The year of 1981 shaped up like a Bowie party with no guest of honor. In England, the New Romantic movement; the Bastard Children of Bowie were all over the charts. Peaking peacocks. Steve Strange, who had been recruited for the “Ashes To Ashes” video for color, had begun his own pop career, fronting Visage, the studio project that had coalesced out of the infamous “Bowie Nights” held at the club Billy’s for the new, bright young things that followed Punk in the UK media. I recall first hearing about the Blitz Movement, as it was called, on the CBS evening news with a few minutes on what the British youth were doing after punk rock caused so much outrage. They were playing his records, and he was the creative elephant in the room. Still no new Bowie records though. It was too soon following “Scary Monsters.”
No problem. I thought “I’ll just buy old ones, then!” I had such good luck with “Low” that my next move was buying “Heroes” for a mid-line price at Record Mart Warehouse. This one also had Robert Fripp, who had turned my head on the new album, so it was a must hear. And how! Much like “Low” had the previous year, this 1977 Bowie album had now become my go-to Bowie Record. Which it would remain to this day. Three of my favorite David Bowie cuts are on it and the rest isn’t chopped liver, either! “Beauty + The Beast” is hands down, my favorite song by Bowie. Fripp’s reptilian guitar was unstoppable and Eno’s treatments of same were amazing. Sure they took Eno’s “Skysaw” as a template, but this song really went places, comparatively. Then the amazing title track thrilled and the closing “The Secret Life Of Arabia” sounded like the record that 1981 so desperately needed from David Bowie, albeit recorded five years earlier. Didn’t sound it, though. It was a New Romantic dancefloor monster out of its own time.
The next Bowie sighting was on the pages of the David Bowie “Illustrated Record.” This career overview of the artist, packed with lots of intriguing photos [especially of rare, foreign editions] and in a compelling 12″ square format that gave the album covers as darn-near-to-actually-holding-them feel, was an amazing book that my friend, chasinvictoria had and let me read. It made a compelling case that Bowie could creatively Do No Wrong. The ten year period it covered, right through all of the singles from “Scary Monsters,” certainly gave one that impression. I began looking for a copy of the book to call my own and would continue for many years hence.
Next, I finally made a bee-line for the album that had provided the incredible “Fame” seven years earlier. I knew that this was his “plastic soul” record but was ill-prepared for how much of its time that most of it was. “Fame” was funky, but sounded unique; alien even, with that grinding, overmodulated fog horn bass to rock my world. Much of the rest of the album was too conventional for my tastes at the time. “Across The Universe” was flat out disastrous. It was simply the worst thing I’d heard Bowie perform, but I was young. Give me a few years.
RCA had been cutting all of Bowie’s recent albums that hadn’t troubled the charts down to mid-line priced albums, so I kept up the program of buying them. “Lodger” was the last recent one that I managed to buy for $4.99 and now I could listen more intently than I could from a borrowed cassette. Hmm. It was not as gratifying as the two previous or indeed, the one after it had been for me. It was the runt of the litter that took many decades later until I came ’round to appreciating exactly what it had to offer. But the videos were truly astounding. “Look Back In Anger” was so ripe with imagery that The Fixx remade it [with director Brian Grant lifting ideas from his partner in MGMMO, David Mallet – who had directed the Bowie clip four years earlier] as “Saved By Zero” a few years later. Still, I now had a full run of Bowie albums from 1977-1980 to call my own.
Then, about a year following from “Scary Monsters,” a bizarre new record appeared where David Bowie had cut a song with… Queen? The hard rock/glam band had mutated over the years to the point where their previous album, “The Game,” flirted with funk and rockabilly and managed to mine gold from both disparate genres. Queen were never favorites of mine, to put it mildly. I never liked Brian May’s guitar tone, nor did I like how their records sounded. I heard this new song since it became a sizable hit, making number 29 in the US and number one in the UK. The stock footage video got a wide airing and I probably heard the song there since all I listened to that year was college radio. While I would not turn it off, it still had enough Queen DNA to be somewhat off putting to me. I didn’t bother buying a copy of the single. I anticipated seeing an upcoming Bowie album sporting the song, but the honor went to the next Queen album; the divisive “Hot Space,” which needed all the help it could get.