Today just got a whole lot more awesome as the coolest man alive, David Bowie, writes in the Mail on Sunday that he's putting together a CD compilation of his own favorite songs. Unlike the many "ChangesBowie" best-of CDs, this one is not full of his hits. Instead, he writes, "For this CD compilation I've selected 12 of my songs that I don't seem to tire of. Few of them are well known, but many of them are still sung at my concerts. Usually by me." He goes on to list them, and explains the process behind the creation of each one, after the jump.
Life On Mars
This song was so easy. Being young was easy. A really beautiful day in the park, sitting on the steps of the bandstand. 'Sailors bap-bap-bap-bap-baaa-bap.' An anomic (not a 'gnomic') heroine. Middle-class ecstasy.
Workspace was a big empty room with a chaise longue; a bargain-price art nouveau screen ('William Morris,' so I told anyone who asked); a huge overflowing freestanding ashtray and a grand piano. Little else.
I started working it out on the piano and had the whole lyric and melody finished by late afternoon. Nice.
Rick Wakeman came over a couple of weeks later and embellished the piano part and guitarist Mick Ronson created one of his first and best string parts for this song which now has become something of a fixture in my live shows.
Sweet Thing/ Candidate/ Sweet Thing
I'd failed to obtain the theatrical rights from George Orwell's widow for the book 1984 and having written three or more songs for it already, I did a fast about-face and recobbled the idea into Diamond Dogs: teen punks on rusty skates living on the roofs of the dystopian Hunger City; a post-apocalyptic landscape.
A centrepiece for this would-be stage production was to be Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing, which I wrote using William Burroughs's cut-up method.
You write down a paragraph or two describing several different subjects creating a kind of story ingredients-list, I suppose, and then cut the sentences into four or five-word sections; mix 'em up and reconnect them [...]
The Bewlay Brothers
[...] The circumstances of the recording barely exist in my memory. It was late, I know that. I was on my own with my producer Ken Scott; the other musicians having gone for the night.
Unlike the rest of the Hunky Dory album, which I had written before the studio had been booked, this song was an unwritten piece that I felt had to be recorded instantaneously.
I had a whole wad of words that I had been writing all day. I had felt distanced and unsteady all evening, something settling in my mind. It's possible that I may have smoked something in my Bewlay pipe. I distinctly remember a sense of emotional invasion.
I do believe that we finished the whole thing on that one night. It's likely that I ended up drinking at the Sombrero in Kensington High Street or possibly Wardour Street's crumbling La Chasse. Cool.
Lady Grinning Soul
Mike Garson's piano opens with the most ridiculous and spot-on re-creation of a 19th Century music hall 'exotic' number. I can see now the 'poses plastiques' as if through a smoke-filled bar. Fans, castanets and lots of Spanish black lace and little else. Sexy, mmm? And for you, Madam?
This was written for a wonderful young girl whom I've not seen for more than 30 years. When I hear this song she's still in her 20s, of course.
A song will put you tantalisingly close to the past, so close that you can almost reach out and touch it. The sound of ghosts again.
So it's late morning and I'm thinking: 'New song and a fresh approach. I know, I'm going to do a Ronnie Spector. Oh yes I am. Ersatz, just for one day.'
And I did and here it is. Bless. I'm still enamoured of this song and would give you two Modern Loves for it any time. It's also one that I find fulfilling to sing onstage. It has some nice interesting sections to it that can trip you up, always a good kind of obstacle to contend with live.
Ironically, the lyric is something about taking a short view of life, not looking too far ahead and not predicting the oncoming hard knocks. The lyric might have been a note to a younger brother or my own adolescent self.
The guitars on this track form a splintery little duel between the great Robert Fripp and my long-time friend Carlos Alomar.
The other songs on the CD are "Fantastic Voyage," "Win," "Some Are," "Repetition," "Loving the Alien," "Time Will Crawl," and "Hang Onto Yourself (Live)." Read about them, and more about the others, here.