David Bowie Memory Palace [part 8]

Yeah. It chills my blood, too.

Yeah. It chills my blood, too.

1983

When the hype machine started building up for “Let’s Dance” I was fully engaged. After all, I had been waiting over two years for a new Bowie album. The charts were full of his imitators, taking presumably inferior Bowie knock-offs into the charts while he lay in wait; biding his time. In 1983, Nile Rodgers was the guy who co-produced the iffy Deborah Harry debut solo album and little more to me, but I was willing to give him a shot. It was a big wait for the MTV World Premiere Video® and when it was done, the wind had been sucked from our sails like never before. I have written more extensively on the phenomenon here. Suffice to say that I did the previously unthinkable and did not buy the new David Bowie album or even a single. The other two videos were all disappointing on a song/visual level. “China Girl” was kitschy sub-Bowie pastiche. Only the lyrics to the turgid “Modern Love” even seemed vaguely Bowie-like. I was quite happy to wait out this creative drought. I still would have seen Bowie live if the Serious Moonlight tour had come anywhere near the Southeast but the closest date was in Texas! So there we were.

Virgin | US | CD | 1995 | CDVUS 96

Virgin | US | CD | 1995 | CDVUS 96

1984

Throughout 1983, Bowie was second only to Michael Jackson on the hype front, but musically, he was about on par with the gloved one. Treading water artistically but shifting units like never before through applied business theory. No scratch that… at least “Thriller” had one stone-cold classic; the derivative, but tight “Wanna Be Startin’ Something.” All that I had heard from “Let’s Dance” was irredeemably dull in comparison. After the Serious Moonlight tour was over, it didn’t take long for the follow-up album to Bowie’s monster selling “Let’s Dance” to manifest. “Tonight” got a start with the pre-release single for the happy pop tune “Blue Jean” …which was the big problem right there. This was from a middle aged rock star who had been making much more complex records almost from the start. It felt fraudulent to hear him sing an upbeat bobby-sox rock ditty with no shading or nuance. After seeing the video debut on MTV, I looked as dyspeptic as Bowie did on the album cover.

Virgin | US | CD | 1995 | CDVUS 97

Virgin | US | CD | 1995 | CDVUS 97

The second single was “Loving The Alien.” While it was miles better than anything I’d heard from “Let’s Dance,” and “Blue Jean,” it still failed to convince. There was something just off about the whole thing. The lyrics were intriguing, but the arrangement and video were just too florid and if it was about the conflict between Palestinians and Christians, then the camp faces Bowie pulled in the video were disquieting at the least. He had the look of a man losing the plot in that one. I don’t even remember seeing further videos from this album, thought there must have been a few more singles. [looks]. The title cut had no video so I never heard it. A duet with Tina Turner? Pretty boring stuff. The only exciting Tina Turner record was produced by Martyn Ware. This was shaping up to be a loooooong decade and it wasn’t yet half over.

Next: …Let Down…Again

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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6 Responses to David Bowie Memory Palace [part 8]

  1. JC says:

    Brutally and Brillaintly honest stuff PPM.

    My first exposure to Blue Jean came in a cinema. For whatever reason, the full 20 minute short film was shown as a support to the main feature and it was painful to watch. In an era when a lot of really good indie-guitar bands were emerging here in the UK, Bowie very suddenly and very unexpectedly seemed not to matter anymore.

    Also worth recalling the Live Aid appearance and the performance of Heroes . It felt like a self-congratulatory anthem to those who took to the London and Philadelphia stages that day and made me cringe.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      JC – I recall hearing about the “Blue Jean” short appearing in UK cinemas back in the day. I can’t say that I envied you. I bailed out of Live Aid about 90 minutes in. I saw that I would not be able to take the horror of it all. I sort of saw The Boomtown Rats and Ultravox, so there was a lot of music that I had no interest in. Besides, I had stayed up all night watching Oz Aid, which was more interesting. So I never saw Bowie or any of that. The experience of the broadcast in America was as if they were daring you to watch them screwing up the presentation of the handful of bands that you might have been interested in. VJs talking over [insert your favorite band here] or else fawning over the life changing LED ZEPPELIN REUNION. Then promos running for long minutes while that song you didn’t want to see/hear anyway by [insert your favorite obscure in America band here] was summarily butchered by the channel ruining the concert. No, I didn’t miss Live Aid one iota. I quickly saw where that bus was headed!

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    • Echorich says:

      There was the crux of being a Bowie fan after Scary Monsters JC. Bowie taught us how to listen to what was beginning to emerge and stake claim to it, but he never really saw the fruits (wealth) of the success he had being that new thing every time he reinvented himself. Tony Defries and lawyers saw the money. Up until Let’s Dance, Bowie was, for me, still equal in importance to the artists who were his sonic offspring, but the 80’s would bring stagnation based on a chase for money – or that’s how it seemed to me.
      As for Jazzin For Blue Jean, I enjoy it for the inside joke that it is. It’s possibly the only time Julien Temple made a video/music film with tongue in cheek and he needed Bowie to provide the concept.

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  2. Echorich says:

    I enjoy the extended video for Blue Jean, and Loving The Alien redeems some of the music from the Bowie draught years, but just… Funny how you hit on Blue Jean being young pop meant to come from a young artist. The Blow Monkeys would use basically the same cafe jazz set for Digging Your Scene in 1986 and were much more successful visually and aurally capturing youth.

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  3. When I first saw the singles and videos for the new record, I too had a period of “what th??” but then I realised: he’s cashing in. And fair dos for an artist that had made a enormous number of great records but hadn’t really found a payday. After talking EMI into forking over that ungodly sum of money, I can imagine the pressure was on to produce a hit, so he did what he thought would produce one. Once I understood that, I found the music more palatable, having been aware of SRV previously. I look at it as an interesting one-off that turned into an albatross round his neck: the very fact that it was so successful forced him to try and follow it up, but he really didn’t want to — the result? Two pretty damn bad albums, though each had something in there to commend it.

    I’m fine with the singles from that period, as by that point I was comfortable with Bowie zagging when he should have zig(gy)ed. I saw it then as I do now: a deliberate exploration of another style, only this one would be more financially rewarding because it had to be. The videos and the blond Bowie told the tale, I thought: another character, this one a crooner with Sinatra smoothness and James Brown taste (there’s a lot of James Brown in Let’s Dance IMO) but still able to write cryptic, clever lyrics. And I absolutely loved the long-form video for “Jazzin for Blue Jean,” which indulged Bowie’s love of acting, 50’s music, and even got him to send up his own pre-success image. Loved Screaming Lord Byron, a character created from one of his earlier songs (“Diamond Dogs”) and always hoped he’d do something else with that character.

    What changed — and what was very hard to accept — was that Bowie became one of those artists where two songs would be good and the rest was awful. That was Tonight for me, with its unmemorable track list and frankly terrible cover of “God Only Knows” — talk about a red flag! I was actually glad when it didn’t do well, but Bowie hadn’t hit rock bottom yet …

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  4. SimonH says:

    What’s worth remembering is that up until this period Bowie’s earlier manager Tony DeFries had been collecting a ridiculously large portion of Bowie’s income. Bowie ended up sitting things out until this requirement ended in 82 or thereabouts. Who knows maybe he just said ‘enough’s enough, it’s time for payday’. Kind of understandable. I love the title track though!
    Interestingly, widely reported details of Bowie’s will indicate that while obviously wealthy his monetary worth paled next to some of the other rock megastars.

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