David Bowie: The Musical Chameleon

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No one can deny David Bowie’s tremendous influence on rock and pop music.  His ability to adapt himself to the musical changes he had seen for the last four decades has him pegged as the musical chameleon – and along with the radical shift in styles came the change in the way he looked and presented himself. He boldly experimented with many styles and that brought him commercial and critical success and a lasting impact and influence on different generations of oldies music/classic rock/modern rock fans. He achieved the peak of success in the 70s music era.

David Bowie, an iconic and influential figure in the world of music, had an illustrious career that spanned over five decades. His top hits, known for their innovation and variety, reflect his ability to continually reinvent himself and his music. Some of his most famous and successful songs include:

  1. “Space Oddity” (1969): One of Bowie’s earliest hits, this song was inspired by the space race and became famous around the time of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
  2. “Changes” (1971): From the album “Hunky Dory,” this song became one of Bowie’s anthems, encapsulating his frequent reinventions and influence on the music scene.
  3. “Life on Mars?” (1971): Also from “Hunky Dory,” this song is known for its surreal lyrics and cinematic production.
  4. “Ziggy Stardust” (1972): A track from the concept album “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” it’s one of Bowie’s most iconic songs.
  5. “Starman” (1972): Another hit from the “Ziggy Stardust” album, this song helped solidify Bowie’s status as a glam rock icon.
  6. “Rebel Rebel” (1974): A track from “Diamond Dogs,” this song is known for its catchy guitar riff and is a glam rock staple.
  7. “Fame” (1975): Co-written with John Lennon and Carlos Alomar, this song from the “Young Americans” album was a major hit in the USA.
  8. “Heroes” (1977): One of Bowie’s most enduring songs, it was inspired by the Berlin Wall and is known for its uplifting theme.
  9. “Ashes to Ashes” (1980): From the album “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps),” this song revisited the character of Major Tom from “Space Oddity.”
  10. “Let’s Dance” (1983): The title track from the “Let’s Dance” album, this song saw Bowie venture into more mainstream pop and dance music. It became one of his biggest commercial hits.
  11. “Under Pressure” (1981): A collaboration with the band Queen, this song is famous for its distinctive bass line and vocal harmonies.
  12. “Modern Love” (1983): Another hit from the “Let’s Dance” album, this song reflects Bowie’s ability to adapt to contemporary music trends.

David Bowie’s influence extends beyond these hits; he was a chameleon of the music world, constantly evolving and innovating. His impact on music, fashion, and popular culture is profound, and his work continues to inspire artists and fans alike.

David Bowie 1967

From David Robert Jones to David Bowie

Bowie was David Robert Jones in real life. He was born on January 8, 1947 in London, England. One of the first persons who introduced him into the world of rock music and music in general was older brother Terry. Unfortunately, Terry would suffer a mental illness which forced his family to send him to an institution; in 1985 Terry took his own life. Terry would later figure in some of Bowie’s songs.

While he was in his teens, Jones joined several different groups, including forming his own group Davy Jones and The Lower Third. His first singles didn’t make much of an impact, and like many other successful musicians, David Jones had a struggling start. Later on, Jones took his stage name, David Bowie, which was derived from a knife popularized by American frontiersman Jim Bowie. David Bowie adopted his new name as a way to avoid being confused with Davy Jones of the Monkees. And David Bowie was on his way.

Struggles as a Young Artist

Like many musicians those days, Bowie posed as a mod artist. In 1966 he released a series of records for Pye records, but all of them sank without a trace. So Bowie went on a temporary hiatus; those years proved to be increasingly experimental for this young singer and musician, and his experiences would later form his later musical style. He redefined the rock glam genre through his persona Ziggy Stardust, which only makes up a part of his dramatic musical metamorphosis

Re-Emerging with Space Oddity

In 1969 he re-emerged as a pop star through his album Space Oddity, obviously inspired by the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The album was quickly noticed by British music fans and its title track gave Bowie his first big hit (peaking at #5 on the UK singles chart), thanks to the BBC’s use of the song while doing its coverage of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. “Space Oddity” is still one of his most popular songs.

Bowie as Glam-Rock Alter-Ego Ziggy Stardust

Bowie released two critically-acclaimed works The Man Who Sold The World and Hunky Dory, which featured the hits “Hunky Dory” and “Changes,” which further stamped his musical individuality.

With his popularity escalating, Bowie was thinking of ways to keep his fans and critics perpetually mystified. He proclaimed himself gay, which in later years he acknowledged as “the biggest mistake I ever made” and that he was always “a closet heterosexual.” His gay admission is seen as probably more of a publicity stunt as he became more famous through his alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, the androgynous rock star who came from another planet. He had dyed his hair orange and paraded around in weird clothing, as well as adopted glam rock. His backing band were billed as Ziggy’s musicians called The Spiders From Mars.

Bowie’s (or Ziggy Stardust’s, for that matter) 1972 album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars was released to heightened expectations from fans and critics. And it didn’t disappoint. Embracing glam and art rock, Bowie declared the arrival of a new age in music.

Bowie quickly shifted to other musical avenues and broke up the Spiders in 1973, effectively shedding the Ziggy Stardust persona. He ventured into producing songs, and in 1973 released Pin Ups which contained mostly cover versions of songs by other artists. David Bowie also collaborated with Mick Ronson in working with the Ziggy Stardust album. Find out more about the unrecognized Mick Ronson in our article, “How Did Mick Ronson’s Underrated Genius Shape Rock Music?”

Bowie 1983 serious moonlight

Changing Radically to Other Music Styles and Images

During the mid-1970s Bowie had radically changed his style and look, and he did away with the colorful and garish outfits. He released another album, Young Americans in 1975; it yielded his first #1 US hit “Fame,” signaling his major crossover to the American market. The song was co-written by Bowie and John Lennon. His “plastic soul” (which Bowie himself coined) alienated many of his British fans, but found welcoming acceptance in the States.

Ever the experimental, Bowie released Low (1977) which featured the first of his collaborations with Brian Eno. Bowie again went into a radical shift and this time into the avant-garde and minimalist, which confused many of his fans. It is now widely regarded as one of Bowie’s most influential records.

Continuing his Experimentation

Ushering in the new decade, Bowie released one of his most celebrated songs, “Ashes To Ashes” (from the album Scary Monsters), which topped the UK charts in 1981.

Bowie also became an actor, appearing in films such as The Man Who Fell To Earth and The Elephant Man. Since then he has juggled two careers, with the music side starting to lag. His albums – Tin Machine (1989) Tin Machine II (1991), and Black Tie White Noise (1993) in particular – flopped commercially.

He continued recording albums and experimenting in various styles, including industrial rock and techno. Although these efforts failed to resonate with the audience, it was still an admirable attempt.

Still Going Strong

Bowie suffered a heart attack in 2004, which scared him very much. Fortunately, he recovered from his condition, enabling him to work in music though his output has since reduced drastically. His last major tour was the 2003-2004 Reality Tour which was suddenly cut short because of his heart attack. Bowie had not performed since 2006 but he continued working with present-day artists such as Arcade Fire and Scarlett Johanssen. One of his last albums The Next Day was released in 2013.

Bowie won several awards and honors, including two Grammy Awards (one for Lifetime Achievement) and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1996.

David Bowie as Pop Culture Icon

With a career spanning over five decades, David Bowie left an indelible mark on pop culture, influencing music, fashion, film, and art.

Fashion and Image:

  • Style Chameleon: Bowie was known for his ever-changing fashion, from the androgynous glam rock of Ziggy Stardust to the sophisticated styles of the 1980s.
  • Influence on Fashion: His unique fashion sense, often created in collaboration with designers like Kansai Yamamoto, influenced trends and inspired countless designers.

Film and Acting Career:

  • Cinema Presence: Bowie’s notable film roles include “The Man Who Fell to Earth” (1976), where he played an alien, reflecting his otherworldly persona.
  • Other Roles: He appeared in various films, like “Labyrinth” (1986), showcasing his versatility as an actor.

Art and Literature Influence:

  • Artistic Ventures: An avid art collector and painter, Bowie’s interest in art influenced his music videos and stage designs.
  • Literary Influences: Bowie’s work was heavily influenced by literature, with references to writers like George Orwell and William S. Burroughs.

Legacy and Tributes:

  • Tributes and Homages: After his death in 2016, there were worldwide tributes, from concerts to murals, reflecting his widespread influence.
  • Continued Influence: Bowie’s influence is seen in contemporary music, fashion, and art, with many artists citing him as a key inspiration.

Exploring Bowie’s Work:

  • Albums: To truly appreciate Bowie, listen to his diverse discography, from “Hunky Dory” and “Aladdin Sane” to “Blackstar.”
  • Live Performances: Bowie’s live shows were groundbreaking; watching his concert films can provide insight into his performance style.
  • Interviews and Books: Reading interviews and biographies can offer deeper understanding of his thoughts and creative process.

David Bowie was more than a musician; he was a cultural icon whose work transcended traditional boundaries. Exploring his diverse body of work offers a glimpse into the mind of one of the most innovative artists of the 20th century.

Release of Final Album Blackstar and his Death

On his 69th birthday, January 8, 2016, Bowie released what could be his final album Blackstar. Just two days later, it was announced that he had died, which shocked and saddened his fans from all over the world. It was revealed that Bowie had been fighting liver cancer for 18 months. He knew that he won’t live for long so he recorded Blackstar as a “parting gift.”

Blackstar went to #1 on the charts of several countries, including the Billboard 200 — Bowie’s first and only #1 album in the US.

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