Diamond Dogs to show face on this list with the other one a long way off from here.

41. "Slow Burn" (Heathen - 2002) In my humble opinion, "Slow Burn" is Bowie's final great single. Although it won't be the last song we see from Heathen, it is the only single from the album to make the cut. It could be my bias for Pete Townshend, who also delivers one of his best and probably the last best guitar solo and performance since "Eminence Front" in 1982, but "Slow Burn" is a fantastic track. It's a timely song, filled with Bowie's usual paranoid vision of society. The line "but who are we?/So small in times such as these" is fitting today, 10 years after the song was originally released. Sure, ten years isn't that long, especially since most of Bowie's material on this list is verging on 40 years old, but it's definitely still a feeling that many post 9/11ers are feeling. Unease about our cultural direction, our political quagmires and just general day to day living are all easily relatable to this hard rocker of a song. By no means am I saying Bowie intentionally went for something with a message, but there is no denying that a line like "And the walls shall have eyes/And the doors shall have ears/But we'll dance in the dark/And they'll play with our lives" is a little too close to reality.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Best of Bowie: 50 - 46

50. "Beauty and the Beast" ("Heroes" - 1978) Kicking off the frenzied and daunting 'Heroes', "Beauty and the Beast" submerges you into a dual world, much akin to a lot of Bowie's music and imagery. Somewhere buried under the layers of insanely fuzzed guitars care of Robert Fripp and sloshing Eno synths is one of Bowie's stranger dance grooves. If this song wasn't so dark it could have been a great dance hit. Somehow the track is a combination of a disco groove and a post-kraut rock dirge. A dirge that moves your feet. This bi-polar nature is a constant theme through Bowie's career, but this era brought it to it's darkest edge while still being insanely catchy. The overall composition of this song is something of wonder. Unlike it's predecessor, Low, the vocal tracks on Heroes are much more structured and coherent, this being one of the best examples. Definitely one of the stranger singles in his catalog, but one that still rocks.
49. "5:15 The Angels Have Gone" (Heathen - 2002) The stream of conscious ballad is something Bowie excels at. Many of the tracks on this list will fall into this category and "5:15" is one of them. Heathen as a whole is mostly dark and romantic like this track. Tony Visconti returned to produce this album and this song in particular has his stamp all over it. Chorus synths, a woozy bass-line care of Tony Levin and an epic chorus that raises you out of the muddled shuffle of Bowie looking to get out of wherever he was feeling stuck. It's a song about wishing to get yourself out of a rut, out of a town that holds you down. It could just simply be about how Bowie has never really stayed in the same place for too long. Be it London, Berlin, New York or L.A., he's moved quite a bit for inspiration but has never staid in the same place too long.

48. "Panic In Detroit" (Aladdin Sane - 1974) A paranoid riot song with a salsa beat? Definitely strange, but in the realm of glam rock it somehow works. The percussion section really makes this track as good as it is. Layered congas over a killer drum beat with a bouncing bass line and one of many brilliant riffs a-la Mick Ronson. Of all the myriad guitarists that have worked with Bowie, Ronson is easily the one that fit the Bowie's eccentricity the best. His gritty and throbbing tone was the perfect back-drop for Bowie's paranoid lyrics with amazing backing vocals rising behind. It's Santana by way of Ziggy Stardust. Dirty glam rock with a Latin flair. Truly a strange beast of a rocker.
47. "Right" (Young Americans - 1975) Of all the strange alter-egos Bowie has created for himself, the "plastic-soul" outing has to be one of the strangest yet most satisfying. Somehow, and mostly to the credit of his amazing band at the time. The song is a groovy interplay between a groovy piano, a slinky guitar part by Carlos Alomar and a wild and untamed sax solo throughout. It's truly a musical feast. Then the vocals have their back and forth assault between Bowie's fragile yet funky delivery and the soulful croon of Luther Vandross and Robin Clark. Doesn't get much better than that. It's always strange listening to this song amidst the glam rockers and kraut rock dirges of Bowie's standards. But it's that unique funkiness that really makes it worth coming back to.
46. "Look Back In Anger" (Lodger - 1979) - I always envision this song to being the ending credits to Bowie's insane 1970's era. Not that I'm saying he is literally looking back at his career by the title, but more because it's the perfect blend of what Bowie did the entire decade. Carlos Alomar unleashes one of his more understated performances and the rhythm section is a juggernaut of sound. This song sounds like a cut off of The Man Who Sold The World filtered through the mad intensity of Station to Station. Co-written by Brian Eno, it isn't hugely influenced by his style. This is clearly a rocker, great by any Bowie song standards. It definitely has layers of sound that fly back and forth throughout it. If you trade the live band for a drum machine and a synthesizer, you would have the Bowie song of the future. (Editor's Note: Make sure to watch the video for "Look Back In Anger." I just did for the first time while writing this It's... something special.)

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Best of Bowie: 50 Great Tracks

After a friend requested I bring the blog back, I decided to do so and in the only way I know possible....another arbitrary list of sorts. This time, I've broken down 50 great tracks by the one and only David Bowie and put them in a sorta arbitrary but numerical order. Opinions flair, but ultimately, 50 great songs by the unbelievably brilliant David Bowie will be broken down as I see fit. No covers will be allowed so unfortunately "It Ain't Easy" and "Cactus" won't be found on this list. Let's start with five that didn't make the cut, and unfortunately so as these are great songs.


"Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed" - From Bowie's first proper full length album, this curiously strange song is something worth checking out off of this album. Unlike it's follow up, The Man Who Sold the World, Bowie's Space Oddity has a lack of cohesion overall, but this track is a compass point in the direction of where Bowie was going. Opening like a typical hard rocker off of Man Who Sold but grooving into a more glam bowie stomp afterward, this is something special. Bowie's competent harmonica solo flows over the riff nicely.

"Afraid" - Bowie may have had his "Golden Years" in the 1970's, but his 2002 album Heathen may have been his best album since the 1970's. "Afraid" is a competent rock song with Bowie's brilliant paranoia ladled over it. Tony Vistonti and Bowie returned for this record and Heathen is the perfect blend of where Bowie went in the 90's and where he and Visconti excelled in the late 70's after his glam years subsided. The perfectly tight band with the drapery of cello's and Bowie's trembling lyrics make for an underrated if not forgotten classic in the Bowie canon.

"Hang Onto Yourself" - The Ramones stole their schtick from this classic proto punk riff. It's a bouncy, glamed out track that has an intensely tight bass groove and an unforgettable guitar riff that Mick Ronson cranks out. A hard cut from the top 50 off of Bowie's classic and easily most loved The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. There is something rollicking about this track that keeps me coming back to it, but overall in the grand scheme of Bowie's massive catalog, it lacks the staying power beyond a good riff and a toe-tapping beat.

"African Night Flight" - Be it because this song is ridiculously crazy in it's existence or because it's the perfect intersection of Bowie's strange subconscious lyric structure and Eno and Carlos Alomar's strange synth/guitar growls. Deep in Eno's obsession with world music and Bowie's love for the strange and foreign, this track drips with strange bleeps and blips as Alomar's metallic guitar riffs in the background. Lodger is a great album, but not many songs come off of it with ease and love. This is one that closely makes the cut for one of those great Bowie gems.

"Fascination" - Bowie was a constant collaborator--we've already mentioned Eno, Ronson and Visconti--and one of his best was with one Luther Vandross on his "plastic-soul" outing Young Americans. Fits right in with Curtis Mayfield and Funkadelic, Bowie somehow is able to tap into the American 70's perfectly. Maybe it was Vandross' tip of back-up singers or the funky-as-fuck sax and bass volleys, but this is one of the groovier songs in Bowie's line-up of greats. Also, this badass track was recorded in none-other than Philadelphia, one underrated music town amidst many great ones.

Coming soon.... a bi-polar track from Heroes to kick off the countdown.

The Return of Poseidon

After a long, undescribable hiatus, In The Wake of Poseidon will be returning with some new crap. Feel free to join the re-invention...of sorts.