Celebrate David Bowie’s birthday with a demo of “Let’s Dance.”

Today is David Bowie‘s birthday.  He would’ve been 71.  There are many ways to celebrate this day, but one of the best comes from Neil Rodgers of Chic, who produced Bowie’s big comeback single, “Let’s Dance.”  Rodgers has released a demo version of the track, with himself on guitar and Bowie having a fun time with the lyrics.  It’s the skeleton of what would become a powerhouse single and the rest of the Let’s Dance album.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: David Bowie – Live Santa Monica ’72 (2009)

Recorded live at the Santa Monica auditorium by local station KMET, Live Santa Monica ’72 captures David Bowie at the height of his Ziggy Stardust phase. His band was one of his classic line-ups – Mick Ronson on lead guitar, Trevor Bolder on bass, Mick “Woody” Woodmansey on drums, and Mike Garson on keyboards, and the set list is excellent.

Opening with “Hang On to Yourself,” Bowie and his pals come out rocking. Ronson and Bolder immediately put down riffs to show the audience they mean business. They tear into “Ziggy Stardust” and “Changes” right after, throwing down two tracks you’d figure they’d have in the encore but put on early instead. They’re great reminders of Ronson’s guitar skills. He was at the top of his funky game.

Bowie gets a little obscure, but still wows the crowd, with “The Supermen,” and then delivers a great performance of “Life on Mars?” (while Garson’s piano accompanies him quite well). Woodmansey puts down a slick beat on “Five Years,” and the crowd cheers in appreciation for it and Bowie’s assured vocals.

“Space Oddity” is another crowd favorite, of course, and Bowie uses his voice instead of his guitar to make the sound of Major Tom’s rocket rising from the surface of the Earth into orbit. “Andy Warhol” is a nice inclusion on this recording, as you don’t hear live versions of it much, let alone “My Death” (just Bowie and his guitar), “The Width of a Circle” (Ronson at his rocking best), and “Queen Bitch.”

Bowie introduces “Moonage Daydream” as “a song written by Ziggy,” and the whole band cooks on it. They’re fast and loose with “John, I’m Only Dancing,” and the inclusion of a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for the Man” is a nice treat. “Jean Genie” is wonderfully distorted cock rock. Bowie and his pals are so cheeky by now that Bowie momentarily screws up the lyrics of the closer “Suffragette City,” but he makes up for it during the encore of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.”

It’s a great piece of Bowie history and worth the price if you’re a fan of the Thin White Duke, especially if you like his Ziggy Stardust / “classic” period.

Keep your mind open.

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My top 25 albums of 2015 – #’s 5-1

Here we are at the top 5!

#5 

WALL‘s self-titled debut EP was a brash bit of post-punk that floored me the first time I heard it.  It’s one of those debuts that instantly makes you hungry for more, and they can’t release a full-length soon enough for me.

#4 

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are unstoppable.  They released the best-engineered record of the year, Nonagon Infinity (which can be played on endless loop, starting from any track, with no discernible bumps or pauses along the way), and have announced five more albums this year.

#3 

Night Beats are one of those bands that gets better with each record.  Who Sold My Generation was recorded mostly with first and second-takes in just a couple days, and the raw energy and R&B grooves shine through your speakers.  They are at the top of their game right now.

#2 

The lushest record of 2016 was the Besnard Lakes‘ A Coliseum Complex Museum.  It’s full of gorgeous arrangements, psychedelic dreams, and haunting sounds.  It’s a record that takes you out of your current state of mind and shifts your thinking.

#1 

If you’re gonna go out, go out like David Bowie did with Blackstar.  He put everything he had into his final album, and it’s a masterpiece.  Wild jazz arrangements, frank lyrics about death, sex, regret, acceptance, love, and hope, and hidden treasures (lyrically and in the album artwork itself) are layered throughout it.  The legend left us by setting the bar even higher.

There you have it, folks.  Thanks for sticking with me throughout 2016.  I hope you’ll keep reading this year.

Keep your mind open.

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New David Bowie box set includes an unreleased album from 1974.

david-bowie-who-can-i-be-now

The David Bowie estate has released a second box set of remastered early works – Who Can I Be Now?

The set covers the years 1974 – 1976 and includes some of the Thin White Duke’s funkiest records – Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, and Station to Station.  It also includes two versions of David Live, a remastered version of David Live Nassau 1976, a disc of B-sides and obscure singles, and The Gouster – an album produced in 1976 and never released until now.

The original producer of The Gouster, Tony Visconti, has returned to remaster the album from the original tapes, so it’s in good hands.

It’s a staggering release of material at a fair price, and The Gouster and the remastered two live albums would be a great set on their own.

Keep your mind open.

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My top 10 albums of 2016 so far.

It’s been a good year so far for music.  I’m finding excellent stuff every month.  We’re halfway through the year, so here’s a quick recap of my top 10 records of 2016 so far.

  1. David Bowie – Blackstar: A powerful way to end one’s career, let along a legendary life.
  2. The Besnard Lakes – A Coliseum Complex Museum: It’s still the most lush, beautiful record I’ve heard so far this year.
  3. Night Beats – Who Sold My Generation: This band gets better with each record, and this one is a tour de force.
  4. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity: Easily the craziest record of the year so far.  You can play it on an infinite loop beginning with any track and it will repeat without any noticeable pauses, stutters, or breaks.
  5. WALL – self-titled EP: WALL are currently my favorite discovery of 2016.  They’ve brought back a fierce post-punk edginess that I didn’t know I was yearning for until I heard them.
  6. Underworld – Barbara, Barbara, We Face a Shining Future: This record is so good that it might go higher on my Best of 2016 list by the end of the year.  It’s a fabulous return for the band and wonderfully optimistic.
  7. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool: One word to describe this record – Heartbreaking.  Most of the songs are about the end of Thom Yorke’s 20+ year relationship with his girlfriend.
  8. All Them Witches – Dying Surfer Meets His Maker: This is simply a great rock record.  No muss, no fuss.
  9. The Duke Spirit – Kin: I’m so happy they’re back and even happier that they’ve put out the best shoegaze record of the year so far.
  10. Golden Dawn Arkestra – Stargazer: Pure cosmic funk that can induce dancing in even the grumpiest of grumps.

Keep your mind open.

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David Bowie – Blackstar

David-Bowie-Blackstar

David Bowie’s death shocked and saddened the world. A friend of mine in Vienna was at a coffee shop on the day Bowie’s death was announced. The guy behind my friend in line asked if the shop accepted credit cards. They didn’t, and he didn’t have enough to pay for his coffee. The barista told the guy, “It’s okay. Pay next time. David Bowie died today.”

Bowie left us with one final record, the magnificent Blackstar. It’s difficult to listen to it now without putting one’s own psychoanalysis on its lyrics and tone, but you can’t avoid the multiple tips of the hat to family, friends, fans, and the Grim Reaper.

The opening title track is nearly ten minutes long. Not many artists could get away with such a bold move, but Bowie does it like a walk in the park. It’s layered with electronic drumbeats, echoed vocals, and acid jazz saxophone that I’m guessing he loved (being a saxophonist himself). The lyrics speak of “a solitary candle” and “the day of execution” before changing gears halfway through to sing of someone taking his place in the spotlight. “I can’t answer why, just go with me. I’m going to take you home,” he sings. My favorite lyric is “You’re a flash in the pan. I’m the great I Am.” I take that as Bowie chuckling at his own mortality and creator.

Bowie, Creator love him, didn’t want the whole record to be doom and gloom, so he made “’Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” the second track. It’s a cool rocker with squealing saxophones all over it and a bass line that sounds left over from the Let’s Dance album.

The first line in “Lazarus” is “Look up here, I’m in heaven.” – so I wouldn’t worry about David Bowie being afraid of death. He sings, “I’ll be free.” multiple times. I swear it’s a lost Morphine track. It has reverbed saxophone and groovy bass throughout it, with the guitar mostly used to jolting effect while a jazz drummer plays for a stadium instead of a smoky nightclub.

“Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)” is practically the plot of an action thriller, with its lyrics of business deals, medical test results, dark intentions, hasty travel, questioned motives, love, and murder. It moves as fast as a chase scene. His band must’ve had a blast playing it.

“Girl Loves Me” is weird, but that’s means it’s great. I’m not sure it’s a love song. Some of the lyrics are almost rapped. Luscious strings dance around tick-tock drumming and a bass riff that would make John Carpenter jealous. It’s easy to be sad during “Dollar Days” as Bowie sings, “If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to, it’s nothing to me. It’s nothing to see.” The song is too lush and grand to keep you blue for too long, however.

The last track is “I Can’t Give Everything Away.” To say it is a beautiful send-off for the Starman is an understatement. The drums in it are upbeat while Bowie sings of final messages and legacies.

We might not see someone like David Bowie for generations. He might not have given everything, but he gave more than most of us can dream of giving others. He gave one of the greatest gifts any of us can give – inspiration – and he gave us this final, excellent record before he went back to Mars.

David Bowie has left us, but we are not alone.

I was lucky enough to see David Bowie twice on his “Sound & Vision” tour in 1990 – once near Indianapolis and another time outside Chicago – and a third time at the Area2 music festival outside NYC in 2002 that got shut down near the end of his set due to a massive thunderstorm that swept through the area.  He still put on a great show.

Bowie’s influence on music, art, film, and the world in general can never be fully determined.  He was one of the greatest artists of our time and leaves behind an amazingly legacy and millions of inspired souls that will only grow in number across time.

He seemed to be from another planet, as he sometimes portrayed himself early in his career, but all accounts from his colleagues is that he was a good bloke, a true Brit, and a charming down-to-Earth gentleman.

Our lives and the Earth are better because he shared his sounds and visions with us.  If you are saddened by his passing, honor him by sharing yours.

Keep your mind open.