Wednesday, April 20, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter B, Part 20)

Apologies for the gap between posts, but it takes a spell to rip all of the vinyl from David Bowie. When Bowie passed away, I didn't write about him at all. Frankly, everyone else was, and many were doing it better than I ever could. With time comes healing. So, I hope we can have a little fun with this one. I wondered, what could I bring to the table that would delight a few but disgust the flock? The '80s output, of course, and I'm not talking about "Ashes to Ashes," "Fashion" or any other nugget from 'Scary Monsters' either. I'm talking about the much maligned era from about "Cat People" through the 'Never Let Me Down' long player.

'Let's Dance'
'Never Let Me Down'
Misc. Singles

I know what you're thinking. Wow, I knew it was bad, but then when you see it all spread out like that... it's worse than I even remember. My rebuttal: Hey, at least even I drew the line at 'Labyrinth'! OK, now I'll try to explain myself. My first Bowie album was 'Let's Dance.' I had taped the title track off the radio and played it over and over on my boom box while shooting baskets in the driveway as a wide-eyed 13 year old. The only time I had ever consciously heard a song by him before that was when I saw "Boys Keep Swinging" on a late-night video program. It scared the b-Jesus out of me. "Let's Dance" was different. It was accessible... which was at least some of the reason why die-hard fans hated it. If I had been a few years older, I would have felt the same way.

Anyway, I started snatching up the singles and, eventually, the album. It wasn't long before I bought my first older album, a cassette of 'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.' At nearly the same time, I rode my bike all the way to my town's Kmart and found a new-release compilation called 'Fame and Fashion.' The packaging was atrocious, but I was on my way. Even though I haven't played them for decades, I still keep these two early purchases around because they meant so much to me. They were my road map to the music of '70s Bowie, and I eventually got all of his back catalog.

Meanwhile, Bowie continued to produce new music. When Julien Temple's 20-minute short film 'Jazzin' for Blue Jean' premiered on MTV in 1984, I came down with a mysterious one-day illness so I could stay home from school the following day and watch it over and over again. It turned out I wasn't quite as enamored with 'Tonight' as I was with 'Let's Dance,' but it did have what would turn out to be my second-favorite Bowie song from the '80s. I still love it to this day.

"Loving the Alien" (Extended Dance Mix)
"Loving the Alien" (Extended Dub Mix)
"Loving the Alien" (Re-mixed 7" Version)

In time, I grew to understand why so many disliked '80s Bowie. There is a lot there to pan, but I didn't feel that way while I was living it. Today, I still like 'Let's Dance' more than anyone else reading this will understand. All I can say in my defense is that this is where I climbed aboard. There are other songs I loved then that I still love now. In case you're curious, the 12" of "Absolute Beginners" is my favorite, and I listen to it often. There are others... the 12" of "Cat People" from '82, the remix of "Shake It" on the flip side of the "China Girl" 12".... I could go on, but my attempts at persuasion will be futile. That's OK. We have plenty of other music from his vast catalog where we agree.


drew said...

I love Let's Dance, possibly because I think it is Bowie at his least pretentious, Modern Love is an unabashed glorious pop song. It may also have something to do with the fact that this was the one time I saw Bowie, on the Serious Moonlight Tour on my first ever visit to London, also my first ever Wendy's. Very few concerts have came close and the burgers were very good too if I remember right.

Absolute Beginners as I have said before on numerous occasions is Bowie's best, for me anyway.

George said...

Do you allow your children to have Mysterious One Day Illnesses?

Swiss Adam said...

Let's Dance is utterly brilliant- stupidly good pop music. Modern Love too. I'll take Blue Jean. And Absolute Beginners goes without saying.

TheRobster said...

You know I've said this before, but as you've brought it up... 'Lets Dance' is saved by the songs, though I'd take the single edit of the title track over the convoluted album version any day. I just wish Nile Rodgers wasn't involved. I wonder what it would have sounded like if Visconti had produced it.

And of course, anyone who doesn't think Absolute Beginners is one of the finest songs of the 80s - and Bowie's entire career - is an idiot. Fact!

The Swede said...

Bowie retained a fondness for 'Loving the Alien', performing a lovely stripped back version of the song on the Reality tour. Indeed, these studio versions sound warmer than I remember, or at least though at the time. 'Absolute Beginners' is (absolutely) a great song, the 'Never Let Me Down' LP is a not very pleasant listen though. Any Tin Machine in the T's Brian? They'll be reappraised one of these days, you mark my words.

Brian said...

Drew and Adam, I knew you fellas loved Absolute Beginners and had posted the song in the recent past. So, that's why I went with my second favorite. Bowie sure exploded on that Serious Moonlight Tour.

George, My youngest son has a substitute teacher he dislikes very much. She will be taking over his class the last month of school because his regular teacher will be on maternity leave. Mrs. LTL has told him he can have a mystery-illness day during that time if he needs it. I don't approve.

Robster, You have brought up an intriguing thought with Visconti. He certainly did wonders with Bowie's last three albums. You do have to give Nile props for that guitar riff in Let's Dance though.

Swede, Yes, I like that version of Loving the Alien from the Reality Tour a lot. He talked about the song and the new take at length in the intro which I thought was really cool. It is one of the few downloads I have bought in my life because there were bonus songs that weren't on CD (and out just now on LP), and one of those bonus songs was Days, my favorite song from Reality. As for Tin Machine, I had more or less gone to the CD format by then, but I think I have one piece of vinyl that may get an airing. I avoided Never Let Me Down in the post. It's pretty brutal, but I do kind of like Time Will Crawl. Did I just write that? I like all of the mixes of Loving the Alien, particularly the dub version. Lots of acapella, and his voice sounds great.

friend of rachel worth said...

One of my drunken rambles is bowie of the 80s is under valued there are diamonds in the dog dirt. As with everyone else lets dance is a classic pop lp. Absolute beginners is one of the best things he did. Loving the alien is one of my fave , heaven is here showed what tin machine could have been , time will crawl was a great single and this is not America is a hypnotic dream. Having said all that I was unfortunate to see the glass spider tour and tonight will Tina turner and dancing in the street still give me nightmares

Brian said...

FORW, It has been nice to read there are a few of us in our group that can find those diamonds. My two lows are the same as yours, "Tonight" and "Dancing in the Street." For some inexplicable reason I have the 12" singles of both of those. Eek! I'm going to give This is Not America a spin tonight. It's been too long.

Echorich said...

I'll agree, if you take the time to listen to Bowie in the 80's, you will find those nuggets of gold. But it's a deep, deep dig. Loving The Alien, Blue Jean, Absolute Beginners, Time Will Crawl all deserve a listen and appreciation. But Bowie set out to change things up, try for that brass ring of sorts, but he then spent the next 10 years trying to get his mojo back.
As the 90's was more of Bowie jumping rocks and staring into shallow pools to capture his musical voice again. 99's Hours saw Bowie find a new foundation to build on and I thank the stars that he found his way back to Visconti in the last phase of his career, starting with Heathen. From there until Blackstar, I found my self obsessed with Bowie again.

JC said...

Superby written piece Brian....and a cracking set of contributions above too.