Personalities | David Bowie | Inspirations & Influence

David Bowie has inspired more musicians than most recording artists, but he naturally also had his own formative influences.

Who Does He Love?

It almost goes without saying that Elvis Presley was important to him: few of the musicians who became teenagers in the Sixties weren’t overwhelmed by The King’s stunning larynx and greaseball beauty. Perhaps revealingly, Bowie – a man who has often appeared to be as much into music’s effect as its content – seemed mostly impressed by Elvis’s impact on people, him marvelling in an interview about an incident where a cousin got up and launched into an abandoned dance to the strains of ‘Hound Dog’.

Little Richard To Jazz

Another revealing detail, perhaps, was Bowie’s love for Little Richard. The piano-pounder with a towering pompadour and Errol Flynn moustache had an outrageous, androgynous image and laced his lyrics with sexual explicitness that the grown-ups were too square to understand. Remind you of anyone?

Almost predictably, though, Bowie’s love of music was more nuanced than that of his peers. He was turned on to modern jazz by his brother, leading to the ‘difficult’ likes of Charles Mingus and John Coltrane often inhabiting the family turntable. Jazz’s penchant for wandering time signatures and elastic form can be discerned in Bowie’s more experimental works, while the alto sax, which his love of the genre inspired him to take up, can be heard scattered throughout his entire catalogue.

Marc Bolan

Bowie’s first album speaks of a love of the studiedly English singer Anthony Newley, while Hunky Dory (1971) featured ‘Song For Bob Dylan’, in which he lamented Dylan’s current loss of form. Although most would claim that Marc Bolan was a musical pygmy compared to Bowie’s goliath, it cannot be denied that the T. Rex man was more than just a mate. The glam rock movement that Bolan kicked off with his glittered cheeks and feather boas made possible the more sophisticated ventures by Bowie into that foppish territory. It’s rumoured that Bowie’s ‘Lady Stardust’ is at least partly about Bolan.

Producing His Idols

One of Bowie’s most enduring influences was The Velvet Underground. This New York-based ensemble had no hits and little success during their 1967–70 recording career but, in writing gritty songs about street life, drug addiction and violence, helped popular music to grow up. This growing process applied to their sonics as much as their lyrics: they experimented with atonality, dissonance and extemporization, even while insisting on their right to purvey pretty melody. Bowie acknowledged on the sleeve of Hunky Dory that that album’s buzzsaw rocker ‘Queen Bitch’ was a Velvet Underground pastiche. Bowie repaid his artistic debt to the band by producing with Mick Ronson Transformer, the 1972 album by Lou Reed (frontman and chief songwriter of the Velvets) which bequeathed UK hit single ‘Walk On The Wild Side’.

In fact, Bowie’s early Seventies production work is a veritable litmus test...

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