Tag Archives: David Bowie

Bowie Collaborations: “Sister Midnight”

I bought the Iggy Pop anthology ” A Million in Prizes” a few years back.  I wanted a good introduction to his career, and I only had the Stooges albums at that point.  The only solo song I knew by Iggy was “Lust for Life”, which I loved.  I expected most of the set to be hard rock, and in the vein of either “Lust for Life” or the Stooges.

The last thing I expected to hear on this set was electronic, Kraftwerk-inspired, sounding funk.  Pop sang into a distorted almost, monotone voice, that recalled little of his Stooges’ days. With any given Stooges song, you felt as if the earth might fall beneath you.  Anything could happen. “Sister Midnight” on the other hand, was tied together tightly, and well constructed.  Yet, the song gave Iggy enough room to breathe something that was rare in a Stooges’ song.  (The only major exception is “We Will Fall”,  a slow-burn of a song, but not representative of the band’s output.)

Bowie co-wrote The Idiot (on which “Sister Midnight”appears) with Pop.  The Idiot is generally regarded as one of Pop’s best albums, and would have an enormous influence on punk and post-punk.  The Edge has cited it as major influence in interviews, and Ian Curtis of Joy Division was found dead with The Idiot spinning on his turn-table.

For Bowie, this collaboration was important in many ways.  Having been strung out on coke during the making of his last album, Station to Station, Bowie moved to Berlin with Pop to begin work on The Idiot, and its follow-up Lust for Life, and what would become known for Bowie as the Berlin Trilogy. Taking the helm for The Idiot, allowed Bowie to experiment and find out what sounds he wanted for his own albums.  As Bowie himself says about The Idiot:

Poor Jim, in a way, became a guinea pig for what I wanted to do with sound. I didn’t have the material at the time, and I didn’t feel like writing at all. I felt much more like laying back and getting behind someone else’s work, so that album was opportune, creatively.

 

 

 

“Sister Midnight”:

 

 

 

 



 

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Bowie Collaborations: “Dancing in the Street”

Yesterday, I wrote about “Under Pressure”.  Today’s close-up is going to be David Bowie and Mick Jagger’s version of Martha & The Vandella’s “Dancing in the Street”.

The original version of “Dancing in the Street” is one of the defining songs of Motown.  And it’s also listed as #40 on Rolling Stones’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  While it originated as a party song and dance-single, it later took on greater meaning when many protesters cited the song as an anthem for civil rights.

What probably started off as a good idea, David Bowie and Mick Jagger decided to record a version of the song as a charity single for Live-Aid in 1985.  Two of the greatest singers getting together for a charity single, and covering one of Motown’s greatest songs?  What could possibly go wrong?

What could have been a great one -off single, turned into something completely different.  (I’ll mention the infamous video later, don’t worry.) Even before the song actually begins, you know it’s going to be the musical equivalent of something like Denny’s Fried Cheese sandwich as Mick Jagger shouts, “Ok!” (followed by something incomprehensible) and Bowie adding, “South America!”  Then there’s the horns.  And then it’s pure 80’s dance-pop – leaving any shred of the original version’s gusto behind.

It’s not like either Bowie or Jagger didn’t know how to record a soul song.  The Rolling Stones covered numerous soul singles before this (including a great version of “Just My Imagination”) and many of the songs on Exile on Main Street found the Stones dabbling in soul among other genres.  And many of Jagger’s signature dances movies were ripped off soul-singers (most notably taking cues from James Brown).  As for Bowie, he put his stamp on “plastic soul” with “Changes”, “Young Americans” & Golden Years”.

Throughout their career, both Jagger and Bowie took cues from musical genres that preceded them and reinvented them in their own image creating some of the best rock and roll in the process.  This was probably their intention when they made “Dancing in the Street”.  (I’m hoping.)

Without the video, the song would still be ridiculous.  (Especially when Jagger ad-libs, “Back in the USSR!” ).  But then there’s the video.  Believe what you want to about Jagger & Bowie sleeping together, but there’s no denying the chemistry that they have in this video.  (There’s a pretty long article about the “affair” between the two here.) Jagger’s outfit is pretty awful, and what’s up with Bowie wearing what appears to be a  lab-coat?

Yet, all the same, as bad as the song and video are, I still find them both extremely hilarious.  It makes me laugh every time, and I would definitely rank “Dancing in the Street” as one of the greatest videos ever.  Perhaps that was their idea along.

Incidentally, when I was in New York City last year I saw someone with a shirt with Jagger’s face on it that said, “I fucked David Bowie”.  I really wanted to get it.

Dancing in the Street:

 

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Bowie Collaborations Week: “Under Pressure”

A friend of mine has this theory about the Velvet Underground: what type of songs you like by them, determine what types of music snob you are.  If you like the noisy songs like  “Sister Ray” for example, you probably list Joy Division as one of your favorite bands. If you like  the softer songs such as “Femme Fatale” or Stephanie Says” you probably worship the old R.E.M. records.  I list “Sweet Jane” among mine for what it’s worth.

The Velvet Underground might be the ultimate music snob group.  But I also have this theory that in order to get to be a music snob, you have to like David Bowie.  He’s the gate-keeper to all things weird in music.  Bowie is poppy and melodic enough to attract a mass audience, yet extremely eccentric.  Without David Bowie, I probably would not like The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Roxy Music, etc.  Brian Eno’s music makes a lot more sense after you listen to Bowie’s Low.

This week’s posts are going to be devoted to Bowie’s collaborations with other artists.  Some times this might include him appearing on other records, or other appearing on his records.  Either way, Bowie’s presence lights up a song.

Queen & David Bowie: “Under Pressure”

For me, this song should not work.  (I rank Queen among the Eagles as one of the worst bands ever.)  There’s also the fact that both Freddie Mercury and Bowie, are two of the most excessive figures in rock.  For both of these guys, every single thing they did was bold, and over the top.  Bowie created Ziggy Stardust, and as “Bohemian Rhapsody” was an entire opera put into a 6 minute song.  Every single move they made was an event.

Until recently, I didn’t know that “Under Pressure” was recorded in 1981.  I just assumed that it was made in 1976 when Bowie was all coked up – why else would he make a song with Queen?  “Under Pressure” is perhaps remembered most for its famous bass-line, which Vanilla Ice may or may not have taken liberally for “Ice Ice Baby”. Ice famously suggested that there was a half-note difference between the two bass-lines.

What amazes me about “Under Pressure” is how it’s become a de facto party anthem.  In spite of (or perhaps because of) the familiarity of Ice’s song, “Under Pressure” has become a song that gets people up.  Everybody knows it, and everybody enjoys it.  Even me, the music snob, who hates Queen.

“Under Pressure”:

Two Kermits Singing “Under Pressure”

 

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A Look Back At Arcade Fire’s “Funeral”

I recently saw that Arcade Fire is going to be playing Merriweather Post Pavilion this August promoting their new album The Suburbs. As long as it doesn’t sell out, I will definitely be going  – plus you all know how I feel about Merriweather. Arcade Fire’s Funeral for me, is one of the defining albums of the 2000’s.  A lot of people might suggest that Death Cab For Cutie bought indie rock to the mainstream, but Arcade Fire really opened up the possibilities of what indie rock could do in the new century.  Funeral retains an indie mindset, but has the anthemic qualities of U2, Wyn Butler sings in style similar to David Bowie, yet it sounds completely original.  And 6 years after its initial release, it hasn’t lost any of its power that made it a wonderful listen the first time I heard it.

Like many people who attended U2’s Vertigo Tour in 2005, I wondered what the hell was that song that played as the band walked on the stage?  (If you went to any of those shows, you know what I’m talking about.)  It was the sound of a dozen voices singing in chant-like unison, with a simple guitar riff played underneath.  “Wake Up” is so big, ambitious, and simple, and it’s a song that has always seemed to exist.  After I found out the name of the song, I quickly went out and bought Funeral.  (Arcade Fire had been on my radar for a while, and though Funeral received fantastic reviews, I wasn’t sure about the title.)

Like many who have gone out and bought albums based on one single-song, I was afraid Funeral would be a bust.  Instead, I found an album that had a theme of loss yet retained an optimism.  For a debut album, Funeral also sounds like the third or fourth album by a band – it’s a very mature.  “Neighborhood #1” and “Rebellion (Lies)” both start off slow, but  reach a Spector-ish wall-of-sound by the end of the song.  Both songs gradually grow louder – that is it hard to pinpoint exactly when exactly what seems to be a ballad turns into a monster of a song. .  “Wake Up” might have been the song that got me into Arcade Fire, but “Rebellion” is the true masterpiece of the album.   I’m not sure if the song has a traditional verse-chorus structure. In fact its 5 minutes seem to build around Wynn singing, “everytime you close your eyes,” constrasted by Regine’s repeating, lies, lies” in the background.  But like Bowie’s “Heroes”, it’s the tension and the build-up that gives the song its ultimate pay-off.

By the time Neon Bible came out a few years later, I should have known better than to expect something as good as Funeral. Very few artists are able to create back-to-back masterpieces (and yes, I count Funeral as one of rock’s masterpieces).  But Neon Bible was not only disappointing because it wasn’t Funeral, but also because it seemed unmemorable, pretentious, and most offensively of all – bland. Arcade Fire to me, is many things but bland is not one of them.  I’m looking forward to The Suburbs, and hope Arcade Fire will bring out another masterpiece.

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Best Cover Art

I’m attempting to work on a design for a potential job, so as part of my break I’ve decided to list a few of my favorite album designs.  Let me know what you think and what your favorite covers are.

U2 – Achtung Baby

Some unknown group

Bob Dylan – The Freewheeling Bob Dylan

David Bowie – Honky Dory

Pearl Jam – No Code

Bruuuuuuuuce – Born to Run

Jay-Z – The Blueprint

Mad Men – Season 3.  (Wait that’s a TV show.  How did that get there?)

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Spin Names “Achtung Baby” Best Album of the Past 25 Years

Spin recently named U2’s Achtung Baby as the number one album of the past 25 years.  As a big fan of U2, a few years ago, I probably would have listed Achtung Baby as such.  (But I have to say, Rain Dogs, Rum Sodomy & The Lash, and The Queen is Dead – among a few that come to mind – have more meaning to me than Achtung Baby currently does.)

Most casual listeners refer to The Joshua Tree as U2’s masterpiece, but Achtung Baby truly does belong in the pantheon of great albums.  Stripping away the worldview of their 80’s albums, Bono turned his lyrics inward creating U2’s most personal album.  At the same time, the music was turned up inspired by the industrial movement and also David Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy”.  The Edge already known for his excessive use of guitar pedals, ditched his trademark echo for a wall of distortion. Achtung Baby is the 90’s version of “Sergeant Pepper” and “Highway 61 Revisited” – the sound of a band taking a giant risk musically while at the same time challenging its fans to fantastic results.  (Unlike Radiohead, with Achtung Baby U2  created an experimental record that is actually listenable.  Kid A I’m referring to you.)

Unlike a lot of other great albums, Achtung Baby’s emotional core is actually at the end of the album.  The last three songs might be among the most emotional and sad songs U2 ever recorded.  (And that’s saying something considering this U2 we’re talking about.)  “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” shows a man at the end of his rope clinging on for dear life.  (When singing this song on last year’s 360 tour, Bono would try to personify this by singing and swinging from a suspended microphone.)  “Acrobat” deals with the conflicts of being a rock star, being spiritual but not religious.  “Yeah I’d break bread and wine if there was a church I could receive in,” Bono sings.  “Love is Blindness” ends the album on a slow note with the Edge producing perhaps the best guitar-solo he’s ever recorded.  Depending on your point of view, the song is either about an IRA bomb, or leaving his home behind and sleeping with a prostitute.  (I’m going with the prostitute theory.)

I don’t listen to Achtung Baby as much as I used to.  But it still remains one of my favorite albums.  And it’s also an album that U2 knows is among their best – they regularly play songs from it while on tour.  And 19 years later, they’re still trying to recreate the magic of the album with last year’s disappointing No Line on the Horizon.

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Raw Power Legacy Edition Vs. Iggy’s Remix of Raw Power

As I’m sure most of you are aware, Iggy & The Stooges’ Raw Power is one of my favorite albums.  It was recently reissued as a double-disced set containing the original David Bowie mix of the album (which has been out of print for a while in favor of Iggy Pop’s new mix in the 90s) and a live CD as the bonus disc.

Raw Power more than lives up to its title.  This is the album that almost single-handed created the blueprint for punk. So how does the original Bowie mix stand up to Iggy’s reworking?

The original Bowie Mix:   This recording is more primitive, making the album sound like it was recorded in a tin can.  Also, I’m not a fan of the fade-outs particularly on “Search & Destroy” and “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell”.  Pop has often described Shake Appeal as him getting his Little Richard on, and I’ve often wondered what he was talking about.  Bowie’s version has a little more bounce, so now I finally see what Iggy was talking about.

Iggy’s remix: This version is loud. Even in its original incarnation, Raw Power was musically one of the loudest albums ever, but Iggy’s re-mix ranks as one of the loudest sounding albums ever.  Pop put the audio levels in red, so it would purposely cause distortion.  He also added in vocals that originally had been taken out.  While I like Bowie’s mix, I prefer this one because this is the version I am used to, and it sounds like a band pummeling everything in their path.

Georgia Peaches Bonus Live CD. Iggy has often said that the Stooges were more musically proficient than they were sometimes given credit more.  This live CD showcases both the anarchy and musical power of the Stooges at their best.  At first I wondered what the hell the Stooges were doing with a background piano player, but without the addition of the piano it would be too out of control.  Somehow, the piano holds it together.  Iggy baits the audience even yelling, “you want to get your faced?” to an audience member.  While other groups may have had better stage shows in the mid 70’s and control, there was a true sense of urgency with the Stooges live shows that makes them among the most exciting acts ever.

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