The 10th January 2016 was a dark day in the music world. Singer, songwriter, musical chameleon and legend David Bowie passed away. The strangest thing happened: the people of the internet came together in an outpouring of grief. Grown men cried. Some trolls stopped being angry. From huge fans to casual admirers, Bowie’s death seemed to touch almost everyone in some way. Even people who weren’t fans were more than aware of David’s importance. Love him, like him, hate him: everybody knew something from Bowie’s vast and varied back catalogue.
Inevitably, people started to re-evaluate the Bowie catalogue almost immediately. Some websites posted clips of interesting interpretations of his songs. The more people talked about David, the sadder and more culturally important his passing seemed to become…and for a short time, at least, the internet became a much more loving place.
With the passing of time – and much less temptation to view all of Bowie’s work with a rosy tint – Real Gone digs deep to bring you a handful of their favourite interpretations of Bowie’s work.
LULU – The Man Who Sold The World
In the aftermath of Bowie’s death, a vast majority of websites discussing Bowie covers decreed that Nirvana’s version of 1970’s ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ (recorded for MTV Unplugged in 1994) was the ultimate cover. It’s decent, but fairly unimaginative. Kudos to Kurt and co for bringing the song to a new generation and all, but for our money, you can’t top this Lulu recording from 1974. It might not be cool – in fact, it was regarded as a duff version by some in the great Bowie re-evaluation – but it’s got a grandiosity that gives it a real sense of life. The fuller arrangement, somewhere between 70s glam and a light entertainment orchestra is perfect for Lulu and it’s so obvious she loves the song. …And who’s that on saxophone and backing vocals? That’s a seal of approval right there.
LAST TOWN CHORUS – Modern Love
Taking one of David’s 80s pop numbers, the underrated Last Town Chorus strip this classic down to its bare essence, leaving a wistful melody and voice. Not so much 80s pop, but an Americana themed variation on Mazzy Star styled dreampop. What’s not to love here?
GREEN RIVER – Queen Bitch
In the late 80s, somewhere in Washington state, there were bands playing a dirty variation on garage rock. The Melvins (more of whom later), U-Men and Green River were exponents of the birth of grunge, before it had a name. Shifting the glammier elements of this 1971 Lou Reed inspired bitchfest to make more room for garage rock does nothing to change the essence of the track, but the sneering vocals give it an edge. Green River’s work was never the most consistent, but this cover is great. [Vocalist Mark Arm and guitarist Steve Turner went on to achieve success with Mudhoney, while guitarist Stone Gossard went on to find worldwide fame as members of Pearl Jam.]
BRUCE DICKINSON – All The Young Dudes
The Iron Maiden frontman has mixed feelings about this recording. He first sang ‘All The Young Dudes’ at a charity concert in the late 80s. His record company then decided it should be recorded for his debut solo album. In Bruce’s own words, he “is not a dude”. Regardless, this works well for the style and for all the melodic metal polish, although Mott The Hoople‘s version will always be the definitive, the brilliance of the original track still shines through here in the hands of this world class rock singer.
SEAL – Quicksand
Bowie’s 1971 release ‘Hunky Dory’ has been mined for cover versions over the years. Peter Noone had a hit with ‘Oh! You Pretty Things!’ in the same year; ‘Life On Mars?’ has been tackled by everyone from the London Philharmonic Orchestra to Marillion frontman Steve Hogarth; Elbow put their mark on ‘The Bewlay Brothers’. Look hard enough and you’ll find most – if not all – of that classic album covered by someone, somewhere at some time. By comparison with the better known tracks, ‘Quicksand’ is an overlooked gem. In 1996, for an MTV recording, British pop/soul singer Seal turned in this marvellous performance. If ‘Quicksand’ seemed slight compared to the swelling grandness of the likes of ‘Life On Mars?’, it’s eternal charm is more than obvious here.
THE WEDDING PRESENT – Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family
This track was always something of an oddity (no pun intended), little more than a superb riff and chanting voices tacked on to the end of Bowie’s 1974 LP ‘Diamond Dogs’. However, given extra volume and a gruffness that Bowie could never sum up, David Gedge and co turn a once throwaway number into a complete tour-de-force.
KING CRIMSON – Heroes
King Crimson have had a long and varied career. Their own music isn’t always the most digestible, but those who like them absolutely love them. Founder Robert Fripp possesses one of the most distinctive guitar tones ever, and of course it is his guitar that added those wonderful soaring noises to the original version of ‘Heroes’, a hit for Bowie in late ’77. What better reason for KC to perform the track live in 2016. This is stunning.
BECK – Sound & Vision
Speaking of stunning, Beck never approaches cover songs half heartedly. This version of ‘Sound & Vision’ complete with choir, orchestra and kitchen sink raises the bar even further.
MELVINS – Station To Station
This one – like almost everything by the Melvins – truly falls into the love it/hate it category. Taking Bowie’s 1976 epic and reinforcing the grinding moments from the first half and subsequently turning the funky second movement into more wilful ugliness, the Washington noisemakers put Bowie through the ringer. It’s great and not quite as bonkers as some of the material from their ‘Everybody Loves Sausages’ covers record.
NICKLEBAG – Win
A deep cut from an oft-maligned Bowie LP, ‘Win’ was a soulful and moody piece when it appeared on 1975’s ‘Young Americans’. Like Seal’s version of ‘Quicksand’, this was perfect for vocalist Bernard Fowler, while simultaneously making guitarist Stevie Salas opt for more a laid back style. Nicklebag play this straight…but in doing so, demonstrate a complete respect.