Marking David Bowie’s 72nd birthday; recalling fave songs by the singer

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It is still difficult to believe that David Bowie has been gone for almost two years. The aggrieved tenor that cut across genres and decades and brought the idea of art and concept to life in rock ‘n’ roll songs that audiences can never forget. As either a solo artist or part of a duet, Bowie’s voice and approach made each song he touched unique.

From his days as Ziggy Stardust to his duets with Bing Crosby, Bowie never seemed to fail to make his mark on popular music. With Jan. 8, 2019 marking what would have been the singer’s 72nd birthday, it seems appropriate for each Bowie fan to consider what constitutes the best of Bowie as determined by his or her individual taste.

“Little Drummer Boy” by David Bowie and Bing Crosby

With this year’s Christmas season a not-too-distant memory, Bowie’s performance on this holiday classic seems perfect for this list.

Because of the sparse instrumentation, the restraint that seems to govern Bowie’s portion of the duet becomes a noticeable part of the performance. With this approach, listeners can hear the qualities of Bowie’s voice that perhaps they had missed in some of his rock songs. Bowie’s voice is lower and full of gravitas required by the song. Bowie’s voice melds with Crosby’s voice nicely. A holiday classic.

“Suffragette City” by David Bowie

From “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust”(1972), the masterpiece of guitar and naughty lyrics is a Bowie original in every sense of the word.

Decades before body positivity was a societal concept, Bowie sang about choosing a “mellow-thighed chick” over his male friends. Those who are not old enough to be familiar with the slang of the early 1970s might not know what it means to have “mellow” thighs, but the word stands out humorously as a way to describe a lover’s body parts.

The song surges with urgency and energy. From the razor sharp-sounding guitars to the aspirated annoyance as Bowie tells his friends “Aw, don’t lean on me man…” The line is distinctive even now, almost 50 years later.

“Moonage Day Dream” by David Bowie

Rapid-fire delivery of lyrics that read like poetry comprised of street slang, the words and performance of “Moonage Daydream” are nothing short of attention-getting.

But the chorus is relatively “sweeter.” The words are still a combination of worlds, this time, space and love. They create a mood of longing “…press your space face close to mine”/”freak out in a moonage daydream..” The words “press” and “close” do the heavy lifting of getting listeners to the heart of the song’s message, regardless of the other arrangement of words that come before and after.

The soundscape isn’t exactly sparse, but it is relatively simple. The guitar underscores the emotive quality of the song and almost acts like a guide in terms of when the song is in the chorus or the verses.

That was just a sample of a few songs that bear a distinctive Bowie stamp. The theme song from the movie “Cat People” shouldn’t be overlooked, either. It is haunting in its lyrics and aggressive performance elements.

Bowie leaves behind a massive catalog of music and even books for the would-be collector and fan. His role in the development of rock ‘n’ roll cannot be downplayed.

 

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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