By Warren Kurtz
Twenty-five of David Bowie’s vinyl singles, covering a variety of musical styles, reached the U.S. Top 100 in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Here we focus on a few of his flip sides (b-sides) to celebrate his creative life and remember him by.
Flip side: Suffragette City
A side: Starman
Top 100 debut: July 1, 1972
Peak position: 65
RCA Victor 74-0719
In the summer of ’72, David Bowie released a loosely based concept album of science fiction-rock about a fictional band named “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” For the album’s single, “Starman,” David Bowie captured the melodic range of “Over the Rainbow” singing, “There’s a starman waiting in the sky.” The flip side of “Starman” was a rocker near the end of the album, “Suffragette City.” The song was originally offered to the band Mott the Hoople, with David Bowie imagining Ian Hunter singing the “hey man” lines. The group chose David Bowie’s composition “All the Young Dudes” instead, which became their breakthrough hit. “Suffragette City” opened with strong guitar parts from Mick Ronson followed by David Bowie’s solid saxophone playing. Mick Ronson’s pounding piano and the song’s up-tempo rhythm were steadily showcased throughout this rock number. While the A side, recently featured in the film “The Martian,” peaked at No. 65 in the U.S., the flip side was a constant staple on FM album rock stations in the ‘70s.
Flip side: The Man Who Sold the World
A side: Space Oddity
Top 100 debut: January 27, 1973
Peak position: 15
RCA Victor 74-0876
After building success in the U.S. of David Bowie’s RCA albums “Hunky Dory” from 1971, and “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” in 1972, RCA acquired the rights from Mercury to the summer of 1969 single “Space Oddity,” rereleased it in early 1973, and it became David Bowie’s first U.S. Top 40 hit. The original Mercury single had the orchestrated “Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud” as its flip side. For the 1973 RCA release, “The Man Who Sold the World” was chosen from another early David Bowie Mercury album. Mick Ronson’s electric guitar recalled the sound of The Yardbirds for this piece of moody psychedelic rock, originally released in 1970. After the success of the single, RCA reissued the early albums “Space Oddity” and “The Man Who Sold the World.” In 1993, Nirvana revived “The Man Who Sold the World” for their “MTV Unplugged” appearance and included it on their CD the following year “MTV Unplugged in New York.”
Flip side: Julie
A side: Day-In Day-Out
Top 100 debut: April 4, 1987
Peak position: 21
EMI America B-8380
From the mid-‘70s through the mid-‘80s, David Bowie’s musical styles frequently changed from soul, to electronica, to dance and he achieved two No. 1 gold singles “Fame” in 1975 and “Let’s Dance” in 1983. By 1987, David Bowie returned to rock with the album “Never Let Me Down.” Released a month before the album, was its first single, “Day-In Day-Out,” which dealt with urban decay, poverty and homelessness in America. Its flip side, not on the album, was the up-tempo “Julie.” With a steady beat, a combination of guitar, keyboard and David Bowie’s deep rich vocals, it shared the catchiness that bands like Men Without Hats were delivering in the late ‘80s. The album’s title song, “Never Let Me Down,” with a vocal style as a tribute to John Lennon, was the album’s second single and David Bowie’s final Top 40 hit.
Warren Kurtz joined Goldmine last year with his Fabulous Flip Sides feature for our print publication. He has written about music for a variety of magazines since the ‘70s in New York, Ohio, and Virginia. Warren has introduced listeners to many lesser known songs on radio stations in New York and Virginia, and has interviewed over fifty musical acts. He has also won awards for songwriting and musical production for non-profit fundraisers. His book 450 Fabulous Sides is currently in the publisher review process. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.