January 18 – Bowie’s Star Shone Bright

On this day six years ago, the world was still mourning the unexpected death of the great David Bowie... and he was sitting on top of the British album charts.

Blackstar came out on Bowie’s 69th birthday, January 8, 2016, and preceded his death by a mere two days. No coincidence that; producer Tony Visconti ( a longtime friend of David’s and producer of many of his best albums, like Heroes and Scary Monsters) was with him as they recorded it in New York early in 2015 and says Bowie wanted it as a “parting gift” to his fans. By that time, the singer knew he had cancer and little time left but few others did. The backing band for instance, say he seemed healthy and worked a solid schedule every day, something one couldn’t always say about the 1970s version of the man!

At the time, Bowie was listening to a lot of electronica music as well as rap, and perhaps some jazz, which had been his favorite type of music when he was a youth. All those forms came into play on Blackstar. What didn’t was mainstream pop-rock. This was no “Let’s Dance…Again!” effort. Instead we got a mass of bleak lyrics and odd, varied sounds utilizing everything from harmonica to regular electric guitars to orchestral strings. If there was one “pop” inspiration involved it would almost assuredly be Radiohead, not Nile Rodgers or Iggy Pop. As The Independant would say, it was “as far as he’s strayed from pop” through his varied career of 50 years. The title track – all 10 minutes of it – and “Lazarus” , the singles from the album, both seem to deal with mortality and death. Many pointed to the line in “Lazarus” that went “Look up here, I’m in heaven, I’ve got scars that can’t be seen” as the definitive statement about him and about the album’s relevance.

Reviews were excellent, although a cynic might debate how wonderful they would have been if Bowie had succumbed to his cancer a month or two later. The release date meant most publications were reviewing it right beside the unhappy obituary for him. Rolling Stone gave it 4-stars, Spin 7/10. Entertainment Weekly graded it “A-”, saying it was expected in its unexpectedness since “the man who fell to Earth has made an entire career of defying terrestrial categories and classification”. Pitchfork figured he was “adding to the myth while the myth is his to hold.”

The public agreed and were eager to revel in their sorrow. It hit #1 in Canada, Australia and many other countries, including the U.S. That was a surprise because he’d never had a chart-topping album before in the States; even Let’s Dance only made #4. The first week Blackstar sales there of 181 000 were the best single week sales on record for The Thin White Duke.

But it was his Britain that took to it the most. It knocked Adele from her seven-week run at #1, and spent three weeks on top, before a greatest hits compilation of his edged it out at #1. One week in January, Bowie notched seven of the 40 biggest-selling albums in the UK, a feat only Elvis Presley had done before.

The album has resonance and was remembered come year-end. Newsweek, Mojo and Q each picked it as the “album of the year” . As well it earned five Grammys including Best Alternative Album and Best Rock Song for the title track, and the Brit Awards Album of The Year… something Bowie had never done while alive.

Long may you shine on, “Black star.”

8 thoughts on “January 18 – Bowie’s Star Shone Bright

  1. badfinger20 (Max)

    I’ve listened to some of it but not as a whole….and I believe that is the only way you can listen to it. No, there is no Life On Mars? here…Lazarus is likable…like I said…I need to listen to it as a whole.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it was definitely meant to be listened to as an entity, but man, I personally don’t feel like doing so… I think I did hear all of it when it came out , online, and it was rather a morose type of affair (as you might expect, I guess given his state when he was making it). Perhaps it would shine brighter after a few listens but it struck me as all the gloom of Joy division without the nice dance beat. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, but just wasn’t my preferred listening.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. badfinger20 (Max)

        Yea like you said in the post…I wonder how it would have done normally in the charts…BUT normally he probably wouldln’t make it. I’m very happy it was a success and capped off his career. The videos alone are gloomy but…I see why.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I ‘shamefully’ admit I don’t much like ‘The wall’ either … some tracks are very good but as a whole…nah, and Roger Waters had less reason to be that morose!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, there’s no doubt he always ploughed his own furrow, and he went out playing his own tune, even if it was a dark one. But I can’t see many of us heading off towards whatever awaits us jiving to a happy disco beat.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True. I give him full credit for always following his own muse and for putting out a parting statement like ‘Blackstar’. Personally, I didn’t like it that much but it was well made and representative of his mindset, I’m sure.

      Liked by 1 person

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