(my alternative) Best of Bowie

David Bowie’s music is probably more important to me than anyone else’s. But the tracks that mean the most aren’t the ones you’re likely to find on a Best of Bowie-type compilation – or the ones that have been used to score innumerable unoriginal TV career retrospectives in the month since he died.

That’s not me being hipster for the sake of it – dismissing songs simply because they’re popular. I’ve just never liked Changes, Heroes, Rebel Rebel, Jean Genie, Let’s Dance and the like as much as some of his lesser known – and, yes, more experimental – material.

So I sat and made my own Best of Bowie compilation. Then turned it into a Youtube playlist in (rough) chronological order. It’s heavy on ’69-’80 album tracks, and very light on poppy singles and anything from ’81 and onwards (until you get to Blackstar, which I’ve included in its entirety because I genuinely think, to employ a well-worn Bowie-fan cliché, it’s his best album since 1980’s Scary Monsters). It also contains two tracks from Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, which is as much a Bowie album as an Iggy one.

I doubt very much anyone who isn’t me will sit and listen to it from start to finish – most of the people that come here come for the politics after all. But it’s been a labour of love. I adore every song I’ve included here, and happen to think that, taken together, it’s a showcase of some of the most brilliant, iconoclastic, fearlessly creative rock music ever made.

David Bowie Is Dead


On Friday the 8th I downloaded the new David Bowie album and listened to it at work. On Monday the 11th, I got up at 6ish, uncharacteristically checked twitter before breakfast, and discovered he was dead.

It’s a testament to how profoundly irrational human emotion can be that the death of an oldish multimillionaire I never met could wallop me with such a sense of quiet desolation – not boo-hoo sadness, but shock, a sort of stunned, un-showy, rabbit-in-the-headlights inability to compute the information.

“Are you alright? You look devastated?” half-joked the usually anything but serious woman who sits opposite me at work, finding me staring blankly into space. What was I supposed to say? “A 69-year old pop star died”?

Why did I, a crazed hippy eco-communist with little or no patience with the flouncier sides of art and high culture, feel so strangely attached to a warbling tax dodger who got abominably rich off the back of ordinary people paying him to distract them? Continue reading “David Bowie Is Dead”

Why Does Cheryl Cole Exist?

Our Cheryl
Our Cheryl

Observations on music, why people like what they like and one of pap pop’s loveliest, most endearingly dimpled investment opportunities

Why does Cheryl Cole exist? Cheryl Cole the Novocastrian living organism-turned-Popstars: The Rivals auditionee obviously exists because Mr and Mrs Tweedy decided to jiggily get with it sometime in late 1982, possibly to numb the pain of Thatcherism’s continued political predominance. Accounting for her existence as a cultural phenomenon, though, is a lot more difficult.

Cheryl Cole is the reigning British champion of Why The Hell Are You So Famous. She’s probably a very nice person. Nothing apart from that time when she battered a nightclub toilet attendant in a dispute over a lollipop suggests otherwise. But she has no discernible talent whatsoever.

Despite this, in the prevailing state of organised insanity we call a society, our Cheryl’s still managed to rake in multimillion pound record deals with Polydor and Universal, a £500,000 sponsorship deal with L’Oreal Paris, a similar-sized contract to help flog Coke Zero and a £14m personal fortune. Her debut solo record, 2009’s 3 Words, quickly went platinum, then shifted over a million units. Her autobiography sold 300,000 copies, bringing in more than £2.5m. And as a judge on ITV’s The X Factor, she was rapidly elevated to Nation’s Sweetheart status, as millions understandably warmed to her inoffensive, unpretentious, compassionate on-screen persona and, yes, physical gorgeousness. Continue reading “Why Does Cheryl Cole Exist?”

Life On Mars – 2005 (David Bowie)

After an elongated mid-life crisis that raged for about a decade and was responsible for artistic missteps as varied as too-late-to-be-punkish garage band experiment Tin Machine and his embarrassing dalliances with ‘jungle’, it was very relieving when David Bowie started to act his age. A more subdued, minimalistic performer emerged, with an approach typified by this 2005 performance at Fashion Rocks, the first since his 2004 heart attack and one of his last before he vanished from the public eye. Simply but beautifully accompanied by his Blofeld-alike keyboard foil Mike Garson, Bowie’s stately warble brings a new grandeur to the already-cinematic ‘Life On Mars’. The black eye, the bandaged hand, the short trousers? Real or for effect? With Bowie, who knows.

For some annoying reason, if you want to actually watch the video bit of a WordPress-embedded YouTube video rather just hear the audio, you have to either watch it fullscreen or click to watch it on YouTube itself.

David Bowie Isn’t Dead

It’s an exciting day for the Bemolution. Art-rock colossus David Bowie has startlingly reappeared from a decade of silent exile that many read as retirement, marking his 66th birthday by issuing his first musical peep since 2003. Four-minute single ‘Where Are We Now?’ was laconically deposited on ITunes with no prior warning, no comment from the man himself and little else beyond the promise of a full album to follow in March. Continue reading “David Bowie Isn’t Dead”

Fripp and Bowie

Bowie, Fripp & Eno
Bowie, Fripp & Eno

As promised/threatened, a selection of Robert Fripp’s work for your aural edification. A very selective selection. King Crimson can be quite nice in places, but Fripp’s main musical outfit has always a bit faceless and machine-like for the Bemolution’s tastes. Unless you’re the most die-hard of die-hards, you can’t take very much of that kind of real, unflinching, hard-core prog before collapsing into your own personal Year Zero and gorging yourself on Black Flag and Muddy Waters for hours before you can take another side of Lark’s Tongues in Aspic.

So here’s Fripp with Bowie instead – ‘Joe the Lion’ from 1977’s “Heroes”, and ‘Fashion’ and from 1980’s Scary Monsters.

All The Madmen (David Bowie)

Shuffle glibly through David Bowie’s commercial highlights – ‘Heroes’, Changes, Let’s Dance etc – and you won’t come away with the image of a songwriter whose principal thematic ingredients include crippling paranoia, isolation, totalitarianism, dystopia, Nietzchian supermen, the occult, various shades of emotional anguish and madness. In Bowie’s darker work, the last one has proved to be a particular preoccupation. As a boy, the young David was close to his half-brother Terry Burns, a charismatic jazz-buff who introduced Bowie to the scratchy improvisations of Ornette Coleman and was influential in shaping his brother’s later avant-garde proclivities. Terry was also schizophrenic. Continue reading “All The Madmen (David Bowie)”

Music – Five Years (David Bowie)

Music stands out as one of civilisation’s better achievements, in that it doesn’t kill people and has been ameliorating boredom, angst, and upset for the last 40,000 years. YouTube’s saving grace is that, in addition to providing worldwide access to a limitless supply of vacuous idiocy, it also delivers a dazzling array of musical styles and genres to be sampled and enjoyed by the discerning web-surfer. Even better, it offers the enthralling opportunity to watch live performances. There’s always something especially fascinating about seeing the sounds you’re only used to pouring out of tinny speakers be physically produced before your eyes. Continue reading “Music – Five Years (David Bowie)”