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david bowie

Who could have predicted that a wonky eyed former mime artist from Bromley would revolutionise rock and roll? From Ziggy to the Thin White Duke, Bowie has had more aliases than a Columbian drug baron on the run. He was the first post modern pop star. In an age of long haired, earnest grunters and the cock rock of Led Zep and Deep Purple, Bowie donned a dress, strange space garb, platform boots, spiky carrot coloured hair, eyeliner and full makeup to become the first polysexual popstar. From the moment Bowie stepped on stage at London's Royal Festival Hall in 1972 and announced "I'm Ziggy", the rules changed. His concept album, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, blurred the line between Bowie himself and his transgender rock and roll messiah. Bowie's extravagant theatrics would prove the impetus for a host of stars from Morrissey to Boy George and the New Romantic movement of the '80s. Trust an Englishman to apply the make-up with such relish...

Born in London's Brixton on 8 January, 1947, Bowie's early career gave little hint of what was to come. Until 1969 he existed on the edge of the British R&B scene in a series of mod-like semi professional groups before recording briefly as the King Bees, Mannish Boys and under his real name Davy Jones and the Lower Third. His first solo album, David Bowie, released in 1967 was a set of quirky, quintessentially English pop songs with Bowie singing in a Mockney voice not quite as laughable as Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.

Bowie, ever the polymath turned to Buddhism and the underground and studied mime with artist Lindsay Kemp, grounding him for the theatrics of his later stage shows. He signed to Mercury Records in 1969 and scored his first hit with Space Oddity, a song chosen by the BBC to accompany its broadcast of the Apollo Moon landing of the same year. The song appeared on Bowie's album, Man Of Words, Man of Music. With tracks like Memory Of A Free Festival, it was a free spirited, hippy-ish affair that didn't quite catch the zeitgeist.

Bowie's next album, 1970's The Man Who Sold The World was notable for the start of his collaboration with guitarist Mick Ronson and his producer Tony Visconti. The album's downbeat message of mass murder and dehumanized technology sold poorly although Lulu later had a hit single in 1974 with the title track.
In 1971 Bowie changed managers (Tony DeFries) and record labels (RCA) for the release of his the Hunky Dory album. Hunky Dory was where Bowie hit his stride with a mix of folk, garage rock and show tunes, peaking with the intergalactic drama of Life On Mars. When the album failed to chart Bowie guaranteed headlines by announcing he was bisexual.

1972's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars was Bowie's first great masterpiece. For that whole year, Bowie was to act out the persona of the alien who became a messianic rock star. With his backing band The Spiders (featuring Mick Ronson on guitar, Trevor Bolder on bass and drummer Mick Woody Woodmansey) Bowie's live shows were the epitome of rock theatre. Ziggy's songs were among Bowie's best. Starman gave him his first hit in three years while elsewhere the mood veered from the stomping rock of Suffragette City to the acoustic balladry of Rock 'n' Roll Suicide. But the mental pressure of playing up to his alter ego took its toll and at the end of 1973 on the final night of the Aladdin Sane tour Bowie announced he would give no more live shows.

Ziggy's apocalyptic tone was carried over into 1973's Aladdin Sane album, his first No.1 album. Title aside, there were several references to madness with tracks like Cracked Actor. Jean Genie would give him another UK Top 10 hit.

1974's Pinups covers album was Bowie's affectionate homage to his beat combo past featuring tracks by The Yardbirds and The Pretty Things. Bowie's sombre preoccupations ofnAladdin Sane carried over for his next project - Diamond Dogs. It was originally intended as a musical version of George Orwell's 1984 novel until Orwell's widow refused to release the rights but songs called 1984 and Big Brother appeared on the album as did the hit single, Rebel Rebel. The album would signify an end to Bowie's obsession with futuristic concepts. By the end of 1974 Bowie was the biggest rock star in Europe. His last five studio albums and a live album, David, Live in 1974 had all reached the Top 5 in the UK charts while the Ziggy character had been at the forefront of the glam rock explosion that included Marc Bolan, Suzi Quatro, Sweet, pop nonce Gary Glitter and Alvin Stardust. Bowie's image of outrage and excess and his English accented singing style would also be an important totem pole for the punk explosion of a few years later.
Bowie's lack of US success changed in 1975 when he underwent another image change, mutating from sci-fi rocker to white soul boy with 1975's Young Americans. Album track Fame, co-written with John Lennon who also sang on the record, gave Bowie his first US hit along with the title track. Recorded in the Philadelphia studio used by legendary producers Gamble and Huff, the album also featured little known soul singer Luther Vandross on backing vocals. This brand of neurotic funk was developed further on 1976's Station To Station which produced the hit single Golden Years.

Bowie then made another sharp right turn, dallying with themes of fascism and dictatorship on a stark trio of albums produced by Brian Eno. Low and Heroes in particular, while proving commercially unsuccessful were highly influential albums - among the first rock albums (barring Eno's own ambient soundscapes) to feature experimental, synth based avant garde ambient sounds and inspiring a host of imitators including Japan, Bauhaus and the later new romanticism of Spandau Ballet and chums. The albums were recorded in Berlin where Bowie had relocated for inspiration and personal reasons - His drug and alcohol intake had spiralled out of control and he had split from his wife, Angie. Bowie's fascination with a possible fascist revival in Western Europe was also behind the move. Sadly in interviews he had started referring to Hitler as "the first great rock star" culminating in an ill advised "sieg heil" salute during a public appearance in London. Together with 1979 album Lodger, Low and Heroes enabled Bowie to expand his musical range.

1980's Scary Monsters and Super Creeps marked a return to the mainstream and with it, a tidy summation of the Space Oddity narrative with the No.1 hit single, Ashes To Ashes. Again, Bowie's Pierrot the Clown panstick makeup image would inspire a host of new romantic imitators including Boy George and Steve Strange who appeared in the video.

After a two year break Bowie returned in 1982 with yet another image turnaround, this time as a suited, slick, Swiss banker for the Nile Rodgers produced Let's Dance album, arguably his most commercial album. A typically polished, 80's rock record, the album spawned the hits Modern Love, China Girl and the title track. It was followed in 1984 by the poorly received Tonight album. In 1985 Bowie and Mick Jagger enjoyed massive hit single success with their cover of Martha and the Vandellas Dancing In the Street from the Live Aid concert. At this period Bowie began to contribute to more soundtracks and stretch his limited talent as an actor although his role as the alien who falls to earth in 1976's Nic Roeg film The Man Who Fell To Earth was perfect for him. With Pat Metheny he composed the score for 1985 flick The Falcon and the Snowman and in 1986 he supplied songs for the films Labyrinth and Absolute Beginners while also starring in them.
In 1987 Bowie released the Never Let Me Down album and embarked on the grandiose, Glass Spiders World tour. Perhaps his professional lowpoint came with the creation of his splinter band, Tin Machine, a difficult, cacophonous guitar based sound lacking any audible melody but which Bowie still insists was a worthwhile project and a precursor to the mid nineties grunge movement.

Bowie resumed a solo career in 1993 and re-ignited his relationship with Nile Rodgers for the Black Tie, White Noise album, which featured versions of Cream's I Feel Free and Morrissey's I Know It's Going To Happen Someday. Bowie was also reunited with guitarist Mick Ronson who would die of cancer a few months later. The album, including the set's hit single, Jump They Say was Bowie's best work in years and received favourably by critics. Bowie's other hit album of 1992 was the soundtrack to the BBC drama Buddha of Suburbia which Bowie says contains some of his best work.

1995's Outside album, produced with his old mucker Brian Eno, kept Bowie in critical favour while 1997's Earthling album saw our hero flirting with the burgeoning drum and bass scene with collaborations with A Guy Called Gerald. 1999's Hours album is largely forgettable but both 2002's Heathen album and 2003's Reality, produced by his longtime collaborator Tony Visconti marked a return to form for our 56-year-old hero and caused a serious re-appraisal of his music and influence on a younger generation of artists.

Bolstered by the re-appraisal of his music, Bowie promptly embarked on a 62 date World tour in 2004 which sadly ended prematurely in Germany when Bowie sought treatment for what was thought to a be a pinched nerve in his shoulder after performing at a festival in the north-western German town of Scheessel. But doctors discovered he had an acutely blocked artery that had resulted in a minor heart attack. "I won't be writing a song about this!" said a newly recovered Dave upon his release from hospital.




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