May 18 – Serious Moonlight Equaled Serious Gold

If there was a moment in time that David Bowie switched from a popular cult figure or marginal commercial star into a renowned superstar, it might have been this day in 1983. We’re not kidding…in fact we’re as serious as the moonlight, since it was this day 40 years back Bowie began his “Serious Moonlight” world tour to promote his newly released Let’s Dance album. Between the multi-million selling album and the tour, it launched Bowie into the musical stratosphere.

It’s worth remembering that up until that time, Bowie was well-known but not a real major superstar artist. Particularly in North America. Before 1983, for example, he’d only had one U.S. #1 song (“Fame”) and one more top 10 hit (“Golden Years”) and most of his albums, like the vaunted Ziggy Stardust, struggled to sell enough to go gold. Others like Heroes and Pin-ups failed to even achieve that. Of course, Let’s Dance changed all that and by year’s end he was rivaling The Police, ZZ Top and Huey Lewis & the News as the hottest artist on radio.

If the album sent Bowie’s star rising by concentrating on good, hummable songs and less artsy experimenting than much of his older work, the tour built on that. Instead of huge theatrical experiences and weird costumes and make-up, the Serious Moonlight tour had him looking neat and “normal” and concentrating on just the music. He says his look, with neatly-coiffed blonde hair and wearing big but neat, pastel-toned suits was a “parody” of the New Romantic movement that was big at the time. Others figured he was making a deliberate attempt to blend in with new, popular British acts like ABC and Spandau Ballet, but whatever the reality, the fans seemed to approve.

He opened up the tour in Belgium, at the 8000 seat Vorst Forest National arena in Brussels. After 15 countries, over two-and-a-half million fans in 96 shows, he’d wrap it up on Dec. 8th in Hong Kong. The Belgium stadium was in line with what he had originally envisioned for the tour – largely mid-sized indoor venues of no more than 10 000 fans. However, as the album’s popularity soared through the spring and summer, demand to see him exploded, and he began adding extra dates and finding larger, often outdoor venues to accommodate. Soon he’d be playing outdoor stadiums in front of over 50 000 in places like Milton Keynes, England and Edmonton, Canada. Eventually, every show he played would sell out including four nights in Philadelphia, back to back nights at the CNE football stadium in Toronto, three nights at Wembley Arena in London and even smaller cities like Hershey, Pennsylvania, where he drew 25 000 to a minor league baseball field.

He had a talented backing band of nine or ten with him, including longtime friend and collaborator Carlos Alomar on guitar, drummer Tony Thompson (of Chic, and soon after, Power Station) and guitarist Earl Slick who’d worked on Bowie’s Young Americans as well as John Lennon’s Double Fantasy. Slick was a last-minute addition to the ensemble, replacing Texas bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan who’d worked on the record with Bowie. Vaughan showed up for rehearsals, but showed up high and looking for a long, drug-fueled tour which was the last thing Bowie needed after kicking his drug habit not long before. Helping the tour along were various star opening acts, including the Go-gos in Anaheim, the Tubes in Oakland, The Beat in London and Peter Gabriel in western Canada.

The highlight of the tour, and an unexpected one, was the largest crowd of the whole summer. Bowie headlined the US Festival in California, on May 30, and played in front of 300 000 or more people. It’s rumored Steve Wozniak paid Bowie a million dollars plus all expenses to get him to take time out from his European shows (he’d been in France right before it) to play the huge event.

Most of Bowie’s shows began with his 1979 song “Look Back in Anger” , rolled through 21 or so songs including old hits like “Rebel, Rebel” and “Cat People” before finishing with “TVC15” off Station to Station, and then saw him do a four-song encore of “Star”, “Stay” “Jean Genie” and “Modern Love.” On the final show, he played “Imagine” as a tribute to John Lennon, who’d been killed exactly three years earlier. A DVD of one of his Vancouver shows was released in 2006.

Although Bowie would go on to have an even bigger, and more extravagantly staged tour four years later – the “Glass Spider” tour – critics didn’t care for it and it didn’t help the Never Let Me Down do anything much at the cash register. Showing that sometimes, it is all about the music.


February 22 – Bowie’s Black Star Shone On Brightly

Gone but not forgotten is one apt way to summarize David Bowie. There was plenty of evidence of that this day in 2017 when Britain’s main music awards, the Brits recognized him posthumously. Bowie won the “Best British Male Solo” performer and “Best Album” award, the latter for Blackstar, the grim album released only days before his death.

For Bowie, it was his third trophy for Best Male, with past wins in 1984 and 2014; the album award was his first. It was the first time either had been awarded posthumously in the awards 40 years. the three Best Male awards ties him with Phil Collins and Paul Weller, trailing (strangely to us North Americans) Robbie Williams who’s taken it four times. The award for Album of the Year was picked up by his son Duncan, who said if there was one thing he’d want his own son to know about David, it was that he “was always there for people who were a bit different” and said in closing, “this award is for the kooks!”

It came only days after Bowie had cleaned up, again posthumously, at the Grammys, winning four including Best Rock Song and Best Alternative Rock Album. Prior to that, he’d only won one “regular” Grammy (for the “Blue Jean” video) plus a Lifetime Achievement recognition there.

November 16 – R.E.M. Ended 20th Century In ‘Great’ Fashion

Although not quite as emphatically as say Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd, R.E.M. were primarily an “album” band rather than a “singles” band. Although they had their share of hit singles – “Losing My Religion”, “The One I Love” etc – generally their albums did better on the charts and their legion of fans typically bought the LP or CD instead of just the singles. All that made this day in 1999 a bit unusual for them, when they released something close to a standalone single – “The Great Beyond.”

The Great Beyond” wasn’t absolutely a standalone; it was in fact the single off the Man on the Moon soundtrack, which the band produced with Pat McCarthy, who’d done their previous album, Up. As the title suggests, it was the movie soundtrack to the film about Andy Kaufman, the avant garde comic who’d loosely inspired the band’s 1992 hit “Man on the Moon.” Michael Stipe says of “The Great Beyond”, he was trying to “revisit a character that you’ve written a classic song about and try to one-up yourself. Bowie pulled it off for real “ (with “Ashes to Ashes” following-up “Space Oddity”). So the second R.E.M. song about Kaufman was “about attempting the impossible, which I think Andy Kaufman did with his entire career,” according to the singer. He noted many of the lyrics he wrote, about pushing elephants up stairs and so on, came from an old Laurel and Hardy gag since Kaufman adored that duo.

The album is credited to R.E.M., but it’s an unusual one. It contained the previous hit of theirs, as well as the ’70s Exile hit “Kiss You All Over”, plus the theme from Taxi, the TV show Kaufman was a part of, various sound bites from the movie and a number of instrumental, orchestral bits scored by the band (or seemingly Mike Mills, the bassist who performed parts of it with the Mike Mills Orchestra.)

The video, fitting for one about such an off-the-wall character, was an odd one with the band appearing to break the “fourth wall” and come out at the viewers… one of their more creative ones, but at a time when video was on the wane. Overall, the song did OK but wasn’t able to “one-up” the ’92 hit, except in the British Isles. There it rose to #3, technically their highest-charting single ever, and it topped Irish charts. In Canada it hit #16, while at home, the single missed the top 40 but did make the Alternative Rock charts up to #11. The song became a staple of their live shows thereafter, and Stipe suggests he likes their live versions of it better than the studio one.

Maybe somewhere in the great beyond, Kaufman is looking down or smiling… “if you believe.”

November 9 – Night Brought Changes To Bowie’s Career

Well, another day, another story of a “last chance” for fans that no one expected to be a last chance. David Bowie made his final public performance this night in 2006 in New York City. It was an elegant but a bit underwhelming appearance given its eventual gravity. He did three songs that evening at a fundraiser at the Hammerstein Ballroom.

It was the “Black Ball”, set up by songstress Alicia Keys, an annual event to raise money for Keep A Child Alive. That is a charity she co-founded designed to help out people suffering from AIDS and their families in the Third World. Bowie shared the spotlights with Keys herself as well as Damian Marley (one of Bob’s sons) and comedienne Wanda Sykes. He came onstage looking suitably dapper for the “black tie” event, in tuxedo jacket and yep, black tie, and did three songs – a cover of Johnny Mathis’ “Wild is the Wind”, “Fantastic Voyage”, an obscure song of his from 1979’s Lodger, and as a finale, “Changes.” Keys joined him onstage for that number, which was well-received. However, the night wasn’t really about David…but if his fans knew they’d not see him perform again, there might have been a bit of a feeding frenzy in order to get tickets, no matter what the price!

It wasn’t a busy year for Bowie, so the lack of a big tour was no surprise at all. In fact, just after getting a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys early on in ’06, he announced “I’m taking a year off. No touring, no album.” Seemed entirely reasonable. Bowie was 59 at that time and he and his wife Iman were scaling back their careers a little to spend more time together and with their young daughter Lexi. That aside, he did make an appearance with another David, Gilmour, at one of the Pink Floyd man’s London concerts in May.

However, the year turned into years, with his next album not arriving until 2013, for which he did no concerts and limited publicity. After that it was the well-reviewed Black Star, which sadly arrived only two days before his untimely death in 2016, so to state the glaringly obvious, there were no shows to promote that.

So if you were among the 2000 or so people at the Hammerstein 16 years ago, you were helping out a good cause. But also witnessing history.

May 21 – Ziggy Danced To The Top

He’d been Ziggy Stardust and Alladin Sane, a wild innovator and one of rock’s more “out there” stars. But by 1983, David Bowie had perhaps grown tired of putting on masks and other-wordly personas and just wanted to be himself. And to take his career to the next level. On this day 39 years ago, he had succeeded, with his single “Let’s Dance” hitting #1 in the U.S. It was the first single and title track from his 15th studio album, which would go on to be the biggest of his career.

Bowie had, of course, some degree of success before in the 16 or so years he’d been recording prior to this. He’d even had a prior American #1 song, (“Fame”) and in his native Britain, he’d scored three. Nevertheless, he’d always been considered a bit of an oddity, a mid-level star known more for his wild appearance and alter-egos than his radio hits. He wanted to change all that. To do so, he had to step on a few toes. When preparing to record a new record, he’d originally penciled in his friend Tony Visconti to produce it, as he had his last four albums. He had a last-minute change of heart and brought in Nile Rodgers instead.

Rodgers was the American guitarist and co-leader of the band Chic, which had put out a string of disco-based hits at the tail end of the ’70s, and was also integral to producing and putting together the sound of Sister Sledge. Rodgers says when Bowie called him, “he told me that he wanted me to did what I do best – make hits.”

That he did, and he made Bowie’s sound a bit more danceable, a bit more smoothly pop-sounding than it had been in the past. This song for example, was (according to Bowie) rather a folksy-sounding guitar ballad before Rodgers got his hands – and session player pals – on it. Even when it was completed, Bowie didn’t think it sounded like a single. He was partial to “China Girl” (which would in time be released as a single and make #2 in the UK and #10 in the States) but both Rodgers and Bowie’s new record label, EMI , which he had just signed to, insisted otherwise. Wisely so, as it turns out, as it hit #1 in the UK, U.S., Canada, Ireland and elsewhere, quickly propelling the album to the top of the charts and platinum status.

The BBC applauded the song’s “loud stadium-ized drum and bass sound” while journalist Johnny Law noted with it, “Bowie became for the first time. a global pop brand.” That would be helped along by the following singles, the aforementioned “China Girl” and “Modern Love.” “Let’s Dance” would have a second-life, unfortunately precipitated by Bowie’s death in 2016. After that it quickly rose to #23 again in the UK and was the #6 most-streamed song in the U.S.

Bowie wasn’t the only one to benefit from the great single. The striking guitar work on it is courtesy Texan bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan, whom Bowie had seen at Montreaux the previous summer and been impressed enough to want him on the record. Vaughan had been a popular bar performer in Texas but was not widely known in 1982. After the Bowie single, he put out his debut album, Texas Flood, later in ’83 and it hit #38 in the U.S. and spawned his first hit song, “Pride and Joy.”

May 5 – Reed Was A Transformer Of Hit Radio

The American public took a “Walk on the Wild Side” this day in 1973… with the song of that name by Lou Reed peaking at #16. It was quite possibly the most unlikely hit of the decade in the U.S., and one might think no one would have been more surprised than Reed himself.

Reed was at the time 31 and was about two years out of the legendary Velvet Underground…a band which famously inspired a generation of new musicians but never quite came close to having a “hit” record in terms of sales let alone radio play. His first solo record in ’72 met with the same commercial response as the band’s had, and expectations for his second one, Transformer, weren’t much higher. One thing was different however, Lou got David Bowie and Mick Ronson (Bowie’s lead guitarist and frequent collaborator) to produce the album. The pair had both been big fans of the Velvet Underground.

Walk on the Wild Side” had a slow, sultry sound quite unusual for mainstream radio at the time, highlighted by a great sax solo fading out at the song’s end (played by Ronnie Ross) and the prominent, funky bassline played by one of the best session bassists anywhere, Herbie Flowers. Flowers actually played two different basses – an old standup one and a typical Fender electric – hoping they would pay him double! That didn’t work apparently, and he got a flat rate 17 pounds (about $250 in current money) for his contribution. But they mixed the two tracks together to get the ominous rumbling sound that made the single stand out. Oh, and there were the lyrics as well!

Reed would call the song a “gay song…carefully worded so straights can miss out on the implications and enjoy (it) without being offended.” He got the basic idea after reading a novel of the same name, about a drifter who left Texas for New Orleans, seeking excitement along the way. But he wrote about people he’d known in New York, friends of Andy Warhol’s. Drag queens or transexuals mainly, not the fare for most top 40 hits in the early-’70s! “I always thought it would be fun to introduce people to characters they might have met or hadn’t wanted to meet,” the singer said.

Among the real-life people populating the song were “Little Joe,” the “Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Holly.” Joe was Joe Campbell, a transexual actor who’d made movies with Warhol (although some suggest his character was more a composite of Warhol hangarounds and ‘Sugar Plum Fairy’ was a nickname for any drug dealer in their gang). Holly was Holly Woodlawn, a transgender person who left home in Miami at 15. “I was going to school, getting stones thrown at me , being beaten up by homophobic rednecks,” they recalled, so “I ran away from home and hitch-hiked across the U.S.A.” ending up with the Warhol gang in the Big Apple.

Despite its for-its-time shocking references to oral sex and cross-dressing, few censors seemed to have a problem with it. It was perhaps too outrageous and wild for them to really pick up on the content. The only thing some stations had a problem with was the phrase “the colored girls” in one line and a few stations beeped that out.

The song pushed the boundaries of radio…and Transformer to platinum status in the UK and his top-seller everywhere. Likewise, by hitting #16 in the U.S., #10 in Britain and #18 in Canada, “Walk on the Wild Side” was pretty much his only major hit single. Curiously, his second best-known song might be the one on the b-side to the 45 – “Perfect Day.”

April 14 – The ‘Gnome’nclature Of Kicking Off A Big Career

What a difference a few – or 16- years makes! Today it’s all about The Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, Starman…aka David Bowie.

On this day in 1983, he put out his smash Let’s Dance, the biggest-selling record of his career. But…it was on this day back in 1967 Bowie put out his first album. That might seem appropriate given his talent and stature in rock history and given that year’s prominence in developing the sound with the likes of Sgt. Pepper… and the emergence of The Doors. Only Bowie’s entry to the scene wasn’t quite that celebrated. In fact, it’s probably fair to say it was pretty bad! Just prior to the album release, his single, “The Laughing Gnome” came out. You’re forgiven if you’re not that familiar with it. It isn’t up there with “Fame” or “A Space Oddity” when it comes to recurrent radio play!

The song was a very odd, “whimsical” tune about, well, a jolly gnome. Bowie sang the regular parts , with reference to “his tiny hands on his tummy” and so forth, as well as the gnome bits. The latter were accomplished by speeding up his voice until it was chipmunk-like, assuring listeners he was the laughing gnome, “Ho ho ho, hee hee hee.” The song would have been buried in the annals of forgettable music had Bowie not gone on to bigger and better. When his star was on the rise, his label re-released it as a single in 1973 in Europe (when “A Space Oddity” , also a re-release, was riding high over here) and remarkably, it got to #6 in the UK! A copy of that 1973 release, by the way, might fetch you something like $20 online but if you have a copy of the original Deram Records , 7” single from 1967, you might ask yourself why? Nonetheless, your surprising taste in music over 50 years back could pay off as apparently there are people who will buy it for around $300, the going rate.

His biographer David Buckley thought it was a “supremely catchy children’s song” but most agreed with the NME which called it the most embarrassing bit of his career.” We expect Bowie agreed with that assessment; when he had a fan vote in 1990 to see what song they wanted added to his “Sound + Vision” concerts, this song was leading. So he scrapped the vote. Seems Bowie got the last laugh, not the gnome

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.”

January 8 – Stars Let Your Letters Be Really First Class

One day, two superstars. Two of rock’s boldest, envelope-pushing, and enduringly popular men were both born on January 8th, 12 years apart. In Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis Aron Presley on this day in 1935; in London, England, David Jones, aka David Bowie, in 1947. If you believe in astrology, perhaps there’s a creative bent to Capricorns.

Both had careers that lasted decades. Both won Grammy Awards (Elvis, 3; Bowie, 6). Both had #1 songs – Bowie, six in his UK, two in the U.S.; Elvis 18 in both lands (although a different list of 18 in both.) Both shocked the masses a bit, early on in their careers – Elvis with his tight pants and hip-shaking; Bowie with his makeup and androgynous looks. And perhaps most surprising, both have been honored in their homelands… on stamps. Which takes us to this day in 1993.

On what would have been Elvis’ 58th birthday, the U.S. Postal Service released the famous “Elvis stamp.” The 29-cent postage stamp was the first in their series of “Legends of American Music” ones. Hundreds lined up at Graceland early in the morning to see a fireworks show, sing “Happy Birthday” to Elvis then see the official launch of the stamp, getting a special edition envelope bearing the stamp to take with them. It had been a long wait.

People began pushing for “The King” to be honored on a stamp since the time he died. The Post Office had a requirement that someone be deceased ten years before being pictured on a stamp, so nothing happened until the late-’80s. In 1992, they finally agreed to put out an “Elvis stamp.” Which led to the question of what image should be used? They ended up with two possible designs, a “young Elvis” and an “old Elvis”, derisively nicknamed “Fat Elvis.” They printed up actual ballots which they had in the post offices and were printed in People magazine, letting the public decide. The “young” “Hound Dog” era design beat the “old” “Burnin’ Love” one by more than three to one. Over a million ballots were counted in the end. Fittingly, they decided to wait until his birthday to officially put them in circulation.

When all was said and done, they made 517 million of the stamps, about triple the normal number for a stamp in that decade, and the most-ever for any commemorative stamp. Later on in the year, they also released stamps featuring Bill Haley, Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly, Clyde McPhatter and Otis Redding; none came close to the popularity of Presley’s. Since then they’ve issued about 60 or so more musician stamps, although few are from the world of rock or country music. There are many jazz musicians and no less than eight orchestra conductors included however.

If a single 29-cent U.S. stamp isn’t enough for your Elvis book, you can find any number of foreign countries like Gambia and Liberia who’ve also given him some tender love by putting his face on their stamps.

Bowie’s appearance on a stamp wasn’t quite as hyped. But nor did it require a choice of old or new. In 2017, Britain’s Royal Mail released a set of ten different stamps honoring him. While in the past they had put out stamps honoring rock stars (like a set which had album covers of artists like Pink Floyd and Blur) it was the first time they’d given more than one to a particular artist. They included pictures of album covers like Let’s Dance, Heroes and Aladdin Sane, so you could have young Bowie and old Bowie.

The USPS perhaps were unduly buoyed by the success of the Elvis stamp and over-estimated the appeal of pop culture stamps in general (or underestimated the appeal of Elvis). In 2010, they honored TV’s The Simpsons with stamps too. Although they sold some 300 million of them, they were left with 618 million unsold ones. D’oh!

December 17 – A Hunky Dory Day For Glam Fans

It was a Hunky Dory kind of day for art rock or glam rock fans 50 years ago. That was because the David Bowie album of that name came out this day in 1971.

The singer soon to be nicknamed “Starman”s own star was on the rise by then, particularly in his UK homeland. Hunky Dory would only accelerate that rise. It was his fourth album, but first on RCA Records, kicking off a highly-successful string of ’70s albums with them. He brought guitarist Mick Ronson back to work with him; the pair had already forged quite a friendship and creative bond through his previous work. Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman was the main keyboardist. However, RCA changed things up a little for it by bringing in a new producer to help Bowie, Ken Scott. Scott had been a studio engineer at Abbey Road studios and helped out on various Beatles albums and had just finished off working with George Harrison on All Things Must Pass.

Although they recorded the album in London, Bowie looked elsewhere for inspiration. He’d later say it “reflected my newfound enthusiasm for this new continent (North America) that had been opened to me.” That showed up not only a little in the sound but in the songs themselves…”Andy Warhol” and “A Song For Bob Dylan” for instance. On the former, although Warhol and Bowie would become friends, the American was apparently not altogether impressed. Bowie says the song was played for Andy and he hated it. He got up and left the room, “he had nothing to say at all, absolutely nothing.” There’s no word on whether Dylan liked his song any better.

When it was done it was an 11-song set that veered all over the musical map, as Bowie typically did at his best early on in his career. There was what the BBC described as the “proto-punk” “Queen Bitch,” written for Lou Reed, side by side with the almost folky “A Song For Bob Dylan.” And there was the lead-off song on the album that would become one of his signature pieces, “Changes.”

Reaction was enthusiastic right away. Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits exclaimed “my view is that David Bowie is the best writer in Britain at this moment.” Britain’s Melody Maker declared it “the most inventive piece of songwriting to appear in some time,” and the New York Times one-upped that, saying Bowie was “the most intellectually-brilliant man yet to choose the long-playing album as his medium of expression.” Unlike some albums of that era, the praise hasn’t dimmed in the decades since. Spin, Rolling Stone, Blender and allmusic all have retroactively given it a perfect 5-star rating at different times. The latter applauded him for “leaving heavy metal behind” (that being a reference to his prior album, The Man Who Sold the World) and called this one “fresh post-modern pop…a kaleidoscopic array of pop styles tied together only by Bowie’s sense of vision.” Rolling Stone have consistently ranked it as his second-best album (behind only Ziggy Stardust) and in the top 200 greatest albums of all-time on various lists they’ve published through the years.

For all that, critics seemed to like it a bit more than the ordinary public. RCA didn’t promote it that heavily, especially in North America where they feared he was a one hit wonder and perhaps worried about his androgynous look on the cover… a photo of him in which he said he was trying to channel Marlene Dietrich and the glory of the war-era Silver Screen sirens… a bit much perhaps for Americans to swallow, they thought. As a result (not to mention the fact that the music was boundary-pushing which seldom results in smash hits when they arrive) it did well in the UK, getting to #3, by far his best-showing to that point, and being his first to go platinum. There, the single “Life on Mars” hit #3. Over here though, the album peaked at #57 in the States, helped along by “Changes,” which just missed the top 40. Needless to say, as the world of music caught up to him through the ’70s, the album continued to sell decently and “Changes” has become a rock-radio staple, yet it still hasn’t moved enough copies to be certified gold anywhere besides Britain.