David Bowie in the 80s

By Mark Nobes, chief editor

This page is dedicated to David Bowie's music from the 1980s, a decade in which the musician acheived success with four number ones, starting with my all-time-favourite, "Ashes to Ashes" in 1980, which was accompanied by an iconic video. 
However, I wanted to start with a tribute. "Legend" is, no doubt, the most over-used word when someone famous dies, and it's rare that it's actually justified. However, in the case of David Bowie, I can't think of any better word to describe him, because he was a true legend, and I remember being deeply shocked to hear of his death on 10th January 2016. 
Like many, I had absolutely no idea that he was ill, and I had just been listening to his new album on Spotify which he released on his 69th birthday on 8th Jan - now I know exactly why it sounds so dark and emotive. The video for his Lazarus single literally reduced me to tears, and how brave he was to face the camera looking and feeling so very ill. I don't think I've ever been so emotional from watching a pop video.
David Bowie

I've added EMI's official playlist from Youtube above which features a huge twenty songs from David's phenomenal career. 

The music and fashion of David Bowie was, of course, extremely influential, and he always managed to surprise us with something new, unexpected or even groundbreaking - you were never truly sure of what to expect from each new album as he kept on reinventing himself again and again.

I could write many pages about the white duke, but as this is a website dedicated to the 1980s, I will remain focused on his work from that very decade.

Overall, Bowie released 27 hit singles during the 80s, including a couple with his much underrated band Tin Machine at the end of the decade. I ignored what the critics were saying and bought the self-titled, first Tin Machine album. A bit of a risk, I know, but I absolutely loved the rawness of it - some critics just didn't get it!

Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) 1980

The first album of the 80s (Bowie's 14th overall) was a fantastic way to start a new decade. This was also the final album to be released on the RCA record label. It was critically acclaimed and reached the top of the album charts in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.  

Scary Monsters was an unconventional and ferocious mix of electro pop and punk-influenced rock, although it's mostly the latter. Amongst the art rock, Bowie managed to ingeniously create a more commercial sound for the singles which helped to rake in the cash. It's a matter of opinion as to whether he should have done so, although even the best of musicians have to earn a living.

For the Ashes To Ashes single we saw the resurrection of the Major Tom character, and on the second single Fashion, the melody and bassline borrowed heavily from the 1975 Golden Years single.

David Bowie

Released on 8th August 1980, Ashes to Ashes was David Bowie's second hit single of the 80s, and it gave him his first UK chart-topper since Space Oddity in 1969. 

Other songs released from the album were (in chronological order); Fashion (UK #5, US 70), Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (UK #20) and Up The Hill Backwards (UK #32). 

"Under Pressure" with Queen (1981)

David didn't have to wait long for another chart topper, and this came in the form of a duet with Freddie Mercury, with his band providing the music. The song featured one of the best basslines of the 80s and Slant Magazine listed it as the 21st best single of the 80s in 2012. Interestingly, Bowie never performed the song live during the 80s, although Queen played it at every live concert between 1981 and 1986. Bowie eventually performed the song live with Annie Lennox at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992 - Queen provided the backing music. 

David Bowie

"Let's Dance" (1983)

"Let's Dance" was the lead single and title track from David Bowie's third studio album of the 80s, and topped the charts in numerous countries, including the UK, where it stayed at the top for three weeks - replacing Duran Duran's Is There Something I Should Know? Released on March 17th 1983, the song attracted many new Bowie fans, although many of his existing fans felt alienated, and hated the commercial direction Bowie was taking.

The co-production by Nile Rodgers certainly gave the Let's Dance album a more commercial edge, making it more accessible to a wider audience. The fact that the songs have a strong chorus and tighter production, therefore, making them more popular, was bound to upset hardcore Bowie fans who wanted his music for themselves. This is an album that is always going to divide opinion, but it reminds me of the B-52's Cosmic Thing album. This too featured the production work of Nile Rodgers and also Don Was, giving the band a tighter, more commercial sound. It's always going to be a contentious issue!
The follow-up singles "China Girl" and "Modern Love" were also successful, both reaching #2. The track Without You was also released as a single in a number of countries - this includes America where it stalled at #73 - but was never released in the UK.

David Bowie is one of a minority of artists to have had hit singles in five consecutive decades - from the Sixties to the Noughties.

David Bowie
David Bowie in 1983 on his Serious Moonlight Tour

David Bowie and Mick Jagger "Dancing in the Street" (1985)

This awesome cover with its very memorable video, was a cover of the original 1964 song by Martha and the Vandellas, which was released on the Motown label. It spent four weeks at No.1 in the UK from 7th September 1985. It peaked at #7 in the U.S.

It was recorded for the Live Aid charity and originally Bowie and Jagger were going to record One Love by Bob Marley, but rejected the idea. "
Dancing in the Street" was the last ever #1 single for Bowie and the only #1 for Mick Jagger in the UK.

This is one of those eighties songs that I never got around to buying, but truly wish I had done so!

David Bowie with Mick Jagger on the single sleeve of

Day In, Day Out (1987)

Day-In, Day-Out reached #17 in the UK singles chart during April 1987. Although not one of David Bowie's finest efforts, the song was still pretty memorable when compared to some of today's meaningless nonsense.

This was the British singer/songwriter's 22nd British single release of the 80s, and was released as the first track to the then forthcoming album Never Let Me Down. The video was produced by Julien Temple and was banned by some TV stations, and an alternative version was often shown which had all the explicit bits edited out. Apparently, the explicit version was shown on an episode of Top Of The Pops on BBC1 in the UK.

Never Let Me Down was Bowie's last solo album of the 1980s, and came just before he started his Tin Machine project. However, before Tin Machine (who were underservingly slated by many critics), two more singles were released from the album which were Time Will Crawl (peaking at #33 in the UK) and the title track which peaked at #34.

David Bowie in 2002 by Photobra|Adam BielawskiDerivative work: Y2kcrazyjoker4 [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons


David Bowie - Day In, Day Out - single sleeve artwork