10/04/08 03:46 PM
Bowies Commercial Suicide in the 90's
I take umbrage with a recent Rolling Stone headline declaring >
90'S : WORST DECADE FOR A GREAT ARTIST : DAVID BOWIE
While that's certainly true commercially "we" all know it was a decade of
artistic rejuvenation and risk-taking. Somehow in the 70's no matter how
experimental or weird Bowie's releases became he was miraculously able to
eek out a popular single and bring exposure to otherwise WACKED out albums. Take Rebel Rebel or Heroes....2 great pop songs from
2 very BIZARRE albums.
Yet somehow from the 90's on VIRTUALLY every commercial move fell
completely flat with the help of uncharacteristic "bad timing" from Bowie....
take a breath.....
EXHIBIT A : Sound and Vision Tour 1990
After spending an entire year promoting Tin Machine and attempting to convince the public of his complete commitment to this new phase and
right AFTER completing a credible second album.....what does he do..?
he embarks on a "greatest hits" tour and releases a remixed version of Fame
Bad timing: His back catalog was finally being released and he simply
couldn't pass up this opportunity to promote it.
Saving Grace: Bowie and his elaborate stage looked fabulous and his "I'll
never play these songs again" gimmick sounded promising.
TIN MACHNE 2
Whatever creative momentum & interest Bowie had regained with Tin Machine
was COMPLETELY destroyed by delaying the album & confusing everyone
with a greatest hits tour.
Final Dagger: Releasing "One Shot" INSTEAD of the fabulous Glam-Pop that
is Baby Universal as the first single, ensuring other great songs an untimely
death as well: Goodbye Mr. Ed/Shopping For Girls/Amlapura.
BLACK TIE WHITE NOISE
The initial first impression is that Bowie is desperate by enlisting Nile Rodgers again....this AFTER he SHOULD'VE used him on TONIGHT or NLMD.
It was apparant from the first note that Bowie was back in form though.
Yet according to Rodgers Bowie was adamant (rightfully so) not to release
anything deemed too "dancey" or with "dance" in the title......
so what does he do...?
He releases JUMP (they say) as the first single...
No, not the Pointer Sisters Jump
or Kriss Kross' Jump
or Van Halen's Jump
or House of Pains Jump...!
...trust me...."dance" has nothing on "JUMP"...and a DJ actually mocked
Bowie's song after playing it here in LA....alot of it due to the "title" and
it's connotations.....deserved or not.....great song...unfortunate title....
poor first single....You've Been Around..?....Nite Flights...?
The obvious choice Miracle Goodnight was half-heartedly released overseas
with a FABULOUS charming video that WASN'T....prompting Rodgers to appeal to Iman & claim Bowie was nuts by willfully being uncommercial.
Instead of touring Bowie releases a video of him lip-synching songs from the
album! This after forming a band for a few live TV performances...he could've
easily had a one-off concert and taped it......
Oh, and his record company folded and tried to sue him.
THE BUDDHA OF SUBURBIA
A less "controversial" return to form. The cover of the soundtrack album is
a VERY unappealing picture of the cast with Bowie's name virtually hidden on
the bottom, ensuring NOBODY would know about it or hear it....& they didn't!
Whew....perfect first single....quibble....releasing the NIN remix version first,
giving the "appearance" again of straining for "edgy" credibility....when
frankly the original version with Reeves' KILLER riff is superior.
Instead of headlining his own tour he bravely takes on NIN who are FAR more
popular & has a THIRD of the audience walk out on him after his duet with
Reznor is over.....where did the "goths" have to go...?....Denny's...?
Bowie was an "outsider" on his own tour....oh, & Morrissey walks out mid-tour denying the public of a great collaboration.
Could it be...?....Little Wonder....great first single...debuted live on Fashion
Rocks with one of Bowie's most confident performances.
Again, Reznors (great, but inferior) version of I'm Afraid of Americans gets
exposure. The exhilerating album is, as became common for Bowie in the 90's greeted with skepticism by ridiculous claims of hopping on the drum
and bass bandwagon instead of just listening to the "damn fine" music
And a proposed live album was scrapped.....and no "official" release of his
50th birthday concert....one of his greatest achievements!
After the sonic onslaught of Outside/Earthling and finally gaining new and old
fans alike....Bowie releases a melancholy, weary album that is actually quite
good.....BUT...WRONG first single....this starts what I'll call the "Grower, not
a Shower" phase of (too subtle) first singles to be released from otherwise
tremendous albums.....as classy as Thursday's Child is, it's simply too
restrained and doesn't have the instant impact radio "requires"...and does
nothing to drum up interest in the album....BUT...Something in the Air...?
ah, the wasted opportunity....this also should've opened the album.
It's been alluded that a video of what would've been ANOTHER great first
single The Pretty Things are Going to Hell had been filmed & SCRAPPED!
Contrary to popular opinion I actually agree with the record company (!) that
this would've been a poor follow-up to Hours and re-introduction of Tony
Visconti.....cover songs of lightweight tunes from the '60s...?.....great idea....
classy arrangements.....but in retrospect, knowing Heathen was to follow....
this could wait.....and SHOULD'VE been released during this 6 (!) year drought.
....perfection.....FINALLY some great promotion....but ALAS....WRONG first
single.....good song....too subtle.....very plain instrumentation in the verses
that simply didn't make a presence, especially during some live TV
performances....and Pete Townshends ragged guitar solo was castrated on
the single and live performance....& Bowie eventually dropped it from the set.
A Better Future would've made a great choice.....catchy....ethereal....or even
the upbeat Afraid which would've sounded great on the radio...
Again, Bowie chooses to co-headline a festival with Moby....by-passing the
hero-worship for a collaborative effort with the likes of Busta Rhymes and
the Blue Man Group.
New Killer Star.....great song....simply another "Grower" like Slow Burn &
Thursday's Child....but in my opinion NOT the ideal first single......
NEVER GET OLD is anthemic....rollicking....defiant....for the young AND old...
and is thematically consistent with the tone of the album. Pablo Picasso
is another great choice and would've caused some (much needed) controversy by the inevitable edit of "asshole".....check out the "original"
spectacular video made for this song on YouTube using animation, etc.....
then ask whether this should've been a single or not!
Lastly, Bowie's effortless cover of the Kinks Waterloo Sunset which he DIDN'T
include on the album has recieved more airplay than ANY other Bowie song
on Steve Jones' (Bowie-worshipping) show in LA...!
10/05/08 10:23 PM
Why didn't Bowie/Reznor swap headlining duties? Have the "transition" part of the set compatible to each headliner.
Elton/Billy Joel swapped headlining on their double bill tour around this time.
10/06/08 02:59 PM
The thing with Elton John and Billy Joel is that the audience came
to see BOTH performers. Bowie, of course, was more daring, and
assumed NIN fans would naturally have an affinity for his work
(being that he practically invented goth (D.DOGS) and
Had Bowie come on first his fans would have left after his set and
of course NIN fans left after their set. The silver lining of course
is that no matter how humiliating it was to see people walk out
on Bowie the history books in retrospect will cite it as an innovative,
edgy move with most "wishing they had been there."
10/06/08 04:42 PM
In the Sound and Vision tour, millions of music lovers who simply attend each and every major concert for a night out fell in love with Bowie's hits and went out and bought his classic albums along with concert programmes and t shirts.
It is impossible to fathom how much money Bowie made during the 90's by licensing his songs to movies. Go over these albums again: each one had several songs used during the credits of great movies, causing movie goers to go out and buy the albums. From David Lynch to Fincher, Bowie's music was in almost every cool movie.
During the NIN tour, hundreds of thousands of young fans became familiar with Bowie's music. He was introduced to a new generation of kids wearing Tool and NIN and Manson t shirts. During the Prodigy tours for Earthling, a new audience again became exposed to Bowie and sales rose. These ravers bought his products along with some E and bottled water.
Commercial missteps? Hardly, hell, the world wide Reality tour alone grossed Bowie almost a billion dollars.
10/07/08 05:46 AM
You might ask, how did the biggest band of the nineties, Nirvana, have their biggest hit with a BOWIE SONG? This alone yielded Bowie millions in royalties.
Could it be commercial savvy?
10/07/08 11:47 AM
In reply to:
each one had several songs used during the credits of great movies
The coolness of Bowie got me out of a threatening situation one night in the mid 90s. I was in the bathroom of an inner city McDonalds when I found myself confronted by two homosexual Goths that were drinking bottles of hard liquor and shooting up on drugs.
I was a little taken back because the bathroom was only about 3 square metres in size - but to make matters worse, when I went to pee at the urinal, I noticed a recently used syringe only inches away. Noticing my reaction, they offered 'it won't jump out at you'.
Although feeling a bit uneasy, I decided to engage in conversation - and we quickly found common interest on musical grounds. I recall they particularly liked Bowie because of 'The Hearts Filthy Lesson' in the film Se7en and we ended up chatting for some time.
Anyway, I found this all very interesting - how Bowie's music had engaged with youth and alternative culture not via his big hits - but via film. I do wonder if they are still alive today.
10/07/08 12:46 PM
Can I mention that at least one song from every major album was featured in a tv commercial? Did I mention the songs Bowie wrote for Iggy Pop were also featured in tv ads?
10/07/08 12:47 PM
In fact, I think it's ironic that the seventies was probably his WORST period commercially. Boy did Bowie turn that around by selling out in the nineties.
10/07/08 11:40 PM
That Nirvana 'best of' has only one cover song. Now I can see why Bowie was friends with Courtney in the late 90's.
Bowie grossed a billion on Reality? Maybe 100m. Plus I wonder whether he bought out festival promoters, gave "IOUs" or took the insurance money when the 2004 tour ended early.
I simply can't see DB giving up medical records, even if the insurance company had confidentiality agreements.
As for the 1995 tour - I've always found it silly that NIN fans would walk out as both headliners only took up 150 minutes of stage time total. Did they really need to leave early for an after party or catch an early bus?
10/09/08 01:19 PM
Bowie is certainly not lacking in the money department.
I refer to "commercial" as in radio play/exposure....
In America at least Bowie hasn't had ONE radio STAPLE
since 1984.........BLUE JEAN.
Bowie has songs from virtually EVERY album from 69-84
on some form of rotation and I find it tragic that NOTHING
from NLMD to Reality is ever played past the initial first
month of a new single/albums release.
While I'm semi-resigned to the fact that many will only hear
his songs from Cruise and Microsoft commercials or at the
tail end of Horror movies it's really a shame that songs like
Jump (They Say), Heart's Filthy Lesson, I'm Afraid of Americans,
Little Wonder, Slow Burn or New Killer Star won't be heard
on the radio. Even his semi-HITS from the late 80's: NLMD,
Day-in Day out, This is not America, Absolute Beginners are