If you ask most people where they were the morning of 10th January, 2016, they would probably be able to give you an accurate answer. As the news broke of David Bowie’s death, a shockwave spread around the world of music lovers.
Not David Bowie.
From the slick and sophisticated thin white duke, to the immortal, otherworldly Ziggy Stardust, David Bowie had been a mainstay of the music scene from the early 1960s, right up to his death, releasing the critically acclaimed Blackstar two days before he passed.
The whole team at Mazeys are huge fans of Bowie. From a young age, he was a pioneer of the mod style, wearing big collared suits and bright white shirts. Before the alter-egos that Bowie became famous for, he was a key part of the mod movement, and a lot of his inspiration came from music of this culture.
In 1973, Bowie released his seventh album Pin Ups. This was a homage to the music of his youth. A hand-picked selection of songs that a young David Jones loved, long before the pseudonym we all know was introduced due to a clash with the Monkees frontman of the same name.
While the critics didn’t respond with the same amount of love some of his albums would receive, Pin Ups was still a number 1 album. But this was about more than sales and critical success. For Bowie, this was a love letter to the mod bands who sculpted his musical taste. The same bands he saw live in the mid-60s. The bands who wore the immaculate suits, the pinstripes and the mod haircuts. The Who, Yardbirds, Them, Pretty Things and the Kinks all appear on this album of covers.
Bowies musical career began in the early 60s when a then 15 year old eccentric frontman named David Jones formed the band the Kon-Rads. This was to be Bowies first band, and in the years that followed his determination to be the next Mick Jagger would see him hopping from group to group, hoping to stumble on the one that would take him to the top.
Mick Ronson and the rest of the Spiders from Mars were still earning their trade playing the clubs in different bands, and it was in 1967 that his first solo album was released. Titled David Bowie, and with a cover that showcases Bowie’s love of the mod style at this time, little did the world of music know that this name was going to become a pioneer of music for decades to come.
Then came Ziggy.
As the 60s ended and the 70s began, a character had formed in the mind of Bowie. An alien. Something that had fallen from the sky and landed on a stage in Kingston-upon-Thames with a guitar in his hand.
Riding on the fame following Space Oddity, Ziggy took David to the forefront of the music scene, and songs like ‘Life On Mars’ only cemented this. But when Ziggy retired, and Aladdin Sane was released, Bowie released an album no-one expected.
It was called Pin Ups, and it was a love letter to the mods.
Needing an album to appease his record label, Bowie went back to his roots. Taking himself back to the Marquee in the mid-60s, and remembering the music he saw there that was to form his own style, he transported himself back to his early days of modernism. Containing covers of mod classics such as ‘I Can’t Explain’ by the Who, ‘Friday On My Mind’ by the Easybeats and ‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone’ by the Kinks, albeit with a different sound to the originals, this was an album full of nostalgia for that period in his life.
So, who was Bowie the mod?
Looking at the early images, he was a lover of slick shirts with big collars buttoned right up to his chin. He had the sideburns and fringe that was famously linked with the mod style. His clothes were sophisticated, always wearing immaculate suits and often being seen in paisley shirts.
Some of his early releases show how the music he loved at the time influenced him, including tracks containing thumping bass-lines such as ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’, lingering vocals like ‘You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving’ and rampaging guitar riffs such as in ‘Liza Jane’.
Bowie looks far from the mod that shaped the forming of the superstar on the cover of the album, as he stares out at the world with the supermodel Twiggy resting on his shoulder. On his head is a brown mullet, and both have lines drawn around their face resembling masks.
As is the mod way, Bowie had reinvented himself by this point, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t still pay homage to the music of his youth.
The album that contains songs that Bowie said himself are ‘favourites from the 64-67 period of London’ has never been viewed as one of his best, but that doesn’t mean it still shouldn’t be regarded as a great piece of work.
It begins with a rip-roaring version of ‘Rosalyn’, originally by Pretty Things, that storms along with Aynsley Dunbar making up for the loss of Mick Woodmansey from the band with a stomping drumbeat that roars through the track like a steam train. Hearing Bowie asking ‘Do You Really Love Me?’ with raw energy makes you imagine the young mod bopping along in a sweaty crowd in mid 60s London.
Next up is a version of ‘Here Comes The Night’ that showcases the talent of Hull’s own Mick Ronson as he serenades from the off with the unmistakable riff that was made famous by ‘Them’. And Ronson doesn’t slow down as the album continues, providing backing vocals from six strings on ‘I Wish You Would’ as Bowie continues to scream down the microphone in a way that makes your throat sore just by listening to it.
‘See Emily Play’ sounds more like the Bowie we all know and love, and the following song is equally unmistakable as he yells ‘Everything’s Alright’ with his London accent that countless impressions have been made of.
Next up an emphatic version of the Who classic ‘I Can’t Explain’ before ‘Friday On My Mind’ starts side 2 with a version that hops along on Trevor Bolder’s bassline. The Merseys ‘Sorrow’ brings a slowing of pace, and allows Bowie to showcase the range in his voice that would see him become known as one of the best musicians of his time.
The speed quickens with ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ before ‘Shapes Of Things’ originally by the Yardbirds, gets the Bowie treatment, with soaring vocals gracing the verse before the beat speeds up and the young mod in a packed crowd returns to bounce the listener through the chorus.
‘Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere’ let’s the band take centre stage, owning the middle of the song with cosmic riffs and lingering drumbeats. The final track "Where Have All the Good Times Gone" begins with a heavy riff similar to ‘The Jean Genie’ before Bowie covers the Kinks with a version that sounds like it belongs in the previous decade, and that’s no insult.
Bowie began his musical career dressing sharply, and listening to the music of the mods, and these riff heavy songs, with soaring vocals and heavy rhythm sections are as good a homage as it gets to that time in culture.
As the years went by, Bowie kept on releasing albums, with the classic ‘Diamond Dogs’ coming the year after in 1974. And right to the end, Bowie was releasing music, with the brilliant ‘Blackstar’ released right before his death.
It’s impossible to pin David Bowie down to one style. He was a chameleon, constantly changing. Unlike the reptile though, he never did it to blend into his surroundings. He did it to push boundaries, to break the mould, and if that doesn’t fit in with the mod culture that he began his musical career in, I don’t know what does.