A common trait amongst musicians is to have an unusual relationship with your own back catalogue. I must have read a thousand interviews in my time where a big-name star besmirches one of their own smash hits and champions a lesser-known album track as the finest thing they have ever produced. No doubt a multitude of factors are at play when they make these startling admissions and quite often they end up going full circle anyway.
There was a period in David Bowie’s career when he was at the far end of the love/hate loop, and he abandoned the rich tapestry of his back catalogue, stating that he was intolerably bored by old classics that were “of [their] time.” It left him in no two minds about the poignancy of two songs, in particular. He hated them.
The irony in Bowie’s case is that two of the songs he hated were arguably commercially the most important of his career. One of them kickstarted it in earnest, and the other sustained him during the creatively brilliant but commercially flailing years that followed.
In 2000, the legendary producer, near-constant Bowie collaborator, and dear friend Tony Visconti told journalist Steve Pafford, “he loves what he does,” but thereafter, he gets itchy feet and is incredibly keen to abandon his previous herculean creative accomplishment and move onto the next one.
On some occasions, however, he was keen not just to move on but to sprint away from his past work. ‘Young Americans’ may well have brought the bacon home for Bowie in the 1970s and sustained him during the time when, remarkably, masterpieces like the famed Berlin trilogy failed to reward him in a monetary sense. Still, the Starman declared that he “loathed” the track. Although he liked ‘Win’ from the album, its titular track grated on him to no end, and he retired the song for good after his 1990 Sound + Vision tour.
The second track that met with Bowie’s retrospective self-loathing is even more inexplicable. The early years of Bowie’s career have always offered a fascinating insight into the celestial stardom that would follow. He was absolutely determined “to have an impact” but he refused to waiver from his creative ideology. When he finally did achieve minor notoriety, it was through a track that looked at the societal reflections of space travel and Stanley Kubrick inspired oblivion with ‘Space Oddity’ (and remarkably it still only peaked at number 124 in the US Singles Chart and number five in the UK).
Strangely he was not alone in hating the song. Although he may have warmed to it since, upon release, even the ever-upbeat Tony Visconti disliked it, stating it was: “a cheap shot – a gimmick to cash in on the moonshot.”
Over the years Bowie even threatened to break into his own vault and burn the master tapes. Once again, Bowie retired the song. He played it during the Diamond Dog tour of ’74 then gave it a lengthy spell in exile until it was revived for 1983’s record-breaking Serious Moonlight tour.
Perhaps it is simply a case that you become over-exposed to your biggest numbers and retreat away from them as some sort of preserving defence. After all, it’s a trope that has befallen Radiohead for their generation-defining anthem ‘Creep’; the same can be said for Nirvana and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ as well as Liam Gallagher disliking Oasis’ smash hit ‘Wonderwall’.
Regardless, it only seems right to leave this disdainfulness behind and end the article on a rather more congratulatory note. Thus, we shall depart on a Bowie quote about one of our shared favourites from his back catalogue, ‘Teenage Wildlife’. “So it’s late morning and I’m thinking, ‘New song and a fresh approach,” Bowie explained. “ I know. I’m going to do a Ronnie Spector. Oh yes I am. Ersatz just for one day.’ And I did and here it is. Bless. I’m still very enamoured of this song and would give you two ‘Modern Love’s for it anytime.”