I’ve nothing to add to the millions and millions of words generated about David Bowie this week. I was an admirer rather than a big fan, though Life On Mars?, Changes and Heroes are three of my favourite pop songs.
But thinking about a subject for this week, I realised that Bowie was instrumental to my love of rock music.
Growing up in the early ’70s, my music listening was either what my parents listened to or pop music (daytime Radio 1 and Top Of The Pops). I wasn’t listening to John Peel, or watching The Old Grey Whistle Test, or in any way exposing myself to the wider possibilities beyond the three minute pop song.
Then we got a Music Centre. This was a single device, consisting of a turntable, cassette player and radio with a hinged clear plastic lid – very popular at that time. This device would become the centre of my musical world over the next few years – countless hours listening through headphones while poring over record sleeves, copying records onto cassettes, creating mix tapes, recording songs or concerts from the radio.
But it started with Bowie.
I’m thinking it must have been early in 1976 when we got it. The only problem was, I didn’t own anything to play on it. So my cousin, a few years older than me, lent me three albums. One was by Leo Sayer (very popular at the time), one by Uriah Heep (not sure I ever listened to that, certainly not more than once)….and Space Oddity by David Bowie.
This was like nothing that I’d ever experienced. Sure, I’d heard Bowie’s singles, loved Starman, but this was something else. Some of these songs went on for ages – Cygnet Committee is over 9 minutes long – and had incomprehensible lyrics: for some reason, the lines from Unwashed, And Somewhat Slightly Dazed – “I got eyes in my backside that see electric tomatoes on credit card rye bread” – impacted themselves on the brain of a sheltered 14-year-old and have lived with me all these years, though they make no more sense to me now than they did then. And the other-worldly sounds that were created (which I now know were largely down to Rick Wakeman’s Mellotron) were way beyond the typical Radio 1 playlist.
For some reason, this didn’t make me a David Bowie fan, and by the end of that summer (assuming I’m right in remembering it was 1976) I had my first Rick Wakeman album and was off down the Prog Rock Road.
But it was David Bowie (thanks to my cousin) who got me into rock music.
The Wild-Eyed Boy From Freecloud: “And the hangman plays the mandolin before he goes to sleep”
Memory Of A Free Festival: “Oh, to capture just on drop of all the ecstasy that swept that afternoon….the sun machine is coming down and we’re gonna have a party”
Cygnet Committee: “I gave Them life, I gave Them all, They drained my very soul….dry”