Rod Liddle

David Bowie once praised Hitler… but he was always changing his tune

It wasn’t being a chameleon or sexual revolutionary that made him important, but his brilliant songs

16 January 2016

9:00 AM

16 January 2016

9:00 AM

I was desperately worried that you hadn’t read or heard enough platitudinous drivel about David Bowie — and therefore felt compelled to weigh in with my own observations. In all honesty I haven’t heard so much repetitive, imbecilic guff since Mandela shuffled off this mortal coil. It was even worse than the confected sobfest that greeted the passing of the charming and likeable Lou Reed.

The eulogies for Lou were simply a case of the BBC telling everybody that they are dead hip and edgy, really enjoyed ‘Perfect Day’ and once knew someone, back in uni, who had an album by the Velvet Underground. With Bowie, it was partly the misguided wish to show off that same hipness, but also an attempt to shoehorn poor old Bowie, only hours cold, into their relentless political agenda. And so as soon as the ‘experts’ had told us, over and over again, that Bowie was a ‘chameleon’, they started in on his revolutionary approach to sexual intercourse —which was, in short, an atavistic and unceasing desire to shag anything and everything with a pulse, as often as was humanly possible. As far as the BBC was concerned, this made Bowie a sort of combination of Harvey Milk and Peter Tatchell rolled into one: a fearless fighter for LGBT rights, pushing back the barriers of conservative morality and heralding, almost single-handedly, a brave new world of equality for gays, transgendered persons, bisexuals, etc.

Missing entirely were Bowie’s stated political opinions. Arriving back in drab, grey, strike–ridden Britain from America in 1975, he said the country needed a good dose of fascism. Asked to elucidate, he said: ‘I believe very strongly in fascism… Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars.’ He also lambasted declining moral standards, adding: ‘You’ve got to have an extreme right-wing front come up and sweep everything off its feet and tidy everything up.’

And then there was his disdain for the ordinary man, the plebs: ‘See the mice in their million hordes/From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads.’ None of that stuff got any airtime, oddly enough. It didn’t match the template — creative liberationist!


He also hated rock music. Like another singular performer, the magnificently curmudgeonly Van Morrison, he found its constraints and pretensions tedious, stupid and soul-destroying. In the same year as he said England might be enlivened by fascism, he said rock music was ‘dead’. ‘It’s a toothless old woman,’ he remarked, with some acuity.

This was not just a tossed-off attempt to grab an NME headline — he was saying much the same thing ten years later. Like Morrison, he wished no association with rock music. And like Morrison, his finest work was informed directly by the music which preceded rock music — in Morrison’s case jazz and blues, in Bowie’s case music hall, Brecht-Weill, the sweeping soundscapes of Dimitri Tiomkin and avant-garde modern classical music. He could ‘rock out’ — ‘Suffragette City’, ‘Panic In Detroit’ and ‘Rebel Rebel’, for example, but not very frequently, and he was often indebted to his guitarists, especially Mick Ronson, for the riffs.

This brings us to the point missed in all those encomiums. Bowie was successful, and valuable as an artist, not because he was a ‘chameleon’ who changed characters and reinvented himself — as we have been lectured endlessly. Plenty of bands and artists have done that change-of-image business and failed lamentably. He was important because he had a quite remarkable melodic imagination, one which was not tied to the stultify-ing confines of rock music. The chord changes of his verses were often unorthodox and the melody line skittered around them with enormous range — miles away from the root chord, which elsewhere in this staid and conservative medium defines the tune. Then a swirling and unexpected chorus would sweep you off your feet — often a very non-rock-song chorus. ‘Starman’, ‘Oh You Pretty Things’, ‘Changes’, ‘Drive In Saturday’, ‘The Prettiest Star’ and more, even than these, the song he gave away to the band Mott The Hoople, ‘All The Young Dudes’. Hell, this last may be his best-ever song. How did he come up with such a chorus? A chorus that defies prediction.

The simple truth, I reckon, is that Bowie, for six years at least, wrote very good songs, songs that were not drawn from the medium with which he came to be associated. And that is why they still have resonance now.

In this he is like another, less fashionable, creature: Paul McCartney. The rock press always adored John Lennon and rather despised McCartney. But favourite Beatles songs are almost all by McCartney. Lennon was loved for his supposed ‘edge’, for his fatuous political convictions (the attendant hypocrisy forgotten). McCartney just carried on writing tunes which had about them a sophistication and vast melodic range. Compare the melodies of two songs which, initially, have a similar chord sequence: ‘Here, There and Everywhere’, by McCartney and ‘Woman’, by Lennon. McCartney’s soars all over the place and then, just for fun, changes key — twice. Lennon’s sticks doggedly to the base note of every chord.

The experts and the BBC will tell you that Bowie and the Beatles were successful for a whole plethora of what are, in the end, irrelevancies. The attitude, the make-up, the politics. Whereas in truth it’s much more simple — it’s all about the songs.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10


Show comments
  • Rik

    No Rod,you miss the point,Bowie’s death alongside Jerry hall’s engagement meant the MSM could breathe a sigh of relief and fill the airtime and newsprint with trash gossip and bury their heads back in the sand about the rapefugee crisis.

    • Caractacus

      Yep. Now Rickman’s pegged it as well we’ll be hearing about it all week. 500 women assaulted in Cologne? Might as well never have happened.

      • Todd Unctious

        But only 106 women said they were assaulted. Just 17 of these were sexual harassments, but one was a rape. Not 500.

    • King Kibbutz

      And still no arrests, no apologies, no deportations. Get used to it ladies.

  • polidorisghost

    “and once knew someone, back in uni, who had an album by the Velvet Underground.”
    I was the dude with the record. It didn’t do me any good – the chicks just weren’t interested.

  • polidorisghost

    “The rock press.”
    Well, I’ve heard of it, but I don’t think I have ever known anyone who reads the rock press. There’s very little you can write about rock, at the end of the day.

    • rbw152

      Isn’t it used to crush grapes?

    • Ridcully

      Well, “Kerrang!” has been around for quite some time.

      • King Kibbutz

        So has polio.

        • Ridcully

          So has Anthrax 😉

    • Frank Marker

      Now what was that quote about rock journalism Frank Zappa said?

  • mick

    Good stuff re Bowie..not sure about the L*nn*n comparison though …Across the Universe, Walrus, most of Day in the Life….Obla-di-…..? please turn to p94.

    You’re spot on about Bowie media trash though!

  • James Chilton

    Hello. Just checked in from Mars.

    I have heard of Mr Bowie and seen pictures of his painted face and strange costumes in the papers. I’ve never listened to any of his songs – not one, ever.

    Have I missed something of great ‘cultural significance’ during my exile?

    • MacGuffin

      Mars, you say?

      Well, that’s one musical question answered.

      • James Chilton

        Oh.

    • The_greyhound

      Yes.

      Pierre Boulez died.

      • James Chilton

        How do they know?

        • Jambo25

          Good one.

      • Jambo25

        A composer of unlistenable music.

        • Fritz123

          Not at all. You had to see him live.

          • Jambo25

            I don’t view music. I listen to it.

          • Fritz123

            But if you see it performed live from a good place on Boulez birthday. You need patience and in such a situation you have it.

          • Jambo25

            I don’t need to watch music. I need to listen to it.

          • Fritz123

            Yes. But a concert is allways more.

          • Jambo25

            But only if you like the music.

          • Fritz123

            Well, to sit more or less next to Boulez in Berlins concert hall makes you like everything. The concert hall is big, but there are also places next to the stage. And it was surprisingly good. Well, they have good musicians. IMHO the setting is allways very important. There is music that I can hear only in boring trains and there it is great. Morton Feldman etc

          • Jambo25

            But I simply do not like Boulez’s music. I find it dreary and largely unlistenable. I also thoroughly dislike the music of Morton Feldman as well.

          • Fritz123

            Have you ever played an instrument? And do you like Bowie?

          • Jambo25

            No, regrettably and yes, I do like a fair amount of Bowie’s work: though not all. However, I like the music of Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Richard Strauss, Stravinsky, Britten, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and a few others a lot more.

  • Liberanos

    He fitted the mould exactly. Shagged about. Took drugs. Wrote music. Talked crap. Got rich. Died.
    If we had the talent we’d all do it.

    • rbw152

      I’ve only got two more on the list to go then! Just need to master the talent bit….

    • William Brown

      Well spotted!

    • ACN

      Personally, I am well on course to manage one of the six.

      • Todd Unctious

        Talking crap?

      • ACN

        Okay Todd, make that two.

  • FrankS2

    Bowie’s flirtation with fascism – and giving fans a fascist salute from an open top car – was one of the things that launched that early manifestation of virtue signalling Rock Against Racism. The other was Clapton’s outrageous onstage announcement about an Arab pinching his wife’s bum – factually accurate, no doubt, and by today’s standards very restrained on the part the Arab.

    • The_greyhound

      Presumably a Christian Arab, though.

    • Ade

      and, Clapton publicly supporting Enoch Powell – that got him a fair amount of stick…

      • Simon Fay

        Apparently Rod Stewart spoke up for Enoch circa 1970-71. He was on the verge of major major stardom though and evidently someone had a word with him so that he publicly recanted and kept his career trajectory.

  • rbw152

    McCartney was also influenced at an early age by music hall. Hence the strange chords in his tunes. They’re more for piano than guitar.

    • Lancastrian_Oik

      And when they were in Hamburg, the Beatles played rocked-up versions of show-tunes and standards, where the chords aren’t always straightforward.

      • Jambo25

        I once heard Ray Davies of the Kinks try and explain why there were so many good British songwriters in the 60s and 70s. He reckoned that part of it was that if you were active in those years you had a lot of influences. You were old enough to remember music hall. You’d heard the great American musicals and the work of British composers like Noel Coward but you were young enough to have had all the influences of Rock n Roll and Soul. As a result there was a very rich set of influences: musically and lyrically to call on.

  • Sandy

    To be fair, Bowie was doing an awful lot of drugs in the 70’s when he made those remarks.
    Spot on about Lennon’s hypocrisy as he had a climate controlled room in his New York mansion just for keeping his fur coats in tip-top shape!

    • greencoat

      That is so creepy.

  • Doctor Mick

    I remember the toothless old woman quote – made shortly before Punk Rock burst onto the scene as if to prove him wrong. But yes, Bowie was a great songwriter above all else.

  • ghostoflectricity

    Excellent on Lennon vs. McCartney. The ‘hip’ and ‘alternative’ press gave us a lot over the years about John’s revolutionary spirit, his edginess, etc. Mostly this was mistaking rudeness and sometimes outright cruelty and sadism- John had a mean streak a mile wide and held a grudge better than anyone since the dawn of human history- for true commitment to serious social and political change, whatever that may have meant. The same characters went on about Paul’s maudlin and treacly songs (and many of them certainly were- I hate “Yesterday” with a passion) and his supposedly over-eager-to-please personality. But in fact, as with John, they got it all wrong- Paul is polite and well-bred by nature and does not make a virtue over being publicly nasty to those whom he considers his intellectual and moral inferiors, unlike John. It took the self-appointed prince of ’60s-’70s hipsterism, the vastly overrated American comedian George Carlin (he of the famous seven words you can’t say on television; he himself died in 2008) to highlight the bogusness and despicable values at the root of this sneering, vain, shallow and, yes, ultimately hypocritical hipster attitude (well-embodied by the serial insulter Lou Reed, as nasty a person as ever lived). After George Harrison passed away, Carlin famously said the wrong two Beatles had died. Meaning, of course, ‘spiritual’ George and ‘rebel’ John. Meaning, of course, that, in the hipster ethos, Paul and Ringo, both generally reserved men, not forceful in stating their opinions, and embodying the square and passé English values of politesse, waiting one’s turn, and mutual respect for the other, were beneath contempt in the hipster value system and the world would be better off without them. That Carlin’s despicable remark was gleefully repeated and praised only pointed out the absolute hollowness of the modern hipster ethos.

    • Jambo25

      Spot on. Lennon’s best work was done as part of Lennon/McCartney when he had Paul McCartney tethering him to earth. When he went solo the stuff he produced was overhyped, pretentious rubbish. Anyone who likes ‘Imagine’ should be publicly flogged. Having noted that it would be churlish not to record how wonderful the work he did with McCartney as part of the Beatles, was. The 2 of them together were the greatest British songwriters of the 20th century and produced wonderful popular music. Revolver and Rubber Soul are 2 of the greatest (possibly the 2 greatest) pop/rock albums ever made.
      Lennon was also a cruel, vain and at times very nasty piece of work who seemed to take delight in humiliating people weakeThere is a well known story about him and the singer Harry Nilsson, unpleasantly drunk in a New York bar, giving a waitress a hard time. For some reason Lennon was wearing a sanitary towel tied round his head and after being ignored by the waitress asked her if she knew who he was. She replied,”Yeah, you’re a jerk with a Kotex on his head.”.
      You’re right on Lou Reed as well. One of my friends used to work in the music industry and had to work with Reed for a while. He described him as a fairly unpleasant person.

      • ghostoflectricity

        Agree, but don’t wish to overstate the case. I love some of John’s songs (especially “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “A Day In The Life,” though the latter benefitted from a large infusion of Paul). And I certainly wouldn’t go as far as saying people who like “Imagine” should be hanged. Agree also that “RS” and “Revolver” are great albums (I prefer both to “SPLHCB”). Much of this debate is incidentally academic for me; I love The Beatles as much as any boomer but always preferred The Stones (and don’t get me started on Jagger/Richards vs. Brian Jones or Jagger vs. Richards or which was better, Brian-era Stones (’62-’69) or Mick Taylor-era Stones (’69-’74)).

        • Jambo25

          Don’t put words in my mouth. I don’t want people who like ‘Imagine’ hanged: merely publicly flogged. When I was younger I probably preferred the Stones as well but now I’m old and feeble I’ve gone back to the Beatles. I’ve also become a major Neil Young fan boy. Incidentally,2 of the best rock concerts I ever attended were by the Stones. One was the famous ‘Stones in the Park’ concert after Brian Jones death and the other was the concert tied to the ‘Sticky Fingers’ LP.

          • ghostoflectricity

            You saw The Stones’ ’69 Hyde Park concert? Wish I could have been there. Shelley and Keats, Mick in his frilly white blouse, butterflies (unfortunately many dead from the heat before they were released), the Brit version of the Hell’s Angels (a relatively benign version of the real thing, the California thugs, as The Stones discovered to their dismay five months later at Altamont- I don’t blame the Stones, I blame the Grateful Dead- who didn’t even play their Altamont gig- and the GD’s management, who gave the Stones bad advice about Sonny Barger and Co.), Mick Taylor’s gig debut with the band (and a nice rendition by him of Brian’s slide part on “No Expectations”). I’m envious. I was at a “fun” summer camp my parents sent me to in Maine that was anything but while you were frolicking in the Park. Saw The Stones twice: downtown Ft. Worth, TX summer of ’72 in support of “Exile,” and in the early 2000s in Chicago. Did you see Blind Faith a month earlier in Hyde Park? What a time that was.

          • Jambo25

            I’m trying to remember who the support band was. I think it was King Crimson. You wouldn’t have wanted to be sitting near my pals or I. The previous night it had been a lot of beer and a major curry binge. I remember some guy sitting behind us complaining about the smell. Yes, I did see the Blind Faith concert. I remember less about that than the Stones one. I think it was the quality of the drugs.
            That’s a thing about the 60s and early 70s that people forget how accessible the rock stars were. You could bump into Hendrix or Jagger or somebody else in the Chelsea Drug Store or the old Chelsea Potter pub. Very different from today. It was the same with sports idols. When I moved to Manchester I used to have a natter with Manchester United players at the old Horse and Jockey on Chorlton Green. Celebs, in those days, weren’t totally removed from the generality of the public.

          • Jambo25

            Incidentally, most of my family live in the States and at that time I used to visit in the Summer. Most lived in the Hartford Conn. area and they had a place down near Hammonasset. Another part of the family had a summer place up in Cape Cod. One of my uncles retired to Maine and ended up living outside Biddeford. A close neighbour was a certain Bush family in Kennebunkport. I haven’t been to the States for years but I’m thinking of going for a holiday in New England. The White Barn down near Kennebunkport was recommended. Maybe my stay will be happier than yours all those years ago.

      • Ipsedixit

        I Agree with your “anyone who loves Imagine should be publicly flogged”. Lennon epitomised the shallowness of pop culture.

        • Jambo25

          I think, while he was part of a group like the Beatles his more bizarre tendencies, crassness and megalomania were kept under control but he began to believe his own publicity, developed a bit of a Messiah complex and really churned out some crud.

    • artemis in france

      Agree with you except on the un preachy Paul who now berates meat eaters for producing more methane via the emissions from grazing animals. Also the spiritual George never preached about it and much of his solo output was better than that from the other two.
      Clapton says George was far more pragmatic and earthy than his image implied.

      • ghostoflectricity

        Don’t want to overdo what I said. Don’t mean to put down George; the entire “All Things Must Pass” album was a work of genius and revealed just what the (relatively) young boy could do when not in the shadow of The Big Two. Wouldn’t disagree that Paul sometimes has his self-righteous side, just that it is not characteristic of him, while John had a long history since adolescence (or even childhood) of bad temper and occasional physical violence which he and his hagiographers have tried to sweep under the rug by pointing to the later, post-LSD, “Imagine”/peace-and-love John. I would also never deny John’s huge talent. I just find the hipster mode of simplistic classification- who is cool and righteous and who is not (and thus is deserving of sneering contempt) annoying, false, hypocritical, and wrong. George certainly was a classy guy in many ways- how many men would watch the love of their life (Patti Boyd in George’s case) leave them for one of their best friends (Eric Clapton) and still stay friends with that man? (Though to be fair, and contrary to the hipsters’ and others’ depiction of him as an incompetent nerd who couldn’t play drums- which was utterly false, I know many drummers and all of them respect Ringo- Ringo kept George as friend even after George had an affair with Ringo’s first wife Maureen while they were still married).

    • Fritz123

      Lennon did not survive. Give peace a chance, what? He had some personal sound. Sometimes.

  • The_greyhound

    But more than anything else he was no where near Cologne on New Year’s Eve, and most considerate in relieving the BBC of the obligation to report a story excruciatingly painful to them, one that they never wished to report.

    Bowies’s demise has been a great success for the broadcasters – any more outrages by the marauders of the Religion of Peace, and Jagger would do well to take extra care of his health.

  • mrclaypole

    Bowie and Lennon managed to stay cool though unlike McCartney who had a habit of saying the wrong thing at the wrong moment. Lennon was not very likable whereas Bowie seemed to stay mates with those he went to school with and seems to have been very well liked by those who knew him (ex wife aside). He liked dressing up ,singing songs and mating – what is not to like?

    As we had 17 minutes on the news at 10 on Bowie (I timed it) what will we get when McCartney/Jagger – those other great capitalists – kark it? I think a couple of days off for the state funerals with Brian May and Blair playing guitar on the roof of Buck House?

    • Sanctimony

      Yes, all these two-bit-half-wit pop icons are becoming a tad tedious… don’t you think…. apparently some of them are even able to read and write…. allegedly…

      Essentially I think that after their sudden flukes of fortune they were advised by the host of spongers that attended them that the way forward was to pretend that they possessed a brain cell or two and to reel off names like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Sartre etc,etc etc to give themselves a bit of mystery….

      Meanwhile, Davy’s greatest pleasures remained returning home to Bromley to munch her Marmite crumpets….

  • AlexanderGalt

    Spot on.

    • Tom Sykes

      odd — I made exactly the same comment before I saw yours .
      You must be very intelligent 🙂

      • AlexanderGalt

        You too, clearly.

  • The_greyhound

    And beyond all this, the days of public morning, the grateful people prostrate with grief, the mile long cortege, the random dimbleby whispering to the nation, and finally the gun carriage carries Stephen Fry to his State Funeral.

    • Jambo25

      Bowie had himself cremated in a strictly private ceremony.

    • Stu

      Every morning is a public morning. Sometimes we spend our mornings mourning.

    • greencoat

      Ha-Ha!! ‘The random Dimbleby whispering to the nation’ – brilliant.

    • Sanctimony

      There may well be ‘public morning’…. there will certainly never be any public mourning for that ghastly old queen when he shuffles off his mortal coil…

  • Simon Fay

    I’m pretty sure BBC4 has run at least one hour-long show a year or two back on the moment in ‘Starman’ on TOTP where DB draped his arm around Mick Ronson, and changed Britain for these talking heads drawn largely from the staff of 6Music blah blah blah.

    A peculiar, inscrutable, (almost) perenially-curious, switched-on and talented chap who covered a lot of interesting ground. RIP.

  • Tom Sykes

    Spot on.

  • Ade

    Yes! Exactly! I’ve spent 15 years teaching rock guitar, and Bowie’s songs are an unpredictable delight, unlike so many others… And, as has been said, for a masterclass in songwriting, look at McCartney.

    • Sue Smith

      A masterclass in POP music songwriting. Don’t forget people writing for the theatre who were THE greatest masters, next to Schubert himself. Cf Cole Porter (“Love for Sale”) and these lyrics (inter alia) of Lorenz “Larry” Hart – not to mention the incredible melodic invention which accompanied these:

      Your looks are laughable,
      Unphotographable,
      Yet you’re my favourite work of art (“My Funny Valentine”)

      …to name but one only!!

      • Jambo25

        The Chet Baker version of ‘My Funny Valentine’ is a true Jazz standard.

  • MungFace

    Your intent is a great one, Bowie’s pure songwriting chops need to be highlighted more. And same goes for McCartney, who always got an unfair rep in contrast to Lennon. Where you go too far is your obnoxious need to put something down in order to lift something else up. Bowie’s fascist statements are A) very well known and B) are not taken seriously by anyone who has even remotely looked into it. Bowie completely disavowed them as the words of a provocateur high out of his mind in the lowest depths of his cocaine abuse. You may have forgotten that he played characters? That was kind of his thing. Everything people are saying about his cultural impact is more or less true, he really was WAY ahead of his time in terms of sexual identity and artistic expression through his characters. He was a modern day Van Gogh, one of the very few artists of our time that simply can’t be overrated from any angle. Like the Beatles. You don’t have to slam one thing in order to point out the thing YOU like. You can just appreciate all of it.

    Same goes for your complete butchering of John Lennon’s songwriting prowess. You’re going to tell me Lennon just sticks to simple chords and root-note melodies? That’s an absolutely absurd thing to put forth, when his catalog speaks for itself. You haven’t heard Strawberry Fields? Because? Happiness Is A Warm Gun? I Am The Bloody Walrus?!? On the latter, the intro itself modulates through chords before the song even starts. Again, you can sing McCartney’s praises as perhaps the most sophisticated songwriter in the Beatles, but that doesn’t mean you have to slag John who in fact, was right up there with him as a very close second when he wasn’t surpassing him. The miracle of the Beatles was there were two songwriters of genuinely all-time caliber, let alone George who easily stands on his own.

    • artemis in france

      In fact George eventually eclipsed both of them. His work once the Beatles ended was better than anything either of the others produced solo.

      • MungFace

        I wouldn’t say he ever eclipsed them, but I won’t take anything away from George. All 3 had brilliant moments in their solo careers. He had the unfortunate benefit of having a HUGE stockpile of songs that he couldn’t get on a Beatles record at his disposal once he was solo. But even then, I would put RAM, Imagine, Band On The Run, and a few more right up there with All Things Must Pass and the best of George. Again, you can love George and not have it be at the expense of the other two.

    • Sue Smith

      And if you want a simple, strophic song with multiple modulations and extraordinary arrangement look no further than the totally brilliant “Eleanor Rigby” – unsurpassed in rock history, IMO. George Martin, take a bow.

      • Innit Bruv

        Multiple modulations ????!!!!!!
        There is nothing remotely resembling a modulation in Eleanor Rigby. The whole song is made of two chords
        (E minor and C major).

        • Sue Smith

          Tonic to Dominant and return is a modulation! What do you think the relationship is between E minor and C major if there isn’t a modulation. Minor and major – right there a juxtaposition. EMinor is the relative of G Major. So in speaking about ‘two chords’ you are already looking at distant relations, via modulation.

          • Innit Bruv

            Complete and utter bunkum.
            Modulation is a shift, be it short or extended, to another tonal area by various means ( for example by common-tone modulation or by “tonicising” a particular chord and establishing it as a new tonic.)
            Alternating between the same two chords for two or three minutes hardly qualifies.
            There is no “distant relations” between a C major and an E minor chord as they have two notes in common (E and G). Therefore finding a melody that
            “suits both chords” isn’t that big a deal (which of course doesn’t alter the fact that Eleanor Rigby is a truly outstanding son

          • Sue Smith

            It certainly is MORE complicated than you’ve made out!! And it sounds it.

            Not like simple strumming of so many many pop songs. “Hardly qualifies” won’t cut it. Compare this song to “Peggy Sue” and other such tripe.

            You don’t get it, that’s all. Stop being a troll.

          • Innit Bruv

            I suggest you get yourself a good book on Harmony and Counterpoint and study the section on modulation. You really don’t know what you’re talking about.

          • Sue Smith

            Stop being a troll. I have an MA in Musicology from an Australian university.

          • Innit Bruv

            My user name would give you NO indication AT ALL about me.
            You may have an MA in musicology from an Australian University (some musicologists are notoriously deficient in matters theoretical so your qualifications cut very little ice with me), I have an MA in Music Theory from a top American music school.
            I am also a pianist and a conductor and also used to play the church organ for a number of years.
            Amazing how a carefully chosen “nom de plume”
            can reveal the extent of some people’s prejudices.

      • MungFace

        But that’s a Paul song. I was more sticking up for John’s songwriting ability. I think you make a mistake citing Eleanor Rigby for “multiple modulations” but it’s certainly a brilliant work. think its use of the Dorian Mode is the most interesting part of its composition, which was pretty unusual for a pop/rock act.

        • Sue Smith

          It has both modulations (in the case I previously made) you may say the Dorian Mode – though these don’t have conventional diatonic resolutions – and that’s what makes it unusual and interesting. And if you listen carefully to it, the song has a lack of cadential sense even though strophic in structure. This is all part of the thematic ideas of the song – that Eleanor Rigby’s life was circular, inevitable and that she died alone having lived a life of no real significance. Bernard Herrmann’s “Psycho” music is there, not just in the arrangement of instruments but it’s relentless inevitability and repetitive bow strikes. And it has, what we call in classical music, a ‘tierce’ at the end – that’s when a piece in a major key ends on the tonic minor.

          When a song lends itself to such analysis we can say it’s a far better one than the average. That’s the point I was making.

          • MungFace

            That’s awesome. I know all that stuff is there, but I don’t have the classical training for all the words. But I’ve researched the classical basis of the Beatles just to prove to my friends that I’m not just gushing about a good band, but that they actually were doing something totally elevated from others.

          • Sue Smith

            Having an MA in Musicology definitely helps!!!

            George Martin lifted much of the Beatles music from the quotidian to the truly artistic, BUT they had the melodic ideas in the first place. He merely polished these into beautiful gems. (Well, not ‘merely’!!) There’s a U-Tube clip of McCartney performing “Eleanor Rigby” at the White House – he’s strumming his guitar for the performance. It is NOT the same song when he does this and it makes one realize how central to the original was the use of strings and the treatment by Martin. Without these it loses its power, IMO.

            I don’t think you need to ‘prove’ anything to your friends about the Beatles – they can stand on their own merits. There are so many wonderful songs to choose from I really wouldn’t know where to start!! 🙂

          • JonathanBagley

            Thanks for that. Very informative. Musical composition fascinates me.

    • KT Thornton

      Once heard an interview where Bowie mocked Macca’s plink plonky songs.

  • King Kibbutz

    Excellent.

  • greggf

    “….a case of the BBC telling everybody …..they started in on his revolutionary approach to sexual intercourse”

    Something that they had recently discovered, I believe…..!

  • johnb1945

    Quite!

  • Tom M

    I could do with less David Bowie thanks from any angle. He was only a pop star.

    • Steven Bannister

      You’re very obviously not a musician.

      • Tom M

        Sometime church organist if that counts.

    • Ipsedixit

      Agreed. As my Dad said, all this fuss over somebody who sings and dances for people with proper jobs.

    • sfin

      As he himself said, when asked to comment on some burning issue of the day.

  • John Bindon

    Best article by Rod for a while. His usual suspects of Islam and Lefties become a tad predictable.

  • John Andrews

    I like Rod best when he is sending the EU up or down. A piece on the horrifying Juncker or the ghastly Osborne would be most welcome. The latter is so sure of being PM that he told Andrew Marr we could never have another referendum on the EU. Is that within his say-so? And would he change his mind if he lost the first referendum? I wish someone would make a device which automatically changes the station when Osborne is due to appear.

    • Ooh!MePurse!

      Get yourself a device called a ‘remote control’; they are becoming increasingly available in specialist television rental outlets.

      • John Andrews

        Please give me more details of what sounds like a useful device.

  • John Steadman

    Bowie’s musical legacy…? About 5 divisions below Holly, Presley, Dylan (who I don’t particulary like), Sedaka, Goffin/King, the Everlys….and a hundred others

    • oldoddjobs

      So, Bowie is “5 divisions” below Neil Sedaka? Cool story bro

  • red allover

    In the day, Mr. Bowie’s Glam rock was the death of authentic rock’n’roll, so it seemed, the same old show biz fakery . . .
    I had to cover my Pete Seeger and Leadbelly records with my super cape to survive his expert pop tune blast . . .
    A group called the New York Dolls were trans rockers years before Bowie, were they not?

    • Simon Fay

      If DB was all fake…well his fakery of that era has stood up very well 40-odd years on IMO. The NY Dolls were one-trick ponies by comparison.

  • jetboy24

    check out Rod Liddle’s writing in his archives, racism throughout..
    the right wing propagandist left this out, because it doesn’t fit his agenda:
    homosexuality was decriminalized in Britain in 1967
    Ziggy Stardust was on TOP just five years later, a cross-dresser, a transvestite, a gay man..
    a huge audience watched this..
    this was radical..
    just five years after homosexuality was decriminalized..
    PS: Bowie declined to accept CBE, twice..
    was that political?..

    • Brian Jones

      Why must everything be brought down to left or right wing? A lot of people liked Bowie’s music and a lot thought it was garbage as with almost any singer songwriter.

    • Mr B J Mann

      Sorry, but when, and how, exactly, was homosexuality criminalised?!

  • ant

    Well who knew? As sharp an appraisal of Bowie’s talents – and in relation to those of Lennon/McCartney – as you will see anywhere. I know not if Rod knows his way around a keyboard or a fretboard, or has mates who do, but this is bang on.

  • Steven Bannister

    Agreed. It was the SONGWRITING that set Bowie apart. He was not just another pretty face, fashionista or vapid pop star, when it came to music, he was the real deal. His entire first album Space Oddity is…incredible. His albums Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Station to Station, Low and Heroes contain some of the most creative and downright ENJOYABLE music of the 1970’s. And he kicked off the 80s with Scary Monsters, one of the greatest art house /no wave/ rock fusion masterpieces of all time. His image, persona and cultural influence were great to be sure – but it was his music that tied it all together and made us pay attention in the first place.

    • Fritz123

      This was not his first album. His first album unter the David Bowie name started with Uncle Arthur and it is maybe his greatest. Thats the Bowie who will survive.

      • Frank Marker

        I agree with you about his first album. It contained some real musical curios like Little Bombardier, She’s Got Medals and London Boys, the latter is one of the great London songs about being a pill popping mod in the metropolis.

        • Fritz123

          I didnt care much about Bowie, he was the hero of a girlfriend and her sisters in the 70s, but for whatever reason I was at a birthday party for him in Berlin in the Hansa studio and then I found some very nice blog in Argentina with all the records and without waiting downloaded most. And when I heart this first I had so many musical deja vues, incredible. Dont know who did copy certain lines of music, but I remembered a lot of lines in slightly other versions, more powerfull or more concentrated. If this wasnt a memory of another time..thanks! We are hungry…

  • AdrianM

    ‘So I turned myself to face me
    But I’ve never caught a glimpse
    Of how the others must see the faker
    I’m much too fast to take that test’

    Blindingly great songwriter

    • King Zog

      Those are words.

      • AdrianM

        You’re not a member of MENSA by any chance?

        • King Zog

          The short anser is “no”.

          The long answer is “nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo”.

          Actually I’m a Marxist.

          • Nobjocki

            At least Marx could spell.

          • King Zog

            Should have been obvious that that was a typo. But which Marx?

    • trobrianders

      The writing is clumsy

      • Gilbert White

        Agree mystic meg lyrics?

  • rockylives

    Spot on.

    I went to see that Bowie exhibition when it toured Toronto (with all his old stage costumes and what not). It was mildly interesting, but I came out thinking that to catch a glimpse of the mystery of Bowie’s genius I would have been far better off sitting at home and listening to, say, the Diamond Dogs album.

    It really is all about the songs.

    • Ron Todd

      If it wasn’t for the songs he would have been that strange bloke who liked to dress up and play with his mothers makeup. The person the neighbours would tell their children to stay well clear off.

      • Neil Saunders

        True. The “theatricality” and flaunted bisexuality were – to me – absolutely the least interesting things about him, although I have no doubt that they reeled in plenty of tin-eared weirdos.

  • Jay Lee

    You don’t have to like the artist to enjoy a particular song, and David Bowie (or should that be David Blowie?) is not accepted by anyone I know as a “right winger”.
    He was a queer, a drug addict, a paedophile, a race mixer. What’s “right wing” about THAT then?
    No wonder the libtard luvvies fawn over him so much.

    Yes, I’ll tap my foot to one of his occasional songs from the radio in my car, but as a person, he was as detestable as all luvvie libtards. Gone and thankfully forgotten.

    • TK

      Direct quote from Bowie: “I wouldn’t mind being the first English president of the United States either. I’m certainly rightwing enough.”

      • Neil Saunders

        He was an attention-seeker and provocateur. I wouldn’t take anything he said too seriously. He certainly didn’t.

  • Fenman

    What worries me is we are going to have a deluge of dead rock stars over the next few yrs. so the media is going to be dominated by all this OTT bull about these geniuses. Mozart was a genius, maybe Nelson Riddle,Dylan,Chet baker and Miles Davies. But these talented rockers were just great entertainers,and shd be treated as such.

  • milford

    One of the best surprises of 2015 for me was Rod Liddle. Great observer and commentator.

    • KT Thornton

      Too contrary for the sake of it.

  • American Pancake

    Rock stars say a lot of outrageous things but David Bowie’s greatness is in his major influence on the musical landscape and while he inspired indie artists, actors, performance artists, gay, lesbian and transgender folk he certainly didn’t and is not know for inspiring fascists and spreading fascism in any way. Rod Liddle is certainly correct that the glam scene was in full swing before Bowie and Bowie and his artistic team certainly cherry picked what they wanted for their artistic visions but it was Bowie’s success that brought legions of fans to other glam artists. It must be noted that Bowie’s whole glam period was only 18 months long. That is just a wink of an eye for an artist whose career lasted 47 years but God what an important wink it was. Liddle did get to the crux. It was the songs, those goddamn wonderful songs. David Bowie will live forever.

    • Cobbett

      I read somewhere that his comments on ”Fascism” contributed to the formation of ‘Rock Against Racism’. I think Eric Clapton’s comments on Enoch Powell were a factor also.

      • American Pancake

        Yes, I believe you are correct. I read that Bowie’s misguided Hitler comments had more to do with too much drug use and too much delving too deeply in his “Thin White Duke” Aryan persona but the idea that Bowie believed all the BS is ridiculous. At the age of 9 Bowie dreamed of being the baritone sax player for Little Richard and wanting to be black. Hardly the heart of an Aryan not to mention his whole career of supporting world musicians of all races.

        • KT Thornton

          And being married to a black woman for 20 years.

          • Thaddeus lovelock

            True

      • Neil Saunders

        Yes. It rather makes you want to form “Fans of Bowie and Clapton against Posturing PC W@*kers”, doesn’t it?

      • Gilbert White

        Should have read the label at the time Rock against Racism, was against gaunt thin blonde Dukes, and whites who oozed black crawdaddy. Negroes who threatened to burn whites beat their Oprah’s purple and destroy inner cities got a free pass. Even high court judges employ this nonsensical standard, these days?

    • Richard Baranov

      And Ron Liddle will be quickly forgotten.

  • Innit Bruv

    Mister Piggy a musicologist! Who would have thunk it?
    Post-Beatles, McCartney was responsible for some of the most inane tripe ever recorded. Lennon, on the other hand, wrote some first-rate songs in the seventies (true, some of the songs weren’t
    exactly top drawer).
    Trust some readers to misuse an article about David Bowie
    to indulge in crude racial stereotyping.

  • nalex21

    I did not realise how low The Spectator was in terms of cruddy journalism. Please rename yourselves The Speculum.

  • Thaddeus lovelock

    Was Lou Reed really “charming and likeable”? I would have said prickly and unlikeable.

    • KT Thornton

      He was being sarcastic…

      • Thaddeus lovelock

        Okay fair enough.

  • Stella Kay-Cole

    If you rate McCartney’s musical creation abilities explain ‘Wings’

    • Gilbert White

      If he had called himself the new punk acoustic research band, instead of wings he probably would have sold even more?

  • Mike435

    The article does not give any sources for the two Bowie quotes about fascism. Interestingly, both quotes can be found in the Wikipedia article on Bowie. Left out is the next sentence: “Bowie later retracted these comments in an interview with Melody Maker in October 1977, blaming them on mental instability caused by his drug
    problems at the time, saying: “I was out of my mind, totally, completely crazed.”

    • Gilbert White

      I do not think Bowie ever confessed to admiring Hitler, the same has Clapton was never anti black?

  • fredimeyer

    don’t give up the day job ron. you are not going to be a rock critic

  • Richard Baranov

    Interesting isn’t it. The vulture come out to pick the bones. One has to ask why these people don’t have the courage to attack when a person is alive. Vulnerable to being sued for defamation while the person is alive? One is reminded of the behaviour of hyenas but then hyenas do it for survival, the Ron Liddle’s of this world have no such excuse.

    • luke sampson

      The author of the article seems to approve of Bowie and his less than orthodox views about music and politics.

  • Telling that they have to keep making people into Comrade Ogilvy.

  • Retired Nurse

    So he had a lot in common with the Queen Mother …do ba do ba do ba ba badada….

  • Neil Saunders

    On the credit side:

    Wrote some good songs early in his career, especially on the idiosyncratic debut album and the quartet from “Space Oddity” (aka “David Bowie”) to “Ziggy Stardust”. (“Aladdin Sane” and “Diamond Dogs” were good, too, as were “Station to Station”, “Low” and “Heroes” (“Young Americans” was a disappointment, though, as was “The Lodger”).)

    Multi-instrumentalist, rather a good voice (closely modelled on that of Anthony Newley).

    On the debit side:

    Exhibitionist, prone to outbreaks of mime, “theatrical” stage shows, embarrassing attempts at acting, ill-advised political announcements at railway termini and ostentatious pansexualism (at least in theory).

    Heavy smoker and abuser of recreational drugs.

    Got greedy (e.g. Bowie Bonds).

    Lived in Switzerland.

  • JonathanOfWarwick

    Rod’s comparison between two Lennon and McCartney songs is completely fatuous. The chords to
    the first line of Here There And Everywhere are I-ii7-iii-IV in G, these chords are then repeated in the second line of the song, before McCartney smartly pivots to F#m. The chords to the first line of Woman are I-ii-iii-ii, after which the second line and third line of the verse follow different chords. Only the first 3 chords are similar, and you could say that about thousands of songs. While it is true that McCartney does use some more sophisticated writing and Classical form than Lennon, Lennon rarely aimed for sophistication, his preferences were for something more direct and/or bluesy. Also, it’s not as if Lennon at his best doesn’t have harmonic ingenuity of his own (in a non-Classical style), with plenty of the “unorthodox” chord changes that Rod praises Bowie for. (In fact, the influence of Lennon on Bowie seems much clearer than the influence of McCartney on Bowie, despite Rod attempting to align Bowie with McCartney.)
    Rod claims, as if he is the only one that recognizes it, that “The experts and the BBC will tell you that Bowie and the Beatles were successful for a whole plethora of what are, in the end, irrelevancies. The attitude, the make-up, the politics.” Can Rod provide a citation of any “experts” or members of the BBC that have claimed that the Beatles weren’t successful for their songs and recordings, but for their attitude, make-up or politics? In every world other than Rod’s, Lennon and McCartney are regularly praised as Britain’s greatest songwriters.
    Further, claiming that McCartney just carried on writing great melodies at the time when Lennon was being praised in the rock press for his political convictions is not entirely true – the McCartney song mentioned here is from 1966, long before Lennon became a political figure. It would be more accurate to say Lennon was praised (and also attacked) as a political figure at the same (early ‘70s) time that McCartney was writing increasingly lightweight Wings songs that were not worthy of his great talent. Presumably Rod did not wish to use something from the rudderless “Wild Life” to show how much better the McCartney of the time was than the political Lennon, because accuracy would
    only weaken his argument. When Paul did make the effort to write the songs he was capable of (such as the Band on the Run album), he was praised for it. Also, comparing a 1966 McCartney song (one of his very best songs, and one of his most sophisticated) to a 1980 Lennon song proves little. If I were to compare Strawberry Fields to a late 70s Wings song with 3 similar chords, I’m sure I would be able to ‘prove’ Lennon is better than McCartney. Frankly, any attempts to ‘prove’ who is better out of Lennon and McCartney – at their best, two equals with very different strengths – are doomed.

    • Neil Saunders

      “Because” (by Lennon) is a harmonically sophisticated song. The intro to “If I Fell” (from the very remote key of E-flat minor) is also pretty complex.

  • Freddy

    what added-value comments can be read in this article ?

  • Rajpdxusa

    I got to the bit where it said “Rod Liddle”……. 🙂

Close