OK, so not unlike Henchman 24 from The Venture Bros, my favorite Bowie record as a young teenager (I’m thinking 14 or 15) was the compilation album Changesonebowie. It’s really a great compilation of early Bowie work (’69-’76) and none of the songs from that album are on this section of the list. It wasn’t until my friend Christie gave me a copy of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars (so that she didn’t have to listen to Changesonebowie every time she rode in my Plymouth Fury with me) that I started to get a sense that David Bowie had a lot more going on than some AOR tunes. My Bowie collection also expanded significantly when my friend Lynn let me make a cassette copy of Changestwobowie.
Our fandoms got to start somewhere and mine started with that compilation album and seeing him perform live (on TV) for the first time (on Saturday Night Live with Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias). Basically, almost all of his classic 70’s work – Ziggy, the Berlin Trilogy, Scary Monsters, etc – were all behind him by the time I first became a fan and Let’s Dance and the rest of his 80’s work was still ahead of him. So Let’s Dance was my first new Bowie album – and I loved that album in 1983. Couldn’t imagine he’d ever released anything better.
I knew nothing.
I still know nothing but I’m aware of that now.
In this next section, we move from a few more songs I despise to a few songs that I think are merely forgettable. Getting my hate on first…
140. Day-In Day-Out
First single from Never Let Me Down (1987), released as a single in 1987
Before we get into everything that makes me crazy about this song, let’s follow the advice of Pushing Ahead of the Dame author Chris O’Leary and listen to a song from a contemporary of Bowie’s with a similar pedigree who released genuinely stellar work in the 80’s (#2). Aw man, at least we had Kate Bush.
We’re not even ten songs away from the first song I listed from Never Let Me Down (#145). “Day-In Day-Out” might have a decent song buried in it somewhere and Bowie and his label liked it well enough that they released it as the lead single from that then-highly anticipated album. There are some fine musicians playing on the album – including Peter Frampton, Carlos Alomar and frequent Bowie collaborator Erdal Kızılçay but you’d never know it because (as with “Underground”) everything is crushed in the grinder of 80’s production. It’s as if a Speak n Spell was asked to play all the instruments – note that this would not play to that toy’s stated strengths. I remember when “Day-In Day Out” came out – I was a DJ at WRBC and I so wanted to like this song. I played it on the air, I put it on mix tapes and I kept waiting to suddenly click and go “oh, I do like this after all.” I’m still waiting.
139. Tonight (featuring Tina Turner)
I am so sorry that you have had to listen to the last three songs in a row, especially if you were listening to Bowie when these happened.
“Tonight” started off its life as a painful junky love song sung by Iggy Pop to his girlfriend as she turned blue from a drug overdose. Indeed, there’s a whole set of lyrics that Bowie cuts out in his version that sets that scenario up. Thus, the original song is an ironic (almost nightmarish) attempt at a comforting lullaby. Stripped of this opening and paired with the kind of reggae rhythm you might find as a permanent setting on an organ, this version of “Tonight” is the sort of song that you imagine is playing as two very intoxicated strangers at a sales convention hook up at 3:00am on the dance floor. They and the DJ are the only ones left in the ballroom. Outside, the cleaning staff waits impatiently for the song to end so they can come in and mop the floor. The song never ends. They’re still there dancing in a drunken stupor not sure if they’re going to hook up or pass out forever. No one dies tonight.
Tina Turner sings on this track, but it’s not her fault.
138. Crystal Japan
Released to promote Crystal Jun Rock sake in Japan in 1980
We’re transitioning now from songs I actively dislike to songs that I think are kind of meh. Sure it’s a pretty little instrumental piece, but it doesn’t exactly linger in your head for any amount of time after it’s over. Bowie recorded some excellent instrumental tracks over his career (notably on “Heroes”) and he also recorded “Crystal Japan.”
137. Your Turn to Drive
I swear to Rock and Roll Jesus that this song could be downloaded by itself at one point. I can’t prove it. You’re just going to have to take my word for it. Your trust me, right? Right? Plus, it gives me a chance to write about Toy. DON’T TAKE THIS FROM ME.
Toy is David Bowie’s lost album. In essence, his record label rejected it – the first time this had ever happened to Bowie. The tracks would find homes on other releases – 2002’s Heathen, various b-sides and special releases, the 2014 compilation Nothing Has Changed – but the album was never officially released. It appeared mysteriously on the Internet in 2011 and some suspected Bowie himself had leaked it. I can find no evidence to back that theory up. “Your Turn To Drive” was originally titled “Toy (Your Turn To Drive)” and, thus, is the title song to that record. I have downloaded Toy and think it’s a pretty decent album – I especially like the original version of “Slip Away” from Heathen which started its life as a track called “Uncle Floyd.”
“Your Turn To Drive” exists. It is a song that was recorded.
136. The Man Who Sold the World (Live)
I pained a little bit determining whether I actually dislike this song or just don’t care about it and I’m going to err on the side of just not caring about it. I love the original (linked above) and, of course, rather dig the popular Nirvana cover*. This live version was mixed by Brian Eno and strips out virtually everything identifiable in the song but most notably, Mick Ronson’s guitar riff. What’s left is ultimately fairly forgettable.
Edit (January 26, 2018) – In The Complete David Bowie, Nicholas Pegg confirms that this was released as a digital single at the dawn of iTunes.
*I also dig my MS Paint version of the cover, seen at the top of this entry
135. I Pity the Fool (as The Manish Boys)
Stand-alone single by The Manish Boys, released in 1965
Cover of a song originally recorded by Bobby Bland (1961)
I’m really not that big a fan of David Jones era David Bowie. This is a cover of a Bobby Bland song covered by The Manish Boys. Then-session musician Jimmy Page plays guitar. Bowie was 18 when he sang this song. I don’t care for the song but what I do find fascinating about Bowie’s work in this era is how it’s clearly “of a time.” I mean, this sounds like the kind of rock that was getting played in 1965. It serves to reinforce that Bowie’s sound was part of its time right from the very start. The song was not a hit and while I can hum the tune in my head, I don’t care to. I don’t dislike it, I just have no use for it.
134. Fame ’90
Speaking of having no use for a song, “Fame ’90” was a reworking of “Fame” for the compilation album Changesbowie, itself a reworking of Changesonebowie and Changestwobowie. There is no reason for this song to exist. Since “Fame” isn’t near the top of my list of favorite Bowie songs (this list in fact), it doesn’t bother me that he reworked it but it also seems like a needless addition to the canon recorded, perhaps, with the intention of forcing fans to buy the new compilation (“the only way to get this new Bowie song is to buy this compilation of two compilations that I already own? Well, ok I guess.”).
Bowie toured the summer that he released this single and album and I got to see him live at Foxborough stadium in Massachusetts (my friend Scott and I remember Bowie saying something like “Good evening Pittsburgh… Foxborough… Adrian [Belew] play me out of this…”). It was a fantastic show start to finish (here’s the set list). Now, I can’t remember with 100% accuracy, but I am pretty sure the version of “Fame” he and his band played sounded a lot more like the original. Ah, the Internet proves me correct. Bowie didn’t even feel a need to make you listen to this version of “Fame” live in 1990 when he released it, so I see no reason why you should have to listen to it now. I mean, its fine, but why?
133. Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy (with Bing Crosby)
I want to hate this song because it combines “Little Drummer Boy” with an original song with fascist overtones composed by Bing Crosby’s writers but I just can’t work up the energy. I think its fascinating that, in 1977, it seemed like a good idea to somebody to put David Bowie on a Bing Crosby Christmas special. Add that to the lyrics of things that fame makes a man do. It’s always worth reading Chris O’Leary’s takes on these songs, but it is especially worth reading his account of how this song came about.
I remember hearing this song in the 80’s as a sort of Christmas oddity on our local rock station (I-95) and over the years, its become something of a standard. My grandfather hated “The Little Drummer Boy.” I’ve inherited that hate. Indeed, the world of the Internet plays LDB every year where you try to go as far into December as you can without hearing “The Little Drummer Boy.” You know, the addition of the counter melody (which takes the foreground) tempers a lot of what I don’t care for the song. It’s as if Bing Crosby’s vocalizations of the rum-a-pum-drum serve as an actual back beat to support Bowie’s part of the song. Still, simply neutralizing poison doesn’t make me want to drink it, if you know what I mean.
132. Do Anything You Say
Stand-Alone single, released in 1966
This is the first song to be credited to David Bowie solo though he recorded it with a band called The Buzz. It flopped, as had all of Bowie’s previous singles. He was still three years out from “Space Oddity” and success. It’s a sort of weak attempt at northern soul (Dexy’s Midnight Runners did it better years later). Listen to it once and two curious things will happen. First, you’ll forget it immediately. Second, you’ll never need to listen to it again. How mysterious!
131. Liza Jane (as Davie Jones with the King Bees)
Here’s a confession. I’m not a big fan of most early and mid-60’s rock. I don’t dislike it, per se, but even if we’re talking about The Beatles, I really only start consistently loving their songs starting around the time of Rubber Soul (there are a handful of earlier Beatles songs that I love). Bowie’s first band to record a single was Davie Jones and The King Bees (long=time friend George Underwood on rhythm guitar/harmonica/vocals, Roger Bluck on lead guitar, Dave “Franke” Howard on bass, and Bob Allen on drums), with whom he worked April to July of 1964. This netted him three TV appearances, a notorious bad concert gig and a failed single. According to O’Leary, “‘Liza Jane’ is doubly derivative (aping the Stones aping American electric blues).” I think this is a fair sentiment. Bowie was 17 at the time he recorded it and we should all be so lucky to have the embarrassing pieces of art we create in our teens to follow us the rest of our lives. Upon the 40th anniversary of the release of this first single, Bowie played a slightly reworked version of the song live – you can hear him point out that the tune was “absolutely dreadful”. That live performance is a version of “Lize Jane” that Bowie had reworkedg for the abandoned Toy album. Back to the original, to my ear its an amateurish 60’s blues rock number. I mean, it’s not bad but lord knows it isn’t good.
Famously, the producer of this song had a box of copies of this single in his parents’ garage and, shortly before Bowie his in big for the first time, instructed his mother to throw them out.
Coming Soon: Most of the rest of Bowie’s pre-“Space Oddity” catalog as well as one of your favorite songs.