“All the Young Dudes,” “Perfect Day,” and “Walk on the Wild Side” are just a few of the legendary songs Ronson was significantly involved with. He also worked with Bob Dylan and Morrissey. Sadly, Ronson passed away of liver cancer on April 29, 1993, at the age of 46.
Beside Bowie: The Story of Mick Ronson is a new documentary produced by Emperor Media Production in association with Cardinal Releasing Ltd. It was directed by Jon Brewer, who has also produced movies on B.B. King and Nat King Cole. Today it popped up unceremoniously on Vimeo.
The movie features interviews with Angie Bowie, Lou Reed, Tony Visconti, Ian Hunter, Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols, Roger Taylor of Queen, and Joe Elliott of Def Leppard. Bowie’s comments are uniformly delivered in voiceover.
As David Bowie once said, “As a rock duo, I thought we were every bit as good as Mick and Keith, or Axl and Slash. Ziggy and Mick were the personification of that rock and roll dualism.” Watch Beside Bowie before it gets pulled.
Many years ago, a Japanese couple I knew in Tokyo got married and together they constructed and published a really elaborate full color book and CD (that came inside of a gatefold 12” album cover) for their wedding guests. It was an expertly made object incorporating incomprehensibly captioned Japanglish cartoons with a disc containing an almost Paul’s Boutique-level mixtape/audio collage that probably sampled 300 records in its 77-minute running time. It was densely packed with brief snippets of movie and cartoon dialogue, Moog, easy listening, garage rock, Barbarella, Morricone, 70s soul, novelty records and other obscure music and sounds. Think Future Sound of London in their “Amorphous Androgynous” guise, but mixed by a Shibuya-kei in-crowd obsessive record collector DJ and art director. Truly delightful stuff.
There was one particular song on it that I was absolutely crazy about, but I couldn’t tell who it was by, called “I’m the One.” Today we’re all carrying around devices that could quickly answer that question, of course, but this was pre-Internet. “I’m the One” sounded like something straight out of Liquid Sky, very “Me and My Rhythmbox.” Or a bratty, nasal, very American version of Nico. It was sung by a deeply bored-sounding woman with her flat vocals being modified by an analog synthesizer. In my mind I pictured a young Laraine Newman—who was an expert on playing blasé Beatnik art chick types on early SNL—doing the song. It sounded freeform, jazzy, funky, improvised, but the ennui was palpable, the languid delivery like a rap being yawned:
“I’m the one, you don’t have to look any further. I’m the one. I’m here, right here for you.”
I had to own this. Years later when I first saw the metallic foil album cover of Annette Peacock‘s I’m the One record, I knew instantly that I’d found one of my final holy grails as a record collector, and one for which I didn’t even know what the artist’s name was. Score.
1972’s I’m the One was an audaciously strange album even during an era of audaciously strange music-making. Had there been a category for its avant garde but never abrasive synthesized sounds—produced with her then-husband, the late jazz pianist Paul Bley—it would have shared this genre with the likes of Delia Derbyshire, the Silver Apples, Wendy Carlos and the nearly forgotten Ruth White. She has much in common with Laurie Anderson, too. Throughout a long, yet sporadic career—Peacock’s albums often have many years between them—she’s worked with the likes of Yes/King Crimson’s Bill Bruford, the great saxophonist Albert Ayler and Salvador Dali. She appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and hung out at Millbrook with Timothy Leary. Last Fall, at the invitation of the mighty Sunn O))), Annette Peacock made a rare live appearance at the Le Guess Who? festival in Holland. Many of her albums have been re-released on her own Ironic Records imprint. The album that preceded I’m the One, 1968’s Revenge: The Bigger The Love The Greater The Hate (originally credited to the Bley-Peacock Synthesizer Show when it was released in 1971) was retitled I Belong To A World That’s Destroying Itself for a 2014 re-release.
There was quite an interesting Annette Peacock/David Bowie career overlap around the time of I’m the One. First off the album was released by RCA, the same label as the Dame obviously. Peacock is said to have kicked Bowie out of a recording session in New York and she turned down his offer to produce an album for her, despite his advocacy of her talents to anyone who would listen. He even got her signed to MainMan, the management firm headed up by Tony Defries that also handled Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Mick Ronson, Mott the Hoople and John Cougar Mellencamp, yet she still turned him down when he asked her to contribute to Aladdin Sane and the subsequent tour. Her pianist, Mike Garson, however, went on to play with Bowie and was one of the musicians most closely associated with him over the years. Mick Ronson recorded “I’m the One” (and stole her unique arrangement of “Love Me Tender”) on his Slaughter on 10th Avenue solo album.
Hard to believe but it’s forty years since Roxy Music released their debut single “Virginia Plain” and made an unforgettable appearance on Top of the Pops. It was a moment that influenced a generation, the same way David Bowie had earlier the same year, when he seductively draped his arm over Mick Ronson’s shoulder as they sang “Starman” together. It was a moment of initiation, when millions of British youth had shared a seminal cultural experience by watching television.
Of all the programs on air in 1972, by far the most influential was Top of the Pops., and Roxy Music’s arrival on the show was like time travelers bringing us the future sound of music.
Listening to “Virginia Plain” today, it hard to believe that it wasn’t record last week and has just been released.
This documentary on Roxy Music has all the band members (Ferry, Manzanera, MacKay, Eno, etc) and a who’s who of musicians (Siouxsie Sioux, Steve Jones, and Roxy biographer, Michael Bracewell), who explain the band’s importance and cultural relevance. Roxy Music have just released The Complete Studio Recordings 1972-1982 available here.
I’m not entirely sure when Sex Gang Children and their charismatic leader, Andi Sex Gang, first came into my life but ever since, the magic and texture behind this man has entranced me. Often sounding like the exotic love child of Bowie and Brecht, but firmly remaining to this day his own man and artist, Andi Sex Gang is undoubtedly one of the most underrated figures in music. All of that despite his band charting repeatedly on the UK indie lists in the 80’s and then going on to work with the legendary Mick Ronson. (The latter must have felt invigorated to work with someone truly unique,vital and not expecting him to rehash the Diamond Dogs blues.)
The journey of any artist with bone-bred integrity and an unwillingness to whore is going to be a rocky one and Andi is no exception. Luckily for us all, his life and musical journey has been covered in one hale and hearty documentary, Bastard Art. Before getting to watch this film, I was just excited to know that someone took the time and energy to cover the man. After watching this film, I was excited to know that a guy like Andi Sex Gang is featured in a well made, lovingly researched and incredibly accessible documentary. It’s the perfect mix of being thorough and surprising enough to woo the hardcore fans but pieced together in such a way that it will lure anyone unfamiliar with Sex Gang Children.
In Bastard Art, we get to see Andi go from a little boy with a natural instinct for song writing and singing to a squatter in the punk scene. In fact, it was his friend from that same scene, George O’Dowd aka Boy George, that gifted the band name, Sex Gang Children, to him. (A name undoubtedly with origins from music savant Malcolm McClaren, who had worked with a pre-Culture Club George.) From there, we get interviews with former band mates, friends and musical peers. But most importantly, we get and receive a bounty of interview footage from the man himself, Andi Sex Gang.
The man is the star of the show, not just because he is the subject matter, but because his natural charisma, smarts and sheer will of survival draws you to him. There are performers that are good artists but have rocks for personality but that is far from the case with Andi Sex Gang. The amount of bowling balls this man has had to jump, ranging from bad music deals, facing fake criminal charges that ranged from rape to carrying explosives and an industry that acts more like the ravenous center in the lake of ice in “Dante’s Inferno”, is harrowing. Weaker souls have been eaten by that very machine, but weak is not a word associated with ASG. Scrappy and tenacious, absolutely, but not weak.
Director Vince Corkadel, who has worked previously with both Andi and Sex Gang Children, has a lot to be proud of here. The key to any truly great music related documentary is having the music paint the right picture over the canvas of information. For me, there are few things more frustrating than a documentary about a musician that features little to none of their music. It would be like watching a bunch of people talking about a painter and never showing even a scrap of one of their paintings. Beyond frustrating, but Bastard Art is a film that thankfully does not suffer that fate.
The pacing is tight and flows very well. There are zero lulls and it does exactly what this type of film should do; leaving you wanting more and wanting to devour more of the great art featured. Safe to say, Bastard Art is one of the best documentaries to have come out in the last few years. What’s inspiring about this is that guys like Corkadel and Larry Wessel (Iconoclast) have proven that one can make a vital and culturally rich documentary while sticking to a true independent, DIY approach. This is no Sundance indie, which is safe in its bigger budgets and often homogenized layers. Instead this is a film born out of pure love, determination and years of hard work and research.
No matter what labels people will throw on the works of Sex Gang Children and Andi, none can ultimately stick, proving not only the folly of “genres” but also the folly of trying to box in an artist you love. A guy like Andi Sex Gang, who continues to be as prolific and active as ever, will set fire to that box, and like a pale faced shaman with a mind of darkness and heart of light, will continue this fight of life. And nowhere is this ever more present than in Bastard Art.
David Bowie was on a roll when he recorded “Suffragette City”, he was writing enough songs for his own catalog and for others to record. He’d already given Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits “Oh! You Pretty Things”, which was quite a move for the toothsome pop star but, as rock writer Charles Shaar Murray noted, Noone’s version was “one of Rock and Roll’s most outstanding examples of a singer failing to achieve any degree of empathy whatsoever with the mood and content of a lyric.” Noone was possibly thinking about dental hygiene and girls rather than Aleister Crowley and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, whose ideas are referenced in the song. Bowie had also tried his hand at punting a teenage dress-designer into pop stardom with “Moonage Daydream” and then offered his services to Mott the Hoople.
Hoople were a superb band who hadn’t broken through to the level of success they deserved. Bowie was a fan and on hearing Mott were about to split, offered their lead singer, Ian Hunter, the song “Suffragette City” to record, if the band would stay together. Hunter felt it wouldn’t be a hit, and knew that after a few chart failures he had to have a winner. He therefore asked Bowie for “All the Young Dudes” which Hunter saw as a definite hit, it was and became an anthem for a generation of British youth. “All the Young Dudes” had originally been a part of Bowie’s plan for a concept album that told the story of an alien saving the Earth from destruction, which would become Ziggy Stardust.
“Suffragette City” was written in 1971 and recorded in January 1972. It gives a big nod towards The Small Faces “Wham Bam Thank You Ma’m”, and references (via the word “droogie”) Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, which was the hit film of that year.
Infamously, when Bowie performed “Suffragette City” at the Oxford Town Hall in June 1972, he was photographed by Mick Rock apparently simulating oral sex on Mick Ronson’s guitar. Bowie was actually playing the guitar with his teeth. However, Rock’s photo was so iconic that Bowie convinced his manager, Tony Defries, into buying a whole page of advertising space in the UK music weekly, Melody Maker.
The line-up for the recording of “Suffragette City” was David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar; Mick Ronson: Guitar, piano and ARP synthesizer (which doubles as the saxophone); Trevor Bolder: Bass; Mick Woodmansey: Drums.
David Bowie - Vocals
Mick Ronson - Guitar
David Bowie and Mick Ronson - Acoustic Guitar, Piano and FX
David Bowie first released “Moonage Daydream” under the project name Arnold Corns, which was one of Bowie’s side interests, a group set up for 19-year-old dress designer Freddie Burrettia to front. The original band had been assembled in Dulwich College, the name inspired by Pink Floyd’s song “Arnold Layne”, and when Bowie agreed to write some songs for Burrettia in 1971, he revived Arnold Corns, with his regular line-up of Mick Ronson (guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass), Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey (drums), with Bowie and Freddie on vocals.
Arnold Corns’ version of “Moonage Daydream” was recorded in April ‘71 and released as a single in May of that year, with “Hang on to Yourself” as its B-side. The song tells the story of an alien messiah, who is born to save the world from impending disaster. Surprisingly, it was a flop, but Bowie recognized he had hit on an idea that was too good to waste, and developed it for the album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
Ziggy was a mini-concept album, really a sequence of related songs, as Bowie later explained to William S. Burroughs in Rolling Stone magazine:
The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources. Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock-and-roll band and the kids no longer want rock-and-roll. There’s no electricity to play it. Ziggy’s adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, ‘cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news. “All the Young Dudes” is a song about this news. It’s no hymn to the youth as people thought. It is completely the opposite…
The end comes when the infinites arrive. They really are a black hole, but I’ve made them people because it would be very hard to explain a black hole on stage…
Ziggy is advised in a dream by the infinites to write the coming of a Starman, so he writes “Starman”, which is the first news of hope that the people have heard. So they latch onto it immediately…
The starmen that he is talking about are called the infinites, and they are black-hole jumpers. Ziggy has been talking about this amazing spaceman who will be coming down to save the earth. They arrive somewhere in Greenwich Village. They don’t have a care in the world and are of no possible use to us. They just happened to stumble into our universe by black hole jumping. Their whole life is travelling from universe to universe. In the stage show, one of them resembles Brando, another one is a Black New Yorker. I even have one called Queenie, the Infinite Fox…Now Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself and thinks himself a prophet of the future starmen. He takes himself up to the incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples. When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make them real because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist in our world. And they tear him to pieces on stage during the song ‘Rock ‘n’ roll suicide’. As soon as Ziggy dies on stage the infinites take his elements and make themselves visible.
The album Ziggy Stardust… was mainly recorded over the Fall of 1971, and then finished during a week in January 1972. It was recorded at Trident Studios in Soho, London, the first studio to boast an 8-track recording machine in 1968, and by the early 1970s the first in Europe to have a 16-track recorder. Trident was where The Beatles recorded “Hey Jude” and was a popular studio for the likes of T.Rex, Queen, Supertramp and Bowie.
Recording started in September with “It Ain’t Easy”, then a longer session during the first two weeks of November produced “Hang on to Yourself”, “Ziggy Stardust”, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” (later shortened to “Star”), “Moonage Daydream”, “Soul Love”, “Lady Stardust”, and “Five Years”. Two covers were also laid down then, Chuck Berry’s “Round and Round” and Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam”. The album was finished in January 1972 with the recording of “Starman”, “Suffragette City”, and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”.
Bowie was producer and had definite ideas for how the record would sound, as co-producer, recording engineer and mixing engineer, Ken Scott recalled in 1999:
“I remember David coming to me, prior to doing the album, and saying, “You’re not going to like this album. Its gonna be much harder.” I don’t know who he compared it to; maybe it was Iggy. He thought I would hate it, but I loved it!
“We recorded quickly, just as we always did. We generally worked Monday through Saturday, 2:00 p.m. until we finished, generally midnightish - not much later, eat when we felt like there was a natural break, and spent 2 to 3 weeks recording and 2 weeks mixing.
“Nothing was recorded 100% live. There were over dubs on every track, some more than others. If memory serves me well, fat chance after 27 years, “Round and Round” had the least. On Ziggy Stardust the basics were virtually the same for all the tracks. It was only the nuances in each song that would vary. The sessions weren’t much different to any of the other Bowie sessions.
The line-up was David Bowie – vocals, acoustic guitar, saxophone, piano, harpsichord; Mick Ronson – guitars, piano, backing vocals, string arrangement; Trevor Bolder – bass; Mick Woodmansey – drums.
Bolder, Woodmansey and Scott have since said “Moonage Daydream” was the best track from Ziggy Stardust, with Bolder saying in 1976:
“...I liked “Moonage Daydream”... I think, [it] had a lot of feel. I think it had more feel on-stage than it did on the album. When we used to do it on-stage it used to be fantastic. It really used to get the kids going. That would start the kids off. When they wanted to go - we would do that number about four before the end. and that would lift the audience up . I think the audience liked to hear it live. Every night you knew that “Moonage Daydream” was going to be the one that really lifted them. Then we’d go and follow on from there to the end.”
While Woodmansey also said in 1976:
“My favourite on that [album] was “Moonage Daydream” as far as like ....feeling goes, you know, as far as actually getting something out of the track when you listen to it back.”
The Ziggy Stardust Companion ran an online poll on this question from 1999-2001 the results of 828 fans polled their favorite track was “Moonage Daydream”. The berakdown was as follows:
The results showed that “Moonage Daydream” was the most popular track with 20% of the vote, followed by “Starman”, “Ziggy Stardust” and “Rock n Roll Suicide” with 14% each. “Lady Stardust” (11%) and “Five Years” (9%) were next most popular. “Soul Love” (6%), “Suffragette City” (5%), “Hang Onto Yourself” (4%) and “Star” (2%) made up the remainder of the total vote.
David Bowie - Vocals
More tracks from ‘Moonage Daydream’ after the jump…