It's rare to talk of an artist truly being without equal, but that's exactly who David Bowie was. A remarkable visionary, Bowie was a font of wild creativity, a transformative presence constantly evolving to address and help define our times. His art entertained, challenged and enlightened us all - and that will be an enduring legacy celebrated for many generations to come.
With tributes to the 1996 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee powering in from around the world, we take a look at the stories behind four classic David Bowie songs and fan favorites: "Fame," "Space Oddity," "Changes" and "Ziggy Stardust."
David Bowie and John Lennon Break into "Fame" ... and Lennon Forgets It
Two weeks after finishing the mix on a David Bowie album called The Gouster, one of the producers, Tony Visconti, got a call from the artist: "David phoned to say that he and John Lennon had got together one night and recorded this song called "Fame." I hope you don't mind, Tony, but it was so spontaneous and spur of the moment... He was very apologetic and nice about it, and he said he hoped I wouldn't mind...I said that it ...
Before I saw David Bowie live, I was just your normal, dysfunctional, rebellious teenager from the Midwest, and he has truly changed my life.
I’ve always had a sentimental attachment to David Bowie, not just because I grew up with his music, but it’s because it was the first rock concert that I ever saw, and it was a major event in my life. I planned for months to go and see it. I was 15 years old, it was the end of the school year, and leading up to the week of the show, I begged my father and he said, “I absolutely refuse, over my dead body, you’re not going there, that’s where horrible people hang out,” so of course I had to go. So my best friend spent the night at my house and when we thought everyone was asleep, we snuck out of my window, which was no mean feat, as I was wearing my highest platform shoes and a long black-silk cape. Don’t ask.
We couldn’t drive, so we hitch-hiked into Detroit and I don’t know who was scarier ... the drivers that picked us up, or us in ...
When David Bowie came along, well, rock and roll needed a shot in the arm and when I first saw him it was a shock, and yet it was very familiar. It was very necessary. It was something that was needed. It was essential. And like all rock and roll, it was tasteless, it was glamorous, it was perverse, it was fun, it was crass, it was sexy, it was confusing. And like all rock and roll, it was freedom, it was pain, it was liberation, it was genocide, it was hope, it was dread, it was a dream and it was a nightmare.
It was about sex and drugs, it was about combining literature with rock and roll, with art, with anything you could name. It was about sex as an idea, and sex as a reality, and sex as a liberating force. It was about rebellion, it was about rebellion as a cliché, it was rebellion as an idea. It was about rebellion as a billboard, as an advertisement. It was about the joy of reckless prophecy. It was ironic when rock and roll became self-reverential. It was about joy and terror and confusion in our lives. It ...
Who was Ziggy Stardust, anyway? According to Bowie: "''Ziggy' was my Martian messiah who twanged a guitar. He was a simplistic character...someone who dropped down here, got brought down to our way of thinking and ended up destroying his own self. Which is a pretty archetypal story line."
As Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Bowie prepared to record the song for an album provisionally called Round And Round, he motivated his musicians by telling them, basically, to think Jimi Hendrix. With lyrics about a star with a "screwed-down hair-do" who "played it left hand," "jiving us that we were voodoo," who took it all too far "but boy could he play guitar," how could anyone not have thought of Jimi?
But the song suggested a whole new concept. When the album now titled The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was released in June 1972, RCA promoted it with the slogan "David Bowie Is Ziggy Stardust." Not the catchiest slogan, though it did much to up the intrigue.
A month later, when DJ Kenny Everett attempted to introduce Bowie at a London concert, the androgynous figure at center-stage corrected him: "I'm ...
To say the news of Allen Toussaint’s death came as a shock is an understatement. Ever dapperly dressed and forever modest, he appeared to be the picture of health for a 77-year-old, still performing regularly until felled by a heart attack after a well-received show in Spain. Known more as a producer, songwriter, arranger, and pianist than a singer, Toussaint was born in Gert Town, New Orleans, on January 18, 1938, and died in a Madrid hotel on November 10, 2015.
I first met him in 1973 when I was conducting interviews for my book, Walking to New Orleans, republished in the U.S. as Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans. With partner Marshall Sehorn, Toussaint was in the process of opening the Sea-Saint Recording Studio at Clematis Avenue in the Gentilly area of New Orleans. He was never outward-going and it’s fair to say that if it hadn’t been for Sehorn, with his promotional acumen, I would never have landed the interview. To my patent surprise, even shock, Toussaint seemed to shrug aside his past, being mainly interested in the present and future. Subsequent events proved him right because for all his early success there were ...
What do Madonna, AC/DC, Prince, Tipper Gore and the RIAA have in common? Not a trick question: the Parents Music Resource Center.
In 1985, Gore, Susan Baker, Pam Howar, Nancy Thurmond and Sally Nevius – colloquially known as the "Washington Wives" – banded together as the Parents Music Resource Center.
Citing "explicit content in sound recordings" and working with the National Parent Teachers Association and the Recording Industry Association of America, the group successfully advocated so that "certain music releases containing explicit lyrics, including explicit depictions of violence and sex, would be identified so parents could make intelligent listening choices for their children."
However, before the Parental Advisory Label Program was officially enacted, the resulting cause célèbre reached fever pitch during a sensational forum before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in September 1985 that pitted politicians and PMRC representatives against musicians including John Denver, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister and Hall of Fame Inductee Frank Zappa.
Gore asked the record labels place "a warning label on music products inappropriate for younger children due to explicit sexual or violent lyrics." Zappa argued that "the PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real ...
John Lennon called "In My Life" his "first real major piece of work."
The song started as a long poem about the bus ride from his Aunt Mimi's house in suburban Liverpool, where he grew up, to the dockside area of the Mersey River. The poem listed Lennon's beloved childhood haunts, including one locale familiar to Beatles fans: Penny Lane.
"The words were almost irrelevant. 'In My Life' started out as a bus journey from my house at 250 Menlove Avenue to town, mentioning every place I could remember," said Lennon in a 1980 interview. "I wrote it all down and it was ridiculous... it was the most boring sort of 'What I Did On My Holiday's Bus Trip' song, and it wasn't working at all. But then I laid back and these lyrics started coming to me about the places I remember. Paul helped with the middle-eight."
And though Lennon variously referred to "In My Life" as his, the elegiac reverie on life and love, a poignant reflection on what matters most, the essential fragile translucence of things caught in a Beatle melody was so beautiful that neither John nor Paul would ever agree on ...
I was just an elementary school kid when I first heard “Dance to the Music,” Sly and the Family Stone’s first hit single, in spring 1968. The song was on the radio all the time. If it wasn’t on the Top 40/pop stations WIXY or CKLW, you just had to dial up to WJMO or WABQ, the R&B/ soul stations, to hear Cynthia Robinson’s cheeky introductory demand: “Get up and dance to the music! Get on up and dance to the funky music!”
Cynthia Robinson was one half of the horn section of the Family Stone and the de facto MC – that’s MC in the early days of hip-hop sense – the “mic controller” who would punctuate dance tracks with enjoinders to “get up” or “get down” to the music to keep dancers engaged and moving on their feet. Cynthia was doing it 10 years before the Sugarhill Gang or Grandmaster Flash dropped their first beat.
That’s just one more way that Cynthia was ahead of her time, a pioneer, showing the rest of us the way. She was a strong female presence in a band – not a vocalist, as was the usual position ...