David Bowie was unapologetically obsessed with everything Elvis Presley ever did — he even wrote a song for him. In return, The King then approached Bowie to produce his next album, but unforeseen circumstances would tragically prevent that record from coming to fruition.
Elvis had lost his crown as he entered the latter years of his life and became a bloated version of the man who previously captured the hearts of the world. His sex appeal had all but eroded, and Presley had become yesterday’s hero, all while a flock of appealing new stars such as Bowie took his place as the poster boy.
Furthermore, the nine albums he released from 1971 through to 1976 all failed to crack the Billboard top 40. Even though he could still play live to thousands in Las Vegas, Elvis couldn’t buy a commercial hit and had become more of a tourist attraction than a respected artist.
Despite Elvis being written off by many, Bowie never lost his appreciation for the singer, and he was still The King in his eyes. He penned ‘Golden Years’ with Elvis in mind after their shared manager at RCA Records asked him to help bring some relevancy to Presley’s decaying career, and Bowie was thrilled to oblige.
Sadly, things didn’t turn out as well as expected. Elvis didn’t think the song was a fit for him, and Bowie ended up placing the track on Station To Station. ‘Golden Years’ has become one of his most treasured efforts, and it’s hard to imagine anyone but Bowie bellowing it out.
Although Presley didn’t believe that ‘Golden Years’ suited his style, it did catch his eye, and after the track’s release in 1976, he initiated contact with Bowie regarding a producer role. Nevertheless, our old foe, ‘timing’, would prevent these two icons from clashing in the studio and bringing their divine skillsets together.
In 2016, Dwayne Yoakam revealed that he once met Bowie, and they bonded over their mutual love of Elvis. The Thin White Duke allegedly told the country singer that Elvis had contacted him shortly before his death in 1977 about producing his next project.
“That was based on Elvis having heard Bowie’s ‘Golden Years’, and I thought ‘Oh my God, it’s a tragedy that he was never able to make that,'” Yoakam said. “I couldn’t even imagine 1977 David Bowie producing Elvis. It would have been fantastic. It has to be one of the greatest tragedies in pop music history that it didn’t happen, one of the biggest missed opportunities.”
Bowie did confirm the speculation when asked about it in an interview in 2002, and said talks took place between their camps. He noted, “There was talk between our offices that I should be introduced to Elvis and maybe start working with him in a production-writer capacity. But it never came to pass. I would have loved to have worked with him. God, I would have adored it.” Presley also sent a note to Bowie saying, “All the best, and have a great tour.” A message which Bowie kept with himself for the rest of his life.
Some things are best left to the unrestrained mind of the imagination, and perhaps this sadly falls into that category. In 1977, Elvis had lost his sparkle, and that version of him was a chasmically different Presley to the person we conjure up in our heads when we hear his illustrious moniker.
While it would have been amorous for Bowie to be the character to reignite that fire inside of his belly, even The Starman would have had his work cut out to make it an actuality.