“Is There Life On Mars?”
Today is David Bowie’s 64th birthday.
Here’s approximately 40 years worth of music. Even this small sample reveals an enviable body of work, and everybody will have reason to complain that a personal favorite has been left out. Mine include “Is There Life on Mars?” and “Oh, You Pretty Things” from the early period, and “Afraid of Americans” and “Thursday’s Child” from the late. But the one song that continues to amaze me is “Golden Years.” It was recorded in 1975 but could have been released at just about any time over the past thirty-five years and still sound like it was being served hot. The leavening agent of pastiche is about as fully realized here as it ever is in Bowie: doo wop background vocals performed with skin tight harmonies, Prussian-disciplined finger-snapping and hand-clapping to tease out the syncopated funk rhythms, three stray grace notes produced by what may only be programmed to sound like a harmonica, and Bing Crosby-like whistling in the outro. Does anybody else know how to collate such vagrant elements into a song that you also want to dance to? Plus he wrote the heartbreaking “All the Young Dudes” and then gave it to Mott the Hoople to render as the life-affirming anthem for those who still retain the ambition to carry the news.
“Oh, You Pretty Things”
“All the Young Dudes” (performed by Mott the Hoople)
“Ashes to Ashes”
“Afraid of Americans”