David Bowie is an artist rightly lauded as one of pop music finest performers. But while his showmanship and wonderful visionary style is usually the first thing people mention when discussing the Starman, to forget his vocal performance would be a serious mistake. Though Bowie was never blessed with the pipes of some of his contemporaries, he brought with him a unique style that would make all his vocal takes shine.
One such effort which really pops is Bowie’s performance on the 1975 single ‘Golden Years’. Taken from Station to Station, the song has become one of Bowie’s most beloved tracks. While the funk-laden groove is the most recognisable moment of the song, hinting at the disco revolution that was beginning to rear its head, when you remove the instrumentation of the track and isolate the vocal performance you can witness the star power Bowie added.
While the song is seen as a rich piece of iconography for Bowie, the truth is, the track was meant for another star, Elvis Presley. Bowie recalled that Presley had heard the demos of the song and, because both artists were signed to RCA Records at the time, Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker thought that Bowie should write songs for Presley.
For a singer who grew up in awe of Presley the chance to write a song for him was too big an opportunity to turn down. Bowie stated that he had “adored” Presley and would have loved to work with him. Although the artists’ office did contact each other, nothing ever came to fruition. Presley sent a note to Bowie saying, “All the best, and have a great tour” and Bowie kept the note for the rest of his life. The song, ‘Golden Years’ remained Bowie’s.
It was the first song he recorded for his 1976 record Station to Station and it remains one of his most purposeful vocal performances. Drenched in a groove and the warm hues of the seventies, Bowie is at the top of his game. His singing is wondrous and his lyrical content is given proper room to breathe when isolating the vocal take.
Bowie’s ex-wife Angie has often claimed that the song may have been written for Elvis but it was about her and their relationship. “Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere, angel, come get up my baby, look at that sky, life’s begun, nights are warm and the days are young,” sings Bowie, apparently in reference to the pair’s ‘golden years’.
Whether he did write the song for Angie or The king, the facts remain that Bowie delivers one of his most iconic songs in ‘Golden Years’. Rightly the music in the track is a blueprint for the following five years of pop music — disco and funk, hand in hand — but it is with the isolated vocal that we can hear the song’s content most clearly.
Listen below to David Bowie’s isolated vocal for ‘Golden Years’.