Cameron Carpenter: Past and Present Tens – The Width of a Circle
Everyone has their influences. If you are a photographer it might be Robert Mapplethorpe or Yousuf Karsh. Writers might lean towards Kurt Vonnegut or Ernest Hemingway. Hockey players might liken their game to the style of Wayne Gretzky or perhaps Gordie Howe. Musicians tend to wear their influences on their sleeves, especially when they are at the beginning of their careers. Joe Perry and Steven Tyler mixed equal parts Jagger/Richards with Johansen/Thunders and created Aerosmith. After two or three albums they developed their own unique style and after five or six records they were influencing others. I would assume that Glenn Frey was a fan of Gram Parsons as you can hear so much Gram in the early Eagles records. Bowie mixed equal parts Velvet Underground with Bob Dylan and Anthony Newley and soon found his own voice.
Bowie was not afraid of covering artists, his 1973 album “Pinups” was nothing but covers by the likes of The Who, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, Pink Floyd and other mid-sixties influences, and throughout his career Bowie was constantly interpreting the work of others. Let’s look at both sides of the coin.
- “Space Oddity” – Choir! Choir! Choir!
I first heard of Toronto’s “Choir! Choir! Choir!” a few years ago from my sons’ girlfriend Lydia. She has been active with the group almost since the beginning. She would tell me they had performed “Coax Me” with Sloan’s Chris Murphy, or would be performing at the Art Gallery of Ontario with Patti Smith. The group was put together back in 2011 by Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman and would meet weekly at Clinton’s Tavern to sing some songs and have some fun. They now meet twice a week and prospective singers can join at www.choirchoirchoir.com. They were Toronto’s little secret until January 16, 2016 when five hundred vocalists converged on the AGO to pay tribute to David Bowie. This has gone viral. Hats off to my friends Kevin Hilliard and Tim McCready for beautifully capturing the magic.
- “All The Young Dudes” – Mott the Hoople
Technically this is a cover. Bowie wrote the song and then, after they had turned down the offer of “Suffragette City”, gave it to Mott to record. They owned it. Bowie never released his version on a studio album but it has shown up on lots of bootlegs and compilations. I loved hearing Bowie perform this song at the Kool Haus. Can’t really imagine Mott having a hit with “Suffragette”, good call Mr. Hunter.
- “Love Missile F1-11” – David Bowie
Almost every time I play this song when I DJ someone will come up to me and ask if it’s the original Sigue Sigue Sputnik version, and, will usually be stunned when I tell them it is Bowie’s version. He recorded the song for his 1986 “Reality” album but only used it as a B-side for the single “New Killer Star”. Sigue Sigue was the brainchild of ex-Generation X member Tony James and they took their version of the song to number three on the British charts.
- “Young Americans” – Danny Michel
Back in 2004 Canadian musician, and acknowledged Bowie super-fan, Danny Michel recorded “Loving the Alien (The Songs of David Bowie)”. It’s a great record and Danny really takes chances on a few of Bowie’s most iconic numbers. His take on “Young Americans” may very well be my favourite Bowie cover ever.
- “White Light/White Heat” – Mick Ronson
The 1968 Velvet Underground single was a staple in the Ziggy Stardust days of David Bowie. Beginning in 1971 they band constantly played the song live and David recorded a version of it which he intended to release on his “Pinups” album. It wasn’t included on the album so David gave the bed tracks to his guitarist Mick Ronson for his second solo album “Play Don’t Worry”. This album contained its fair share of covers which Ronson had re-arranged to his liking.
- “China Girl” – Iggy Pop/David Bowie
Although Bowie has the better known version I have always preferred Iggy’s take on this co-write. Iggy recorded the song first on his album “The Idiot” in 1977 and Bowie released his version in 1983 on the hit album “Let’s Dance”. With the advent of MTV Bowie’s video, featuring Geeling Ng, took the song and video to the uppermost regions of the charts.
- “Rock’n’Roll Suicide” – Seu Jorge
Brazilian actor and musician Seu Jorge first came to the mainstream audience when he appeared in the 2004 Wes Anderson film “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”. In the film he played a musician who performed Bowie classics in Portuguese. The stripped-down songs were beautiful and even Bowie was moved when he first heard them. The soundtrack is highly recommended.
- “Working Class Hero” – Tin Machine
Tin Machine was David’s late eighties rock democracy, with Reeves Gabriel and Hunt and Tony Sales (who provided a killer bottom end for Iggy Pop in the “Idiot” and “Lust for Life” days). Much maligned by critics both albums are worthy editions to any Bowie collection. The band rocked live and I was lucky enough to see them live in December of 1991 at their only Toronto performance. Wanting to avoid large arenas the band played the intimate confines of the Concert Hall. Here is their take on the John Lennon classic.
- “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family” – The Wedding Present
Britain’s The Wedding Present were no strangers when it comes to cover songs. The band released a series of singles in the early nineties with an original on the A-side and a cover on the B. They ultimately compiled the songs on the albums “Hit Parade 1” and “Hit Parade 2”. Here they take the rather odd song from “Diamond Dogs” and give it their punkiest best.
- “Pablo Picasso” – David Bowie
The eponymous debut album from The Modern Lovers (recorded in 1971/72 but not released until 1976) had a huge influence on punk and new wave. Featuring Jonathon Richman, Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads), Dave Robinson (The Cars) and Ernie Brooks, songs such as “Roadrunner” soon became live staples for the Sex Pistols and a host of Toronto punk bands. The song obviously resonated with Bowie as he recorded this version for his 2003 album “Reality”.
Cam’s column appears every Thursday.
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Cameron 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, NXNE Magazine and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.