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Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Much like the Stones, my brother Rod had exposed me to David Bowie long before I actually took much interest, and whereas Tony Alva was the impetus for my long overdue appreciation for the Stones, it was Milkyum who sat me down with 'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars' in 1984.

Although I accepted Ziggy, both the record and the man, as a work of genius, it sort of stopped there for a goodly amount of time.

Again, it was Milkyum who jolted me out of that rut in 1989 when he brought home the 'Sound and Vision' package. Much like everyone else, I was familiar with Bowie's initial and seemingly ubiquitous greatest hits package, 'ChangesOneBowie'. What I wasn't familiar with was anything else except 'Ziggy' and 'ChangesOneBowie'. 'Sound and Vision' fixed that. It was probably 'Panic In Detroit' that made me sit up and pay attention.

Still, however, I managed to remain only casually interested in Bowie. Having seen his 'Glass Spider' tour in '88, and having been extremely disappointed, I needed more convincing.

In '92 I set off to Albany for two years to finally put the last few nails in my undergraduate studies. In setting up my household I needed a CD player, so I went to Montgomery Ward to pick one up, and while I was there I spotted yet another Bowie compilation, the two disc set, 'The Singles Collection'.

That did it.

I was blown away by 'Life on Mars', 'Oh, You Pretty Things', 'Sorrow', and even acquired a fondness for post-Ziggy Bowie, which had always been the stumbling block for me. 'Be My Wife', 'Boys Keep Swinging', and 'Look Back In Anger' cured me of my issues, and paved the way for a classic Jackson style catalog acquisition. I bought all the Bowie I could find, but wisely stopping at 'Let's Dance'. There are certain absolutes in life, and Bowie between '83 and '93 is almost completely devoid of worth. 'Absolute Beginners' and some of the Tin Machine stuff are notable exceptions.

At any rate, I became a full fledged, card carrying Bowie freak.

In '96 I saw him live again, he played Roseland, and it was just after his co-headline tour with Nine Inch Nails. His band was shit hot, and although the techno/industrial vibe of his recent record, and the tour with NIN, was still prevalent, he played to please. He played songs that we wanted to hear. Still no 'Ziggy', but 'Moonage Daydream' was a very acceptable substitution. Oh yeah, the band, did I mention that they were shit hot? The reinstatement of piano player Mike Garson was a welcome comfort factor amid all the synthesizers and sequencers, but what really blew me away was his bass player, Gail Ann Dorsey, a tiny monster of a bass player, black, bald and barefoot, who took on the Freddy Mercury vocal parts for 'Under Pressure' and delivered the goods with considerable ability. Bowie's Tin Machine band-mate Reeves Gabrels handled the lead guitar spot, and though I'm not a huge fan of his hyper-electronic style, with all the squeals and wackiness, the songs were still the songs, and they were great songs.

Having redeemed himself for the crimes committed in the 80's, Bowie returned to making good records, even reuniting with producer Tony Visconti after many years for 2000's 'Heathen'.

I saw Bowie again in 2005 at Jone's Beach. He had kept much of the band I saw in '96, replacing Gabrels with another old pal, Earl Slick, a move I very much approved of.

The Thin White Duke had truly returned, and all was well.

Jackson's Best of Bowie Albums List:

1) Ziggy

There's no argument here, again, there are certain absolutes.

2) Hunky Dory

If you listen close, you can hear Ziggy being born, it happens during the final moments of 'Life On Mars'. 'Changes' is the big tune, but I quite like 'Quicksand', 'Oh, You Pretty Things', and 'Queen Bitch'.

3) Let's Dance

With age comes clarity, and it's clear that 'Let's Dance' is nearly flawless despite it's commercial appeal. You already know the songs.

4) Aladdin Sane

Ziggy's last stand, and the last Ronson record, 'Aladdin Sane' contains my all time Bowie fave, 'Time', as well as a number of other standouts like, 'Drive In Saturday', 'Panic In Detroit', 'Cracked Actor', 'The Jean Genie', 'Watch That Man',and the title track. That's enough.

5) Diamond Dogs

On the strength of 'Sweet Thing'. It amazes me that it's David playing that sweet nasty guitar. 'Rebel Rebel' doesn't hurt it any, and the title track is a classic as well.

6) Scary Monsters

The bridge between Berlin era Bowie and the High Pop of 'Let's Dance' and after, 'Scary Monsters' finds David just where I like him, slightly weird, but accessible. Highlights include 'It's No Game', 'Up the Hill Backwards', 'Scary Monsters', and 'Ashes to Ashes'.

7) Station to Station

Many Bowie aficionados would rank 'Station to Station' much higher, but though I understand it's importance in his development, I just think that the songs aren't quite up to snuff. With the exception of 'Golden Years', and 'Wild Is the Wind', which is a cover, the other tunes are good, but not great. You won't find 'Station to Station' or 'TVC-15' in a current Bowie set list. The importance of those songs is the Kraftwerk influence, and Bowie's blend of that with R&B. The Krautrock fascination would take David, with Iggy in tow, to Berlin for his next series of influential, but decidedly un-commercial records.

8) Low/ 9) Heroes

1977's 'Low' and 'Heroes' finds David in Berlin with Brian Eno, racks of synths, and a rekindled ambition to make art. 'Low', and it's successor 'Heroes', are presented as two separate and distinct sides. Side One contains songs, Side Two consists of instrumentals. Although 'Heroes' is by far and away the best song from this period, 'Low' has a bit more to offer with 'Always Crashing In the Same Car', 'Sound and Vision', and 'Be My Wife'. Both records offer plenty of interesting soundscapes and creative production values, but in the end, David wasn't concerned with mass appeal, and it shows. That's why 'Scary Monsters' ranks higher than these oft touted influential offerings, it marries the art with accessibility. On 'Low' and 'Heroes' the audience is very much on the outside of the proceedings. David let's us in, a bit, starting with 'Lodger', the follow up to 'Heroes', even more so on 'Scary Monsters', and by 'Let's Dance' were all one big happy dancing family.

10) 'Lodger'

I had to think for a bit about this one. The other choice was 'Young Americans'. Again, most people would have probably ranked 'Young Americans' much higher, certainly above 'Lodger', but I just don't like 'Young Americans' very much. It sounds cold. It sounds like the absence of joy. 'Lodger', while no joyfest, has much more character, it has a sense of self lacking on 'Young Americans'. Sure the song 'Young Americans' is much better than anything on 'Lodger', but 'Lodger' has more depth with tracks like 'DJ', 'Look Back In Anger', and 'Boys Keep Swinging'.

Honorable Mention:

If David had combined the best bits of 'Outside' (95) and 'Earthling' (97), the result would be a formidable album that would have made the list. He didn't, and they don't.

I really liked the Tin Machine stuff.. as well as his "Afraid of Americans" NIN-y phase.
The Tin Machine stuff is so devoid of hooks, but I dig 'I'm Afraid of Americans', 'Hallo Spaceboy', 'Little Wonder', and 'Heart's Filthy Lesson'.
leaving ziggy aside, i like aladdin sane and hunky dory best but the berlin stuff also works for me. i am still in the place you were once in about his modern commercial stuff.

did i ever tell you the story about when Josh met Bowie?
Do tell.....
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