David Bowie was a true original who had a style, voice, and point of view all his own. But he was also an artist heavily influenced by people he liked, modeling some songs on the Rolling Stones or the Who and even giving name recognition to Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol on Hunky Dory. The best thing about being a great artist yourself is that people you admire will want to work with you, and few were as collaborative as Mr. Bowie. Below, in no particular order, is a list of some of his biggest and most fruitful musical collaborations.
In an example of why it’s always a good idea to invite famous people to your parties… Back in the mid-’70s, Bowie threw a party to celebrate firing his manager (like ya do when you’re a rock star), and the former Beatle just happened to show up. The two got to talking, and Bowie told Lennon he was recording “Across the Universe” for his new album and asked if Lennon would like to come listen at the studio. The “Imagine” singer did come by and the two ended up jamming. Those jam sessions became the foundation for Bowie’s song “Fame,” which was to be his first number one hit in the U.S.
Bowie was an innovator. And to continue innovating, you need to work with other innovators. One such outside-the-box artist is former Roxy Music member-turned-record producer, old sourpuss himself, Brian Eno. The pair collaborated on what became known as Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy”—Low, Heroes, and Lodger—in the late ’70s. This would totally change the public perception of Bowie musically and influence many artists in years to come. This period also marked Bowie’s most drug-addled years, so mix that in with avant garde recording styles and you have some pretty strange and wonderful music.
MOTT THE HOOPLE
If you’ve seen the movie Juno you’ve heard this story, but it’s still a good one; the English rock outfit Mott the Hoople, led by Ian Hunter, had put out four well-respected albums by 1972, but they hadn’t yet found financial success and were about to call it quits. Bowie, a big Hoople fan, pleaded with them to stay together and even offered them a song to record as their own. He originally offered “Suffragette City” (can you imagine Ziggy Stardust without that song?!?) but they turned it down so he gave them “All the Young Dudes,” which became Mott the Hoople’s biggest hit—number one in the UK and Top 40 chart success in the States. You can easily imagine David Bowie singing this one himself, and he did on most of his concert tours.
While you might not know the name Mick Ronson, you’ve definitely heard his influence on the music of Bowie. The guitar virtuoso worked with Bowie all the way back on his 1970 album The Man Who Sold the World and continued on with 1971’s breakout Hunky Dory before becoming a bona fide member of the Spiders from Mars during Bowie’s glam period: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Aladdin Sane, and finally Pin Ups. They’d work together again on Bowie’s 1993 album Black Tie White Noise, recorded shortly before Ronson’s death from cancer.
As a lot of David Bowie’s music is sonically inventive, it took a really great producer to make the music’s soundscape as distinctive and powerful as it is. Hands down, the lengthiest professional collaboration of Bowie’s life was with Tony Visconti, the American producer who would ultimately help develop 14 of David Bowie’s 27 studio albums. Their partnership dated all the way back to Bowie’s second and third, Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold the World; it picked up again with Young Americans in 1975 and lasted all the way through Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, released just two days before the singer’s death.
Bowie and Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger really liked each other. Like REALLY liked each other. Just Google stories about them together in hotel rooms in the ’70s and ’80s to know how true these reports were. But they also enjoyed each other’s music and were big influences on each other. Following Bowie’s enormous resurgence with 1983’s Let’s Dance, Bowie and Jagger thought it would be a great idea to record a cover of the Martha and the Vandellas hit “Dancing in the Streets.” The song made it to number two in both the U.S. and UK, but was made infamous with perhaps the silliest music video ever made.
The same way Bowie in his younger days would make no secret about his admiration for certain musicians, so too did the Nine Inch Nails frontman profess his professional love for Major Tom himself. And since Bowie always had his ear open to new musical acts, it seemed destined that the two would work together at some point. They toured together in 1995 (oh, how weird must THAT concert have been), and Reznor remixed the single “I’m Afraid of Americans” off of Bowie’s Earthling album in 1997. He even appeared in the music video.
There were lengthier collaborations, more fruitful collaborations, and even objectively better collaborations, but I can’t think of a more famous or more timeless team-up than that between Bowie and his fellow glam rockers in Queen. After Bowie was invited to provide backing vocals for a new Queen album, he and Freddie Mercury both decided those recordings weren’t that great. But they got to talking and eventually the band plus Bowie co-wrote and co-performed the song “Under Pressure,” which showcased both Mercury’s soaring vocal prowess and Bowie’s unmatched lyricism. It’s one of the best songs by either artist and has been used in every single movie and TV show ever made (might be an exaggeration). Don’t blame Bowie for “Ice Ice Baby,” though. That was totally a different song according to Vanilla Ice.
These are just some of David Bowie’s amazing collaborations with artists, musicians, and producers. By all accounts, Bowie was an endlessly generous figure and wanted to make great art with whomever he could. This is good for us because it garnered such amazing results, and we get to listen to them forever.
HT: Ultimate Classic Rock
Image: EMI Records
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. He could also talk about and listen to David Bowie for the next three hundred years. Wanna call his bluff? Follow him on Twitter!