The inventory: David Bowie in collaborations

It’s incredibly hard to summarize David Bowie’s career. He’s done a lot of things: 25 albums, several films, everything else in between… the man’s a restless soul, always looking for something to pour his energies into, something he’s done up until his last days, as he produced Blackstar while fighting cancer. So, where to begin, exactly? We won’t exactly have the time to dig deep into Bowie’s many personas and phases, so we’ll spin things a bit and look at his collaborations – or at least some of them; again, we can’t quite cover everything – in this installment of the Inventory. [NB]


“All The Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople | David Bowie already had a lot going on in 1972: he had already released four solo albums, and was on the verge of releasing one of his greatest records, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. At the same time, the band Mott the Hoople was pondering a split after failing to see commercial success. Bowie offered the band the song “Suffragette City”: they rejected it, and he would later release it on his own in 1976. But he did not relent, and instead wrote a song specifically for them, on the spot. “All The Young Dudes” would become a glam rock anthem, singlehandedly pulling Mott the Hoople from the brink, although glam rock’s fading fortunes would mean they’re, more or less, a one-hit wonder.


“China Girl” by Iggy Pop | The popularity Bowie achieved during his Ziggy Stardust phase inevitably had dire consequences: his pronouncements looked increasingly out of touch, perhaps aided by drug use, and his marriage to Angela Barnett looked shaky. He moved to Switzerland to reconnect with his music, and sustained an interest in music coming out of Germany at the time. He later moved to West Berlin, where he shared an apartment with Iggy Pop, who was also looking to move away from the punk rock of the Stooges. Bowie produced Pop’s 1977 album The Idiot, which was more minimal in its approach. This was also the same time Bowie began working with Brian Eno; some point to The Idiot as the progenitor to Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, a trio of albums – Low“Heroes” and Lodger – characterized by a more abstract, minimal approach.


“Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie | By the 1980s, Bowie was beginning to look like a spent force; while still popular, he did not quite dictate the music scene like he used to. His 1980 single “Ashes to Ashes” served more to expose the burgeoning New Romantic scene, but his one-off single with Queen, 1981’s “Under Pressure”, was his third British number one. Bowie would later go on to pursue a more straightforward pop route in his collaborations with Nile Rodgers – which included his own version of “China Girl” – but you could argue that was overshadowed by the continuing success of “Under Pressure”, a song which remains ubiquitous up until now, perhaps thanks to that oft-sampled intro.


“I’m Afraid of Americans” by David Bowie | By the 1990s, however, it seemed that Bowie was the one chasing the trends rather than starting them. His efforts with Rodgers and Eno, while not as successful, saw him move towards electronic instruments, and exploring industrial and British jungle. A standout from the time is “I’m Afraid of Americans”, originally from the 1995 film Showgirls; it was remixed by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and released with the 1997 album Earthling. High rotation on MTV made it a relative success; it also helped, perhaps, that Reznor himself was on the video.


“Reflektor” by Arcade Fire | Bowie laid low for most of the noughties, slowed down by a near heart attack, although he still recorded some music – his vocals were in Scarlett Johannson’s album of Tom Waits covers, for one. After the release of, The Next Day, his first album of original recordings for ten years, he suddenly popped up as a backing vocal on Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor”. Bowie’s worked with the Canadian band before – a couple of performance in 2006, during his slow down – and, as the story goes, he liked the song so much he threatened (in jest, likely) to steal it from them. His work on that song also led to a collaboration with James Murphy, who would remix one of his songs on a rerelease of The Next Day.


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