Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll – Listing D-D-D-David

Shanghai Aug 2012We are on the eve of the return of the thin white duke. On March 12, 2013 we will see the release of the Tony Visconti produced “The Next Day”. Bowie surprised everyone on his 66th birthday (January 8th) when he released a new single and video for “Where Are We Now” and also announced he had recorded the full length “The Next Day”. Most of us had given up any hope of hearing new music from Bowie as the rumours of his health had not been good for close to the last decade. He is reported to have suffered a heart attack in 2004 and his output since then has been limited to a few one-off guest appearances on record as well as two appearances with Arca

andrew mathesonA few weeks back, over a few pints with musician Andrew Matheson and producer Russ Mackay, we got to talking about the new Bowie single and then, inevitably, what were the best Bowie albums and songs. It was a spirited affair in more ways than one.

I have been a fan since the early seventies and although I never had the chance to work with the man directly I have been fortunate enough to meet him twice. The first time was on the Outside Tour in 1995. Bowie had decided to share the stage with Nine Inch Nails just as he was about to release his latest record “Outside”. It was a cool concept with Trent and NIN taking the stage first and then transitioning directly in to Bowie’s set. It was very cool to see Bowie and Reznor duet on such songs as “Hurt” and “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)”. Although he was headlining the crowd was definitely there to see Nine Inch Nails and a good portion of the audience left after their set. David did a small pre-show meet and greet for Virgin Records and a few guests. After posing for the prerequisite group shot Bowie then went down the line and spoke to every individually. He locked in and listened to whatever you had to say and seemed quite sincere about it. I was awestruck.

The next chance came when brought his Earthling tour to the Warehouse (now Kool Haus) in Toronto for two nights in September 1997. It was phenomenal to see him in such an intimate venue and he played a career spanning set that even included “All The Young Dudes”. After the show he met about a half a dozen of us and spoke to myself and Sue for well over five minutes. Once again I walked away in awe at how interested he seemed to be in our conversation.

OK, here we go with the list. Many would disagree.

1.The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars (1972)

This is the one that grabbed me and held me. It was his rockiest record to date with “Moonage Daydream”, “Suffragette City” and “Hang On To Yourself” leading the charge.  Add in “Ziggy Stardust”, “It Ain’t Easy”, “Rock’n’Roll Suicide”, “Starman” and “Five Years” and you have a drop dead classic. I wasn’t clever enough at 13 to understand the concept behind the album or the well played “K.West” pun on the cover but this was the album that made me cool enough to share chips and gravy with the hot girls at lunch. It was also the late great Mick Ronson’s finest hour.

2. Pin Ups (1973)

I’m quite sure this would not sit this high on many fans lists but I loved this album. Not an original song on the record but it turned me on to some brilliant sixties band that I missed the first time around. From “Sorrow” to “Here Comes The Night” to “See Emily Play” Bowie helped introduce me to Pink Floyd, The Who, The Yardbirds and The Kinks as well as a few one hit wonders. To this day I prefer most of his interpretations to the originals. Also loved Twiggy on the cover.

3. Low (1977)

This was a new look, new sound Bowie and although I wasn’t immediately in love with the record I have learned to love it over time. With lots of help from Brian Eno this is the first record in the Berlin trilogy and the first he attempted recovering from his cocaine abuse. Lots of instrumentals, tons of electronics and an album that is the template for music still being recorded today.

4. Hunky Dory (1971)

This is the album that tops most “old” fans lists. This is the album that set the plate for what would become Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars and contains some of his most loved songs. “Changes”, “Life On Mars”, “Queen Bitch”, “Oh, You Pretty Things” and “Kooks” are stone cold Bowie classics. In my social circle I always found this was the album the girls all swooned over.

5. Aladdin Sane (1973)

I wasn’t clever enough at the time to check the subtle nuance of the title but at this point in my teenage years any new Bowie album was an event. This one was a bit of a cross between Ziggy and Hunky Dory with a great mix of rockers “The Jean Genie”, “Panic In Detroit”, “Let’s Spend The Night Together” and the slower “Drive In Saturday”, “Lady Grinning Soul” and “Time”. Special bonus points for the title track which has one of the greatest piano solos ever recorded compliments of Mike Garson.

6. Heathen (2002)

Bowie’s last great album. There are nine original compositions and covers of Neil Young, The Pixies and The Legendary Stardust Cowboy. Some say it was his post 9-11 album but he denies the attack on New York having any direct influence on the record. It was moody, still heavily electronic and lyrically a total return to form. Very underrated.

7. Diamond Dogs (1974)

This would be the last remnants of the Ziggy character and would be the lead off point for his upcoming “plastic soul” soul phase. Say goodbye to Glam everyone. With an almost overwhelming Orwellian influence the album still rocked with “Rebel Rebel”, grooved with “1984” and touched on spoken word with “Future Legend”. The brilliant cover was painted by Guy Peellaert whose book “Rock Dreams” is a must-see for any true rock fan.

8. The Man Who Sold The World (1970)

This is the album when Bowie really started to define his writing style and also first hooked up with The Spiders From Mars. I am sure there is a whole generation who thinks Nirvana wrote “The Man Who Sold The World” which is the centre piece of the album. It also includes two of my fave Bowie songs “The Width Of a Circle” and “Black Country Rock”.

9. Station To Station (1976)

It only contains six songs in total but every song is unique and brilliant. The title track, running just over 10 minutes is still one of my most played songs. On his 1978 Isolar II tour (which would become the live album “Stage”) Bowie began the show with “Station To Station” as he walked out on to stage with all of the house lights still on in Maple Leaf Gardens. I hear train noises, there are people are on stage, the lights are still on, oh my God there’s Bowie! It was one of the best openings I have ever seen. The album also includes “Golden Years”, which became a left field hit, the driving “TVC 15” and the gorgeous “Wild Is The Wind”.

10. Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980)

If the Rolling Stones answered the threat of punk with “Shattered” then Bowie answered with “Fashion”. Around this time both artists would appear on Saturday Night Live with dominant performances answering their critics doubts about their relevance.  After this record Bowie had mainstream success with “Let’s Dance” but it would be quite a while until he made another great album.

Now there are Bowie songs that would be in my Top Ten of all time, witness “Young Americans”, that don’t appear on this list as the album in its entirety didn’t make the cut. The same could be said for “Heroes” (I own both the German and French 45’s) as well as “Space Oddity” and a host of others. I have always trusted Bowie to challenge me and even spent money on Tin Machine records and shows (love the first Tin Machine album). They just don’t seem to build rock stars like they used to.


Cam’s column appears every Thursday.

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DBAWIS_ButtonCameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener,  The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY, New Canadian Music and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

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3 Responses to “Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll – Listing D-D-D-David”

  1. Some Herbert Says:

    “K.West pun”?

  2. While I am not a big Bowie fan, too many people I shared musical interests with loved the guy so I got hammered with his music anyway. Even saw, I think, the “Station to Station” show in L.A.— was that the tour Bowie used an opening film (Un Chien Andalou)? Sorry to say that the film was the highlight of the night for me. My friends, though, to this day tell me how close-minded I am about Bowie. They could well be right.

  3. Cameron Carpenter Says:

    Bowie is standing under a sign “K.West”. Said out loud it is Quest. Ziggy on a musical quest/Ziggy an alien on a Quest? Couple of reads on it.

    Yes and no Frank. On the Station to Station tour he did open with that film. On the next tour, recorded for the album Stage , he was still playing a lot of the Station to Station material and the show began with the lights on/

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