Pete Johnson’s Blast from My Past: David Bowie “Aladdin Sane”

It dawned on me yesterday as I wrote the review for the amazing Ronnie Dawson’s “Monkey Beat”, that there may be some bigger artists’ work that I may have overlooked. I did a scroll through the last 90 reviews and realized I have never mentioned David Bowie. Maybe it was the combo of me missing him as an artist after his death, or maybe it was my own disappointment with his last album, Black Star, that has led me to put he and his art on the shelf for awhile.

Be that as it may, I do love David Bowie as an artist and when push comes to shove “Aladdin Sane” is my favorite Bowie record. The one thing I admire about Bowie is he is a musical architect on the level of a Frank Lloyd Wright. This album is the “Falling Waters” equivalent in music to me. It is perfectly blended with its surroundings from 1973. Though it sounds amazingly current music today. Even with the faux 1950’s influences in the music. The great thing about good architecture is that it is designed to blend with the future surroundings as well as the present. Do not get me wrong, I enjoy Ziggy Stardust as much as anyone, but this album, to me, is what Ziggy should have been. A fully realized concept coupled with high level musical delivery that can be scrutinized and hold up well, from any angle.

There is a level of comfort you can hear in the collaboration between the musicians and producer and Bowie. I think Ziggy gave the band a confidence that shines through on this record. To me, the other stars on the record besides Bowie, is Mick Ronson and the keyboard player Mike Garson. The horns too are stellar. “Panic in Detroit” is Bo Diddley meets staggering, funky, grinding rhythms that evolves into one of the greatest guitar solo outro’s impacts me every time I go to record. The line “He looked a lot like Che Guevara, drove a diesel van” still makes me laugh every time I hear it. This is Ronson’s high water mark with Bowie as a guitar player. The guitars on this record are ferocious and incredibly smart. Every line is designed for impact. It really is like the sure hand of an architectural drawing, where the lines are straight and true. Authoritative, comes to mind when listening to the myriad of guitars crying, howling ,verbally assaulting and comforting the listener.

One of the other things I love about this record is how the first five songs are the “guitar side of the record, but when you get to “Cracked Actor” it becomes Mike Garsons time to lead the charge (though Ronno’s solo is one of my all time faves). His beautiful avant-garde tinged runs dance around the songs and create a Bertolt Brecht feel that helps bring the songs to life. The funniest moment to me on this record is Bowie’s take on “Let’s Spend the Night Together”. I must admit, when I was a kid and listening to this record I thought it was an ill advised cover because it paled in comparison to the original. I did not know why Bowie did it except to grease the palms of Mick. Whatever, the wheels of commerce do need grease to turn. But now I love it, especially the breakdown part near the end.

“Jean Genie” is one of my fave songs that show how track positioning in a running order can help advance the concept of a record. It is the perfect second to last song. Aladdin had gone through his journey to finally be out on the streets after his night, with the sun shining down on him like God’s flashlight. One thing I loved about Bowie was how he watched others. This song is about Iggy Pop in part, if not whole. Bowie never felt the need to go that far as an artist. Iggy might kill himself for art. Bowie never would. “Lady Grinning Soul”, to me, is the perfect ending song. Again. Garson shines throughout the track. Part of me always wished Bowie would have explored the elements of this song in one album. Almost like a rock and roll boss nova record done with Spanish paint brushes. C’est la vie,it was not to be. This album was it. This is the best the Spiders ever sounded. Listen to some of the highlights, then go out and buy this record if you do not own it. You can thank me later. ;o)

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