5 of the Best Bowie Covers
Posted on: 10/07/2015
Sometimes you don’t even know that song you love was originally a Bowie track. The jewel of Nirvana’s legendary MTV Unplugged performance was undoubtedly 'The Man Who Sold The World', a song many didn’t realise was scripted by the Starman. Smashing Pumpkins have done 'Space Oddity', Beck’s covered 'Sound and Vision' and even The White Stripes did a version of ‘Moonage Daydream’.
Bowie wouldn’t be upset with these artists for paying homage to his music. An eternal innovator, abstracting and re-appropriating styles and influences has always been part of Bowie’s alien DNA and his music is no different. Just like listening to a Bowie cover, you might not realise that Bowie song you love is actually his interstellar interpretation. In honour of that, we take a look at five of the best.
It Ain’t Easy
With it’s lulling, tinny intro tinkling beneath Bowie’s catty-pitch, track five of the seminal Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars strips out and slows the tempo of Ron Davies’ blues/country original, saving all the power for the desperate chorus – “It ain’t easy to get to heaven when you’re going down.”
But don’t take our word for it. It’s also Total Giovanni’s Credenza Ford’s favourite Bowie song, as he explained to the Daily Review.
“It’s inclusion on the record has long been the subject of derision but I think its incongruousness is brilliant. The auto harp in the verse lends itself to a kinda Brian Wilson-esque vibe, and the straining falsetto is really pretty, but the shift up to top gear in the chorus is where this track turns into a bona-fide belter. The big gospel backing vocals paired with Bowie’s screaming alongside Mick Ronson hitting that lick with a white-hot tone puts a giant grin on your mug. The cool harmonised guitar in the outro is a lovely little desert too.”
Maybe Total Giovanni will play it at their Bowie Late Nights event?
You might immediately think of the Doors’ version of “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)” when you hear that Bowie covered it. Though Jim Morrison reimagined it first (turning it cheerily perverse by changing the original lyrics to “Show me the way to the next little girl”), Bowi’s version is far more theatrical, drawing inspiration from the 1926 original composition by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill composition.
As the exceptionally in-depth Bowie blog, Pushing Ahead of the Dame, states:
"Bowie went back to Weimar, instead singing the verses with a blank expression, sometimes smoking a cigarette, flattening and deadening his tone. Then, suddenly, he would fall into the chorus, swooning and closing his eyes, with his band chanting behind him."
Let’s Spend the Night Together
One of the most ‘Stones’ Stones’ song got a break-neck, glam rock cover by Bowie on his 1973 album Aladdin Sane. Originally released by the Rolling Stones, “Let’s Spend the Night Together” is a steady, libidinous pop tune that drew controversy in 1967 because of its suggestion of sex, with radio stations censoring the word 'night'.
Bowie’s 1973 version from Aladdin Sane also drew controversy, particularly from Rolling Stone magazine’s review, which bemoaned the Bowie version turning “one of the most ostensibly heterosexual calls in rock… into a bi-anthem”.
Indeed, Bowie’s version is a synthesized speed-ball - less adolescent in its lascivious longings and full of cocaine confidence, which the editors of NME believed achieved “the unprecedented feat of beating the Stones on one of their own songs”.
God Only Knows
Brian Wilson’s California-sound masterpiece from the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, “God Only Knows” was given a gravely, orchestral make-over in 1984 by Bowie. The bright, airy number is wrenched of its upbeat tempo and tambourines by Bowie’s throat-raw baritone, becoming a dark, desperate plea.
Remember that blog we mentioned, Pushing Ahead of the Dame? They’re not always glowing of Bowie’s renditions, saying of the song, “He sounds like a man lost in a cathedral who begins to deface the walls in panic.”
Friday on my Mind
Okay, so most of you Bowie devotees probably already know his 1973 album Pin Ups is entirely made up of covers. Featuring tracks from The Kings, The Yardbirds and The Who, undoubtedly (patriotically?) the best cover is The Easybeats 1966 hit ‘Friday On My Mind’.
Apparently Bowie’s cover was the only version The Easybeats’ Harry Vanda liked.Our David Bowie is exhibition runs from 16 July to 1 Novemember. Need more Bowie? Visit our official Bowie Channel.comments powered by Disqus