David Bowie is, before everything else, an original. 100% authentic originality is his game, whether it be with his styling, his acting or musically, Bowie always gave you something singular and honest, something ‘Bowie’. You can imagine our delight then when we came across this Youtube clip of a recording made in 1985 of Bowie impersonating some icons of the music world, as he did his best copycat sound of Bruce Springsteen, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed.
Mark Saunders was working as an engineer when Bowie was in the studio for this hilarious session. The recording session was actually for Bowie to lay down some vocals for the soundtrack to the film Absolute Beginners.
On the Youtube posting which Mark uploaded in 2016 he wrote this note: “The impersonations on this YouTube posting were recorded in August ’85, when Bowie came in to do the lead vocal. At the end of the session, he broke into the impersonations and I realized that these might get erased at some point, so I quickly put a cassette in and hit “record.” I wish we could hear the other side of the dialogue but unfortunately that wasn’t being recorded.
I was lucky enough to work with Bowie in 1985 at Westside Studios in London. My bosses, producer team Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley (Madness, Dexys Midnight Runners, Elvis Costello, Bush) were producing the soundtrack for the movie Absolute Beginners, for which Bowie was acting and writing songs (it was a better soundtrack than it was a movie!) and I was graduating from assistant engineer to engineer at that time.
The day Bowie was first due to show up at Westside, we were all a bit nervous — Bowie was the biggest star client for Clive and Alan at that point in time. We kept looking out the windows, waiting for a stretch limo to show up and an entire entourage to walk in, but then a black cab showed up and out popped the unaccompanied Bowie. He walked in, announced in what seemed a more cockney voice than I remembered, “Hi, I’m David Bowie,” and shook our hands. He seemed smaller than I imagined he would be in person. A bit later I noticed that the cockney had dissipated somewhat and he also seemed to have grown more upright and taller, too. I thought, “Wow, he really is a chameleon,” and wondered if the earlier exaggerated cockney was his way of reducing his superstar status temporarily to put people at ease on first meeting him.
Timings for the impressions are below.
0:00 Bruce Springsteen
0:43 Bob Dylan (or is it Marc Bolan?)
1:37 Tom Waits
2:30 Lou Reed
3:20 Anthony Newley
4:06 Iggy Pop
5:03 Neil Young (could also be Tom Petty)