I was in Portland, Maine last night for a David Bowie tribute0 concert at the State Theater. The place was packed. The show was very well put together, especially considering the small length of time since Bowie’s death. The bands moved swiftly from one to the next (not to mention the intermingling of band members) with little time wasted on sound checks. All of the performances were great. I won’t single anybody out as I didn’t really know any of the bands on stage, nor did I catch all of their names. I get the feeling that I wouldn’t listen to many of them otherwise, simply because I don’t live there.
I do have one complaint, however. Considering how well everything was done and this was probably a one-off show, it’s a minor complaint. I left the venue last night rather bummed at the lack of variety in the song selection. I have no problem with any of the particular songs that people picked to play. I wish, though, that the bands covered a wider scope of Bowie’s career. There was way too much emphasis on songs from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album and earlier.
I like the fact that some people covered obscure early tunes but otherwise the rest of the night felt lacking in this regard. Nobody covered anything from Aladdin Sane, Station to Station, Lodger, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), and then nothing that came out after the song Blue Jean (with the exception of two songs that a band co-wrote with David Bowie a few years ago. I’m sorry, but I’m unfamiliar with the songs and as hard as I tried this morning, I couldn’t find out what the name of the band was so I could name them here. I didn’t want to look like a doofus last night and actually ask somebody). The songs picked from the remaining post-Ziggy albums were sporadic.
I mentioned recently that I was thinking of giving up being a musician so I could focus more on my writing. One of the main reasons that I haven’t made that decision yet is that I want to cover Bowie at some point. I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to what songs I want to play. Coincidentally, a lot of them were songs that weren’t covered last night. So I’m actually going to combine my “make-up” post for yesterday with my Sunday list for today, and give you a list of David Bowie songs that I hope to cover.
I know I’ve been getting Bowie-centric lately. I’m even annoying myself by how obsessed I’ve become. I promise I’m going to try to hold back for a while. I won’t bother telling you again what an impact he had on me, which led to all of this. So, before I start the list I want to address two points quickly. First, there inevitably will be a David Bowie biopic. I’m joining the bandwagon that wants Tilda Swinton to star in the main role. Secondly, there are now rumors that there’s going to be a Labyrinth reboot. I have no interest in this. If it’s not Bowie, there’s no point. He’s the main reason to watch that film. Unless, of course, they recast Jareth with Tilda Swinton. Then I might go see it.
Anyway, here are the ten David Bowie songs which I want to cover. This isn’t necessarily a list of my favorite songs. In some cases I think they would just be fun to perform. I also allow my self the fantasy of having a full band behind me in some cases. It wouldn’t be vital to all of them, but it would make some of the songs more interesting to listen to.
- Absolute Beginners. Yes, this one came out during his heavily commercial period in the mid-eighties. At least the recording doesn’t suffer from the over-production of some of the albums he released at the time. It has a really cool chord progression which drives an unusual vocal melody. I might not be able to hit all of the high notes but again, this is a fantasy list.
- Pretty Pink Rose. Adrian Belew is one of my other favorite musicians who also had the opportunity to play with Bowie. He played on the Lodger album and toured with Bowie on the 1978 “Heroes” tour and again on the 1990 Sound+Vision tour. Bowie sang lead on a couple of songs off of Belew’s Young Lions album, including this one. I’d have to find somebody to be able to play Belew’s wild guitar parts, although I suppose this one could still be played with just acoustic guitar and voice.
- Dead Man Walking. Based around a riff that was given to Bowie by Robert Plant and previously used in the song Supermen, this song comes from the 1997 Earthling album. While the album focuses a lot on electronic elements, all of the songs could still conceivably be played in a variety of arrangements. Bowie himself has played an acoustic version with his guitarist at the time, Reeves Gabrels. Still, if played with a rock band this one is a rousing number.
- Ashes to Ashes. I am really disappointed that nobody covered this one. In my mind this is the quintessential David Bowie song. It has a mainstream appeal yet sounds alien enough to keep you captivated while trying to figure out the strange imagery in the lyrics. And that keyboard riff is catchy as hell.
- Magic Dance. Critically speaking, it’s not one of his best songs. But come on, wouldn’t we have fun with the call and response part at the beginning?
- Thursday’s Child. I know that I’ve referred to the ‘Hours…’ as the worst David Bowie album. But it does have some gems on it, including this one. It’s both breezy and somber. Alternatively (as I apparently have a one-song-per-album rule) I could cover The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell.
- Never Let Me Down. This one isn’t one of his best-selling singles but features some of the best song-writing. Co-written by one of Bowie’s longtime band members, Carlos Alomar, I really can give it the same review I gave to Absolute Beginners above. This is the title track to one of his least popular albums. I think overall the album suffers not from bad songwriting but cheesy over-the-top production values of the time. With proper re-working, I think this song could gain the popularity it deserves.
- Alladin Sane. But I wouldn’t cover the version that appears on the studio album. Provided I have a full band behind me, I would want to cover the version that had a sort of latin-jazz feel to it, which he performed on his 1974 tour. 1974’s David Live wasn’t his best live album, but I appreciate when artists mess around with their songs like he did.
- New Killer Star. Again, I’ve made some critical remarks about the Reality album. But this catchy tune would make a great show opener.
- Let’s Dance. Yes, seriously. Why? Because nobody covered it last night, that’s why. It was his biggest hit yet nobody wanted to touch it. I’d really have to practice my singing for this one.
Wow, that’s a lot of David Bowie in one post. I’m going to give it a rest now.