Single Of The Week 10/03/97

Single Of The Week is where I review a single I'm particularly enamoured of at the moment. It might be a brand spanking new release, or a classic from decades past that I just feel like going on about.

Absolute Beginners
David Bowie
VS 838

David Bowie always reminds me of the kind of bloke who outstays his welcome at parties. Yes, I'm the first to acknowledge the influential and important role he had on music in the 1970s and early 1980s, both in terms of his own work and other artists. But the cold hard fact of the matter is that that phase of his life is over, it's been anthologised, it's been collected in a handful of compilations and nothing he is ever likely to do again is ever likely to have that impact again. When I heard earlier this year that he was selling stock market options in sales of his back catalogue, I was torn between two reactions: (a) he's not likely to make much out of selling all that stuff again and (b) he's bound to make more from that than he will from his new recordings.

Although his late-70s collaborations with Brian Eno weren't exactly big sellers, the first real sign that our Dave was going into commercial decline was his 1984 album, Tonight. Despite a 24-minute video (directed by Julien Temple) for the first single, 'Blue Jean', and a duet with granny-of-the-moment Tina Turner on the title track, it failed to achieve significant chart success. The same can be said, more or less, of everything Bowie has done ever since, from Tin Machine to 1. Outside, with two notable exceptions, one from 1985 and and from 1986.

The 1985 exception was his Live Aid duet with Mick Jagger, 'Dancing In The Streets'. It was a well-handled and executed recording that topped charts across the globe, although its sales were probably as much by charitable intent as a desire to groove. That single was produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, and Bowie retained them for his 1986 commercial success, the single 'Absolute Beginners'.

The film for which the song was the title track stands as one of the few cultural artefacts that could match the levels of hype Bowie has achieved during his long career. You couldn't buy a pop magazine in 1986 without reading about this film, also directed by Julien Temple and starring a young-ish Patsy Kensit before she'd married anyone famous. Everyone expected great things from it. Everyone was disappointed; it was a major flop.

The single, though, wasn't, and deservedly so. Perhaps the last ever great Bowie song, it showed that, at that stage, there was still life in the old dog yet. We may yet hope that a similar renaissance is scheduled for 1997, if the man will continue returning to the recording studio.

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