Thank you, Ed “Stewpot” Stewart.
My introduction to David Bowie (who turns 65 today) came through Stewart’s Junior Choice radio show. In between plays of “Cinderella Rockefella” and “Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West)”, Stewart would often drop the needle on Bowie’s “The Laughing Gnome”. This novelty record from ’67 was hardly a signpost to the rest of Bowie’s career (well, perhaps LABYRINTH) but was good, childlike fun nonetheless. The NME certainly thought so. In 1990, Bowie announced that the set lists for his greatest hits Sound + Vision tour would be determined by phone votes from the public. The NME immediately launched a campaign to rig the result through its “Just Say Gnome” campaign. Regrettably, the phone vote plan was subsequently abandoned and the sight of Bowie returning to his earlier triumph never came to pass.
It’s impossible to sum up Bowie’s career and influence on rock music in just a few paragraphs. His determination to constantly reinvent himself is remarkable, challenging his audience to keep up with his chameleon-like ch-ch-changes in fashion,music and persona. Whether it’s the folky psychedelia of “Hunky Dory”, the barren sonic landscapes of “Heroes” or the pure ‘80s big beat sheen of “Let’s Dance”, Bowie created an enviable back catalogue of commercially successful and critically acclaimed singles and albums. The list of rock and pop stars that admit they were heavily influenced by him - Boy George, Ian McCulloch, Brett Anderson, Trent Reznor - is long and distinguished. It’s easy to see how closely Lady GaGa has studied Bowie’s career and modelled herself on it.
Bowie’s last proper album was 2003’s “Reality”. Since then, he’s made the occasional appearance in the media - singing with David Gilmour in 2006, playing Nikola Tesla in THE PRESTIGE - but it seems increasingly unlikely that he’ll return to music full-time. Or is it? With Bowie - you just don’t know what’s coming next. He’s reassuringly unpredictable.
There are so many great songs to choose from but this - the recently rediscovered performance of “Jean Genie” on a ’73 Top Of The Pops - is certainly one of them. Ground Control to Major Tom: happy birthday.