The 1980s represent, arguably, David Bowie’s most dazzling decade. With the world watching, the icon had well and truly entered the mainstream. But the trajectory of Bowie’s ’80s – from Pierrot to pop star, Goblin King and a Glass Spider – was divisive, to say the least. And not just for Bowie fans. “Dylan gave voice to the alienated, but David gave voice to the freaks,” says Reeves Gabrels, who began working with Bowie in the late ’80s, in the latest issue of Uncut. “He wasn’t a pop star. He just happened to be able to make some pop records every now and then. That’s how he kept the machine running. But he was an artist. The function of entertainment is to make you feel good; the function of art is to make you feel.”
In celebration of this most creatively kaleidoscopic portion of his career, we’re sharing Uncut‘s list of the 10 best ‘neglected gems’ from Bowie’s ’80s – with b-sides, EP cuts and more. It’s all taken from the latest issue of Uncut (see below), which is on newsstands now, or available for purchase online.
‘Crystal Japan’ (B-side of ‘Up The Hill Backwards’), 1981
Initially earmarked for ‘Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)’,s but replaced by closer “It’s No Game (No 2)”, this track was actually released as a single in Japan in 1980. A comely instrumental, it was a throwback to the ambient moods of Low and “Heroes”.
‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’ (single), 1982)
Co-written with legendary producer Giorgio Moroder, the original version of the song (with its sinister synthesisers and rushing chorus) is far superior to its counterpart ‘Let’s Dance’.
‘The Drowned Girl’ (‘Baal’ EP), 1982
The most affecting Brecht/Weill track, which Bowie covered for the BBC’s dramatic adaptation of Baal, finds him plucking doleful guitar over a spectral arrangement.
‘Ricochet’ (‘Let’s Dance’), 1983
Bowie later regretted that “it didn’t roll the way it should have”, but this oddly metred swinger is a fine synthesis of art-rock and R&B.
‘This Is Not America’ (single), 1985
A subtle, sophisticated gem with a luxurious vocal, recorded with the Pat Metheny Group for the soundtrack of The Falcon And The Snowman.
‘Shades’ (‘Blah-Blah-Blah’), 1986
The best of Bowie’s six co-contributions to Iggy Pop’s comeback album, ‘Shades’ has a brooding, wistful quality enhanced by Pop’s rich baritone.
‘When The Wind Blows’ (single), 1986
Lifted from the soundtrack of the animated film of the same name, this track sees Bowie and co-writer Erdal Kizilcay unpack a delicious melody in a sad plea for survival.
‘Zeroes’ (‘Never Let Me Down’), 1987
Indebted to The Beatles and “every ’60s cliché I could think of”, and with a sly reference to Prince, this is Bowie’s examination of the effects of superstardom.
‘Girls’ (‘Time Will Crawl’ B-Side), 1987
A co-write with Erdal Kizilcay, ‘Girls’ was first recorded by Tina Turner on her ‘Break Every Rule’ LP. Bowie apparently intended a Jaques Brel-style chanson; enjoy its warm, swooping ‘Wild Is The Wind’ charm.
‘I Can’t Read’ (Tin Machine), 1989
It’s tempting to view this track – Tin Machine’s best – as Bowie’s comment on his own artistic failings in the ’80s. Full of mood and darkness, it features Bowie repeating the phrase “I just can’t get it right” over a spare, metallic soundtrack.