Playlist: The B&V 20 Best Bowie Deep Tracks – You Won’t Hear These on the Radio

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*photo shamelessly stolen from the internet

Ah, January. With the turn of the calendar and a shiny new year and the prospects there of, everything seems so hopeful. However, for me January has been permanently altered by the loss of David Bowie. Now for me, early January isn’t for making lists of New Year’s Resolutions, although I am on a Bourbon fast this month (and yes, it’s awful). Early January has morphed into celebrating Bowie’s birthday and sadly, the anniversary of his passing a year ago. This has caused me to veer off my usual attitude of looking forward as the year begins to looking backward at the career of one of the greatest rock and roll legends of all time. Of course there have been a number of loving remembrances and tributes to Bowie this season which have also fueled my Bowie bender.

So instead of joining a gym, as many do in January, I sit around listening to the Berlin Trilogy trying to make sense of ‘Lodger.’ Why critics describe that LP as “more accessible” than the other two LPs, ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ is a mystery I can’t seem to solve. Another thing that has contributed to my January Bowie obsession (which, to be honest is really a year round thing) is that Bowie released some (relatively) new music this year again on his birthday. The EP ‘No Plan’ was reviewed on an earlier post here at B&V and it contains the last three songs he recorded during the ‘Blackstar’ sessions. The music is superb and certainly worth a purchase and listen.

If you flip on your radio, ether terrestrial or satellite, you’re likely to hear the usual tracks from the Bowie canon, “Fame,” “Young Americans,” “Changes,” “Rebel Rebel.” For the more progressive minded you might hear some of the edgier works, “Heroes,” “Sound And Vision,” “DJ” or maybe “Ashes to Ashes.” Let’s not get into “Modern Love,” and “Let’s Dance.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I dig all of those songs as much as the next Bowie fanatic. But the man’s body of work is so much broader than the tunes that complete a 2-disc greatest hits compilation. It’s like with Springsteen,  they only play “Born To Run” and “Jungleland” on the radio. Stretch out radio guys, stretch out.

So as I’ve been listening to various Bowie albums this week, I couldn’t help but look up at the stereo periodically, as some deeper album track came on and mutter, “God damn that’s a great song… why don’t they play that on the radio?” As that continued to happen over the span of the last week or so, I began to scribble song names down on scraps of paper and deposit them on my desk. How I find anything on the surface of my desk is an organizational issue that plagues the Rock Chick and only makes sense to me. Trust me, I think I know where everything is on this desk… I think it was Einstein who said, “if a cluttered desk represents a cluttered mind, what does a clear desktop represent?”…but I digress.

I put 20 of these songs together on an iPod Playlist and I must admit, they cohere pretty nicely. Despite his diversity of sounds, styles and personas, at the heart of it is always Bowie’s fabulous voice and sense of melody. The man was a giant from beginning to end. And let’s not forget, the guy could rock. These tracks are album tracks, not singles (for the most part). These are songs you’re not likely to hear on the radio and perhaps may not even be familiar with. There will be, as with any list I put together, egregious omissions. It was difficult to narrow this just down to 20… I invite anyone with an opinion to add songs to the list in the Comments Section.

Without further adieu, here’s one man’s Bourbon deprived view of Bowie’s Best Deep Tracks.

  1. “Black Country Rock” from ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ – The debut of guitarist Mick Ronson. I love this rocker. This LP may be Bowie’s hardest.
  2. “She Shook Me Cold” from ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ – One of the hardest songs in Bowie’s catalog. Ronson’s guitar is Jeff Beck-esque.
  3. “Oh! You Pretty Things” from ‘Hunky Dory’ – Song starts off with just voice and piano but kicks in around the 1:21 point. Great vocal.
  4. “Kooks” from ‘Hunky Dory’ – There’s just something so catchy about this song. This is an old school, weird cabaret song. I just love the lyrics. Bowie revels in the joys of finding another eccentric.
  5. “Watch That Man” from ‘Aladdin Sane’ – ‘Aladdin Sane’ is one of Bowie’s strangely overlooked, rocking classic LPs. The album art gets all the attention but the music within is great. This is the first track on the album and it grabs you by the throat…
  6. “Prettiest Star” from ‘Aladdin Sane’ – Great guitar work from Ronson, as usual. Piano, horns, great vocal from Bowie.
  7. “Lady Grinning Soul” from ‘Aladdin Sane’ – Hauntingly beautiful track.
  8. “Word On A Wing” from ‘Station To Station’ – I almost went with the epic, 10 minute title track from this album, but settled on this soulful ballad. I could have heard Sinatra do this tune and not be surprised.
  9. “Always Crashing In the Same Car” from ‘Low’ – Bowie lamenting how his career had, in his opinion, fizzled over spooky guitars and synths. Love the riff.
  10. “Joe The Lion” from “Heroes” – Bowie brings in Robert Fripp, his best guitar collaborator since Ronson. You could really pick any song from side one of “Heroes” (other than the title track) for inclusion here. Rocking guitar with an impassioned vocal.
  11. “Loving the Alien” from ‘Tonight’ – ‘Tonight’ was critically a much maligned record and after the smash hit of ‘Let’s Dance’ an utter commercial disappointment as well. But I think there are some great tracks on this record, especially this spacey album opener. Beautifully sung.
  12. “Neighborhood Threat” from ‘Tonight’ – Bowie goes back and recuts a tune he cowrote for Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” LP. I love both versions. albeit I’ll admit Bowie’s is a tad more compressed that Iggy’s. “Look at his eyes, did you see his crazy eyes?”
  13. “Thursday’s Child” from ‘Hours’ – ‘Hours’ is the LP where I reconnected with Bowie. This beautiful LP opener is a lush, gorgeous song.
  14. “Slow Burn” from ‘Heathen’ – While ‘Hours’ helped me reconnect with Bowie, ‘Heathen’ was where he completely returned to form. It’s a fantastic album. This rocker was actually the first single and should have been a huge hit.
  15. “Afraid” from ‘Heathen’ – Another rocker…”And I’m not afraid, any more.” Indeed!
  16. “Conversation Piece” released as a B-side and then later as bonus track on the rereleased ‘Heathen’ – This song was originally written in 1969 and Bowie re-recorded it in 2002 for the abandoned ‘Toy’ album, which I’m still hoping gets a release. I love the lyrics in this song and I was pretty much obsessed with it when it came out.
  17. “Fall Dog Bombs the Moon” from ‘Reality’ – The follow up LP to ‘Heathen,’ ‘Reality’ was another great, overlooked record. This deep LP track has a great riff and a great weird Bowie lyric.
  18. “I’d Rather Be High” from ‘The Next Day’ – Well, wouldn’t anyone?
  19. “Dancing Out In Space” from ‘The Next Day’ – Another great song from Bowie’s surprise comeback, ‘The Next Day.’ Bowie always had his eyes turned upward to the stars… I like to think he’s out there dancing in space even as I type this…
  20. “No Plan” from the EP ‘No Plan’ – I love this soaring, epic ballad. Originally cut in the ‘Blackstar’ sessions.

I’m sure there are an infinite number of songs I’ve left out here. “Station To Station,” “Cat People,” just to name a couple. But I was going for deep LP cuts… Again, you really can’t go wrong with just about any Bowie LP you choose to put on. I still miss Bowie. The world is less interesting with him gone.

Pour something murky, since I can’t, and get lost in these tunes! Cheers!

 

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Review: David Bowie, The New “No Plan” EP, With His Last 3 Songs

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 For the second time in as many years, David Bowie has surprised us with the release of new music on his birthday. Last year on January 8th, he released the outstanding “Blackstar,” reviewed on an earlier post here at B&V. Sadly, only one day later, the universe grew a bit smaller and darker when the Thin White Duke passed away which was perhaps an even bigger surprise than the new music. I truly can’t believe it’s been a year since we lost David Bowie. 2016 was such an awful year in so many ways.

This year, Bowie has released an EP with four tracks recorded in the same sessions that produced “Blackstar.” I call this new music, however I must admit these songs have been available on iTunes and on CD if you were willing to shell out the money for the original cast recording of Bowie’s play, “Lazarus.” I liked the show “Dexter” as much as anybody, but I’m not paying to hear Michael C. Hall sing Bowie tracks. And to be honest, the first track on this EP, “No Plan” is the same “Lazarus” that appeared on “Blackstar.” “Lazarus,” along with the title track was one of the highlights of “Blackstar” but clearly it too was available.

The song “No Plan,” from which the EP takes it’s name, is a simply gorgeous, lush ballad. Bowie’s singing is elegant, epic and ethereal all at the same time. If you liked the sonic palette that Bowie used on “Blackstar,” you will like these songs. “No Plan” (the song) is highlighted by a beautiful saxophone solo at the end by Donny McCaslin. This is the highlight track for me.

“Killing a Little Time” is driven by aggressive drums and a more snarling vocal from Bowie. I love the way he sings “fuck you over…” Sonically it reminds me of “Sue (In a Season Of Crime)” or “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore.” It has similar percussive elements. I also like the tortured guitar on this song. This, to me, is the sound of Bowie raging against the dying of the light. “This rage in me, get away from me…” With the exception of Leonard Cohen, never has an artist written so intense of a good bye note. The song ends with the guitar crashing into a piano run… wow, what a great song.

Finally, the EP ends with “When I Met You.” It’s hard not to read this as a song directed to Bowie’s lovely wife, Iman. It’s a mid tempo affair with a lightly chugging guitar riff. “You opened my eyes, for I could not see, when I met you.” I wish I could write something as beautiful for the Rock Chick when that day comes… This is a beautiful love note.

This is Bowie at his most creative. These songs have the same experimental sound as “Blackstar” but these tunes are more conventionally structured. There’s no nine-minute plus, jazz influenced opus on this EP. These are just solid, heart-felt, well sung and performed tunes. If you’re a Bowie fan, this is a must have. Hell if you’re a music fan, these are must haves.

We’ll have to wait till next January 8th to see if Mr. Bowie held back any more gifts for us. How great is it that it’s his birthday and he’s the one giving us gifts. Bowie would have been 70 this year which is entirely too young for us to be writing about him the past tense.

I was so delighted to see that this had come out… I’ve been hoping to hear these songs without buying the entire cast recording and I knew if I waited long enough Bowie would put them out in some form. I’m hoping this is the first of a lot of great, classic rock, BourbonAndVinyl releases in the coming year.

Happy New Year and Cheers!

Charity Single/Bowie Tribute: “Cat People” feat: Dave Gahan, Mark Lanegan

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 “And I’ve been putting out fire…with gasoline”

It would be virtually impossible for me to pick a “favorite” Bowie tune. But perhaps influenced by the film starring a comely Natasha Kinski of the same name, “Cat People” was always a particular favorite of mine. There was something about that tune that always hit me hard… perhaps it spoke to the urgency of being in my late teens when I first heard it? I can still remember the first time hearing it playing over the credits as the movie ended and thinking, “what is that?”

Bowie recorded a different version of the song for the album “Let’s Dance” but when I first heard that version, I knew something was different. The guitar had been punched up and the percussion was different. It was still a great version of a fabulous tune, but something was missing. I didn’t hear the original version until the second semester of my freshman year, the one I commonly refer to as “the dark semester” when I changed colleges, for a chick no less, and moved in with a man that I still consider, to this day, to be a sociopath. I mean, I’m no doctor, I’m just a bourbon drinker but in my opinion this guy’s lack of empathy or conscience at least puts him on the sociopath scale.

We were talking one day about Bowie and I mentioned I loved the tune “Cat People,” which most people considered obscure. Out of nowhere he produced the soundtrack album, with that fabulous picture of Kinski’s head and shoulders, soaking wet in the rain with eyes glowing green…Oh yes, Natasha, I still see you in my mind… er, uh, I digress. When he put the album on, my mind immediately returned to hearing the song in the theater. The slow build at the start, Bowie’s painful, plaintive howl as the guitars kick in when he screams “with gasoline,” followed by those fabulous, tribal drums in the background. Chills still go up my spine. I actually stole that album from him… maybe he wasn’t the only sociopath in the room… Don’t judge me… I fully admit to having a problem when it comes to collecting music.

Now, on the heels of the tragic loss in January of the icon himself, David Bowie, comes a version of the song from Martyn LeNoble and Christian Eiger. I couldn’t help but think, when I read about the cover song, “the balls on these guys.” It’s a pretty risky chance to take to cover one of Bowie’s most idiosyncratic tunes. The recording was made both as a tribute to Bowie but also for a charity benefitting liver cancer research. I had never heard of LeNoble or Eiger but apparently they have connections to the Soulsavers and Depeche Mode respectively. For the most part the vocals are handled by Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan. I was not familiar with Mr. Lanegan or any of his previous work, but I might suggest he haul Tom Waits in for a DNA check because I think he might be Waits’ illegitimate son. And yes, Dave Gahan’s majestic voice is on the tune, but it merely sweeps in at the end for the counterpoint chorus of “been so long, so long, so long…”

I approached this song with caution due to my reverence for that original version that I hold so dear. I must admit, I love what these guys have done with the tune. I read it described as “bluesy” but I think the more proper term is “swampy.” This version is less dramatic than Bowie’s but they capture the longing and the need almost as well in this slow boil version. Lanegan’s vocal turn is especially on point. He captures the burning desire perfectly with his gravelly voice. The song has an almost menacing undercurrent that really grabbed me. At first I was disappointed Gahan didn’t sing more on the song, but his use at the end to sing the chorus back and forth with Lanegan is the perfect crescendo, as if Gahan was an angel answering Lanegan’s demon… or maybe I’m reading too much into it.

This is a great tribute to David Bowie and a great song to boot. And, the cherry on top, it was done for charity. So spend a buck, pour someone you love (or someone you want to love) something strong and whisper, “you wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through…”

You can find the tune at this link:

http://martynlenobleandchristianeigner.bandcamp.com/

Cheers!

The Loss of a Titan: Bowie, #RIPBowie

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As the saying goes, this one is gonna leave a mark. Or perhaps better said, this loss is going to leave a void.

The world lost a Titan of rock and roll over the weekend with the passing of David Bowie. I was shocked and saddened when my dearest, oldest friend texted me early Monday morning to give me the news. “I read the news today, oh boy…” I had several friends call or text me about the loss to see how I was handling it. I once wrote a letter to Rolling Stone magazine on a cover article they’d done on Bowie during his 10 year “hiatus” from recording (prior to “The Next Day”) which was published in the next issue. Thus, my fandom of Bowie was somewhat more “public”. I had purchased “Blackstar” his brilliant, and alas final, album on Friday to review in this very blog. The words “hauntingly beautiful” were already on the tip of my tongue but with Bowie’s passing, the emphasis may be on the hauntingly part. Monday night, I poured a glass of fine bourbon, put on “Hunky Dory” and closed my eyes, focusing all my attention on that voice.

Oddly I saw part of the Golden Globes on Sunday night, something I rarely watch. I saw Tom Hanks present an award to Denzel Washington. One of the things that stuck with me from Hanks’ speech was that the greatest of the great only need one name. Bogart, Brando, Nicholson, DeNiro… the list went on. It was a great point and frankly, could just as easily be applied to the greats of rock and roll: Mick, Keith (or Keef if you’d rather), John, Paul, George & Ringo, Elton, Ozzy, Rod, Bruce, and of course, Bowie. He was a true genius, innovator, musical chameleon, unpredictable artist. He was the Pablo Picasso of rock. He was the King of Glam rock and the inventor of several other genres. He could play guitar, keyboards, and saxophone. He produced and helped the careers of Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Iggy Pop. He was a fashion icon and an accomplished actor. I won’t go into the mime thing, but yes he was a mime. This has all been said in countless articles. The one thing I fail to see mentioned – the guy’s music simply Rocks. Is there any other artist who has dabbled in as many different styles and done so on such a successful level? I think not. He experimented with many forms of music, but what always brought it home for me was that amazing voice. He could do so much with his vocal instrument – even in the context of one song – that most singers can’t do in a career.

I think the thing that made Bowie so universally revered is that he was the champion of the outcast. He sang a lot of songs about outer space and his most famous persona was that of an alien rock star from another planet. For me, that was all just metaphor for feeling out of place. He made all outcasts feel welcome. Who hasn’t spent part of their teenage years feeling that exact way, like an outcast. He was an early hero to the LGBT community and championed black music on MTV. He was the first artist who was widely popular who said, in essence, “it’s ok to think what you think, fuck who you fuck, and dress how you dress…It’s ok to be different or weird.”

I was in high school before I was even aware of Bowie. 20/20 News Magazine on ABC did a spot on his newest album, “Scary Monsters” and they played parts of the video from “Ashes to Ashes”. It was a trip-y, arty video where Bowie was wandering on some alien landscape, followed by chicks dressed as nuns. Oh, and he was dressed like an alien Pagliacci, the sad clown. He was the first artist, with the possible exception of Black Sabbath, who scared the shit out my parents. They were watching the video scratching their heads. “Was he on drugs?”, or worse in their minds, “Is he gay?” Or “Perhaps both?” It was thrilling to see my parents that freaked out. “Scary Monsters” was immediately purchased and brought into the house and played loudly. Nobody put on any make-up or a dress (we were lower case rebels, not “Rebel Rebel”material, it was Kansas after all), but the folks kept a closer eye on my brother and I.

When I was in college the awful movie “Cat People” came out and I bought the soundtrack only to hear Bowie’s title track. It remains in high rotation to this day. That led me to “Let’s Dance” his then current album which sent me hurdling through his catalog. “Hunky Dory” remains a favorite. “Ziggy”, “Aladdin Sane” and “Young Americans” and the Berlin Trilogy soon followed. Only the Beatles have a varied back catalog like Bowie. “Station to Station” is one my favorite albums, although the critics will tell you it was a “transitional” album for Bowie.

Shortly after college I lost touch with Bowie. I’d hear an occasional single but he got stuck trying to replicate the success of “Let’s Dance” and hit a bit of a slump. It wasn’t all bad, “I’m Afraid of Americans” is another fantastic song that I still play to scare my daughter. As the past century came to a close Bowie started to work with long time collaborator Tony Visconti again and put out a trio of albums that I absolutely loved. I totally reconnected with Bowie. It all began with “Hours” which was sadly ignored. “Heathen” followed up in 2002 and it is a stone cold, late career classic. “Reality” came a year later and was equally as strong. I was lucky enough to see Bowie on the “Reality” tour and he actually played “Station to Station”. I almost pissed myself. The wife, who prefers shorter songs, was not as impressed. Oh well. I am so thankful to have gotten to see him live. He was as charismatic a live performer as I’ve ever seen.

Those albums, what I’d call the “Late Career Trilogy” was widely and wrongly ignored by the public. As I’ve been shuffling through my entire Bowie catalog these past few days, every time a song from that period comes up, I look up and think, “Damn, that’s good”. Maybe our tepid reception of those three albums caused him to disappear for almost a decade. The world needed to be reminded how important he was. Absence makes the heart grow fonder… Of course his health was also in question, especially his heart.

I was so thrilled in 2013 when Bowie returned, seemingly out of nowhere with “The Next Day”. Critics complained it was retro but when your best music is some of the greatest music of all time, why not go retro. It a harkened back to the Berlin Trilogy but sounded fresh, new.

And now, Bowie has left us with a “farewell” note in the form of his new album, “Blackstar”. I had heard it was experimental and it is. I defy you to find any artist, in any medium, as willing to turn everything on it’s head the way Bowie did. I especially defy you to find an artist so willing to create without caution at 69 years old. To create without fear or concern about critical or commercial reaction is so rare any more. I was initially worried when I heard “Blackstar” was heavily influenced by jazz. I’m not smart enough for jazz. I can sit in a club and bob my head while drinking an Old Fashion and pretend I know if it’s good or not but that’s the extent of my jazz experience. There are elements of jazz in this music, most notably the saxophone of Donny McCaslin but it’s nothing to be afraid of. Its like Mick Gerson’s piano on “Aladdin Sane”, it holds the album together. The title track is a 10 minute epic, with Bowie’s voice coming through a gauzy filter. I was actually reminded of “Station to Station” another 10 minute epic. That’s not to say this music is retro or like anything he’s done before. He was clearly looking forward. “Lazarus” and the shocking video that came with it was clearly Bowie attempting to write us a goodbye note. It’s amazingly moving and my favorite song on the album. Critics will likely praise this album more now that Bowie has passed, but I felt it was brilliant, dark and edgy even before it was put in such extreme context by his death.

My world, the very universe itself feels like it shrank a little bit on Monday. There have been a lot of people who have emulated Bowie, who try to do what he did, but there will never be another David Bowie. One of the all time greats, one of the Titans has passed. Thank God he left “Blackstar” for us. It’s a hell of an album. I am left wondering, since this album opened up so many possibilities, what might have been…

My condolences go out to his family and his close friends. He gave me and all of us so much joy, so much music and yes, that is how we will remember him. But perhaps tonight, pour something strong, wander out into the clear, cold winter sky and look to the stars. Bowie always did and that is how I will honor him. R.I.P. David Bowie.

Cheers!