#1062: 1980, David Bowie, Ashes To Ashes

by Jackie_South on January 16, 2016

Our Songs to Learn and Sing this week have been a tribute to the genius of David Bowie. Including the four posted so far this week, we have featured fifteen Bowie songs over the years on this blog (see the list at the end of this post) but have somehow not featured this piece of genius (I was so shocked, I checked twice to make sure).

This is Bowie returning to the character of his first hit (“Do you remember a guy that’s been/ In such an early song?”) and in case you thought that was just about space travel, he spells it out clearly here:

Ashes to ashes, funk to funky
We know Major Tom’s a junky

And of course a lot of this song is partly about Bowie’s own journey from chronic drug use, and about looking back across the preceding decade and the success and trials it brought. That chorus ends in a sly reference to the album that spelt the end of the party: hitting an all-time Low.

What had not ended with weaning himself off the drug dependency, of course, was his inventiveness. Ashes to Ashes sounds like nothing before, with its discordant plonkety-plonk synth-piano, its sinister nursery rhyme refrains, its voiced-over lyrics in the last verse.

And of course there’s the great experimental video (the most expensively made at the time) starring pre-fame Steve Strange and the Blitz kids (but not, contrary to rumour, his mum).

It is a song that means a lot to me too. I had heard Bowie before, but this is the first Bowie song I remember being in the charts and on Top of the Pops. Not only is it a great song, it is memories of the summer holiday before going into my final year at primary school and a friend buying it and talking about it one balmy morning as we made our way to go fishing at Heybridge Basin. Like much great pop, this is a song that is not only great on its own but for the memories it inspires.

Finally, that list I promised:

#77 Space Oddity
#343 The Jean Genie
#402 Sound and Vision
#439 Heroes
#590 Suffragette City
#610 Where Are We Now?
#640 Blackout
#773 A Better Future
#951 Fascination
#1003 Life On Mars?
#1019 Five Years
#1058 Lazarus
#1059 Wild Is The Wind
#1060 Young Americans
#1061 Underground

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