KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #15: Under Pressure by David Bowie and Queen.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #15: Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie.

“Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie is one of those songs that just about everyone seems to really like. In fact, I can’t think of a single soul who dislikes this song. If you happen to be that outlier then, stand up, speak out and be prepared to explain yourself. Then, be prepared to the scorn and ridicule that will surely come your way! How can anyone not like this song?! It is the a song born from the union of two of Rock’s biggest names, Queen and David Bowie. It is as powerful and dramatic a song as there has ever been performed; its’ subject matter merely the state of the pressure we live under in this life and what can be done about it all. It is a crowd-pleasing, stadium-rocking anthem that has given rise to some of the best live concert moments in rock history. The song is “Under Pressure”. Let’s find out all about it.

The story goes that Queen were in Switzerland working on songs for a new album. They had a song they were working on called, “Feel Like” that was coming along ok but just wasn’t right yet. As luck would have it, in the same town of Montreux that they were staying at, David Bowie, also, happened to be in town, (he actually lived not too far away). So, a call went out to see if he wanted to pop by and hang out with the band for awhile. He did. They all started jamming away and having fun. Eventually, Freddy Mercury asked Bowie if he felt like helping them on their new album now they were all warmed up and, perhaps, just see what would happen. So, bassist John Deacon began to play the familiar opening bass line to “Under Pressure”. It was merely a baseline at that point. But, it served as inspiration for Bowie and Queen and away they went. According to guitarist Brian May, working with an inspired Bowie was difficult, in a way, because both he and Freddy Mercury both had a vision for how the song that became “Under Pressure” should be written and constructed and that there was a lot of alpha-male butting of heads involved before it all came together as we know it to be. But, work it out, they did. The result was the glorious song we all know as, “Under Pressure”.

But, there are a couple of facts about the song that many people misinterpret or, flat out, get wrong. First of all, David Bowie and Queen never ever performed “Under Pressure” together live. Not long after the song/album was released, Queen went on tour. David Bowie, meanwhile, stayed back in Switzerland, working on the songs for his next album, “Let’s Dance” and then, he went out on a world wide tour. By the end of it, Freddy Mercury’s health went into decline and he died not long after. The very first time that David Bowie performed “Under Pressure” with Queen was when he sang it with Annie Lennox at the Freddy Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium in London.

The second often misconstrued fact is that despite how it appears at first blush, “Under Pressure” in not a duet. Sure, there are two singers singing but, the structure of “Under Pressure” is such that it is not actually a duet at all. What the song is, is actually a two-person play or even, a musical debate. The concept of the song is two people debating about the nature of being alive in the world. One person (Bowie) takes on the pessimistic role and sings about everyone being under pressure. Freddy Mercury takes on the opposing role as the person who champions love as a solution to what ails the planet. A good example of the interplay that goes on throughout the song can be seen in this snippet from the song:

“FM: Love, love, love, love, love

DB: Insanity laughs under pressure, we’re breaking!

FM: Why can’t we give ourselves one more chance? Why can’t we give love that one more chance? Why can’t we give love, give love, give love, give love…….

DB: ‘Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word. And love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night and love (FM: people on streets) dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves.

FM: This is our last dance.

DB: This is our last dance.

FM/DB: This is ourselves……….under pressure……….under pressure………….pressure.”

As mentioned, Freddy Mercury and David Bowie never performed this song together on stage. They recorded their vocal tracks separately in studio. It was only during the final recording process that their voices were brought together on tape and the magic happened.

Queen sang this song as part of their standard setlist throughout the remainder of their touring days; with Freddy Mercury doing all of the parts. Bowie never sang this song as part of his setlist until after Freddy Mercury had died. And then, Bowie still sang only his original lines, with a back-up singer filling in for Mercury.

But, as we all know, this song spawned some memorable covers. The best known is the Bowie/Lennox cover at the Freddy Mercury Tribute Concert. But, a second cover has come to the fore and taken on extra poignancy lately. That cover was by the recently deceased drummer for the Foo Fighters, Taylor Hawkins. The Foo Fighters were known for throwing covers of well-known songs into their own sets when playing live. One of the songs that they liked to do was “Under Pressure”. Whenever it came time to perform this song, Hawkins would leave his drum kit and come to centre stage. Lead singer, dave Grohl, would leave the stage and play drums. Then, Hawkins would team up with the lead singer of whoever opened for them tat night and they would launch into a cool “Foo Fighters’ version of “Under Pressure”. Well, as many of you know, Taylor Hawkins, who was such a good drummer and such a happy, positive person, died unexpectedly recently at the young age of 50. One of the last songs he played with the Foo Fighters was “Under Pressure”.

So, when it comes time for the videos, I am going to showy four!!!! The first will be the original lyrics video that acted as the official video for many years, since there was never a live video to record. The second video will be one where Freddy Mercury and Queen perform the song on their own, with Freddy Mercury’s trademark showmanship and pizzazz. The third video will be the iconic Bowie/Lennox version, which I adore. The chemistry between those two was phenomenal that day. A complete home run of a performance. Finally, I will share Taylor Hawkins and the Foo Fighters covering this great song.

So, without further delay, here is “Under Pressure” written by Queen and David Bowie and performed by a cast of thousands, or so it seems. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the lyrics version of the song, “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Under Pressure” as performed by Queen, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Under Pressure”, as covered by David Bowie and Annie Lennox during The Freddy Mercury Tribute Concert, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Under Pressure”, as covered by Taylor Hawkins of The Foo Fighters, can be found here. ***The drummer here, Rufus Taylor, is the son of the original Queen drummer, Roger Taylor.

The link to the official website for Queen, can be found here.

The link to the official website for David Bowie, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Annie Lennox, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Foo Fighters, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for playing the best music by the best artists. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #37: Billie Jean by Michael Jackson.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #37: Billie Jean by Michael Jackson.

“Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson was the second single released from the album, “Thriller”. It raced to the #1 position on the charts and stayed there for several weeks. It was the second song from “Thriller” to hit that coveted #1 ranking and would, in turn, be followed by five more songs to reach the top. “Thriller” stands as one of the biggest selling albums of all-time and the song, “Billie Jean” certainly played a prominent role in helping to make that happen. The song, itself, sold several million copies and was trend-setting in more ways than just sales figures, as we shall all see below.

First of all, the song, “Billie Jean” was based on Jackson’s experience with groupies and fans who morphed into stalkers. When he was younger and a member of The Jackson 5, he made note of how often his older brothers would be served with paternity lawsuits; all claiming that the Jackson Brothers had engaged in sexual relationships that resulted in pregnancy and that financial compensation was required. According to Jackson, none of these lawsuits had any basis in reality and came to be seen as part of life for those in the spotlight, as they were. As Jackson grew older and became a solo artist, he started having his own issues with fans; including one woman who kept trying to show up at his home and who was always claiming that he was the father of her child. That one woman ended up being placed in a psychiatric facility; an experience that left Jackson shaken and, reportedly, was the beginning of his decision to become more reclusive in his own life.

Knowing some of the dodgy aspects of Jackson’s personal life, his defence against his own paternity suit is not the hill I wish to die on. For me, there was another, far more interesting and impactful aspect to the story behind this song and that is, how Jackson used the music video for “Billie Jean” to help break down the colour barrier on video channel, MTV. It seems hard for me to believe it but, when “Billie Jean” went into “heavy rotation” on MTV, it was the first time a black artist or band had ever been accorded that attention. But, the story doesn’t end there. It actually goes back a few months when Jackson had completed the famous music video of him dancing on a walkway where each stone would light up as he touched it with his feet. With the video in hand, MTV was approached and asked to play it in concert with the release of “Billie Jean” on the radio. MTV refused. At the time, MTV was programmed more like a radio station and was rock-oriented. With music videos being a relatively new phenomenon, MTV programmers were more focussed on acquiring rock videos which, at the time, were predominantly made by white performers. So, MTV told Jackson that his video wasn’t a “fit” for their playlists. Enraged, Michael Jackson and producer, Quincey Jones, threatened to launch their own lawsuits and, as well, to launch a boycott of MTV by Jackson and all other clients of Quincey Jones. So, “Billie Jean” was released to radio, without MTV support. The music channel did not air “Billie Jean” until had already reached #1 and had become such a sensation. Even then, they put Jackson of “medium rotation”, meaning that his video only got played, once and awhile, instead of frequently, like those in “heavy rotation”, which also meant more favourable time slots during prime viewing times. Eventually, the voices of the people were heard as MTV’s phone lines because jammed with requests for all things, Michael Jackson.

*There is a famous clip of MTV interviewing white singer, David Bowie who, to his credit, turns the tables on his interviewer and starts grilling him over why MTV was so reluctant to play the music of black performers. I will include that clip below.

The final noteworthy aspect of this song is when it was performed live on TV at the Motown 25th Anniversary TV special. This was the world famous moment when Michael Jackson donned his one glittery glove for the first time, wore his fedora and then, moonwalked across the stage. I remember watching this live on tv when it was first aired. As TV moments go, it was as thrilling and captivating as any entertainment moment I have ever seen. Obviously, based upon the reaction of millions of others from around the world, that moment when Michael Jackson moonwalked for the first time remains one of TV’s most iconic live images ever.

So, a song like “Billie Jean”….which Michael Jackson stated he knew was a hit from the first moment he wrote it…..ended up becoming much more than merely a song about contested paternity. It was a song that was boosted by being from the biggest album of them all and, in return, helped “Thriller” reach the lofty heights that it did. But, in addition, “Billie Jean” helped break down the colour barrier on the influential music channel, MTV. And as if that wasn’t enough, his live performance on the Motown tv special helped create an iconic, lasting image of himself that he was able to carry with him throughout the remainder of his career. Not bad for a song about a girl that was not his lover!

So, without further delay, here is the iconic live television reveal of “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson, as performed live on TV, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson, as seen in the official video, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Michael Jackson, can be found here.

The link to the video for the David Bowie/MTV interview about the lack of black artists on their channel, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #167: All The Young Dudes by Mott the Hoople.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #167: All The Young Dudes by Mott the Hoople.

The story of “All The Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople is really a story of two songs and their intersection at a transitional moment in Music History. In order to appreciate the significance of “All The Young Dudes”, we must travel back a dozen posts or so, to a song called, “Starman” and an album called, “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” by David Bowie. *(which you can read here). It was just as this album was coming together that the story of “All The Young Dudes” really begins. So, make yourself comfortable. Here is the story of the song that critics and fans, alike, refer to as the “Glam Rock anthem”…..”All The Young Dudes”.

You may recall that, when David Bowie was in the studio recording the songs for “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”, he was, also, at the very same time, putting together a second album called, “Hunky Dory”. It was a very productive and prolific time in his career, when it came to churning out great songs. It was, also, an exciting time for people like Bowie to be a musician in the UK. Social conventions were falling by the wayside and social change was afoot; especially, when it came to gender roles and sexual identity. What ended up making the song, “Starman” such a impactful hit was the moment David Bowie appeared on the TV show, “Top of the Pops” in full Glam Rock regalia; spiky hair dyed bright orange, fingernail polish, flashy jumpsuit, openly flirting with guitarist Mick Ronson on stage and so on. Bowie’s image on “Top of the Pops” helped launch a whole new wave of personal expression through the UK music scene. Music journalists coined the new movement as “Glam Rock”.

While David Bowie was in the process of first becoming a star of note in the UK, the band, Mott the Hoople, was busily slogging their way through endless tours across England, Europe and North America; desperately trying to promote their first three albums. As it was, Mott the Hoople became what is a known as, a “cult favourite”; which means that they had a small and devoted fan base but not large enough of a following to make them commercially viable as a band. So it was that, just as David Bowie found himself in the studio working of “Ziggy Stardust”, the news broke that Mott the Hoople were calling it a career and breaking up.

This is where fate resides. David Bowie was a member of Mott the Hoople’s “cult following” and when he heard the news that they were retiring, he felt a great sense of loss. But, instead of simply mourining his loss, he decided to try and do something about it. So, he contacted the lead singer of Mott the Hoople, Ian Hunter and asked if he would like to record one of the songs that Bowie had written, himself. The song that Bowie offered Mott the Hoople was called, “Suffragette City”. The band listened to Bowie play that song but decided that it wasn’t really something that suited their song catalogue and so, they declined Bowie’s offer. Undaunted, Bowie pulled out an acoustic guitar, sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the band and played them a second song that he called, “All The Young Dudes”. At that moment, Bowie had been considering “All The Young Dudes” for inclusion on his “Ziggy Stardust” album but, because he so desperately wanted Mott the Hoople to stay together, he sang that song for them. To a person, each member of Mott the Hoople who listened to David Bowie that day all swear that they knew this song was a hit, right from the opening notes. None of them could believe that Bowie would so easily relinquish a sure hit to a “washed up bunch of hasbeens” like them. But, he did. Without having to think too much about it, Mott the Hoople jumped at the chance to record the song. David Bowie offered to produce it for them and even played saxophone on it and provided some hand clapping, to boot.

The song, itself, is an ode to the new types of people who were to become so closely associated with the Glam Rock movement. It was about fashion and sexual fluidity and bold personal, self-expression and much more. “All The Young Dudes” was a clarion call to all those disaffected youth who were searching for somewhere to call home. It was a demographic that bands like The Smiths would so emphatically embrace a decade and a bit into the future. Singer Lou Reed even went so far as to declare that “All The Young Dudes”, along with being a Glam Rock anthem, was also a “Gay Rights” anthem, too. He said that the song validated the existence of an entire social class of people who, up until that moment in time, had largely been overlooked and under represented in music and as part of the larger, societal tapestry.

The video that I will play for this song is one that is not exactly just Mott the Hoople in concert. This video shows the song being played at the Freddy Mercury Tribute Concert that was held at Wembley Stadium in memory of the Queen frontman who had passed away but who, when alive, often embodied the ideals of the Glam Rock movement better than anyone else. But, what really becomes clear in this video (and, by extension, through other music posts in this countdown) is what a generous man David Bowie actually was. Not only did he singlehandedly revive the career of Mott The Hoople by giving away a sure hit song but, as we have seen, he was equally generous to the likes of Iggy Pop and others, too. But, not only that, as this particular video will show, David Bowie was ego-free, in the sense of allowing others their moment in the spotlight. On this stage at Wembley Stadium, he steps back and allows a man with a lesser singing voice, the centre microphone to sing a song of his, as the showstopper finale to the entire concert. A bigger ego that his would have seen him hogging the spotlight. But, Bowie was cut from a different cloth, for sure and we are all the better for it as a result.

So, without further delay, here is an all-star cast that included David Bowie, Mick Ronson, Mott the Hoople (lead by Ian Hunter), Def Leppard and members of Queen, all singing “All The Young Dudes” to an adoring crowd at Wembley Stadium. Excellent stuff, this! Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “All The Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Mott the Hoople, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #42: Space Oddity by David Bowie.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #42: Space Oddity by David Bowie.

Once upon a time, there was a young man from England named David Jones. David liked music and enjoyed performing for others so, he and his girlfriend and another friend formed a small coffee-house style trio named “Feathers”. Feathers played mostly acoustic sets and came off as a combination of folksy and artsy. Feathers didn’t sell many records of any sort. So, David Jones thought that if he was to make it in the music business that he should get a formal manager who could handle the business end of things. So, a man named Mr. Pitt was hired. One of the first things that Mr. Pitt suggested that Mr. Jones do in order to get his name and face “out there”, as it were, was to make a short promotional film and, while doing so, score the music for this film. Jones agreed.

This was all happening around the time that the US had decided to make it a mission to land a man on the moon. As is so often the case during times such as those, a lot of business-minded companies saw the enthusiasm for the moon landing as being a money-making opportunity for them so, there were lots of Space-related ventures going on in Hollywood, Wall Street and beyond. One of the biggest was a movie called, “2001: A Space Odyssey”. That movie was transcendental for its era and posed a great many philosophical questions for its audience. Among those who purchased a ticket was young David Jones. At the time that Jones was watching “2001: A Space Odyssey” in London theatres, he was, also, regularly getting high on drugs. In fact, Jones watched “2001: A Space Odyssey” almost half a dozen times, all while drug impaired. In retrospect, David Jones said that watching that movie while high on drugs blew his mind wide open and helped him gain insight into the alien atmosphere present in space and how lonely it must be and how silent. As a result of the drug-fuelled imagery that was washing over him, David Jones went to work writing songs for his promotional film; one of those songs was the rough skeleton of a song called, “Space Oddity”.

As you know by now, one of the other changes that David Jones went through was to change his name. David Jones became David Bowie and the music for his promotional film was shopped around to record companies. Initially, most viewed “Space Oddity” as a novelty song and passed on recording and releasing it. However, with the Apollo 11 Moon Landing about to happen, it was felt by the BBC that “Space Oddity” would be a good track to accompany their coverage of the mission, even though the song is about an astronaut who becomes lost in space. The exposure gained from the BBC using his song helped Bowie secure a recording contract. “Space Oddity” was a moderate hit but, the album as a whole sold poorly. It seems funny to think that there was a time when David Bowie was not highly regarded and was, instead, very close to being a one-hit wonder with, “Space Oddity” being that one, minor hit.

But, Bowie kept at it and two albums later, released “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars”, quickly followed by “Hunky Dory”, and he was away to the races. The performance of “Starman” on “Top of the Pops” was what really brought Bowie into the public eye. *(You can read about that here). With Bowie becoming well known, people worked back through his existing catalogue of music and realized that “Space Oddity” was his song. With renewed interest in it, “Space Oddity” re-entered the charts in the UK and the US and became a Top Ten hit in both places. No longer viewed as simply a novelty song, “Space Oddity” began to be accorded the respect it deserved from being such a forward-thinking, technically-advanced song.

As for the song, itself, Bowie claims that he was trying to inject a sense of humanity into the character of Major Tom, as opposed to the public perception, at the time, of astronauts being automatronic in nature. He says he added lyrics such as “The papers want to know whose shirts you wear.” because, in the UK, that sort of question meant which football team you supported and, because of how popular football (soccer) is there, the addition of that simple element made the character seem more relatable and human. However, there is a larger school of thought that dismisses Bowie’s own story and, instead, claims that he is, in fact, Major Tom and that his decision to leave the world behind parallels nicely with Bowie’s own, personal decision at the time to straighten out his life and get off of drugs. If you view the song from an addiction perspective, the plot lines seems to line up well. Bowie has never given this version of the song’s story his seal of approval but, it does make for a convincing theory. If you recall at the time, in the late 1960s, there was a big push across the UK music scene to explore Eastern mysticism. So, the idea of leaving your worldly troubles behind and seeking to become one with the universe, as it were, was quite popular then. In the song, Major Tom stops listening to Ground Control and allows himself to float away into outer space. Whatever your take on the song is, the truth is that ‘Space Oddity” was a very unique song; in sound and in lyrical content and, as such, it is a song that has stood the test of time and one that remains as popular today as it did when it was released all those many years ago by a young struggling singer named David Jones.

“Space Oddity” has spawned many covers but two, in particular, stand out for me. The first was a mid-80s synthesizer-driven tune by German-born, Pete Schilling called, “Major Tom (Coming Home)”. In this song, the story line is faithful to the original song except for a flip at the end. The song was a big hit when I was attending university in Toronto. I can even remember spending a couple of my nickels and dimes and buying this as a 45 single from the famous store, Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street. This cover has an excellent “80s sound” to it. I still enjoy listening to it, even today.

And speaking of Toronto and of Canada, the second noteworthy cover of “Space Oddity” comes from Canada’s own astronaut, Commander Chris Hadfield. Commander Hadfield was in charge of the International Space Station for awhile and while on board, he made a series of YouTube videos about what life was life in space. I shared many of these videos with my young students in class while I was still teaching. They are fabulous and talk about simple questions that kids may have had about how do astronauts brush their teeth? How do they sleep without floating around? How do they go to the bathroom without their waste floating around? In addition to these sort of educational videos, Commander Hadfield liked to play the guitar and sing. One of the songs he sang was a fundraiser centred around his cover of “Space Oddity”. He did a fantastic job of filming himself in various locations aboard the International Space Station as he sang. David Bowie said it was the truest rendition of his vision for the song that he had heard and seen. The funny thing about Hadfield’s decision to record the song was that, once he had finished, it could not be determined where in the world he had recorded it due to the fact that he was flying across all sorts of international boundaries as he sang. So, when he eventually returned to Earth, Hadfield and a team of lawyers, had to attempt determine which country’s copyright laws would apply and so on, before being able to re-release his version of “Space Oddity”.

In any case, I will give you video links for all three versions of this great and haunting song. So, without further delay, here are David Jones/Bowie, Pete Shelley and Commander Chris Hadfield, all with the best song set in Outer Space of all-time, “Space Oddity”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Space Oddity” by David Bowie, can be found here. ***It is easy to tell that this video was a bare-bones budget affair and that Bowie was really and truly just another struggling singer starting out in his career. In this light, “Space Oddity” is an amazing accomplishment.

The link to the official website for David Bowie, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Major Tom (Coming Home)” by Pete Schilling, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Pete Shelley, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Space Oddity”, as covered by Commander Chris Hadfield, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Commander Chris Hadfield, can be found here.

The link to one of Commander Hadfield’s educational videos, can be found here. If you enjoy this one, there are dozens more that will, no doubt, be readily available for viewing on your screen.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for supporting all manner of artists and bands from all over the planet. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #173: China Girl by Iggy Pop.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #173: China Girl by Iggy Pop.

Yes! You read that correctly. The song, “China Girl”, made famous by David Bowie on his album, “Let’s Dance” was, actually, a cover version of a song that he helped his buddy, Iggy Pop, to record during their “Berlin years” together in the 1970s. The original version of “China Girl” is sung by Iggy Pop, in a far grittier, more rock n’ roll style. It was from the first of the three albums that he and Bowie recorded together called, “The Idiot”. So, for those who thought this was a Bowie song all along…..Suuuuuuuuuuuurprise! Technically, even the original version of “China Girl” is kinda, sorta a Bowie song because he wrote the music for it and helped produce it and even played keyboards for it when it was recorded and during the initial tours to support it. So, you wouldn’t be totally wrong to call “China Girl” Bowie’s song all along. However, having said that, there are three very distinct stories behind this song and it is those stories that we will talk about today. So, let’s get to those stories and find out what “China Girl” is really all about.

Let’s get the darker story out of the way first. As you may remember, the whole reason that Iggy Pop and David Bowie ended up together in Germany was because Iggy Pop had become addicted to heroin and his friend, Bowie, was trying to help him regain his health. So, there is one version of the story of this song that suggests that “China Girl” is about heroin. In “street parlance”, “China White” is a form of heroin and “girl” is a term commonly used to refer to cocaine. Taken together, in speedball form, it becomes highly addictive. (***I know this from research only and not from personal experience. Lol). So, writing about the power of the substance that caused his addiction seems like a plausible explanation for a song like “China Girl”.

I’m a mess without my China Girl.

Wake up in the morning, where’s my little China Girl?

I hear her heart beating, loud as thunder

I saw these stars crashing down.

I can only imagine that kicking a drug addiction can be hard. If you look at the lyrics to this song, it is easy to read meaning into them from an addiction perspective. So, maybe, just maybe, “China Girl” is a song Iggy Pop wrote as he was trying to kick his heroin habit.

The second story is also an Iggy Pop tale. In this case, it is an addiction of a different sort…..desire. Around this time in his life, he came into contact with a Vietnamese woman named Kuelan Nguyen. Some have made the statement that Nguyen was to Iggy Pop as Yoko Ono was to John Lennon. She was many things to Iggy Pop during his time in Berlin and was certainly a provocative presence in his life for awhile. But that relationship came and went; mostly due to how unstable Iggy Pop was in his own life. However, Nguyen obviously left a void that Pop was seeking to fill so there is a large school of thought that suggests that the song, “China Girl”, is actually written about Nguyen. If you reread the lyrics I used above but, instead of drug addiction, substitute Nguyan and, well, whatta ya know, the lyrics make sense that way, too. So, it is entirely possible that “China Girl” is a song written by a man about a woman he desired, in which case, it tells a tale as old as Time.

Finally, let’s get to David Bowie. He covered the song in 1983 as part of his monster selling album, “Let’s Dance”. Now, if you remember the post we did about the song, “Let’s Dance” *(Which you can read here), you will know that it was about racism toward Indigenous peoples of Australia. Obviously, Bowie was in a more political headspace at this time in his life because he is on record as stating that he wanted to use his public platform to tackle the issue of racism in all of its forms. Thus, he took his pal’s song from a decade and a half earlier and added a few tweaks in studio that caused the tone of the song to become about how white people view Asians and, in particular, what some of those Asian stereotypes are and how wrong it all is. One of the ways Bowie managed to change the song were by adding a bit of an Asian-themed melody to the start of the song and, as well, sprinkling it in various places throughout the song, too. But, the main way was via the video that accompanied the song. In that video, Bowie created a play in which he starred as a white lorthario-type character who has an inter-racial tryst with an Asian model. The fact that their union was so heated with sexual tension showed more than words could ever have said about the desirability he felt toward someone of a different race. But, at the same time, the fact that the song always only refers to her in demeaning terms such as “my little China Girl” and never gives her a name and thus, an identity, shows how racially insensitive we, as white people, can be when we view those from different races as being “all the same….you can’t tell them apart” and so on. The music video for “China Girl” by David Bowie won the award for “Best Music Video”, beating MIchael Jackson’s “Thriller”.

So, is “China Girl” a song about drug addiction, sexual addiction or is it really about racism? Who knows? Both Iggy Pop and David Bowie have, at times, made reference to all three scenarios during interviews so, what the real answer is, I guess, is up to you and your own interpretation. What I take from this song is that a good song is a good song is a good song, no matter who sings it. I like both versions of “China Girl”. I really like the grittier, more rock-like way in which Iggy Pop releases his demons via the lyrics to this song. In fact, it has been said that he can, at times, become overwhelmed with emotion while singing; especially, the line, “It’s in the white of my eyes” and, often, he ends up exiting the stage at that point, leaving his band to complete the song on their own. David Bowie’s version is much more polished and he, obviously, has a much cleaner, purer and stronger singing voice. His version of “China Girl” has always ranked near the top of my favourite Bowie songs of all-time. So, for me, this is a win-win situation because I like both versions of the song very much. That speaks to the strength of this song, as it was originally written. A good song spawns good cover versions, which is certainly the case here.

So, get ready for a treat! Here are two great versions of the same great song! First, as always, I give the original singer the lead video so, we will start with Iggy Pop’s version of “China Girl”. As mentioned yesterday, he and an all-star back-up band did a killer version of this song on a TV show called “Austin City Limits”. That is what you will see here. What a terrific performance! As for David Bowie, for his video, you will get the original, “official” video that ended upwinning the award for Video for the Year. So, without further delay, here is “China Girl” by Iggy Pop and by David Bowie. Two great songs by two great friends. Enjoy

The link to the video for the song, “China Girl”, by Iggy Pop, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “China Girl”, as covered by David Bowie, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Iggy Pop, can be found here.

The link to the official website for David Bowie, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #174: Lust For Life by Iggy Pop.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #174: Lust For Life by Iggy Pop.

In the history of modern music, there have been several great duos: Simon and Garfunkal come to mind, as do, John and Paul, Mick and Keith and, why not, let’s toss in Sonny and Cher, while we are at it. But, I have to admit that, until doing this countdown series, I was not initially aware of how close a pair Iggy Pop and David Bowie were. In fact, as it turns out, they had been friends and musical collaborators throughout the entirety of their careers and had helped each other to achieve some of their most noteworthy work. “Lust For Life” is a tune that has become one of Iggy Pop’s signature songs, along with being used in one of the most successful advertising campaigns in recent memory and being the anchor song used to promote one of my favourite movies, “Trainspotting”. Yet, the story of how “Lust For Life” came to be is really the story of the friendship between David Bowie and Iggy Pop. Bowie’s fingerprints are all over the creation of “Lust For Life” which is fitting because, as you shall see in an upcoming post, one of David Bowie’s biggest hits from the 80s was actually a cover of an Iggy Pop song that Bowie, himself, helped to write and even played on during the recording session. Finding out that David Bowie and Iggy Pop were best friends has been one of the highlights for me of doing this countdown. Both are legendary performers and characters. Here is the story of how their friendship helped to create Iggy Pop’s signature song, “Lust For Life”.

As noted in a couple of posts already, in the late 1960s, David Bowie helped produce an album for Iggy and the Stooges called, “Raw Power”. *(You can find that post here). This album changed the way music was created and helped to inspire those who would launch the Punk Rock/Alternative Rock/Grunge Movements that followed. There was so much energy expended during the tour that followed the release of “Raw Power” that Iggy Pop turned to artificial means in order to sustain himself. As a result, he became addicted to heroin and began behaving, onstage, in harmful, dangerous ways, such as purposely cutting himself so as to watch himself bleed. HIs behaviour became so erratic that the remaining members of The Stooges left the tour. David Bowie became aware of Iggy Pop’s condition and intervened; taking him away to Germany to heal. Both Bowie and Iggy Pop lived together and began the process of becoming healthier in mind and in body. As that process unfolded, they began to feel their creative juices beginning to flow once again.

The culmination of this creative period, for Iggy Pop, was the release of three(!) complete albums within a one year period. The first album was called, “The Idiot” and was based on the book of the same name by Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky. Most of the songs were written and produced by Bowie, including a song (which I shall not reveal yet) that was to become one of his biggest hits in the1980s! Critics and audiences noted that Iggy Pop’s songs from “The Idiot” seemed to be less loud and aggressive, as had been his most recent work with “Raw Power”. But, as happy as Iggy Pop was to be feeling better and making music once again, he was bothered by the fact that his friend had done so much of the heavy lifting for this album. So, he resolved to immediately make a new album, as a follow-up. This album was to be called, “Lust For Life”. The lead single was also called, “Lust For Life”. David Bowie played keyboards on the song but, other than that, he ceded the stage to his friend, Iggy Pop and stayed nearby but, out of the limelight. “Lust For Life” became a minor hit, along with another song called, “The Passenger”. A third album called, “Kill City” was released a few months after; thus completing a remarkably productive time for Iggy Pop….a time period that would never have been made possible if not for the love of his friend, David Bowie.

There were several unexpected consequences that emerged as a result of this period of collaboration between Pop and Bowie. First among them was the method by which Iggy Pop writes songs and the impact that it had on David Bowie. When Bowie started to produce records for his friend, Iggy Pop, he would often write the musical structure of the songs and leave Pop to write the lyrics. For most singers, writing lyrics involves notepads and pens and the creation of poetry on a page that transforms into the words of a song. But, in the case of Iggy Pop, he merely wrote down fragments of ideas that he had, based upon Bowie’s musical score. When it came time to record Iggy Pop’s vocal tracks, Bowie was surprised to learn that his friend actually ad-libbed the majority of his songs. Bowie became impressed by Pop’s creativity in the moment; so much so that when Bowie came to record his album, “Heroes”, he did so using Pop’s adlibbing technique.

A decade or so later, long after most people had assumed the shelf life for the song, “Lust For Life” had expired, Iggy Pop was approached by a company seeking to license his song for an ad campaign they wanted to run. That company was Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. Pop explained that the song, “Lust For Life” was about recovering from heroin addiction and was based upon a book by William H. Burroughs called “The Ticket That Exploded”, which accounted for some of the unusual references in the song such as “hypnotizing chickens”. But, Royal Caribbean insisted that they knew what they were doing. The song was licensed and became the theme song for a sales campaign that lasted well over a decade and which was highly successful in helping Royal Caribbean to lower the demographic age of its clients which was, their whole point in licensing the song in the first place. Many of Iggy Pop’s fans were upset and accused him of selling out to corporate interests. He replied that it was ok with him and that, by agreeing to let Royal Caribbean use his song, it meant that a whole new generation of listeners would hear his work for, probably, the very first time. On that, Iggy Pop was correct.

But, even more than Royal Caribbean licensing “Lust For Life”, it was the inclusion of the song on the soundtrack to the cult classic movie, “Trainspotting” that really introduced Iggy Pop’s career to a new generation. The song was used in the original trailer and, as such, became a defacto theme song for the movie. Because of the launch of the soundtrack album for “Trainspotting”, “Lust for Life”, as well as, Iggy Pop’s other hit song, “The Passenger” both got a second wind and climbed the music charts anew. So, just as the century was ending, Iggy Pop, Rock’s ultimate survivor, returned to the Top Twenty charts.

Iggy Pop had enjoyed a career that has seen many ups and downs but, through it all, he has always had a good friend named David Bowie by his side. The two friends have been an invaluable influence on each other’s career and, together, they have helped each other to create some of the biggest songs that form the soundtrack of our lives. But, if you were to ask Iggy Pop about it, he would reply that David Bowie didn’t just save his career, he saved his life. Those are debts that one can never completely repay. All you can do is keep living your best, most vital life…which is what the song, “Lust For Life” is kinda, sorta about. So, without further delay, here is “Lust For Life”…..music by David Bowie (The opening drum work is based upon the American Forces Radio broadcast theme that he and Pop used to listen to while in Germany recovering from Pop’s heroin addiction), lyrics ad-libbed by Iggy Pop. Enjoy.

PS: For those who know their music a bit, Iggy Pop has a smokin’ hot backup band in this video. His back-up band is comprised of members of Queens of the Stone Age, along with The Arctic Monkeys. This particular concert, along with another filmed for the tv show, “Austin City Limits” are tremendously good, in large part because of the talent of the back up band who rip it up on all of Iggy Pop’s tunes. Terrific rock n’ roll. Well worth checking out if you are so inclined.

The link to the video for the song, “Lust For Life” by Iggy Pop, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Lust For Life”, as used by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Lust For Life”, as used in the movie, “Transporting”, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Iggy Pop, can be found here.

The link to the official website for David Bowie, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for inspiring the writing of this post. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #193: Starman by David Bowie.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #193: Starman by David Bowie.

“Starman” by David Bowie is an important and popular song. It was written for Bowie’s classic album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” in 1972. It is the song that many people claim as being the one that “broke” David Bowie as a star performer. It is important to note that, as of the release the “Ziggy Stardust” album, Bowie really had had only one hit to his name, that being, “Space Oddity” so, his pedigree as a writer/singer/performer had not yet become fully-formed. At the same time as he was recording the songs for “Ziggy Stardust”, he was also recording an album called, “Hunky Dory”. The executives at Bowie’s record company didn’t think that the songs on “Hunky Dory” would translate well for live performances so, he was challenged to create something that was “tour-worthy”. Bowie accepted the challenge and ended up creating one of the greatest characters in Rock History, one of the first great Glam Rock albums, as well as, introducing the idea of androgyny and the fluidity of sexual orientation to the mainstream world.

In order to properly discuss the song, “Starman”, it is important to, first, discuss the album from which it came. “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars” is a concept album that tells the story of an androgynous, bisexual rock star (Bowie) who is sent to Earth to save it from destruction. Bowie is said to have based the character of “Ziggy Stardust” as a conbination of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Vince Taylor. The “Spiders From Mars” were the members of his backing band who included, Mick Ronson (on guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass guitar) and Woody Woodmansey (on drums). Over the course of his career, David Bowie regularly created rock personnas who were visually striking. In the case of “Ziggy Stardust”, Bowie coloured his hair bright red and made it spiky. He wore white nail polish, as he played a blue acoustic guitar. His outfit was brightly hued, as well. Overall, his appearance was flamboyant and helped create a new genre of rock that came to be known as “Glam Rock”.

The song, “Starman” is about a messenger who is sent to Earth to contact the youth of the world to let them know that they are the chosen ones and that they have the power to make things right, through music. The song is an upbeat, hopeful song and was well-received when it was released. But, what helped to elevate “Starman” above the ranks of all the other songs that were out there, competing for attention, was Bowie’s appearance on the TV show, “The Top of the Pops” on the BBC. This was the first time that most viewers had seen Bowie (and the Spiders From Mars) in their new outfits. During the performance (which you will see in the video below), Bowie prances around the stage, almost flirting with guitarist, Mick Ronson. Tens of thousands of young, impressionable viewers like Bono (from U2), Robert Smith (from The Cure) and Noel Gallagher (from Oasis) were electrified as they watched Bowie breaking down sexual and social barriers live on TV in their own living rooms. No one had seen anything like it before. It took the UK by storm. In fact, all who saw it point to a moment where Bowie, in character, speaks of making contact via the telephone with someone “like you”; pointing directly at the tv camera as he speaks….as being the galvanizing moment for the youth of the UK because, to a person, they all felt seen. It was like Bowie was speaking directly to them. It was a huge moment in David Bowie’s career; one that propelled him forward into the ranks of the superstars. To add one further element to the mix; Bowie based the way he sings the word, “Starman” on the way Judy Garland sang the word, “Somewhere” when she sang, “Over the Rainbow”. He stresses the second syllable, raising his voice one octave, just as Graland did. That both characters are going somewhere “beyond” is an added detail that links both songs and goes to show you the extraordinary details Bowie incorporated into this work.

That the song, “Starman” is a rousing, soaring song only added to the glory of the moment for fans. But, it was a moment that was to leave a lasting impression….even today. You may recall that a few short years ago, entrepeneur, Elon Musk, launched his first test rocket into space. One of the most visually-striking aspects of this launch was that Musk, also, launched one of his electric Tesla automobiles into space as well. Included in the car was a mannequin dressed as an astronaut who was dubbed, “Starman”. As the Tesla assumed orbit in space, Bowie’s song began to play creating, what some have described, as the most beautiful and expensive music video of all time. *(I will include that clip below, too). Finally, if you have children or grand-children who are fans of the “Toy Story” movie franchise, you may know that there is a new movie set for Christmas release that details the origin story of one of the main characters, “Buzz Lightyear”. In the trailer for the movie, the song “Starman” is used to soundtrack the clip. Needless to say, a new generation of children are about to fall in love with Bowie’s transformational song about the youth of the world saving it from destruction. Maybe they will become empowered by Bowie’s words, too.

In any case, buckle up and get ready for one of most memorable songs from one of the most memorable characters from one of the most memorable Glam Rock albums of all-time. Here is David Bowie, starring as Ziggy Stardust, singing “Starman” from “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars”.

Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Starman” by David Bowie and the Spiders From Mars, can be found here.

The link to the official website for David Bowie, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Starman”, as used by Elon Musk, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Starman”, as used in the new Buzz Lightyear movie, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #61: “Heroes” by David Bowie.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #63: “Heroes” by David Bowie.

If there is one thing I will take away from writing all of these posts for this countdown it is this: I always knew that David Bowie was a talented singer and that he was famous because of his music. But, I never realized the extent to which he supported other big name acts, in real life, behind the scenes. Nor, did I know the extent to which his career was so interwoven into so many famous events from History. As much as I anyone on this list, I have come to find David Bowie to be amazing and, certainly, the biggest surprise for me as a result of doing this countdown with all of you.

In the course of talking about the song, “Heroes”, I will be talking about a great many connections that Bowie and this song had to other singers, songs and events. Hopefully, I can recreate it all in a somewhat coherent order. Here goes.

David Bowie recorded “Heroes” in Germany during that time of his career known as “the Berlin years”. It was while he was there that he was living with Iggy Pop and helping him survive his drug addiction. *(You can read about how helped Iggy write “China Girl” during this time, here). He recorded the song at a studio called Hansa by the Wall. Ironically enough, Hansa by the Wall was where U2 went to record their album, “Aching Baby!” and where the song, “One” was born. *(Read about that, here).

“Heroes” was written during a time when Germany was still a country divided by a guarded wall; with East Germany practising Communism and West Germany adopting more Western ideals such as Capitalism. When Bowie was in Berlin, he was living in sight of the Berlin Wall. For many, the Wall was an unjust barrier to a fairer world where people would be freer to live as they saw fit. At the time, it was dangerous to loiter by the Wall. Guards with machine guns made it clear that The Wall was no tourist site, nor should anyone get any ideas about escaping from the East side to the West or, conversely, anyone from the West, helping friends and family in the East. It was in this environment that David Bowie was inspired to write “Heroes”. The specific inspiration came from a musical friend named Tony Visconti. At the time that Tony Visconti was working with Bowie, he was married to a famous English singer named Mary Hopkin. Hopkin was quite beloved in my own family home for singing nostalgic gems like, “Those Were the Days My Friend”. In any case, while Visconti was in Berlin, he started an affair with another woman and was seen by Bowie, kissing her at the base of the Berlin Wall. Visconti implored Bowie to keep his secret, as he was in the process of getting a divorce from Hopkin back in England. Bowie’s response was to keep his mouth closed…..sort of. He wrote the song “Heroes” and made Visconti work on it with him, giving him a formal credit on the song. The title of “Heroes” actually contains the quotation marks I am using, as if I was speaking aloud and saying the word sarcastically, using air quotes as I spoke. So, the song, “Heroes” is really a public admission of guilt as authored by the perpetrator, himself, Tony Visconti.

Of course, most who hear “Heroes” care not one whit about Tony Visconti. What matters to most listeners is that the song has become a rallying cry against aspects of life that are unfair and unjust. It is a call to rise up and be brave and affect change. One of the ways that this song manages to convey that message is because of the way it was recorded during production at Hansa by the Wall Studio. In the studio, Bowie was mic-ed using three microphones that were staggered at different lengths away from his mouth. There was the usual microphone directly in front of him and then, two others; one twenty feet away and another, fifty feet away. Only one microphone would be active at any one time. As the song begins, it is the microphone closest to Bowie that is on. But, as the song moves along, that microphone was muted, forcing Bowie to sing more loudly and with greater passion in order to be heard. By the end of the song, it is only the microphone furthest away that is active. That is the portion of the song where Bowie is most passionate and the song takes it greatest energy.

The final aspect of this song is the role that it ended up playing in world history. As the 1980s rolled along, it became apparent that Soviet Communism was undergoing a major change. The new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, singled a willingness to adopt some Western reforms and began loosening his country’s iron grip of neighbouring countries, allowing them to experience a form of political autonomy. As a symbolic gesture, US President Ronald Reagan, asked Gorbachev to take down the Berlin Wall so that Germany could be reunited. In the lead up to this happening, there were series of massive music concerts given; one by David Bowie in West Berlin, one by Bruce Springsteen in East Berlin and one by TV star, David Hasselhoff…..I kid you not. These concerts happened over the course of a couple of years but, they all helped provide fuel for the popular sentiment toward reunification. In fact, when David Bowie passed away, the country of Germany issued an official statement thanking Bowie for his direct role in helping to bring down the Berlin Wall. This guy! My word.

David Bowie, it seems, was everywhere, helping everyone, including the people of Germany to be reunited with their friends and family members. So, while I was someone who always admired David Bowie as a performer, it turns out that was only a small part of who this great man was. Singer. Producer. Actor. Activist. Husband. Friend. Fashionista. Forward-thinker. Creator. Bowie.

So, without further delay, here is one of his signature songs, “Heroes” by David Bowie and Tony Visconti. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Heroes” by David Bowie, can be found here.

The link to the official website for David Bowie, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for supporting the best and most important music of all-time. The link to their official website can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #173: China Girl by Iggy Pop.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #173: China Girl by Iggy Pop.

Yes! You read that correctly. The song, “China Girl”, made famous by David Bowie on his album, “Let’s Dance” was, actually, a cover version of a song that he helped his buddy, Iggy Pop, to record during their “Berlin years” together in the 1970s. The original version of “China Girl” is sung by Iggy Pop, in a far grittier, more rock n’ roll style. It was from the first of the three albums that he and Bowie recorded together called, “The Idiot”. So, for those who thought this was a Bowie song all along…..Suuuuuuuuuuuurprise! Technically, even the original version of “China Girl” is kinda, sorta a Bowie song because he wrote the music for it and helped produce it and even played keyboards for it when it was recorded and during the initial tours to support it. So, you wouldn’t be totally wrong to call “China Girl” Bowie’s song all along. However, having said that, there are three very distinct stories behind this song and it is those stories that we will talk about today. So, let’s get to those stories and find out what “China Girl” is really all about.

Let’s get the darker story out of the way first. As you may remember, the whole reason that Iggy Pop and David Bowie ended up together in Germany was because Iggy Pop had become addicted to heroin and his friend, Bowie, was trying to help him regain his health. So, there is one version of the story of this song that suggests that “China Girl” is about heroin. In “street parlance”, “China White” is a form of heroin and “girl” is a term commonly used to refer to cocaine. Taken together, in speedball form, it becomes highly addictive. (***I know this from research only and not from personal experience. Lol). So, writing about the power of the substance that caused his addiction seems like a plausible explanation for a song like “China Girl”.

“I’m a mess without my China Girl.

Wake up in the morning, where’s my little China Girl?

I hear her heart beating, loud as thunder

I saw these stars crashing down.”

I can only imagine that kicking a drug addiction can be hard. If you look at the lyrics to this song, it is easy to read meaning into them from an addiction perspective. So, maybe, just maybe, “China Girl” is a song Iggy Pop write as he was trying to kick his heroin habit.

The second story is also an Iggy Pop tale. In this case, it is an addiction of a different sort…..desire. Around this time in his life, he came into contact with a Vietnamese woman named Kuelan Nguyen. Some have made the statement that Nguyen was to Iggy Pop as Yoko Ono was to John Lennon. She was many things to Iggy Pop during his time in Berlin and was certainly a provocative presence in his life for awhile. But that relationship came and went; mostly due to how unstable Iggy Pop was in his own life. However, Nguyen obviously left a void that Pop was seeking to fill so there is a large school of thought that suggests that the song, “China Girl”, is actually written about Nguyen. If you reread the lyrics I used above but, instead of drug addiction, substitute Nguyan and, well, whatta ya know, the lyrics make sense that way, too. So, it is entirely possible that “China Girl” is a song written by a man about a woman he desired, in which case, it tells a tale as old as Time.

Finally, let’s get to David Bowie. He covered the song in 1983 as part of his monster selling album, “Let’s Dance”. Now, if you remember the post we did about the song, “Let’s Dance”, you will know that it was about racism toward Indigenous peoples of Australia. Obviously, Bowie was in a more political headspace at this time in his life because he is on record as stating that he wanted to use his public platform to tackle the issue of racism in all of its forms. Thus, he took his pal’s song from a decade and a half earlier and added a few tweaks in studio that caused the tone of the song to become about how white people view Asians and, in particular, what some of those Asian stereotypes are and how wrong it all is. One of the ways Bowie managed to change the song were by adding a bit of an Asian-themed melody to the start of the song and, as well, sprinkling it in various places throughout the song, too. But, the main way was via the video that accompanied the song. In that video, Bowie created a play in which he starred as a white lorthario-type character who has an inter-racial tryst with an Asian model. The fact that their union was so heated with sexual tension showed more than words could ever have said about the desirability he felt toward someone of a different race. But, at the same time, the fact that the song always only refers to her in demeaning terms such as “my little China Girl” and never gives her a name and thus, an identity, shows how racially insensitive we, as white people, can be when we view those from different races as being “all the same….you can’t tell them apart” and so on. The music video for “China Girl” by David Bowie won the award for “Best Music Video”, beating MIchael Jackson’s “Thriller”.

So, is “China Girl” a song about drug addiction, sexual addiction or is it really about racism? Who knows? Both Iggy Pop and David Bowie have, at times, made reference to all three scenarios during interviews so, what the real answer is, I guess, is up to you and your own interpretation. What I take from this song is that a good song is a good song is a good song, no matter who sings it. I like both versions of “China Girl”. I really like the grittier, more rock-like way in which Iggy Pop releases his demons via the lyrics to this song. In fact, it has been said that he can, at times, become overwhelmed with emotion while singing; especially, the line, “It’s the white of my eyes” and, often, he ends up exiting the stage at that point, leaving his band to complete the song on their own. David Bowie’s version is much more polished and he, obviously, has a much cleaner, purer and stronger singing voice. His version of “China Girl” has always ranked near the top of my favourite Bowie songs of all-time. So, for me, this is a win-win situation because I like both versions of the song very much. That speaks to the strength of this song, as it was originally written. A good song spawns good cover versions, which is certainly the case here.

So, get ready for a treat! Here are two great versions of the same great song! First, as always, I give the original singer the lead video so, we will start with Iggy Pop’s version of “China Girl”. As mentioned yesterday, he and an all-star back-up band did a killer version of this song on a TV show called “Austin City Limits”. That is what you will see here. What a terrific performance! As for David Bowie, for his video, you will get the original, “official” video that ended upwinning the award for Video for the Year. So, without further delay, here is “China Girl” by Iggy Pop and by David Bowie. Two great songs by two great friends. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “China Girl” by Iggy Pop, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “China Girl” as covered by David Bowie, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Iggy Pop, can be found here.

The link to the official website for David Bowie, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #244: Young Americans by David Bowie.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music

#244: Young Americans by David Bowie.

I will hand it to the United States…..they have done a superb job of mythologizing themselves in the eyes of the world: Things are bigger in Texas! Hooray for Hollywood! I’m going to Disneyland! New York! New York! If you can make it there……..! The world knows about “the Windy City”, “Big Sky Country” and “The Big Easy”, too. I am willing to make a fairly substantial wager that many, if not more, Canadians know about “The Alamo” than they do “The Battle of the Plains of Abraham”….and that is not so much a criticism of Canadian History as it is an acknowledgement that the US has done a tremendous job of promoting itself and waving its own flag.

Not surprisingly, for many who do not reside in the US, there can be an allure to America. By that, I am not talking about the physical geography of the country but more, the myth of America and, specifically, the promise of “The American Dream”. The American Dream promises that if you work hard and play fair, you can rise above your station and prosper. You can be anything you want in America. All that’s required is a dream big enough to fill a football stadium on a Friday night. The Statue of Liberty symbolizes that promise in the eyes of the world; welcoming in the downtrodden of the world in search of a better life.

When it comes to music, David Bowie followed in the footsteps of countrymen, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones by coming to America in search of the roots of Rock n’ Roll. Prior to the release of the album entitled, “Young Americans”, Bowie had released a string of iconic songs in the UK such as “Changes”, “Space Oddity”, “Rebel, Rebel”, “Starman”, “The Jean Genie” and “Diamond Dogs”, just to name a few. And, yet, he hadn’t made a single dent in the US music charts. So, Bowie came to America.

After touring around a bit, he went to the home of The Blues, Chicago. Once there, he was inspired to write some songs about his impressions of America, from inside of the land. So, he enlisted the help of some friends such as John Lennon (who sang on “Fame”) and Luther Vandross (who sang on the song, “Young Americans”). Bowie is a talented singer but, he is equally adept at marketing himself and his music. In this case, he appealed to the vanity of many Americans by appearing to write his lead single about them. The song, “Young Americans”, became Bowie’s first charting single in America.

The song, “Young Americans”, follows the ups and downs experienced by a young, fictional couple as they transitioned through their lives. Bowie insisted that the song wasn’t a critique of America nor, a lancing of the pomposity ingrained within an idea such as “The American Dream”. Instead, he claimed to be merely observational in how America really works for ordinary people as they move through the various stages of their lives. “Young Americans” is, also, a history lesson hidden within the lyrics of a song. It talks about the disgrace of President Nixon, about racism, poverty, feminism and much more. However, most Americans who listened to the song were simply happy to hear Bowie sing about “America” and tended to not over-analyze the lryical content too greatly.

In the years that followed, David Bowie became a huge star in America. Songs such as “Young Americans”, “Fame”, “Suffragette City”, “Heroes”, “Let’s Dance”, “China Girl” and many more happened after Bowie had arrived in America. I guess it just goes to show you that anyone can come to America and make their dreams come true, if your name is David Bowie. As for the couple portrayed in “Young Americans” well….not so much.

“Young Americans” is a boppy song but, it is an epic song, too, when it comes to storytelling. Take your time when you listen to it and you will hear David Bowie’s take on the real “America” that he came to know. Is it the America of myth or is it something else altogether? I will let you decide that for yourselves.

Let’s quit the gabbing and start the listening. Here is “Young Americans” by David Bowie. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Young Americans” by David Bowie, can be found here.

The link to the official website for David Bowie, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP for playing the best music from America and from around the world, too. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.