Lyrically Evocative (33)

David Bowie’s 1971 album ‘Hunky Dory’ probably ranks as the one record I have listened to more than any other during my lifetime. It was a “You had to be there” moment, when this amazing album was first released. I know every track by heart, and still enjoy listening to it as much as I did when I was only 19 years old. Fifty years ago!

As I got older though, I resisted change. Even now, small changes to my routine can frustrate and annoy me, and I constantly find myself raging at the need for change in almost every single aspect of daily life.

I forgot what it is to be 19 years old, yearning for change.

But David reminded me, when I listened to this song again last week.

Here are the lyrics, written by him a very long time ago.

Changes
David Bowie

Oh, yeah
Mmm
Still don’t know what I was waitin’ for
And my time was runnin’ wild
A million dead end streets and
Every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse
How the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Don’t want to be a richer man
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
There’s gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time
Mmm, yeah
I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence
And so the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re goin’ through
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Where’s your shame?
You’ve left us up to our necks in it
Time may change me
But you can’t trace time
Strange fascinations fascinate me
Ah, changes are taking
The pace I’m goin’ through
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Ooh, look out, you rock ‘n’ rollers
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time
I said that time may change me
But I can’t trace time
Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: David Bowie
Changes lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, BMG Rights Management, DistroKid

And here he is singing them. Reminding me of the constant need for change.

The Pop Stars Moonlighting Blogathon 2020

Here is my entry in this month’s blogathon, hosted by https://weegiemidget.wordpress.com/
Gill has picked the theme of well-known music artists in acting roles, and I have chosen David Bowie.

This is actually a two-for-one post, as the film co-stars Ryuichi Sakamoto. He also composed the music for the soundtrack, and is a famous musician in his native Japan. To add a third musician to the mix, the theme song from the film, ‘Forbidden Colours’, was sung by David Sylvian.

As a lifelong fan of the music of David Bowie, I eagerly watched all of his acting roles too. When this film came out in 1983, I went to see it at a cinema in London.
***Plot spoilers included***

The story is set during WW2, in a Japanese prisoner of war camp for allied captives. As well as the two stars, we are treated to some excellent supporting actors, including Takeshi Kitano, Tom Conti, and Jack Thompson.

Soon after Major Celliers (Bowie) arrives at the camp, the commandant Captain Yonoi (Sakamoto) develops a fixation on him. Meanwhile, Celliers has become close to the senior British officer, Colonel Lawrence, (Conti) and soon develops a reputation as a troublemaker, and one of the spokesman for the poor conditions that the prisoners have to endure. Despite Celliers outward defiance and rebellious attitude, Yonoi fails to punish him, and it becomes obvious that he has an overwhelming crush on the attractive prisoner. This alarms the Japanese guards, and one urges his commander to kill Celliers, rather than face the shame of discovery.

But Yonoi is unable to do that, and is eventually replaced because of his lack of leadership. His successor is aware of what transpired between Celliers and Yonoi, and immediately informs the prisoner that he can expect no mercy from him. To punish him for disgracing his colleague, Celliers is buried up to his neck in sand, and left to die.

This film is beautifully shot, and the location convincing. As befits a film starring two international recording artists, the soundtrack is simply perfect, and so appropriate for the mood. Both the leads deliver excellent peformances, alongside those supporting actors who are always completely reliable.

Thirty-seven years later, it is still as powerful and interesting as it was in 1983.

Great Albums: Hunky Dory

In 1971, the same year that I bought the Carole King album, ‘Tapestry’, I bought an album by David Bowie. It was called ‘Hunky Dory’, and the two records could not have been more different. This was the fourth album that Bowie had released, and he had already made some impact around the world, with songs like ‘Space Oddity’ and ‘The Man Who Sold The World’. I was 19 years old, and after reading about the buzz around this new album in the music press of the day, I decided I had to have a copy.

One of my better decisions in life.

Track one, side one was ‘Changes’. A song so different, and so overwhelmingly good, I was lifting the arm of the record player back to the edge, to hear it over and over again, before I had even got to track two.

The second track was Bowie’s own version of the song ‘Oh You Pretty Things’. This had been a hit single for the group Herman’s Hermits earlier that year, with Bowie playing piano on that recording. But it might just as well have been a different song, as this version by the composer was light years better.

Make no mistake, this is not a record you put on to party to. I doubt any track is suitable for dancing, and it is definitely not background music for a social occasion either. It demands both careful listening, and serious appreciation. The song lyrics are simply amazing in the main, and come with lots of meanings and interpretations, giving something for everyone. Bowie is known for clever construction of some of his songs, alongside some simple tunes that at first appear to be little more than forgettable pop songs. Listen longer, listen more carefully, and you will actually find touches of genius here. By the time I had listened to track four, I thought I was going to never recover from the symphony that was ‘Life On Mars’.
This was modern music at an entirely different level.

Side two continued to enthrall. After Bowie’s version of the happy Paul Williams song ‘Fill Your Heart’ started the side off on a cheery note, I was immediately blown away by the inventiveness of track eight, ‘Andy Warhol’ Leaving on some talking as an intro, the great acoustic guitar that follows leads us into a witty and clever appreciation of the man that was the artist of the title. I played this one at least five times straight off, carefully placing the needle on the groove each time.

With all the hype that followed later, it is easy to forget just how talented David Bowie was. The man could not only sing, but sing well. You can understand every word he says, and he sings those words with the skill of a great actor, reading his lines.

Track ten saw Bowie as a rocker, with the punchy song ‘Queen Bitch’. Great build up to crescendo vocals, and snappy lyrics. I didn’t think this album could get any better, but then I heard track eleven. Few songs have affected me in my life as much as ‘The Bewlay Brothers’ did that day. Does it mean anything? Is there some significance to the title, the lyrics, or the unusual construction? I didn’t know, and still don’t. I didn’t care, and still don’t. It was the last track on side two, and as soon as it was over, I flipped the disc and played side one again. And that continued for most of the week that followed.

The year after ‘Hunky Dory’, Bowie released ‘Ziggy Stardust’. A new persona, and a different style. One of many more that were to come during a long career. It was only after 1972 that ‘Hunky Dory’ began to get full attention, and became a belated worldwide hit. Although I own almost every album that Bowie released, I have never liked one better than ‘Hunky Dory’.

Here’s the original track listing.

All tracks written by David Bowie, except where noted.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Changes” 3:37
2. “Oh! You Pretty Things” 3:12
3. “Eight Line Poem” 2:55
4. “Life on Mars?” 3:53
5. “Kooks” 2:53
6. “Quicksand” 5:08
Side two
No. Title Length
7. “Fill Your Heart” (Biff Rose, Paul Williams) 3:07
8. “Andy Warhol” 3:56
9. “Song for Bob Dylan” 4:12
10. “Queen Bitch” 3:18
11. “The Bewlay Brothers” 5:22

A Musical A-Z: Q

Getting tricky now, with ‘Q’. (As I expect it will with ‘X’…)
Play along if you can. Any band, album, song, or artist, as long as there is a ‘Q’ in the name.

British band Queen is obviously going to come immediately to mind to many people. I am not a huge fan of this group to be honest, even though I thought that ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was something of a musical revelation at the time. However, a few years before that, I did buy one of their singles. This one.
Killer Queen

Before Paul Young embarked on his successful solo career, he was the lead singer in British soul band The Q-Tips. They didn’t do that well, quite frankly, especially once Mr Young left them. But here they are with the cover of the old soul song. You can easily make out Paul Young’s vocal. It’s far from being a great song, I admit, but I’m struggling with ‘Q’!
Some Kind Of Wonderful

A nice old one from The Moody Blues. They were leaving behind their Blues & Soul roots, to embark on a career as one of the big bands on the progressive rock scene. I liked them doing stuff like ‘Go Now’, with Denny Laine on vocals. But this was a big hit, and showed the direction they were taking at the time. (1970)
Question

Garbage once again, with Shirley Manson on top vocal form, and a POV video from 1995.
Queer

Well, the troublesome ‘Q’ has made this a shorter post, and left me struggling for sure. Luckily, I always had my top pick, courtesy of the ever-reliable David Bowie. So here he is again, from the album ‘Hunky Dory’, released in 1971.
Queen Bitch

Good luck with ‘Q’. I hope you surprise me!

A Musical A-Z: O

Up to ‘O’, with untold options. Please continue to play along. Any song, artist, album, or band. As long as the name begins with ‘O’.

I will start with two songs that have the same title, but couldn’t be more different. When Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young released the album ‘Deja Vu’, in 1970, I had little idea how long that album, and the songs it contained, would stay with me. This was such a complete work, almost operatic in scale and ambition. It had so many memorable songs on it, I have never tired of listening to them. Including this one.
Our House

Many years later, (1980) British group Madness were on a roll, with their revival of Ska and Bluebeat tunes from the 1960s. The group personified a London sound, and used wacky pop videos to great effect. They went on to become part of the British musical establishment, and continue to perform to this day. This song from 1982 summed up working-class life in 1970s London. You had to be there. Wonderful.
Our House

American singer/songwriter Erykah Badu appeared on the scene in 1997, with the release of her album ‘Baduizm’. I was hooked from the start, with the mix of soul and jazz, alongside her smooth and sultry vocals. She had a great look too, and dominated the stage with a powerful presence. She is still around today, but for me it never got better than this.
On and On

During the great disco craze of the 1980s, few other female vocalists achieved the success of Donna Summer. Her huge voice, allied to some classic disco beats guaranteed her an audience and huge record sales. For a while, she was very much the ‘Big Thing’. Even now, decades later, her well-known songs are played all the time, and never lost their appeal. Including this powerhouse, from 1979.
On The Radio

When Andre Benjamin formed Outkast in the 1990s, I never imagined I would like their songs so much. The Rap and Hip-Hop crew soon turned their attention to making some superb pop videos though, and changed their style to suit the market. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Hey Ya

I have never been religious, but I have long been a fan of Gospel music. This gave us the Blues, which in turn led to Rock and Roll, Soul music, and every other genre that ever existed. Looking for an example to use for ‘O’, I went straight to this inspirational song from The Edwin Hawkins Singers. Believe or not, you cannot help but to be carried along by the joy.
Oh Happy Day

Before Fleetwood Mac became known for the vocals of Stevie Nicks, and released albums that sold untold millions, they were a Blues band from England who flirted with Progressive Rock. They released some great stuff, including this, from 1969.
Oh Well

A tricky top pick today, as I had quite a few favourites to choose from. But when it came down to it, I had to go with the sheer genius of David Bowie once again. Here he is, live on the BBC.
Oh You Pretty Things

Significant Songs (126)

Cat People

I have featured David Bowie before on this blog, but make no apologies for doing so again. I had always been a fan of the 1942 film, ‘Cat People’. I heard that there was to be a remake in 1982, and was interested to see it of course. Not only that, the wonderful David Bowie was to provide music for the soundtrack, so it was a must.

His song for the film, ‘Putting Out Fire’ (Cat People) was also featured on his album, ‘Let’s Dance’, in 1983. The song, with a collaboration by Georgio Moroder, was just marvellous. It made me want to watch the film, and I did. It was pretty good, but maybe not as good as the original.

But this is about the music, and the song is just perfect. The guitar work is par excellence, and I could listen to it every day. And often do.

So if you have never seen the film, that is up to you. But if you have never heard the song, here it is. In all its glory.

Revel in the magnificence of Bowie at his very best.

David Bowie: A personal memory

Julie told me this morning that David Bowie had died. I didn’t even know he had been ill.

He was five years older than me, and his music and acting had been a part of my life since 1967, when I first heard the rather silly song, ‘The Laughing Gnome.’ He popped back briefly, with the hit song ‘Space Oddity’, before disappearing for a while once again.

When I next heard from him, I was 18, and along came ‘The Man Who Sold The World.’ His style had changed, something that would happen many times during a long career. The following year saw the release of the amazing album, ‘Hunky Dory.’ I played this almost to the point of wearing it out, overwhelmed by the talent displayed, and the freshness of the songs. Forty-five years later, I could play it again, and still listen with the same amazement.

Then came ‘Ziggy Stardust.’ Another change, another different look. Androgynous, setting trends, and some incredible songs too. It was obvious that this man was no flash in the pan. He was going to last.
You couldn’t get fed up with him, he made sure of that. Just when you thought you had seen enough, something else came along, and your interested was immediately re-kindled. After the so-called Glam Rock years, he reappeared as a sharp-suited-super-cool guy, with a jazzy feel, and more new musical influences. In between, he starred in the strange sci-fi film, ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’, and his fans realised that he could really act as well. Embracing the age of pop videos, those accompanying his songs were often small masterpieces themselves, adding to the song, rather than detracting from it.

By the time the great album ‘Tonight’ was released, in 1984, I was thirty-two years old, and owned every record he had ever made. I continued to like him as a person too, a rarity in the world of the pop star. He came across as a nice guy in interviews, never assumed an American accent like so many others, and retained his European persona, eventually living in Berlin for some time. The year before that, he had given another memorable film performance in the POW film, ‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.’

I had seen him in concert, making a rare trip to Wembley to watch a thrilling showman in action. I once stood next to him at a film premiere, surprised by how big he seemed in real life, and amazed by his full Ziggy get-up, with the shining disc on his forehead. But it was his music that held me. The albums, the changes of style, the unique songs, all marking the decades of my life over the years. It is often said of actors and music artists that, ‘we will never see another like them.’

In his case, that is actually true. R.I.P. David Jones. 1947-2016

Significant Songs (22)

Ghosts

The English group Japan were like few other artists, before or since. Part of the new wave of British music in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, their effete looks, and heavy make-up, belied the innovation and talent inside. The front man and lead vocalist, David Sylvian, had a charismatic presence, and the same androgynous persona found in the style of David Bowie, and some others at the time.

I was never much of a fan of the group, and it was not until the release of their final album ‘Tin Drum’ in 1981, that I heard tracks I really liked. A year later, they released the song ‘Ghosts’ as a single, and it enjoyed some success. This song is hard to define. It has little orchestration, and relies almost totally on the voice of David Sylvian to hold the listener. But hold you he does, and the feeling I had was of being almost spellbound by this haunting song. Not only did the lyrics have meaning (at least to me), it seemed to sum up both the feel of the age, and the demise of the group, as they split soon after. I was 30 years old that year, and examining many aspects of my own life at the time, and where I thought it was all leading. This song would not leave my head, and I played it constantly. I later bought the 12-inch long version, so I could immerse myself totally in the sound.

You may never have heard of this song, or the group. David Sylvian continues to record, and had a moderately successful career, collaborating with many other superb musicians. This was his heyday though, and one of the definitive sounds of the era. Here is the band performing the short version of the song on TV. Try it twice…

Significant Songs (7)

Andy Warhol

By 1971, I was already aware of David Bowie as a recording artist, and he had enjoyed success with the song ‘Space Oddity’, first released in 1969. I had concluded that this was a man of great talent and potential, but records already released seemed to lack any consistency or focus, and it was hard to decide what direction he was going in, or if he was about to become part of a recognised musical genre. I need not have concerned myself, as the answer was soon revealed.

Bowie signed to RCA, and in 1971, released the album ‘Hunky Dory’. Eleven tracks, mostly short, and all written by him, except one. For me, this was one of the most significant record releases ever, firmly establishing David Bowie on the world music scene, and on a personal level, making him an artist that I would admire throughout my life. He also settled the debate on whether or not he was part of a genre. He wasn’t. He had started his own, invented a unique style, one that he would change and adapt throughout his career. Over the last few decades, much is written about recording artists reinventing themselves. Good examples of this would include Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, and more recently, Lady Gaga. To many writers, and most music lovers, this is seen as a modern trend, perhaps started by Madonna, during the late 1980’s. Of course, this is incorrect, as it was Bowie that started all this, with his changing musical personalities and appearance, reflecting different periods of his music and acting career.

When ‘Hunky Dory’ was released, Bowie was already deliberately androgynous in appeal, seen by some as part of the ‘Glam Rock’ scene; wearing make up, and dressing in unusual clothes. He would later exaggerate this look, as well as alluding to bisexuality, and sexual ambiguity. As a result, he may have damaged his appeal to some markets in the USA, but he managed to create a demand for his music and stage appearances across the whole spectrum of music fans. His good looks made him popular with men and women alike, and his musical talent allowed him access to the serious record buyers, who demanded quality songs, with high production values, using established professional musicians.

At the time, I was sharing a house with some friends, in the South London suburbs. I arrived home with the vinyl album, and started playing it immediately. From the first track, ‘Changes’, I knew that I owned something wonderful, a record release of significance. The first side continued to provide amazing tracks, from ‘Oh You Pretty Things’ (Previously covered by Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits, that same year) to the operatic ‘Life On Mars’. I was already overwhelmed, and there was another side to go! One of my housemates, himself an accomplished Blues vocalist and piano player, declared that he thought the album was ‘shit’. His girlfriend on the other hand, was as captivated as I was, and we carried on, turning over to side two.

This started with the seemingly incongruous song, ‘Fill Your Heart’, a happy tune, written by Paul Williams. Then the next track began, not with music, but with Bowie chatting in the studio, then laughing out loud, just as the guitar intro starts; the banter is left in, for the listener to hear what was going on. This was highly unusual, and introduced a certain familiarity and association with the singer, that was of course assumed, but felt no less real for that. The track was called ‘Andy Warhol’, the name of the famous American artist, and film-maker, and it is an undeniable tribute to the man, as Bowie was a fan of his work. The acoustic guitar playing (credited to Mick Ronson) is powerful, and the vocals are pitch-perfect, and have a plaintive air to them. The lyrics are clever, and the whole construction of the song, which runs for less than four minutes, is a complete joy.

It was never released as a single from this album. Two tracks were though, ‘Changes’, and ‘Life On Mars’, both considerable hits. Side two continued with more great tracks, like ‘Queen Bitch’, and ‘The Bewlay Brothers’, confirming our belief that ‘Hunky Dory’ was going to become a career-defining release for David Bowie. But it was the simple acoustic delight of ‘Andy Warhol’, that we played over and over. Forty-three years later, it is still one of my all-time favourites.

Here is the track, as released on this album. As a bonus, for those of you who would like to explore further, the whole album is also available, from the second link. How can you resist?

Significant Songs (1)

When I say significant songs, of course I mean that they have a significance for me. For many of you, they might be just annoying, or not to your taste. That is fine, as music is nothing if not subjective, and this occasional series of posts is not intended to convert anyone to a particular song, or style of music. Consider it nostalgia; as you may already know, I like the occasional wallow in that.

All The Young Dudes (1972) Mott The Hoople

When I heard this song played over a car radio, I thought at first, that it was by David Bowie. This turned out to be a reasonable assumption, as I later found out that he had written it. In 1972, I was far from being a Dude, in the sense of ‘a cool dude’. I wasn’t even an apprentice Dude, and did not so much as possess a single element of ‘Dudeness’. I was 20 years old, and a very straight South London boy; with a normal job, and a normal girlfriend. I did have varied music tastes though, and immediately liked this song, buying it on a vinyl single, the next day. It seemed to have something for everyone, and I liked a lot of the lyrics. As a city dweller, the line, ‘Is that concrete all around, or is it in my head?’ especially resonated. It even had some Cockney rhyming slang in there-‘Boat Race’.

I had no idea what the strange name of the band signified, if anything, and still haven’t bothered to find out, to this day. Although they were being marketed as a ‘Glam Rock’ band, I didn’t buy that at all. Ian Hunter, anonymous behind his signature shades, and mass of curly hair, was far too cool to be a Glam Rocker. This was a genre associated with The Sweet, Slade, Gary Glitter, and many others; they were not in Hunter’s league. His conversational singing style, almost like he was chatting to the listener, appealed to me immensely, and there was a real power behind that voice, that you just knew had the potential to roar. I liked the asides, left in after the recording, and the reference to spotty faces, Marks and Spencer, and the obvious English accent, made this single stand out from so much of the imported American music of the period.

At the time, I was going through a transition in my life. My old friends were still going to the South London pubs, listening to all our favourite stuff, suited and booted, drinking beer, and driving decent motors. My new friends were a little older. They had long hair, some had beards, they played in a band, and understood music. They weren’t bothered about cars and pubs, and their musical tastes were different. I felt myself beginning to be drawn to their spliff-smoking lifestyle, and relaxed attitudes to everything. Not that I was about to grow my hair, or to stop wearing suits and ties; I couldn’t quite go that far.

This song, along with many others, seemed to sum up how I felt at that age, at that time in the world. I took lyrics and ideas from it, and moulded those into representations of my own thoughts and issues. In retrospect, it seems I was completely wrong. Bowie later told how he wrote the song as a warning of the impending apocalypse, that he believed would be just around the corner. The news that the Young Dudes were carrying was that of Armageddon, apparently, and not the lifestyle and social upheaval that I was reading into it at all. I don’t mind getting that one wrong. The world didn’t end, despite Mr Bowie’s prophecy, and I still enjoy the song as much today, as I did almost 42 years ago.

Here is a clip of a good version of the song, billed as Glam Rock, unfortunately.

And here is Bowie performing the song himself. Less frantic perhaps, but still good.

If any of you have never heard it, then I hope that you enjoy it. If you don’t, well that’s life.