David Bowie’s voice was unmistakably powerful and distinct, but it was also more chameleonic than we realized. In the audio recording above, Bowie jokes around at a studio session by emulating the vocal styles of a bunch of his contemporaries.
Record producer Mark Saunders recently shared a video to YouTube of a recording he took of Bowie while they were working on a song for the soundtrack for the 1986 movie Absolute Beginners. “At the end of the session, he broke into the impersonations and I realized that these might get erased at some point, so I quickly put a cassette in and hit ‘record,'” Saunders said.
In the recording, Bowie pulls out spot-in impersonations of Bruce Springsteen, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Lou Reed, and others. Bowie and the producers start the backing track over several times in order for Bowie to have some fun and totally nail Springsteen’s throaty howl, Tom Waits’ gruff, near-spoken-word style, and others. Bowie was a fun-loving guy, and Saunders echoes the feelings of many others toward Bowie, that the late singer was more relatable and pleasant than he would have imagined:
“We kept looking out the windows, waiting for a stretch limo to show up and an entire entourage to walk in, but then a black cab showed up and out popped the unaccompanied Bowie. He walked in, announced in what seemed a more cockney voice than I remembered, “Hi, I’m David Bowie,” and shook our hands. He seemed smaller than I imagined he would be in person. A bit later I noticed that the cockney had dissipated somewhat and he also seemed to have grown more upright and taller, too. I thought, “Wow, he really is a chameleon,” and wondered if the earlier exaggerated cockney was his way of reducing his superstar status temporarily to put people at ease on first meeting him.”
And that’s a big part of why Bowie will be remembered: He was an otherworldly talent, but he didn’t rub it in your face.
Watch the video above, and read Saunders’ blog post about the studio session, which included a surprise visit from Mick Jagger, at The Talkhouse.