David Bowie turns 60 today, though you wouldn’t necessarily know it to look at him.
I am part of the generation which, some would say unfortunately, was first introduced to the Dame in Jim Henson’s film Labyrinth. I still think it’s a fabulous film, but it was rather late in the day when I became aware of the man’s true significance. A key moment for me was watching highlights from Glastonbury 2000 on television and seeing Bowie give an awesome – and I still reckon possibly his best ever – performance of “Heroes”.
Not that I became an instant fan. As the many 60th birthday retrospectives of his work point out with tedious regularity, a hallmark of his career has been the many unexpected changes of direction his music, appearance and career have taken. I went through a long period of listening to Bowie albums I hadn’t heard before and being disappointed because they were nothing like the last one I’d by then started to like. It was several years before I learned to love 1. Outside, an album which I now consider to be one of his finest pieces of work (an opinion which looks likely to remain a minority, so I get to feel like my point of view is a bit special). And to this day I can’t say I really like Young Americans, I have a love/hate relationship with The Man Who Sold the World, I think Low is overrated and I actively dislike most of Let’s Dance. (The more excessive 80s albums that most people hate I actually quite like, because they’re – well, excessive 80s albums.)
But this ability to do the unexpected and the persistent desire to experiment with new ideas is one of the most appealing things about Bowie. His ability to write perfectly-crafted pop songs would have been enough to cement his reputation, but instead he continuously took risks and pushed his (pretty extensive) musical talents to their limits – the reason why I think his work should be treated more seriously by the musical establishment as a whole.
The scale of his talents as a musician are often overlooked, too – aside from being a great songwriter, he’s comfortable playing half a dozen different instruments, he’s a superb singer, a great lyricist and has a stage presence most rock stars would kill for. He actually learned to orchestrate for his (now pretty much forgotten) debut album. But he’s also a true rennaissance man – not just a fine musician, but well-read and lucid, a painter (I don’t know much about art but I know that his work appeals to me), and people who still don’t think he can act should check out his impressive albeit understated performance in The Prestige.
It’s a bit of a pity then that all of the radio coverage I’ve heard has been rather inclined to go for the obvious glam rock tracks and ignore the weightier stuff. I like “Life on Mars?” as much as the next man, but for the sake of balance here are my top ten recommended tracks which you almost certainly won’t hear on the radio this week, in chronological order:
1. All the Madmen (from The Man Who Sold the World)
2. Quicksand (from Hunky Dory)
3. Time (from Aladdin Sane)
4. Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing reprise (from Diamond Dogs)
5. Station to Station (from Station to Station)
6. Always Crashing in the Same Car (from Low)
7. Look Back in Anger (from Lodger)
8. Teenage Wildlife (from Scary Monsters and Super Creeps)
9. A Small Plot of Land (from 1. Outside)
10. Bring me the Disco King (from Reality)
There you go, you’ve no excuse – get on iTunes and open your mind.