NOTE: I was supposed to post this soon after my previous David Bowie write-up but I got caught up with work and personal matters that I failed to attend to this essay. Will many great musical artists who passed away from the beginning of this year, I’ve decided to use this Holy Week as a way to reflect on the impact these artists had on my life and society at large. After writing four parts on this artist, I’ll also be writing about Glenn Frey, Maurice White, and George Martin.
As I reviewed David Bowie’s career, I noticed the staggering array of people he got involved with, and noticed he had a hand in launching the careers of some of them, boosting the careers of some others, or was the rocket who propelled some to superstardom. And the key people he had a hand in boosting careers are an eclectic bunch. Some of course became lasting superstars but there are a few “one-hit” wonders along the way. Let’s take a look at some of them:
Mott the Hoople. At the height of his breakthrough year, David Bowie not only generated his own hits but also gave some of his songs to other artists. One of them was the band Mott the Hopple, who were struggling at the time and on the verge of a break-up. He originally offered “Suffragette City” to this band, but the band rejected it and after a quick session, he wrote this song specially them, and it became this band’s signature number, giving them their much needed breakthrough, and eventually became the definitive song of the glam rock movement. Let’s listen to David’s own recording and then the hit version by the band.
Lulu. She’s already an established artist since the 1960s, with a slew of hits like her version of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout”, the US number one hit “To Sir With Love” (which was only relegated to a B-side in the UK), and becoming a co-winner in Eurovision 1969 with “Boom-Bang-A-Bang“. But she didn’t have a hit single since 1970 until she sang a cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” and returned back to the UK charts. David and his Spiders From Mars bandmate Mick Ronson co-produced on that record, and David provided saxophone parts. Lulu paid homage to David’s gender-bending ways by being clad in a man’s suit in her TV performance of the song. It also turned out that Lulu and David also had a fling around this time. Let’s enjoy his original 1970 recording then Lulu’s version.
Iggy Pop. David’s friendship with this artist was legendary, and after Iggy’s band, the Stooges, broke up and as he was recovering from his spiraling drug addiction, David helped him out and wrote songs for and produced his breakthrough (and now legendary) solo albums The Idiot and Lust for Life. One of the songs from The Idiot was “China Girl”, which David later recorded and turned into a hit. The title track from the second album has become his main signature song. Let’s check out those two songs below:
Luther Vandross & Robin Clark. As David went into his “Plastic Soul” phase, he recruited Carlos Alomar to help him create his new sound. He in turn brought in his wife, Robin Clark and Robin’s high school friend Luther Vandross to sing backup vocals for what would become the Young Americans album. He premiered the title track of the song in December 1974 on the Dick Cavett Show, and you can check out Robin and Luther together on the clip from the show below.
Luther co-wrote a song with David on that album, “Fascination”, which was derived from Luther’s own composition, “Funky Music (She’s A Part of Me)”. After the Young Americans gig, Luther formed his own five-person group under his first name two years later and decided to record his original song for his first album (which hit No. 34 on the R&B charts). After two low-selling albums he went on to continue doing session vocal work until he launched a solo career in 1981 with Never Too Much and the rest is R&B superstardom history. Check out the obvious similarities between David’s “Fascination” and Luther’s “Funky Music” below.
Robin remained content providing backup vocals for a variety of acts after her Young Americans gig, but she garnered a brief moment in the spotlight when she was recruited by the Scottish band Simple Minds in 1985 for their Once Upon A Time album. She’s especially prominent in the album’s lead single, “Alive & Kicking”, with her soulful riffing all throughout the song the major highlight, especially in the coda. But I also wonder if that band recruited her for her Bowie connection, as I lately noticed how “Alive & Kicking” resembles David’s own “Sound & Vision” from his 1977 album Low, particularly the rhythmic groove. Check if you notice those similarities below.
Tina Turner. It could be said that Tina’s stratospheric 1984 comeback after leaving her abusive husband Ike Turner in 1976 wouldn’t have taken place without David Bowie’s help. She was mainly viewed as a has-been act at the time whose career prospects in the US would be in the cabaret/nostalgia circuit and her best prospects for a viable recording career being confined to Europe, just like when she garnered chart success in late 1983 with her cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together“. David was riding high with his huge success with the album Let’s Dance and record executives from Capitol Records wanted to fete him in New York , and one of the first thing David wanted to do is to watch Tina’s gig at the Ritz. As conversations wore on, David insisted to the executives to sign Tina in the US. They initially committed to a singles deal and released “Let’s Stay Together” in US shores, and its Top 40 Hot 100 placement and Top 3 R&B chart showing proved encouraging to then grant her an album deal, and as a result came out the now-classic Private Dancer album, and Tina enjoying much bigger success than she ever achieved with Ike Turner. She sang on the title track of David Bowie’s follow-up to Let’s Dance, Tonight, and on her Private Dancer album, her closing track was a cover of David’s 1974 song out of Diamond Dogs, “1984”. Check her live concert version of the former and her “1984” cover below.
Richard Fairbrass of Right Said Fred. Yes, Right Said Fred may be viewed by many as a joke act no thanks to their mega-smash “I’m Too Sexy”, but if you check out the rest of their 1992 album Up, one would be surprised by the solid musicianship and songcraft. There is a reason for this as Richard Fairbrass does have legitimate musical chops and this is proven by his stint in 1984-85 gigging with David Bowie as bassist during the Tonight era. He had hair, then, too, as could be seen from the alternate performance video for “Blue Jean” below (he’s the guy on the right, by the way).
COMING UP: HIS INDELIBLE CULTURAL INFLUENCE