avid Bowie (born David Robert Haywood-Jones) began his odd musical odyssey in the early sixties. He worked with a mime troupe, and through them developed an interest in theatrics and abstract characterizations. He also formed and played in several rock bands, and wondered if somehow he might be able to link the two.
In 1966, he changed his last name from Jones to Bowie to avoid confusion with the Monkees' Davy Jones. He also began recording but didn't get anywhere until 1969, the year man landed on the moon. That event inspired "Space Oddity," his first major U.K. hit. Almost immediately, David staged his first in a career of publicity stunts -- his "retirement" to an arts lab in Beckingham.
In 1970, he returned in a new guise -- a transvestite -- posing for photos in ankle-length skirts. This gimmick caught the attention of RCA Records. They signed Bowie to a lucrative, long-term contract. Their hope was to turn flash into figures: through heavy promotion, make David Bowie out to be "the Elvis of the seventies."
On January 22, 1972, the campaign took off with a "shocking announcement" -- David's famous admission to the press that he was gay. Taking a cue from A Clockwork Orange, he cropped his hair, dyed it orange, and started appearing in modified space suits. This visual image tied in with the new album, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. Amid a huge publicity push, it became a successful album, and David Bowie was on the way.
Within a few months, David was the best-selling recording act in England. Then, on July 3, 1973, he announced his second "retirement" -- this time, he assured fans, he meant business. Bowie kept his word, and vanished entirely from the music industry -- for a few weeks.
In 1974, David made a "comeback" tour of America, cutting a live album in the process. RCA released new figures, trumpeting cumulative Bowie sales, by then, of "one million albums, and one million singles." The BBC chimed in with numbers of their own: in a survey of favorite record stars in Britain, Bowie had finished third in the Best Male category, and first in Best Female. He had become the "King of Glitter Rock" -- and perhaps the "Queen" as well.
"It wasn't a statement album," said Bowie. "It was a Polaroid album. I took a snapshot of music in America as I saw it at the time. I don't play Young Americans much. I think it's one of the most unlistenable albums I ever made."
The title track made the U.S. Top 30 -- the first time a Bowie song had done that since "Space Oddity." Then, in late June, a second tune was pulled off the album -- "Fame."
"Now that's a happy song," David continued. "Everything about it, the melodic feel, is happy. The whole disco thing, I think I anticipated the whole plastic soul thing with that LP."
Bowie wrote "Fame" in the studio, along with his guitarist, Carlos Alomar, and a new-found friend, John Lennon. John, whom David called "the last great original," can be heard joining in with Bowie toward the end of the song.
"Fame" reached number one on September 1975, and was certified as a million-seller on October 17. Six months later, "Golden Years," from another album of "plastic soul" and his highest charting album, Station To Station, reached the Top 10 in the U.S. After the paranoic Scary Monsters album in 1980, Bowie turned his attention to acting, starring in a series of pictures that were neither critical nor commercial successes. Let's Dance returned him to the top of the charts in 1983 with three Top 20 singles -- "Let's Dance" (#1), "China Girl" (#10), and "Modern Love" (#14).
Reflecting on his career as a musical chameleon, Bowie once said: "I'm a corporation of characters. Naturally, ahead of my time. I'm not part of rock'n'roll, I used rock'n'roll. I've rocked my roll and it's finished."
Bowie would achieve more number one records like "Let's Dance" in 1983, and record innovative albums like 2002's Heathen in the next four decades. In 2013, he broke a period of extended inactivity with the LP The Next Day, which shot to number two in America. On January 10, 2016, the world was shocked to learn that David Bowie had passed away at age 69 after a private 18-month battle with cancer. Only two days earlier, on his 69th birthday, Bowie released his final album, Blackstar. A video he made for a song from that album, "Lazarus," portentously showed him trapped in a hospital bed while struggling to overcome illness. Blackstar catapulted to the top of the charts in both the U.S., where it became the star's first number one album, and the U.K, where it became his tenth chart-topping album.
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