I must thank my friend Pablo for pointing out this two-hour radio show on the BBC hosted by David Bowie in 1979. He pointed out this post on Dangerous Minds, who credit the find to John Coulthart. There have been several cannibalistic posts that share the link to the two-hour radio show on YouTube and the track list with not a lick of insight into why Bowie may have chosen some of the songs he did. If you want to read the tracklist, you can jump through the Dangerous Minds post (Update: I found a complete transcript of the radio show here). They buried it under the link to the video posted by a YouTube user over a year ago. Here’s the link to the radio show:
I’ll refrain from sharing the playlist because it’s so much more interesting to hear the songs by surprise with Bowie talking about each track before and after he plays them. However, I can’t help but share some of the revelations on the show, being a hardcore Bowie fan in tune to his influences and tastes. At this point in his career, Bowie had dropped the guise of putting on over-the-top personas. He just sounds like a down-to-earth music geek sharing some of his favorite music. You’ll hear him play a record by an early influence, for instance, as he challenges the audience to guess who it might be. He shares the genuinely surprising answer afterward. After revealing the singer’s name, Bowie says, “He had this strange thing where he threw away his rings and all that to become a preacher for a bit, and this was an outcome of that … How he changed his voice like that, he must have given up something else, I think.” It’s a bit of a delight to hear the so-called chameleon of rock ‘n’ roll marvel at another musician who changed up his identity before him.
You can tell Bowie likes some songs he plays more than others. He says of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man,” “I used to love this one” and cuts it short. However, he loves every last note of “For Your Pleasure,” by Roxy Music, calling Ferry’s repetition of “Tara Tara” at the end of the track, “a beautiful gesture.” After playing a Bob Seger track, though, Bowie remarks, “Now, I’m not sure about that one.” Then he admits he played it for the sake of his ego because it has the word “Lodger” in the lyrics, the same title of the album he was on the radio to promote. He also plays a few songs from that album, which had only come out two days earlier, that weren’t necessarily singles from the record. “D.J.” was not among the tracks, but wouldn’t that be too obvious for Bowie?
However, the lyric, “I am a D.J./I am what I play,” is so accurate. He plays music by former collaborators like Iggy Pop, Robert Fripp (the Crimson piece), Jeff Beck, John Lennon as well as a freaky, kinetic post-punk track from a band called Mars, off an album that Brian Eno had recommended to him. Bowie even plays some songs he covered in the past as well as the future. He covered Bruce Springsteen’s “It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City” in 1975, but his version wouldn’t see release until 1989, as a “previously unreleased” track on the Sound+Vision box set. He also plays a song he would wind up covering way in the future, on his 2003 album Reality.
There are many great tidbits to be found in his wide ranging selection of music that varies from classical to soul to nursery music (no wonder his self-titled debut sounded like that) to punk rock. It’s worth discovering for yourself. I will end this post by noting that it’s quite funny that Bowie had to bring his own Mekons record because the BBC didn’t have it in its library. Like another friend of mine said in this post, “nobody gives a fuck about the Mekons.” That was true even in 1979, at the height of the post-punk scene, but at least Bowie proves he was hip to them.
If you’re wondering where the still image is from, it’s of course his video, for “D.J.” Watch it below.
And that snapshot of Lodger is my personal copy on my turntable.