Those in charge of managing Bowie’s legacy have announced some new releases. It’s called Is It Any Wonder? Never heard before tracks will be released on a weekly basis from 17 January 2020. Track list yet to be made public so I remain eager to learn what they are.
First to surface is a new old version of the iconic title track to the 1971 album The Man Who Sold the World, taken from the nine-track session recorded for radio and broadcast by the BBC on Bowie’s 50th birthday in 1997, off the previously unreleased Changes Now Bowie. This mostly acoustic session was a stripped back affair featuring some of Bowie’s personal favourites including: The Supermen, Lodger’s Repetition, a track off Tin Machine II, and one of his best ever songs, Aladdin Sane.
The haunting The Man Who Sold the World had something of a career resurgence after Nirvana covered it in November 1993 for their Unplugged session. It was a superb choice and it bought the song back into the the public consciousness. Amazingly it was never released as a single by Bowie after being originally recorded in May 1970 and buried late on side two of that record. It popped up as the b-side to Life On Mars in 1973, and was a major hit for Lulu in the mid-70s.
This newly released version is reminiscent of Bowie’s magnificent performance on Saturday Night Live on 15 December 1979 with Klaus Nomi. It remains one of the odder musical performance-art pieces set to rock music ever shown on American television, and probably did Lodger no commercial favours in that country. That performance found Bowie wearing a tight pencil skirt and high heels for TVC-15 and a weird mannequin for Boys Keep Swinging.
In 1979 Bowie would usher in the eighties the only way he knew how, by inspiring a generation. His new years eve Kenny Everett performance of Space Oddity was one of Bowie’s most hypnotic TV performances ever. A stripped-back Plastic Ono Band feel, the song took on a new life.
This performance is weird: nervous, paranoid, fragile. Certain details are familiar – the padded cell, the astronaut chair in the middle of the domestic kitchen – from a more famous video, the landmark August 1980 promo for Bowie’s next single, Ashes To Ashes. Bowie was in transition, leaving behind his high concept work with Eno and entering another art rock phase in the shape of the seminal Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).