David Bowie’s sixth album, Aladdin Sane, was released 50 years ago; it’s a highly regarded record, but that quality is shared by nearly every one of his releases. Over the course of his celebrated musical career, Bowie released 26 studio albums under his own name; that doesn’t even include live releases or albums he made with Tin Machine. Bowie also produced sessions by other artists, appeared in many films, and performed as a stage actor. Bowie passed far too soon at age 69 in 2016; one life wasn’t enough to hold all of his creative impulses.
Ever-busy and moving from project to project with alacrity, David Bowie nonetheless found time to sing and play on releases by other artists. Here are five notable selections that highlight the musical value that Bowie brought to recordings by others.
“All the Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople (1972) – After releasing four albums – none of which set the charts on fire – the hard-rocking band fronted by singer-guitarist Ian Hunter was on the verge of breaking up. A fan of their music, David Bowie approached the group, offering them an original song and a commitment to produce their next LP. The glam anthem initially seemed an uneasy fit for the group, but they gamely embraced it. “All the Young Dudes” made the Top 40 singles charts in both the U.S. and at home in the UK. Bowie provided some backing vocals and sax on some of the album’s tracks, but his involvement on “Dudes” was limited to merely writing and producing the band’s biggest-ever hit song.
“Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed (1972) – Lou Reed’s commercial fortunes were initially a mixed bag after leaving the Velvet Underground, but he scored big with this single, a talking-blues styled slice of life tune about the seedier side of New York City. He was aided in his creative endeavors on the album – Transformer, his second solo LP – by co-producers David Bowie and Bowie’s guitarist, Mick Ronson. In addition to his production role, Bowie provided acoustic guitar and vocals on several cuts including this one.
“To Know Him is to Love Him” by Steeleye Span (1974) – This girl-group classic was written by none other than Phil Spector, with lyrics inspired by the inscription on his father’s tombstone. Originally released in 1958 by The Teddy Bears, the song might have seemed an unusual choice of covers by British folk rock group Steeleye Span (no relation whatsoever to the similarly named Steely Dan), but it’s nonetheless featured on the group’s sixth studio release, Now We Are Six. To cap off the idiosyncratic recording, the band enlisted David Bowie to add alto saxophone.
“Lust for Life” by Iggy Pop (1977) – After a rough period, former Stooges vocalist Iggy Pop got back on track, thanks in part to his pal. Bowie had produced the Stooges’ notorious Raw Power LP in 1973, and their collaborative relationship continued on Iggy’s solo albums. On his second solo LP, Bowie provided the title song and co-wrote much of the record’s eight other songs. Bowie played keyboards on the sessions, and repeated those duties on Pop’s concert tour in support of the release.
“Pretty Pink Rose” by Adrian Belew (1990) – Former Frank Zappa lead guitarist Adrian Belew first worked with Bowie in the late 1970s, touring and playing on the studio album Lodger. More than a decade later – after working with Talking Heads and King Crimson – Belew rejoined Bowie’s band for another run. All the while he cultivated a creatively rich and innovative solo career; Bowie guested on Belew’s fifth solo release, Young Lions. Written by Bowie, the duet “Pretty Pink Rose” is a highlight of this superb album.
With a background in marketing and advertising, Bill Kopp got his professional start writing for Trouser Press. After a stint as Editor-in-chief for a national music magazine, Bill launched Musoscribe in 2009, and has published new content every business day since then (and every single day since 2018). The 4500-plus interviews, essays, and reviews on Musoscribe reflect Bill's keen interest in American musical forms, most notably rock, jazz, and soul. His work features a special emphasis on reissues and vinyl. Bill's work also appears in many other outlets both online and in print. He regularly hosts lecture/discussions on artists and albums of historical importance (including monthly events Music to Your Ears and Music Movie Mondays), and is a frequent guest on music-focused radio programs and podcasts. In Spring 2023 he taught a history of Rock 'n' Roll at UNC Asheville's College for Seniors. He also researches and authors liner notes for album reissues -- more than 30 to date -- and co-produced a reissue of jazz legend Julian "Cannonball" Adderley's final album. His first book, Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2018, and in paperback in 2019. His second book, Disturbing the Peace: 415 Records and the Rise of New Wave, was published in 2021 by HoZac Books. His third book, What's the Big Idea: Great Concept Albums will be published in 2024. Read even more about him here.