By Hans Ebert
He wasn’t being confrontational, just asking: “Do you think Bowie would be the game changer he was if a new artist today? Would music companies be fighting to sign him up?” Hmmm, the music companies part is tough to answer as their role in music today is nebulous. They’re there, but why they remain in their same incarnation is difficult to understand. Same goes for the major music publishing houses whose one role in life seems to be to sign up as many writers and their songs as possible- and then do absolutely nothing with this music.
But getting back to Bowie- one doubts he would have signed to a music company knowing what we know today about how they operate- and listening to “Ch-ch-ch- changes”, “Space Oddity”, “Suffragette City”, “Life On Mars”, and a particular favourite- “Oh, You Pretty Thing”, the recordings sound as fresh as ever.
And in today’s musical landscape littered with solo singers with perhaps only tatts as their makeup, David Bowie landing as Ziggy Stardust armed with a catalogue of music that were more than one-hit wonders onto the set of The Voice or American Idol, or any of the television karaoke competition shows, would certainly have had chairs and heads turning and buzzers going off in all directions. He wouldn’t have won, and he would have refused to be “mentored” by Taylor Swift or Blake Shelton, but the world would have known that 2016 had seen a game changer.
Everything that can be said about this phenomenon has been said and written. Writing a “tribute” to him would be pointless. His music is the best tribute that is- that and the man who was David Jones, his family, his incredibly strong marriage, and how he and Iman made this work without turning it into a freak show. There was David Bowie and there was David Jones, and they co-existed in parallel universes- but as One.
Apart from having new music fans discovering his music, here’s hoping that their adventure into the unknown leads a new generation to an appreciation of all those acts from the Sixties and Seventies- progressive, breakthrough acts that have been lost in the shuffle while music companies sit on treasure troves of back catalogue gathering dust and whistle Dixie. It’s like the BBC and all the American networks that own the Rights to some of the greatest musical content doing nothing with it, but instead persisting by trying to find the next “idol” and offer them their fleeting sense of “fame”.
Everyone has their favourite artists and bands that disappeared without trace, and David Bowie’s passing has made me think about a musician like Roy Wood and The Move.
As leader and songwriter for the band, Wood was a fascinating character- a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, engineer. extremely creative, theatrical and the force behind hits like “Night Of Fear”, “Flowers In The Rain”, “I Can Hear The Grass Grow”, “Fire Brigade”, and the very underrated “Blackberry Way”.
Before The Move came to a standstill, Wood had already formed the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) with the equally creative Jeff Lynne. When Woods pulled a disappearance act and left to form the Glam Rock outfit Wizzard, Lynne took over the ELO franchise, channelled the Beatles, and produced their own pop classics. It was probably Lynne who first opened a song with that memorable word, “Hello” on ELO’s “Telephone Line” long before Lionel Ritchie and Adele thought about it, and Drake complained how she never calls him on his cell phone. “Telephone Line” was the “Hotline Bling” of its time.
The entire Roy Wood-The Move-Wizzard-ELO-Jeff Lynne musical chain reaction is one well worth exploring as, like the disappearance of Peter Green from Fleetwood Mac, and the band continuing to reinvent itself through John McVie and Mick Fleetwood bringing in unknown new members who brought with them a new sound, there’s something magical about music- this ability to morph and continue with the past while still being part of the present.
Not every musician, of course, can do it. The ability to be timeless and ageless and keep morphing has to do with one’s DNA, and one doubts we’ll ever see or hear artists of any significance again- sorry, Kanye- nor music with any longevity,
Think about that for a minute and how damn resolute some artists and bands have been over the years. The Stones belong in their own category. And though nowhere near the greatness of the Bowie catalogue, there’s, yes, Roy Wood, and Fleetwood Mac, but also the music of Pink Floyd, Marc Bolan, Supertramp, Eurythmics, and Lou Reed, who went from The Velvet Underground to Transformer while taking a walk on the wild side.
David Bowie is gone, his music is still here, and while some in the world discovers it for the first time, and others rediscover it with new ears, let the journey take us all on an adventure where we end up in Itchycoo Park with Sweet Dreams, go back to Abbey Road and revisit Highway 61.
It was a time when musicians actually played instruments, crafted songs that were then produced with meticulous care, and not like the fast food industry music has been allowed to become where excess has taken over from access and success. Slow down, you move too fast. You’ve gotta make the morning last…
Here’s hoping brilliant new artists like James Bay, Jess Glynne and the new generation of bands coming out of North America, especially, are allowed to find their feet and grow. It’s the only way music can survive, and not continue to be quick fix band aids where acts come and go with absolutely no recall of who they are and what they were about.